Armed with a degree in Management Science & Engineering from Stanford and several years of experience at Microsoft, Stephanie Lampkin was surprised when a recruiter told her she didn’t have the right skills for a tech job. As a Black woman, she sensed that unconscious bias kept her from getting more opportunities and decided to forge her own path. At MIT’s Sloan School, Stephanie concentrated her MBA on entrepreneurship and innovation, in 2015, she launched Blendoor, a company that seeks to remove unconscious bias from the hiring process and help businesses create more diverse, inclusive work environments. From Lightbulb Moment to First Steps. What is Blendoor’s mission? Blendoor is a diversity analytics and hiring software company. Our mission is to enable exceptional companies attract and retain diverse talent. How did the idea for your business come about? I first had the idea in 2014. I was working on another start-up, and it wasn’t going well so I interviewed for an analytical lead position at Google. After interviewing, the recruiter came back and told me I wasn’t technical enough. I later found out that Google only had 12 African-American women in tech roles and realized there was a lack of diversity leadership in tech. I heard that tech couldn’t find qualified people, but I knew there was a pipeline. Blendoor is a diversity, equity, and inclusion rating and recommendation system. It’s similar to Credit Karma – where you get a credit score and then it shows you how to remediate the challenges that prevent you from getting a higher score. We help companies mitigate DEI-related risks (lawsuits, voluntary resignations, etc.) and attract premium diverse talent (that are more socially conscious aka ‘woke’ than ever). Did you know from early on that you were entrepreneurial? I come from a family of entrepreneurial women. My mom and four aunties all left corporate America to pursue lifestyle businesses. When I was 15, I wrote an essay that I wanted to be the first Black female CEO of a Fortune 500 company. But I always had in the back in my mind that corporate America would not serve me. If something doesn’t serve you, you find a way to serve yourself or starve. Seeing people who are sensitive to their humanity during this unprecedented moment gives me so much hope. Did you have any influences growing up or in school who encouraged you to start the business? All of my academic focus was on tech and entrepreneurship. At Stanford, my concentration was organizations, tech and entrepreneurship, and my MBA focus was innovation and entrepreneurship. I was laying the groundwork to get “off the plantation.” Getting Going: The Highs and Lows. What is the first thing you recommend others do when they want to start a business? This is my second start-up, and I always start by sitting down with a clear mind, and pencil and paper, and ask myself: What are the things in this life I MUST do? With Blendoor, I went through a similar exercise earlier this year. The original product focused on recruiting, but it was feeding more of the problem of “diversity theater,” which is similar to “greenwashing” in the environmental space. It’s when a company says it cares about diversity, but the data does not support it. I started to feel like I was becoming just another box that companies checked for optics. Earlier this year I sat down with a clear head and quiet space and asked myself what I could not live without. My biggest passion is connecting people. Connecting them to opportunities and to other people and connecting companies to people. So I developed a company pivot based on that idea – which was to focus on a diversity rating and people analytics system that could enable people to find [their] fit based on the intersection of their identities and core values. The MBA gave me the freedom and the resources to know that failure was okay. What are some specific examples of activities you do on a daily basis? I intentionally avoid daily patterns and try to be flexible and mix it up. When I start to do the same thing every day, it feels like the same long day. One thing I do every day is listen to NPR. What were some of the biggest challenges you faced starting your business? Fundraising by far is the hardest thing – I thought it would be smoother, given my academic pedigree. I hired a coach in 2019 to help me and still couldn’t crack it. It took me down a path of understanding race and capital in this country. I can build great products and sell them, but I cannot rely on institutional capital. Hopefully, growing the company with limited institutional funding will pay off in the long run – it will be the best case study of why investors need to diversify their portfolios. Would you change anything if you had to start over again? Trying to raise venture capital diverted so much of my time away from building a great product. It’s hard for me to know, but I would have focused more on galvanizing a team and attracting people with incentives beyond cash. What has been most exciting for you? The events of last year – with the murder of George Floyd – has had such an impact among people of all races. Not only protests, but within companies and institutional changes, seeing people who are sensitive to their humanity during this unprecedented moment gives me so much hope. Learnings along the Way. What are some things that the entrepreneurial process has taught you that you can't learn in the classroom? People can make or break everything. You have to understand their motives and align them with your mission. Communication is key, and there is never enough academic preparation for how to incentivize people. As much as you think your idea is great, you better know what keeps your customer up at night and what they eat for breakfast. How has an MBA helped you in starting a business? I used business school as an incubator and was able to experiment. While at MIT, I was all over the place – I did a consulting project in Ghana; I founded a ski club and a travel and hospitality club. The MBA gave me the freedom and the resources to know that failure was okay. It also gave me practical tools – for example, I took a course in early stage financing. We went to lawyer’s office to understand the nitty gritty details of negotiating funding. It was real, tangible experience. What ONE piece of advice do you have for women who are considering starting a business? Know your customer inside and out. As much as you think your idea is great, you better know what keeps your customer up at night and what they eat for breakfast. Personal Passions. Is there a book (business or personal) that has had a particular influence on you? I am a Malcolm Gladwell fan – Outliers resonated with me. Humans falsely attribute our success and failure to irrelevant things, and Gladwell articulates the correlations that contribute to success. Your zip code has more to do with your success than anything else. What do you do for fun when not being a boss? I love back country skiing and going with friends to remote places. I got exposed to it young and started racing at age 7. I have been to every major ski resort in the US – my favorite place to ski in the world is St. Anton am Arlberg. We ask all the women we interview this question: is there a song you listen to that makes you say “I got this thing called life!”? Before I go on stage, always listen to Beyoncé’s “I Am a Grown Woman.” It is so empowering – I can do whatever I want.