Entrepreneurs cannot expect perfection right from the start and moreover, the one thing they need to be most prepared for are uncertainties and hurdles along the way. In this chat with TecHRseries, Kathleen Egan, CEO and Co-founder at ecomedes opens up about the typical challenges a startup faces while sharing a few key tips that can help women entrepreneurs who are looking for new funding.
Hi Kathleen! Tell us about yourself and your journey so far. What are some of your biggest highlights from your time being a tech entrepreneur?
I’m married with a baby (now 5!). I’ve always been attracted to entrepreneurship, and for much of my career, I worked as a consultant for business and technology organizations. I learned so much at these companies, and after attending Harvard Business School, my attraction toward effective leadership only grew. As an entrepreneur, the two exit highlights were my first startup flyswat which was sold to NBCi This cemented my career in startups. The second highlight was the acquisition of ProfitLogic to Oracle, the classic 800 lb gorilla.
Recently, the biggest highlight was combining my passion for startups with the imperative I feel for sustainability. This led to me being a co-founder of ecomedes, my tech startup that dissolves the myth that sustainability has to be expensive. I wanted to prove that with the right tools, everyday businesses can be a platform for serious change. I’m thrilled that I’ve found a way to combine my passion for environmental impact and business leadership by making sustainable, energy efficient and low-impact products accessible for any type of organization.
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What are the five top tips you’d share with women led startups?
It’s never easy to launch a business, especially as a woman in male-dominated field. Here are my top 3 tips for women entrepreneurs:
- Build your own personal team of mentors and helpers around you. Give to and get with this group as much as you can.
- If you are working with someone who treats you differently for being a woman, find a new place to work. There are plenty of people out there to work for/with.
- Develop a key skill or expertise. You can evolve and be a general manager but having an area of concentration will help distinguish you along the way.
As women led startups start to scale and expand and seek funding; what are the top factors they should keep in mind according to you?
Finding the right investors is an ongoing process, and the partnership needs to fit the current needs of the startup. The last data that I saw indicated that about 2% of Sand Hill capital goes to women. So, you need to be aware of this and factor into your strategy for fundraising. Settling into a relationship with an investor who doesn’t believe in your core mission may wind up less effective than waiting for the right partnership to come along. This is especially true for women CEOs – we have to seek out the investors who believe in our ability to effectively lead our company, regardless of outdated expectations about women in business. Our work with NOVA by Saint Gobain and PivotNorth has been incredible because they believe in me, my partners and our mission.
What are some of the business leadership and management skills that a tech startup founder should cultivate more strongly according to you?
It’s extremely important to be strategic and intentional with your team. Every person at ecomedes believes in our mission, supports our goals and contributes to a healthy company culture. We are welcoming and inclusive of employees of all ages and backgrounds because investing in the right people is never a “one size fits all” process. At ecomedes, we are all motivated by the impact our accessible product can have on the planet, always striving to empower businesses to make sustainable decisions. This requires a level of optimism and positivity, as environmental goals can often feel overwhelming. The right people and the right attitudes can make or break a startup, and it’s the job of founders to establish company norms by setting a strong foundation of passion and inclusion.
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Before we wrap up, we’d love to hear your thoughts on the biggest challenges that tech startup founders should prepare for before they begin their startup journey.
It’s impossible to truly predict how things will go once an operation gets going, and accepting that risk is the most difficult aspect of entrepreneurship. Prepare for being told “no”, for being ghosted by investors, and for feeling like there are not enough hours in the day to do everything you want. It can be overwhelming. For me, this is where the “purpose” part comes in. For me, it’s not about passion for sustainability, it’s about an imperative for sustainability.
As a parting thought; a few tips for business leaders to keep in mind when adjusting to the new normal?
Find ways to make your business relevant in this unconventional time. ecomedes is designed to help larger scale construction projects achieve sustainable goals, but during the pandemic, we’ve become especially involved in the procurement of environmentally-friendly home office products, including sustainably sourced desks and chairs.
This is a time of incredible change across any industry, but it’s also an opportunity to see your business from a new, fresh perspective, gaining insight to capabilities you may not have realized your company has in store. Flex your creative muscles during this time, because it may be a fantastic way to grow as an organization. #GreenRecovery is a real opportunity for us as a society.
Ecomedes is a SaaS platform that brings together buyers and sellers of building materials in a way that accelerates more sustainable building.
Kathleen has had a successful career building and growing cutting edge startups. Beginning as an engineer in NYC in the fashion business, she earned an MBA at The Harvard Business School before moving to the Bay Area to become an entrepreneur during the dotcom boom. She was the first business hire at flyswat (acquired by NBC), an early search and navigation tool. She then ran west coast operations for ProfitLogic, a pioneer in price optimization (acquired by Oracle). She spent five years at Oracle leading Sales Consulting for the $150M Retail Global Business Unit. She then led Analytics and Client Success for Revionics (acquired by Aptos) and for Quri, the leading crowd-sourced app for CPG (acquired by TRAX Retail).
Outside of work, she is passionate about ocean health and serves as the Chairman of the Board of 5 Gyres, a plastic pollution NGO. She produced a documentary about pay inequality in professional big wave surfing called It Ain’t Pretty. She is an enthusiastic surfer and skier who lives at the beach in San Francisco with her husband and five-year-old son, who plans to save the whales.