An Interview with Laura Gomez, CEO, Atipica
Her family immigrated to America when she was eight years old and settled in the Silicon Valley area. Shortly afterwards, she got an internship with Hewlett Packard. No one at her internship looked like her, and she hated it; it made her want to stray away from tech. However, her parents — who’d come to the U.S. to make a better life for her children — saw that tech would be an incredible opportunity and pushed her daughter to continue. Determined not to let the industry make her into a victim, she decided she’d work in tech, “whether the industry embraced her or not.” She believes she made the right choice going forward with tech; now, years later, diversity is dominating the conversation in the industry. Since then, she’s worked at huge companies like Twitter and YouTube, helping them translate and localize their applications for a global audience. Her latest endeavor, Atipica, helps tech companies find and hire diverse candidates; says she’d rather fail trying to solve the problem of diversity in tech than to never tackle it. Laura has raised $2M in seed funding led by True Ventures.
In order to get a more in depth look into Atipica and the mind that created it, we conducted an exclusive one-on-one interview with the company’s founder Laura Gomez. We pushed for answers to questions that people often want to ask Silicon Valley’s next-gen entrepreneurs, but seldom have the chance. By the end of this snapshot, we hope you have a sense of this amazing founder’s story and a few lessons to take away for yourself.
What exactly is your startup bringing to the marketplace?
What we bring to clients, investors and or our own team members is thinking of AI in HR in a more thoughtful and inclusive lens, powered by data and machine learning in the workforce. While there are many tools out there for HR, we are the only ones thinking of it as a holistic, inclusive solution and building it with a diverse team.
What was the impetus behind creating your startup?
The conference I just came from was actually MC’d by a former human resources business partner at Twitter. While technically I do not have any direct HR experience, I have worked very closely with HR throughout my career. Regarding the starting idea, it began with me thinking of a thoughtful and inclusive way that we can better understand diversity at the top of the funnel so that we can apply what happens to diverse employees and what doesn’t, and try to move away from anecdotal approaches to diversity and inclusion.
What is the most challenging matter you as a startup are currently facing?
I think the biggest hurdle is people not only picturing Atipica as a solution for social impact and diversity, but seeing it as a business intelligence tool that is adaptive to the dynamics of the workforce, which includes different genders, races, ages, and other kinds of diversity. The challenge is understanding the market outside and how to position ourselves, and getting people to not just thinking it’s a social impact and diversity solution, but rather that it’s a business intelligence technology that’s helping businesses adapt to what the workforce looks like now and what the workforce will look like in 5 or 10 years.
Can you tell us a little about your background before you started your startup?
I’ve been in tech since I was seventeen. I had my first internship at Hewlett-Packard, and since then went and studied in college. I didn’t really focus on computer science because I felt a lot of the imposter syndrome. After college, I joined a lot of early stage tech companies all at various stages of growth. While working at them I saw a need for more diversity.
What previous experience or situation do you feel best equipped you for your current role?
Growing up I always had a hard time assessing myself and my skills, but I also loved languages and loved reading about and interacting with new technologies. It wasn’t until I was in my late twenties that I realized that there was a natural intersection between the two, called localization. As I continued with my interests, I realized that technology could help me assess career paths and even help companies better understand the skillsets of people. That is something I want to incorporate into Atipica as well. How are people assessing themselves, how are they intersecting their skill sets with their own mindset and passion in the long run?
If you could go back to the first day of your startup, what advice would you give yourself?
Be patient with the fundraising process. Patience in understanding the complexity of what it takes to get funding is fundamental to becoming a founder. While people do usually want to be patient and not force it, the process requires a thorough understanding. It’s really not just the waiting that’s difficult, but you need to have patience in understanding the process.
What made you apply to Alchemist? Why not others?
A former coworker from Twitter is an Alchemist alum so I decided to consider it. I started researching, and I found Alchemist was considered the best accelerator. I then reached out to a friend who knew Ravi so that they could introduce me to him. The rest is history. Since joining Alchemist I actually made one of my closest friends by going through the program. She’s also an Alum. I saw the success of Alchemist, the prestige, the thoughtfulness of the program that Ravi had built and it made me think: “This is where I want to be.”
What was the most valuable thing you took from being a part of Alchemist?
Learning how to sell to enterprises. My whole career, I had only ever sold to consumers. I think the enterprise component allowed me to better understand all the components that make up enterprises in general. Obviously there’s an emphasis on revenue, but there’s also an emphasis on positioning and on the value to the client. Being better able to see through the lens of enterprises and how they look at startups was very helpful.
Can you talk about a time in which you thought all hope was lost and how you made it through that?
It happens to founders, if not every day, at least once a week or every month. This month alone it has happened to me twice. The main one had to do with someone that I thought was going to lead my round of funding, but it just got to a point where it just didn’t seem like it was going to work out. They had their own concerns about the business, and I had my own concerns about aligning myself with their values. I think it was one of those things that should have been addressed and discussed earlier on, but those are the types of things that happen, and I learned from it and have moved on.
I personally am a big fan of acknowledging the things that I can’t control and then focusing on the things within my control, plus by doing that it helps me not go into a rabbit hole of “oh my gosh I can’t believe this happened” or “poor me” victimization. Since I’ve started focusing on that, people have noticed how much happier I am. I feel more in control of my life and my startup. Always make sure to be grateful for everything. Even for example if you meet with an investor and they decide not to invest, thank them and walk away with gratitude that they were willing to meet with you and that you were able to learn from that. Being grateful in life opens so many doors and will never hurt you.
What entrepreneurial lesson or skill took you the longest to learn or are you still learning?
All entrepreneurs, whether they know it or not, are going to face some sort of ethical dilemma. It might be who they take money from, what they’re building, who is it going to affect. I have had to learn how to handle those dilemmas and to stay true to who I am. This skill is especially important right now when we have big tech companies being held accountable for various intrusions of the democratic processes or how they’re building their product and their businesses. Practicing ethics and integrity is something that I continue to learn each and every day.
Do you have any advice for female or minority founders?
Yeah, definitely! I actually just met with a female venture capitalist this week to see if she had ever led a preemptive Series A round. I asked because I really wanted to know if it was true or if it was just my own bias, but I had never heard of a woman or a person of color that has been a part of a preemptive Series A round. That being said, I know many male founders that have recently closed preemptive rounds just by talking to an investor. I think we need to acknowledge the systematic discrimination — men can get a $10M term sheet from a coffee, but not female or underrepresented founders. How I stay balanced is knowing that I can only control my own company and my own strategy when it comes to fundraising and not any external factors like who’s getting funded and are they preemptive or not. However, if there is a trend where minority founders aren’t being treated fairly, you have to acknowledge it and hold the industry accountable.
Has there been someone that has helped you along and that you don’t think you’d be here if it wasn’t for them? How did they do it? How did you find them? How did you build that relationship?
Yes, it is a VC friend of mine named Freada. She was one of the first people I ever pitched to. When I pitched to her it was horrible. I wish I had recorded it because it was absolutely terrible. But all of the partners and associates actually gave me really great feedback. I met with her afterwards, and she told me to focus on what I really wanted to make and then to build that well and find people who are willing to buy it and then come back to them. I took her advice and seven months later met my lead investor through her. And her firm, Kapor Capital, became an investor as well. So I definitely wouldn’t be here without Freada.
Did you already know her or how did you meet her?
I didn’t know her. I actually just randomly reached out to one of the principals, who is now one of my closest friends, there at the VC firm that I kind of knew of. I reached out and I said “Hey do you have time for coffee?”, and she said yes, but asked me if I’d rather meet with her coworker Freada because she was really passionate about what I was trying to start. She eventually became my mentor and colleague and investor. As a founder, you need to be willing to just put yourself out there and ask to meet people.
What constitutes success for your startup in the next 12 months?
I want to build a company based on values, integrity, using AI and machine learning to coach people rather than trying to automate and replace people and their skill set. I want the world to know that not all tech companies are trying to replace people and that not all artificial intelligence is biased; and I really want them to know that there’s a company out there thinking of thoughtful and conducive ways to use this technology to help the current workforce.
What constitutes success for you personally?
Success for me is having a proud legacy to leave behind. No matter what happens, I have met amazing people who really believe in me and my mission. At the end of the day I’ve done great work and built something I really believe in and am proud of. I have two nieces and if they ever read about me and what I’ve done, I know they’ll be proud.
Are there any insights you have learned that you want to share with the next generation of entrepreneurs?
I would tell them to stay true to their convictions. Whatever you’re building, make sure to find a support system. Don’t think it’s a weakness or a sign of desperation to ask people for help. Make sure to ask people for support, ask for advice, ask for opportunities. I believe that most people out there are good people and are willing to help, and if they’re too busy and aren’t willing to help, then you shouldn’t take it personally. Don’t be afraid of rejections, but rather be thankful for each and every opportunity that you’ve been given, and that will make a big difference.
About the Alchemist Accelerator
Alchemist is a venture-backed initiative focused on accelerating the development of seed-stage ventures that monetize from enterprises (not consumers). The accelerator’s primary screening criteria is on teams, with primacy placed on having distinctive technical co-founders. We give companies around $36K, and run them through a structured 6-month program heavily focused on sales, customer development, and fundraising. Our backers include many of the top corporate and VC funds in the Valley — including Khosla Ventures, DFJ, Cisco, and Salesforce, among others. CB Insights has rated Alchemist the top program based on median funding rates of its grads (YC was #2), and Alchemist is perennially in the top of various Accelerator rankings. The accelerator seeds around 75 enterprise-monetizing ventures / year. Learn more about applying today.