Episode 12: A Woman’s Journey from Corporate Executive to 1st Time Startup Founder

 

Chris: Welcome to The Tech Lowdown show where each episode we’ll be discussing opportunities in the tech space with entrepreneurs from the US and around the world. I’m your host Chris Jones we have a special treat for you today. Today’s guest has held executive roles with a veritable who’s who top companies from Estee Lauder to Google The Wall Street Journal Racine with Vice President of Sales. She then decided to give it all up to start our own business. I wanted to understand in detail how she navigated to transition high paid corporate executives the first time startup founder. Romy Newman is the president and co-founder of Fairygodboss. Company offering job and company reviews specifically catering to the unique needs and women. In addition to running fairy godfather she’s also the mother of two gorgeous young children. Romy welcome to the show what’s the lowdown.

 

Romy: So excited to talk to you about this Chris thank you for having me on the show.

 

Chris: My pleasure my pleasure, so when we look at your resume before Fairygodboss, well it’s not one of the typical entrepreneur that we see today. Briefly tell us about your background and what led you to start very Fairygodboss.

 

Romy: Well I think I’m pretty much the opposite of the traditional entrepreneur I lived and breathed the corporate world. And if I felt like I flourished in it hierarchies and like closed office doors were my friend. And I mean like typical first child stuff I really like the color within the lines and I like to know what the rules are. And I had great corporate experiences as you said at Estee Lauder and then at Google and then at the Wall Street Journal for the most recently for seven years. And I have to say I really loved my job at The Wall Street Journal. But I guess I had maybe a seven-year itch, there were a few factors that were all happening at once that made me kind of lift my head up. I had always thought I want to stay here and I want to work as hard as I can until I can be the CEO here. I love this place I love the product and I was really committed to the mission of bringing great journalism to the world. And but then there were a confluence of things number one. I don’t have to tell you it’s not a secret the newspaper industry is not the industry of the future. So it was hard and sad to spend most of my time cutting budgets. And frankly having to fire people and that that wore on me pretty hard. And then another kind of result of the declining revenues was constant revolving door in management. And so just when I had really formed a solid relationship with our new CEO. I went out on maternity leave with my second daughter and while I was out on leave he was fired. So I came back for my second maternity leave to a completely new CEO which meant I felt like I was starting over all over again. You know even at the place I’d been for seven years and that was what I think really kind of gave me a moment’s pause to say. Well if I’m starting over do I want to start over here or do I want to pursue other ideas. And I mean I think there was another really pressing thing which is I wanted more control of my schedule. And I have to say the journal was incredible to me. They actually let me keep my executive role on a three day a week workweek. And I’ve never heard of anybody doing that it was really incredible. But even still I felt so responsible to my team into the business it was it was hard for me to not show up a couple days a week. And it wished that that format just wasn’t working for me. So let’s talk about the startup part because I know that everybody excited about. So I kind of I had been heading digital sales and I seen this amazing exciting startup scene in New York City. And I wanted to get into it ,so I started working with who had been one of our vendors chart B. Which is a company that’s dedicated to changing the way that we measure attention on the web. So instead of measuring it based on who clicks on what measuring it based on who’s, looking at something in for how long. And I really believe in their mission think what they’re doing is super cool. So I was consulting for them for a while and then somebody reconnected me to Georgene who’s now my co-founder. And she and I had been colleagues at the journal and she’s lost her job there. And she had this idea for Fairygodboss she had been when she lost her job at the journal she was two months pregnant with her second kid. And so sudden was out doing a job search as a woman of a mother of a young child pregnant woman and she’s job searching. And there’s all these new there’s these new kind of transparency tools on the web.

[0:05:02]

I say that like the job search has been TripAdvisored drive though things like Glassdoor and indeed and comparably can tell you a lot about an employer before you go work at that employer. Only Georgine had some really specific questions about her next step. Which was is this a place where working mothers can get to the top and is this a place where I can get out the door by six o’clock. And she realized she couldn’t find any of that information on the web. So she had this idea for Fairygodboss and I thought it sounded so cool. So I just started working with her in kind of a project type capacity and then I fell in love with it. And I fell in love it was so exhilarating to be building something from nothing. And to be able to just try everything and coming you know coming from a place and a background. You know in corporate America and when you’re working on a brand like The Wall Street Journal. The nature of all your decisions are managing the downside you always want to make sure you’re not going to do something that could harm the brands. Right or harm the business and instead when you’ve got nothing you have no downside to manage. So anything goes right, everything and it’s so liberating it’s so cool.

 

Chris: That’s so interesting so tell us about did you have one of those oh crap this is really happening moment. And what led to it?

Romy: Yeah I think for me so we spent the first year just accumulating user reviews. So just working on getting women to come and create content for us by leaving a review. A free review about their company and we got to about 20,000 reviews. And then we knew we had talked about kind of slowly starting to monetize and we were thinking about it and then. I kid you not we had; we connected with the head an amazing woman who is a Fairygodboss to us Ellen Shuck. She’s the chief HR officer at Accenture we followed her and connected with her on Instagram. And she said how can I be your customer and so now suddenly we were like well I guess we’re monetizing right now. Awesome but I think the holy crap moment came a few months down the line when we really went live with our customer facing our corporate facing products. We went launched with six or seven major partners Accenture, Salesforce, GE, square. So we’d really amazing launch partners and I was like wow we’re a real business. We have accountability to these customers so we’d better not like no we used to just be two women dabbling. But now we have to deliver and that was my first holy crap moment. And I think my second holy crap moment is this very second. Because we are hopefully if everything goes right about to sign the paperwork on our million dollar seed it raised. Yeah which is amazing but now we have customers and investors and the stakes are so high. And that feels it feels also exhilarating and amazing and we there’s so much we want to do and now we can afford to do some of it. But also downright terrifying.

Chris: That’s, that’s amazing tell us a little bit about your business model and what these folks are investing in.

 

Romy: So we have now over 120 thousand women visiting us a month and that number is growing really quickly. They, we never want to charge consumers it’s free to all of our consumers and our users. Can get any kind of information from women or from companies about what it’s like to be a woman. We are working with companies and we are charging them to help with them promote their employer brands and attract great female talent. So we give them a place in a way to talk about why Accenture is a great company for women. We help them showcase women who work there, we help them push out content about various initiatives and programs that Accenture is doing to make it a great place for women. And then we also quite simply post job since we’ve got all these women. Who are thinking about making a move coming to our site every month we have a way for our employer partners to post jobs on our site.

 

Chris: interesting and for your business model obviously you’re invested in saying hey we think that you’re going to be at a scale this significantly. What’s the future, how you’re increasing those revenues?

Romy: Yeah well I think with many digital businesses the first ingredient always as to be audience scale.

[0:10:00.0]

 

So we you know like in the first few months we had 5,000 unique users and we thought that that was just amazing. But when we crossed recently across 100,000 unique users per month mile mark. It felts so exciting and now we’re like okay that doesn’t feel very big anymore we got to get to a million.

Chris: Right.

 

Romy: So step one is about trying to get to a million because I think. Right now we’ve got a lot of great employers who have chosen to kind of get ahead of the game and come onboard and partner with us. Including companies now like Apple and Pepsi and Dell and CVS. So that’s amazing but then but then I think there are others who are saying well you’re still small call me when you’ve got scale. So we’ve got to get that scale and I think especially the investors are looking for scale also on the user side. It’s interesting with the monetization thing when we were out trying to raise money. We had more than one potential investors say to us you monetize too early. And I to me monetizing when we did was sort of a like a one of the best things we ever did. Because we proved that there was a model here and I don’t know what the right answer is. And I’m thrilled we monetize when we did but I think it’s a careful balance because we’re definitely we’re huge compared to where we once were. But we’re still tiny relative to the world at the web so it’s a, we’re walking a tightrope.

 

Chris: Interesting and what went into your decision to go out and raise capital and was there anything about raising capital that you learned that you weren’t expecting?

Romy: Well it is as hard as everyone says it is. And I think it’s harder for two wordy something women to do. With children, I mean I definitely think especially in a time when capital tighten tightening a little. To be a first-time founder at 40, is a different thing. And you know here both my partner and I have had really I think significant resumes in the corporate world. But it was like that didn’t translate at all right. So I think that was really challenging, but I also think like everything else with this we he just learned a ton. And what we, I wouldn’t even want to look back at ourselves in the first meetings we did because we were such beginners. But that’s what I love about this right just we’re learning how to do everything. And so we could and what made us raise was we were just bumping up against ourselves. You know I think the two of us were running full time we it started with just the two of us. And then an offshore dev. team in Armenia and we were running like crazy. And we saw I mean I think you know we had enough evidence that we had something here. That it was it felt really ready to put some money behind it and scale it.

 

Chris: That’s awesome so take me back to that first year and what were some of your initial learning just about being on your own. And figuring out what is a business and what’s not a business.

 

Romy: Yeah so many things and I think what’s a little tricky about the web and about the digital ecosystem. Is things like the rules are changing constantly. So we initially built this business on the back of Facebook. We had a strategy where we could target women based on where they worked. To attract to get them to leave reviews. So because many women, many people choose to indicate on their Facebook profile where they work. We could effectively say hey women of Accenture this is what one what would excuse me what one woman said about working at Accenture in her review do you agree? And that we had a 5% click rate on those ads. I mean and they were cheap it could be and it was I mean it was I mean especially by the way when I sold digital advertising for The Wall Street Journal. We never cleared like a .05. Big deal, but so then you know the algorithm changed. And so we had to for you know as happens on Facebook like every three weeks we had to like reconfigure. So then I think we went down the press route we knew we had something really special. And I think that this has been a major differentiator for our product and also for like the growth of our business.

[0:15:03.0]

Which is one of one of the kind of things we honed in on was parental leave policies are in the US. A totally different story than anywhere else because there’s no federally mandated leave. And I mean don’t even get me on my soapbox about this because only 12% of women in America have access to paid parental leave through their employers. It’s outrageous and everywhere else.

 

Chris: I get it. In Australia it was completely different it was long parental leave when you had had a child. And you could taper it down half pay if you want to stay for a year off. And I mean when I look back and I go wow we are so behind here versus what we were seeing in Australia.

 

Romy: Yeah so what we this turned out to be and one of Georgine made when she was looking for a job one of her big things was. How can I know a company’s maternity leave policy before I start working there? And we found out that you know if you were if you live in another country you just know because it’s federally mandated. But in the US it’s like a guessing game we went on the websites at the top fortune 100 companies. And found out that only six of them published their maternity leave policy. And so we crowd sourced it and we have now what I believe is the only crowd source database of US maternity leave policies. We’ve got the maternity policies for over 2,000 companies and that turned out to fuel our success both we were able to take it out to the press without a PR person. So we just did it ourselves and got a ton of coverage I will say I had a little help from a wonderful friend at fortune. Who had been a colleague at The Wall Street Journal and I think he helped us get off the ground. But then you know for example somebody from CBS thought then we got an inbound requests to be on CBS this morning. Yeah and it just took off but then the other thing that really blew our minds was how important that was because it gave a search Authority. And so then just when Facebook and social was seeing me like it wasn’t the thing that was going to drive us forward. We had this hook and we saw our traffic from search growing rapidly every month. So now 70% of our traffic is coming from search and we want to keep it that way as we scale that’s our business plan for the future. So it it’s we’ve and kind of going back to what’s extraordinary an amazing about being an entrepreneur is. Neither of us have any experience with SEO whatsoever. And I can’t take the credit on this my co-founder Georgina just learned it. I mean and she figured out crazy product tax and got creative with both products and content. To figure out how we could really win in search. And now I think you know search is just a fundamental part of our strategy moving forward.

 

Chris: Right that’s really interesting, so you’re coming up on two years now with Fairygodboss. For other women or entrepreneurs who are considering jumping into starting their own business who have gone the corporate route like you did. What would you recommend to them what did you learn how would you have them consider going about it?

Romy: Yeah well I think having an amazing co-founder makes a huge difference. Because first of all I’m just like a born extrovert so I prefer sharing the experience be ups and down with somebody. It’s just so helpful and right now we’re still working remotely although when we complete this raise. We’re moving into an office, but I just even knowing that she’s out there means a lot to me. And that we’re you know I have a teammate so I think having a co-founder who you really share a vision with. And then also Georgina and I are similar enough in our thoughts and our thoughts process. But really different in our background and I think even to some degree in our attitudes. I’m definitely the risk-averse one she’s definitely the risk-seeking one. So it’s we’re very complementary and it’s actually it’s really I mean happy luck. Because we knew each other at the journal but we didn’t work together ever on anything. So this and we did have like a trial phase where we kind of figured each other out. And we saw that this was kind of a match made in heaven .but it has it has turned out to be great, so definitely I think it helps have a great co-founder. I think it also you know it just to be frank it helps to not have to need your income for a couple of years. Because I’m making a big bet here but I’m foregoing a salary to do it.

 

[0:20:02.0]

And I hope, hope, hope it will pay off but I also am utterly prepared for it not to. And then I think the other thing is it just it requires more courage than I knew I had. And I think one of the things that makes me like, like find that courage. It’s just simply kind of what you said which is like we’re already, we’re halfway in. We have customers we’ve investors what choice do I have. So I do a lot of things that make me feel uncomfortable all the time. And you just have to love it and actually one of them one of the biggest ones is I have found that like successful entrepreneurship requires relentless self-promotion. And so you know building your personal brand and writing stuff and posting about it in every place you can. And you know begging your former business school colleague to take you on a podcast and all that stuff. You know you have to do it all because your foot print and the awareness of you and your brand is critical to your future success.

 

Chris: That is perfect, that is perfect Segway I want to move into what we like to call the real low down segment of the show. And here’s where we try and dig little deeper and get below the glossy magazine cover. Or front page of the website and find out you know the real nitty gritty and that’s a perfect Segway. I want to ask foist you know you mentioned business school as your MBA as an entrepreneur and if so how?

Romy: Yea I definitely think it has. So number one I think there’s this idea of project in general management because when you’re an entrepreneur you’re everything. You’re HR, you’re PR your products, your tech and I was like a spoiled perfect person right. Who you know I can’t believe now I have to figure like my own software right.

Chris: Right.

 

Romy: So I think kind of just having a kind of you know white page that you have to build something off of. I think it’s definitely a skill you build in business school. And I think one of the things I’m really proudest of in this whole venture is kind of in the example of SEO. We’ve learned to do things we had no, no background in whatsoever. And I always use the example when I, way back when I worked at SD launder they had 3 groups. Skin care marketing, fragrance marketing and makeup marketing. And I was in was in fragrance marketing and I wanted to move into makeup marketing. And they were like no you don’t have a background in makeup how can you do that. And I’m like there’s all kind of similar. But they didn’t see it that way and so one of the first things we realized we needed to do a lot of was write content. Create content, now we publish original content every day we have editor we have an editorial team but when we first started out. Gorgiene said I think we need to write some articles and I had come from the Wall Street Journal so I literally said to her. We didn’t go to journalism school, just write articles and she was like yea we’re just going to write articles and think so it’s that try anything mode that is like very this is business school prepares you for. And I think that’s wonderful.

 

Chris: That’s a great point and tell me you mentioned earlier there was interesting book you read and I think one of the challenges or what I like to call mature entrepreneurs. But in particular women who are going through this phase in their career where they’re trying to figure out what they wanted to do. Can you talk a little about your mindset there and what you recommend to folks that are going through that kind of decision process.

Romy: Yes so this weekend read a phenominal book by an amazing I have gotten to know named Lizen Strongburg. The book is called work, pause, thrive and Lizen was a major executive both at Nestle and then at Footcone in Bedling and she after her 3rd child was she had to she just couldn’t see her kids days on end anymore. It was just not the way she wanted to live so she took a break. And ended up reinventing herself as eventually a journalist. Much like I was in a cooperate setting and felt like I needed and reinventing myself. But I think was so striking to me about the book and Lizen articulated so well.

[0:25:01.3]

Is that our society does not place enough value on caregivers and cooperate jobs really don’t leave room for caregiving. Especially when hours are crazy late and especially women who seek flexibility are often penalized for it. So then you’re working like crazy and then for what. So I think the take away and then I would love for all the men and all women to read this book because it really was impactful to me. But I think the take away is that it frankly holding two cooperate jobs for a couple to hold 2 cooperate jobs and have a family in America is near impossible. And so I think we have to find alternate solutions and there are all flavors of those. Some are entrepreneurship some are a woman staying home; some are men staying home, but the two family career which by the way 2 career family. Which by the way most Americans need the money from 2 jobs so that’s complicating even further but it’s really hard to provide the quality life for a family that they need when 2 parents are answering to cooperate America.

 

Chris: That’s a great point I want to finish up on this I want to get back to FairyGodBoss. So tell us what does the future hold for Roy Newman and FairyGodBoss.

 

Romy: Well number 1 one million unique visitors. We’re really laser focused on that and then we want to continue to develop. And I think we’re at a real tipping point right now or turning point because we’re going like being like a true 2 women in the garage start up. To the kind of startup that actually has a team in an office and I’m really excited for this stair step of change. And then we’re looking ahead for a rounds which we anticipate being something like 18 months down the road. And then that’s the next kind of major step where we go from like 10 employees to 30. And then world domination.

 

Chris: I love it Romy I’m enamored with you and your business. So my wife Amanda about it earlier she thought it was phenomenal I thoroughly enjoyed this thank you so much for your time. Please tell our listeners how they can find out more about you and FairyGodBoss.

 

Romy: Please visit us at fairygodboss.com we’re on Twitter we’re on Facebook, we’re on LinkedIn and we’re on Instagram.

 

Chris: Folks as always if you like the show please download all of our episodes and leave us a 5 star rating on Itunes. You can find show notes at techlowdownshow.com and of course follow me Twitter  @Cjones2002

One thought on “Episode 12: A Woman’s Journey from Corporate Executive to 1st Time Startup Founder

  1. Amanda Reply

    Wow Romy, it was fascinating to hear how you stepped out of the journalism/corporate industry and took baby steps and now throwing punches in the start up space. Congrats on the ‘fingers crossed’ raised seed money. Well done to Fairygodboss, this is such a progressive and incredibly useful site for women!

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