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Tech Startup Founder: “You Just Have To Go For It”

These days, there’s an app or a website for everything. Brooke McIntyre is using the web to bring together writers looking to help each other improve their work and unleash their creativity. She may not have a tech background, but she’s using a relatively new medium to update a century’s old process.

brooke2What is your job title and what industry do you work in? How long have you been doing this job?
I am the founder and only employee of the tech startup Inked Voices. It’s a site that helps writers find, form and run writing groups online. The groups on the site work like real-world writing groups – people submit fiction pieces, get critiques from their fellow writers so they can improve their writing, and share general advice about the writing world. I’ve been working on the site full-time since October.

How would you describe what you do? What does your work entail?
There are basically three parts to my job – product development, sales, and customer service. Product development is the actual creation of the site. I’m not a web developer at all, but the site is based on my designs and my ideas. I start by sketching them out on paper and taking a picture with my phone, which I send to a designer who creates the look and feel of the site. I work closely with a backend developer, who creates the actual structure and code that makes the site work. I have to think about the features I want the site to have, both right now and in the future, and let the backend developers know so that they can build a structure that works for what the site does now and where I see it going. We work in iterations—they’re sort of like the drafts that writers use—and I make sure that the finished product matches up with my ideas and the feedback I’m getting from writers.

I was surprised to learn that a large part of my work would be in sales, even during the beta phase, when the site is open to a limited group of users. I need writers who are willing to use the site and give it a try and provide feedback. It’s been a lot harder than I expected it to be – I’ve been reaching out to any writer’s organization or group I can find. And once beta writers are using the site, I’m responsible for customer service. I answer their questions, ask them what’s working and what’s not, and help new writers find groups where they can read and critique the work of people writing in similar genres and aiming for similar goals.

What was your journey to doing this kind of work? How did you get here?
I went to business school at University of Michigan a few years back with the intention of forming a nonprofit, but on graduation, I decided to take a job working for a business-to-business company doing marketing and branding. I enjoyed my work, but when I had my second child, my work-life trade-off became more important to me. I decided that I wanted to spend time doing something that I was more passionate about, and for me that was writing. I started by taking some writing classes, focusing on children’s book writing, which is something I’d always dreamed of doing, and ended up forming a critique group with some people in my class. Our group used email and Google Drive to run our online group. While it worked OK, I immediately started seeing opportunities for improvement. Our system lacked structure and had to be constantly managed. I also wanted us to have our own private, shared space for critique and discussion. I saw an opportunity to create a place and a system for small groups like mine.

In creating Inked Voices, it was very important to me to give writers a way to find their own writing groups. I was really fortunate to form a great group through my online class, but not everyone has that opportunity. Tech tools won’t help you if you can’t find anyone to partner up with.

In some ways, it wasn’t just one thing that led me to start Inked Voices, it was everything – my business background, my experience in the critique group, my love for working in teams. I knew I wanted to do something with meaning and do something entrepreneurial, so I decided to put all that together and give it a go.

What is your ethnicity and gender? How has it hurt or helped you?inkedvoices
Being a woman had more of an impact before becoming an entrepreneur. I used to be 1 of only 3 women on a 10-person management team, and I often felt left out of the club when it came to networking. Today, I’m still sometimes the only woman in the co-working space I share, but it feels different. I think it’s probably because I’m working more independently now and not working for someone.

I think age has been a larger barrier for me to overcome. I’ve always looked young and it used to be hard to get people to take me seriously. In my mind, I thought I couldn’t do something meaningful with my career until I was at least 30, and it was reinforced by what was said by everyone around me. Of course, now, working in the technology space, I’m surrounded by younger people all the time. It’s kind of ironic that I waited to be older to try to make an impact and now I’m old for my field. I let people put up barriers for me, and they were mostly artificial. I definitely could have “leaned in” more and negotiated harder at times for what I wanted.

Do you love what you do? Do you think you’ve found the right path?
Yes, because I think that stories are magical and words are like music. I remember myself as a child, devouring books and getting lost in characters and learning so much by reading. And now I get to work on the other side of things with people who are creating those stories. Not everyone who uses Inked Voices is a creative writer, but a large number are. I get to help people who are telling stories and using their imagination and creating things for all of us. When I see people enjoying their writing and getting good feedback, it makes me happy. Self-expression is so important.

What do you need to succeed in this field?
You need tenacity, along with real desire and commitment to create something that’s actually going to work. For someone like me, who doesn’t have a tech background, you also have to trust people. I’ve had to find people to work with who are comfortable with someone who isn’t as tech-savvy as they are and who I believe will be able to translate my ideas into code. I’m not going to be able to sit down and code with them and we both have to be okay with that.

brooke1What is the single most important thing you have learned outside of school about the working world?
Don’t wait. If you want something, start doing it. Nobody’s going to hand it to you. Start volunteering, do a project, take on the kind of work that you want to do. Don’t hope that someone is going to a chance on you or shine a light on your talent. Shine a light on yourself and take the chance. You just have to go for it. I wish someone had said that to me when I was starting out.

What kind of challenges do you face?
This is a new space for me and it’s a steep learning curve. I’m learning about writing as an industry. I’m learning about technology and the software development process. And while some of what I do is similar to my past experience, I’m working on a service that is for consumers, which is different than working directly with businesses. So I am in constant listening and learning mode.

The hardest part is probably the selling component—I have new respect for people with careers in sales. Sometimes people are enormously helpful with their feedback, advice or time and other times the door is slammed in my face. As with any industry, there are gatekeepers. So I’ve had to be very scrappy from the very beginning.

On a personal note, there’s also a financial challenge. It’s one thing to take on the risk of starting a business when you don’t have kids or you have a partner who can pay all of the bills, but that isn’t my situation. Right now, we’re using one income and our savings to fund the site’s design and development costs and our living expenses here in New York City. My husband especially has been so supportive of me taking this leap and I don’t want to waste this opportunity. So I’m working hard and trying to either succeed or fail quickly.

If you could write your own ticket, what would you like to be doing in five years?
I want to keep developing the site, and eventually I’d like to build a version of it that would work in the education sector, helping teachers form and run writing groups in their classrooms. There is a huge tie between literacy and writing, and I’d like to give educators the tools to help teach writing as a life skill.

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  • I relate to this story because as a woman in a S.T.E.M. field, my classes usually involved 30 men, and only 3 women. For me, it was also really hard to cope because of my mental illness affecting my performance, and being a woman means you have to work twice as hard as any man to get the same recognition as them. However, if you truly are passionate about something, you have to keep going, regardless of the obstacles before you.

  • This was a very inspiring piece. Oftentimes, especially with pursuing education and as an underrepresented minority and woman, I feel as though I need to be “completely ready” and extremely knowledgeable in order to even get started. I’ve learned over the years and emphasized in this article, that success knows no time. I created a service organization, RISE Leadership Academy, to connect underserved centers for youth aged 12 to 17 to programs needed to become more effective and sustainable. I galvanized fellow undergraduate team members to collaboratively implement my vision, pitch in case competitions, and gain the support of national organizations through grant awards to ultimately fundraise for supplies and equipment for a youth center in Jamaica. It took tenacity, learning different skill sets, and consistently and confidently putting myself out there for pitch competitions to streamline my social venture.

    I also really resonated with the idea of being in a new space and the learning trajectory. My post MBA goal is within the television and film industry. Thus, I decided to create and co-host Sidebar, a weekly podcast discussing career and relationships over drinks and cocktails. Sidebar is a platform that unabashedly highlights the experiences of both guests and two black urban females through a modern lens. Previous guests have included entrepreneurs, media industry guests, and executive directors of top consulting firms and is posted on iTunes and Stitcher.

  • Recently, I have shared the same conviction of “You just have to go for it,” when I decided to pursue my doctorate in Clinical Psychology. Attending a private school for a doctorate degree skyrockets the cost, and moving cities to go to school only compounds on those costs. My goals to become a psychologist and to be able to help low-income families led me past self-doubts and financial worries, to move forward and to just go for it.

  • I can identify significantly to this post . I think that stories and really all forms of liberal arts are like doses of magic that you devour within every page , or every note of music . Although i pursued entrepreneurship from an early age , I took a job in sales to further my skill set . I taught myself how to code and now i too and on my way to becoming a tech founder . i love that she chose her passion . I love that she’s already looking forward to the future because that means she’s committed to the journey .

  • It is kind of discouraging going after an idea or maybe even a job when you don’t have all the qualifications for it. I know I get discouraged plenty of times because of my background and financial challenges too. I’ve learned throughout my college experience, that you have to take risks. If you really want to do something you have to take those risks. The worst thing that can happen is to fail, but you learn from those failures and correct them the next time so you can do better. I’ve been struggling with taking risks because of my bad anxiety to fail. However, I learned that, that is a part of taking risks and it doesn’t mean you should stop taking that risk. It just means you should fix or change a route so you can succeed and carry on. If you really want something, you will work for it.

  • Reading the selection, how Brooke’s choices were impacted by how the different industries had and still have disproportionate female representation. It seemed fitting to seek a more independent avenue to pursue one’s passion. However working within the industry is still necessary, the experiences and encountered serve as both a reminder the obstacles exist and a viable means this innovative individual worked around the obstacles. Her story is empowering and inspiring for those of any age seeing only the challenges in an industry or environment.

  • This was a very inspiring piece as it relates to me as well. As an art / photography major, it’s difficult to face financial problems, paying off school loans in the future, etc. But I want to have a career that I love and look forward to in the future. My parents were not entirely supportive at first but as you said, you just got to go for it and have faith in yourself. For a couple years, my parents wanted me to change majors as they were worried about not having a stable career. But as I continue to fight for what I love, they eventually started to support the idea and help me find internships. I always tell myself to never give up and keep fighting / defending yourself. As a young adult, I am still learning and I plan to continue with the path I am on now. Thank you for sharing your story!

  • This piece was truly moving. How you overcame all the hardships and did not let the the stereotype of a mans world defeat you. We need more women like you, to pursue their dreams!

    Thank you for sharing.

  • I can completely relate to your story. I am going into the broadcast journalism field after college, hopefully, and it is a very difficult field for a woman to get into. It has been a male driven field for a very long time.

    I also resonate with your advice to not wait. I am a freshman in college and I’ve been lucky enough to have been taught that lesson early on. I interned at two internships my senior year and I also went to a career fair targeted toward juniors and seniors this year in college, as a freshman and I have a few interviews as a result.

    I think your advice is spot on and it is so helpful to know I am on the right track. Thank you for sharing your story!

  • This is so inspiring, thanks for sharing your story! I love your determination and positive attitude, from the long string of comments it appears that many others do as well. I can relate to your experiences as being one of a few women in the work place, and becoming confident in yourself despite your age.

    Right now I am working with my local justice court in hopes to lead me towards a career in law. I’ve had many positive interactions where people encourage me to chase my goals, and others where they tell me that I won’t be taken seriously because of my gender.

    As a 19 year old I often face my own insecurities as well as those inflicted upon me by my colleagues and peers in school. Every time I tell someone my age I have a mini identity crisis and hope that they don’t look down on me for it. I find it inspiring that you look back and wish that you had set it aside. Becoming comfortable with my age and ambitions is something I am actively overcoming.

    You have many great ideas, I wish you and your family success in your endeavors.