The founders of Hello Alfred consider their on-demand concierge service a unicorn--but not because of a billion-dollar valuation.
In 2014, Marcela Sapone and Jessica Beck's New York City-based company won TechCrunch Disrupt SF, a pitch competition for early-stage startups. The then 28-year-olds were the first-ever all-female founder team to take home the prize. It will forever be an honor," Sapone says. "And it will be an even greater thrill when a founder's gender isn't given a second thought."
Since then the pair has gotten $52.5 million in funding, including a $40 million series B round that was announced last year. The company has been profitable from Day 1.
Sapone, who serves as Hello Alfred's CEO, will discuss her startup journey and more at Inc.'s Fast Growth Tour on Thursday in San Francisco. The event features a host of other successful entrepreneurs as well, including Pandora co-founder Tim Westergren and Ugg founder Brian Smith. Below, she offers a few tips on how to succeed as an all-female team.
1. Do your research.
Pointing to a study from the University of North Carolina, Sapone notes that women tend to gain confidence when their ideas are backed by evidence, whereas men are less likely to need evidence to feel confident. She encourages women to soak up as much information as possible on their chosen industry. Ask questions, read studies, and talk to knowledgeable people.
To illustrate, when Hello Alfred's founders got started, they pitched the startup as often as they could--making sure to note every question, comment, or concern they received. They then used that feedback to refine their pitch so they'd be able to address common concerns early on. "We learned what people were thinking," Sapone says. "That's the best thing you can possibly get. Use it as fuel for improvement."
2. Know your audience.
When Sapone and Beck pitched Hello Alfred at TechCrunch Disrupt, they adjusted their presentation so it landed better with the male-dominated audience. While the co-founders built their business from women's insight, for this event they explained the product from a man's perspective. The founders detailed how a fictional customer named Dan, who lived in Silicon Valley, could use Hello Alfred to make his life easier.
"We did that because we knew who the judges were and we had to make it relatable for them," Sapone says. "We followed what most successful entrepreneurs have done in the past: Know your audience and tailor your message."
3. Let your gender serve you.
Sapone advises women entrepreneurs to maintain a mentality of success and to not think of their gender as a hindrance. Instead, "use it as an advantage," she says, noting that women-led founding teams can use their unique perspective to come up with inventive products and services.