Two women entrepreneurs create fake male co-founder to beat startup sexism

When Penelope Gazin and Kate Dwyer launched their artist marketplace website, Witchsy, they found sexism got in the way of doing business. That is, until they created their imaginary third partner, Keith Mann.

Before "Keith Mann" came on board, Gazin and Dwyer consistently dealt with condescending and sexist attitudes from people they were trying to work with, such as developers and graphic designers. According to Fast Company:

Some hurdles were overt: Early on a web developer they brought on to help build the site tried to stealthily delete everything after Gazin declined to go on a date with him. But most of the obstacles were much more subtle.

After setting out to build Witchsy, it didn't take long for them to notice a pattern: In many cases, the outside developers and graphic designers they enlisted to help often took a condescending tone over email. These collaborators, who were almost always male, were often short, slow to respond, and vaguely disrespectful in correspondence. In response to one request, a developer started an email with the words "Okay, girls…"

But recruiting Mr. Mann to help man the company changed everything for them.

"It was like night and day," says Dwyer. "It would take me days to get a response, but Keith could not only get a response and a status update, but also be asked if he wanted anything else or if there was anything else that Keith needed help with."

Dwyer and Gazin continued to deploy Keith regularly when interacting with outsiders and found that the change in tone wasn't just an anomaly. In exchange after exchange, the perceived involvement of a man seemed to have an effect on people's assumptions about Witchsy and colored how they interacted with the budding business. One developer in particular seemed to show more deference to Keith than he did to Dwyer or Gazin, right down to the basics of human interaction.

"Whenever he spoke to Keith, he always addressed Keith by name," says Gazin. "Whenever he spoke to us, he never used our names."

Dwyer and Gazin sold $200,000 worth of merchandise in their first year, and recently received an investment from Rick and Morty co-creator Justin Roiland. They are no longer using Mann as their frontman, and least not for now.

Image: geralt/Pixabay