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Learning To Fall with Gymnast Turned SheWorx Founder – Lisa Carmen Wang

Lisa Carmen Wang was an olympic level gymnast whose lessons on the balance beam prepared her for life as a serial entrepreneur. Lisa founded SheWorx, a prominent global platform and event series empowering female entrepreneurs, which was acquired in 2019 by Republic. She now serves as the host of 2 podcasts, including the Confident Investor. Lisa has inspired female entrepreneurs the world over and shares her unique story with us on The Exit.

Before Becoming an Entrepreneur

Lisa’s first career was as a national champion gymnast, and it was there she learned an important entrepreneurial lesson. Lisa was taught that falling was inevitable and that the mental strength it took to get back up and keep going is what would get her ahead in life. 

This mindset has continued to serve her to this day.  It served her through school at Yale and a job at a prestigious hedge fund.  While working in the investment world, armed with this life lesson, Lisa developed the courage to strike out on her own as an entrepreneur.  Lisa’s first company was a late-night-munchies delivery service.  While it wasn’t necessarily something she was passionate about, she knew there was a need for it at the time.  Lisa would end up handing the company over to her COO as she realized she belonged more on the creative/visionary side than on the logistics spectrum.  

SheWorx is Born

It was during that transition that the spark for SheWorx was ignited.  Not only was there a need for a female entrepreneur community, but it was something Lisa could get excited about.  What was started as a blog for women entrepreneurs became a meet-up venture, with 12 women at the first meet-up.  It would then go on to grow into a platform with over 20,000 female entrepreneurs.  Their mission became to close the funding gap by collaborating not competing with other women.  SheWorx raised over 30 million in funding during a time when the funding landscape was mostly ruled by men.  

Ready to Move On

Lisa built SheWorx for three and a half years, and once she realized the pace it was growing at, made the decision to pass on her baby.  Lisa said as soon as she had this realization, she became very intentional about her next steps.  Knowing she wanted to be proud of SheWorx even after an acquisition, Lisa began looking at who she knew and who would do her community justice. 

After a few business dates Lisa began talks with her friend and CEO of Republic, Ken Nguyen.  As someone that had watched SheWorx growth from the beginning, Lisa felt Ken had a good understanding of what the SheWorx community was all about.  It was then that she realized that this could be a great partnership.  In what she describes as part science and part art, the acquisition process aligned with exactly what she was looking for.

From the initial talks to the final acquisition, it took about six months.  Lisa would stay on for another three or so months to help the new team understand the brand and voice.  Having built a brand and community with loyal followers, Lisa wanted to make sure the new team knew how to interact with the community.  She aided in the integration of new users and ensured her audience continued to feel heard. This was her baby and she wanted to be sure she left it with proper direction.

What is Lisa Doing Now?

Lisa says she intends to join back up with Republic in a more senior and hands on role in the coming year.  Beyond that, she has two podcasts, the Enoughness podcast and the Confident Investor podcast, to keep her busy.  Lisa says the Enoughness podcast was a passion project of hers that sprang from her understanding that fulfillment will never come from external success.  She uses this podcast to talk with successful athletes, entrepreneurs, artists, anyone who’s had great external success, to ask one important question: how much is enough?  Lisa does a lot of public speaking around this concept, teaching leaders to understand respect for self and self-worth, and says it keeps her grounded.  

Her other podcast, the Confident Investor, is aimed at teaching people to invest no matter their age, stage, education, background, etc.  She teaches everyday individuals to become angel investors, that is a private investor, even with as little as $100.  

In addition to her podcasts, Lisa shares that she’s working on writing a book. She describes it as ‘all the no BS lessons she wished someone had taught her about business as a woman’.  As someone that has risen to the top of many male-dominated arenas, Lisa says these are the things they should have been teaching in school.  It’s all about owning your voice as a female leader.

What Would You Tell Yourself 10 Years Ago?

Lisa takes a pause and says there’s so much she would tell herself.  First and foremost she would tell herself and all over-achievers or aspiring leaders, that the answer is within you.  Lisa explains that there were so many times that she doubted herself and whether she was capable.  She got caught up listening to voices that weren’t her own, thinking someone else could give her validation and fulfillment.  She learned eventually that the answer always lies within you.  Lisa says to ask yourself ‘what do you really want, what does success feel and look like to you?’.  Don’t fall into the trap of wanting things because other people or society says you should want them.  Lisa shares that if you want the most joy out of life, you need to learn to tap into your own voice, intuition, and power.  Lisa says she’s not most proud of her medals or being on the cover of magazines, but of who she’s become today.  It’s the journey of your own growth that matters at the end of the day.  

If you want to learn more about Lisa and her various endeavors, she can be found on all social media channels @lisacarmenwang.  She also has a website, lisawang.co, where you’ll find her Enoughness podcast linked.  Also visit confidentinvestor.co or find the Confident Investor podcast on all platforms.  

PODCAST TRANSCRIPT

Steve McGarry:

All right, I am here with Lisa Carmen Wang, the serial entrepreneur, and the host behind The Confident Investor podcast. How are you doing today, Lisa?

Lisa Carmen Wang:

I’m doing great, thanks for having me.

Steve McGarry:

Yeah, for sure. So everybody loves an origin story. We’d like to start things off with your background, so let’s hear what your background is and what led you to start SheWorx originally.

Lisa Carmen Wang:

My first career was as a gymnast, so that was my first decade-long career. I was on the US national team, and national champion for four years, and I always refer to that because I think that the lessons that I learned as a competitive athlete, in particular, learning how to fall physically and have to deal with the shame [inaudible 00:00:59] and then learning how to develop that mental strength to get back up again, and keep trying and keep going towards the big goal, that’s the sort of mindset that has continued to serve me as a serial entrepreneur, because what they never tell you about entrepreneurship is that it is a great deal of difficulty and it never works out as you would expect it to, and you have to be willing to fail.

Lisa Carmen Wang:

So that was what really led me to, after I retired from gymnastics, I went to Yale and studied literature, but my first job out of college was at a hedge fund on Wall Street, and the mentality that I had when I was in finance was I kept having this feeling of [inaudible 00:01:59] even that means leaving the safety of a steady full-time job, that I would still be able to take that leap, and knowing deep inside that regardless of what step I took, even if I fell, I would be able to get back up again. And I think that’s what gave me the courage to leave after just around two years, even though it was an incredible fund, to say that I wanted to follow my dreams to become an entrepreneur.

Lisa Carmen Wang:

And so, my first company was a late night munchies delivery service. This was right before and the on-demand wave really hit, and coming from my college days, late night munchies was something that I was very accustomed to. So yeah, I [inaudible 00:03:01] [inaudible 00:03:01] knew I wanted to be an entrepreneur, but I didn’t necessarily, at that time, know exactly what it was that I was passionate about. All I knew was that there was a need that I had in my life and I thought, “How cool would it be to start this? Let me just jump in,” and I raised funding for that first startup and built out a bike fleet, had a small team, and we were serving the New York college community at that point, but what I realized pretty quickly, as someone who is more on the creative visionary side, that I was building a company that was completely based on logistical operations late at night.

Lisa Carmen Wang:

So instead of solving my own problem, I was living the nightmare of having to stay up until four or 5:00 AM every night dealing with these logistical [inaudible 00:03:56] that’s [inaudible 00:04:01] giving that company to my COO who ended up running it for a bit, and during that time is actually where the spark for SheWorx really came in, which was never meant to be a company, actually. So it was the process of raising money for that first startup that I first encountered just how difficult it was to navigate the funding world as a woman. And this is all prior to Me Too, this is prior to all the awareness that there is right now around women and women of color within the funding landscape, and there was no community really as a female entrepreneur to actually tap into and say, “Hey, here’s the challenges that I’m facing,” and I had no idea how hard it would be to navigate a 94% [inaudible 00:04:57] minority [inaudible 00:05:02], and who do I talk to?

Lisa Carmen Wang:

And I think part of the power of community is really having people who can truly empathize with what you are going through, and realizing that I didn’t have that, that was the moment at which I just craved that community. I was like, “I need to find like-minded women. I know they’re out there, but where are they?” And so, as any great entrepreneur, you go out and you solve your own challenge when you see that there is one, and you start noticing that a lot of people have this similar challenge.

Lisa Carmen Wang:

And so, SheWorx really started off as a blog, and then it turned into a meetup. Our first meetup was just 12 women at a coffee shop in New York, and long story short, that grew into [inaudible 00:06:05] events, the platform into a community of 20,000 female entrepreneurs across seven cities, and we helped women raise over $30 million in funding throughout that time, and really drove our fundamental mission, which was to close the funding gap by collaborating and not competing. So, that was just something that I feel like stemmed from a passion, stemmed from a need, and turned into something much bigger than I ever could’ve imagined.

Steve McGarry:

Awesome. I love that about how you were looking for a community, and as a true entrepreneur you were like, “Okay, well, I’m going to solve the community issue where I can’t find a community,” and I think that’s a beautiful thing of stepping up and taking control and really making it something special where you had so many individuals in this community. So what was the acquisition and what was the process that you went through there? I think a lot of people really want to demystify that and learn more about that. So how did that initially happen, the conversations, and then how did it go through?

Lisa Carmen Wang:

So on my end, we had been building the business for around three and a half years, and I think that at that point, I got to a point where I honestly felt ready to build something even bigger, and work on almost these other challenges that I saw that I wanted to tackle. And so, I think there’s kind of two types of founders. There’s ones who are ready, and then there’s ones who are not, and I was at a point where I was ready to find another parent for my baby, and I really just looked at the community, I looked at how valuable essentially the brand loyalty, the data, really the community that we had built, and I looked through my own Rolodex of people that I thought could benefit from this, like their businesses.

Lisa Carmen Wang:

And so, I was very proactive from the beginning, the moment that I got to a point and I said, “Okay, I’m ready to pass this on,” and I think that what people don’t really tell new entrepreneurs is that if you have the goal in mind that you want to be acquired, you need to start building your network from day one. Every time you go out to a networking event, every time you talk to someone, a mentor, an advisor, those are people you should carefully catalog in your Rolodex, because you never know if that could be the person who you end up partnering with. And so, there were a few people that I ended up having what I call these business dates, right? Because it’s like you have your baby, and we always talk about how finding business partners is almost like getting married, finding investors is like getting married because you’re on this long-term journey with them. And so, it is really important to find someone who has the aligned mission, the aligned vision, and feel truly comfortable that that’s where you want to hand off your baby.

Lisa Carmen Wang:

And so, I ended up striking up a conversation with Ken, the CEO of Republic, and at that point we had known each other for about two and a half years, and there was a lot of mutual respect, and he had watched the trajectory of SheWorx grow basically from the very early days up through what it had become. And so, having seen this, there was already a sense of understanding that by the time we were talking, I knew what the mission and vision of Republic was, he knew what the mission and vision of SheWorx was, and we started having just very casual conversations and after a number of these conversations, we got to a point where we both really thought this could be a really, really great partnership. And so, in addition to considering the financial aspect of the transaction, I think if this is something that you want to feel proud of, even after the sale, it’s really important to have those conversations with upper management, of course, with the CEO, to really understand what their vision is for how they’re going to continue building out of what you have built.

Lisa Carmen Wang:

So, it was definitely a process and as everything within entrepreneurship, it was part science and it was part art, and I felt like the negotiation part of it was very aligned with what I was looking for, and I think what I would always recommend is, what what’s clear from my own process, is I was very intentional from the beginning. And so, there’s this idea, they always say like, “Successful people think all the way to the end.” And so, once I realized that SheWorx was growing at this pace, and I got to the place where I said, “I could see what this could become, and I could see what the next step for SheWorx can be, let me start mapping this out very meticulously and thinking about the players that I would want to hand off my brand to.” And so, I think it was a very successful transaction for me, and something that I feel very proud and very fulfilled of, and to this day, I couldn’t be happier with the direction that Republican’s going and I’m excited that SheWorx is part of that journey.

Steve McGarry:

Awesome, awesome. And did you stay with Republic? Was there a vesting schedule, or was it just under the umbrella of Republic and then you could go on and do your own next project, what was that like? And also, second part of that is the timeframes. I think a lot of people are always interested in how long was the process of beginning those conversations with, I believe you said his name is Ken, all the way through to stepping foot in Republic?

Lisa Carmen Wang:

So immediately after I became an advisor, and I essentially had a few months where I was training the new members of the team to really understand the brand and the voice, and one thing to note is that I didn’t build a straight-up technology company. And I think that this is something really important to share, because there isn’t only one type of company, and I think that we really emphasize that within Silicon Valley, within this venture capital space. I built a brand and a community, and increasingly in our society, having true loyal audience members, capturing attention, social value is increasingly important, and that’s what I built.

Lisa Carmen Wang:

And so, someone who is very brand focused, it’s a slightly different process than if you had to integrate your backend tech systems with a new company. What I was training people on is the voice, the brand, how do you interact with community? What are our values? How do you make people feel heard? Because the community is the product, and so many people are talking about just the future of communities now, and so that conversation is becoming more and more relevant. But that’s what I stayed on board as an advisor to train them on, and also talking about how do you integrate this new base of users that you have, organically into the content that Republic is creating, so they can leverage it for their purposes, and bring value mutually?

Lisa Carmen Wang:

So that was a few months after, so that was about three months where I continued on [inaudible 00:15:05]. The entire process prior to that, I think we started having conversations very casually, probably six months prior, and then from the casual conversation to finalizing it, it was a little under six months. So yeah, so I ended up going on as advisor and then I had the opportunity to do some things on my own, take some time off. I’m in the process of writing a book now, and hosting my podcast, I have two, the Enoughness podcast, and The Confident Investor podcast, and I developed my own coaching practice independently.

Lisa Carmen Wang:

So I definitely had time to do that, and now I’m actually in 2020, going to be more involved with the company, with Republic, on a more senior level and more hands on level, so. Also, part of the thing that I wanted, having spent so much time as an entrepreneur, the long nights and weekends, I wanted to have some time off to really explore myself individually, and again, that’s part of what makes this process enjoyable if you lay those terms out, even for yourself, early on.

Steve McGarry:

Got it, got it. So that was kind of my lead into my next question of what you’re working on now. It sounds like you’re getting more involved in Republic, the company that acquired SheWorx originally, and was that 2019 was when that happened?

Lisa Carmen Wang:

Mm-hmm (affirmative). Yeah.

Steve McGarry:

Okay. And what are you currently working on? Yu have the podcasts, you mentioned attention, which I love that you mentioned that because I think that that is the oil of the 21st century. I think people are going to be clawing hands over fist to try and get as much attention as possible in the future, and I really like that you touched on that. I know there was something about venture capital as well that you were working on, and what other things are you working on? You’ve got the podcast, and you’re helping out Republic?

Lisa Carmen Wang:

Yeah. So a number of things, the podcast I’ve been hosting as a passion project throughout this journey is called the Enoughness podcast, and that explores the balance between success and enoughness and poses the universal question, “How much is enough?” So another really important thing that I think that your audience would appreciate, is fulfillment is going to come from external success. So I’ve had a lot of really exciting milestones in my career, Forbes 30 Under 30, I was named Entrepreneur Magazine’s 100 Powerful Women, I had early success as a gymnast, and then the acquisition, and each time there’s a high, but it’s immediately followed by some sort of low, and that low is often, “Is that it? I worked this hard, and that’s it?” And I think that throughout all of this, it keeps me grounded having the Enoughness podcast, where I talk to really successful people, what I call externally successful people, athletes, entrepreneurs, investors, artists, and realizing that external success is never going to bring you the true sense of enoughness and self-worth, and self-respect that one might be seeking through external means.

Lisa Carmen Wang:

So I do a lot of public speaking around this concept of enoughness. I work with a number of corporations to really help their [inaudible 00:19:07] leaders lean into this understanding of respect for one, self-respect for others, and self-worth, so that’s an ongoing project. I recently launched The Confident Investor podcast to help people learn to invest, regardless of their age, income, or experience, and right now we’re focusing specifically on helping people become angel investors. So this is part of the whole mission of Republic as well, which is that non-accredited investors can now invest in startups with as little as a hundred dollars, and we’re bringing the education to help new investors learn how to think about startups, and becoming angel investors themselves.

Lisa Carmen Wang:

And then I’m writing a book, I explain it as all the no BS lessons that I wish someone taught me about business as a woman, and things that you’ll never learn in school. So, I’ve gone through a lot, certainly in all the male dominated industries, the most heavily dominated ones, and yeah, there’s ways to step into your power, own your voice as a female leader, without sacrificing your own form of leadership and your authenticity.

Steve McGarry:

Yeah, that’s a perfect segue into the kind of finale question that we ask everybody. But before that, I like that we’ve covered a lot of different things, and you kind brought it full circle with male dominated industries, where you talked a lot about your background, where you were at a hedge fund and you really pursued your passion of starting your own company, and then really grew that and fueled that into an acquisition, and now you’re very much talking about it, which is a great kind of finale for this, and knowing what you know now, what would you tell Lisa 10 years ago? Maybe a glimpse into your book that you’re you’re writing, because it sounds like that’s in there.

Lisa Carmen Wang:

There’s so much, and I honestly would tell myself and tell all the other overachievers, aspiring leaders, that the answer is within you. I think that there are so many times that I doubted myself that I was capable and listened to voices that were not my own, thinking that someone else could give me the validation, someone else could give me that feeling of fulfillment. And the answer always lies within you, when it comes to what is it that you really want? What does success look and feel like to you?

Lisa Carmen Wang:

And I think not allowing yourself to fall into the trap of wanting things because other people want them, or because society says you should want them, and yeah, I think learning how to really tap into my voice, my intuition, my power is what has brought me the most joy over this journey. And I don’t know if I could’ve gotten here without having all those lows, and going through all those difficult moments and challenges, but of everything that I’m most proud of, it’s not the gold medals, it’s not the awards, it’s not the acquisition, it’s the person that I’ve become today. So don’t forget that this is meant to be a journey of your own growth, and that that’s what matters at the end of the day.

Steve McGarry:

Well said, well said. Well, that’s all the questions I have for you. We try to keep it short and sweet in terms of right to the point here, and I guess the last thing is where can people go learn more about what you’re working on?

Lisa Carmen Wang:

You can follow me on all social channels @lisacarmenwang. My website is lisawang.co. The Enoughness podcast is linked there, and you can find The Confident Investor podcast at confidentinvestor.co, and they’re on all the platforms.

Steve McGarry:

Awesome, awesome. And if you guys are listening on Spotify or iTunes, all the links that Lisa just mentioned will be in the show notes. And once again, thank you so much for coming on the show, Lisa. I think you’re going to inspire a lot of people out there, but thank you for coming on.

Lisa Carmen Wang:

Thank you.

Steve McGarry

Steve McGarry

Steve McGarry is an entrepreneur, content creator, and investor based in sunny Tampa, Florida. In 2015, while living in San Francisco, Steve sold his first fintech startup LendLayer to Max Levchin’s (founder of PayPal) consumer finance company Affirm. In the last 5 years, Steve has both built an online community that reaches 1.4 million people every month on social media and a portfolio of over a dozen web properties. Currently, he’s the co-founder of a next-generation fintech startup called GrowYourBase while managing his portfolio of online businesses.