Five LGBTQ-Founded New York Companies to Watch (June 2018)

In New York, we celebrate and support diversity. It makes our companies smarter. It generates innovative new ideas. And when we build companies with people from all walks of life, it helps us reach a wider audience and make better products.

A cornerstone of our city’s diversity is the LGBTQ community, which has left a substantial footprint in tech and business. In fact, LGBTQ-owned businesses have contributed more than $1.7 trillion to the U.S. economy and created more than 33,000 jobs since 2002, according to the National Gay & Lesbian Chamber of Commerce.

Last year, we loved seeing many New York tech companies take part in Pride. To celebrate Pride this year, we’re spotlighting five LGBTQ founders from our membership that are building great new services and creating jobs. These include apps and services for connecting people through better workplaces, skill sharing, world travel, personal ads, and nonprofit freelance jobs.

bravely team.jpg

Bravely

What does your company do?
Bravely Co-Founder and CEO Toby Hervey: Bravely connects employees with professional coaches outside of their workplace, powering confidential conversations about performance, development, relationships, and more. Our goal is to get people talking about whatever they’re facing proactively and productively, whether they’re dealing with a high stress-situation or just looking to keep things in check.

Why did you found Bravely in NYC?
TH: We’ve felt first-hand the pressure that can come from working in a fast-paced environment like New York City. When you’re constantly working, it can be hard to talk about the things that might be stressing you out or holding you back at work. We wanted to build a company that would help people feel like their points of view were being heard and valued, especially because we believe that the best organizations are the ones that support diversity of thought and experience.

How can the New York tech community do a better job of fostering inclusivity?
TH: We need formal policies around compensation and a code of conduct, robust training at every level, and a thoughtful set of norms around how people treat each other at work in meetings, social events, and on digital communication platforms.

Workplaces are rapidly changing in the twenty-first century. What’s the most common workplace issue Bravely gets requests about?
TH: The majority of people who have used Bravely so far are women, people of color, or LGBTQ-identifying. They're coming to us to tackle issues that are related to their identities, or facing a greater intimidation or fear factor around routine performance issues given the sometimes lacking representation in their workplaces.

What's your favorite way to celebrate Pride in NYC?
TH: Almost every year, after a mimosa or two, we head to the finish line of the Parade, and I’m always electrified by the contagious energy and passion of the marchers, and the wide representation of people of all backgrounds, and the powerful intersectionality of different causes also important to our diverse community. Feeling their fire first-hand is a powerful driver.

What’s the craziest thing that’s happened to you in NYC?
TH: I just got married this month in NYC at the Central Park Boathouse. The whole experience was pretty damn crazy. And amazing.

Jumprope

What does your company do?
Jumprope Founder and CEO Jake Poses: Jumprope is the place to discover how things are done and share your skills with the world. We offer step-by-step guides that you can tap through at your own pace, and we make it easy to learn how to do anything and for inspiring creators to quickly share their knowledge and passion with the world.

You’ve spent time in New York, Boston, and San Francisco. Why did you found Jumprope in NYC?
JP: New York is a hub for creators in categories like food, beauty, and fitness, and it’s the epicenter of innovation in commerce. It’s immensely helpful to be close to those communities. On top of that, New York is the best city in the world. As a founder, you have to make a long-term commitment to live in one city. There was only one choice. And my mom and dad are here!

What is your most unique talent that you’ve shared with the Jumprope community?
JP: It’s amazing what you can quickly transform with colorful duct tape. I show people how to make your cycling shoes unique in a few easy steps with colorful duct tape.

What's your favorite way to celebrate Pride in NYC?
JP: It's great to see the broader NYC community engage in Pride, and in some ways, it feels like we celebrate year round. So many local businesses now represent the colors of the flag in their window displays and in marketing campaigns. The ubiquity of Pride, at least in NYC, is emblematic of the progress we've made on LGBTQ issues over the past decade.

What’s the craziest thing that’s happened to you in NYC?
JP: Getting knocked over by fans swarming Adele in Tribeca.

noken travel team.jpg

Noken

What does your company do?
Noken Co-Founder and CEO Marc Escapa: Noken is building the next-gen way to travel the world. Noken curates flexible routes to explore new countries. After booking, travelers receive a personalized app that seamlessly guides their journey via daily curated routes, offline GPS, and 24/7 concierge support.

Why did you found your company in NYC?
ME: My co-founder Emily and I always knew we wanted to start the company in one of the world’s top tech hubs. But NYC, in particular, has become the place to be for the next generation of branded direct-to-consumer startups with the best investors, founders, and operators a block away.

How can the New York tech community do a better job of fostering inclusivity?
ME: I’m happy that the city is far ahead of many other places, but there is still a long way to go. I especially think we need to increase job access for people from different socioeconomic backgrounds, which requires widening the scope of hiring and talent sourcing.

It looks like you’ve done quite a bit of world travel. What is the single best vacation you’ve ever taken?
ME: The Philippines. It's a place with surreal beaches and landscapes, and the locals love sharing their culture. My highlight of the trip was motorbiking around the Palawan island, stopping at deserted beaches along the way.

What's your favorite way to celebrate Pride in NYC?
ME: I love seeing the parade with friends. For me, it's really energizing to see so many people that, even if they don't need to identify with the LGBTQ community, go out of their way to celebrate. My favorite group from last year was the NYPD.

kelly personals.jpg

PERSONALS

What does your company do?
PERSONALS founder Kelly Rakowski: We bring people together though text-based personal ads — to fall in love, to build friendships, to form lesbian soccer teams. PERSONALS is a 30,000+ community of lesbian, queer trans, non-binary people who write personal ads to connect with one another. It started on Instagram but the community has outgrown the account. We just started a Kickstarter campaign, raising funds to build the PERSONALS iOS app!

Why did you found your company in NYC?
KR: I live here! Happily. Luckily.

How can the New York tech community do a better job of fostering inclusivity?
KR: Really doing the work to find the women, lesbians, non binary, trans, people of color, disabled people, and all kinds of people to the table. We need all these people to be involved in all conversations about tech in NYC. NYC is so diverse, so find people and invite them to participate!

It’s easy to feel discouraged by the New York dating scene. Is online dating the cause or the cure for that?
KR: I think people are frustrated with the throw-away culture of swipe-based dating apps. It’s difficult to connect with people through a few selfies – what exactly are they looking for? It’s unclear. With PERSONALS, you’re able to write directly about who you are and what you’re looking for in a clever, sexy, and succinct 45 words.

What's your favorite way to celebrate Pride in NYC?
KR: The Dyke March, which takes place the Saturday before the Pride parade! It’s the 26th annual Dyke March this year. It’s a celebration and also a protest. It’s inclusive of trans queer identities as well. And it’s so much fun!

wethos team.jpg

Wethos

What does your company do?
Wethos Co-Founder and CEO Rachel Renock: Wethos is a platform built to connect freelancers with meaningful work by matching them with part-time gigs within nonprofits, socially conscious businesses, and progressive political campaigns. We believe the people solving our toughest problems deserve the best talent and that the future of work is purpose-driven.

Why did you found your company in NYC?
RR: Our founding team used to work together in advertising here in NYC. During that time, we realized how desperately people wanted to connect with meaningful work and how understaffed and overworked the nonprofit sector tends to be. We love New York, and it’s a massive hub for creative talent and nonprofits alike.

How can the New York tech community do a better job of fostering inclusivity?
RR: When we speak about diversity, we tend to leave sexuality out of the equation. We usually focus on race and gender, which are of course incredibly important, but intersectionality, especially as it pertains to queer black women or women of color, is widely ignored. Both queer and cis-white women can do a better job of elevating inclusivity that goes beyond just gender disparity.

How has New York worked to support freelance workers?
RR: NYC has passed one of the only laws protecting freelancers with the “Freelance Isn’t Free Act” which entitles freelancers to a contract, payment within 30 days, and protection from retaliation. There is always more work to do, but expanding protections like the ones in New York nationwide would boost the larger gig economy.

What's your favorite way to celebrate Pride in NYC?
RR: When I worked in advertising, I was able to design a float for the NYC Pride, so I got to ride it all the way through the West Village. That was probably my favorite Pride to date, but normally you’ll find me hiding at the Cubby Hole or hitting up The Woods on a Wednesday. Every month is pretty much Pride Month in my world.

What’s the craziest thing that’s happened to you in NYC?
RR: Hands down the fact that two years ago I started this crazy company and was able to raise $1 million in funding after a year of bootstrapping with my co-founders. That and I recently sat next to Bradley Cooper in a tiny coffee shop for a solid three hours. He is literally the most handsome person I’ve ever seen. This one was a close call ... but I’m still gay.


We also ask our founders about their favorite places for pizza, bagels, coffee, and meetings. Here's a roundup of recommendations from the above founders.

Photo credit: NYC Pride Parade by Lev Radin/Shutterstock