In early 2014, when I was thinking about leaving my job to become my own boss, I anticipated a lot of challenges – but not a single one of them related to being a female in business. I simply saw problems and wanted the freedom to work on solving them. Formally trained as a graphic designer, I was about to leave the corporate world to work for myself both as a graphic designer and as Chief Operating Officer of Leaping Tiger – a yet-to-be launched social gaming startup. (It wasn’t until about a month after I quit my job that I learned the term ‘startup’! )
If I had known how few women there were in the space I was entering, I’m not sure if I would have been more driven to succeed, or scared away entirely! I consider myself extremely lucky that I have always been encouraged to do anything I set my mind to, and have always felt like I could. From the outside, the stats on funds raised and executive positions held by by female founders worldwide are pretty dismal. CrunchBase data shows that around 550 tech companies raised a Series B (second or third round of funding) in 2015; however, only 5% (30) of those had a female founder/CEO. Of course those statistics come straight from the USA, but there’s no denying the gender gap in NZ business too. We have a severe lack of females in governance, and women face inequality on a day to day basis. There are more men named ‘Dave’ on governance boards in NZ than there are women – of any name. I wish that was an exaggeration.
Being in a male/female cofounder partnership with a male CEO has its interesting moments – I’ve been left hanging on more handshakes than I care to remember. I don’t want to make excuses, but it is tough to change the status quo as an early stage founder, where you constantly feel less important than whoever it is you’re meeting with. I consider myself lucky to feel very supported by a network of people I trust, but I can see how this kind of experience can really wear someone down. However it’s not all bad – in my experience, NZ is a mostly encouraging place to be a young female founder. We’ve got a long way to go in demystifying unconscious bias in business, but I do believe lots of young NZ companies are making some big steps in the right direction.
n late 2015, PledgeMe CEO Anna Guenther crowdsourced a list of New Zealand business women. The list is truly inspiring, and makes it clear that female founders are not alone out there! As a first time entrepreneur I have found there is a support network, and the further you lean in the more people are willing to help. I’ve been fortunate enough to meet so many amazing women in tech AND female gamers along my Leaping Tiger journey! Once you start publicly advocating your passions you begin to attract like-minded individuals.
But what about those who don’t feel comfortable identifying with the term “gamer”? Or who don’t want to shout their love of Skyrim across the work cafeteria?
For me, finding friends to play games with has never been easy. It’s never something my core group of friends has had a real passion for, and certainly not something other women in my circles ever discussed either. I got lucky a few times when I was younger finding female friends online through the games I was playing, but it was difficult, and very, very hit and miss. Leaping Tiger is about more than finding someone to complete a level with. Sure, you can use it that way and it’s fantastic, but for me it’s about having somewhere to discover new friends, and make real connections.
Women in games is a massive topic of conversation. To be honest, it’s much bigger than I could even begin to tackle in this article. As a young woman growing up gaming, I was fortunate enough to rarely receive any negative or unwanted attention. Looking back now, I realise I made my online gaming identity androgynous on many occasions, and I now wonder if I truly did that out of choice, or instinct. It has only been in the past couple of years I have begun to investigate and understand the problems that gender imbalance causes, not only in gaming/tech industries but for society as a whole.
Leaping Tiger began as a conversation with my friend (now cofounder) Jordan about the games we both played. Both passionate gamers and nerd culture enthusiasts, we initially just thought it would be cool to easily see someone’s game collection online, and be able to offer them trades. Both working in an in-house corporate marketing team, we spent a few lazy sundays sketching out our ideas for what this website could look like. The more people we spoke to, the more we realised fellow gamers shared our problems. It’s easy to meet people to game with when you’re a kid – everyone’s talking about the latest level they beat! As you move into high school and university it’s still relatively easy, but groups start to segregate off and you’re pegged as either a ‘gamer’ or not. Once you hit the workforce, you’re far more likely to find your colleagues discussing their latest home improvement accomplishments at morning tea than their Friday night kill streak.
At a basic level, Leaping Tiger allows you to instantly discover a pool of like-minded people that are located near by. As you scan the list of players the app offers carefully selected pieces of information – someone’s name, picture, location and their gaming history. The intention is that we provide just enough information to make common ground from, and give players the tools to connect. Whether that translates to an online or offline friendship at the end of the day, we don’t mind – but we’re definitely seeing a massive increase in the amount of IRL (in real life) gaming meet-ups, even in New Zealand! Our vision is to create a social platform that combats anonymity within gaming and helps players establish more lasting connections. In mid-2015 we launched our minimum viable product, a location-based friend-finding app for gamers now available on iOS, Android and web. Players simply “check in” to the game they are currently playing and are able to discover others in their area, send a play request, and chat though the in-app messenger system.
The launch was met with international acclaim, featured on websites such as IGN.com andTechTimes; quickly establishing a community of thousands. However the current application barely scratches the surface of the Leaping Tiger vision. We see a future where local community gaming events and tournaments are commonplace and easily accessible. Now, I want to succeed not only for myself and the passion I have for this vision, but because I truly hope I can inspire someone. Anyone. All it takes is one great example for people – male or female – to begin believing they, too, can do bigger things than they thought they ever could before.
This article was originally written for and posted on The Spinoff.