“Through Upwork, I got access to high-caliber talent on terms that fit. I dreamed of being an entrepreneur but, like most female founders, I’m also self-funded; I don’t come from a wealthy family, I have a mortgage, I have an elderly parent I care for. Without the opportunity to work with professionals like [Dr. Kami Anderson] on a part-time basis, we would not have been able to launch. Period.”
Words shape whether people feel included or excluded—an idea that crystallized for Arvita Tripati when a previous boss, the CEO of a tech company, called her “crazy” in front of the company’s executive team.
“I was an executive and the only woman in the room; it isn’t language he would have used with anybody else,” recalled Tripati. “And yet, it took days for me to bring it up with him because I didn’t want to be seen as ‘overreacting’ or the ‘angry woman.’”
Being able to have that conversation, Tripati knew, came from a position of privilege: “What about people who don’t have the psychological safety to give that feedback? How can we take the onus off the person who experiences the injury while simultaneously providing educational and non-threatening feedback to help people be more kind?”
That moment sparked the vision for Loquere, Latin for “to speak.” This virtual coaching app helps provide feedback on someone’s manner of speaking in a way that’s private, immediate, and integrated into existing communication tools to help keep friction to a minimum.
Tripati could see what was possible for Loquere. But she needed help to realize her vision.
Tripati: “None of this matters unless I can actually build a product.”
Both Tripati and her co-founder brought years of tech experience to Loquere. “I started putting together all these marketing plans and pitch decks and financial models—things we knew we could solve and had people in our networks to reach out to for help,” Tripati said.
“But none of this mattered unless I could actually build a product. Coming up with a data set for our specific use case was something much more specialized than we could do on our own. And I didn’t really know where to start.”
Her first idea was to reach out to more than 30 grad students who, in the end, didn’t respond or didn’t have the bandwidth. “I spent hours working through different university websites to collect information and email addresses,” Tripati explained. “Not to mention the heartache of waiting two weeks with no response, or to go back and forth with folks who were ultimately too busy. It probably cost me three or four weeks.”
Already familiar with Upwork from previous projects, Tripati was browsing Project Catalog™ when she spotted a category for data modeling. None of the predefined projects fit Loquere’s needs, but they helped shape a clearer sense of what she should look for and where she could find it.
“Once I turned to Upwork, it probably took a day and a half to find the right person,” Tripati said. “The thing that took the longest was writing up the specs for what I wanted delivered. I posted my job description and Upwork immediately suggested a few professionals that might be a good match. Kami [Anderson] was one of them.”
How do you make someone feel as though they belong?
Dr. Kami Anderson is a linguistics expert, interculturalist, and scholar. The executive director of her own business, Bilingual Brown Babies, she’s also an independent professional on Upwork who’s passionate about the power of language to help people feel heard and understood.
“When I was in high school, a teacher laughed in my face when I told him I wanted to be bilingual,” Dr. Anderson said. “I realized at that moment that I was being told, ‘You don’t belong. You don’t belong here.’”
In defiance, Dr. Anderson challenged herself to expand her horizons and make the world her playground. Now fluent in English and Spanish, she has a B.A. in Spanish from Spelman College; an M.A. in International Affairs/Interdisciplinary Studies in International Communication and Anthropology from American University; and a Ph.D. in Communication and Culture from Howard University.
In a career that earned her tenure as an associate professor at Kennesaw State University, Dr. Anderson’s path took a turn after a candid conversation with one of her children. “I had to stop for a moment to really think about where I was professionally and what I wanted,” she said. “I was being a mom, I was being a spouse, but I was not showing anybody my best self. And I was not having the impact that I wanted to have in my own community.”
Dr. Anderson left academia and started Bilingual Brown Babies to help families raise bilingual kids, shining a spotlight on Black history around the world and on multilingualism as a historic part of Black culture and identity. Then, with the disruption of the COVID-19 pandemic, she started to explore Upwork as a way to be present for her four children while creating space to share her expertise with others—like Arvita Tripati, whose dream was to launch Loquere.
“We want our kids to be able to know that they can have joy wherever they go,” Dr. Anderson said. “But if they don’t see a model of it, how are they going to know what it looks like? With my business, I can look all around and see my full self in every single space.”
The impact of words—and how to choose better
Based on her previous experience finding top talent on Upwork, Tripati was surprised by the caliber of Dr. Anderson’s qualifications but not taken aback. “After reviewing her profile and portfolio, I invited Kami to submit a proposal,” Tripati said. “Finding her helped me see that this project was going to be able to come to life.”
First, Dr. Anderson helped compose the scope of work that became their first contract. “We had a kick-off meeting and within a few days, Kami had turned around the first draft of what became our dataset,” Tripati said. “Being a scrappy entrepreneur who is building this on the side, out of my savings, I didn’t want to do the whole dataset in one go. So we prioritized.”
Dr. Anderson said helping Tripati think through the work involved enabled her to consider a lot of the -isms that exist. “We’ve got ableism and racism, sexism and heteronormativism. In really looking at how our words are impacted by those -isms we can find ways in which we can choose better.”
Dr. Anderson didn’t just help to create each of these data sets. Tripati engaged her to write a series of blog posts and invited Dr. Anderson to take an active role in Loquere’s future.
“The more you communicate with someone, the more you share about yourself, who you are, and what you value,” Dr. Anderson said. “We started to see other types of connections, so much so that she asked me to be a part of Loquere’s advisory board because of the way I showed up professionally and who I am personally.”
For Tripati, the relationship she’s built with Dr. Anderson is just the start. “Loquere is in beta mode right now and I don’t know if it is ultimately going to be successful. But I know I’ve given it my all and that Upwork will continue to be part of our growth,” she said. “As we gain customers, as we gain footing, we’ll need help building sales playbooks, delivering customer support, developing our marketing, and building out new app features. I can see all of that happening using resources that I’m able to find through Upwork.”
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