On June 30, 2015, CommonBond hosted our second Summer Series 2015 event at our NYC office with our panel, "Women MBAs: Starting Your Own Company." The event included the following panelists sharing perspectives on the opportunities and challenges facing female founders:
- Amy An, Co-founder & CEO, Sage & Row (HBS '14)
- Rachel Kaplowitz, Co-founder & CEO, Honey (Stern '12)
- Lara Crystal, Co-founder & CEO, MiniBar Delivery (Wharton '09)
- Rachel Cohen, Co-founder & Co-CEO, SNOWE (Wharton '12)
- Asmau Ahmed, Founder, Plum Perfect (CBS '06)
- Samantha Diamond, Co-founder & CEO, CultureConnect (CBS '11)
Attendees also enjoyed product demos from additional startup founders and brands, such as Rachel Graper, Founder and CEO of Ideal Granola (Tepper '08); Jennifer Mrzlack, Co-founder and Business and Tastebuds Development of Naturi (Tepper '10); Lourdes Ramon, Co-founder, Creator and President of Kids' Candor (Stern '10); Kat Vorotova, Co-founder and Co-CEO of Try The World (CBS '14); and Deena Malkina, Co-Founder and CEO of KitNipBox (HBS '08).
Moderated by CommonBond's own Nikki Singh (HBS '08), the six panelists covered a great deal of ground, from finding the right cofounder to raising capital and benefiting (or not) from earning their MBAs. While the founders' experienced ranged from companies founded in incubators to companies spun off from parent organizations—and across different industries to boot—here are a few lessons the panelists all agreed were worth sharing.
1. Your cofounder should complement, not mirror, you.
All of the panelists concurred that, whether you found your business partner in school or decided to start a business with a life partner, it's important that this individual have a different set of skills and stressors than your own. As Lara Crystal of Minibar Delivery put it, the business benefits from "the right blend of our two skill sets and you can't both be freaking out at the same time. What panics me does not panic her, and vice versa. That's huge in a cofounder."
2. Raising capital carries unique challenges, but also great opportunities, for female founders.
Combined, the panelists shared numerous stories about fundraising challenges, particularly while they or their cofounders were pregnant. Asmau Ahmed of Plum Perfect advised entrepreneurs to bootstrap as long as possible and think critically about how much of their businesses they wanted to give away. Still, Rachel Kaplowitz of Honey.is was positive about how investor capital has allowed her to grow her team: "Now we're moving quickly, and I'm super excited about the pace."
3. Use business school to get the network your business needs.
A key benefit of business school for all the founders was the resource of a strong network of young professionals. Classmates can be a huge help in spreading the word about your products (and becoming your early adopters), and you can also find connections to investors and thought leaders through your MBA program—not to mention potentially landing yourself a qualified, passionate cofounder.
The audience engaged with questions and shared some laughs, and the panel ran late—all great signs if you ask us. As one entrepreneurial attendee put it, "In my MBA, there was only about 25% women. In my entrepreneurship program, there were three women, and one was me. Being at an event like this and hearing other women founders' stories is fantastic."