Kelly Hoey knows a thing or two about startups. She is the CMO of Cuurio, a New York-based startup index and platform that connects brands with emerging technology to create partnerships. She is an angel investor and sits on the board of directors of the ephemeral photo-sharing app, Glimpse. She’s also on the on advisory boards of several other tech startups.
Kelly is an alumna of the Pipeline Fellowship, an angel investing boot camp for women. She is listed in Forbes as one of five women changing the world of venture capital/entrepreneurship, in Fast Company as one of the 25 Smartest Women on Twitter, in Business Insider as one of the 100 Most Influential Tech Women on Twitter, and by AlleyWatch as one of the 20 Awesome People in the New York Tech Scene You Need To Know. She has appeared on CNBC's Power Pitch, and moderates "Meet the Innovators,” a monthly speaker series at the Apple Retail Store in SoHo.
In 2011, Kelly co-founded Women Innovate Mobile (WIM), the first tech accelerator program for mobile tech startups with gender-diverse founding teams. And when Kelly is not advising, instructing or leading startups, she writes about shoes at SharpHeels, a fashion, news, and lifestyle website for professional women.
What steps should organizations take to build communities around their products?
Before you build a product, you should first determine if anyone wants to buy it. Ask yourself if there’s a community that’s passionate about acquiring it and using it. We’re no longer in an era of “build it and they will come.” Before you build it, see if there’s anyone who wants what it is you’re thinking of creating. This is what we preach to startups: If you have an idea for a product or a service, go out and talk to your target customers, the people you believe will benefit from and buy your product. Find out if the thesis for your business is correct.
There’s a perception that it can be especially difficult for women entrepreneurs to get funding for a startup. What methods do you suggest?
Let’s take a step back. It’s hard for anyone to get angel or VC funding. Only a very, very small percentage of early-stage ventures are considered to be in need of that kind of capital. It’s extraordinarily difficult.
In terms of women in particular, it comes down to community. It’s all about the networks and relationships that female founders can get themselves into. It means networking your tush off and getting introductions into those existing circles of influence—people who have connections to investment dollars. A lot of that means networking in the “old boys’ club,” or the “new boys’ club,” whatever you want to call it.
Those of us who are in those communities need to start investing. We have to look at companies that need outside funding and are not run by 22-year-old white males out of MIT, Harvard, or Stanford. Of 8.5 million accredited investors, 3 percent are invested. If we want to see women funded, we need to start investing, and investing early.
You spend a lot of time with innovators. What traits do innovators have in common and how can people develop those traits?
The traits I see most often are crazy and difficult. And I’m not kidding. Innovators don’t cling to one idea like it’s their one shot at gold. Innovators are like Jiffy-Pop popcorn—when they’re done with one idea, they’re getting on to the next one.
Visionaries are a different breed. There is only one Steve Jobs. There is only one Elon Musk. Visionaries who changed industries, changed the way we work, and changed our lives are few and far between. But to be an innovator—someone who questions how we work, and our work process—I think that is a muscle that all of us need to stretch. To be an innovator you need to be curious, to listen, and to move out of that business-as-usual mode. You have to say “yes” to doing things differently. That’s something people can definitely improve upon.
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