How Ed Tech Founder Sue Khim Endured Sexism and Racism To Build Her $50 Million Startup

Sue Khim, a 32-12 months-old Korean immigrant and University of Chicago dropout, runs a developing San Francisco ed-tech company known as Brilliant. She has raised $27 million in assignment funding at a $50 million valuation and expects annual routine revenue to exceed $10 million this year. In 2012, Forbes stated her promise, putting her at the 30 Under 30 list while she turned into 25. The organization released that yr.
Brilliant offers 40 online guides in science, era, engineering, and math. The guides don’t confer any academic credit score, but they’re prepared by humans with ranges in STEM topics, inclusive of Ph.D.S, and with the aid of industry specialists who paintings as engineers at corporations like Google and Microsoft who contract with Brilliant. Materials include quick animated films, hassle units, and coding challenges.
As a scholar, Khim saw how many humans had been using the Internet to get help with their STEM studies. She founded Brilliant to improve the best of online services. “We desired to create a single logo you could agree with,” she says.
For free, users can sign up and get right of entry to the primary portion of each course and get automated comments on their tries to solve daily math and computing issues. For $a hundred and twenty yearly subscription rate, they have got limitless access to every course and resource at the site.
Courses take from 10 to 40 hours to finish and variety from mathematical basics to quantum computing. Brilliant’s 7 million users encompass college students who want to assist because their excessive faculties did not train them simple fractions and activity seekers hoping to land a facts technology function at Facebook.

In the crowded international of ed tech startups, Khim has built a promising commercial enterprise with a constant boom. But like many girl founders, mainly women of color, when she set out to elevate cash, she had to undergo sexist and racist put-downs that are still recurring within the white male-dominated task capital network.
As she became telling me her tale on the packed ASU GSV ed tech conference in San Diego ultimate week, she didn’t start by using recounting that mission. But when I asked her if it becomes difficult to raise money, she right away stated sure. I pressed her for information and she shared a half dozen situations however declined to name names. “I don’t think dragging those men thru the mud is going to trade them,” she says. “If something, it’s going to make them much less probable to fund ladies due to the perceived liability of doing so.” As a woman in tech, she says, “I need to stroll on eggshells.”
But I consider her tales are well worth reporting:
Because she was young-searching, she requested considered one of her University of Chicago professors, Robert Rosenberg, to accompany her to her first pitch meetings. Funders “might ask, ‘Are you relationship?’ which glaringly was a veiled manner of pronouncing, ‘Are you drowsing together with her?’” she says.
As she walked into conferences with male funders, they asked her to fetch espresso for them.
“I had one VC tell me that I changed into indistinguishable from a lineup of fifty different Chinese human beings. So how could he fund my organization if he couldn’t even tell me apart from each other Chinese entrepreneur.” This VC is on Forbes’ Midas list. (Khim is absolutely Korean, no longer Chinese.)
A very successful VC who is at the beginning from India requested Khim, “Has it ever came about to you that girls can’t build corporations?” Then he stated how Indians had come to Silicon Valley 30 or forty years ago and commenced at the bottom, and that they have been now at the very best tiers of management. Then he delivered, “perhaps there is something biologically and temperamentally specific about girls that make it that will produce undertaking returns,” she says.
Another VC instructed Khim that it involved him there were no lady psychopaths in tech. He stated, “Steve Jobs was a psychopath, Travis Kalanik changed into a psychopath. You girls are simply, like, well mannered, and I don’t assume big groups are constructed by means of well-mannered humans.”
One of the funders outed in the #MeToo motion didn’t harass Khim outright, “but he informed me I turned into cute and flirted in a manner that made me uncomfortable.”
Her strategy for managing the sexism and racism consists of her selection to get dressed “like a male CEO.” She wears denim, a black North Face jacket together with her organization emblem and black leather sneakers, her hair pulled lower back in a ponytail and no make-up. “It’s one of the benefits of no longer being stunning,” she says.
Not that she doesn’t get indignant. To tamp down her emotions, after fundraising conferences, she reads books by authors like Howard Zinn and Ta-Nehisi Coates approximately humans fighting for primary human rights. “It’s been difficult for me to elevate millions of greenbacks,” she says. “But on the size of problems that people undergo, it’s not anything.”
“I started out this company to assist struggling humans like me succeed,” she says. “I’m just satisfied we’re capable of doing that”