Jenae Goodin, CEO and founder, Bab
“I recently heard an investor say the check is fungible. That lives rent free in my head and was an important reminder to look for more than just check size. . . . At this stage, I look for an investor who is excited about what we’re building . . . and who I can see myself picking up the phone and calling.”
In December 2021, Jenae Goodin was shopping online for an outfit for her youngest daughter to wear to a wedding. In no time at all, she had 20 browser tabs open. “I kept ‘ctrl + tab’-ing between them trying to compare items across different stores,” Goodin said. “Then I thought, this would be so much easier if I could just put these items in a big-ass bag.” Soon after, Bab, which, you guessed it, stands for big-ass bag, was born. Goodin and her team are currently working on the UI/UX for a mobile app they plan to release this year. “I’m excited because user feedback shows most online shoppers browse on mobile devices. We plan to move out of beta and begin generating revenue by Q4,” she said.
Keely Ryder, founder, Dolfin
“Of the 500 companies in the S&P 500, the 32 led by female CEOs far outperformed their peers consistently over the past 10 years. Our capabilities as women are unparalleled, and we should continue to work together to turn that 32 to at least an equal 250.”
A finance expert blessed with a creative brain, Keely Ryder wanted to make a lasting impact on the commercial real estate industry. She’s well on her way. Ryder’s fintech company, Dolfin, finances tenant improvements via fully amortizing leases—an innovation that allows tenants and landlords to free up capital for higher-ROI opportunities. The option is particularly attractive given current market turbulence. Ryder says there are four key reasons: “One, we match our term to the useful life of the asset/fully amortize over the space lease term. Two, we tie our rate favorably to the tenant’s credit rating. Three, we finance TI through a lease structure, which allows tenants to deduct payments as rent expense and is therefore not considered borrowed money debt on their balance sheet, and four, we automate the lending process to provide a seamless underwriting, closing and monitoring platform that can be used by brokers, landlords and tenants to close loans within 30 days.”
Since Dolfin’s lending is credit focused, funds for these loans are readily available through insurance companies, banks and asset managers, even though real estate lending is contracting.
Dolfin closed its first two tenant improvement loans in June 2023 and is seeking strategic partnerships with major landlords. Ryder said the company is also focused on hiring an in-house infrastructure and engineering team to support the build of its technology platform, adding, “We are also applying for pending B Corp certification, afforded to startups, with the goal of fully certifying in 2024.”
Keirsten Sires, CEO and founder, 2aDays
“Being a woman in a male-dominated field can be powerful.”
After a lifetime of playing sports, which included years as a dual athlete at Skidmore College, Keirsten Sires noticed a lack of transparency and resources in the college recruiting process and was inspired to fill the gap. Her company, 2aDays, provides a platform for former players and employees to rate and review coaches, athletic staff, campus visits and facilities. The company’s emphasis on verified athlete ratings is unique. “We have a rigorous process that ensures that only athletes who have played for the coach or attended the school [can rate and review],” says Sires. Since ratings are anonymous, the platform is also a “safe space” where users can share feedback freely without fear of repercussion.
What’s on the horizon for the company? Sires, who left a career at Morgan Stanley to embrace full-time entrepreneurship, says 2aDays is focused on continually finding new ways to provide value to parents and athletes in their college recruiting journey. “We plan to explore ways to provide equal opportunity to families that can’t afford to spend thousands of dollars on college sport recruiting. While we currently have ratings for coaches, athletic staff and facilities, we recognize the importance of additional elements that impact the overall college experience such as NIL financial literacy and the application process.”
Cassandra Shuck, CEO and co-founder, Aligned Social
“The entrepreneurial path doesn’t need to be traveled alone. Surround yourself with people whose specialty differs from yours…”
Cassandra Shuck, who says her strong suit is “guiding people into creation mode through encouraging self-expression,” was a successful corporate intrapreneur, but often found her efforts mired in red tape. Once she realized she’d outgrown the intrapreneur life, Shuck ventured out on her own. Her current company, Aligned Social, is set to change the way we use social media by creating a safe place for people to post and connect.
“We’ve seen a significant push toward suppression, cancel culture and bullying from existing platforms, which has led to people questioning their personal belief systems and accepting forced narratives,” Shuck said. “Our original thought was to create something that overlaid these platforms. We brainstormed everything from a simple plug-in to another app—anything that would make for a more embodied and intentional use of time spent on social media.”
The team soon realized they were dealing with a systemic issue. Social media “needed more than just an overlay—it had to be uprooted entirely,” says Shuck. “We dreamed up a brand-new platform. From followers to contributors, how ads are distributed and the content featured in newsfeeds, we put the user’s overall well-being at the forefront of every decision we make.”
Shuck and her team are looking forward to the launch of Aligned Social’s web-based MVP beta. “We are enrolling members on the waitlist now; watching it grow proves how many people are seeking a solution to the social media crisis and empowers us to continue. With the beta team’s support and feedback, we expect the Aligned Social app to be released to the public by the end of 2023.”
Tidal River: What has been your biggest business challenge so far?
Goodin: I had issues early on finding trustworthy people to work with. I did not have a lot of luck with contract work-for-hire type of sites. What has worked really well for me has been personal referrals from people I know or have worked with previously.
Ryder: Finding the right tech team was the biggest challenge so far. We heard horror stories about tech companies that spent twice the time and money to build [as they should have], and we did not want to make that mistake. We solicited the advice of several VCs, but they had different opinions on how the tech should be built. We ultimately aligned with a VC firm that understood our vision completely and that we wholeheartedly trusted. Under their advisement, and working closely with their CTO, we believe the tech is headed in an exciting direction and will reflect our ambitious goals.
Sires: Structuring the technology and having the confidence that I am on the right path has been the biggest challenge so far. I believe in the mission of 2aDays, but I questioned whether I would be able to make it happen. Particularly because I started my business pretty young, I wasn’t as experienced as I would’ve liked to be. However, as an athlete, I gained experience from games I lost and got better as I failed. Too, my vision and passion for making a better college athletic experience was the anchor that pushed me forward to accomplish what I have today at 2aDays.
Shuck: Aside from funding, our biggest challenge so far has been finding our people, the ones who fully understand the vision and are 100 percent committed to the project. We are building more than a team; we’re building an ecosystem, where each person adds inspiration and inventiveness as the big picture expands.
Tidal River: If you had to go back to the beginning, would you do anything differently?
Goodin: I would pay more to hire people who are proficient in their area of expertise. For example, I could pay a developer 40 dollars an hour, and maybe it would take that developer 10 hours to complete a task. Or I could pay an expert 100 dollars an hour and his experience allows him to complete that same task in two hours. In most cases you get what you pay for. When you’re starting you don’t have a lot of money, but the best thing you can do is be strategic about how you spend it.
Ryder: Having realistic expectations was a big lesson for me. I was so confident when my partner and I founded the company that I naively assumed an unrealistic timeline for almost everything: how long it would take to raise capital, to close our first deal, to put together our tech team, etc. If I had to do it over I would give myself a little more grace in those stressful times.
Sires: I would conduct more thorough due diligence when hiring external companies or service providers. I was eager to make progress quickly. As a result, I may have been overly trusting and occasionally fell victim to persuasive sales pitches without conducting my own research or seeking references.
Shuck: This question is tough to answer, as we believe everything happens for a reason. If we changed anything, it could have affected the trajectory of the intended path. We wouldn’t change a thing.
Tidal River: Was there anything that surprised you about becoming an entrepreneur?
Goodin: Everything takes more time, is more expensive and requires more effort than you expect. As things progress, the inverse starts to be true! Or so I’ve been told by veterans in the space; perhaps you just gain a more realistic understanding of the time, effort and money required. I’m beginning to see this inverse manifest a year and a half in, though.
Ryder: We all have our doubts when we’re plunging into unchartered territory, but I was surprised at my ability to compartmentalize setbacks and insecurities and maintain confidence in what we were building, despite my anxiety telling me to crawl into a hole at every bump in the road.
Sires: A pleasant surprise about being an entrepreneur was discovering the efficiency that can be achieved in managing my time and establishing a personalized routine, especially now that I’m a mom! Initially, transitioning from a structured office environment posed challenges to finding my own rhythm; however, as time went on I was surprised how effectively I could prioritize my days.
Shuck: The art of flexibility manifests itself in many ways within the business world. There are countless ways that a project won’t go according to plan, but any successful entrepreneur will tell you that success is achieved by persevering and pivoting as needed. On a personal level, the most important lesson I’ve learned is that the entrepreneurial path doesn’t need to be traveled alone. Surrounding yourself with people whose specialty differs from yours grows the knowledge base from which you can launch your business.
Tidal River: What do you look for in an investor?
Goodin: I recently heard an investor say the check is fungible. That lives rent free in my head and was an important reminder to look for more than just check size. We’re an early-stage, pre-revenue company. We need strategic relationships. At this stage, I look for an investor who is excited about what we’re building, has relationships or can connect us to those with relationships in the e-commerce space, and who I can see myself picking up the phone and calling. These are five- to 10-year relationships. You better like each other.
Ryder: The most important quality in any person, and especially in an investor, is integrity. I’m only interested in doing business with good people who have strong morals and ethics. In many ways, this speaks to chemistry, as it is important to enjoy each other’s company and have mutually aligned goals and transparency throughout the relationship. I believe if you have all the above, you will receive exceptional guidance and resources from investors, gain a market advantage, and be well positioned for success.
Sires: While a great vision is certainly important, passion and a strong work ethic are equally crucial. [I also look for] people who not only understand the business concept and market potential but also align with the long-term goals and values of the company. An investor who has a clear understanding of the vision and is excited about its potential is more likely to help a company’s founder create valuable connections and build resources that drive the company’s growth.
Shuck: The most important thing I look for is a deep understanding of the mission and the enormity of the matter. It is critical to align, as the principals and personalities behind Aligned Social will be turning an entire industry on its head. Passion for the project will lead us to be the most invested contributors, purposefully and financially.
Tidal River: Did you face any funding challenges, especially as a woman?
Goodin: Getting your first dollar is hard! Last I checked, VC funding awarded to women of color specifically was less than 1 percent. Raising funding for early-stage/pre-revenue companies is much more difficult. And in this current environment, it’s an investor’s market. I had all these challenges to overcome. My plan was to participate in every local pre-accelerator program I qualified for and show up at every event for entrepreneurs I could. I wanted you to know my face. My thought was if I could form genuine relationships with people, they’d feel more comfortable with connecting me to funding opportunities when they became available. In 2022, I was a part of five accelerators. I wouldn’t recommend going that hard, but I’ve now raised $200K. Our funding goal is $450K, and I feel like we have a huge support system that wants us to succeed and is helping us to do so.
Ryder: Fortunately, I believe the market is trending toward supporting women-led businesses, so we did not have any gender-specific issues raising capital. However, an issue we did encounter while pitching to fintech VCs was the perception that we were “green” in the tech space since my partner and I do not have tech backgrounds—our expertise is in structured finance and commercial real estate. Overcoming this issue was a matter of pivoting our pitches to illustrate that our technology enhances and scales our business as opposed to being the foundation of our business.
Sires: As a woman in the sports industry, I faced both advantages and challenges when starting my business and seeking funding. It’s important to acknowledge that being a woman in a male-dominated field can be powerful, but it also comes with obstacles that require resilience and strategic approaches. One of the challenges I encountered was the initial questioning of my expertise in the sports industry. Dealing with larger male-dominated sports organizations or stakeholders often led to others questioning my credibility and understanding of the sport itself, rather than focusing on my business acumen. To overcome this, I prioritized staying well informed on all aspects of the sports industry.
Shuck: While no one has told me that my gender played a part in their funding decisions, my 20-plus years of experience in social media and technology doesn’t appear to be the type of credibility [investors are] looking for, and the statistics on female startups speak for themselves. This forces women to get creative and take financial risks to fund their businesses. Aligned Social is no stranger to this phenomenon, as we have bootstrapped the product thus far. We have explored a dizzying number of options, from VCs and resource investor programs to grants and crowdfunding. I can’t say for sure if it’s that I’m female or if investors are leery of entering the social media hunger games, but my best guess is that it’s a healthy combination of both. A woman trying to improve the social media experience? Who does she think she is? We’re currently looking for alternative funding solutions, potentially with smaller investors, to avoid compromising our mission.
Tidal River: What advice would you offer other females or minorities who want to start a business?
Goodin: Don’t be so afraid of making the wrong move that you do nothing. Mistakes will be made. If you can recognize them quickly and correct them, you’ll be good. Women have a superpower—our ability to build relationships. Use your network of friends, family and coworkers to get your first 10, 50 or 100 customers.
Ryder: Confidence is everything. For so long, society has ingrained in us that men, particularly white men, are natural leaders. Don’t lose sight of your capabilities just because of the years of indoctrination that suggest we cannot do it all, because we can. Other than that, networking is your—somewhat exhausting—best friend. And always test your market.
Sires: Be confident. Use your strengths—embrace and leverage them! Women possess remarkable instincts and have a natural ability to connect with people on a deep and meaningful level. Trust your instincts, rely on your intuition and then harness it to build genuine relationships. You may question yourself, but there’s nobody out there that can implement your idea and vision better than you.
Shuck: Find your people, hold them close and just go do it! As hard as it gets—and it will get tough—when you’re aligned with your mission, you will always feel like it’s worth the effort. When you begin to question everything, lean on your community to keep you going. Together, you’re unstoppable.
Tidal River: Any final thoughts you want to share with our readers?
Goodin: The advice [I received] to send out a monthly update to friends of the company was a game changer. I am honest and transparent about our wins, our KPIs and our asks. It’s really cool when someone responds with a resource or to let you know they see you and to keep up the good work. People are watching even when you think they aren’t, and most people are rooting for your success!
Ryder: This moment in time is long overdue. In many ways, we are finally being seen and valued within the business community, and it makes sense. According to data outlined by the Personal Finance Club, of the 500 companies in the S&P 500, the 32 led by female CEOs far outperformed their peers consistently over the past 10 years. Our capabilities as women are unparalleled, and we should continue to work together to turn that 32 to at least an equal 250.
Sires: Network, collaborate and ask questions, even if that means one 10-minute conversation! In the world of business, especially in male-dominated industries, it is crucial to connect with others who have walked a similar path and can offer guidance and support. There are so many incredible women in business, and the same applies to the sports industry. Take the initiative to identify individuals who inspire you or possess expertise in areas you want to explore.
Shuck: We’ve seen what happens when men are in charge of big tech. It’s evident that we need more women in this field, and I implore more to join us. Together, we can add humanity to technology, bridging the gap between people and profit to improve overall well-being. Seek opportunities to invest and get in on the ground floor of the next big thing; beat the men to the punch! Of course, one such investment opportunity could be getting involved with Aligned Social. If this project aligns with your vision of the future of technology, we’d be happy to consider your support, either monetarily or within your unique skill set. Let’s connect!