Kathryn Finney is the founder of digital Undivided & Project Diane
Kathryn Finney is a true trailblazer, builder, and tech innovator. Deemed “the Fairy Godmother of Tech Start-ups” by Essence, in 2012 Kathryn founded digital undivided, a social startup that merges data and heart to develop innovative programs and initiatives that catalyzes economic growth in Black and Latinx communities. She also founded Project Diane, a demographic study (under the digital undivided umbrella) that provides a snapshot of the state of Black Women Founders, and the startups they lead, in the United States.
Kathryn is a serial entrepreneur on all fronts. Before starting DID, Kathryn was way ahead of the curve when she founded her fashion blog “The Budget Fashionista” in 2003. She also published her first book, based on her blog, which quickly became a bestseller (and currently is in its 13th printing!). From 2012 to 2014, Kathryn was the Editor-at-Large at BlogHer, a global media group and community made up of over 40 million women.
Kathryn was part of Eileen Fisher’s Fall 2017 Campaign
We had the honor of having Kathryn answer some questions about her entrepreneurial journey, from starting and selling her first company to the (maddening racist and sexist) hurdles she encountered when trying to start a new business, and what led her to eventually start digital undivided…
Her story is a testament to how life sometimes shows us what path to take: when confronted with racism and sexism while pitching her business idea, Kathryn decided to do something about it, not just creating a platform to propel the economic growth of Black and Latinx women, but also starting a fund to help them start their own businesses (women of color get less than 1% of venture funding!).
Digital undivided started after the FOCUS 100 Conference for Black founders in tech. What inspired the idea for the conference and digital undivided? What inspired you to focus on and highlight black women entrepreneurs?
In 2009, I just sold my first company (The Budget Fashionista, one of the pioneering successful lifestyle media brands on the web) and I was ready to start another. I also knew what exactly I wanted to do at that time: a “Birchbox for black women”, an overlooked market for a demographic that spends an estimated $7.5 billion annually on beauty products. Armed with this idea, along with my Yale education and previous startup experience, I eagerly joined one of the first tech incubators in New York. The experience was eye-opening, but not for the reason I hoped. I was met with varying degrees of racial and sexual biases towards me (one prominent investor even told me then that I had the idea, but that he just doesn’t “do Black women”; another dismissed my ability to relate with other Black women because I “had an accountant” ). I eventually started to hear similar stories from other women (especially women of color) entrepreneurs, and I knew that there has to be something I can do. So in 2012, my team and I kicked off the FOCUS100 Conference and the following year, I founded digitalundivided.
Digital undivided has had such an amazing impact (via The Doonie Fund and micro-investments or the BIG incubator) on so many Black and Latinx women entrepreneurs, what else do you think has to happen/should be done to make this change into a global movement?
A common misconception in tackling the lack of a clear pathway for Black and Latinx women in tech is that throwing money at it would magically solve the problem. While money is indeed a symptom of the issue, it isn’t the only solution either. A global movement wouldn’t happen just because a few WOC-dedicated VC funds have sprouted lately. Money without all-in, orchestrated support and long-term commitment from start to scale would be, at best, a performative act and would only be setting up founders to fail. For the global movement to happen, we need to show the world that Black and Latinx women entrepreneurs CAN win!
You spearheaded so many amazing projects, like Project Diane and the Focus 100 Conference, do you have any new projects on the works?
I’m writing a book about what I like to do and what it is that I do best — how to build. (I’m the first Black woman to have a business book published by Penguin’s business imprint, Portfolio!)
Lastly, do you have any words of wisdom to pass along to fellow entrepreneurs?
Don’t wait for permission — SHOW UP! Focus on defining the core values of your company first as it will be the blueprint for everything you do.