Yesterday I was shocked to read a tweet by Arlo (seen above) suggesting that our startup community was exclusionary to anyone who wasn’t white or Christian. I couldn’t disagree more. I immediately responded on Twitter and learned that there were people in our community who felt we were excluding non-whites and non-Christians. I knew I wanted to respond to Arlo’s tweet in a long-form blog post, but I wasn’t necessarily sure how to do it. Ironically over the years I have felt excluded from the startup community here in Dallas and San Francisco because of my religious and political beliefs. Most of my co-founders, partners, investors and employees have been non-religious (or atheist) Democrats (God forbid). I used to have a political blog called PoliticalMuse where I wrote about conservative politics; however, one of my investors quietly suggested I take it down before it hurt my ability to raise venture capital. In my twenties I decided to get baptized and invited my employees to the baptism. I was shocked by how many people complained to HR after receiving the invitation. Over the years there have been countless examples of situations where someone in the startup community would learn of my religious or political beliefs and ridicule me for them and as a result I try to keep them below the radar.
In preparation for this post I did two things. First, I put together a very short (non-scientific) poll to determine if other people agreed with Arlo’s opinion. He had suggested many people weren’t willing to publicly discuss their concerns so I figured a poll was the only way to get their feedback. About 20% of respondents were non-whites and 50% were non-Christian. Of these two groups I asked if they ever felt excluded from the community based on their race or religion – between 90-95% of them had never felt excluded (the results are below). The second thing I did was to talk to various people in the community who reached out to me directly suggesting they had felt excluded. The PRIMARY thread that ran through each of these conversations was that it was very difficult for racial or religious minorities in Dallas to raise capital – the capital markets seemed to excluded them.
Ironically, as I noted previously, I’ve always felt a little ‘excluded’ myself. Most of the investors I’ve worked with didn’t share my worldview when it came to religion or politics. If an investor didn’t agree to fund my company, in the back of my mind I assumed it must have been because of my religion or politics – it certainly couldn’t be me or my idea. I wonder if some of the people I talked to experience rejection and assume it must be due to their race or religion. The reality is that MOST white, male, Christian men in Dallas get rejected when they’re raising capital – most entrepreneurs will NEVER raise outside capital – it is a fact of life regardless of your race, sex or religion.
In my experience the Dallas startup community is very inclusive and after specifically discussing the issue with a bunch of people I remain convinced. Folks like Trey Bowles are Jeremy Vickers are VERY active in their efforts to bring minorities into the startup community. Jennifer Connolly and Kara Brown actively support efforts to bring more women into the startup community. There are scores of other people interested in engaging their various communities and constituencies into the startup community – I think we should encourage them – not exclude them simply because we don’t look like them or agree with them. What do you think?
The results of the Dallas Startup Community Inclusiveness Poll (3/20/2015-2/21/2015)
- 80% White Respondents
- 20% Persons of Color
- 51% Christian Respondents
- 49% Non-Christians
- 95% of Non-White Respondents do not feel excluded from the startup community.
- 5% of Non-White Respondents have felt excluded from the startup community.
- 90% of Non-Christians do not feel excluded from the startup community.
- 10% of Non-Christians have felt excluded from the startup community.