Stephanie Lampkin is the Founder of Blendoor, a mobile job matching app that hides candidate names and photos in order to circumvent unconscious bias and facilitate diversity recruiting in tech companies. To prove to future investors she could run her own tech company, Lampkin coded the app on her own.
What is Blendoor and how did you come up with the idea?
I am the founder and CEO of Blendoor, which is a mobile job matching app that utilizes a blind recruiting sort of strategy in order to circumvent unconscious bias and thus increase diversity in sourcing of talent for tech companies specifically. We've been in operation for about ten months now. It started with winning a hackathon with the idea about a year ago. I moved to San Francisco to accelerate growth and we now have about 17 companies committed to pilot. We've been fundraising and recently accepted into Stanford StartX, so now we are focused on our official public launch next month, which I am really excited about.
How many people are working on the app?
My team is comprised of about five people now, and we're looking to grow. I am really excited because the discussion around diversity in tech is still really important. Companies are scrambling to find solutions to change the numbers, and I am really hoping that Blendoor will be an opportunity for companies in tech and even other industries to realize we are out there.
How did you get into the tech industry?
I actually started coding when I was 13. My auntie was one of those 37% of female computer science graduates in 1984. She graduated from University of Maryland College Park and got me involved in this professional organization that she was part of called Black Data Processing Associates, BDPA for short. I got active in BDPA when I was in high school, and they have these high school computer competitions. Teachers had to code all summer, and then at the end of the summer we'd go to wherever the national conference was and compete with other teams around the country in programming. This was way before the term hackathon even became a buzzword in the 90s. I've been in it for a while. From that I was able to get technical internships as an undergrad and then a five-year career at Microsoft.
How did you make that jump from having a lucrative career at Microsoft to starting your own company? That seems like a very scary leap.
I think I've always had the entrepreneurial spirit in me. I come from a family of strong entrepreneurial women. Then moving to Silicon Valley in early 2000 and seeing how successful people were coming right out of college, creating disruptive companies, I think I really had that bug, but still needed validation so I took the job in Microsoft and then went to business school.
It wasn't until after business school that I felt like I really had the foundation that I needed to just start my own company, so immediately after I graduated from Sloan I started my first venture which was a travel tech company called Who and Where. That was definitely a learning experience. I was in New York, really wasn't making a lot of traction, but I had a lot of great lessons along the way. That transition from that startup to the one that I'm currently in, it's a commitment, it's a risk, a little bit of insanity. I think if you have the mindset and the risk appetite for entrepreneurship then it's something that is easy for you to stay committed to.
How did you create and then generate interest in Blendor?
Again, I had a big lesson learned from my previous startup in that you have to have a working prototype. You can't really start talking with customers and pitch your idea or just show a power point with nothing that they really can't touch and feel. I literally spent three months on lynda.com and YouTube kind of reteaching myself to code. I just locked myself in a room for three months to build it, and I built it myself.
I was able to use my networks to say, 'oh hey, I see you work for Facebook, can you connect me with the head of diversity, or the head of recruiting, or someone in HR who you think would be interested in a diversity recruiting app?' Once that happened, and I got these meetings ... You have to go in with confidence, saying hey I built this, but it's still a work in progress. Tell me what you think, and tell me how it can become better to meet your specific needs. People were really receptive to that. Where not only you have a good idea and a good product, but you're really willing to incorporate their feedback.
I started with Intel, then Face Book, and then I started pitching. The next thing I know I had companies reaching out to me unsolicited wanting me to come in and demo the product. If you have something good, people will come to you. If you don't have the full idea fleshed out, I encourage you to take advantage of taking meetings with people just for the sake of getting feedback with the customers that you're directly targeting.
What would you say to students, who want to get into tech? Specifically a technical field, what would your tip be or advice?
My advice would be find your niche. I think the perception, particularly in underrepresented communities is that oh I need to learn to code, but there are many different facets of being involved in the tech industry whether you are in design, whether you are in sales, whether you are in marketing, ultimately we are in an era where IT is driving everything. If you're not with it, you are definitely going to be left behind.
How can women who don't currently work in tech get involved?
There's a lot of questions now about how are we going to drive the new middle class now that everything revolves around tech. I think even if you, like I said, you don't find pleasure in programming, you need to determine how you can do what you love but incorporate technology in a way, and just learn the foundations of it.
The hardest part is really just getting started. I think there's this mental block that prevents people from even just going on YouTube and watching a video about how to build and HTML based and CSS based website. There's a lot of free resources out there, you just got to get started.
To read more on Lampkin's business and career, please visit PeopleOfColorInTech.com.