Most of the last week, I’ve been off the grid at the Lobby, an invitation-only, off-the-record event that I’ve gone to for the last 13 years. It’s the only event (other than the Chairman Mom Flee) that I go to every year.
Over the years, I’ve referred a ton of female founders and VCs to the Lobby’s organizers, as they’ve worked hard to get to an even gender ratio. (Year one, I think I was one of two female attendees.) I’ve long been frustrated when women do get invited and don’t go because of cost or a concern about entering a masculine space.
With both the Flee and the Lobby, I argue that, yes, they may cost thousands of dollars to attend, but in my case, I have made millions—literally millions—in investor money and business deals being a part of these communities. Networking is key no matter who you are, but it’s crucial when you are an underrepresented group. Studies show that once someone is a known quantity, unconscious bias falls away in fundraising pitches. (Not that it’s not still hard, but in my experience, it’s at least possible.)
This is less a pitch for either conference, and more a pitch to find some way to make a focused investment in yourself. We can waste all our lives going to events rather than actually building things. And events aren’t created equally. There are other “must attend” events for other founders that I’ve gone to once, and was turned off by. (F.ounders and Summit, for instance.) Others that I used to go to religiously that I got banned from. (ReCode.) Others that I hear are amazing, but I’ve never quite felt I could justify the money/time for. (Fortune Brainstorm, for one.)
If you’ve asked me tips on building a career as a woman in Silicon Valley, you’ve probably heard this spiel before. But this last year at the Lobby, I realized another benefit of having gone to this event for 13 years. I have had a tumultuous career here, as I documented last week. And no matter what phase my career has been in, whether I’ve been up or down, a pariah or not, in all-out war with the ecosystem or not, the people at the Lobby have always stood by me, invited me, supported me, respected me, and heard me out, even if we didn’t agree.
Part of what is so hard about being an “other” in an industry or standing up to unfairness in an industry is the extreme loneliness. You can’t be on social media, because that’s far too abusive. You aren’t sure who is an ally and who isn’t in the real world. And frequently even the people who should be on “your side” are aggressive. They get territorial about who is getting the right credit for what, should your message resonate widely. And others complain that you somehow didn’t do “enough.” There’s a temptation to isolate yourself, but all of this gets magnified in your head when you isolate yourself. (I have seen this over and over again, not just with me but with dozens of friends who’ve been in similar positions. I know there are people reading this right now who are nodding their heads.)
It’s been career-igniting for me to have a community that has believed in me enough to fund what I want to build. But it’s been career-sustaining to have a safe space I can go every year.
I hope that’s Chairman Mom for a lot of you by the way, which is one reason we’ve been experimenting with more IRL events along with the site itself. It’s a big reason that I’ve made a life pivot to build this company at this point in my career.
Today’s new questions on Chairman Mom:
- If you or someone you know is evacuated and needs a place to go you’re welcome here.
- What are some family-friendly vacation ideas/spots in Baja (North or South!)?
- Suggestions for self-soothing tools for kids (especially at bedtime)?