A Phantom Man(n) at Witchsy: Casting a Spell via Email?
In the summer of 2015, Los Angeles-based creatives Kate Dwyer and Penelope Gazin were fed up with the censorship of "risqu " goods and artwork sold on the popular online marketplace Etsy. Even though they lacked technical experience and had never built a website before, the two friends committed themselves to building a censorship-free artists' marketplace, which they would call Witchsy.com. After Dwyer and Gazin had bought the domain name www.witchsy.com and researched the construction of multiple-seller websites using Google, the entrepreneurs quickly realized they'd need to bring in outsiders to help. Turning to Craigslist to post ads on their required work and solicit resumes, Gazin and Dwyer eventually began engaging with various male developers willing to build the technical aspects of their site. Early on in these interactions, however, an upsetting pattern started to emerge wherein the entrepreneurs constantly felt they were faced with disrespect, condescension, and poor collaboration from their male contractors. Hoping to mitigate this treatment, Dwyer and Gazin decided to create a fake male colleague they could rope into their email interactions with outsiders. They named this "colleague" Keith Mann and gave him an email address and Twitter personality. As soon as Mann started to engage with contractors and developers over email, the entrepreneurs were amazed to see the different tone and respect that was paid to Mann. When Witchsy finally launched in the summer of 2016, Dwyer and Gazin didn't have to wait long to see markers of success-within a year, their platform already had 45,000 Instagram followers and was generating a monthly profit. Even though Mann had existed only by name over email and was put to rest shortly after the site's launch, Dwyer and Gazin looked back on their experience of building Witchsy and had to wonder, would they have succeeded without Mann? Why had they faced so much antagonism without him, and was there a way to make sense of it? To help tackle these questions, readers are presented with four examples of email communications Dwyer and Gazin engaged in before and after Mann was created. These email exhibits maintain the founders' names and circumstances but disguise the identities of all third parties.