Imagine you're a woman with an online startup, and you’re having trouble getting respect.
You might expect a chilly reception from venture capitalists, infamous for dismissing anybody who isn’t a white or Asian male. But then you notice the dude-i-tude is coming from most of the techies you work with.
So what do you do? Invent a male co-founder, of course.
That’s what Kate Dwyer and Penelope Gazin did. They're co-founders of Witchsy, an online marketplace similar to Etsy, but edgier. When they weren’t being taken seriously, they came up with a fake, third co-founder: Keith Mann.
"We wanted to reset some of the conversations that we were having with developers, as well as designers," Dwyer says. "So we created Keith as a means to have a little bit of a buffer between us."
Keith would send out emails inquiring after deliverables. "He just got results, in a way that we weren't," Dwyer says.
If Keith asked for something, web developers didn't challenge or second-guess his judgement.
That, and they also responded faster when Keith was asking for, say, an update.
"It was just accepted that he was correct," Dwyer says. "In general we found that a lot of times people would question us, they would often second-guess the things we were doing. But then when Keith would ask for something, a project update or anything really, he would get an instance response of 'Yeah Keith, you got it.'"
You might think Dwyer and Gazin would be tempted to feel resentful, but no.
"Keith was an amazing tool, and he just got things done," Gazin says. "I don't think that the people that we were working with were at all conscious of the difference in [their] behavior."
Keith Mann has since "retired," and of course, the secret is out since the story broke on Fast Company a few weeks ago.
But the story of Keith Mann is proving even more valuable than his short career as an appealingly assertive project manager. Dwyer and Gazin say the flurry of publicity about their experiment has boosted traffic to the web site at unprecedented levels.
Good job, Keith!