Name: Amber Discko
Claim to fame: Founder of Femsplain, an online storytelling community for women-identified people.
Words of wisdom: "Just someone to tell you that what you feel is a real feeling and that your experience is valid, having someone like that can make all the difference."
Amber Discko loves bringing people together. As a kid, she had dreams of opening up a coffee shop -- a place that had the power to bring people together and a place where friendships could be formed. Throughout her teens, she enjoyed the camaraderie of online gaming, relishing the opportunity to band together with her fellow gamers in the pursuit of a shared goal. In early adulthood, Amber became an active creator of online spaces for connection, developing her own online communities and games -- one of which even facilitated a digital encounter that turned into a real-word marriage.
For the last year, Amber has been channeling that passion for connection into her latest creation: Femsplain, an online discussion platform for everyone, powered by personal stories from anyone who identifies as a woman.
On October 27th, the site, which began as an online space for Amber and her friends to talk to each other without fearing the attacks of trolls, will celebrate its first birthday. And if year one is any indication, Femsplain’s future is looking bright: over the last 12 months, Amber and her team raised over $30,000 in a successful Kickstarter campaign, garnered international press coverage, and are currently raising funds to build Femsplain Beta.
But the true measure of Femsplain’s success is the impact it has had on the day-to-day lives of their online community.
On Finding Ourselves In Each Other
From writers to readers, thousands of women-identified people are finding each other on Femsplain and forging powerful connections around their shared experiences.
The power of that connection is perhaps best explained through the story of two women who have polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), a condition which can cause fertility problems, who met on the site. Their chance encounter came about when one of the women wrote about her struggles with PCOS, and the second woman commented on the piece, offering words of encouragement. From there, they ended up connecting on Skype and developing an intimate bond -- so intimate that they are now supporting each other through the adoption process.
“It’s incredible!” Amber remarked, “two people who probably never would have found each other found someone who was going through the same troubles and are now helping each other over the internet with super personal things.”
“Friendship is born at that moment when one man says to another: What! You too? I thought that no one but myself.”
- CS Lewis
“I think everyone wants to connect and seeing other people write or create art or videos about what you’re going through is so satisfying,” Amber continued, “to know that somebody else feels the same way that you do, and I think people are just generally happier when they can find someone who understands them.”
Amber knows that this is a particularly big deal for women, as discussions of our personal experiences are often neglected in the public domain and instead are relegated to the private sphere. “We [women] experience and go through so many different things,” Amber argued, “and we don’t really have an outlet besides our friends to find other people who are experiencing the same thing.”
That outlet is something that Amber, who actually used Femsplain as a vehicle for her own coming out, has been trying to find her whole life. In fact, you could say that creating Femsplain wasn’t a matter of “if” but “when” for Amber.
“I used to be super super into video games and computer games,” she told me, “the computer games I played were the ones where you had to play with people to achieve anything and I loved that sense of working together to further yourself in a game.” Once these games started becoming a toxic environment for women, Amber had to step back. But she still loved gaming and didn’t want to give it up because of nasty trolls, so she did what any enterprising and code-savvy lady would do: she started to make her own.
“I made this online chatting community with two friends of mine called Lasuni and it was just this place where you can create a cute pixel avatar and walk around and meet people and where wear*different clothes,” she explained, “it was super simple and fun.” Only 17 at the time, Amber built Lasuni’s entire 80,000 person community from scratch with no advertising, “because we had no money!” she added with a laugh.
As one of the site’s leaders, Amber had the power to ensure that Lasuni would be safe and harassment-free for people to play and hang out. “I find myself creating the things that I want that I don’t have,” she explained. “I would use these games to create the environment that I wanted, and anytime someone was being hateful, I would just ban them and that was it. They weren’t contributing anything valuable to the game, and usually the people that are just on to harass aren’t paying any money either, so there’s just a number and that number isn’t valuable.”
On Safe Spaces & Kind Faces
Building the Lasuni community really helped Amber to realize just how much she was capable of. Never a big fan of school, she dropped out of college because everything that she was learning there she had either already taught herself or could learn on her own.
When it comes to entrepreneurship, Amber has taken a similar approach. Although she did her best to learn from the experiences of other founders before launching her own startup, sometimes the only way to figure it out is by doing. And that DIY spirit at Femsplain is something that Amber is particularly proud of.
“I think that anytime we say that we’re going to do something, we just do it. It’s easier said than done, but we work really hard to accomplish things that we say we’re going to do,” she said, “I really like that about us.”
Looking ahead to year two, Amber is realistic about the challenges ahead and excited about bringing the Femsplain experience -- both online and IRL -- to women around the world.
“The number one scary thing is money, but I think it doesn’t matter if you’re a business owner or just paying rent, money’s always [scary],” she shared. “We’re not at the place where can be comfortable yet, but I think when we are comfortable, what excites me the most is seeing people sign up and using the site and seeing how they use it, and then also going to different parts of the country and the world to bring these people who have met on Femsplain together.”
When you talk to Amber, you quickly realize that the major driving force behind Femsplain isn’t ego or a quest for success or fame -- it’s love. Love for the writers who open their hearts every day on the site, love for the readers who offer their empathy and support in return, love for the power of the internet to bring people together, and love for the transformative power of connection.
It’s that love that helped Amber get through a vicious DDoS attack on the Femsplain server (on International Women’s Day, no less). It’s love that makes Amber and editor Gabriela Barkho bold enough to take big creative risks and experiment with new kinds of content. And it’s love that somehow makes it okay that Amber is doing all this on a startup salary.
“My goal is that for everyone who visits the site to find something that they can relate to,” Amber says. “Whenever we have an event and I walk into a room full of contributors or people who support Femsplain, the vibe just feels so safe and I know that there’s something everyone can connect over,” she continued, “and I want Femsplain to be a place like that, where people can go to to find someone or something that they can relate to and take with them and incorporate into their life.”
She added with a laugh, “like a huge tree of awesomeness that they can pick something from.”