Getting pregnant doesn’t usually inspire bold career moves like launching your first startup. But Leslie Feinzaig had a good reason for embracing her inner entrepreneur.
“I always wanted to try it and when I was pregnant with my daughter, I thought, ‘If I don’t do it before I become a parent, I’ll never do it,’” Feinzaig said. So in 2016, she created Venture Kits, a Seattle-based company selling entrepreneurial educational toys.
When other women might see motherhood as a time to head for the career off-ramp, Feinzaig did a U-turn. “I decided that I’m not going to change who I am. I’m a worker bee,” she said. Feinzaig realized that when it came to work, “I don’t want to do less of it, I just want to do it for things that I think matter.”
More recently that meant launching an even bigger initiative: the Female Founders Alliance (or FFA), a private network of women leaders and entrepreneurs helping support each other and grow their startups. The alliance began casually enough as a Facebook group, but sparked so much interest that Feinzaig decided to help shape it into a formal organization, taking the lead as founder and CEO.
“All it was was a curated set of people in a well-moderated environment, and what I realized was that a lot of people needed it and it kind of took off,” Feinzaig said. “We’re living in a moment where this little club that I started in the basement can actually change the world.”
She had learned from her own entrepreneurial venture how difficult it is to get funding as a woman, and Feinzaig was eager to help women leverage each other’s relationships to boost great female-led startups. Most angel and VC investors are men, and they often operate in their own networks with others like themselves. It can be tough to break into that circle. But when women with connections to these networks vouch for other women, making introductions and validating their projects, female entrepreneurs will have a better shot at landing capital, she said.
The FFA held its launch party in May 2017 and was one of the groups nominated for the 2018 GeekWire Geeks Give Back award.
“Our members have this special mix of ambition and solidarity, and I encourage every woman starting a highly scalable company who shares these values to join us if you haven’t already,” Feinzaig said. Because securing investors “is 100 percent about relationships.”
Pre-entrepreneurial endeavors — including the launch of now 2-year-old Dora — Feinzaig was an executive at Julep Beauty, a beauty products company that was acquired in 2016. She also worked at Big Fish Games and Microsoft, previously earning a bachelor’s degree from the London School of Economics and an MBA from Harvard Business School. She was originally from San Jose, Costa Rica.
We caught up with Feinzaig for this Working Geek, a regular GeekWire feature. Continue reading for her answers to our questionnaire.
Current location: “I split my time between coffee shops, co-working space Atlas Workbase and my basement, with occasional days at Galvanize, another shared workspace.”
Computer types: “MacBook. The ‘s’ and the ‘n’ keys are almost fully rubbed out and illegible.”
Mobile devices: “iPhone X”
Favorite apps, cloud services and software tools: “I live on Google Docs and G Drive. I communicate via Slack for work and WhatsApp for family.”
Describe your workspace. Why does it work for you? “These days, I move around a lot for meetings. I like to invite people to centrally located spaces that feel both professional and welcoming but also have good parking, so Atlas works really well, plus the people are friendly and there’s free breakfast and snacks. And then once in a while I just need to hunker down and focus — that’s where my basement comes in.”
Your best advice for managing everyday work and life? “I have an amazing husband who is a real partner — that’s not strategic, it’s just pure luck that I found him. I ask for help, lots and lots of help, and I try to relax my standards and just give myself a break sometimes. For example, my kitchen, pre-entrepreneurship and pre-parenthood, used to be catalogue-level spotless. These days, we let dishes pile up for a day or two and survive with not-quite-shiny countertops (I am twitching as I type this).”
Your preferred social network? How do you use it for business/work? “I use Twitter a lot (@lesliefeinzaig) and occasionally check LinkedIn. I only accept LinkedIn requests from people I have met. I use Facebook extensively because it’s currently the Female Founders Alliance’s digital homebase. But I avoid Messenger (pro tip: don’t reach out to me via Messenger, you’ll never hear back!).”
Current number of unanswered emails in your inbox? “168 spread across 3 inboxes.”
Number of appointments/meetings on your calendar this week? “This week is a special one. I have 16 calendar appointments — the lowest in six months — including one full day that is blocked for my U.S. citizenship interview and test. I’ve been waiting nearly two years for this day. Wish me luck!” [Editor’s note: Feinzaig passed her test and is waiting for the date of her swearing-in ceremony.]
How do you run meetings? “It depends. If it’s with my team or FFA volunteers, I try to set an agenda and stick to it. But these days most of my meetings are for network and business development, and I like to let those feel more natural and less transactional. What I try to ensure every time is that 1) I learn about the person, their company, and what would help them succeed, 2) share FFA’s mission, story and current status, and 3) agree on next steps where appropriate. I always end meetings by asking others how I can be helpful to them, no matter how much or how little I think they might need me.”
Everyday work uniform? “Jeans, sweaters, Allbirds shoes, Herschel backpack.”
How do you make time for family? “The hours between daycare pick-up and bedtime are for my daughter. Weekends are mostly for family, except for nap times, which are sometimes a chance to catch up on email or do some writing. And then about twice a year I visit my family in Costa Rica and work remotely from there for a week or two at a time.”
Best stress reliever? How do you unplug? “Cooking, a walk around Green Lake, a great podcast, a Zumba class, a really engrossing book or movie.”
What are you listening to? “Currently obsessed with Gimlet Media’s podcast ‘We Came to Win.’ (It’s not about startups!)”
Daily reads? Favorite sites and newsletters? “Last year my husband and I decided to support quality journalism with our money. It’s something I think we should all do — certainly, everyone who has a budget for charitable contributions should also set aside a budget to support journalism. We now subscribe to New York Times, Seattle Times, Wall Street Journal, The Economist, Puget Sound Business Journal, Entrepreneur and People Magazine (because a girl needs a mental break). Plus we support NPR. I also scan a few media and newsletters almost daily, including GeekWire, Strictly VC, Axios Login and The Evergrey.”
Book on your nightstand (or e-reader)? “On my nightstand: Peter Thiel’s ‘Zero to One,’ which my husband just finished and is trying to get me to read, Emily Chang’s ‘Brotopia’ and three of my daughter’s board books. My book club is currently reading ‘Hope in the Dark’ by Rebecca Solnit, which I borrowed from the library and am reading on my iPhone.”
Night owl or early riser? “I used to be a night owl and then I became a mom. Now I’m in bed by 11 p.m.”
Where do you get your best ideas? “Usually when I am away from screens, exercising or in the shower.”
Whose work style would you want to learn more about or emulate? “I think we should turn the tables and learn about YOU guys!”