Founder and CMO, Kelly Hoey, On What It Takes to Be An Entrepreneur
CG is on a continuous journey to discover what inspires some of the most influential people in business. Our most recent encounter was with someone we’ve had on our radar for some time now. She is listed in Forbes as one of five women changing the world of VC/Entrepreneurship, in Fast Company as one of the “25 Smartest Women On Twitter,” one of 100 innovators on British Airway’s UnGrounded initiative, and as one of 40 women over 40 to watch. She is a startup speaker and strategist, one of the founders of an NYC-based startup accelerator, a Participant of the Board at Glimpse Labs Inc., a lead mentor with Entrepreneurs Roundtable Accelerator (ERA), and a new columnist for SharpHeels, a fashion, news, and lifestyle website driven by and for a collection of intelligent and successful women.
Kelly Hoey is nothing short of an inspiration for entrepreneurs and business leaders all over the country. In our talks with her, we were intrigued to discover that she herself is inspired by those very same people and that even with all the awards and recognition she has received, she’s still a very humble and modest woman entrepreneur with an amazingly bright future ahead of her.
CG: Kelly, you’re an award-winning marketer. Tell us what that means to you.
Kelly: Haha, unless it’s the noble peace prize for solving a world issue or for single-handedly negotiating peace in Syria, then what does it all mean? I am honored but also amused.
CG: Fair enough. If not awards, then what motivates you?
Kelly: I would say happiness. By that, I mean I’m never really happy. As Mark Zuckerberg said, “We’re always looking for the next thing, or the next product.” I can relate to that. Maybe it’s about the journey, or the process. Or maybe it’s just about being an entrepreneur. I always say that you have to have surfer legs to deal as well the ups and downs. It’s a constantly different flow and you have to be able ride the waves.
CG: What big waves have you made it through?
Kelly: I’ve been through my fair share. Being an entrepreneur is not a choice. I’m just driven to do it. I’ve turned down suit offers. I could have healthcare and work a 9-5 job, but I just don’t. I could always go back to a corporate office job, but I’m driven to pursue this next exciting thing. I’m fortunate that I have the opportunity and the stamina to do it. People give up a lot and we don’t’ talk about that enough.
CG: What are your thoughts on working with startups?
Kelly: It’s invigorating, amusing, and irritating all at the same time. I think we have created an illusion of the opportunity with respect to entrepreneurism. It’s not choice in terms of a lifestyle. I had a much easier life working as an attorney. It’s not easy to start and build a company, and it’s definitely not easy to get funded. And startups think that VCs are just out there waiting for them, but that’s not exactly true.
CG: You started an accelerator in NYC focused on female entrepreneurs. Would you say that you’re an evangelist for women entrepreneurs?
Kelly: Female founded companies are overlooked and undervalued. It’s an advantage actually. Mark Suster of UpFront Ventures blogged that two of his biggest exits have come from female founders. But, I don’t want to put gender into it. Gender isn’t the most important thing. Anyone can have an amazing idea. It’s more about passion, whether you’re a man or woman comes less into play. Passion is a genderneutralizing force. It’s truly about the individual, about the entrepreneur.
CG: Did you have that AHA moment where everything just came together for you?
Kelly: Oh yeah. My recent move to Cuurio was that moment. I met another female founder with a great product and told her I was happy to consult. Forty-five minutes into our meeting and we hit it off. We walked out convinced that we should work together.
CG: How is New York a source of influence?
Kelly: I love the energy and the diversity of New York. Plus the city benefits by proximity. There are so many people living and work so close together and there are so many opportunities to connect and work together. Transportation, media, healthcare, fashion – everything is transforming. Angel investors and VCs have been spend in the tech community. There’s a foundation in New York and they are having more rounds of exits than ever before. It’s a city ripe for IPOs and acquisitions. It’s really exciting.
“New York as a tech hub is still in its infancy, but we are building a huge entrepreneurial community here. You can’t have overnight Silicon Valley success. This is thirty years in the making and we’re knee deep in it. We haven’t matured yet, but the experience right now is awesome.”
CG: You talk about connecting with people in a recent blog post of yours. How important do you think building relationships are?
Kelly: In the startup ecosystem, relationships are everything. You bring people in and give them resources, and vice versa, so you need to understand how to network and approach people. I have relationship capital and I use it. Before I make an introduction I ask myself if it’s helpful for everyone involved. If it’s not, then there’s no reason to make an introduction.
CG: Do you at least give people credit for reaching out?
Kelly: The problem with people making human connections is that most of the population does not know how to make connections and network. We rely more than ever on social networks, which have only made that problem worse. We don’t know how to talk to one another or how to make long term relationships. I won’t read a blog article titled something like 10 Ways to Make More Personal Connections because this kind of content floating around the web is not valuable. Making connections is not that easy. If you really want to read about making connections, then I’d recommend Judy Robinett’s book called How to Be a Power Connector.
CG: What are your plans for the future?
Kelly: See where life’s rich journey takes me. Short-term with Cuurio has been a success. Longer-term there’s two things in my career that I wish for. First, that everyone who I’ve mentored becomes a huge success. And second, that I will become a success.
CG: You’ve done quite well for yourself already.
Kelly: It’s still early, though. When you call me up 40 years from now, I’ll still be working because that’s when I’ll be on the same playing field as Warren Buffett. He’s still working and he’s still on the grind.
CG: Warren Buffett is obviously someone you look up to.
Kelly: I totally idolize him. Because that entrepreneur is still totally kicking butt and he has tremendous self-awareness. He knows what he needs to do and where he needs to go to in order to be successful. For instance, he knew he couldn’t be in New York to be successful so he went back to Omaha to build the business he wanted. That takes huge self-awareness. And he’s not motivated by money. If he was, then why does he not have a bigger house? Because he knows he doesn’t need that to feel successful personally or professionally.
CG: Do you think self-awareness is lacking in startups?
Kelly: Absolutely. That’s what being coachable means. Being able to be told your idea sucks or that you’re not the right CEO to realize the vision. Being coachable is being able to handle that sort of reality.
CG: Who else influences you?
Kelly: First and foremost is Alessandro Piol, author of Tech and the City, which is about the development and growth of the New York tech scene. He is a friend, mentor, and advisor. Also Jeanne Sullivan, who has been a tech investor for 30+ years. As well as the members of New York Angels, who’ve been friends and mentors. One of the most important for me in terms of how I advise startups, is Joanne Wilson. And of course, Deborah Jackson.
CG: Will you leave us with your three keys to success?
Kelly: 1. Build a great product. 2. Build a strong network. 3. Make sure that you have the individual resources of time, money and persistence to pursue your idea.