Janese Swanson: Can You Make it Pink?
Easy was never an option for Janese Swanson. After her father died in Vietnam, she began helping her mother clean houses for extra cash. One day, while cleaning a wealthy doctor’s home in La Jolla, CA, Swanson shared a dream of becoming a doctor herself. The doctor’s wife advised: “It will be easier for you if you marry a doctor.”
At age 15, she fibbed her date of birth and started slinging televisions at Sears. Many years later, Swanson would use her electronic sales experience as manager of the computer and technology department at a small store called My Child’s Destiny. Interested in the nexus of technology and children education, she received Computers in Education Certificate from Berkeley, all while raising her daughter.
In 1988, Swanson began working for Broderbund Software Company, developing games for kids such as, “Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego?” However, she struggled there as “[we women] earned far less than there male colleagues… had to raise hands to get a word in [at meetings] … and always had a hard time getting men to focus on what we were saying rather than our legs and breasts.” She quit, got her Ph.D from San Francisco State, and, in 1995, started her own toy company, Girl Tech.
Swanson initially struggled to find investors and vendors. “For two years after I founded the company, toy store buyers would say, ‘Can you make it pink’ [or] ‘Can you make it for boys?’ And I would say, ‘No, this is what girls like to play with.’”
It wasn’t easy but, in 1998, Swanson sold Girl Tech to Radica Games Limited for $6 million. She remained with the company for 2 years as vice president.
Next Up: Radia Perlman (click here or below)