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Twenty-two-year-old Carissa Lintao, founder and CEO of Apptuitive, an app marketing and optimization agency, is a trailblazer. A quick look at demographics explains why.
Between 2007 and 2018 the growth of women-owned businesses surged 58% compared to overall new business growth of only 12%. However, only 2.4% of all new entrepreneurs are under 25. And, only 12% of all professional, scientific and technical services are women-owned. These statistics are presented in “The State of Women-Owned Business, 2018,” an annual study commissioned by American Express to highlight trends and “sociodemographic characteristics that influence overall movement of the women-owned business sector.”
Lintao knew what she was getting into. At 19 she was interning in New York City as the content marketer for a tech marketing agency. It was then she approached the CEO with a research proposal, suggesting she write about the issue of gender imbalance in the tech world. At the time, Lintao and the HR representative were the only women among 30 or more men after an unexplained exodus of female employees. She knew first-hand that something was not quite right.
“I just wanted to understand what the real issues were,” Lintao explained in an interview. “But after my pitch, he said, ‘No, this isn’t our problem–it’s their problem, the Facebooks and Googles of the world.’”
What keeps women out of tech?
“Culture,” Lintao said. “There’s a real need to create a safer, more encouraging environment for everyone. It’s about management taking time to say, ‘good job’ and listening when women offer feedback. More importantly, women need to feel safe,” Lintao added, speaking about the drinking culture that went hand-in-hand with her tech agency experiences.
Every single company event was about going out for drinks, and that puts women in an uncomfortable position. I was only 19, 20-years-old and being approached by older guys asking me out for drinks. It felt so wildly uncomfortable.
Now 22, Lintao doesn’t worry so much about the corporate tech environment since launching her company. She took the leap a year ago after her freelance clients kept suggesting she raise her prices and expand her services.
Lintao fell into working the app space when she took a side gig after not being able to find a job out of high school. “When I was 17, I took on a $50 freelancing gig for an independent app developer to write questions and answers for a trivia app. After I knocked that project out, I helped him build out the rest of his portfolio,” she said.
Over the next four years, Lintao graduated with a marketing degree and continued honing her tech skills working for app agencies in New York City and as a freelancer before taking the entrepreneurial leap. For the most part, her age hasn’t been an issue. “Yeah, I’ve been passed up for projects because I’m not as experienced or because the client thinks I’m in high school,” Lintao said. “It comes down to age bias, but I’m not focused on that.”
What Lintao is focused on, however, is app positioning and optimization. “Seventy percent of app downloads come directly from app store search. I make certain to get that right so clients get the most bang for their buck,” said Lintao, who works with a lot of Bootstrap founders who have great ideas, but often have limited capital. “I’m big on product market fit and making sure people want the product from the beginning.”
When asked where she got the courage to start her own app marketing business at 21, her reply was straightforward. “I don’t feel like I’m taking risks at all; I was born and raised to believe I can do whatever I want regardless of what other people may think. I feel like I need to be doing this work and I know it’s the right place for me to be.”
Apptuitive, a name derived from app and intuitive, is particularly symbolic to Lintao who explained how intuitive the work feels to her. For the most part, Apptuitive is still a one-woman show, although Lintao does have a reliable contractor who has worked for her over the last two years. But this doesn’t stop Lintao from thinking big.
In five to seven years, she anticipates having scaled her company to the point that it is worthy of sale and she can move to her next passion–tech ethics. Lintao believes the app economy needs standardized practices and guidelines and that app developers should be required to pass a mandatory ethics training protocol before having the freedom to upload an app. She’s already collaborating on a tech ethics study with an influencer in the field.
Having passed the year mark as CEO, Lintao is open about her biggest challenge: figuring out how to take things to the next level.
“I feel like most guys who do this have a business mentor, they know what they’re doing, they know what steps to take, how to navigate the finances and what it takes to eventually sell the business. I don’t know anything about this,” Lintao said.
Melinda Gates, co-chair of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, is an advocate for mentors to women in tech. In an interview with Caroline Ghosn, founder and CEO of Levo, a professional network dedicated to helping Millennials navigate the workplace, Gates said, “the best mentors aren’t just cheerleaders–they’re coaches. They encourage you, but they also teach you how to think strategically about how to set yourself up for success.”
Asked if she had any female role models in the industry, Lintao didn’t hesitate to name Whitney Wolfe Herd, founder and CEO of Bumble, a business, social, and dating app service known for empowering women. “She’s making so many power moves in the tech industry and standing up for the morals and values that she believes in by actually implementing them,” Lintao explained.
I think Whitney Wolfe Herd’s example is extremely admirable at a time where tech CEO’s like [Facebook’s] Mark Zuckerberg and [Twitter’s] Jack Dorsey are not owning up to the problems they created, and that really bugs me. It doesn’t take much to say, ‘I genuinely apologize for this data breach and here’s how I’m going to fix it,’ instead of hiding behind a PR team that responds days too late.
“Tech is like the Wild West right now, but that’s another spiel,” Lintao said, with a chuckle. “I enjoy working every day towards solving a bigger problem. That’s what gets me out of bed in the mornings.”
March 7, 2019 at 12:05AM
Forbes – Entrepreneurs