When Tammy Cho, who founded her first company at age 17, dropped out of a marketing degree program at Georgetown University to focus on her startup after receiving some seed funding, she learned quickly how tough it would be to be young, female, and Asian American in the world of tech.
"I can't tell you the number of conversations our team had where investors would want to negotiate my equity down because they saw me as a risk to the company," she says. "Oftentimes they would cite factors like how young I was and how I was a college dropout to justify the fact. Yet, I was also hearing them praise and glorify founders like Mark Zuckerberg, who also dropped out of school to launch a company."
Fueled by her personal experiences, Cho—whose first company was acquired just four months after it launched—went on to found the San Francisco–based nonprofit BetterBrave, which empowers workers with tools to help them navigate harassment, discrimination, and retaliation.
Hate is a Virus takes aim at combating racism in the midst of COVID-19.(Reinhardt Kenneth via We Are Uprisers)
But more on BetterBrave in a moment.
Most recently, Cho, now 25, has cofounded Hate Is a Virus, a campaign dedicated to raising awareness about the fresh wave of racism directed at Asians and Asian Americans fueled by COVID-19. The movement is organized by a group including Michelle Hanabusa, founder of Uprisers, and Bryan Pham, founder of Asian Hustle Network, with the idea of tapping influencers across media, entertainment, tech, and politics to raise money for relief funds that will translate to grants for small businesses in need. Already, they have a notable list of supporters including celebrities, founders, and entrepreneurs from the likes of ABC, Rise, Disney, and Marvel.
The project allows anybody to go online and report anti-Asian incidents, donate to the relief fund, and also to purchase merch (including reusable face masks) emblazoned with the hashtag #hateisavirus.
While separate from her core work with BetterBrave, it's a mission that is near and dear to Cho's heart. For over two decades, her parents operated liquor stores, dry cleaners, and alterations businesses until last year when they sold out to retire in Korea. "During that time, I firsthand witnessed the racism they experienced and know how difficult it is to operate a small business," she says.
Back in 2017 when Cho was launching BetterBrave, she too relied on the support of influential boldface names. She'd been inspired to launch her project when she found solidarity in software engineer Susan Fowler's blog post about her experiences with discrimination at Uber; reading it, she realized she wasn't alone in feeling marginalized by an industry dominated by white men. She was inspired to start reaching out to the people around her to hear their stories.
"Honestly, every story made me angrier, just the reality of how common this issue was and why it's been under wraps for so long." She teamed up with a colleague, Grace Choi, and the two set out "to take a deeper dive into why harassment and discrimination continue to occur."
They interviewed hundreds of people—employment lawyers, HR experts, workplace harassment victims, founders, and more—in conversations that would lay the foundation for BetterBrave. Their biggest learning? There was an enormous gap in the understanding of how to navigate these incidents, where employers have access to legal teams while employees are sent to HR with little understanding of their options or much guarantee of change. So Cho and Choi set out to create a clear and simple guide on rights—and documenting and reporting instances of discrimination and harassment—in the workplace.
When the project launched in beta this past March, Fowler, along with Gretchen Carlson, who famously took down Fox CEO Roger Ailes for his notoriously bad behavior, and Niniane Wang, a Silicon Valley powerhouse, shared the launch of BetterBrave broadly with their communities. Various experts, and even presidential candidate Andrew Yang, announced their support, catapulting BetterBrave into the territory of trusted resource for a range of organizations—Time's Up, American Bar Association, Chanel Miller, and Women in Film.
As more and more people began reaching out with their experiences and ideas, a new program was dreamed up: The free Community Resource Platform, launched this past March, allows users to contribute resources of their own, which are then reviewed and fact-checked by a community of experts prior to being published.
"The people who are most vulnerable to these incidents oftentimes can't afford the resources," Cho says.