AGENT Q&A with Lauren Washington, CoFounder and CEO of KeepUpLast Updated: May 1, 2020
Lauren Washington, founder of KeepUp, speaks to AGENT about her startup business story and her efforts to help females of colour to surmount the diversity & gender challenges of the tech sector and create billion-dollar companies.
Lauren Washington is the co-founder of two businesses. One is the New York-based company, KeepUp, which automates social media listening data for consumers and small businesses. This company came about from the simple, traditional business principle of identifying the need for a service, and using technology to scale it.
“In tech, only 7% of funding goes to companies with women co-founders and a paltry 0.2% to black women…”
The other organisation is Black Women Talk Tech, which Lauren Washington started with two other tech company founders, arose not from a commercial opportunity but because of a need that Lauren and her colleagues identified for the building of a community that would help black female founders to surmount diversity and gender challenges that exist in the startup sector.
Lauren Washington has always worked hard in order to achieve her goals—she knew as early as age 11 that she wanted to run her own business, and her formative years saw her eagerly plunge into every opportunity to learn the principles of business.
And while KeepUp goes from strength to strength, Lauren Washington retains a pragmatic awareness that while hard work is vital, support is just as important for some people in facing the challenges and barriers that exist for female startups, particularly women of colour..
This explains the ongoing growth of Black Women Talk Tech, which Lauren told AGENT has already identified hundreds of black women tech founders, and is finding new ones every day.
For instance, she founded KeepUp in 2014, but only after winning 43North, the largest business plan competition in the world, and so she remains acutely aware that it was a singular skill—winning competitions—that has enabled her to surmount the ongoing funding challenges of business.
12 Questions for Lauren Washington
Lauren Washington freed up some time in her schedule to talk to AGENT about what first got her into business, her inspirations, inspirations, and how she manages to maintain a work-life balance.
1.Briefly tell us about your business and your business goals.
I have two businesses. One is KeepUp, which automates social media listening to allow businesses and consumers to easily pull out and respond to important life moments. The other is Black Women Talk Tech, an organization that supports black women to create the next billion dollar companies.
2. What age were you when you realised you wanted to run your own business?
I knew I wanted to run my own business at age 11. My parents were both entrepreneurial, so I’ve always had an example of what it was like to create something from nothing. When I was 11, I already had a few businesses even though I didn’t realize that’s what I was doing. I sourced tomatoes from one neighbor and sold them on the sidewalk to people, I babysat children on my block, and I worked at my neighbor’s candy shop to learn what it was like. I think my idea of what I wanted to do when I grew up constantly changed, but the one constant was that I would eventually end up with my own business.
3. Who are your business icons and inspirations?
My inspirations are other women who are blazing the trail in tech for those of us coming up, including Jean Brownhill of Sweeten, Heather Hiles of Pathbrite and The Hiles Fund, Jessica Matthews of UnchartedPlay, Lisa Skeete Tatum of LandIt, Julia Collins of Zume and so many more. These are women who are working on building empires and deserve so much more credit and attention than they’ve gotten.
4. What has been your biggest challenge in business, and how did you surmount it?
My biggest challenge has been raising money. It’s no secret that raising money as a woman in the tech industry is tough, with only 7% of funding going to companies with women co-founders and a paltry 0.2% going to black women. I’ve gotten around this by winning competitions, most notably the largest business plan competition in the world, 43North, and by saving and using my own money to keep us going when needed.
5. What gives you the most satisfaction in business?
The most satisfying feeling is seeing my vision come to life. Being an entrepreneur definitely has its ups and downs, so when you’ve been working hard for so long on something and see it work the way you imagined in your mind, there’s no equal feeling. From small feature changes to major launches, that’s what keeps me going.
6. Work-Life balance: is it possible? How do you achieve it?
Work-life balance is possible, but it will probably look different from a regular nine to five. As an entrepreneur, there’s always something to do and if you’re passionate about what you’re doing, it doesn’t feel like work. However, it’s crucial to recognize and create time for rest, socialization and recharging, because burn-out is real and can completely derail you. For me, I make sure I stop working at a certain time a day and have at least one day a week where I’m not doing anything for work. This tends to work for me, but I think you have to learn your own limits and create a balance that works for you.
7. What is the first thing you do every day?
The first thing I do is look at my calendar and check my to do list, which I usually create the night before. It helps me figure out my day and what I need to get done.
8. What screen saver picture is currently on your phone?
I just have a generic flower picture, nothing exciting!
9. What is the most important app on your mobile phone, and why?
My most important app is KeepUp!
10. What is the last thing you Googled?
The last thing I googled was reviews for a movie I wanted to see. I’m a movie buff and see one at least once a week.
11. What item do you never leave the house without, and why?
My phone – it’s like another appendage for me, as it probably is for most people.
12. What advice would you give to your younger self starting out in business?
Failure is normal and necessary for success.