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Courtesy of Tina Fitch

This Entrepreneur Raised $2.25 Mill In Seed Funding & Wants More Women To Do the Same

BOSS UP

When it comes to the tech world, minorities are often underrepresented and underestimated. A quick search about Silicon Valley will reveal that diversity is a big issue from the cubicles to the boardrooms, so it's no surprise that when it comes to seeking investments for our own businesses, we have to fight harder and shine brighter just to prove our value. And it's not just a race thing. In an article on Silicon Valley's diversity problem, Fast Companystated, “when played recordings of the same investment plea read by a man and a woman, people preferred the man's pitch by a two-to-one margin." Ouch.

But the thing about being overlooked is that when you do make noise, people look your way. And one woman in tech is making sure that she's not only talking the talk, but successfully paving the way for others to be heard as well.

Courtesy of Tina Fitch

In 2003, start-up founder Tina Fitch combined her love of tech and entrepreneurship and launched her travel software company,

Switchfly. Through venture capital funding and snagging nearly every major airline, credit card company, and loyalty program in the travel sector, she helped build a $2 billion platform operating in over 50 countries worldwide. After seven years of tirelessly building her business, she sold her portion of the company and took a break, returning to her hometown of Maui, Hawaii to focus on building a family, serving as a mentor to other startups within her community, and fulfilling her desire of running a free-range pig farm.

As it turns out, letting go of an old idea allowed for the birthing of a new one. The opportunity to rebuild her personal connections with family and friends led to a vision of building a platform that would allow people to reconnect in a digital way. While pregnant with her second child, she conceived the idea for Hobnob—a mobile-based invitation app that helps users create beautiful event invites that can be sent via text in less than 60 seconds.

“I could be pregnant on a farm in the Pacific and still be connected, but at the same time I found that even with all of these social networks and all of this advancement, people just seem to be more and more isolated, and it was ironically harder than ever to actually be social."

Recognizing a need for technology that enabled real life moments to be experienced and shared in a unique way, Tina got to work on once again bringing her idea to fruition. But launching a start up, even a second time around, would prove to be no easy feat. For one, she was no longer living in the investor-friendly city of Silicon Valley, meaning she had to put her money where her mouth was in order to prove that she wasn't just a one start-up wonder. And as a minority woman in an industry where our presence may be seen but not always felt, she had an equally difficult challenge of representing the next generation of women entrepreneurs set to disrupt the tech sector.

Photo Credit: Hobnob App

But being a girl boss means making it happen despite any opposition, so it's no surprise that this past February, it was announced that Hobnob raised $2.25 million in seed funding from a handful of notable investors.

In an industry that's quick to evolve but slow to embrace, Tina hopes to see more women and minorities continue to make their voices heard by fearlessly going after the big bucks to help back innovative ideas. We had a chance to chat with the CEO on how to successfully snag seed funding for your business, why starting small can lead to bigger opportunities, and why it's important that we break into spaces that we're not typically invited into.

1. Build It And Let Your Results Speak For You

"We basically started [Hobnob] on our own because I felt like the best approach for me is to feel like you have something tangible that people can interact with and see what your vision is. Everyone has to be a good storyteller as an entrepreneur, but results are also the best storyteller. I take raising funds very seriously, meaning you're basically asking someone else to trust you with their hard earned money and you're committing to delivering for them.

"I wanted to make sure that whatever product that they were investing in we felt was truly viable, and that there was a real need for it in the market. So we basically self-funded it to our first beta version. And then we tested it out in Hawaii and it expanded to the U.S. and once we started really getting traction and we saw such a diverse user base jumping onto it, that was when I started having investor discussions because then we realized there was something there."

2. Talk To Friends And Family First

"Seed funding will normally come after friends and family round. A lot of times we have an idea, but maybe you have savings if you're self-funding and just fund yourself while you're building it. But sometimes if you need a little bit of money you can ask friends and family to buy in on your dream, or trust you and support you."

3. Find The Right Type Of Investor For Your Business

"Seed funding is what I'd consider the first professional round with people who have experience investing, and there's a range of people who can participate. There's what you call angel investors, where individuals invest their funds, and then there's people called Micro Venture Capital (Micro-VC) investors, who are venture capitalists but tend to have smaller funds and they're entirely focused on these seed rounds where they can get in for pretty low amounts of money and still have significant ownership, so they're making small bets with potentially big outcomes.

"Then you have traditional venture capitalists, and we happen to have both angel and venture capitalists in our seed round where they have funds in the billions of dollars, but they still realize that the best outcomes that they have are typically with companies where they got in early. So even large VCs are really interested in the right companies and the right people at a very early stage."

Courtesy of Tina Fitch/Hobnob

4. Decide What Is Best For Your Business: A Loan Vs. Seeking Investors

"There are several differences to obtaining a business loan vs. investors for your business, but I'll focus on the three main ones in my view: A loan requires repayment with interest ('debt'), but doesn't give up equity in your company. An investor gives capital to grow to the company in exchange for ownership (i.e. 'equity'). An entrepreneur may not want to give up any piece of her business since, rightfully, she'll be the one slugging away day after day to build it. But some types of businesses - such as ones that require more capital to grow before they can be cash-flow positive and self-fund, or don't have the assets and collateral to obtain a competitive loan, or can benefit from the reputation or connections from a particular investor - can be bigger with a venture investment than without. In other words, you can have a smaller piece of something large, vs. 100 percent ownership of something small or, worse, bankrupt.

"A loan, just like anything obtained on credit, has a repayment/recovery schedule. You should have a strong level of confidence that you will have the cash flow to repay that loan on the terms they require. A venture investor typically is investing in you as much as the company – and may be more accepting of changes to business plan, as long as she remains informed. An investor is going to feel like a partner in the business, and is ideally in it for the long-term play. On the flip side of that, when you qualify for a loan, all the lender cares about is that you repay per their terms. They don't want to influence your business. An equity partner often will want to feel some level of influence and have some level of ongoing insight to your business decisions. So you have to evaluate any equity partner the way you'd evaluate any long-term relationship – very seriously, and based on multiple levels of compatibility and trust.

"This is the most important in my mind: you should only seek out and accept venture funding if you have the intention of bringing them a significant return on their investment. In other words, you should have a plan in mind that will either reap healthy ongoing dividends or a 'liquidity event' – in other words, a sale or public offering – a way for that investor to get their investment back plus the increased value you've built in the business and their shares over a reasonable period of time. 'Lifestyle businesses' are great – those are businesses you want to build primarily to support yourself and your family, perhaps the community of employees you maintain – but aren't designed to reward investors with a higher return on their investment than, say, if she had invested in the stock market or real estate. You should be able to approach investors with the confidence that you aren't asking them for a favor, you are offering them an opportunity – and you need to be authentic and committed to making that message reality."

5. Repeat Customers Can Be Just As Valuable As Showing Profit

"In the case where you have a product or service where you're selling something, definitely the best thing to have is a happy customers and repeat customers. We picked one of the hardest areas to focus on, which is consumer mobile pre-revenue, meaning we don't even sell anything right now. We're basically a free service, and that's honestly a very challenging space to pitch so I think what a lot of investors are banking on is a product that they can try out themselves and if they see a need for it and they like your approach to a product—they feel like the design is beautiful and elegant and efficient—it's almost like the product is the window into your soul and your perspective.

"Everything we built was really geared towards having a beautiful user experience that really translated in the product, so the investors could see and feel that. Also, at the same time they could see that it's really a broad diverse user base that was coming onto the service, and we didn't do any kind of paid advertising—we didn't buy customers. It's called organic growth where they just recommended it to each other and they invited other people to share in it, and they found it on their own and started using it. So to have straight organic growth from such a diverse user base was something that the investors also saw and were really excited about."

6. Treat Investors Like It's A Marriage

"When you're starving for funds, it's very easy for people to be tempted to take money wherever they can get it, and there's no judgment there. I understand that it can be a real struggle and you want to build your business, but it's really like a marriage. Especially in recent years, there are very few overnight success stories. You have to go into the relationship thinking that it's a marriage and you're going to have good times and bad times and you want to pick a partner that's going to be a solid and supportive partner during those bad times as well, so you do have to be selective and it's not just a question of you pitching yourself to them, they should also be pitching themselves to you or you should be evaluating them in that way."

7. Bring Tech Investors to You

"It's funny because I wondered if people would be reluctant to invest in us or if they'd take us seriously, but I think a few things have happened as a result of being [in Hawaii]. One is I feel like we're able to develop a product without the money mentality. We were able to really build and design for the people that we wanted to reach, and Hawaii being such a diverse community ethnically and culturally, it's really a true melting pot, that I feel like it positively influenced our product and how we were able to reach different types of people on the mainland and elsewhere.

"The other thing that I realized was that for the first time big name investors are also recognizing that diverse teams, and that also means geographically diverse, have a different perspective and so they're really to look elsewhere and take a gamble on companies. But again seeing that you have a solid product and customer base or potential. So I feel like they recognized wow you guys were able to build a really beautiful product that's reaching a diverse user base and it's growing organically and you're in Hawaii, that's probably all related, and that's something interesting and intriguing."

8. Recognize Your Power As A Minority

"Hispanic and African American women are the fastest growing entrepreneurial segments in the country growing at rates of 133.3 percent and 191.4 percent respectively from 1997 to 2007. Combined they represent more than two million of the roughly eight million women-owned businesses in the country and more than $14 billion in gross receipts. Further, African American and Hispanic women are three to five times more likely to start a business than their white counterparts (read more).

"I think the reasons for this are powerful: when you don't see the company cultures or products and services that reflect your world view or experiences, you are motivated to build them yourself. Minority women are woefully underrepresented across almost every executive segment in the country – but we are a powerful demographic. So we are harnessing that power and creativity and creating opportunities."

"There are some great resources to read and readily available online. I wish I had some these standardized Series Seed documents when I started by first tech startup – in the past (and even now) several companies get gouged by law firms when trying to set up their first investment. This doesn't need to happen, and I find that if most honorable investors will agree to these types of standardized terms with only minor adjustments, at times. Being a minority, you should be like, wow, I have a powerful weapon, in that I have a particular advantage.

"If you are interested in raising capital for your business, here are a few amazing resources: Serie Seed, Raising Venture Capital For The Serious Entrepreneur, Small Business Administration, MBDA Grant Competitions, [and] Seed Accelerators & Groups."

Find out more about Hob Nob in the video below:

What would your dream start-up be? Are you making any moves to make your business dreams come true? Let us know in the comments below!

You may not know her by Elisabeth Ovesen – writer and host of the love, sex and relationships advice podcast Asking for a Friend. But you definitely know her other alter ego, Karrine Steffans, the New York Times best-selling author who lit up the literary and entertainment world when she released what she called a “tell some” memoir, Confessions of a Video Vixen.

Her 2005 barn-burning book gave an inside look at the seemingly glamorous world of being a video vixen in the ‘90s and early 2000s, and exposed the industry’s culture of abuse, intimidation, and misogyny years before the Me Too Movement hit the mainstream. Her follow-up books, The Vixen Diaries (2007) and The Vixen Manual: How To Find, Seduce And Keep The Man You Want (2009) all topped the New York Times best-seller list. After a long social media break, she's back. xoNecole caught up with Ovesen about the impact of her groundbreaking book, what life is like for her now, and why she was never “before her time”– everyone else was just late to the revolution.

xoNecole: Tell me about your new podcast Asking for a Friend with Elisabeth Ovesen and how that came about.

Elisabeth Ovesen: I have a friend who is over [at Blavity] and he just asked me if I wanted to do something with him. And that's just kinda how it happened. It wasn't like some big master plan. Somebody over there was like, “Hey, we need content. We want to do this podcast. Can you do it?” And I was like, “Sure.” And that's that. That was around the holidays and so we started working on it.

xoNecole: Your life and work seem incredibly different from when you first broke out on the scene. Can you talk a bit about the change in your career and how your life is now?

EO: Not that different. I mean my life is very different, of course, but my work isn't really that different. My life is different, of course, because I'm 43. My career started when I was in my 20s, so we're looking at almost 20 years since the beginning of my career. So, naturally life has changed a lot since then.

I don’t think my career has changed a whole lot – not as far as my writing is concerned, and my stream of consciousness with my writing, and my concerns and the subject matter hasn’t changed much. I've always written about interpersonal relationships, sexual shame, male ego fragility, respectability politics – things like that. I always put myself in the center of that to make those points, which I think were greatly missed when I first started writing. I think that society has changed quite a bit. People are more aware. People tell me a lot that I have always been “before my time.” I was writing about things before other people were talking about that; I was concerned about things before my generation seemed to be concerned about things. I wasn't “before my time.” I think it just seems that way to people who are late to the revolution, you know what I mean?

I retired from publishing in 2015, which was always the plan to do 10 years and retire. I was retired from my pen name and just from the business in general in 2015, I could focus on my business, my education and other things, my family. I came back to writing in 2020 over at Medium. The same friend that got me into the podcast, actually as the vice president of content over at Medium and was like, “Hey, we need some content.” I guess I’m his go-to content creator.

xoNecole: Can you expound on why you went back to your birth name versus your stage name?

EO: No, it was nothing to expound upon. I mean, writers have pen names. That’s like asking Diddy, why did he go by Sean? I didn't go back. I've always used that. Nobody was paying attention. I've never not been myself. Karrine Steffans wrote a certain kind of book for a certain kind of audience. She was invented for the urban audience, particularly. She was never meant to live more than 10 years. I have other pen names as well. I write under several names. So, the other ones are just nobody's business right now. Different pen names write different things. And Elisabeth isn’t my real name either. So you'll never know who I really am and you’ll never know what my real name is, because part of being a writer is, for me at least, keeping some sort of anonymity. Anything I do in entertainment is going to amass quite a bit because who I am as a person in my private life isn't the same a lot of times as who I am publicly.

xoNecole: I want to go back to when you published Confessions of a Video Vixen. We are now in this time where people are reevaluating how the media mistreated women in the spotlight in the 2000s, namely women like Britney Spears. So I’d be interested to hear how you feel about that period of your life and how you were treated by the media?

EO: What I said earlier. I think that much of society has evolved quite a bit. When you look back at that time, it was actually shocking how old-fashioned the thinking still was. How women were still treated and how they're still treated now. I mean, it hasn't changed completely. I think that especially for the audience, I think it was shocking for them to see a woman – a woman of color – not be sexually ashamed.

I hate being like other people. I don't want to do what anyone else is doing. I can't conform. I will not conform. I think in 2005 when Confessions was published, that attitude, especially about sex, was very upsetting. Number one, it was upsetting to the men, especially within urban and hip-hop culture, which is built on misogyny and thrives off of it to this day. And the women who protect these men, I think, you know, addressing a demographic that is rooted in trauma that is rooted in sexual shame, trauma, slavery of all kinds, including slavery of the mind – I think it triggered a lot of people to see a Black woman be free in this way.

I think it said a lot about the people who were upset by it. And then there were some in “crossover media,” a lot of white folks were upset too, not gonna lie. But to see it from Black women – Tyra Banks was really upset [when she interviewed me about Confessions in 2005]. Oprah wasn't mad [when she interviewed me]. As long as Oprah wasn’t mad, I was good. I didn't care what anybody else had to say. Oprah was amazing. So, watching Black women defend men, and Black women who had a platform, defend the sexual blackmailing of men: “If you don't do this with me, you won't get this job”; “If you don't do this in my trailer, you're going to have to leave the set”– these are things that I dealt with.

I just happened to be the kind of woman who, because I was a single mother raising my child all by myself and never got any help at all – which I still don't. Like, I'm 24 in college – not a cheap college either – one of the best colleges in the country, and I'm still taking care of him all by myself as a 21-year-old, 20-year-old, young, single mother with no family and no support – I wasn’t about to say no to something that could help me feed my son for a month or two or three.

xoNecole: We are in this post-Me Too climate where women in Hollywood have come forward to talk about the powerful men who have abused them. In the music industry in particular, it seems nearly impossible for any substantive change or movement to take place within music. It's only now after three decades of allegations that R. Kelly has finally been convicted and other men like Russell Simmons continue to roam free despite the multiple allegations against him. Why do you think it's hard for the music industry to face its reckoning?

EO: That's not the music industry, that's urban music. That’s just Black folks who make music and nobody cares about that. That's the thing; nobody cares...Nobody cares. It's not the music industry. It's just an "urban" thing. And when I say "urban," I say that in quotations. Literally, it’s a Black thing, where nobody gives a shit what Black people do to Black people. And Russell didn't go on unchecked, he just had enough money to keep it quiet. But you know, anytime you're dealing with Black women being disrespected, especially by Black men, nobody gives a shit.

And Black people don't police themselves so it doesn't matter. Why should anybody care? And Black women don't care. They'll buy an R. Kelly album right now. They’ll stream that shit right now. They don’t care. So, nobody cares. Nobody cares. And if you're not going to police yourself, then nobody's ever going to care.

xoNecole: Do you have any regrets about anything you wrote or perhaps something you may have omitted?

EO: Absolutely not. No. There's nothing that I wish I would've gone back and said to myself, no. I don’t think at 20-something years old, I'm supposed to understand every little thing. I don't think the 20-something-year-old woman is supposed to understand the world and know exactly what she's doing. I think that one of my biggest regrets, which isn't my regret, but a regret, is that I didn't have better parents. Because a 20-something only knows what she knows based on what she’s seen and what she’s been taught and what she’s told. I had shitty parents and a horrible family. Just terrible. These people had no business having children. None of them. And a lot of our families are like that. And we may pass down those familial curses.

*This interview has been edited and condensed

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