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Diving Into Tech

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Tausha Robertson, a health-care expert working in private equity, shares her journey to becoming a first-time mobile app developer.

By Tausha Robertson, Photos by Christina Servin
I never thought that I would develop a mobile app. After earning my doctoral degree in health policy and administration at the University of North Carolina, I dove headfirst into a career in private equity, beginning with a position at Icahn Enterprises. The word “dove” has special significance here. I met Kim Davis, who would initially hire me at Icahn (and then become my business partner at Alterity Group) on a dive boat in Aruba shortly after graduation. Thanks to her, I learned about complex fund operations, mergers and acquisitions, all while developing sought-after expertise managing the health-care spend across portfolios of companies.

In 2006, I jumped into the icy-cold, dark-blue water of private equity, eventually relaxed, centered my breathing, soaked up the knowledge and excelled. The acquisition of Alterity in 2012 required a move to Austin, where the vibrant technology scene intrigued me.

After going to meet-ups and workshops throughout town, I decided to try my hand at developing a mobile app. But where do you start? I would never have been able to launch my app, Primpii, in 2015 without the help of my co-founder, Jorge Servin, who does magical things with code and, more importantly, understands the process of building technology. My heart bursts with pride to say Primpii was the first mobile app to leverage the power of your trusted social network to discover nearby beauty service providers. We received a flood of unexpected awards and recognition for Primpii when it launched.

I was gliding along a wall of coral with colors, brimming with life I’ve never seen. Bliss. But success is not free from challenges in the startup world. The Primpii link to user social networks relied on a Facebook login built using the Parse platform, its tool for helping developers build and grow mobile apps. In January 2016, the news came that Facebook was shutting down Parse. Developers had a year to migrate apps to a new platform.

Kick harder to get out of this current. Then, in October 2016, Venture Beat reported about a new Facebook feature: “Regardless of whether you’re looking for places to go on your next trip, searching for the best salon around town, or looking for a good Mexican restaurant near you, recommendations from your friends are liable to carry weight.”

Sound familiar? This news felt insurmountable, given the personal time and money we’d devoted to getting the app this far. Oh no! My mask is filling with water and I’m 60 feet below the surface. Panic creeps in. I cannot surface. I look all the way up, unseal the bottom of my mask and blow.

The researcher in me thought, “Let’s talk to our users to see how we can pivot, given that we don’t have the resources to rebuild this quickly and compete against Facebook recommendations.” The user feedback was eye-opening and a gift! We found out that multicultural, Gen X women feel overlooked by brands and that many products and services on the market are not meeting their needs. This was a golden nugget.

We are now busy building a digital platform that will curate and amplify the voices of multicultural, Gen X women around things that are important to us. In doing so, our collective eyes and ears will no longer be disbursed across multiple channels. Brands that want our multi-generational influence over kids, spouses and parents, along with our immense buying power, will have one destination to speak to us.

This is a big idea and we’ll need an army of experts and investment to make it happen, both of which are in short supply for women of color as tech founders.

Continue to blow. The water in my mask is slowly seeping out and I am finding my breath again. I’ve experienced the bliss of seeing otherworldly coral formations and abundant life in the depths of the ocean. The rapture of witnessing such beauty is worth the difficulty in getting there. On a dive, the ocean seems to go into infinity, brimming with life I have not yet seen. I won’t ever stop diving. I love the endless possibilities the ocean presents. And, in many ways, tech has offered me that same open frontier.

Follow my bubbles to see where this tech journey takes me.

 

Austin Woman features a reader-submitted essay every month in the I Am Austin Woman column. To be considered for April’s I Am Austin Woman, email a 500-word submission on a topic of your choice by Mar. 1 to submissions@awmediainc.com with the subject line “I Am Austin Woman.”

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