Web Entrepreneur Audrey Melnik Tells TJD: Women Don’t See IT As “Attractive Industry”
3:00 pm, May 28th | by Amy Tennery
What happened? Melnik faced this problem herself — and she wanted answers. So she launched WotWentWrong, a post-mortem dating service that emails your one-time date for “feedback.” Didn’t hear back after the second date? WotWentWrong will ask the ditcher — yep — what went wrong and then send over his or her notes (however brutal they may be).
Sounds weird? Sure, it’s a little unorthodox — which is exactly why it’s working. Since Melnik launched the site in January, WotWentWrong has attracted 48,000 users. Clearly there are a lot of befuddled single ladies and gents out there.
In an interview with The Jane Dough, Melnik explained how she got her start-up off the ground single-handedly — and how she learned to ignore the detractors and fight for her company.
The Jane Dough: In just five months you’ve already attracted upwards of 48,000 users. It seems like there was definitely a need for WotWentWrong. What do you think this says about modern dating? Has romance really gotten this harsh?
Audrey Melnik: I know there’s a need for WotWentWrong – because I personally experienced the confusion and frustration of a seemingly awesome date that I guess was not real,
because I never heard from him afterward. And I can understand the reaction from people who say I’m impersonalizing or automating something profoundly human. But I absolutely disagree with them. During the incredibly awkward disappointment of passive, delayed rejection from a dating partner, there currently are no good options available. Calling makes you a stalker, an easily-forwarded email could turn you into a joke, and asking a friend to intervene on your behalf sends everyone back to the fourth grade.
Some people say, “How does sending a message from a third-party website make you any less desperate? How does it not make you more desperate?” This is the effect a fundamentally brand new idea can have on some people. The fact that a website like WotWentWrong exists takes the stigma out of being passively dumped and normalizes the behavior of proactively, unashamedly asking the person for the reason why. Ten years ago online dating got the same reaction from most people – they mocked it, and those who used it certainly didn’t brag. A decade later, one out of five married couples met online. New technologies take getting used to.
TJD: What kind of roadblocks did you hit while you were developing the program? Any
advice you can offer to other women entrepreneurs?
AM: In order to keep the costs down, I didn’t hire any consultants to work with me on
WotWentWrong. I ended up taking on all the tasks myself – development, marketing, branding, PR – and had no one to share the burden of decisions. I had collaborators, but they were contractors, rather than employees.
Sometimes I had to make the difficult decision to fire someone when their work didn’t deliver to the level that I needed to realize my vision. I had to trust my instincts about whether I should stick with them and try leading them in the right direction, or cut my losses and find someone that could deliver for me. It’s nice to show compassion in this situation and give someone the benefit of the doubt, but in a startup, there’s little room for error. So my advice for other entrepreneurs (male and female) is to have the courage to trust your instincts and to make the hard decisions, popular or not.
TJD: I understand that you self-funded WotWentWrong entirely — that’s incredible! I know a lot of start-ups are going with the non-traditional financing route lately. Can you explain your motivation?
AM: The further you can go without seeking outside funding, the less of your company you will need to give away when you do get funded. And by bootstrapping WotWentWrong all the way through its launch, I was able to focus on the activity of building the best product I could without being distracted by the need to woo investors, which can be a very time-consuming task.
TJD: In a recent interview, you discussed some of the “haters” talking about your site. How do you cultivate a positive image and ignore the detractors?
AM: I believe in myself and what I’m doing. Reading an unflattering article or tweet isn’t always pleasant, but maybe there’s something of value in between the snark I can learn from to improve the next update to WotWentWrong. And we’re fortunate to have many fans out there, too. Remembering not to take things personally, placing boundaries between work and personal life, doing the things I enjoy with the people I love – these are the basics that help me keep things in perspective.
TJD: I don’t think it’s a big secret that women are under represented in IT and software development. What obstacles (if any) have you faced in the industry?
AM: I think the underrepresentation of women in IT has less to do with being deterred by obstacles, and more to do with the fact that most women don’t see it as an attractive industry to be in. They seek out careers that seem to reward their soft skills from the outset: psychology, marketing, teaching. To be successful in the IT industry, you usually need a solid grounding in the technical side of things before you can position into a role where your soft skills will accelerate you ahead of your peers.
This interview has been edited and condensed.