WHY I GAVE UP EVERYTHING TO LAUNCH APP TO FIND FRIENDS
This new weekly blog series is about becoming the future version of myself through developing this business, from the start to present time. It will focus on what I have learned, what and who inspires me, my goals, and visions. As grand and idealistic as it may be. Don’t be shy. I would love to hear about what you’re doing, what inspires you and what you’ve learned in your own journey, so comment below anytime!
Ummm, I went to school for fashion and journalism. What the hell!
This is always the first defensive statement that my alter ego dishes up whilst fighting with myself whenever I dare jump down yet another rabbit hole of serial entrepreneur madness.
There was the time I had an international newsstand magazine that sold like hot cakes. See, now that makes sense. Professor J over at CUNY in the English + Lit department would be quite proud. Then I did that thing where I was at the beck and call of every privileged upper east side hedonist who decided to experiment with eco-friendly living, which as absurd and niche as it sounds, was what landed my chocolate ass on the prestigious front page of New York Times’ business section. Now that’s some prime NYC real estate. But of course that wasn’t enough because, well ya know, myself - like every other New Yorker - was majorly obsessed with....wait for it...this is before botox....wait for it....before barre, and green juice, and collegiate hookups....obsessed with food. Duh! So I decided to be the grand madame of luxury food tours which turned into a luxury food gift company, which turned into a whole foods organic meal planning company. Which, bet you didn’t see this coming, turned into a eco-living women’s magazine. Full circle. My madness has its strategy, trust me. And because the world of print publishing is just oh so backstabbing (I see you B) that was put on the shelf so I could finally use my hard earned imaginary design degree and launch my eponymous design label which was genuinely a decade in the making. I vomited the story of that excitement back over here in this post.
So why the hell did a writer cum designer cum writer think it was smart to...oh I don’t know, become the next Mark Zuckerberg. (But like a really well dressed version, amiright!)
I need meds.
I am not a computer scientist. Or a girl who can code, though bless their hearts, those chicks are BADASS with a capital B.
Nope, that’s not me. Never was. And I won’t ever change that story no matter how much an overpaid publicist berates me into claiming “I always had a dream of coding apps since I was young...I didn't like barbies, only computer languages!” Uh yeah, not gonna happen. Let’s keep it real. I was reading Vogue. Anything even remotely related to html or java didn’t make sense unless I could picture a winter-white shearling wrap trenchcoat hovering over it. But none of this stopped me two years ago when I had the novel idea to solve an unnerving problem by using technology. It didn’t stop me when I learned what tech incubators were like this one, and this, and this....all of which never show female brown faces. Like ever. Nope, didn’t let it stop be from answering the phone for my pre-interview where I had to sell myself, team of one, to this high caliber program that would turn a tiny idea in my head into a tangible living technology company. That was two years ago. I got into the program. And graduated second place. Which don’t get me wrong, that was not a snide comment. Second place was damn near perfect for me given the minority driven circumstances. I could not have been happier.
So what happened in two years? Yes, tech is a slow swinging needle, but not that damn slow. Where did I go? What happened?
Lack of support.
And rarely, ever, coming across faces that looked like mine in the tech scene.
So I retreated. Like a reclusive turtle back into its shell for an indeterminable amount of time, until a sign as discreet as the breeze seemed to whisper it was okay to come forth again. That process took two whole years of cyclical insecurity, uncertainty, fear, and all the other bullshit we tell ourselves when we have no community to tell us otherwise. No tribe. No “I got your back no matter what and will give you a kick in the butt when you need it” sort of family away from home. I think some people call this friends. Cohorts. Mentors. I call it a squad. Wayyyy before Taylor Swift came around shaking her tiny bum, I was really knee deep in yearning for a squad of my own. When I looked back on my life, all the accountability I ever needed to succeed at business, education, healthy living, travel...it was always from a friend who totally got me. So then it hit me!
Nah, I’m lying. Again, we gotta stop with the fake PR stories. The idea for the app still didn’t hit me yet. Real life doesn’t work that way. How it really works is a mashup of emotive-driven DIY solutions until the actions feel so redundant that you are literally slapped in the face with your own light bulb subconscious. Did I lose you? Ha, ok so it went something like this:
I met one of my favorite people on the planet through Instagram. Lucky for me, my design brand attracts some real girl crushes. I have connected with and became pen pals with a slew of awe inspiring women, beautiful on the inside and out. So having an #instabestie was new for me, but I embraced it like a fat kid embraces a fallen donut on the ground - semi hesitant, but giddy as a motha! We met up in Vegas for a design trade show, decided to share a hotel before even meeting, prayed that neither was a serial killer, and the rest was history. Unfortunately, she lives clear across the country. Me in NY, her in Cali. So there goes that.
The next year I found myself joining Facebook groups as pumped as a street rat on crack. I couldn’t stop jonesing for them. I joined them all! If it had women in the title, I was there. I think 70% of my awake life in 2014-2015 was spent on Facebook. My usage alone probably funded their latest updates.
Anytime I needed help, had a life question, wanted a workout buddy, needed to vet a new diet, there I was in the FB groups just chatting up a storm. If it hasn’t dawned on you yet, this was my desperate masked attempt to concoct surface level friendships through a social networking platform that is mostly used to give cats and babies 15 minutes of fame. Oh, and help us login to other social networking platforms.
So you can imagine my disappointment when I emerged from that addictive overuse, still, with no real friends. Much less a squad.
There I was, minding my own business, watching months turn into years, fearfully giving up on a brilliant tech concept I had initiated, full of denial that I had no friends and was depressed, because obviously this is a country where you don’t admit such things (everything’s perfect! just try to succeed) and starting to spin my wheels in a super quarter life crisis fashion. Something had to give. I was feeling uber guilty that I couldn’t motivate myself enough to finish my original app, one I knew would revolutionize local economies and consumerism, all the while needing like-minded, supportive, friendly cohorts to get me through it all. Thatssss when it hit me! Holy hell!! Is there an app for that?
Like no really...
Is there an app where I can just meet badass women who do not want to date me? Platonic shiz. Like back on the playground. Sex and the City type love. Braid my hair and cry on my shoulder. Sleepover my tiny apartment while I launch a business that consumes so much free time I literally need you to cook me meals and remind me to pee. I want an app for that shit! That way, I can make friends, and then go do the app I was planning on doing two years ago. Doh! Ohhh, but wait. Maybe that is the app I was planning all along. Oh geez, meta moment. I think these are the times when bornagains think God was speaking directly to them...
In an Elizabeth-Gilbert-on-the bathroom-floor instance, I totally realized I could blend my two concepts into the ultimate app. I wanted to help local businesses and the women who shop from them, but I also needed friends. Like real bad. And turns out, thousands of other women do to. They just won’t admit it yet. So what if I helped women make friends as an adult, then encouraged them to leave their house and go do things they love with their new friends. Win, win?
You have to realize, I was always meant to do this. When Facebook launched and early adopters signed up after fleeing Myspace, my first and only edit to my profile was a line I scribbled in a journal full of my philanthropic Utopian dreams which read: I am not an island. I wanted to start schools, and charities, and cure mental diseases that forced women to live in silent shame. I cry over women who live a life of emptiness and struggle much more than my own spilled milk. I don’t know what destiny really means, but this sure as hell came super close. And so, like any mad woman would do in my situation, I set out to build a mobile app from scratch by myself that would cure the female population of unhealthy loneliness and stigma. No big deal. Let me just nosedive into the tech scene. Did I mention I was a black woman yet? ;)
Perhaps this all boiled down to my eternal wanderlust that led me to great escapes and travel but no one to go with, or it was the optimistic entrepreneur in me, or simply that somehow, as humble as I am, I truly believed I could venture to single-handedly solve the problem of making friends post-college, outside of work, outside of significant others who we expect to be our everything... and connect with admirable women who were impressive and on the same vibration frequency as I was.
And then this happened.
Now, it would be easy to presume Taylor Swift was the inspiration behind a super timely, trendy, marketable idea in which women came together virtually to form their own little squads. But that would be dismissing my entire gut-wrenching personal battle to get to this point, so try to ignore the obvious. I do love her latest album, but Tay Tay did not convince me that I needed friends. A depressing status quo life as a minority in sexist, autonomous, money before all else, capitalistic industries - did that all on its own. And as for the name of my new movement...well it actually went through several renditions and was inspired by a network I was a part of before. Originally I thought YOLO or SOLO something or another would be fun. Then “heart-centered” magic fairy princess life coach entrepreneurs said nooooo, use the word sisterhood in your name. Ahh, no. We aren’t trying to sync our menstrual cycles, just make friends. IRL. Let’s modernize it a bit. So I ended up with Solo Girl Squad. Lonely today, but not tomorrow.
The best thing about my new baby (Solo Girl Squad of course, not one delivered through utero) was that I never once thought about money. It was and still is a genuine passion project. And I mean that from my bones. So much so I spent every last dime building it, and not in an idiom kind of way where people say they spent everything when really they mean they used to be a finance analyst on Wall Street and used every last drop from that savings account that had $160K in it, and they feel just oh so devastated over the loss. Can you still tell how much I hate reading those broken record PR stories of privileged waify summa cum laude founders? Yeah. Sorry, not sorry. No, I really mean every last dime. I have no bankrolling husband (let that fact do to you what it will) for bailouts and like $30 to my name and lived in a basement, remember? As a matter of fact, just imagine how that story plays out when it comes to making friends. So listen to it replay and try not to judge me: Hi, I’m Leti! Nice to meet you. I live in a basement, have no money, work in tech but don’t have a tech background yet still positive I will succeed in a determined kind of way not denial kind of way, and you would be my first and only friend in this city. Wanna hang??
Riiiight. There’s no wonder we need like-minded partners in crime. Life rarely goes traditionally as planned, as described when the concept of adulthood was beaten into our adolescent brains, and yet when we do get on the other side of the brown grass waiving our freak flags high, we are expected to somehow magnetically attract the exact people who will understand us, get us, ride or die with us, and not steal our boyfriends! Wow, that’s asking a lot. But if we do find those special bonds, then there is just one tinyyyy problem.
Ah what a beast! Have you ever tried to schedule a friend date? Yeah, good luck. And that’s where I want my baby to insert itself into your lives. The only app for women who want to have like-minded insta besties literally dropped on their lap, with a hangout already perfectly scheduled, all in a safe, convenient, rewards-driven environment. Now that is something I could see flourishing as a business, and its a problem I want to solve. Now I just have to turn this story into a 30 second elevator pitch for the next guy that asks me, “why did you start a dating app for women who need friends”. Trust me mister man, I have my reasons!
Solo Girl Squad’s mission is to create social opportunities for like-minded women in a safe, inviting, transparent platform to bond over shared life goals and interests. We are a movement that connects, empowers, and supports women through technology and local interactions. In our world, one day soon, there will be compassionate ear for every woman in need of someone to talk to.
This is my mission, this is my launch, let’s squad it up!