NEW YORK, NY
It all started with… a hurricane and a rave.
Daniela Perdomo is the co-founder of goTenna: a solution to enable communication when you need it, not just when it’s available. goTenna’s first product is a device that pairs wirelessly to your iPhone or Android, allowing you to send texts and share your location with anyone else who also has one, even when you don't have service. The device solves the two issues (and many others) that sparked the idea for Daniela and her co-founder (and brother) Jorge: “My brother's inspiration came from attending big raves where cell towers are overloaded and you can't get in touch with your friends. Mine came from the experience of Hurricane Sandy when about a third of all cell towers went down — and power went out too, cutting people off from the normal modes of connectivity they usually rely on.” Having recently shipped their first batch of beta product, goTenna is just getting warmed up.
What enabled you to take the final leap and start goTenna?
Entrepreneurship was socialized in an everyday way for me, because I’d been working in tech startups since 2008. I’d seen enough people around me go off and start companies, and I’d been part of early-stage teams, so taking the leap myself seemed a distinct possibility provided I found a problem I wanted to dedicate myself to solving.
The most immediate motivator, however, was that I wasn’t happy with my career in 2012. On paper it was going fine, but I wasn’t excited by the day-to-day stuff I was doing, or the products I was working on. They didn’t seem to have any societal relevancy, and as a socially-conscious person, this made me sad. It was an uncomfortable, introspective time. I remember a dark moment that summer, where I was just staring blankly at my computer screen at work, thinking, “Am I just going to be one of those people who settles?”
Soon thereafter a friend and I started working on a business idea on night and weekends, and as I was a few months into exploring this other project, my brother started talking to me about what would become goTenna. Between the idea my friend and I were working on, and my brother’s and my conversations, it felt right to wipe the chessboard clean career-wise and give myself some time to figure out what I wanted to do next.
goTenna turned out to be the idea I committed to full-time, because the more I looked into it, the more it became clear that the kind of tech we were talking about could address a wide-ranging problem no one else had solved.
The idea of creating a communications network powered by people as opposed to infrastructure started to feel exciting and almost obvious. Our goal with goTenna is to build a whole stack of technologies — hardware, software, firmware, networking protocols, a development platform — to power resilient, on-your-own-terms communications.
As far as I’m concerned, every entrepreneur should make time to see a therapist, exercise, sleep, meditate, volunteer or do whatever makes the mind and body feel healthy. These kinds of things make me a more pleasant person to be around who is less likely to be consumed by stress, and more capable of celebrating the little victories. I’ve not fully achieved an ideal balance yet, but I’m working on it.
What has your experience been as a woman in this industry?
This one’s difficult to answer. It’s sometimes hard to reconcile the fact that for the most part, I feel very supported as a woman in tech — so much so that I’d say that on a day-to-day basis, my gender doesn’t seem to play much of a role in my professional life.
But then I’m reminded of that one time I worked with a not-so-subtle sexist years ago, or how empty the women’s bathrooms always are at CES, or how I was surprised to recently find myself explaining how the gender wage gap being smaller in tech than in most other industries isn’t cause for celebration because equal work deserves equal pay, period.
But being aware of gender in tech isn’t always negative. I’ve experienced such awesome camaraderie with other women in tech. Some of my favorite people to talk through things with are fellow female founders. One of goTenna’s investors is even a VC fund that only invests in companies that have at least one female founder!
I definitely believe that more diverse teams create better products and build better businesses. And given that diversity may be more top-of-mind to people who are in the minority, women in tech have an opportunity to spearhead greater diversity in the industry — gender and otherwise.
It’s exhausting, totally unglamorous, absolutely terrifying, and definitely the best thing I’ve ever done.
In terms of style, how does what you wear help you put your best foot forward?
A couple years ago I stopped dressing for anyone else. And what that’s meant is I’m basically moving toward a uniform. The outfit choices are usually between two very similar things. For instance: black Doc Martens or black Chelsea boots? Black silk top or black cotton top? To be fair, I’ve been integrating more red into my wardrobe recently, and during the summer I default to florals as much as black.
I used to feel paralyzed in front of my closet, but now I feel really certain about what makes me feel good. Now that I come to think of it, my sartorial clarity — after years of indecision and discomfort — feels like a metonym for the greater equanimity I’ve started to feel in other areas of my life recently. I just turned 30, and feel imbued with a rad energy about everything. Very hashtag-lucky-to-be-here vibes.
What are some lessons you’ve learned as the business has grown?
I wasted a lot of time early on trying to crowd-source decisions. While you should be collaborative and ask for advice, ultimately being a CEO can be a lonely job. Often someone has to make a final or quick decision, and that person is you. Trust your instincts. In terms of rejection and hearing no, now that I’m nearly three years into it, I feel like I require less external validation and have a better internal perspective. It’s okay if you can’t convince someone. As Jay-Z says, “On to the next one.”
I’d like goTenna to be providing connectivity not just to hikers in the United States but to villagers in the far reaches of Africa. Communication is a right, but currently it’s a privilege. I’d like for us to play a role in changing that.
Photographed by Bridget Fleming September 2015