Center for Women & Wealth

Next Generation Forum: Careers and Entrepreneurship Panel

BBH recently hosted a Next Generation Forum at The Beekman in New York that covered a range of topics, including an introduction to finance and investing, wealth planning and entrepreneurship.

The evening featured a panel on careers and entrepreneurship organized by Springboard Growth Capital and moderated by Carson Christus of our Investment Research Group. The panel featured Zoë Barry, founder and CEO of digital health company ZappRx; Jenny Griffiths, founder and CEO of visual search platform Snap Tech; and Ashwini Anburajan, founder and CEO of behavioral research startup OpenUp.

The panelists started off discussing their backgrounds and what ultimately drove them to launch a business. For Barry – who held positions in everything from the hedge fund space to the ski slopes – the shift from a traditional career to entrepreneurship was fueled by the “hunger to be successful.” Griffiths, a software engineer turned CEO, reported spending years obsessing over her idea before she realized it was now or never: “You know people are interested; it’s ridiculous to sit and wait for someone else to do it.” Anburajan attributed her diverse professional and academic background – a series of “happy accidents” that included everything from politics and TV to business school and blogging – as the blend that enabled her to go out on her own, crediting these as the reason behind her ability to build a network of people who supported her.

Building a startup is often compared to riding a roller coaster, and panelists reflected on the ups and downs encountered over the years. For Griffiths, ongoing struggles include having the weight of critical decisions on her shoulders and worries about money running out. Her peaks, though, may make up for this: “Someone might have a great degree, job, salary and friends, but I have had experiences that I could not get anywhere else – such as flying on a private jet with the prime minister!” Barry also called out money concerns as a trough. After a promising career start in Wall Street, her father was hesitant of her abandoning her future there and joining the startup world. All of her extensive fundraising efforts led to her best moment, though, when a Wall Street Journal article reporting a huge fundraise by ZappRx was published on her father’s birthday. When commenting on her all-time low – having to fire her two co-founders – Anburajan pointed out the positive side of the experience, learning that sometimes CEOs had to “own it” and let fear go to move in the right direction.

When asked about the biggest thing they knew today that they did not know when starting a company, all three founders said that they had no idea how difficult the journey would be. However, they did not necessarily view this as negative. Anburajan said that being naïve and jumping headfirst into a space she knew little about allowed her to take risks without fearing the consequences, adding: “If you think too much about how hard it will be, you can get paralyzed.” Barry agreed that “ignorance is bliss” and added that she would tell her founding self, “This is going to be a wild ride, so buckle up – but you are going to love it.” Griffiths also admitted to being naïve when starting SnapTech. She said that although it was good from an “emotional point of view,” she wished she had known more about company structures, raising money and the importance of being calculated in career decisions.

Panelists then commented on the challenges of being a woman in business. Griffiths spoke about her initial efforts to support women who joined tech and science fields through mentorship and engagement. However, she said that over time, she has realized that women in business face a bigger challenge: They never lose the feeling of having to prove themselves. Barry agreed, noting that during many of her early meetings, she was not viewed as credible unless she brought a male doctor with her. Griffiths and Barry also touched on the challenges female founders face when fundraising, referencing the well-known fundraising gap. Interestingly, Barry found that of the investors who ultimately provided her with capital, all had daughters. She concluded that this pattern reflects their commitment to the next generation: “Investors with daughters want them to grow up and become entrepreneurs.”

When asked how to turn an idea into a business, Anburajan said to approach it as a project and pull together the resources needed to execute. “There is magic about having a good idea,” she added, and by viewing it as creating something, it is easier to get over failure. Barry stressed the critical – but often overlooked – step of hiring a lawyer to incorporate the company. She also commented on the entrepreneurial drive required to execute on an idea, saying that “it does not matter how risky or crazy it seems – you cannot stop until your idea becomes a reality.” Griffiths expressed a similar feeling, noting that “if you cannot stop thinking about an idea and would rather fail than miss out, that is the feeling you are looking for.”

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