Creating a new love language for trans, lesbian, nonbinary, & LGBTQ folks
INSPIRED BY HISTORICAL CULTURE. Kell Rakowski’s journey to becoming the Founder and CEO of Lex began with her longing for connection. She founded her company, a lo-fi, text-centered social app, out of a personal need: “I came out a bit late in life and I really struggled to find my community at first. I wanted to dive in and learn all of the things I missed, reading lots of queer books, doing research, watching movies, basically devouring anything I could get my eyes on.”
Kell’s online journey started with Instagram and her account Herstory, which shared the compelling, historical content she’d discovered—things like personal ads found in the back of 1980’s and 1990’s lesbian erotica magazine, On Our Backs. She explains that “these were reader-generated, pre-internet personal ads filled with blunt or poetic prose and requests for companionship or otherwise. They were fascinating, and the most popular posts on my profile—and here I was with thousands of queers in this growing community. Why not invite them to write their own?”
But soon enough, Kell struggled to keep up with the number of submissions. “I could see there was a market here. People were unsatisfied with state of dating apps and swiping on selfies—but I didn’t have any tech or business experience, so I needed to find a mentor.” A mentor advised her to charge five dollars and see what happened next.
Wonderfully, Kell found that the number of submissions increased. “Now I realized this could be monetized and that I could actually build something worthwhile out of this concept, which led me to launching a Kickstarter, building an MVP —all while working my day job as a photo editor.”
EXPANDING TRADITIONAL CATEGORIES. Named Lex, short for “lexicon,” the app was launched in late 2019 to rave reviews. The market was ready for it: “It didn’t hurt that we’d built the community first, that I’d truly bootstrapped this whole thing. We got great press and had a built-in audience. Before long, fundraising came a bit easier and people started contacting me.”
As Kell explains, the queer community is often overlooked by investors. “That world is filled with heterosexual men who don’t actually understand what the LGBTQ community looks like or wants or purchases or invests their energy. So when you have investors who do—they get Lex immediately.”
Notably, Lex empowers queer, trans, and non-binary users by avoiding labels and identifiers: “Lex is less about sexuality, and more about gender identities, and encouraging queer people to connect with language. It’s inherently nonbinary by design,” she says.
Kell recognizes that her creative, unorthodox thinking is an asset in the professional world, noting that her creative problem-solving skills, interest in collaboration, and curiosity are real assets. Kell also recognizes that her privilege is a component of her career: “I’m a white, cis woman with a large set of privileges. It helps in my fundraising; it helps in my networks. I probably wouldn't have even gotten the level of press coverage if I wasn’t how people see me—and I always want to acknowledge that truth.”
While relatively new to the tech industry, Kell understands it’s impact: “I really want to help other first-time founders who are underrepresented and who want to do something in tech.