Lee Edwards – Living the Dream
Many kids grew up dreaming of building robots, starting companies, and becoming successful by 30. Lee Edwards has done all of these. Today, at 29, he’s an Engineering Manager in Product Development at local commerce giant Groupon. He came to Groupon through SideTour, the online marketplace for unique live experiences, where he was the Lead Engineer. SideTour was recently acquired by Groupon.
The road that brought him here has been paved with a love of all things technical, ever since Edwards was a boy growing up in Jupiter, Florida. “I was always interested in technology,” he says. “I would mess around with my Dad’s stereo equipment and fish finder, play video games, and I started programming in HTML and Visual Basic as soon as we got a computer.”
After studying Computer Science and Systems Engineering at the University of Central Florida, Wellesley College, and Olin College of Engineering, he spent three years working at iRobot in Bedford, Massachusetts. While the company is best known for creating the Roomba home robot, Edwards says, “I worked on their military industrial side and then exploring robotic applications for healthcare.”
His exposure to the intersections of market research and engineering gave him insight into the business world, which he refined while working for multiple clients as a software engineer for the consulting firm Pivotal Labs in New York.
“My friends and I had been looking to do a startup around real world events, using technology to get people to meet in person.” So when SideTour CEO and Co-Founder Vipin Goyal approached him to run the tech team, Edwards jumped at the chance.
SideTour has been connecting adventurous customers with unique activities and tours in Chicago, New York, Philadelphia and Washington D.C., and is currently expanding to Seattle and San Francisco. The intimate events span subjects including food, drink, architecture, history, and art, hosted by local experts in the fields.
The company seemed a perfect fit for Groupon, which acquired it in September of this year, and the LGBT-friendly Groupon (which recently received a 100% score on HRC’s 2014 Corporate Equality Index) seems to be a perfect fit for Edwards, who came out professionally three years ago.
“On my second day at Pivotal Labs I interviewed a former Olin student who was a member of Open. When I explained to my boss that Open was the school’s LGBT group, he said, ‘Cool.’ I realized then that you can bring your whole self to work, and it’s okay to tell people what you did on Valentine’s Day,” he says. “I wished I hadn’t been so worried about coming out, and realized that my concerns had been misplaced.”
Edwards is no stranger to StartOut, having attended its New York events for the past three years, and presenting at two StartOut events. He’s found both professional success and romance in the startup world, dating fellow entrepreneur Jordan Goldman for the past two years.
He claims that there are more benefits than challenges to dating within the industry. “We have a lot in common, and we get invited to so many of the same events that it’s hard to tell which of us is the plus one.”
Edwards’ advice to other LGBT entrepreneurs is, “Don’t restrict yourself to the Silicon Valley. New York has a lot of opportunities in culture, arts, fashion, and other areas that LGBT people are interested in. And there are a lot of resources for LGBT people in technology.”