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Inclusion is a choice

How you build is just as important as what you’re building.
Posted in
Inclusion is a choice

When you boil it down, life is all about choices. Where you work. What you buy. How you build. How we choose has an absolute, direct impact on the world around us. And those choices tell the story of who we are and what we believe.

As we were trying to get our company off the ground, we were incredibly fortunate to pitch Abstract to several great VC firms, and ultimately we chose Aileen Lee of Cowboy Ventures and All Raise to lead our seed round. It was clear to us that she believed in the problem we were trying to solve—we were finishing each other's sentences after 10 minutes—and that her guidance would help us build a great product. Beyond understanding the product, it was Aileen’s advocacy to change the status quo around investment in Silicon Valley that resonated deeply with us. We wanted Abstract to be a part of this movement and we wanted Aileen to hold us accountable every time she entered the board room.

Choices—and the tradeoffs that come with them—are real. During this time, we also made a very intentional choice to optimize for speed and hire people we knew personally. It just so happens that most of those people came from our personal networks, so our first six people looked like us.

This is where some founders get hung up because this is when the pressure to hire gets very, very, real. Now we had another choice to make: keep hiring only from our network or expand. Even then, we knew that resilient, creative teams don’t come from a monoculture. Our product, a platform to include more people in the design process, would only succeed if our team was also inclusive.

The freedom to choose is a form of power. It’s a form of privilege. And we are using this power to build an inclusive Abstract.

We consciously chose to do things differently. We hired Jabu Dayton to lead our People and Inclusion team and began recruiting people from underrepresented backgrounds. We brought in people—from all backgrounds—who are genuinely passionate about inclusion. We built a remote-friendly culture that allowed us to include people from across the United States. We threw out the engineering white board interviews (that don’t work anyway) and began to bring in diverse talent in every one of our departments. We asked questions. And we listened.

We are investing in inclusion because we fundamentally believe that it is our responsibility to play a role in changing the way our systems—professional, social, economic—are built. Technology shouldn’t only be available to those who graduated from certain schools or live in a particular area of the world—it’s for everybody. Likewise, design, which historically has been closed off to non-designers, is better when it’s open and collaborative. If we believe these things (and we do) then we have to do more than make intentions. We need to play an active role in finding talent from underrepresented communities and build a culture that supports them as individuals. We believe that our success as a business is directly connected to our ability to build an inclusive team.

We want to change how companies are built in Silicon Valley and use our success as proof that the tech community as a whole can do better. We’ve still got a lot of work to do, but we are actively recruiting people from underrepresented groups to fill our growing number of openings (shameless recruiting plug). And we are proud to share that 2/3 of senior leadership and half of our investor board identify as women, 24% of our people identify as African American or Latinx and 14% of our people are LGBTQ+. We are proud of this work, but we also want to remain accountable as we grow. That’s why we plan to share our inclusion stats right alongside our product updates.

To us, how we’re building Abstract is just as important as what we’re building. Perhaps more so.

Abstract co-founders Kevin Smith, CTO (left) and Josh Brewer, CEO (right)

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