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In the Women Entrepreneur series Mentor Moments, female founders sit down to chat with their own mentors (and us!) about how and why the relationship developed, and the lasting impact it’s had on their careers.
When Nadine McCarthy Kahane posted a job opening on her business school’s alumni site, she thought she’d get a few good candidates out of it. Instead, she got a close friend and business advisor. Kahane’s startup, Stone and Strand — a jewelry marketplace and private label — caught the attention of Chloe Thompson, who had a successful career in the retail and jewelry industries. (She currently serves as VP of commerce at Bespoke Post.) Thompson reached out simply to learn more about the growing company, and the two women quickly developed a valuable personal and professional relationship. Here, they tell us how.
How did you first meet?
Nadine McCarthy Kahane: I posted an opening for a marketing role on the Wharton alumni job board. Chloe reached out and was like, “I’m not right for this position, but I love what you’re doing and I love the brand.”
Chloe Thompson: I had heard about Nadine’s company before, which was just maybe two years old at the time. I had worked in jewelry before and knew what a hard business it is, totally dominated by a couple of corporate giants. I just wanted to get involved and meet this woman.
NMK: We had coffee — like a first date — and just hit it off. Right away Chloe commented on how yin and yang we are. We have very complementary skill sets and approaches to business. As a solo founder, I’m very aware of what I’m good at and what my limitations are. Without having a cofounder to fill in the gaps, I’m always on the lookout for other people who can help me bridge them.
CT: I did some consulting for Nadine when I was in between jobs, working on the brand’s strategy and voice. My career has mostly been at the intersection of the analytical and the creative. There aren’t many MBAs who can do both, and I think Nadine had encountered a lot of traditional MBA people who were great at numbers, but not anyone that was passionate about the space she was working on. I was kind of the prototypical Stone and Strand customer. We just saw eye to eye. After I stopped consulting, I stayed on as an advisor.
NMK: It was a super intense time for us, so I always say that Chloe saw us at our worst — which is good for any relationship. I was pregnant at the time, we were in the middle of a rebranding project, it was nuts. It helped us establish a relationship of trust.
What issues, in particular, did she help you work through?
NMK: About a year and a half ago we were really focused on setting up an ear piercing offering. We knew the project would involve a lot of resources and we were trying to decide if it was worth the investment. I called Chloe with the idea and she started shrieking and, I think, jumping up and down. It gave us the external validation to move forward with it. Sometimes you can get swept away with your own experiences, but she’d worked in the market before. If she was excited, I knew we had something.
Chloe, throughout your own career, what kind of support system did you have?
CT: I’ve been in retail more or less my entire career, and I really struggled to find mentors right out of undergrad. It’s a big reason why I eventually went to business school. Since then, I’ve worked much harder on cultivating those relationships. It tends to be with people that I work for — I had a really wonderful boss and mentor when I was working at Cole Haan — but now I’m more focused on the people who work for me, and making sure they feel supported. And I’ve certainly come to Nadine for advice as I’ve gone through job transitions, and we talk a lot about juggling motherhood and work. We both aligned on ambition and commitment. We knew we didn’t want to be full-time moms, and there was no shame in that.
How do you both go about building support systems for the people that work for you?
NMK: The only answer to that is really hard work and being present. We’re a small team right now so we’re close, but when we think about scaling, it’s about being clear about who you are and what you offer. Different people want different things, and as a small company, we can’t be a one-size-fits-all shop. So it’s about hiring the right people and trying to take care of them.
CT: What’s nice about my advisory role at Stone and Strand is that I spent time in the office and got to know some of the staff, so people know who I am and know that they can always feel free to reach out.
NMK: We see Chloe as a mentor to the whole company, not just me individually.
As women in business, how important has it been to build support networks with other women?
NMK: Being a founder is tough, but as a female founder there’s added complexity. Having to help largely male investors understand our product for a largely female customer, for example. I needed to consciously adjust the way I communicate our goals and what we’re doing to reach them. That’s where I get a lot of support from female advisors — I have a group of female CEOs that I really lean on for business advice. In particular, where being a female founder really presented a challenge for me was having children. It’s tough. Pregnancy was actually the toughest for me — I was so tired when I was pregnant. It gives you this new appreciation for women who have done it and fought for it.
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January 10, 2019 at 09:02AM