Welcome to our first installment of trans.talent, a monthly series in which we profile a trans-identified person who is doing incredible work. In this month’s profile, get ready to meet Morgan Lang, the founder and CEO of Art Revolution, a startup seeking to democratize the art industry.
1. Morgan, tell us what Art Revolution is, and why you started it?
I’ve been an artist all my life (although not professionally) and I came up with the concept of Art Revolution about eight years ago. It was born out of frustration with the art industry—how pretentious and manipulative it is, and how difficult it is for even the most amazing artists to break in and earn a living from their trade. Even artists who make it and get represented by a gallery may have to give up 50 percent of what they earn.
My most basic goal in starting Art Revolution was to empower artists. I wanted to show them that there is another path to success—one that doesn’t involve pleading at the feet of the gallery scene for validation. I want to show them the benefits of being independent—of being in control of both their creativity and their financial gains. For one, independence means that artists can focus on the true essence of their work, rather than being directed by their “representation" to create something marketable. And Art Revolution gives artists a platform to organize the chaos that can come along with independence—it gives artists the tools to get natural, organic exposure and sales.
2. What are you doing now that’s different from what you did in your previous life as CEO of the company 9mmedia?
I ran a company called 9mmedia for 15 years; we built tech platforms for other people and their own start-ups. I’m a very passionate person and I like to put my “everything” into what I do. 9mmedia made that difficult, as I got tired of building platforms for other people, and then not being able to play a role in successfully implementing the platforms.
I created, built and now run Art Revolution all on my own, without a business partner (though I have six amazing employees). Admittedly, it’s been more difficult. At the same time, though, I can now take risks and make decisions knowing that I alone am responsible for their outcome. It’s incredibly liberating. If I want to do something “crazy,” I can… and I do! Often, these “crazy” ideas scare the shit out of some people whose fear inhibits their sense of possibility. But I think it’s the “crazy” ideas that make history and truly revolutionize our lives. Plus, when the “crazy” ideas fail, it doesn’t hurt nearly as badly as most people think.
3. What is the best (and / or hardest) part of being an openly transgender CEO?
As CEO of 9mmedia, a 40-person software development firm, I did all of the biz dev for the company and I was very public-facing. I know many people hired us because they believed in me; they saw a fearless man with a history of business success. Now as a trans woman, I don’t get the same sense of automatic respect when I walk into a room or sit down at a conference table. A lot of people don’t know how to act around me or how to talk to me and often find me intimidating in the strangest sense of the word.
I think a lot of this happens because so many of these people have never actually met a trans woman and irrational thoughts quickly flit through their head: “Is that person deranged? Mentally ill? Is she a freak prostitute? WTF?, OMG, really?? Are those real? Is that a he? Her? It?” It typically takes a few meetings for people to warm up to me, and I try to make them as comfortable as I can, because it just hurts too much to try and fight it.
All of this was difficult for me to adjust to. The only thing I’m an absolute bitch about is when people refer to me as a “him” or “he”...and even then, I give everyone a few “get out of jail free” cards for when they get the beams crossed. Being open and communicative is really the best approach.
4. What advice would you give other trans or gender non-binary entrepreneurs?
Be strong, be bold and have confidence in who you are, and what you do. If you are starting your own company, then you must believe in it. If you are doing something you believe in, no matter if others share your beliefs… then you are worth something. If you can’t see your own self-worth, or don't value yourself as more than just a cog in a machine, you will break and never recover until you are able to recognize your inherent value as a person.
People smell fear, and they prey on it. That said, don’t be afraid to show emotions. Communicating vulnerability is precisely what shows others you are human, and allows them to connect with you.
5. What are some thoughts you have about the future of the world we’re living in?
I think our world (in the most general sense) has become bifurcated: there are the people interested in staying current, and those who have slipped behind for whatever reason. It seems to me that we are seeing different social classes, and they’re not necessarily defined by wealth.
My peer group consists of a range of people—those who are ultra-wealthy, all the way down to the poorest of people, many of whom are also in extreme debt. But the common thread that ties us together is that we understand current paradigms, participate in current trends, and are committed to maintaining active participation in today’s world and not slipping behind. Once you slip behind, you might as well move to the mountains in Idaho and grow your own food next to a log cabin, because it will take the energy of a supernova to catch back up. Although all of this could just be the New Yorker in me talking.
So there you have it. Our first installment of trans.talent. To learn more about Morgan and Art Revolution, check out their site: Art Revolution (and buy some art!).
If you know anyone who we should interview as part of our series on trans talent, please let us know. We are looking for bright, brilliant, positive trans or non-binary identified individuals and allies who are making a significant difference in our world!