In celebration of March being Women’s History Month, we wanted to bring your attention to some female founders that we believe are making history today! At Newark Venture Partners we are extremely proud to have a portfolio full of innovative, diverse, boundary-breaking, ceiling-smashing women that are solving some of today’s most pressing business and social challenges - and reinventing the way we work and live in 2021. Each week, during the month of March, we’ll post a short interview with one of our founders right here on our blog. If you haven’t heard of them yet, consider this your introduction, and be sure to follow them on Twitter and LinkedIn…
Week one: Naomi Shah, Founder of Meet Cute, an audio-focused media company that creates and releases short-form “feel-good” content. (For more on Meet Cute check out our recent investment highlight here.)
NVP: Tell us something about your personal story we don’t already know about you….
NS: I grew up in Portland, Oregon and watched my parents - both immigrants from India - work hard to build a life together in a new country. Just before I was born, they started a company together, with my mom Sonal Shah, at the helm. Seeing my mother in positions of leadership at a young age made me realize early on that women could do anything they set their minds to. Taking turns with my dad, she was there to wake us up in the morning, put us to bed at night, pick us up from school when we were sick, and practice her sales pitches after dinner parking her kids on the couch to listen to her and entertain our silly questions about her presentation. Without realizing it, she was showing both my brother and I that women could have an outsized impact not only on their immediate family, but also ripple into the concentric circles into their community, and out into the world.
Even with a strong female presence in my life, growing up I thought it was a superpower to “think like a man”. To me, it meant that I was like my dad, who was charismatic, successful, and extremely smart or my brother who is perpetually calm and composed even in stressful situations. What I couldn’t put my finger on, in my naivety, is how my mom led quietly. Before she was a CEO, she wore pant suits to dress like a man, because her first job was in sales at Merck and she was going head-to-head with other sales people who were 6’1 and very masculine. She taught me that being a leader is not about portraying power, it’s about portraying empathy. It’s about empathy towards people as a way to understand what your consumers want, empathy towards your team to be a team-player. My goal is for young women to hear “think like a woman”, and for it to mean leadership and empathy.
NVP: What are the most important traits to look for when hiring a new employee?
NS: New employees at a company like Meet Cute are team-players. They are in love with the product and mission statement, and therefore operate as owners of the company. Our teammates hustle to bring new ideas and products into existence. Willing something brand new into existence means being relentless in our efforts, until things work. It also means making decisions on less information than we think we need, and being okay with uncertainty in outcomes, but not in effort.
New employees with a can-do attitude will be happy to come to work everyday to work alongside colleagues, who care about one another and jump in where needed. The type of leader I strive to be is one who rolls up her sleeves and gets to work alongside the team. I think these attributes go further than any deck about company culture will, and speak volumes about what it’s like to work at Meet Cute.
NVP: What are some ways we can help nurture female founders and/or what advice would you give to a woman about to start a business? Does that advice differ if the founder was a man?
NS: There are hard parts of founding a business whether you are a man or woman. There are times when it’s lonely as you work your way up a mountain. Gender aside, a kick-ass team, your close friends, your inner circle of investors, and your family matter more than anything because they believe in you. That said, the numbers tell us that there is more precedent for male founders in the early-stage ecosystem than for female founders. We are conditioned to seeing men on boards, cap tables, and on stage talking about their work (or on digital stages like Twitter and Clubhouse). Fortunately, the last few years have seen a wave of female founders and organizations supporting women, working to change the status quo for the next generation of founders.
Gender is just one axis of diversity in founding a company though, age is another, and socioeconomic status too. It’s no secret that a lot of VC money and introductions flow to people who are part of certain social circles. Finding and empowering female founders, younger founders, and people who might not look like your *typical* founder is more about doing, rather than saying. It’s about reaching out to check in on what specifically can be done to help that week - whether it’s an introduction to a specific partner or recruiting efforts. That goes so far with someone who is stretched thin or feels alone. Support is walking right next to the portfolio companies and showing them that the world is ready for and excited about what they are building, when they are elbows-deep in building it.
NVP: When the history books write your story, what would you like it to say?
NS: This question is bold, and I love it. I’d like it to be a smattering of examples (“show don’t tell”) of how I might have been fearless in decision-making and ready to venture into ideas that others hadn’t before, breaking through pre-existing stereotypes. Much of what we do at Meet Cute goes against the grain of traditional Hollywood and bridges the gap between technology and entertainment. We think that people want more content, and want it consistently so we’re in the business of delivering “feels”. In taking a different approach to storytelling, we are also pushing the boundary of the scripted stories that get told in pop culture - ones that are undeniably fresh and diverse - by building a platform and a community like that, around the feelings of hope and optimism.
In building this brand, I hope to be remembered as someone who stepped off the beaten path and whose work made people pause and think a little differently. Above all, I hope to be remembered as an empathetic leader and a friend, as well as someone who cared deeply about the community around her.
NVP: Open Mic: What else should we be talking about during Women’s history month?
NS: This past year has shown us that people need spaces that make them feel safe, heard, and relaxed. Our goal is to create that culture inside of Meet Cute as well as in our broader community. I am proud that over half of our global creative network (of 500 and growing) identifies as female or non-binary. Our diverse stories start with giving creators the chance to tell stories from their communities, stories that they think are important, all in support of the mission statement “hope for the whole world”.
Instead of building around a product, we’re building around a feeling. The feeling of togetherness even in all of our differences. That feeling can go a long way in our listener’s day-to-day lives, as well as in larger conversations happening around social justice today.