Editor’s Note: In honor of 10 years of the IDS program at the iSchool, Alexandra Archambault will be leading you through a 10-episode podcast series. Each episode highlights a different successful startup company from the program.
Alex: Hey guys! Welcome to the last episode in our ten-part IDS podcast series. This week, I called up Rachel Renock about her company Wethos. Rachel actually didn’t start her company until after a few years she left Syracuse University. She actually majored in Communications Design at VPA. As an awesome female entrepreneur, I think Rachel is a great last interview to end this series on.
From Advertising to Creating for Non-profits
Rachel: So my company is called Wethos, and we actually built a collaborative freelance teams for the non-profit sector as well as other social impact-oriented businesses. What that means is we use data and machine-learning to pair individuals to work together to build cross-disciplinary teams to tackle big initiatives.
I had this huge network of creative people … who, by day, were selling chocolate, and make-up, and cars. They wanted to find a place to find work that aligned with their values.
If you’re a freelancer, you would come on and create a profile, and then you would go through our screening process. That includes an interview with our resource manager, and then a code of conduct and an on-boarding session. Then you’re put in a pool of freelances that we then choose from to create teams when a new project comes through.
I have two co-founders. The company today is about 7 people. It’s about 15 if you include the freelance teams that we use – I have a full marketing collaborative team – and a bunch of project managers. But most of the people are freelance. I have 7 full-time people and two co-founders, and we started the company back in 2016.
We used to work in advertising together. We left to pursue a path to more meaningful work. It got sparked by my own experience in freelance for nonprofits here in New York. I realized the resource disparity they had. They had a really hard time finding great creative talent.
At the same time, I had this huge network of creative people who just really wanted to use their skills to make an impact. People, who, by day, were selling chocolate, and make-up, and cars. They wanted to find a place to find work that aligned with their values. So that’s how the platform was born.
We’ve been running it for almost three years now. We work with three thousands freelancers and a couple hundred non-profits.
Making Freelance More Meaningful and Less Lonely
Alex: As Rachel touched on, she went into marketing after graduation. She feels that this helped her in the success of launching Wethos, as she said in her words, “Being creative requires thick skin, as does being an entrepreneur.”
Rachel: Being non-technical founders, obviously there are a lot of challenges. But with the world today, I think building websites and things has become a bit of a commodity. It’s a lot easier for people to get started than it used to be.
“People get out of bed in the morning for reasons other than a paycheck.”
So we did a lot of scrappy things in the beginning. We made a Squarespace site. Our first 300 freelancers actually came from an organic Facebook group called New York City Ad Jobs. And that’s how we started to grow that side of the network. The proposition of, “Hey, we’re going to connect someone with more meaningful work” is really great for people. So we ended up getting 300 freelancers in the first 48 hours. That became a spreadsheet of people. We were matching manually at that point.
In terms of fundraising, when I quit my job, we didn’t set out to do fundraising. I didn’t know anyone in tech, and I wasn’t interested in the whole “drink the Kool-Aid” thing. So we avoided it for six months, at least. Then once we launched the first iteration of our platform, it was a month before the 2016 election.
After the election, things just kind of blew up. At that point, we were able to use that quick traction to go out and fundraise. To date, we have raised $1.6 million in venture capital. And we’re going for another round this year.
We’re releasing a ton of awesome product features this quarter. Project dashboards, being able to brief and record video, creating a collaborative space for the teams to work together.
A lot of this comes down to the idea that people get out of bed in the morning for reasons other than a paycheck. A lot of the ways we look for jobs today are very cold. We hope to put the humanity back into finding new jobs and work that you care about. The center of it all is you can work collaboratively and you can create teams and freelance is no longer lonely.
The Challenges of Being an Entrepreneur
Alex: When I asked Rachel if she was happy with her choice to bravely traverse the world of start-ups as an entrepreneur, she said this …
Rachel: I definitely have ups and downs, it certainly not one or the other. I never regret it, because I felt that I was wholeheartedly meant to do this. I think natural qualities that are required in order to be a real entrepreneur are, first and foremost, being able to execute by any means necessary. That is really the #1 qualification for being an entrepreneur.
But beyond that, there are definitely days when it’s hard. I think mental health is important. There’s a ton of work that’s always sitting in the docket that needs to be done. My to-do list is kind of an endless sea. First, getting used to that environment is definitely difficult sometimes.
“There is no such thing as that overnight success moment. Because money won’t solve your problems. It will only change them.”
Coming from a big company, too — the amount of work my small team does in one day is probably a hundred times more the productivity I was functioning at a large company. Just because there’s lot of red tape at big companies that slows things down like crazy. I think the workload is jarring at first.
But that said, I love what I do. I love this company, and love everyone who works with us. From a career standpoint, I couldn’t be happier with the challenges set before me.
But I definitely think it’s worth acknowledging that there’s a lot of work, it takes a lot of time, and there is no such thing as that overnight success moment. Because money won’t solve your problems. It will only change them. I think it’s important for anyone that’s doing this to understand that it can definitely be challenging. It isn’t all sparkles and smiles all the time.
“Why this? Why now? Why you?”
Alex: When I asked Rachel for her advice about starting your own company, I think she had some of the best tips I heard throughout this entire series. As a woman myself, I think tips for female entrepreneurs were incredibly insightful.
Rachel: My #1 thing is: just get started. I think too many people get blocked by barriers they can remove themselves. You don’t need to raise a million dollars to get started. In fact, most people will not give you a million dollars. In the age of things being much more accessible, investors and customers expect that you’ll be able to get something off the ground without a ton of capital.
“For women in particular, one last thing: trust your gut.”
Being scrappy, finding solutions, just bulldozing through those barriers, is a really important quality. Especially as investors are looking for people to fund. Raising money comes down to three things: “Why this?” “Why now?” and “Why you?” “Why you?” certainly comes down to your ability to execute, so I would definitely say to people to get funding to get started.
What It’s Really Like to Quit Your Job
When I quit my job, I didn’t quite my job and just stop working. I couldn’t afford to do that. I think there’s a lot of people out there that can’t afford to do that. They don’t have a giant savings account or family trust. When we quit, we quit with six months of rent in our bank account.
We had saved up and we had been moonlighting for a couple of months at that point. My co-founders and I all got part-time jobs. We left traditional jobs to get have more flexibility, but that doesn’t mean we suddenly didn’t have any income. So I freelanced on our own platform to get by. One co-founder started bartending. The other worked at a coffee shop and actually served coffee to somebody we used to work with.
“When we quit, we quit with six months of rent in our bank account … I freelanced on our own platform to get by. One co-founder started bartending, the other worked at a coffee shop.”
The point is, if you’re going to quit your job, I wholeheartedly encourage you to do that, because you only have one life. But there are steps you should take before doing that. You should absolutely consider how you’re going to keep the lights on.
The idea that you can quit and raise money in three months and be profitable in six months is just not realistic. I don’t think enough people know that. What you really need at the beginning is time. And the only way to get time is to find a way to support yourself.
Learning to Trust Your Gut
For women in particular, one last thing. Men don’t really struggle with this one as much – maybe they should (laughs). Trust your gut.
There’s a lot of people out there who have a lot of advice and there will be a lot of vultures. There are people who are condescending, people whose intention it is to make you doubt yourself. I’ve been there. All of the decisions I’ve made where I didn’t my gut, I regretted it.
“An investor who has looked at your deck for a minute and a half and tells you “there’s no opportunity here” is ridiculous. As long as your customers continue to validate your ideas, just keep moving forward.”
At the end of the day, you know your business better than anyone else. You know what kind of opportunity there is. If your customers are saying ‘yes, we want this,’ then you should believe that. Anything else in terms of investors, advisors, other founders, anyone else who is talking down or giving bad advice: it’s just not worth it.
An investor who has looked at your deck for a minute and a half and tells you “there’s no opportunity here” is ridiculous, in my opinion. Continue to trust yourself and your gut and the opportunity you have in hand. As long as your customers continue to validate your ideas, just keep moving forward. Don’t let the doubt creep in.
This interview has been edited for clarity.