Nancy Cremins

Meet the first Female founders of the week: SheStarts

Female Founder of the Week (FFoW) is a weekly celebration of the women who are building business in Boston. With this feature, FoundersWire acknowledges the challenges that are unique to women, hails the successes they achieve, and encourages those coming next, so they may learn from these exceptional, undeterred women founders.

SheStarts co-founders, above from left, Nancy Cremins and Liz O’Donnell, have been chosen for the inaugural feature, because not only are they female founders in their own right, they’ve dedicated their resources to being two of the most inspired and powerful advocates this community of female founders could have.


By SHELAGH BRALEY

BOSTON—Meeting the right person at the right time can turn a ripple into a tsunami. Using that logic, SheStarts co-founders Liz O’Donnell and Nancy Cremins are about to turn the tide for women building business in Boston.

“We met over Twitter,” said Cremins in an interview over lunch with FoundersWire. “We were both at an event, and I was live tweeting, and she messaged me, ‘hey, are you here?’ And then we finally met.”

When they did, it was obvious they had big work to accomplish together: the first initiative being SheStarts, a group that “supports the growing pipeline of women founders in Boston,” since its first event in 2014.

It’s definitely an undertaking that has a strong market mandate, with more than 130 people showing what Cremins called “some level of support” on their recently successful Kickstarter campaign, raising more than $15,000 to reach their goal.

What is their goal, exactly?

“We’re here to bust gender bias,” said Cremins simply.

“I think of busting gender bias as the top of a pyramid. And then we say, OK, how do we get there,” continued O’Donnell. She listed events, programming and education, and access to capital as the third piece.

“Then, it’s ‘How can we help sustain and grow? That’s the big issue. We look at the social programming that’s gone on, and we think, until you change the frame of reference, it (bias) doesn’t change,” she said.

The pain they’re addressing has been part of the unspoken startup life for women for more than a decade, with the rise in female founders and women-run startups hitting an all-time high. More than 200 startups with women at the helm have been cataloged in Boston, with countless more building in anonymity. But the fact is that few actually get funded. A 2014 Babson study concluded that fewer than 3 percent of venture-supported companies had a female founder. This same study, however, showed that businesses with women on the executive team were more likely to have higher valuations.

“The idea that it’s a meritocracy, it’s complete and total nonsense,” Cremins said.

“ ‘I’m willing to fund women, but I just don’t find any,’ ” O’Donnell intoned, pretending to be a male investor. “Call it swagger, but there’s a double bind. (As a woman), come in tooting your own horn, and you get knocked down.”

Being different and looking different from the groups you’re pitching, Cremins pointed out: “The very process creates a sense of anxiety,” she said. “The rules of the game weren’t written for you, so you have to navigate a very narrow path.”

“But it relates to: How do we step up to this without alienating men? You invite them in,” O’Donnell said.

The two are perfectly in sync, able to finish each other’s sentences, anecdotes and manifestos. They also share a spectrum of life experience and professional expertise: Cremins is a litigator with tech-focused law firm Gesmer Updegrove, who applies her prowess to solving employment issues and intellectual property disputes, and especially to supporting women-run startups. She is also a longtime board member of the Women’s Bar Association. O’Donnell is an author with a long list of published works, best known for “Mogul, Mom & Maid: The Balancing Act of the Modern Woman.” She’s simultaneously developing a social movement addressing the phenomenon of being a “Working Daughter,” balancing life amid the work and challenges of caring for an elderly or failing parent.

“I realized you have to take the lead,” O’Donnell said. “You can’t just talk about why there are no women leaders. You have to stand up. You can’t just write about it and preach about it, when you’re not doing anything about it.”

She gave an example of the female founder’s gambit, illustrating the stereotypical roles women play, and how they create unique challenges for entrepreneurs: “You’re a good daughter, good student, good worker. You take all the notes, clean up the parties, work through all the details. You’re a good wife, a good mother.

“Then you shift to being a founder, and it’s hard to break that mold,” she said.

In Boston, Cremins said, being a female entrepreneur should be an advantage by now.

“Why fit in when you were meant to stand out?”


Shelagh Braley is the editor of FoundersWire. Follow her @FoundersWire on Twitter. FoundersWire is actively seeking submissions for Female Founders of the Week to profile. Please share with any you know, and send inquiries to founderswire@gmail.com

Above board: SheStarts experts on choosing advisors

By SHELAGH BRALEY

BOSTON—As a founder, where do you turn when you need advice? If you’re truly innovating, there isn’t a single source—often you have to collect expertise from multiple sources to patch together a plan. If you’re lucky, those handpicked experts can become your advisory board, according to the SheStarts panelists who shared their thoughts Monday night.

Christopher Mirabile of Launchpad Venture Group, entrepreneurs Joyce Lonergan (CEO and co-founder of Mellitus LLC) and Helen Adeosun (CEO and founder of Care Academy) joined serial entrepreneur/moderator Tina Weber at WeWork South Station to share advice on choosing an advisory board. Here are the 5Ws you should know, plus a little extra:

SheStarts co-founder Nancy Cremins introduces the panelists at Building and Using an Advisory Board.

SheStarts co-founder Nancy Cremins introduces the panelists at Building and Using an Advisory Board.

WHO should be an advisor:

“Your advisory board is a group you’ve collected who are focused on helping you,” said Mirabile. “It’s people you can rely on … an industry expert, someone who might be in your slide deck. That’s on the more formal name-dropping spectrum.”

“They’re supposed to make your load lighter. You don’t want to bring on anyone that will make more work for you,” Lonergan said.

WHAT is the best way to work with an advisor:

“You say, ‘Here’s what I’m thinking, does that work for you?’ Then put them to work, give them homework, let them know that’s what you expect. Calling them up, saying ‘What do I do?’ is not the way to go, to give them confidence in you as a leader. Be explicit about whether they’re OK with you using their name, and make sure they know your story,” Mirabile said.

“There has to be enough connection, you don’t want to be forgotten. Each call has to be a transaction. And then ask yourself, ‘Did I get what I needed?’ It’s up to me to bring them along, their time is valuable,” Lonergan said.

“It happens organically. We like each other and how each other thinks,” said Weber. “Just don’t question yourself too much. Lay it out there, lay out your ideas.”

“Call them, but not to the point where it keeps you from moving your company forward. If I ask a question and they come back asking, ‘How did that go,” I latch on. It doesn’t have to feel so boisterous and sales-y. See who is really into it,” Adeosun said.

WHEN should you choose an advisor:

“If you need advice, you’re ready,” said Mirabile. “Do it as soon as you can use one.”

“If you need advice, you’re ready,” said Mirabile. “Do it as soon as you can use one.”

“You listen better if you create something first, and you get better feedback,” said Adeosun. “(One of my advisors) picked apart my crap like I don’t know what, but it was great. She’s now a valuable member of my advisory.”

WHERE can you find qualified advisors:

“I ask myself all the time, ‘Who do I know who does that? Sometimes it comes from LinkedIn, who does my group know? Through partnering and outside vendors, I’m always trying to find a thread of commonality,” said Lonergan.

“A lot of times I’m already working with someone, and they say, ‘Do you mind if I list you (on my slide deck).’ It starts out with networking, asking for advice, and good chemistry. (The entrepreneur says:) I’m picking your brain, you give me good answers, and then say, would you like to take this to the next level,” Mirabile said.

WHY choose to work with an advisory board:

“We are showing our customers, these are the people advising us every day, we’re being pushed forward,” said Adeosun. “And it keeps you accountable, right? You don’t want to mess up those relationships, so you work even harder.”

HOW should you work out compensation:

“As an entrepreneur, I never have enough money or time. I try to do everything as low cost as possible. But I’ve learned not to skimp when I need smarts,” Lonergan said. “If you can get the magic of your idea across, sometimes you can get them to help beyond a paycheck.”

“If you can get the magic of your idea across, sometimes you can get them to help beyond a paycheck.”

“If they’re putting in a ton of time, making intros or lending you a name with the halo of recognition, that could be a quarter of a percent to half,” said Mirabile, “or in exceptional circumstance, up to 1 percent of common stock options.”

Mirabile had special advice about this, and also covers it in his blog, “You can outgrow expertise early, so give them less (stock) maybe, but let it vest early so they aren’t hanging around when you don’t need them. Shoot for less stock and faster vesting.”

Adeosun referred to a resource that she has found valuable, a founder/advisor standard template: “The Founders Institute lays out the process by experience and cache, setting expectations, this work is worth x-amount.”

Best traits to look for in a quality advisor:

CM: Availability, willingness to help and super-networked is a key feature. A lot of people are hard to schedule with, they give you shallow answers.

JL: Master of their craft, give you great depth of answers, and trust is so important, for what I ask to be held in confidence and not twisted.

HA: Their ability to connect and work with people in our industry. Whenever I consider an advisor, I ask in passing, ‘What do you think of this person?’ People admire them for how much they are willing to give, and I look at how much people love them within the industry.

And Nancy Cremins, SheStarts co-founder and attorney with Gesmer Updegrove gave the final word: “When you do put together your advisory, make sure everyone doesn’t look the same or you won’t get that good diversity of thought.”

Good advice across the board.