Some of you may have been following along with our monthly series Work We Like, in which we explore businesses, brands, and campaigns that are doing cool and innovative things in their industries. CONVERSATIONS is an extension of that, in which we actually chop it up with leaders of businesses we admire, and talk a little bit about what makes them tick.
This week we’re shining the spotlight on Alice, the world’s first 100% virtual business accelerator. Alice connects entrepreneurs at all stages of growth with the programs, people and opportunities they need to succeed. We sat down to speak with founder and CEO Carolyn Rodz, who is currently gearing up to bring #TeamAlice to D.C. for their annual Circular Summit. The two-day event brings together women entrepreneurs for intensive workshops and networking opportunities— this event boasts significant growth opportunities for attendees, including one past attendee who became the first black woman in the United States to raise over one million dollars for her business (through connections made at the Summit). We’re pretty big champions of early-stage businesses and budding entrepreneurs, so we loved picking Carolyn’s brain a bit about her own experience as a founder and some of her expert tips. Read on below!
You have been an incredible advocate for women entrepreneurs. Can you tell us about what inspired you to launch Alice?
Before Alice, I launched two companies — one very successful and one that was, well, full of lessons. Throughout both of those journeys, I would talk to other women entrepreneurs, and they were facing many of the same challenges.
In a tent on top of a mountain, Elizabeth Gore and I started talking about how many conversations we had with these women who all needed a gateway into the exclusive startup ecosystem. We knew first-hand what a difference access to this network meant for a founder, and we realized then that we could do something about this. From that mountain, we built the world’s first digital accelerator for women founders, and a year and a half later, released Alice, the first AI platform for entrepreneurs.
Launching or growing a business is complicated and overwhelming, and women owners face a unique set of challenges. How do you see those challenges evolving, and how does Alice help women navigate them?
We like to think of Alice as a sidekick, advisor and crystal ball for all entrepreneurs — male and female. However, we did set out to build a software that specifically addressed women’s needs and was based on the way women learn.
Women tend to like clear, step-by-step roadmaps, so we’ve curated tons of content that focuses on tangible how-tos for everything from creating a marketing plan to building a pitch deck to organizing your taxes.
Entrepreneurship can be lonely, so we also built a feature where Alice users can find one another on the platform and develop real relationships with other founders outside their immediate location. And women business owners are sorely under-funded (last year, just 2% of venture capital went to female founders), so we make sure that Alice connects them to funding opportunities.
How would you advise women founders to make funding uncertainty work for them—especially when it comes to pitching investors?
In 2017, venture capital investments were actually up, however, the percentage going to women was slightly down year over year, which isn’t good, obviously. What this means for women founders is that we need to explore other funding avenues, like crowdfunding, where we actually have a higher success rate than our male counterparts. And we need women to invest in other women, alongside male allies that see opportunities in smart ideas, no matter where they came from.
It seems to us that a business owner’s personal story has become almost inseparable from their business story. How do you think this supports them, from an investor’s point of view? Have you seen any businesses that you think do this particularly well?
If an entrepreneur doesn’t feel passionate about their business, it’s going to be a long, hard slog to find success. From an investor standpoint, you want to believe in a founding team, not just the business plan.
Blavity is a perfect example of marrying the personal and business story — Morgan DeBaun and her co-founders landed on the idea of a digital media site for Black millennials because they couldn’t find an aggregated place for the news they wanted to read. They saw a market opportunity and were able to create something they actually wanted to use.
You’ll be bringing Alice to Washington, D.C. next month for your annual Circular Summit event! The theme this year is “Role Breakers” — can you tell us a little more about this theme?
“Role breaking” is Alice’s rallying cry, and an idea that is core to the beliefs of our entire team.
The dreamers and doers who are running businesses their own way, and in the process, creating more inclusive opportunities for all. The “Role Breakers” theme at Circular Summit is just the start. We want to tell the stories of all types of entrepreneurs at our events, on Alice, in our blog…everywhere.
What innovations are changing the game in the tech and digital space this year?
We’re starting to see a shift toward solving bigger, more complex problems that have impact across industries. From robotics to data analytics, the companies that are rising to the top are bringing in partners, working with governments, corporations and universities, and prioritizing access to top-tier talent. It’s encouraging to see the innovation economy fostering this type of collaboration among so many unique perspectives, and ultimately points toward a much more diverse ecosystem in the future.
Katy Aucoin, founder of dearduck, is a graduate of our accelerator, and I think she’s landed on a use of data that is going to completely change how retailers spend their advertising dollars.
We hear you’re a product/design junkie. What are 3 products/apps you couldn’t live without?
- Instagram: I actually manage our @AliceConnects account because I love creating visual candy and getting inspired by other brands who are killing it.
- Slack: I love that no matter where in the world our team is (and these days, we’re racking up some airline miles!), we’re able to share ideas and humor through real-time communication.
- Pivotal Tracker: I wish there was a prioritization tool as effective for the rest of my life, but Tracker helps our product team stay on top of the product roadmap and visualize the opportunity cost of implementing one particular feature over another.
Based on your own path and lessons learned as an entrepreneur, what advice would you give new founders?
Take advantages of the resources available to you. At Alice, we’ve done the work of finding the content that is relevant to you, as an individual business owner, so all you have to do is search, read and connect. The best part is that it’s free, so Alice can literally help solve your challenges, connect you to opportunities and save you time and money at no cost.
A big thank-you is due to Carolyn for taking the time to speak with us— and we’re super excited to head to Circular Summit next month! If you’re here in D.C., or planning to make the trip, let’s connect! We’re always eager to meet new folks in the early stages of entrepreneurship, and we would love to see you there. In the meantime, follow us on Twitter >>@wrkhrsco<< We will be doing day-of coverage of all the can’t-miss workshops and speakers!