Choose Investors Thoughtfully: The Levo League Founders
Video interview with Levo League founders Caroline Ghosn and Amanda Pouchot.
By Pemo Theodore (Founder, Ezebis)
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 over three years at McKinsey, where Caroline met co-founder and CIO Amanda Pouchot on the first day of the job. The two were the youngest in their respective assignments and frequently the only women. They have raised $1.25M in their initial round of funding.
Below is a partial transcript of the video interview (below):
Caroline Ghosn: I led up our investment round and 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 and worked for us was being very cognizant of the kinds of thought partners that we wanted to invite to our round. We sat down and thought to ourselves – how many investors do we want to be involved? What are the different skill sets and 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?
We reached out to those specific people and we shared our motivation with them. 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 and 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.
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 and that dialogue that worked best for us, when we were engaging with individual angel investors.
Pemo Theodore: 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?
Amanda Pouchot: I oversee our product and content strategy. I’m actually titled Chief Innovation Officer leading innovation. It’s great because one of the really important things about finding a co-founder is making sure that you have someone who you can trust and a lot of times it’s a blind trust, because you have to divide and conquer. You can’t both do everything, you have to trust the other person is working just as hard as you.
When looking for a co-founder, it’s really important that you have the same work ethic. That is the most important thing, that you are both putting your heart and 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 and 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 we tackle problems in different ways but we’re very able to work together & come together and create the best possible solution.
Pemo Theodore: 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?
Caroline Ghosn: 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 and 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 and you need help.
We’re very fortunate that we had women like Gina Bianchini. We have someone like Sheryl Sandberg basically sponsor us and be behind us. Or someone like Susan Lyne on the East Coast or someone like Fran Hauser.
Yesterday we were on a panel at Facebook and 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 and celebrate what you’ve accomplished. Because it’s a series of sprints that look like a marathon from the outside and 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 six months ago, when I didn’t know any of these people and how much of an influence they are in my life today and it’s incredible. I really believe in cultivating those relationships and it goes back to the idea of thought partnership. Engaging as thought partners is the best thing that we can do.
Pemo Theodore: Would you have any advice for women that might be in the same place you were six months ago looking to find that financing and the right thought mentors to work with?
Amanda Pouchot: Yes, lots and lots of advice. I think the most important thing is to really think through your business broadly and 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 and goals and break it down into phases. Or break it down into OK we’ve gotta get this first and 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 and really discover what others want. Then be able to take that information back and 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 and mentors who want to get involved.
Pemo Theodore: Caroline, do you have any advice?
Caroline Ghosn: 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 and always keeping them in the loop and 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 and 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.
This post was originally posted at Ezebis.
About the guest blogger: Pemo Theodore is Founder of EZebis. She is an Australian entrepreneur focused on winning the venture game for women. Pemo has been involved in online businesses for over 6 years, starting with AstraMatch. Prior to that, she has been involved in small business for over 30 years in Australia, Canada, Ireland and London. Pemo is a certificated business coach. Follow her on Twitter at @pemo and her startup at @ezebis.