Video interview with Levo League Founders, Caroline Ghosn & Amanda Pouchot. Levo League is a technology startup dedicated to accelerating career development of young professional women. They have raised $1.25m in their initial round of funding. Founded in 2011 Levo League’s mission is to help young professional women to thrive in the workplace without compromising their identities as women. Caroline Ghosn is Co-Founder and CEO who spent three + years at McKinsey & Company, where she was immersed in projects spanning from Cleantech to philanthropy. Caroline met Levo League Co-Founder Amanda Pouchot on the first day of the job, where the two were the youngest in their respective assignments and frequently the only women. Amanda Pouchot is Co-Founder and CIO of The Levo League, an innovative online community designed to guide Gen Y professional women through modern career challenges and development.
Transcript follows & video below.
Its a fabulous startup that you’ve got going! Do you want to tell me a bit about the story behind the startup?
C: Absolutely, my name is Caroline Ghosn & I’m CoFounder & CEO of the Levo League. We really are creating the generation defining career community for women. That came out of a personal experience, coming into the workforce during the recession. We’re really creating a product that addresses the needs that we had ourselves & that our bar generation has based on the research.
C: So I led up our investment round & we actually haven’t taken venture funding. We raised an angel round with very carefully chosen investors from the beginning. What really set us apart & worked for us, was being very cognizant of the kinds of thought partners that we wanted to invite to our round. So upfront before it became about a specific person, we sat down & thought to ourselves ok how many investors do we want to be involved? What are the different skill sets & backgrounds of those people? Do we want a media expert? Do we want a women’s community expert? Do we want a technologist? And who are the people that not only have the skill sets but are extremely passionate about the same approach that we have for our own company? And we reached out to those specific people & we shared our motivation with them. And we were very careful to share our end state vision as well as the ways we thought that we were going to go there in a very tactical way. It’s really tough because when you’re starting a company, it’s chicken & egg. You’re not going to know 100% what’s going to happen at the point of your angel rounds. But you have to know enough about what success means for you to be able to get people bought into the journey. So it was a delicate balance of buying people into the broader vision with a tactical way to get there knowing that full disclosure that tactical way is going to shift depending on audience feedback, depending on the circumstances that arise. It was that journey & that dialogue that worked best for us, when we were engaging with individual angel investors.
That sounds very sane & a fabulous strategy. And I think will probably work better for you in the long run as a company. You obviously were leading the investment round, but I was wondering how it was for you Amanda during that process? What part of the startup do you take responsibility for?
A: Definitely I’m Amanda Pouchot & I’m CoFounder & I oversee our product & content strategy. I’m actually titled Chief Innovation Officer leading innovation. It’s great because one of the really important things about finding a CoFounder is making sure that you have someone who you can trust & a lot of times it’s a blind trust. Because you have to divide & conquer. You can’t both do everything, you have to trust the other person is working just as hard as you. So when looking for a CoFounder it’s really important that you have the same work ethic. That is the most important thing, that you are both putting your heart & soul into this product. You’re going to have disagreements, that’s how the best things happen is when you don’t agree about something. You come together & you find the best solution. My role is really about making sure we have the best solution to the problems we’re trying to attack. One of the strengths for both of us is that tackle problems in different ways but we’re very able to work together & come together & create the best possible solution.
I’m wondering too if not the most important thing is that you would share the same values, even more than the work ethic? Obviously you are both on the same page & you’ve brought your individual talents together & that’s awesome because it’s much more powerful than one person can accomplish. But I think that above the work ethic? Would you agree with that?
C: Absolutely, I think that to really function as a team where the whole is greater than the sum of it’s parts, you have to have that blind trust as Amanda was saying. I really believe that’s where work value is & we view work ethic as one of the main components of those values. But there are obviously interpersonal values, there are obviously professional values & all those things together, I think once you match those. I really believe that if you have the will to learn something, you’re going to learn it. So a more successful relationship long term is not necessarily a relationship where everybody’s skills are diametrically opposed in the most complementary way possible & everything’s hunky dory. It’s about the mindset because the evolution of that relationship is going to be dependent on the values of those two people over time.
You’ve obviously thought about this quite a bit. It’s fabulous, it’s really great information to share with other women & female entrepreneurs! I did hear that you have some fabulous women behind you in your investment rounds. Do you want to briefly share who they are? And how that was meeting those mentors?
C: Sure, absolutely. We’re very fortunate that we found real sponsors throughout our angel round. I think that was the biggest surprise for us. You don’t really come into a round especially as a first time entrepreneur & expect that you’re going to find those people you could actually call your mentors that you can text message with questions, who will video chat you if they’re across the world & you need help. We’re very fortunate that we had women like Gina Bianchini . We have someone like Sheryl Sandberg basically sponsor us & be behind us. Or someone like Susan Lyne on the East Coast or someone like Fran Hauser. Yesterday we were on a panel @facebook & Clara Shih, Hearsay Social is an incredible example said ‘You need to take time to take a step back when you’re starting a company & celebrate what you’ve accomplished. Because it’s a series of sprints that look like a marathon from the outside & sometimes you lose sight of what’s happening when you’re in it.’ And I really, really feel that way about these incredible people. I think back to 6 months ago, when I didn’t know any of these people & how much of an influence they are in my life today & it’s incredible. I really believe in cultivating those relationships & it goes back to the idea of thought partnership. Engaging as thought partners is the best thing that we can do.
Would you have any advice for women that might be in the same place you were 6 months ago looking to find that financing & the right thought mentors to work with?
A: Yes lots & lots of advice. I think the most important thing is to really think through your business broadly & to dream big enough. That’s what we’ve found is that you’re really only constrained by how big you can dream. Really understand, yes my dreams are this big but then I applied steps on how to get there & goals & break it down into phases. Or break it down into OK we’ve gotta get this first & then we can go there. Also test: testing, testing, testing: that’s been one of our strongest things that we’ve been told to do is take what we’ve learnt from our users, from our community & really discover what others want. Then be able to take that information back & say ok we know this will work because we’ve tested it. I think this gives us a lot of credibility when we speak with investors, advisors & mentors who want to get involved.
Caroline do you have any advice?
C: Absolutely I think that the fact that we’re able to relate to each other so well (which I see women do so often in personal settings) is a big, big strength when it comes to involving investors. At the end of the day investors are people who are taking a risk to stand alongside you. Approaching them with humility & always keeping them in the loop & having them feel part of a team, I think is something that needs to be done from the beginning. You set a tone at the beginning of the company that sets a standard for that culture for the investors. One of my mentors actually told me at the beginning of the round when I was a little nervous about speaking to some of these people: “Everybody is a person. The person you’re facing is a person too. Try to think about what is it about what you’re doing that resonates with their lives? What is it about your business that you think is going to inspire them? Because it’s different for each person. Figure out what that is & really talk about that. In the process of doing that you need to understand, the person across the table from you. You need to be really empathetic to them. In order to do that you’ve got to be humble because if you’re filling up the room, there’s no space for them.
So one of the things that I learnt from video interviewing vcs, angels & women founders was that a lot of vcs said that a lot of men actually don’t use that technique. They act like superstars & over extend themselves & talk so big that probably a lot of it is puffed up & is not actually substantial. So this is a really different technique but then I can see that you girls are really starting to explore, being pioneers, along with a lot of other female entrepreneurs pioneering new ways of going about this rather than recreating the old ways that men traditionally have led the storm. So congratulations to both of you & you are both so inspiring so I’m sure that your platform will inspire many people to come.
C: Thank you so much