Five New York LGBT-founded Companies to Watch

Happy Pride! New Yorkers and people from around the globe are descending upon the city for World Pride, and our community is excited to spend the month celebrating the diverse and welcoming place we call home.

This year also marks 50 years since the Stonewall riots. The Stonewall National Monument is the country’s first national LGBTQ+ monument, and it’s is receiving the augmented reality treatment thanks to Google’s Stonewall Forever web exhibit and app. In a greater commitment to inclusivity, Lyft now allows passengers to choose their own pronouns in the app, and it’s providing stipend to support drivers’ name change and other legal fees. Airbnb is connecting the history of 50 years of Pride with a NYC pop-up space with events benefiting local LGBTQ+ nonprofits, and Warby Parker’s new Haskell Prism collection is celebrating Pride with frames across the entire color spectrum that give back to queer advocacy organiazations. With efforts like these, alongside the year-round work of groups like Gaingels and Out in Tech, New York is more positioned than ever to support the next generation of LGBTQ+ founders. The New York tech community’s strength is its diversity, and we’re honored to celebrate that — this month and all year long.

In honor of Pride Month, we’re honored to profile five companies led by LGBTQ+ founders.

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REVERCARE

What does your company do?
ReverCare co-founder and CEO Kiyan Rajabi: ReverCare connects families caring for elderly loved ones to elder care professionals: gerontological social workers, elder law attorneys, aging-in-place specialists, etc. These professionals not only help with the logistics of elder care planning, but they also lend an understanding ear to the often stressed and confused family caregivers.

Why did you found your company in NYC?
KR: I don’t know why more people don’t! NYC is vibrant, diverse, and inspiring. It attracts people with interests and expertise in all industries: healthcare, law, finance, and tech to name a few. Thus, facilitating the flow of ideas unparallel to any other place. For companies at the intersection of multiple industries, like healthcare and tech, this is the place to be.

Your founding team came together at Cornell Tech. What was that community like in getting ReverCare off the ground?
KR: I was in the first class to graduate from Cornell Tech’s new campus on Roosevelt Island. The school itself is similar to a startup: still developing its culture and growing every year. Because of that, the campus’ entrepreneurial energy is ubiquitous and there are abundant resources to help bring new ideas to life. For example, ReverCare secured its initial funding by winning the school’s Startup Awards competition.

What did you take away to found a company in an industry straddled between the line of the old and new? Do you have a vision for bringing healthcare into the 21st century?
KR: Everyone has their own healthcare horror story. Healthcare is grossly unaffordable for most families and fails to adequately serve their needs. Change is difficult due to copious regulations, misalignment of incentives, and catastrophically long sales cycles. However, that also leads to opportunities for new entrants who are willing to creatively break the norm of how things are done. I’m particularly excited by solutions that address healthcare’s “Triple Aim:” improving patient experience, improving health outcomes, and reducing costs.

You’ve worked in and around health tech for years, and also spent some time as a teaching assistant at both Cornell Tech and General Assembly. What role do you see institutions like these playing in the innovation space?
KR: I was never motivated or excited by traditional academic environments; I often found it difficult to learn. Both Cornell Tech and General Assembly take a project-based learning approach which makes learning both more engaging and practical. Corporate America and traditional businesses are feeling the pressure to innovate or become irrelevant. Educational institutions like Cornell Tech and GA produce graduates who are ready to innovate.

You now organize HealthTech.NYC to unite New York’s health tech community. What challenges are facing the community, what opportunities?
KR: While tech’s association with healthcare is an emerging one, it promises enormous opportunity. The most challenging aspect of tech and healthcare collaboration is that for years, the experts in those fields were not naturally interacting. This is why we started HealthTech.NYC. Our purpose is to create a community for all the passionate technologists and clinicians seeking to become digital health collaborators.

What brought you to New York?
KR: I came to New York to start a career in digital health and also to find myself. I started a career in digital health pretty quick, but I am still far from found.

How do you get to your office?
KR: By foot, like a true New Yorker. Is there any other way?

Where do you get your favorite pizza slice?
KR: Anywhere I can get a dollar slice.

Where do you get your favorite bagel?
KR: Alright, enough with the carbs!

What is the best New York waterfront?
KR: Four Freedoms Park on Roosevelt Island.

What’s the best place in New York for a coffee or lunch meeting?
KR: The Grey Dog is so versatile: it works for breakfast, lunch, and the midday banana bread break.

Favorite way to celebrate Pride?
Everyday! Pride is about being yourself and acknowledging all those have done before you so you can do so freely.

Favorite local LGBTQ+ establishment?
KR: Sheep’s Meadow and the Christopher Street Pier during the summer.

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MIKMAK

What does your company do?
MikMak founder and CEO Rachel Tipograh: MikMak is the eCommerce platform for brands that sell at eRetailers like Amazon, Target, Walmart, Sephora and Ulta. We help brands lift their eRetail sales, build and own their shopper audiences, and optimize their media and creative towards conversion.

Why did you found your company in NYC?
RT: The NYC metro area is home to more Fortune 1000 brand marketers than anywhere else. You can do eight in-person meetings in NYC per day. You can't do that anywhere else. Plus, I grew up here and I went to college here (NYU) — I am a New Yorker through and through.

While still an undergraduate, you worked behind-the-scenes in the film world – interning in development, creative services, marketing, and talent. What skills did you take with you that you still use today?
RT: My biggest lesson that I carry with me into every meeting is if it's a meeting worth having, you will go in person and wait outside the room even if the other person is an hour late. Every interview I had in the entertainment industry had me waiting in the waiting room. You can make a game-changing, last impression within minutes.

You then moved into digital media and strategy – solving problems for some of the world’s largest and most storied brands. What did working for established players teach you about becoming a new one?
RT: Since I was brand side leading global digital marketing at Gap before starting MikMak, we have a leg up on competition, because we were our buyer. We understand how to navigate big corporations, where budgets sit, how to push a deal through, and most importantly, the exact pain points our buyer needs us to solve.

A few years before founding MikMak, you became an advisor and angel investor. How did that experience prepare you for starting your own company? How has your continued involvement as an advisor and investor for companies informed leading MikMak?
RT: The best part about investing and advising other companies is you get to see how other founders' build their companies. I've picked up do's and dont's by watching them. You also see how early stage investing is all about betting on the founders. Businesses will pivot, market dynamics will change, the only constant is the founding team and it's everything.

You’ve been on just about every list a trailblazer can claim a place on: Forbes’ “30 Under 30,” Fast Company’s “The Most Creative People in Business,” Inc’s “Female Founders 100,” and Business Insider’s “New York Tech’s Coolest People” to name a few. What’s next for you as a businesswoman?
RT: I'm shooting for the stars. I want to become an iconic employer in New York City. I want the people to work for me to look back at their chapter at MikMak and say, ‘wow everyone I worked with at MikMak has continued to rise in their careers.’ There's a famous infographic of the "Paypal Mafia," I want that. And, we're hiring across every department!

How do you get to your office?
RT: I walk — I live seven minutes from my office.

Where do you get your favorite pizza slice?
RT: Don't tell anyone, I don't really eat pizza and bagels — but I love lox!

What is the best New York waterfront?
RT: Domino Park in Williamsburg.

What’s your favorite New York building?
RT: The Williamsburgh Savings Bank building.

What’s the best place in New York for a coffee or lunch meeting?
RT: Any of the SoHo Houses — SoHo House, Ludlow House, Dumbo House.

Favorite way to celebrate Pride?
My favorite way to celebrate pride is with my crew of amazing women.

Favorite local LGBTQ+ establishment?
The Woods on a Wednesday.

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YAYPAY

What does your company do?
YayPay co-founder and CEO Anthony Venus: YayPay is an Accounts Receivables Management software and payments business. We are “Intelligent AR for smarter finance teams”. YayPay gives your team more time, more insight, and more control over customer relationships. The software eliminates repetitive tasks with smart workflows and provides accurate predictions with smart analytics.

Why did you found your company in NYC?
AV: There is nothing like New York City. It’s a cliché and it is true. We wanted to be in a U.S. city that had a very international outlook. YayPay was first conceptualized in London and then we moved over to the U.S. which is our core focus. New York is the #2 tech hub in the U.S. but clearly the #1 place to be for fintech. The other thing I love about New York is that it is a magnet for top talent from all over the country and all over the world.

You started your career at the Economist, where you led business development efforts throughout Asia. What foundation did the business of publishing provide? What do you still carry with you?
AV: I was young and given a lot of freedom working at The Economist back then. Publishing is just      like Software-as-a-Service. It is one of the original subscription based renewable business models, so a lot of similarities. One of my bosses was a guy called Andy Wey, and he was a former Red Beret — a paratrooper commando who taught me all about “taking the hill”. The concept of “relentlessness” served me well as an entrepreneur. I learned that to be relentless is a concept way beyond tenacity. I learned that a motivator is blowing up the bridge and reaching the point of no return. When you have narrowed the pathways to such an extent that the only option is winning, it is amazing the strength and creativity that you will find inside of yourself and others.

You then spent the majority of your career in Hong Kong, Singapore, and London. How did living in such different, and diverse, places affect how you thought about finding a market, building a product, and founding a company?
AV: Each of these places were very different business and social environments and each of them occupies a precious chapter in my life. Hong Kong has a special place in my heart as it was the place when I first “made it,” at least as reflected in dollar terms. Hong Kong is highly entrepreneurial — a place where risks paid rewards. Singapore was a place where I had my first real early career and found the courage to start my first company. Working in London and founding a company there was quite different to Asia in some ways —iIn the UK, relationships matter more than they do in the U.S., and in Asia, they matter even more than they do in the UK. The market was more mature in the UK and being an Australian, I felt I also had more to prove for some reason. I met my husband, Francisco Ortiz Sanz, in the UK, so it has an extra special meaning to me.

There was a front page cover of my former employer’s magazine, The Economist, that read “NY-LON-KONG”. They claimed that most of the world’s business and biggest ideas was linked into these 3 cities – New York, London, Hong Kong. I think they were right. These places are just the hottest centers and nodes of connection and information flow on the planet. If you hang out in any of these three cities with and open mind, the right skills and an eye for opportunity something good is bound to happen. Especially if you are relentless.

The fintech space has seen incredible amounts of innovation to support sales and marketing teams, and yet finance teams often seem to be forgotten when it comes to new product introductions – thus the introduction of YayPay. Are there other areas that have yet to be touched by fintech that you see as ripe and ready for attention?
AV: CFO-tech has been slow out the gate compared to say, sales and marketing tech, but therein lies the opportunity. Contrary to popular belief, software that solves problems for the back office is very sexy and there is a ton of opportunity. First out the gate was payroll software, but even that has only 60% penetration after many years. Accounts receivables management software was the laggard and only has 5% penetration rate, so we see an amazing opportunity. There will always be disruptors of disruptors. I think that back office software that brings together finance, sales and customer success teams and allows collaboration on the same platform will be the next big winner.

In 12 months, you grew YayPay’s use base by more than 500%. As a founder and CEO, how do you view growth? What do you prioritize? What are your benchmarks for success?
AV: The big secret is that all you really need to do is four things. The challenge is that each of these four things is super hard and a binary “must do”. You and your co-founder must orchestrate a team that builds an awesome product and delivers a great service that changes the lives of your customers by saving them lots of money or making them lots of money. You must figure out a way to grow sales rapidly. You must recruit an amazing team of talent and do everything you can to retain those that you really want to stay, and also keep replenishing the talent pool with people suitable for the roles that are needed as the company scales. You must fill the tank with lots of gas. Get good at raising money by selling the vision of the company and why you are the winning team.

What brought you to New York?
AV: My first company was funded out of New York nearly 20 years ago. My second company was sold to a New York company 12 years ago, and I think deep down there was always a pull in the back of my mind on what life could be if I actually dove in and based myself in New York. My talented co-founder and CTO, Eugene Vyborov, is from Ukraine, and we have an office over there, which is easy to get to from New York. We spent some time in San Francisco, but just could not make the time zones work. Let’s face it, New York is the center of the universe

How do you get to your office?
AV: I walk 12 blocks and 3 avenues to and from the office to my apartment each day. It’s a 20 minute New York City power walk and it’s so enjoyable. I do it whatever the weather is. It could be snowing or a heatwave. It’s a great way to decompress before getting home each night.

Where do you get your favorite pizza slice?
AV: Wild in the West Village — it’s the best gluten free pizza I’ve found!

Where do you get your favorite bagel?
AV: I am not supposed to eat gluten, but I can confirm that I am partial to an onion bagel with egg, cream cheese, and lox on the very odd occasion, wherever the place.

What is the best New York waterfront?
AV: It’s got to be Christopher Street Pier on a sunny spring or summer day. We walk our labs, Zulu and Lucy, down that way often.

What’s your favorite New York building?
AV: There are so many wonderful buildings in New York, where could I begin?  I was just in Carnegie Hall where we experienced the incredible Ludovico Einaudi’s piano concerto. Carnegie Hall has great acoustics and is highly underrated.

What’s the best place in New York for a coffee or lunch meeting?
AV: I’m going to give a shout out to Bluestone Lane, the Australian healthy café chain. I don’t own any shares in it and I am not very nationalistic either — I just find it very comfortable and healthy and easy.

Favorite way to celebrate Pride?
AV: We will definitely go out and watch the parade. We have tickets to one of the dance parties, but I cannot guarantee either that I’ll actually make it. I might very well be in bed my then. In fact, I’d bet on that.

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ANDIE

What does your company do?
Andie founder and CEO Melanie Travis: Andie is the leading digitally native swimwear brand for women!

Why did you found your company in NYC?
MT: NYC is the epicenter of the direct to consumer economy.

You were born in Paris, raised in New York, and now live on the Upper West Side. As the founder of an e-commerce platform, how do those experiences inform how you approach customers? Product?
MT: I try to bring French simplicity and luxury to the product, combined with a New York hustle to the experience. I just don’t know any other way!

You’ve cut your teeth at some pretty amazing tech companies – Foursquare, Kickstarter, and Barkbox. What was one of the biggest takeaways that helped you launch your own company? What advice do you have for fellow startup veterans that may be looking to begin something new?
MT: One of the biggest takeaways from my experience at other tech companies is that it’s more important to have the drive to start a business and work hard to make that business take off than it is to have a unique, first-to-market idea. Ideas are cheap, while the effort, hard work, and all the stuff that comes after that is what really makes the business.

Product management can be universal in that every day is different, and there are dozens of moving pieces at any given time. But apparel, specifically– design, sourcing, production – is a unique beast. What made you comfortable enough to take the plunge? What advice do you have for people that want to build something specific, unique?
MT: Because I didn’t know anything about apparel manufacturing, I struck a strategic partnership with an established manufacturer early on, which really helped pave the way for our growth. I think it’s a healthy model for DTC brands – partner with someone who has the supply chain down, so you can focus on building the brand and the customer acquisition engine.  

You’ve spoken before about your best acquisition channel being Instagram. As someone who's spent their career in marketing, how has Instagram changed the game? Is it a new normal?
MT: Instagram has enabled brands to reach their customers directly, in a way that speaks to them naturally. Instagram and Facebook have definitely changed the game for marketing. It’s a place to showcase brand, acquire customers efficiently, and also communicate directly with customers. Instagram has become a huge feedback channel for us. We get DMs from customers who tell us what they love and hate about our product and our brand, and we can have direct conversations with them right in the platform.  

How do you get to your office?
MT: I take the 1 train.

Where do you get your favorite pizza slice?
MT: Marinara Pizza on the Upper West Side

Where do you get your favorite bagel?
MT: Brooklyn Bagel.

What is the best New York waterfront?
MT: Sag Harbor! Not in NYC, but gorgeous.

What’s your favorite New York building?
MT: The Chrysler Building.

What’s the best place in New York for a coffee or lunch meeting?
MT: Bryant Park Grill.

Favorite way to celebrate Pride?
MT: Queer Soup Night, a Brooklyn-born queer party with soup at its center!

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BOKKSU

What does your company do?
Bokksu founder and CEO Danny Taing: Bokksu’s mission is to deliver gourmet cultural experiences through authentic storytelling. We directly partner with local snack makers across Japan and deliver both their snacks and their stories to people everywhere. This helps sustain and empower local communities while spreading their traditional craft, culture, and history to the world.

Why did you found your company in NYC?
DT: There is no better place to start an e-commerce company that intersects design, culture, and food than in NYC! I was also born in NYC and raised in NJ, so being able to start a business I’m passionate about in my home area is just wonderful.

You started your career in adtech, before moving abroad to work for a Japanese ecommerce company doing business development work. A big chunk of your work was focused on inter-country dealmaking. How did that experience prepare you for launching your own company?
DT: I can honestly say that if I didn’t take the leap to explore different career paths and cultures, I not only wouldn’t have been prepared to launch a Japanese snack e-commerce company, I also wouldn’t be able to effectively launch and manage any type of company. Thanks to having worked in a Japanese company as a foreigner, I was often thrown into situations where I had to be scrappy and figure out on my how to complete the tasks, because I lacked cultural and business contexts. I was in charge of opening new branch offices for Rakuten throughout Southeast Asia, so I had to learn how to build the unglamorous and necessary sides of companies: office space, company formation, international legal obstacles, and much more. All of these experiences led to me feeling confident to be able to start my own company in the States and managing all the back-end logistics of it.

Before founding your own company, you took a year to study computer science in New York. What led you to that choice? What would you tell others who may not have studied CS, but are considering going back to school?
DT: I unequivocally recommend anybody who is looking to go back to school or start their own company to study CS. I had worked in the tech industry for 3+ years but was always on the sales/biz dev side, so I didn’t have hard technical skills until I went back to school to study CS formally. By learning how to code, I was able to move much faster in the life cycles of my ecommerce store’s development. Instead of having to go back and forth with a third party to develop it for me, I built and launched my store within a week and could also continue improving on the web development by myself when issues arose. Even now, when I don’t do much coding myself anymore, it’s still essential that I know how to speak with our developer agency partners and evaluate their work.

Unlike the traditional boxed subscription services many are familiar with, Bokksu has streamlined its supply chain by boxing its products at the source – Japan – and then shipping directly customers around the world. How do you approach the logistics space? What role does it play in Bokksu’s roadmap?
DT: We’ve definitely come a long way from when I first started Bokksu 3 years ago and was packing boxes by myself in my living room in NYC. When we grew to a big enough member base that outsourcing fulfillment made sense, I knew that I wanted to do something different than the traditional US.-based fulfillment model because we were already getting a lot of requests from international customers for our boxes. That’s why we worked hard to research and contact with fulfillment centers directly in Japan in order to form a new type of supply chain where we would ship boxes to customers around the world directly from Japan. We’re able to pull off this type of logistics model thanks to the fact that every single product in our box every month is sourced from local snack and tea makers throughout Japan. And because we ship directly from Japan, we are able to offer free shipping worldwide on our boxes and now have customers in over 70 countries around the world!

So often people think of cooking other culture’s foods as a heavy undertaking. Making a homemade curry or ramen is considered “project cooking.” What do you say to that? And perhaps more importantly, how do you think snacking can help alleviate that type of thinking?
DT: I am a big proponent of cooking other culture’s foods as an intimate and delicious way to familiarize oneself with that culture. However, for many people nowadays, it really is difficult to have the time and energy to do so on a regular basis. This is why I specifically wanted to create not only an authentic bridge to Japanese food culture, but also one that is approachable and accessible to more people. By having ready-to-eat snacks you can take on-the-go, people have more options for how they can consume and connect with other cultures. I also plan to bring this ease-of-use into the next box we plan to release later this year.

What brought you to New York?
DT: Honestly, a big part of me moving back to NYC was my immigrant Chinese parents guilt-tripping me about their impending mortality and for me being away from home for over ten years.

How do you get to your office?
DT: I live in Hell’s Kitchen and work out of Grand Central Tech, I am fortunate to be able to do a brisk 25 minute walk every day!

Where do you get your favorite bagel?
DT: Absolute Bagels in Morningside Heights.

What is the best New York waterfront?
DT: DUMBO, mainly because I love rock climbing at The Cliffs there and seeing the water.

What’s your favorite New York building?
DT: Any rooftop bar in the summer!

What’s the best place in New York for a coffee or lunch meeting?
DT: Fika on 10th Avenue. It’s spacious and has lots of light.

Favorite way to celebrate Pride?
DT: Hosting a BBQ at my home with friends visiting from all over the world!

Favorite local LGBTQ+ establishment?
DT: Elixir Happy Hour (Queer Asian Happy Hour) at Boxer’s Hell’s Kitchen.


All illustrations by Elly Rodgers

Upward view of New York skyscrapers at dusk by mandritoiu/Shutterstock.com