Kristen Cooper, founder of The Startup Ladies, didn’t start out her career knowing she wanted to be a businesswoman. She began her work life in higher education/non-profit fundraising, working first for Penn State and then moving to California, where she established relationships with alumni with the purpose of getting them to contribute to universities. What she didn’t realize at the time, was that many of the potential donors she was working with were entrepreneurs, and their spirit would rub off on her in a big way.
A combination of major life occurrences – including moving to Indiana and being in a car accident – led to a few moments of clarity for Kristen, centered around exploration and curiosity. Firstly, she had been able to travel extensively and absorb not only amazing experiences, but the places and people – and she wanted more of that. Secondly, she wanted to explore the possibility of starting a business, based on the experiences she had had with donor-entrepreneurs over the years. She had come to realize, for her work in the fundraising world, that most of her conversations had been with men, in groups of men, and no one was asking what woman or women, were ready, willing, and able to solve the next great problem.
Kicking off her own entrepreneurial journey, Kristen attended a networking event where instead of business connections being the focus, political and other values were being discussed. Though she had had a good day at work, the tone of this event struck her – she realized that she had amazing connections, but most of them weren’t people that she truly wanted to invest time in. Her fix was to explore the idea of building a Match.com for friends. She had no idea how to build the technology, but she had an idea she believed in – connecting people that were curious, accepting, loving, and willing to help to each other. The intent was to create a platonic place where people could meet and do things together – not to make work-focused connections. She wanted to build a space where people could establish more personal relationships with those they enjoyed talking to and getting to know.
She bounced her idea off of others, and received feedback that she could have a viable business on her hands – something that people wanted, people needed, and would be willing to pay money to engage with. This initial connection introduced her to a group of people that filled in a skill set she didn’t have – the ability to build out software. Together, they formed a prototype of the product she had envisioned, and she raised tens of thousands of dollars to support it. Eventually, Kristen chose not to take the product to market. Why? Though she understood the financial side of the process, she ultimately didn’t think the business model would be successful. “In startup stage, you are testing for market fit. You build it, get feedback, and see if people want it,” said Kristen. “If that process is successful and you want to scale it up, you need more people, more money to refine the product, and more money for marketing and sales.” Though her own product didn’t launch, the process of creating it, and the connections she made in the tech world, fascinated Kristen.
The process also shed light on the struggles that women in the world of financing a tech startup faced, as Kristen had experienced some of those issues herself. When she would go to events to showcase her potential project, “guys would come over and shake hands with other guys, but not with me. It kept happening, and because I wasn’t a guy, I wasn’t being taken seriously.” Kristen learned that though she could talk the talk, she had to overly exert herself to seem capable – and she figured other women entrepreneurs were experiencing these same issues.
Addressing the issues that female entrepreneurs endure was incredibly important to Kristen. The negativity she faced during her own journey encouraged her to find others who had had similar experiences. She helped to convene a group that started discussing why there were so few women in the tech space, despite a level of opportunity that had never before been seen. The group landed on the fact that more education needed to be provided, as well as more strategic and tactical help to get the funds and right people needed to make a business successful. Out of these discussion and realizations, the Startup Study Hall was born.
Study Hall events were geared toward a single topic that was important for female entrepreneurs to know and women that wanted to build a relationship with the expert conducting the event. “We wanted to get women thinking bigger about their own lives and to know that they were the CEO of that life,” said Kristen. As interest in the Study Halls grew, they evolved into The Startup Ladies, a company with the goals of identifying, educating, and connecting women who have scalable businesses through regular meetings and providing a network of support. Now that she has established the type of place she was looking for as a young female entrepreneur, what is Kristen’s best advice for women who might be looking to start a business?
- Do this exercise: From the time you get up until bedtime, consider everything you do and if the business you’re considering could help that be done “better”.
- Be purposeful about your purchases – seek out women owned/run business and support them.
- Be purposeful in every conversation about taking and providing opportunities.
- Ditch gossip – listen, understand, and talk strategically about problems. It will change your mindset and brain chemistry!
“Every single woman or man has the chance to be an influencer – start by choosing to be present and be kind.” We couldn’t agree more Kristen!
Want to connect with Kristen? Check her out on Twitter at @KristenCooper23 or @IamAStartupLady!
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