A recent Forbes article shared that “Women around the world have been starting businesses 1.5 times faster than men over the last decade.”
Creating a successful business is a dream for many, and Kelly Nyland, a life-long entrepreneur is making it happen with Whym, a billion-dollar idea in the ecom enablement and fintech industry, based in Los Angeles, CA. Nyland has learned through experience what it takes to be an inspirational, empathetic leader of a fast-growth company in the chaotic, high-pressure world of a venture-backed startup.
1. How did you get started in entrepreneurship?
I come from a line of entrepreneurs – I feel like it’s in my blood! Both my father and his built thriving businesses. I hail from the Midwest, just outside the Metro Detroit area, in the heart of the country’s working class. When I meet other Mid-westerners, we often share a similar vibe.
When I was in college, my dad started his own company, and I was his first employee, learning everything from accounting to sales to graphic design. When I graduated, I tried a few jobs working for others, but ultimately decided to do my own thing.
The idea of “going with it” and “learning how along the way” is a lot of what entrepreneurship is. Learning how to learn is one of the most important things you can master in traditional education. If you don’t know how to learn, you’re going to have a difficult time getting to the next level.
2. What made you decide to start your own company?
I’ve seen what it takes to go from zero to one many times. My first small marketing agency turned into my largest client and then into my first full-time tech job. I later went on to join a tech startup in Boulder, CO, where I worked with some fantastic VCs and aCEO mentor, and ended up at Snapchat, where I created an entirely new go-to-market strategy for the company’s first product and consumer marketing effort. Once this project ended, I thought, “what do I want to do next?” I decided it was the right time to start my own company. I found incredible people to partner with, a couple Snap colleagues, and was ready to embark on a new journey.
3. What was the problem you saw in the market? How are you solving it with Whym?
While at Snapchat, I was a busy working mother with a lot going on and realized I had a big group of products that I regularly buy (consumer packaged goods, wellness, beauty, home). I found it interesting how the buying burden and timeline was on me instead of brands taking a proactive approach to sell to me again without a subscription. Using data and real-life experiences, I wanted to create something easy to use that streamlined buying in a practical way and benefits both the customer and the company.
As of March 2022, Whym has built an “intent-to-buy” platform. We let you Swipe Up, text yourself an item you’re interested in but may not be ready to buy yet, and build a “cart” connected to your phone number. It’s better than a wishlist or a Pinterest board because it’s a buyable token triggered by a text. We bridge the gap between buyers and sellers, eliminating the apprehension of buying from a new brand for the first time.
4. Describe a struggle that ultimately taught you an important lesson.
We had an initial business model and value proposition where we spent two years testing something we believed to be very future-forward. As we got into that exercise, we realized a huge pivot was necessary to make the business viable. The constant pressure to make critical decisions, raise money and prove our product value revealed a lot about what it takes to build and maintain a viable business.
When it came to fundraising, we learned:
- You can have a great idea but that idea has to be powered by a viable business
- That viable business can attract venture capital, but only if it’s a billion-dollar idea, because VCs can’t afford to make investments in anything less
- Persistence, self-reflection, and perseverance will help to bring you through tougher funding seasons
Success is also about finding the right story, the right people, proving you’re passionate, and not wasting time. As an entrepreneur, you hear a lot of rejection, make pivots, and quickly realize it’s a very challenging path to walk.
5. What qualities do you strive to exemplify as a leader?
- Fairness to my team. Have I set the right expectations? Does my team have the tools to succeed? When things come up, I try to be fair and have perspective. When making decisions, I have to balance the impact on the present and future. I’m tough, but I’m fair.
- Empathy, communication, and actively working to understand the problem, teammate, or stakeholder.
- Honesty and clarity on fit. You might have one of the most amazing humans in front of you, but if the work isn’t a good fit for you or them, then as a leader, you should guide them in a direction that will help their career goals.
- Decisiveness lends itself to speed and iterative failure/success.
There are many types of leaders. My co-founder is incredibly adept at process and details. We’re lucky because while I manage the product and people, she manages the logistics, creates SOPs and training materials, and fine-tunes details. They’re different ways to lead, and our combined strengths help our team be great and feel well-supported.
6. What advice do you have for someone who aspires to be an entrepreneur?
Early in my career, I got a bit of sage advice from my father. He said: “learn as much as you can on someone else’s dime.” To me, that meant:
- Taking the time to build my career toolkit
- Learning how to hire and manage great people
- Building products fail and then ultimately succeed
- Putting myself in an environment where I received constant mentorship and opportunity
- Setting high expectations for myself
Instead of starting a company in my early 20s, I waited 15 years until I had the skills but still had young and rebellious energy. This combination led to a billion-dollar company idea, forever changing the retail experience for the next generation of shoppers.
7. Any final thoughts?
Make sure you’re ready to be a founder and have the right expertise, experience, and skills to know what kind of business you want to build. When you venture into the challenging arena of startups, you need to know who you are, your strengths, your weaknesses, and be able to surround yourself with gifted leaders.
Part of that self-discovery experience is learning what you’re not good at and hiring for those qualities. Many young managers tend to hire people like themself because they value the skills and archetypes that reflect their way of seeing the world. However, the most creative and robust teams emerge from healthy friction (ie. hiring & valuing those unlike yourself). This takes having diverse experiences under your belt, learning, failing, and doing so in a place where there isn’t a tremendous amount of financial overhead to manage.
Ideas are easy. Building a viable business is very difficult.
If there’s a woman in your life who’s an inspiring entrepreneur, marketer, leader, or maybe a Rebel who takes risks, please email us email@example.com; we’d love the opportunity to connect and share their story.
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