By Jennifer Bisceglie, CEO & Founder of Interos
It all started with a blind ad and one person that believed…
The summer after I graduated college, I had a BS degree in Finance (cue laughter) no job, and no idea of what I wanted to do. I responded to a blind advertisement looking for a customer service person – with no inkling that my life would be forever changed by the experience, and that this was just the beginning of my career at the nexus of global supply chains and technology.
My first boss (we’ll call him ‘Ron’) did a herculean job of funneling my energy into, first, process re-engineering every department in the supply chain headquarters for a major retail brand, and then as the #2 person for a brand-new technological capability – building an inventory management system for that global brand’s entire supply chain. Today, my role would be considered as a product manager, i.e. I would interview the users on their manual activities and then discuss with the programmers how to build and automate a solution.
From there my career progressed to leading similar initiatives on behalf of technology companies, traveling the world, and working with a wide variety of businesses ranging from automotive, to CPG, to food and agriculture. My final, and most critical, stop on this path was bringing that technology to the US Federal Government and the Dept of Defense.
During my journey I continually noticed the companies were focused on what was inside the building or their supply chains, but not what was outside – and paid no attention to whether or not those exterior factors and relationships were causing potential risks to their operations and success. This was the genesis for the concept of Interos.
In 2019 I met the one person who would believe in both me and my technology concept – Ted Schlein of KPCB – who led my Series A. In 2020, he was joined by Nick Beim at Venrock, who led my Series B. Just like my first boss, all it took was the support of a handful of believers to make the difference between a dream manifested and a dream deferred.
Today, we are exposed to many stories articulating the need for greater diversity in business – and specifically on my personal passion, building greater support for more women in leadership- to bring their energies and companies to scale. I couldn’t agree with these stories more.
To close out International Women’s History Month, I‘d like to celebrate some of the women who are already in the pipeline and making it happen, paving the way for the next generation of female entrepreneurship, and a more just and inclusive world of business.
A Few Female Entrepreneurs of Note
Muriel Siebert – It’s fitting to start with the woman who, arguably, started it all. Muriel Siebert, who became informally known as the “first woman of finance” was, simultaneously, the first woman to found a brokerage, the first woman to take a company they founded all the way to an IPO and hold a seat on the New York Stock Exchange. Siebert’s application for the seat was rejected 9 times before she succeeded, and she accomplished it all without even holding a high school diploma. Siebert credited her idea to buy a seat on the exchange to investor and friend Gerald Tsai. Despite the many obstacles she faced, her indomitable entrepreneurial spirit just needed the push of a single believer to help her change history.
Cathy Hughes – An American entrepreneur, DC public figure, and broadcast entertainer, Cathy Hughes became the first Black woman to head a publicly traded company when she took her media company Radio One (now Urban One) public in 1999. Hughes achieved all of this despite her family’s struggles with poverty and her station WOL is still the capital region’s most listened to radio station. In the 1970s, when Hughes aimed to purchase her first station, she was denied by 31 banks. All it took was one lender to see the promise in her ambition for her to take the first steps towards revolutionizing American radio. Today Hughes owns over 55 radio stations across the country.
Whitney Wolfe Herd – A recent addition to the growing ranks of highly successful female founders, Whitney Wolfe Heard became the world’s youngest female self-made millionaire in 2021, when her company, Bumble (makers of the eponymous, female-focused dating app) went public. Herd’s experiences grappling with the challenges of being a female technology executive led her to give this advice to aspiring businesswomen: “Cherish being underestimated,” she said in an interview with The Wall Street Journal. “That’s your superpower.” Herd credits the friendly belligerence of Russian entrepreneur Andrey Andreev, the founder of Badoo, a dating app with 330 million users, for energizing her to build Bumble, after Herd weathered a storm of online harassment following her departure from Tinder, her previous company. Three years later, 17.5 million people had registered with Bumble, and the app has been responsible for more than 1.2 billion matches.
Sheila Lirio Marcelo – the founder and CEO of Care.com, the world’s largest online service for finding medical care. Sheila’s world-changing medical technology vision began with a simple, maternal need: as a young college student, immigrant, and mother, Sheila struggled to balance caring for her two sons, ailing father, and school. 5 years later, in 2006, she founded Care.com. Sheila ultimately raised over $111 million in funding before taking the company public. Sheila shares an early investor with Interos, Nick Beim!
Ruth Zukerman – a co-founder of SoulCycle and Flywheel, Ruth Zukerman’s rise to entrepreneurial stardom, began with the acceptance that her career as a dancer would never take off. A Long-Island native, Ruth had no exposure to business growing up. After attempting to make it as a dancer in NY with little success, Ruth began building a following as a fitness instructor for Reebok. Zukerman’s entrepreneurial career was kicked off when a dedicated student approached her about front Zukerman the money to open her own dedicated, boutique spin business. With a single, devoted believer behind her, Ruth built a fitness empire.
Katrina Lake – The founder and CEO of Stitch Fix, the online personal shopping service, Katrina Lake started the company out of her Cambridge apartment while she worked on her MBA at Harvard. Buoyed by her experience consulting for the retail industry, and having watched her sister’s work as a buyer, Lake set up to create a data-driven styling solution that would make a tailored, personalized shopping experience available across America. At 34 she became youngest female founder ever to lead an IPO. Stich Fix’s success began with just 29 clients and the venture backing of Steve Anderson (Baseline Ventures) in 2011.
Beating the Odds
All of these women had to fight incredibly difficult battles against the odds, and the system itself, to bring their vision to the world. But they couldn’t do it alone. At critical junctures in each of their careers, they found support from someone else. It’s my hope that these stories of success resonate with each one of you, to inspire you to pursue your dream or be that one person to support someone else achieve theirs.
And remember, it just takes one person to believe….