In this episode of The Business Gay Podcast, host Calan Breckon speaks with the co-founders of QueerTech, Eustacio Andy Saldaña and Naoufel Testaouni.
This episode was recorded on November 2nd, 2023, in front of a LIVE audience during the closing remarks of the QueerTech Qonference held in Montreal, Canada.
During the LIVE recording, we explored the dynamic world of QueerTech. Andy and Naoufel took us through the inception of QueerTech and how their shared vision has led to creating a thriving community at the intersection of 2SLGBTQ+ advocacy and technology innovation. We also got to dive into what the future looks like for QueerTech moving forward and how they plan to continue growing the organization.
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Links mentioned in this episode:
Key Takeaways for quick navigation:
- [00:30] QueerTech Qonference highlights: Planning, community support, and the joy of connecting.
- [02:26] Driving force behind Queer Tech: Lack of representation in tech events led to creating a more inclusive community.
- [06:36] Milestones: Transitioning from a Meetup to a nonprofit and the decision to work on QueerTech full-time.
- [14:56] Community strength during COVID-19: The power of community support during challenging times.
- [19:25] Future of QueerTech: Exciting plans for 2024, including the Leadership Development Summit.
- [24:11] Join QueerTech’s digital community: Actively participate, share thoughts, post jobs, and contribute to building a supportive space.
- [25:08] Safe and positive online space: The digital community aims to counter online hate and toxicity by providing a platform for inspiration and connection.
- [25:49] Combating toxic hate: Personal experience underscores the need for creating spaces that counter online toxicity and hate.
- [26:15] Gratitude for community support: The success and existence of QueerTech depend on the active participation and contributions of the community.
[00:00:00] Calan Breckon: Today’s episode is sponsored by Castos. Castos is a podcast hosting platform trusted by thousands of brands. With Castos, you can create as many podcasts and episodes as you want, no matter which plan you choose. Full disclosure the podcast you’re listening to right now is actually hosted on Castos, and I can say with 100% confidence that Castos is the best option. Castos has their seriously simple podcasting plugin for WordPress, making it easy to run your show through your own website. This is a musthave, especially if you’re looking to grow your business and audience through SEO driven content. I’ve been using Castos for over three years, and the team has always been super friendly, quick to respond, and has supported my podcasting journey since day one. You can find out more by visiting Calan Breckon.com/Castos or just clicking the link in the show notes. Now, let’s get into today’s episode.
Welcome to the Business Gay podcast, where we talk about all things business, marketing, and entrepreneurship. I’m your host, Calan Brecken. And on today’s episode, I have the co-founders of QueerTech, Andy Saldaña and Naoufel Testaouni. This episode was recorded on November 2 in front of a live audience during the closing remarks of the QueerTech conference held in Montreal, Canada. During the live recording, we explored the dynamic world of QueerTech. Andy and Naoufel took us through the inception of QueerTech and how their shared vision has led to creating a thriving community at the intersection of two s LGBTQ advocacy and technology innovation. We also got to dive into what the future looks like for QueerTech moving forward, and how they plan to continue growing the organization. I’m so excited for you to listen to this first ever live episode of the Business Gay. So with that, let’s jump in.
I would love to introduce the founders of QueerTech. Please come get ready. Join me on stage. Naoufel Testaouniand Andy Saldaña.
So, there’s a mic there. And your mic.
So, all right, I want to start off with something super easy. What has been one of the highlights from QueerTech conference this year? Whoever would like to start.
[00:02:23] Andy Saldaña: highlights everything. I mean, we did it. We were here. All the planning happened. Seeing everybody’s amazing face in the room, walk in that first morning and seeing them now look at this. It’s a closing session of a two day conference, and look at how many people are still here. This is amazing. These are all the highlights.
[00:02:44] Naoufel Testaouni: Oh, my God, there’s so many.
I spend this conference talking to people, and it is my favorite thing to do is to talk to this community. And it was wonderful to just hear the stories the people have to share, hear the support that they want to do. And so SEO many moments, every minute of it was wonderful.
[00:03:07] Calan Breckon: Awesome. Now, you obviously didn’t start here. You obviously started somewhere else. So can you tell me what was the creative driving force behind creating the QueerTech ecosystem and then growing it. What was behind all of that?
[00:03:26] Andy Saldaña: We didn’t see ourself when we were going to Tech events. We were both in different ecosystems and doing similar work. A lot of networking, a lot of exploring tech ecosystems. I was in New York. Now, if I was here and.
[00:03:44] Naoufel Testaouni: Part.
[00:03:44] Andy Saldaña: Of my job was to scout new entrepreneurs and new founders in New York City and find the most interesting ones to put them on stage at a monthly event. And so I was in and out of Tech events probably three, four days a week. And I would go to these events and I was seeing all white CIS men who were straight and broy. And I would walk in and I’d not feel comfortable, not feel like I was included or represented. And having to talk to these individuals just got so exhausting. And so I was looking for my community, what represented me. And I was going to any meetup I could find in New York that aligned with one of my identities. The Latino Tech meetup, the introverts meetup, all these places. And I wasn’t quite finding the right thing. And a couple of friends decided we’re going to start this thing called Gay Tech Meetup. And I was like, great, I’ll help you. I knew that they would lose interest and six months later I was the only one left organizing.
And I decided I didn’t want it to just be gay men, I wanted it to be everybody queer. And so I changed the name to QueerTech NYC. And within a couple of months we had 2000 members and I was doing quarterly events and that’s why I started it. And then I met Naoufel.
[00:05:14] Calan Breckon: Oh, I love that. Thank you for starting that. And thank you for doing that and bringing us to where we are in Naoufel.
[00:05:21] Naoufel Testaouni: So I also been in Tech for longer than I want to tell anyone how long, but I also don’t tell them how long. But I used to also go to Tech events. I’m an extrovert, so I get involved, volunteered. I would speak at event and it’s the same thing, right? I would stand in a room and it’s mostly men, white men. And I met someone today who’s like you remember 2011 when it was just me and you? This is a woman of color and this is like me and you at this event. And I was like, yes, terrifying. I don’t want to remember that. But that was the journey, right? We would go and now and then I would get maybe a queer person that will help raise their hand in the back. And I’m like, wow, there’s only two of us. But I also lived in Montreal where I had this huge queer community. And it was daunting on me that I was having these two lives. It’s like I go to the Tech bros conference. And then I have my queer community and it didn’t make sense, right? We live in an area where you feel divided. You don’t feel you belong to one group, but also with the queer group that are artists and stuff. Sometimes I didn’t belong. I’m not an artist, right? And so I wanted something that brings this world together and create that. And so I was thinking about this. So in 2016, I met Andy Startup Fest, and a friend of us introduced us. And my first reaction is like, oh my God, now we are 200% more queer. Because now there is two of us at this conference. It was just me representing that 100%. And again, maybe they were other queers, but they were not visible to me, and I didn’t know about that. And we’ve talked so much about it, and we realized the intersection of the experience that we had. Either you are in New York or Montreal or other places. We had that same experience where you don’t have that sense of belonging.
Andy left and then he was like, let’s create a meetup group. So I created the meetup group, and then two weeks later, he’s like, how is the group going? So I looked at it and there were 100 people on that group, and that was 98 people, more than I didn’t know were in Tech in Montreal. And so that’s kind of how we started that journey.
[00:07:46] Calan Breckon: Awesome. I know that a lot of people it’s been a running trend through the whole conference. A lot of you in the audience have spoken about how you felt the same way. And I think I speak for everybody in the audience where we’re so grateful that you did start this, because we were all those people in those rooms being like, am I the only quiver person in here? And now we can be here and we can come together and grow this. So thank you so much for doing that. I’m sure there’s been a lot of milestones on this journey to get here. Are there any that stick out in your mind that you’re really proud of achieving?
[00:08:21] Naoufel Testaouni: Summer 2018, when companies supporters like Google, who are like, we can support you, but I can’t just write you a check. And we were like, oh, yeah, let’s create an organization. And so of course, I called Andy and I was like, okay, I think we need to create a nonprofit. And so it was like, that was a big milestone to be like, oh my God, this thing is going from a meetup to a real organization.
And then there were many other milestones throughout the years, but the next big one was like, are we going to do this full time? And so it was another moment where it’s like, fuck it, let’s do it. We’re going to leave our jobs and we’re going to focus on this and do this. And I think those are like, two huge milestones for me.
[00:09:12] Andy Saldaña: Yeah. And they weren’t easy decisions, right? So the first one, I was just providing guidance and volunteering in an advisory capacity to Now Fell as he was getting things off the ground here in Montreal. And I had just been to Montreal for the first time during Startup Fest since 2016, and I fell in love with the city. And my partner and I at the time were coming every six months or.
[00:09:39] Naoufel Testaouni: So, just more like two months. I saw you like, six times the first year. It was fantastic.
[00:09:48] Andy Saldaña: So I was really getting to know the Montreal Tech ecosystem, and it was really fantastic. But that decision in summer 2018 when Naoufel was like, I want you to come to this event. We’ve really built something. I’m going to incorporate. I’m inviting you to be on the board.
We should do this. I was just like, sure, whatever. Just thinking I was going to be on the board. I’m going to be on the board of directors for QueerTech. Sure, whatever. It’s a meetup group. And all of a sudden, I walk into the Pride Hacks event, and I was like, oh, he’s for real. He’s gotten some amazing volunteers engaged in producing. And when I walked through the doors in that 2018 product, I was like, wow, we’re onto something here. And now Fell like, the magic of we talk about timing and entrepreneurship, we talk about preparation. And all of that came together magically for QueerTech. And I’ve had a couple of startups, and I’ve worked in startups, and I’ve coached, and it’s such a rare thing. But walking through those doors in 2018, that was a huge milestone because it was like, this is a real thing. And that was a huge milestone for me.
[00:11:04] Calan Breckon: Awesome. And now this is another milestone because didn’t you double the number of attendees for this?
[00:11:11] Naoufel Testaouni: Yeah, we did last year.
We like to run pilot projects because we’re entrepreneurs and we want to experiment. And so not to have the pressure of always being like, oh, we just failed. It’s like, let’s do a pilot. And the pilot was to do a conference.
It’s usually Andy and I talking about a meetup, and then suddenly we left the meeting and it was a conference. And it was like, okay, I guess we’re doing let’s do wait.
[00:11:39] Andy Saldaña: My favorite part is that now Fell is like, we talked about this. He said we could do a conference. And I’m like you told.
[00:11:47] Naoufel Testaouni: I want a conference.
[00:11:49] Andy Saldaña: And I said, okay. He’s like, So I have a venue, and we’re doing a conference, and it’s in two months.
No pressure, no pressure.
[00:12:00] Naoufel Testaouni: I was like, okay, let’s fundraise for this.
And we did it last year at Microsoft, and it was beautiful. It was seeing the community coming together.
When you organize events, your worry always is like, are people going to show up? And I think last year, people start showing up and then it was more than we could even fit in those conference rooms. And so I think that was sign, and I think that was the sign where we see the community need this and we need this to come together.
[00:12:34] Calan Breckon: Amazing. So we see that there’s these amazing milestones that you’ve hit, but there were surely road bumps along the way. What were some of the roadblocks that you hit going on this journey to get to where you are today?
[00:12:48] Naoufel Testaouni: Gosh. How long do we have?
[00:12:50] Calan Breckon: 19 minutes and 21 seconds.
[00:12:53] Andy Saldaña: Do you want the days, the daily roadblocks?
[00:12:57] Calan Breckon: The weekly let’s make like an overarching idea or specific.
[00:13:02] Andy Saldaña: I would say well, the first one was that we both had full time jobs when we decided to incorporate QueerTech as a nonprofit. And so we were doing it in our spare time, really depending on a team of amazing volunteers to make things happen. Volunteerism is a hard thing, and it’s a hard thing to ask people to give so much of themselves for the good of the community or just for the good. And it’s really a difficult thing to keep maintaining that know, we were very lucky to have such engaged volunteers. But I say one of the first roadblocks was the frequency with what we were doing meetup events here in Montreal, and we were experiencing a little bit of burnout with volunteers, a little bit of turnover, and it made sense. It’s hard to keep that rhythm going.
And so that was one of the first roadblocks, but I would say the next biggest one was COVID because we were just coming off an amazing year in 2019 with Pride hacks. It was our biggest event ever. It was a tremendous two day event with a cocktail opening. It was fantastic. And we were starting to have real conversations of like, what does this look like? Running a full time organization with us at the helm? How do we make that transition? And then two things happened. One, I was going through a divorce and two, COVID happened. So my world got turned completely upside down. And if it hadn’t been for Naoufel, I would have been ready to just throw in the towel and let QueerTech go away.
[00:14:47] Naoufel Testaouni: Yeah, COVID was I think that was a pivotal moment where we were doing events every month from 2016. I don’t know what was going through our mind. I still can’t believe we did that, honestly. But it was every month and we built that community because people wanted to come and connect every month. And I think when COVID hit before even hit, basically all our sponsorship and revenue got paused. So suddenly we had all this revenue that was supposed to come and it kind of disappeared overnight. The next thing is like, everyone is like, this thing’s going to last two weeks. And it’s like, okay. And then we all realize at some point this is not going to be two weeks. And I think we had to make a huge decision. And we’ve discussed this. It was me, Laura and Andy sitting on Zoom being like, what is going on in the world? Also? What are we going to do with this organization and this community we built? And so that was a moment where we know we’re going to move programming, we’re going to do a call and we’re going to see if people are going to support to continue this organization. And people like Mazdaq have raised their hand and was like, I have a training I can do for this community. So that’s kind of how we start working through one of the major roadblocks that we have as an organization.
[00:16:10] Calan Breckon: So going through all that and experiencing that, how have those circumstances and those situations informed how you work today, now in QueerTech and how you’re moving forward into the future?
[00:16:21] Andy Saldaña: I think it really just showed the power of the community that we built, that people raised their hands at that moment and were reaching out with the things that they needed, that they trusted us to provide guidance, support, training, education. And it really showed us that there was a need in the community. That COVID was a big turning point for us too. It was a roadblock, but it was also an opportunity because we were going from a physical manifestation of QueerTech on a monthly basis in Montreal to all of a sudden being virtual and having access to an entire Canadian tech ecosystem. And we saw the community, I would say, triple in size within the year and just purely running the same things that we had been doing and tapping on the same community, raising their hand and being able to reach so many more people. It really, again, was a signal of, wow, there is this huge need and what a strong community that we’ve put brought together because we started seeing people help each other from all over the place, connecting with others in different locales, and it was magical. And that’s another.
I talk about this all the time in entrepreneurship, getting the user feedback and understanding who you’re building product for. And we had done all of these things without even realizing it, and we were seeing it start to happen and it was just such a beautiful thing to witness and encouraging. And like I said, I was ready to say no goodbye, no, I’m going to crawl into my little shell. There was so much going on, my salary got cut in half, like all these things, it’s a horrible time. But I would say the success that we were seeing at QueerTech really saved me personally. It was a really point of savior for me just to be with the community and providing services to the community and getting to engage in this crazy moment in the world. And it was a source of strength it provided such strength for me, and it still continues to.
When we talk about producing programs or events or meetups even, we think about what is that purpose, who are we serving? Why are we doing it? And we always bring it back to you, the community, because it’s really what it’s all about.
[00:18:55] Naoufel Testaouni: Just briefly, to add, I think COVID was very challenging, but I think it was also the biggest opportunity we could have because all distraction got cut right now, I wasn’t traveling for work, we were home. All social things that we were doing was gone. And I think we really took time and said, okay, this is maybe the best moment to rethink the organization. And we spend a lot of time saying, okay, what is it we’re really trying to do? Why are we doing this? And that’s when we relooked at our mission, we’ve created, these are the audiences of Queer People we want to serve. This is how we want to serve them. How do we actually create value for people coming to this program and event meetups are great, and that’s how we built Community, but it doesn’t create the value that QueerTech could create for its community. And I think that was a huge moment for redefining that and kind of relaunching the organization at the beginning of 2021.
[00:20:01] Calan Breckon: Yeah, that’s great. I think COVID allowed a lot of people to kind of slow down and reanalyze what was going on, what’s going on in their lives. And it sounds like it was kind of like this blessing in disguise that allowed you to kind of reanalyze, look at things and then allowed people to connect a lot more online. That helped propel and push things forward for all of you. So speaking of pushing forward, what’s coming up next in the future for QueerTech? What’s on the horizon that you might be able to share with us in the audience today so much?
[00:20:34] Naoufel Testaouni: We’re very excited. I think 2024 is already looking amazing, right? I think everyone knows we have the Career Virtual Fair we do every march. That was one of the program we created during COVID to support Queer People to land tech jobs. Right. We started to see the market moving. That was amazing. We want to continue doing that. There is a huge success with it.
QT Conference. I think we can all say that this year was successful and that we’re very excited to bring it back next year and continue to connect. I think one of the biggest initiatives that we’ve tried here was the Leadership development track. This was the first time we wanted to really up the conversation and get people to think we don’t have to just do entry level jobs, that we can be directors, we can be executive in tech, but you have to think about it. You have to actively want that. And so we’re going to be launching a leadership development summit next may 2024.
[00:21:40] Andy Saldaña: And then last year, we launched our QD Access program. It was our first cohort style program, doing soft skills training for early career individuals. It was such a beautiful experience for me. Getting to lead that program with Jess, who was here earlier, and going through that taught me so much about what the needs are of the community, how to support the community and just understand how hard it is for our community to navigate all of the crazy things that you have to navigate in entering your first role. And we’re hoping, well, we are bringing that back this year, in 2024, and we’re really excited about it. We’re going to be adapting that program just a little bit.
The details are still in the works, but I’m always really excited.
I’ve been in Tech for years and.
[00:22:57] Calan Breckon: I love that.
[00:22:58] Andy Saldaña: And that program was the highlight of my career. It was phenomenal, but I know, and I never thought I could be someone who could create something like that, be a part of a team that put that into the world. So to see it happen, to see the engagement around it, and to start to figure out how do we make this bigger and better, I feel such a privilege to be a part of this.
[00:23:35] Naoufel Testaouni: Yeah. Big applause. Because he did run that program for nine weeks.
Quickly to Add, a lot of people look at and they’re like, oh, QueerTech, what is QueerTech doing? And I think I want you to think a little bit how we see it. And sometimes when you are in it, it’s hard to see. But for us to ultimately create wealth within this community and create economic empowerment for this community, there are three things or three phases that we see needs to happen. One, we need to increase trust LGBTQ representation in Tech. We just need more people in this industry and getting this experience. Once we have more people, we want to see some of these people moving into leadership roles and executive roles so we can make decision. But ultimately, we want to see more tech queer entrepreneurs contributing to the economy of this country. And in order to do that, this is a 15 year plan. It’s not going to happen quickly, but that’s what we’re trying to build towards, is contributing to that in the next 1015 years.
[00:24:45] Andy Saldaña: Yeah, just quickly.
[00:24:49] Naoufel Testaouni: Love all this applause.
[00:24:50] Andy Saldaña: I know, I love it. I keep it coming. No, we haven’t even talked about the entrepreneurship ideas that we have in store and they’re still in the ideation phase. But entrepreneurship is near and dear to both of our hearts and I lived it and breathed it for so long and I miss those conversations a ton every day. So just stay tuned. Things are happening. Things are coming.
[00:25:15] Calan Breckon: I’m very excited, very excited about that. So I think the audience would be a little bit sad if I didn’t try and push. Do we know where we’re going to be next year for QueerTech?
[00:25:28] Naoufel Testaouni: Stay tuned to 2024.
Can’t give you all the cake.
[00:25:34] Calan Breckon: Okay, well, I had to try. I had to try. Okay, so what can the audience members here today do to support the goals of QueerTech? How can they stay connected to the community until we go to our next adventure?
[00:25:51] Andy Saldaña: Well, it’s funny you should say something.
Join the community.
One of the things that we’re trying to do is to create more access points to each other and to the community as a whole. So we launched our digital community this year, and we really encourage you to sign up and be part of it. It’s just in its very beginning stages, and the biggest way that you can support QueerTech is to be active in the community. So sign in, populate the forum board. Share your thoughts on the live feed, post some jobs, post that you’re looking to find a mentee. It’s all kind of open at the moment, and we’re trying to figure out what the best use cases are for the community as a whole. So help us build out this digital community by participating, signing up for it and participating in it as much as possible.
We will be launching a couple of new features in it and really excited about where it goes in the future.
[00:26:57] Naoufel Testaouni: And just to add, one of the reason we thought a lot about, do we really need a virtual community? And I think Wikolangly, I mean, you see the stats yesterday. There is so much online hate, there is so much toxicity in social networks. And I think we’ve got to the point that we are like, you know, there is thousands of us across this country, and we can create a platform that’s safe for people that you can come and be more inspired than being feeling toxic and inundated with hate. And that’s what we’re trying to do. So this is a way for us to be able to connect and support the community throughout the year, which is.
[00:27:35] Calan Breckon: Very important because I just recently experienced toxic hate. I posted one of the shorts from one of my episodes, and it got up to 10,000 views, but it was a lot of hate views, and I had to turn off the comments, and it was my first experience with extreme toxic hate. And so it is important that we create these spaces for ourselves and support these spaces. So I will definitely be going to those boards to make sure that I’m checking them out and seeing what we can do. All right, SEO, is there any last words that you would like to share before we finish off this amazing conference?
[00:28:08] Andy Saldaña: Just thank you. Thank you for being here.
I do this every time, but every time, it’s true emotion. It moves me every time I see everybody’s face coming together, being so supportive of each other, and then hearing everybody being, oh, my God, I met this amazing person. Oh, my goodness. That talk was so good.
That’s what it’s all about. These connections are why we do what we do.
[00:28:35] Naoufel Testaouni: I mean, QueerTech won’t exist without the people sitting in this room. We wanted to create space where everyone belong, but showing up is what makes this organization great. And being here and contributing with your knowledge and stories is really important. So thank you for showing up and continuous to make this community greater.
[00:29:07] Calan Breckon: I know I’m like over here trying not to I’m like, keep it together.
I think I speak for the audience and myself when I just I thank you from the bottom of my heart for creating this space, for creating this space for all of us. I am so excited. We are all so excited to see what is next and what comes in the future. So thank you so much for joining today. And thank you so much for doing this amazing recording.
[00:29:32] Calan Breckon: What an absolute blast. I had so much fun filming my first ever live episode with the QueerTech crew. Big shout out to QueerTech for inviting me to be a guest and inviting me to do a live recording at the conference. It was an absolute blast, and I am looking forward to definitely doing it again. Thank you for tuning in today. And don’t forget to hit that subscribe button if you really enjoyed today’s episode. And if you want, give me a star rating. I really appreciate it and it helps the show grow. The Business gay podcast is written, produced and edited by me, Calan Breckon. And if you’re interested in getting a free SEO website audit, you can head on over to CalanBreckon.com/audit and set one up with me. Or you can just click the link in the show notes. That’s it for today. Peace. Love, Rainbows.