Adapting to the New Normal

“We are all learning how to adapt in these unprecedented times. Here is my story.”

Adam Shapiro, co-founder of AlertMe

We are all living through challenging times right now, both personally and professionally. As a result, we thought it would be helpful to hear how members of our community are coping in today’s new normal. Here is our interview with Adam Shapiro, co-founder of AlertMe, a tool that lets publishers connect with their readers.

Adam Shapiro

What is AlertMe?

I often describe AlertMe as a content discovery engine for publishers.  In short, AlertMe allows readers to opt-in to follow stories they care the most about, helping the site build 1-1 connections with the most highly-engaged users.  The personal relevancy of these “self-selected” emails or texts is why alerts drive a 36%+ CTR. It’s a great help to publishers, readers, and hopefully will send my kids to college.

How has your business been impacted by the coronavirus pandemic?

Not surprisingly, the current environment has had a significant impact on our ability to grow. Everyone’s focus is on keeping clients and ensuring their families are safe which makes it hard to find and speak to new potential clients. 

How are you adapting your business strategies?

One thing this crisis has done is shown the value of our service. Readers struggle to filter through all the news sources available to them to find reliable information. This is especially true when people are seeking news about their local community. I mentioned earlier that the overall CTR is 36% with AlertMe, but on local stories dealing with Coronavirus, it’s 47%.  Getting the most critical information to people is what I take the most pride in. That’s why, in our small effort to do public good, we are waiving our fees for any publisher wanting to use AlertMe for coronavirus reporting, and, in many cases, all content.

Have you changed the way you conduct your business? 

We are focusing our energy on our most important targets – keeping the key partners we have now and continuing to pursue big opportunity prospects. Everyone has limited bandwidth right now so we keep our focus on the initiatives that can bring home our dinner. But the exciting news is that we have gotten unsolicited inquiries from publishers – that means that we are getting noticed.

Have you been able to identify any new opportunities as a result of the pandemic?

It made us realize that AlertMe can be valuable to more organizations than news providers. For example, healthcare companies and nonprofits can use AlertMe to filter information to people. It is actually useful to anybody who puts something up on the internet and hopes someone will find it. Unfortunately, we don’t have the bandwidth right now to pursue these opportunities, but we plan to pursue them once this crisis passes and business is hopefully back to normal.

How are you managing your employees and/or contractors?

We have always worked remotely so the recent mandates to work from home have not caused a significant change in how we work together. But we do speak more often now so that we are cognizant of the challenges each of our employees is facing. I also recognize that work may need to get done on different schedules, so planning ahead has become increasingly important. We also have to be careful to prioritize our work so that we don’t overstretch or over-stress our staff during this time when stress and anxiety is already high. 

How are you preparing for a potential loss of revenue for the next several months?

We are talking to larger organizations about strategic partnerships and, potentially, an acquisition so we can offer more capabilities to clients faster. I am a big believer that it is better to have a smaller percentage of a large successful organization than trying to grow organically at a slower pace – especially in the current business environment.

How are you balancing the needs of your family with that of your business?

No question, my family always comes first. If I have to choose between a business call and comforting my children if they are scared, I will try to reschedule the call. Of course, I have the advantage of leading a company where work can be done outside of the traditional hours of 9 to 5, giving me more flexibility in juggling my responsibilities to home and work.  

What advice do you have for other entrepreneurs?

I wish I had answers – we are all learning in these unprecedented times. By definition entrepreneurs are fully invested in their businesses and, for many, business is hard right now.  So I would say it is more important than ever to take breaks. I’m finding that I need to discipline myself to take breaks away from stressful work and aggravating Twitter/news, and instead, do something that is 100% entertainment.  We need to give ourselves permission to step back periodically. 

Tell us how you are coping during this crisis by commenting on our blog. We want to hear from you!

Copyright© 2020 Emelie Smith Calbick and Betty Wong

How To Manage Through Times of Uncertainty

“The work goes on, the cause endures, the hope still lives, and the dream will never die.”

Ted Kennedy

Social distancing, cancellations of major events and the closing of schools and universities across the country – businesses around the world have been turned topsy-turvy as events change by the minute. As team members, family and personal friends are self-quarantining, COVID-19 is already hitting too close to home for comfort. This blog is being written in solidarity with all of you!

While many businesses can continue to operate by leveraging new technologies, businesses that are based on in-person interactions, such as education, entertainment, dining, and hospitality, are clearly in trouble.  Last month, we hosted two networking dinner parties in New York’s Chinatown, in a show of support and solidarity with those establishments, which were hit especially hard in the early stages of the pandemic.  

Now even more business owners and their staff are impacted as theaters, museums and movie theaters have closed. At Stage2Startups, we had to postpone our March event to May and cancel our April event indefinitely. 

And then there is the safety of everyone concerned, from owners to staff to partners to family and friends. If we are young and healthy, might we still be carriers and endanger the ones we love? If we are older, do we stop what we are doing for fear of catching a virus or do we continue and potentially risk the safety of ourselves and others?  

As places of business close due to government mandated shutdowns or lack of business and cost constraints, our thoughts go to the people involved, their employees and their extended families. Our focus is on the people who cannot work from home, including people we know, such as medical workers, police and firemen, as well as everyday store owners, like my sister, who runs a dog boarding business, and my nephew, who runs an ice cream wrap business reliant on tourism. Who do they keep the lights on for, and do they risk the lives of employees or themselves to keep their businesses going?

How will we deal with this crisis? We believe that as an entrepreneur, you will find a way and will discover new opportunities and develop new ideas. 

We have included in our Resource Section, checklists and links from SBA, NYC and the CDC for businesses to use to assess and plan for handling this pandemic and links to low-cost or no-interest loans as well as grants from NYC for extremely small businesses of 5 people or less. Check to see if your local or state government might have similar programs. 

In addition, you need to take care of yourselves financially if you are in startup mode and don’t have prior year sales or are pre-launch. You should contact your credit card companies or vendors to see if they will work out a payment plan. Here is a good checklist from CNBC.

Tell us how you are coping during this crisis and/or if you have additional recommended crisis management resources by emailing us at or commenting on our blog. 

Let’s try to help each other, as best we can and stick together during this time of crisis.

We look forward to hearing from you! 

Copyright© 2020 Emelie Smith Calbick and Betty Wong

The‌ ‌Value‌ ‌of‌ ‌the‌ ‌Experienced‌ ‌Worker‌ ‌

“Companies need to wake up to ageist hiring practices which may be holding back their growth.”

Mike Smith, founder and CEO of Hiring Stage

Mike Smith, founder and CEO of Hiring Stage, sees “experience” as a critical driver of success for fast growth companies. Leveraging the gig-economy and startups’ interest in efficient and effective worker employment, Mike identified an opportunity to connect people with experience to companies who need that experience. In doing so, Mike started a new business and a potential revolution on the recruiting/consulting front. Along the way, he has been profiled on Forbes as an expert on helping companies “manage change” by bringing in talent that has experienced the change in question – experience that startups staffed by millennials might not have.

Prior to starting his company, Mike was a consultant for a major international consulting firm, helping teams strategize on change implementation. He had been doing his job for many years and was good at it, so it came as a surprise when he was downsized. 

Mike Smith

Some people would have been upset at suddenly losing their job, but Mike applied his analytical skills to himself. “After taking a personal inventory of my strengths and weaknesses and likes and dislikes, I decided this was an opportunity to make a change.” Mike recounts. “Instead of going to work for another large consulting firm,  I decided to go out on my own.” Within 3 weeks, he had his first project, facilitating problem-solving for a nonprofit. 

As Mike continued on his quest for clients, he wondered if startups would be interested in his services. As he spoke to more and more people, he realized that ageism was causing startups (as well as established organizations)  to lose the benefit of people with experience. That’s when he decided to create Hiring Stage, a company where startups can find the professionals with the experience they need to help them grow. Companies submit their needs and professionals provide their capabilities (but not their resumes!). Mike tries to facilitate a match, like an old-time marriage broker, albeit with an algorithm he’s developing.

During his two year journey running Hiring Stage, Mike has been able to start quantifying the age discrimination in today’s corporate hiring practices, and he is out to change that mentality. “Starting Hiring Stage is something I am really passionate about,” says Mike. “Educating more new companies and the media on the benefits of hiring older workers is critical to change the prevailing narrative about the value of experienced workers.  I want to be on the forefront of the change to eliminate ageist hiring practices.”

Mike has differentiated himself as a change-maker helping companies and seasoned professionals find each other. To learn more about Hiring Stage, visit www.hiring

Copyright© 2020 Emelie Smith Calbick and Betty Wong

What Every Founder Needs to Know

Even if you have a good idea, you can’t succeed without the right partner and a strong team

David Ingerman,co- founder of PlaceCodes, Inc, and I met early in our careers when we both worked at American Express.  David subsequently went on to join MapQuest (which was bought by AOL) and Dun & Bradstreet. But David always had an entrepreneurial streak. He launched several startups in college,including selling t-shirts and boxers. And in his corporate career, he was attracted to new businesses and technology. In fact, at Dun & Bradstreet, he was Vice President of product innovation.  So it wasn’t surprising that he eventually went on to form his own company.

David Ingerman

Placecodes was conceived out of David’s personal frustration as a parent to find and navigate to specific locations for swim meets, soccer games, and other kid oriented activities that were not listed at the time in Google maps or anyplace else. “I found many others had the same problem and realized it could be solved by allowing people to name locations and then share those names so people could easily navigate to the place,” remembers David. “I knew from my experience at MapQuest and D&B, there was a simple solution.  Like D&B’s DUNS number which provides a unique identifier for every business in the world, I could create a similar solution for places. So with my co-founder, I developed a patented system that allowed users to identify, save and share information about any location on earth.”

When I reconnected with David, it was perfect timing.  I had spent a long career in corporate America, working at American Express and JPMorgan Chase, but even though I got personal satisfaction from my job, I was ready for a change. David was looking to find new opportunities for PlaceCodes, and was looking for a sales and marketing partner to help him. After several conversations, we both knew we would make a good team.

Emelie Smith Calbick

David had recently shifted his business model to helping businesses drive consumers to retail locations that carried their products. “Over time I realized how hard it is to drive consumer adoption without the support of platforms like Twitter and Google, and they had no interest in working with a small partner like us. I knew we had to change our business model for us to stay viable,” says David. 

Together, we targeted two new business opportunities using PlaceCodes’ patented technology – selling location based services to large franchise corporations like McDonalds and Buffalo Wild Wings, and offering a customizable location-based marketing platform and app to local business development organizations to support their downtown businesses. 

Changing the business model proved to be the right decision. We achieved profitability for the company but ultimately decided to sell the business to Destini, a product location solutions company.

What would we tell entrepreneurs, both current and future? 

Find partners who complement your skills.  While David and I had similar business backgrounds, our strengths and interests lay in different areas.  As a result, we were able to divide up leadership roles so that there were clear lines of responsibility.  This led to faster decision making and gave us the ability to quickly adapt to market changes.

Make sure you like your partners. You know startups are 24/7 and most of that time is spent with your partners. If you don’t get along, trust your partners’ skills or share the same passion for the business, your company will not succeed. It’s a cliche, but starting a company together is like a marriage.  David and I worked side by side every day. We would not have been able to move the business forward if we hadn’t also enjoyed each other’s company and been able to laugh together at all the craziness of a startup life.

Never compromise on talent. Startups are always stretched for money, but you can’t succeed without good people. Without top notch programmers, we would not have been able to maintain product functionality as well as add new features to stay competitive. It takes time, which you feel you never have enough of, but investing in the time upfront to find the best people to fill your roles will pay dividends down the road. 

Surround yourself with good advisors. When you have to make tough business decisions, it is critical to have an impartial sounding board made up of smart, talented people to help you work through the process.  Also, have good lawyers, accountants and other experts available to deal with critical technical questions.

Whether you are talking about partners, employees, or advisors, your success is dependent on the people surrounding you. Take the time to find the right people.

Copyright© 2020 Emelie Smith Calbick and Betty Wong

How Your Day Job Helps You Reach Your Dream

“Keep your paying job as long as you can because that steady income can fund your dream.”

Melissa Heisey, founder of Angel’s Retreat

As long as I have known Melissa Heisey, she has been passionate about animals. Melissa and I worked together at Chase Card Services where she served as the finance lead for my card programs. She then joined Synchrony Financial where she took on increasing levels of responsibility.

But even while she was excelling in her career and earning a good income, Melissa was immersing herself in the business of caring for homeless dogs. “I always felt the need to do something meaningful in the world,” says Melissa. “I didn’t want people to remember me as just someone who was good at numbers.”

Melissa Heisey

It wasn’t long before Melissa began preparing to realize her dream of opening her own animal shelter. That dream came true last year, and today Melissa is the founder and Executive Director of Angel’s Retreat, a shelter focusing on older, hard to adopt dogs based in West Chester, Pa.

How did Melissa get from finance to her dream job? “I basically worked two jobs,” says Melissa. “While I was earning an income at Chase and Synchrony, I was spending my free hours as a volunteer with a local animal shelter.”

During this time as a volunteer, she learned every aspect of running a shelter, volunteering for every type of role from shelter management to fundraising and media outreach. Melissa’s years of volunteering also gave her the critical relationships she needed with partner shelters, veterinarians and volunteers to ensure her own shelter’s success.

“Working at Animal Haven was a wonderful learning experience for me. The Executive Director of Animal Haven became a real mentor, patiently answering all my questions as I learned the business. And she continues to be an important advisor to me today as I establish my own shelter.”

Melissa also took advantage of having a steady paycheck to cover the upfront expenses of setting up the shelter. “It’s a lot easier to pay for all the startup expenses like legal fees to become a 501(c)(3) non-profit, purchasing the necessary real estate and other costs when you have the income to pay the bills,” notes Melissa. By investing in her future business while continuing to work at her finance job, Melissa was able to hit the ground running when she finally took the leap and opened Angel’s Retreat. “Doing all the upfront work while I was still employed not only made paying the bills easier, it also meant that I didn’t lose time setting up my business once my income stopped.”

It doesn’t matter whether you are launching a for-profit or non-profit business, it takes knowledge, money and planning to make your vision a reality. “Going out on my own was tough, but I took the time to prepare,” says Melissa. “It’s hard to work on your long-term goal while holding a challenging job, but it’s worth it because you can hit the ground running once you decide to leave your job to launch your business. I have no regrets.” To learn more about Angel’s Retreat, go to

Copyright© 2020 Emelie Smith Calbick and Betty Wong

Does Experience Make You Smarter?

Knowing an industry through years of experience gives founders an added advantage.

Every founder can benefit from industry experience, but some industries require more experience than others to achieve success. Richard Russo’s biotechnology company, Endomedix, has created a “biomaterial technology platform” that has the potential to impact the lives of millions of people. While this revolutionary technology platform, which is based on sugars, seems like science fiction, there are already 9 issued patents using this platform for a broad array of uses, including neurosurgery and ocular battlefield trauma.  It’s truly science-fiction moving into “real life.”

Richard Russo

Success though was not a given. Richard was recruited to Endomedix by the co-founders to help turnaround the struggling company. His long experience in the med-tech space (working for major companies, such as CR Bard and American Sterilizer, as well as startup firms) along with his years working with Food and Drug Administration regulators positioned him well to meet the challenge. But Richard freely admits that mistakes were made, and Endomedix needed to pivot several times to develop a new game changer product for large, underserved markets.

Ultimately, Richard shifted Endomedix from a licensing technology model to a product development model.  Richard notes,“This strategy offers a much greater return but requires a certain risk and time tolerance that not everyone has. Most new products in the life sciences/med-tech field are incremental improvements to existing products, with quicker entry to market and lower capital requirements. We decided to go after a significant disruptive change, addressing change that has not been done in over 75 years.” 

The success of this higher risk/return strategy depends on Richard’s extensive knowledge and experience in the life sciences. Richard guides his team to work on solutions that will be both fundable and marketable and that will pass regulatory scrutiny. His years of working with doctors and attending conferences has paid off both in his promotion strategy (finding surgeon-collaborators willing to work with his product) as well as identifying the right milestones and getting into the right places to pitch funders and clients.

Reflecting back as an entrepreneur, Richard acknowledges that understanding the industry and how it works is the key to success for startup leaders in healthcare and especially medtech. “Bio-medtech requires more than just understanding technology.  Your product will impact people’s lives – mistakes matter so you have to know the product is right before you go to market. You can’t launch and improve the product on the fly. Lean startup is not an option here. That’s why entrepreneurs have to have experience to launch a company in the life sciences.”

While the bio-medtech industry is highly regulated with specific requirements, every industry has its own quirks, requirements and even language. Knowing an industry through years of experience gives the “older” founder a decided advantage when launching their business – just one reason why startups founded by older entrepreneurs who have been tested by experience have a significantly higher success rate. 

To learn more about Richard and Endomedix, go to

When Success Isn’t A Straight Line

“I learned the business you are in isn’t always obvious when you start out”

Adam Greene, Founder of Klaatch

Inspiration for a new business can come from anywhere.  For Adam Greene, co-founder of Klaatch, it came because of his father.  After Adam’s mother died, Adam watched his father’s health deteriorate; he was sure loneliness was a major factor. This belief was validated when Adam’s research confirmed that loneliness has an enormous impact on a person’s physical and mental health. That got Adam thinking. “Since loneliness can change people’s behavior, I wondered whether solving loneliness could change them back,” says Adam. “I wanted to learn more and find solutions.”

Adam Greene

Adam had been an investment banker for 25 years and while he had experience as an entrepreneur, tackling loneliness was out of Adam’s area of expertise. Adam continued to do research and think about solutions, but it wasn’t until his father’s aide encouraged him to tackle this growing problem that he decided to act. That’s when Klaatch was born.

But deciding what Klaatch would ultimately be turned out not be so straight-forward. “What our initial vision was versus where we are today evolved over time,” says Adam.”We originally wanted to build a better program than what was currently available in the market.” So Klaatch initially created its own programming  focused on making it easier for older adults to keep their social circle vibrant and expanding by providing creative incentives for older people to stay social.  “As a mission-driven company, we wanted to provide a soup-to-nuts solution. But we learned that there is seldom one answer. Every organization we talked to required a different approach. It made it hard to explain our solution and scalability was impossible.”

So the team shifted its focus to measurement – how could Klaatch prove its program made a difference? They designed their own “Social Quotient” dashboard to quantify the impact of their programs on changes in loneliness and participants’ behaviors.

This led to a new business opportunity since, like Klaatch, everyone was struggling to develop a methodology to measure success. Klaatch found that while many of the organizations they talked to didn’t want new programs, they did want to measure the impact of their current programs. By building on their platform, Klaatch could meet this need.

“I originally thought we could be an integrated solution but soon found out that it wasn’t scalable or easy to deploy. By leveraging the platform and unique data sets we built for ourselves, we are now able to build custom dashboards for other organizations. This is not only scalable, it puts us in a stronger position to raise money,” notes Adam. Today, Klaatch offers both programming and analytics to healthcare organizations.

The path to a successful business is not always a straight one. As Adam notes, it isn’t always obvious what your business is when you start out.  But with persistence, flexibility and the willingness to listen to what the market is telling you, you can find your business opportunity.

To learn more about Klaatch and the great work Adam and his team are doing, go to

Copyright© 2020 Emelie Smith Calbick and Betty Wong

What Makes Me a Successful Entrepreneur

“To succeed, you need more than just a good idea.”

Rachel Roth, Serial Entrepreneur and founder of OperaNuts

Rachel Roth, founder and CEO of OperaNuts, is a true entrepreneur. Even as she was pursuing a successful career as a fashion marketing executive and journalist, she was always spotting market opportunities and creating products to meet consumer needs. “I had a great career at major fashion companies including Liz Claiborne and Ellen Tracy, but always hungered to do something on my own,” says Rachel. “I am a doer.”

Rachel Roth

Rachel’s love of good food and opera led to her first business at Tanglewood, the summer home of the Boston Symphony Orchestra. When she discovered that attendees were offered a limited menu of hot dogs and beans, she spotted an opportunity, and A Moveable Feast Picnics was born. Rachel ran her gourmet business for 8 years on the weekends while keeping her full-time job.  Then, after Rachel was diagnosed with high cholesterol, she created Rachel’s Guiltless Cakebreads, made with no butter, eggs, and sugar.  Today, Rachel is the founder and of OperaNuts, a delicious mix of dark chocolate and almonds coated in her own secret sea salt sauce.

We asked Rachel what she thinks has led to her success as an entrepreneur. Here are her thoughts:

While experience and enthusiasm remain important attributes for any entrepreneur, in today’s world founders must also be tech savvy. “I knew marketing and merchandising, and I had experience in the food business, but today’s technology is different,” says Rachel. “I knew I needed help if I was going to make OperaNuts a success.” So Rachel went to New York Cares, where she was paired with a volunteer tutor who helped her become adept at using technology to promote her business. Today, Rachel leverages her website, email communications and social media presence to promote and sell her product.  

It’s not enough to have a good idea. Success requires patience and a lot of legwork. Rachel started small, testing her product with a few people at a time as she worked to find the best ingredients and the perfect recipe. She brought her nuts to dinners with friends and gave samples to people she knew. For example, she asked her hairdresser to try her nuts. He liked them so much he agreed to sell them in his shop for the Christmas season. Another friend who worked at Williams Sonoma asked her to participate in their Artisan’s Market held in January. “I spent 2 months scrambling to promote the event and sold out. Now, I sell OperaNuts at pop-up shops in Williams Sonoma, West Elm and Kiehl’s. We also ship to 44 states and the UK, Denmark, France, Spain, and Australia.”

Starting a business is like having a baby. It takes time and you have to be willing to sacrifice other things. “People don’t always understand what it takes to make a business successful. It took 2 years for me to perfect my product and get people to buy it,” says Rachel. Rachel also notes that you need to understand your customer and to keep an eye at all times on the competition.  “I was always thinking about my business – how to improve my product, how to increase my orders.  And I gave up other activities like going to movies or reading books because I wanted to work on ensuring my business succeeded. I am lucky I have a great customer base. People wait for my nuts.  But it took a lot of hard work to get here.”

To learn more about Rachel’s story and to place your order for OperaNuts, go to

Copyright© 2020 Emelie Smith Calbick and Betty Wong

How to Pitch Your Company Better

“As someone who has pitched and both “embarrassed myself” as well as successfully convinced investors to invest in 2 of my companies, here are my observations from our January 16 Pitch Day.”

Betty Wong, serial entrepreneur and founder of Stage2 Startups

Sometimes you just have to “share your two cents!” At the January 16 pitch event hosted by Stage2Startups and Founders Live NYC, we had a standing-room only crowd practice their pitches. The  founders of the following companies presented – Wordy Toys (who “won” the audience selection), Inkondo, Skip the Layover, Chase & Pappi and Ad Salience. Precious Williams, the #killerpitchmaster, who supported herself through winning 13 pitch competitions and is currently a “pitch coach” and author, was also available with her insights. Here are my key takeaways:

January 16 Pitch Day Participants
  1. Have a clear “ask or call to action” along with how people can contact you at the end of your pitch. Regular Stage2Startups attendees may have noticed that I always announce the next event and send a follow-up “thank-you” email with a survey and contact information. This is the same idea – make sure you figure out a way for people to get in touch with you and give them something to do.
  2. Be as concise and to the point as you can…this is hard for founders because they are so invested in their idea and want to share everything about their concept. That’s why the 60 second (or in the case of Founders Live – 99 second) elevator pitch is magical – it really makes you focus. Note that in a recent Stage2Startups event, we had investors share their “brand” and the focus of their investments, and they had problems too, which is why …“practice does make perfect!”
  3. Have some statistics to support your opportunity or your proof of concept. Whether it’s explaining how much money you are saving or the size of your market (give those investors $ to dream of!), the mention of money helps potential investors and staffers to understand the opportunity. Basically, they want to know the market is big enough and your tests have not been limited to your friends and family.
  4. Play up your first to market differentiation or establish why you are unique among the competition. People like to know there is competition because it means there’s a market. But if you are first to market, you need to demonstrate what makes you different – and better. For example, before the Apple iPod there were lots of ways to record and create mixes of music, but the iPod was the first music recorder that was small, easy to use and visually attractive. 
  5. Make sure how you make money is obvious, otherwise it just takes away from the Q&A session. Sometimes founders get so focused on the product or the end results, they don’t think about the money. For most pitch competitions and investors, it’s all about the money!
  6. “Pitch as if your life depends on it” – this is definitely a “Precious Williams” concept, but I think the enthusiasm she is talking about really does come out if you focus your effort. Personally, I like to pitch when I’m hungry, as I know the reward will be available when I’m done. But enthusiasm is the key, because people like to feel you have the energy of your convictions. 
  7. Be yourself. I find that if I pitch in front of a crowd, I always freeze, but if I am in a conversation with others, I always get the time I need (hours of VC time), if not always the money. I think being personal counts, although some people are naturally out-going and they tend to benefit more when taking the stage. While I would love to be or have the energy of my friend, Precious Williams, I am actually just me, Betty Wong, and on my good days, I think I can get across my point as well as anybody.

Bottom line, being a founder requires a lot of different skills, but being able to clearly pitch “why you” to potential investors or customers is among the most important. 

For more information about Stage2Startups events, visit

For more information about Precious Williams, visit

For more information about Founders Live, visit

Copyright© 2020 Emelie Smith Calbick and Betty Wong

When You Have To Build It Yourself

“When I couldn’t gain entry into the coworking world as an employee, I decided to build my own space”

Felicia Rubinstein, founder, HAYVN

When you walk around HAYVN, you see Felicia Rubinstein’s vision in action. “I know how difficult it is to work out of your home,” says Felicia. “So I wanted to design a space where people can be highly productive on their own but also have the opportunity to interact and collaborate with others in a warm welcoming space.”  

Felicia Rubenstein

The space is open and inviting with a mix of private offices and collaboration spaces. And unlike most coworking spaces we’ve been to, this one offers a range of cultural, physical and business options to draw people in. 

HAYVN hosts many events and has strategic partnerships to provide programming in the fitness center downstairs. While we were at HAYVN, there was a workshop on SEO (search engine optimization marketing) and we overheard women excitedly discussing options to become a member of HAYVN. And Felicia is dreaming of someday offering after-school programs, babysitting and dog-sitting services as well as a host of other amenities.

Her inspiration came as she walked the streets of New York, thinking about what to do next, after her job ended at a SaaS company in NYC.  She thought the coworking industry would be interesting, and reached out to multiple companies. When she didn’t get any responses, she decided to do it herself. “I come from a long line of entrepreneurs so the idea of starting my own business was exciting,” says Felicia. “ You’ll find photographs on the conference room wall of my grandfather at aged 16, newly immigrated from Poland, with his tie business and later in his factory on the Lower East Side of New York for inspiration.” 

Her determination grew after she visited a variety of coworking spaces in the New York City and learned about the industry in FROM THE GWA  “Global Workspace Association ” Conference. She explored franchises but ultimately decided to pave her own road, getting an SBA loan to supplement her investment for startup capital. She then found a developer landlord who shared her vision, and in Spring 2019, HAYVN opened. 

Felicia is a woman who clearly thinks of everything, reflecting on what she would like and delivering it to the public, with plenty of marketing experience to make her space distinctive. Small wonder that when HAYVN opened on a rainy day in spring, 400 people attended. “It’s challenging to start your own business but it’s exciting to see your vision become reality.  When I looked at the market, I didn’t see anything that fully met my needs. By building it myself, I knew I could reach consumers who, like me, wanted a different coworking experience.”

Now, having launched HAYVN, Felicia is considering the possibility of  expanding HAYVN’s footprint, with more HAYVNs offering more women and men a space to work away from home that feels like “home.”

To learn more about the Hayvn, which is currently located in Darien, CT., visit

Copyright© 2020 Emelie Smith Calbick and Betty Wong