Leanne Pittsford is a natural entrepreneur. But growing up, she didn’t think it was a real career path – she thought nonprofits were the way to change the world. But things didn’t go that way. In 2012, she founded Lesbians Who Tech, a global organization with 10,000 members. Pittsford says coming together as a group is the way for women to gain equality. It was recently awarded $165,000 inclusion grant from the Arrillaga-Andreessen Foundation.
What do you actually do all day in your job?
Every day starts with a latte. In San Francisco, it’s Four Barrell or Craftsman & Wolves. In D.C., it’s Peregrine or Compass Coffee. Then I usually hit the emails, followed by a mix of in-person and phone meetings with a mix of our sponsors, supporters and city directors.
There’s a lot that goes into building a global community of queer women in tech! We’ve had over 200 events in 22 cities with over 15,000 event attendees in the last two years, so as you can imagine my day job involves a ton of event planning and community organizing. I’m only one person, so we really depend on our city directors to help coordinate our events.
But we’re finally hiring someone to help with operations as well as launch two programs: Bring a Lesbian to Work Day and a coding scholarship fund for queer women to learn how to code. We are expanding in huge part thanks to the Arrillaga-Andreessen Foundation grant.
How many hours do you sleep?
Six to eight hours.
What do you eat for breakfast?
An over-easy egg on top of pumpernickel bread with sharp white cheddar cheese or fruit with Greek yogurt. I’m very into breakfast.
If you could pitch to one person, who would it be?
Without a doubt, I’d love to pitch Rachel Maddow. She is one of the most visible and important lesbian role models of our generation. When asked, she is almost always the first person queer women want to hear speak because she is brilliant, driven, kind and incredibly hard working.
It is so important for people like her to show up for queer women. I cannot put into words what it’s meant to have Megan Smith, Kara Swisher and Marc Benioff show up for our community. Seeing visible and successful leaders show up in person and make real time for us sends a strong message. It says: I believe in you, I am rooting for you and I want to make things better for you.
And I’d love the chance to pitch my case in person to have her speak at the Lesbians Who Tech Summit on Oct. 2 at NYU Law School.
Rachel, if you’re out there and this doesn’t work, my partner owns a distillery and would be happy to throw in some delicious bourbon (I heard you love bourbon).
What’s on your home screen?
A picture of my two incredibly cute dachshunds, Sauce & Magoo looking out to the ocean in Thailand. Yes, I took my dogs to Thailand.
How often do you exercise?
I’ve been working out almost every day for as long as I can remember. My father was a coach and would take me to the gym before school when I was old enough. I cannot stress how important staying physical is to my sanity and my daily happiness.
What app can’t you live without?
Airbnb has literally changed my life. I can live and work from anywhere and still bring my stovetop moka pot with me everywhere I go.
What's your favorite city?
San Francisco and Berlin. San Francisco has been my home for the last 12 years and there’s no better place in the world. It has amazing food, brilliant people, it’s close to wine country and the year-round weather and fresh produce makes it hard for any other place to compete.
Berlin has so much history, architecture, art, culture and a new and exciting tech scene that is making it the new tech hub in Europe. If San Francisco and New York had a European baby, it would be Berlin.
What’s the most important company we’ve never heard of?
A new company I’m working on called CodeUP. Users can create online portfolios to attract potential employers and network. The coding talent coming out of degree programs, boot camps and those who are self- or peer-taught need a foot in the door. CodeUP creates that door. We should be launching a beta profile this fall.
Are there any social platforms you refuse to participate in?
I try not to refuse participation without trying something first. There are definitely social networks I love more. Instagram, Twitter and Facebook get most of my attention.
What are you reading right now?
I am reading Infinite Jest and Big Data and the Blazing World. I have been reading Infinite Jest for the last few years and I vowed to finish it this year. It was my brother’s favorite book. I’ve been trying to read it ever since he passed away a few years ago so I can understand why he loved it so much. I think he actually read it three times. It is definitely the most challenging book I’ve ever attempted to read.
Do you think there’s a tech bubble?
I think there’s a lot of money in Silicon Valley right now, housing prices have increased in a crazy way (my rent was $1,400 four years ago and now goes for $3,500) and I wonder how long VCs will continue to invest their money in the latest and greatest startup in search of the next Facebook or Google.
The number of companies who have billion-dollar valuations with no revenue definitely feels like we’re in a bubble. I’d argue we’re definitely at the height of a second tech boom, but I doubt there would be a crash anywhere close to what happened in 2000.
Best piece of advice you've been given?
Take more risks. Life is about making choices. Say yes and figure out the details later. Saying yes when you think you can’t is exactly when you should. And I think the world would be a better place if more women had this mindset.
What keeps you up at night?
The many things I want to accomplish in life, and the many places I want to see and visit. I spend a lot of time thinking about gender equality and what will really allow women to have true equality.
What really keeps me up at night is what happens after we die and the meaning of life. The universe is such a big place and there’s so much we don’t know… think about all the things we can’t even begin to imagine yet. And of course there’s the occasional night I’ll stay awake wondering who really killed JFK.
If you could tell your 18-year-old self one thing, what would it be?
Leanne, drop the social good thing and go into business, technology or entrepreneurship. Trust me, you’ll be able to do more good if you do.
I’m a natural entrepreneur, but didn’t think of it as a real career path. Like many women, I wanted to change the world and believed nonprofits and education were the main paths toward creating social change. The reality is that it takes money, sustainable revenue and major influence to make things happen and we need more women to work toward having more economic power.
Also: Buy as many URLs as humanly possible.