Startup

Women Leaders in Tech Who Have Exited Their Startups: Meet The Founders of RealFace, SheWorx and Aptara

This article was transcribed from the Girls Club Capital Tech Exit Panel on February 23, 2021, featuring the Founders of RealFace (Adi Eckhouse), SheWorx (Lisa Carmen Wang) and Aptara (Anita Gupta). This panel was moderated by the Founder of Girls Club Capital, Ashmoret Mishal.

To listen in to the podcast recording, click here.

Ashmoret Mishal: Welcome to our first GCC Tech Exit Panel, today we will be hosting three incredible women entrepreneurs on our panel. These women have built amazing companies and have sold them with great success. We will be hearing the personal stories of the founders and co-founders behind Real Face, SheWorx and Aptara. I’m pleased to introduce you to Adi Eckhouse, Lisa Carmen Wang and Anita Gupta. 

Adi, you grew up in Israel, known as the start-up nation, and you served in the Israeli military. How has this experience shaped your entrepreneurial character? And, what inspired you to build, specifically Real Face, this Cyber Technology startup that now Apple now uses for unlocking the iPhones with our facial recognition?

Adi Eckhouse: So, I think that’s a great question and I think one of the main issues that has been discussed, and there’s a whole book written about it, but I think one of the most interesting things the Israeli Army does is it kind of flattens out the country- so for two or three years no matter what you decide exactly that you’re going to be giving, sometimes more. You’re leveled with everybody else in the country and you’re doing something that’s not about yourself. I think that’s when you really see a larger, broader picture that’s bigger than yourself and you start believing in many things, as well. So you go out completely by yourself at 18, far away from home, you have a gun and do things that might not be exactly what you were planning. I think the biggest thing for me was kind of an idea that I believe in myself more which I think really is an important part of entrepreneurship. I have to say, throughout my whole life I had skepticism mostly about myself and my abilities, but I think the Army was the something that taught me you really are a part of something that’s bigger than you. I think that’s that’s the main point about the Army service specifically, but something about Israel is the cyber training that a lot of people get. So, I wasn’t part of 8200 or a lot of these very high-end cyber computer science places. I was doing something completely different in education so that was a big differentiator.

Ashmoret Mishal: Thank you so much for sharing your story with us. Next, I’d like to introduce you to Lisa Carmen Wong who is the former Olympic level, USA National Champion and Hall of Fame Gymnast turned serial entrepreneur and angel investor who founded She Works, women’s professional platform that grew into over 20,000 female entrepreneurs and helped women raised over 30 million dollars in funding.

Lisa, when did you first discover that you were meant to be an entrepreneur and run your own business? What inspired you to build She Works, specifically, a Global Network of ambitious female entrepreneurs redefining leadership? 

Lisa Carmen Wang: Thank you. I’m excited to be here with everyone. I always say that my first career was as a gymnast. I spent over a decade from the age of 9 to almost 20 years old and there’s a really interesting parallel between being a gymnast and being an entrepreneur because one thing you learn as a gymnast is that you are always falling down. You’re falling off the beam, your falling on the floor and when you fall in front of tens of thousands of people and you fall in front of your country- the shame and embarrassment that you feel and then you still have to get back up again and continue to perform and continue to go forward- that’s the same experience you have as an entrepreneur: failing over and over again but mentally having the strength to be able to get back up and say, I have a bigger vision and I have to keep going forward. 

So, I would say a lot of these skills that I’ve learned as a gymnast- the focus, the discipline, the perseverance, are directly translatable to being an entrepreneur and so after I retired from gymnastics I went to Yale to study literature, ended up working in finance at a hedge fund in Wall Street and that was the first experience that I had really trying to learn how to navigate especially as a young woman in a very male-dominated industry that was quite honestly still not used to women being there. So, for me I realize while I was working at the fund that every time we had these monthly meetings they would say we’re up 0.1% month-over-month and I thought well that means I contributed 0.000001 percent and I believe I can do so much more. I believe I have the capability to create something but I can’t create it here. 

A lot of my impetus to take the leap into entrepreneurship came from the belief that I had more to offer in the world and that even though this job looks like a great opportunity to everyone else I just said, well I’m just not happy and I think I can do more. So even though I didn’t have much support just in terms of taking that leap, I just knew in my heart that I wanted to create some sort of contribution using the strength that I had. I started my first company, which is a late-night munchies delivery company right at the beginning of the on-demand wave and I worked with all the colleges in New York we were delivering food at 3:00-4:00 a.m. 

I learned pretty quickly that I wasn’t passionate about it and the reason we ended up building SheWorx was actually because of the fundraising journey that I went through with that company. The first time I went to Silicon Valley to raise money there were no female entrepreneurial groups and the first meeting I went into it with my COO, a 35 year old white male, the investor went over to him and shook  his hand but then brushed me off as the assistant when I was the CEO.

I remember thinking that for so many women it’s not about some of these big egregious stories we hear in the news about harassment, although those are truly devastating, but for most women it’s often about the small paper cuts. Every day getting overlooked, undervalued, assumed as inferior, and if you haven’t built up that confidence or that foundation or even that experience to understand how to handle it and if you don’t have a mentor to tell you turn this into strength, it’s very easy to get pushed down when you don’t feel like you have that support and so SheWorx was really built out of need that I had myself which was to be surrounded by other women who understood and have empathy for the journey and create a safe space to actually raise money. It started out as a small community and quickly turned into a 20,000+ member community platform where we were directly connecting women to investors and actually getting them funded.

How did you finally crack the fundraising?

Lisa Carmen Wang: One of the things I recognized was oftentimes when you go in as an entrepreneur to raise money there’s an uneven power dynamic. Again, if you’re not experienced, the person on the other side of the table- most often a male as 94% of investors are men, it feels like they have all the power because you want the money and they have the money. If you don’t really do that work to build up your own strength you come in almost giving off an air of knowing that you’re in the weaker position because you have a need and so the way that we did it within our community was for all of our events where investors were coming in we brief them on the rules of how we gather. There are the rules of how our events function so when you come in it is not the typical power dynamic. Instead, it was what value are you offering to our community- it’s about the exchange of information, it’s about providing value on both sides and it’s interesting what you can do psychologically when you set the frame. We teach this in sales where the person who’s leading always sets the frame and they say here is how the agenda is going to go, here are the rules of this interaction, and usually the person that has the authority can actually set a frame of here is how this is going to go, here is a result we want to achieve, and so few entrepreneurs actually learn how to do that because they’re coming in with the mentality of weakness. We did training for the female entrepreneurs and said here’s how you actually do this and set the frame so it’s almost fundamental sales training, fundamental mindset training for fundraising and then as well bringing in top investors and partners from that you normally wouldn’t get access to an actually building out those interactions and facilitating informational connection rather than directly pitching.

Lisa, can you give an example of setting the frame?

Yes. For example, a lot of times if you go in to fundraise you might have in your mind, “I want to present my pitch deck”, but usually what happens is the investor immediately says tell me about yourself or they ask you questions about your TAM or your competitors. When you set the frame you say, “Here is how I would like the meeting to go- I’d like to share with you XYZ and then I’d like to approach the team, I’d like to share with you the pitch deck and then run through this, does that work for you? So you’re just stating your intention for the meeting and preference of how you’d like it to run, rather than reacting to someone else and people will respect you if you do that.

Ashmoret Mishal: Lisa, thank you so much your tips are really helpful and important and we appreciate your advice. You’re such an inspiring woman and thank you for sharing your story with us. Next, I would like to introduce you to Anita Gupta.

Anita, please share with us about your experience of building Aptara, which reached a billion dollar valuation before the financial crisis, together with your two siblings, Rakesh and Neal Gupta? And, how do you leverage your family roots in India for the growth and success of your tech companies?

Anita Gupta: Sure, absolutely, thank you for having me, Ash. Very nice to meet you all and I’m honored to be on the panel. I wanted to just give you a little background about Aptara, how that company. We were very young when we started, straight out of school, and always knew that we would start a business together between my brothers and I so it just seemed like a very natural thing to do. I think that for us the biggest thing was trust- we didn’t have to spend time developing a relationship with each other, that was already there, so it was then just a matter of finding the right idea and building a business out of it. It was the late 80s, early 90s when we started and we wanted to sort of keep our connection with India because we had all been born and brought up here so we thought the best way to do that was to find a way to do a tech company that also had some connection with India so we could keep traveling to India on holiday. 

Nothing was a walk in the park, it was very grinding, long days. I don’t think I took a day off in the first 5 years. I remember looking at my brother and asking if we should continue because our chances of making it were so low and he asked if we weren’t doing this what we would do. I said, “well we would start another business”. There was really no option in terms of what we were going to do and who we were going to do it with so we just persevered with that one. But, it was a fun thing to do, to grow a publishing services and technology business and as you mentioned, we were listing at a billion dollar valuation right before the crash and luckily we took the listing off and decided to sell the company and in the meantime started Kiwitech. I think what really helped us along with the trust was we had complementary personalities and skill sets that we brought to the table and were open to listen to each other when it came to major decisions in the company. I think all of those things kind of kept us on track over the years, it took really 20 years for that company and we’ve been doing KiwiTech for 10 so that’s 30 years together.

Ashmoret Mishal: Running a business is surely a marathon and not a sprint. It can take over a decade to achieve this ultra success and it’s important to have good partners alongside this journey- partners that you trust and believe in such as family members.

Would any of you like to share about a challenge in forming your companies ? And how did you overcome it? Were there any points that you wanted to quit and give up? What made you push through these difficult times?

Adi Eckhouse:  First of all, I kind of wanted to quit every so often because  I just thought I wasn’t good enough at what I was doing and wanted to bring someone else in to do it. This relates to something I call failing forward and being a woman in tech, especially at that time, but I think that’s another panel and something I could talk about for hours. But, on a practical level, something that we had a really hard time with and I think a lot of companies see this is a problem- getting our first tech person. For us, it was that AI face recognition guy which changed the whole perspective of our company and I think that’s something that a lot of companies have a problem with it and it’s kind of how do you build that really strong tech team that’s devoted to you and won’t leave you for the next paycheck at an Amazon because they’re always going to pay more. The best advice that I always give on this is that the most important part is finding the first person and I think for us that was a long journey of finding that right person, who by the way later became our co-founder and CTO and really changed the perspective of our company and is an amazing guy. People don’t give enough of their attention to nailing that first AI hire. I was on LinkedIn for hours and days, approaching random people, emailing them back and forth- really trying to get a meeting with anybody and everybody that had AI and would talk to me- I met with. If you have tech in your company, I think once you really find that right first person, he will take care of everything tech after.

Usually these super talented people have a very large network of people they are connected to and for us that was such an important hire that changed the entire prospect of our company.

Lisa Carmen Wang: Agreeing, a lot times you want to quit- but that’s probably the importance of having a big enough vision and passion for what your building so that’s going to keep you afloat even in the hardest times, but I would say that one thing that I’ve learned and I’m really trying to integrate now into my life is I think an am entrepreneur and especially as the CEO- we often do, especially as women, is that we pay ourselves last, we don’t take care of ourselves, we say yes to everything and then suddenly we’re doing everything because we don’t want to put it on other people and we think we can handle it so then we sacrifice our health and our sleep and our peace of mind and that’s just unsustainable. It doesn’t allow you to bring your best self or your best work to the table, causes you to make bad decisions because you’re coming from a place of stress and fatigue and overwhelm. Checking yourself- especially if you’re an entrepreneur, and noticing those moments when are those habits when you’ve gotten into a rhythm that you are not taking care of yourself or that you’re saying yes to too many things that you shouldn’t be doing or that you’re struggling because you’re not paying yourself anything. Changing the way that you think- that that should not be how it is. That you’re doing people a benefit if you get enough hours of sleep, if you’re eating healthfully and you’re making time to work out and you’re saying no. So, I think that that’s just something really important and is also why I’m in Costa Rica now working so I left the winter in New York which is quite miserable and just as productive if not more but doing more in less hours.

Anita Gupta: I would say the biggest challenge was that it was exhausting- it was 24 hour days and it was also at a time when people didn’t really do that many startups. I would say in the late 80s, early 90s it was not what everyone was doing and so I think it was a struggle in terms of you did kind of question yourself sometimes but I think in general the concept that entrepreneurs come from a variety of different backgrounds, skill sets, and education; but, what they all have in common is that they really believe in their own success. So, that’s the one thing that kept us going-we always knew we were going to make it despite everything that you know we may have been experiencing.

What keeps you busy these days? And, what’s next? Your next dream, or goal. Adi founded DeeDa:Do, Anita founded KiwiTech and Lisa is a partner at The Venture Collective VC and she runs her own podcast- the Confident Investor. We would love to learn more about what you women are up to these days.

Lisa Carmen Wang: One of the things that I’m passionate about of course is empowering women financially and I think that in addition to women founding more companies getting funded, I realized a big part of it is teaching more women how to invest- especially Angel invest. I think it’s very hard to change old institutions. To say that we want to have brand-new female VCs and completely overturn Silicon Valley and how it operates is a very long process but I think what women have the capability of doing and what we don’t even realize often is that small checks make a big difference. There is a history just across the board in terms of how women have been socialized in terms of more risk aversion when it comes to investing a lot of times just because we aren’t socialized to do that we aren’t in those circles, but more and more people are investing small Angels checks like $1,000 on platforms now where you can invest in companies with as little as $100. So I think of investing as the ability to affect the types of companies and the types of leaders that you want to see in power. And the great thing about investing is that you can be part of a company’s journey and you don’t have to be the one doing all the work anymore and you learn a lot and get to be connected with incredible founders. 

In the Confident Investor Podcast, in the Confident Investor Club we’re actually launching that this month. We teach people how to invest with as little as $100 no matter what your income is, you can make a difference and you can start learning how to invest. Being Head of Brand of Republic, an investment platform where you can invest in startups, in crypto, in real estate, and in video games, we’ve had over 250 million dollars in investments come through by retail investors just like anyone here. For me, it’s about making investing more accessible to everyone so it’s not just the top 1%, the ultra-wealthy, who are deciding what companies get funded. Going forward, we want the types of companies being built to be reflective of the population of people who are in the world.

Anita Gupta: Our next venture, with my brothers, is called KiwiTech, and we’re a platform basically connecting entrepreneurs and investors. After Aptara, we wanted to do technology not just in the publishing services field, but across industries so now we have investments in about 400 companies across 20 industries and we host a lot of events which basically are used for connecting entrepreneurs and investors- about 30 events a quarter or maybe a hundred this year. We’re basically doing tech development for a lot of these technology startups. It has been a lot of fun, we are growing that company quite quickly and doing acquisitions in fintech and digital marketing. 

Adi Eckhouse: I touched upon it a bit earlier. I understood that my real passion in life is something between education, games and kids. In the past two years almost now, I’ve been trying to build a new company called DeeDa:Do which is kind of reinventing classic board games. We’re building a game console that uses only classic board games that you and I and everybody has played as kids to engage kids in fun games like chess and Scrabble that teach them basic concepts around coding and math and doing this in real life situations. It’s not a game console that’s only a screen, but it’s a digital physical console that uses tech and holograms and things we’re trying to work on.

In the past year, since COVID has hit the world, I was pregnant and we all got sick in March so I’ve kind of been home with my kids and just jumped back on the wagon in the last two months so it’s kind of been halted and not moving the pace I want but I’m back at it and super excited about building this. I have been talking to  a lot of Edtech companies to see how I can make an impact in that world and I’m a mother of 4 girls. I am motivated as a person, parent and entrepreneur to promote female education and empowerment.

SPEAKERS’ PROFESSIONAL BIOS

Lisa Carmen Wang:

Lisa is a former Olympic-Level, USA National Champion & Hall of Fame Gymnast turned serial entrepreneur, angel investor, keynote speaker, and unapologetic feminist. Lisa’s first company, SheWorx (acquired), grew into a platform of over 20K female entrepreneurs, and helped women raise over $30 Million in funding.  Today, she is the Host of The Confident Investor Podcast, a financial education platform for new startup investors. She is also Head of Brand & Communications at Republic, a leading investment platform that has facilitated over $250 million investments in startups, real estate, crypto, and more. She is also a Venture Partner at The Venture Collective, a seed-stage investment firm. 

Lisa was named Forbes 30 Under 30, Entrepreneur Magazine’s 100 Most Powerful Women, Red Bull Hero of The Year, and inducted into the Red Shoe Movement Hall of Fame for creating a more equitable workplace for women and minorities. Her mission is to elevate the next generation of female & diverse business leaders and she has spoken on 100+ international stages on the power of self-mastery & financial confidence. Lisa began her career at a top Wall Street hedge fund. Lisa is a graduate of Yale University.

Adi Eckhouse:

Adi was the co-founder and CEO of RealFace, a startup company that created mobile authentication products using revolutionary face recognition and liveness algorithms. RealFace was acquired after two and a half years by the largest US corporation. Adi is a marketing executive that started her career in brand management at Procter & Gamble. In the years before co-founding Realface, Adi was the VP of Marketing and Business Development at Syneron Beauty and was part of the founding team within Syneron Medical (Nasdaq: ELOS) to open the Home-Use device unit, later sold to Unilever. She holds an MBA from Columbia University and B.Sc. in Computer Science (graduate of the Zell entrepreneurship program) from IDC Herzelia and was also captain of the Chess Team at IDC.

Anita Gupta:

Anita is a Northern Virginia-based entrepreneur. She was a co-founder of Aptara in Fairfax County in 1988,
and then co-founded KiwiTech in 2009. At Aptara, Anita was responsible for leading the sales and
marketing team. The company quickly grew from the original three founders to well over five thousand
employees. Aptara was named to the INC 500 list year after year, and eventually became the largest
publishing services company in the world. The company had a successful exit through a sale in 2012, and
is now based in Falls Church, VA.
At KiwiTech, the founders have created a unique eco-system for entrepreneurs. Anita drove start-up sales,
and now heads up strategic sales with partnerships across the US. Anita’s passion for the entrepreneurial
dream led to various speaking opportunities, including the Society of Physician Entrepreneur’s National
Capital Meeting in April 2017, FICCI’s Big Data and Analytics Conclave in New Delhi in Aug 2018, and at
KiwiTech’s Female Founder Demo Days. She has been featured in the Marietta College’s alumni magazine,
Trailblazer (Dec 2016).
A native of Marietta, Ohio, Anita has a Bachelor’s degree, cum laude, in computer science from Marietta
College. Her interest in public and private governance led her to a Master’s degree in Public Policy from
the Kennedy School at Harvard University (MPP).

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