A lot of my friends are starting new ventures, inspired in part by Amelia Greenhall’s excellent post on starting your own b(r)and. [Update 5 Feb 2016: Amelia has deleted her blog and we are no longer collaborating on any projects. Link updated to a different copy.] I helped write some sections, including the one on what to look for in a good co-founder. Now some folks are asking how they can find a co-founder for their feminist company idea.
I know exactly how I found my Ada Initiative co-founder, Mary Gardiner. First, I spent 10 years doing volunteer work for women in open source with other women in open source around the world. Then I sent this email to 5 of these women:
Subject: Moonshot: Getting paid for geek feminism
Hello world-wide open source feminist cabal,
I officially announced today that I’m leaving Red Hat on January 7th
to work on women in open source projects on my own time:
I don’t have a job doing this. Yet. But pretty much the first thing
I thought of when I made this decision a month ago is, “How many of my
friends can I help get jobs doing this too?” Then I told myself that
I was being crazy and went to work on the anti-harassment policy.
Now I’ve had a month to think about it and my feeling is that it may
be crazy but I want to try anyway. I personally have three months to
work on this full-time starting in January. Maybe if we work together
it will be enough to bootstrap all of us up; maybe none of us will be
able to get a job and I’ll have to go crawling back to Red Hat.
Either way, I’ll have a great time! :)
You are on this cc: list because (a) I know you, (b) you have already
devoted a significant portion of your waking hours to women in open
source for several years. I would like to keep the discussion small
for now – large groups are anathema to brainstorming – but if there’s
anyone I’ve obviously missed please suggest them to me and I’ll
Your mission, should you choose to accept it: Write your geek feminist
CV/resume and reply-to-all with it within one week. This includes
things like blog posts, event organization, founding mailing lists,
buying people books, making bizarre on-line challenges – list it first
and we’ll worry about spinning it later.
I don’t know what the world-wide economic capacity for paid women in
open source activists is, but let’s find out together!
The very first person to reply was Mary, a PhD student and primary carer for an 11-month-old baby who lived across the Pacific Ocean from me and whom I’d met in person only twice before. Our only previous joint venture had failed miserably (the great Attempted LinuxChix Coup of 2007). Less than two months later, we were sitting on her parents’ porch in Orange, writing up budgets and discussing how to keep her PhD supervisor from having a fit when he found out she’d started a business. 4 years later, we are running a growing, healthy non-profit that’s changing the world. (Mary also has a PhD and a second child.)
We refer to this as the “moonshot” email and I’ve forwarded it to a few people over the years. What I want to know is, how did you find a co-founder? Leave a comment with your story!
 I was being both ableist and quite literal when I used the word “crazy” in this email; today I’d write it in less offensive and more accurate language.
Updated 2015-02-11 to fix broken footnote link