Kate Bradley Chernis
Credit: David Chernis

Kate Bradley Chernis is a woman succeeding in two male-dominated arenas: launching and financing a tech startup. She’s also a person with a disability thriving in a world that’s set up to help her fail

Meet Kate Bradley Chernis. Her runaway-success tech startup, Lately, sprang from battling a three-headed Hydra of demographic stereotypes.

1. In the tech world, being a woman isn’t the norm. There’s a lot of pandering, shoulder punching and good intentions when it comes to supporting women trying to make a go of it, but not much real action taking place.

2. In the startup world, it isn’t common for women to succeed, either. The dominant demographic stereotype is that men raise funds and move big chunks of capital around. Women don’t.

3. Succeeding as a person with a disability is even more of a rarity amid the denizens of the tech and startup scene than it is in the world at large.

One spreadsheet to rule them all

Chernis started her career as a rock ’n’ roll DJ with Sirius/XM, with a huge fan base across North America. That job is where she began to feel that men and women are treated differently.

Rock radio is a male-dominated culture where few women have managed to break through to the top ranks of on-air talent. Radio stations define themselves based on demographic stereotypes—by aiming to cater to the musical tastes of 18-to-34-year-old men, for example. When your entire organization has been created to reinforce such thinking, how could you expect it to embrace non-traditional demographic roles like female rock DJs?

Realizing that her values didn’t align with those of the broadcast industry, Chernis dove into the adjacent world of corporate communications. Thanks to incredible timing and good fortune, her first client was Walmart. She accomplished game-changing things there, but the communications biz, also male-dominated, still left her thinking there was only so far she could go.

Part of Chernis’s job with this particular Walmart division was organizing the creation, deployment and analysis of thousands of social media marketing messages from thousands of SME partners in a national initiative. She built what sounds to numerically challenged me like a feat of magic: an enormous spreadsheet that tracked all activities from each partner and the results of every effort. This was spreadsheet-wrangling supremacy taken to the next level.

Next, Chernis serendipitously met some people who wanted to help her make this mega-message-tracking-spreadsheet into a product. They had finances and business acumen. She said yes to their offer, accepted the duties of being a tech co-founder and CEO, and Lately was born.

Lately is the first AI-powered social media tool that reads your long-form blogs and automatically slices and dices them into posts formatted for Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn and more. It takes the place of entire companies that create posts for clients, and then, well, just go ahead and post them. With Lately, a solopreneur can do all that work without any need to hire outside help. In my own case, I was spending several thousand dollars a month on an outside firm, and now with Lately, in about an hour or two a week, the job is done exactly the way I would have done it myself. Because I do it myself.

Lately is part of the new breed of SaaS (software-as-a-service) firms that are giving consumers the option to pay a tiny monthly fee instead of buying an expensive software licence. Chernis and her New York–based company are the first in this ultra-niche AI-powered social media management space, and I suspect she’s driving toward an initial public offering.

Going against type

As if that manoeuvring through the boys’ clubs of tech and fundraising weren’t enough busting of demographic stereotypes, there’s more. During my chat with Chernis, she dropped this detail like you might say, “My coffee is getting cold,” or “I hate my hair today.” She can’t use her hands to type.

Chernis has a kind of arthritis that makes it incredibly painful to type or to poke at little buttons on a phone. She’s built her career, and her company, while fully reliant on voice-to-text programs and voice-driven software.

Imagine the work required to launch a startup, secure funding from investors, hire staff, build out a product, travel two hours from your home in upstate New York to meetings in Manhattan several times a week, be the face of the organization—and doing all that as a woman in the male-dominated tech industry. Now imagine doing it with your hands figuratively tied behind your back.

I hung up after this interview with a lump in my throat, thinking of the things I’d been complaining about in my daily trudge. Suddenly, none of them seemed significant.

If not for the increasingly post-demographic world we live in, so many leaders and doers and achievers like Kate Bradley Chernis would never reach their potential. Thank goodness we’ve started to discard old-fashioned ideas about what we’re “supposed” to do at a certain age, or because of our gender, income, education and abilities.

As always, please send me ideas about people or organizations smashing demographic stereotypes. I want to know about them all!  

David Allison is a Vancouver author, researcher and consumer behaviour expert. He speaks internationally about his pioneering research with Valuegraphics, the first database that profiles shared audience values. His best-selling book, We Are All the Same Age Now, was chosen by Inc. magazine as one of the top leadership books of the year. Find out more at Valuegraphics.com, or send story suggestions to david@valuegraphics.com