Female Founders: Caryn Noel Werner of KOYA Innovations On The Five Things You Need To Thrive and Succeed as a Woman Founder
An Interview With Candice Georgiadis
Support and encouragement from a few friends or family members. They don’t have to understand or believe in what you are building but knowing they believe in YOU and will back you no matter what helps. My grandparents have supported us from day one. Half the time they have no idea what we are building but they understand our hearts to make an impact and they support our dreams. That level of undying support is the biggest vote of confidence.
As a part of our series about “Why We Need More Women Founders”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Caryn Noel Werner. Over the last decade, Caryn has pursued projects that promote social change. She is the co-founder of KOYA Innovations and is committed to finding ways to use tech for good.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?
I grew up in an entrepreneurial home where dreams were nurtured.. I know, I am really lucky! During dinner, my dad would bring up new ideas, patents he was filing or prototypes he was working on. He was always ideating and invited us into that world with him.
With the support of my parents, I started a photography business when I was 16.Post-college I worked as a humanitarian photographer for various ,and socially conscious companies.. I also led teams and developed a global communication department.
Somewhere along the way, I felt dissatisfied with my work. I desired to not only document micro-economic initiatives and ribbon cutting ceremonies — I wanted to fund them.
A few months later, at a family birthday dinner, we started brainstorming ways we could use tech to make the world a better place. This is where we dreamed up KOYA — a hyper personalized way to stay more meaningfully connected. I would say that my life has been full of risks but starting a business with my family is by far the riskiest decisions I have ever made. It has also been the best decision. I would do it again because of the ways we have grown and evolved on this wild adventure.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
I don’t know if this is the most interesting story but I can’t tell you how many times different people have mistaken me for my dad’s assistant in meetings. It’s a terrible assumption and shows how there is still progress to be made in this area. I try to laugh it off instead of taking it personally. *chefs kiss to karma*
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
Yes! We developed a product before conducting . It was a silly mistake. It’s important to question your hypotheses and listen to potential customers.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
I have so many people I could list here, however, the first person that came to mind was my sister, Courtney. I’m insanely grateful for her and the ways she has pushed and believed in me! There were so many moments in the first year of our startup where I hit imposter syndrome hard. I didn’t know if I had what it took to be a successful startup founder — I was a free spirited globe trotting creative! She was the first one to remind me of who I amand the qualities I possess and she also encouraged me to do whatever it took to grow my business skills. We all need people like this along our journey! Being a female founder is hard — Having people support and encourage you along the way makes all the difference!
Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the primary focus of our interview. According to this EY report, only about 20 percent of funded companies have women founders. This reflects great historical progress, but it also shows that more work still has to be done to empower women to create companies. In your opinion and experience what is currently holding back women from founding companies?
I think it is harder for women to believe that they have what it takes (resources, experiences, qualifications, connections, capital, etc.) to take the level of risk needed to found a company. To your point, historically, men have had a much easier time dominating this space. As a female looking at that 20% can either discourage females from taking the risk aor it can be seen as an invitation to to shake things up.
Can you help articulate a few things that can be done as individuals, as a society, or by the government, to help overcome those obstacles?
The more we have considered raising capital, the more I have noticed different VCs speaking up about how they are committed to including diverse founders in their investment portfolios. It’s been encouraging to see people challenge each other to not just commit with their words to making a difference but also follow through with their actions. The 20% statistic won’t change until investors also change.
This might be intuitive to you as a woman founder but I think it will be helpful to spell this out. Can you share a few reasons why more women should become founders?
Absolutely! Women are often more in touch with the customer and the feelings or pain points that they experience. This is because culturally, women are raised to embrace empathy. . This is insanely valuable for shaping new products.
What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about being a founder? Can you explain what you mean?
Some of the myths I heard and believed about this role: you won’t have a social life, you won’t sleep, you will constantly be stressed, etc. I’ve learned that simply believing these myths takes the responsibility out of my own hands. You can decide how you live your life and how you run your company. If you want to prioritize a social life, sleep and inner peace — you have the tools you need inside of you to set up boundaries to make it happen. Life doesn’t just “happen” to us, we make choices. You can make powerful choices that counteract any myths you have heard of about founder life.
Is everyone cut out to be a founder? In your opinion, which specific traits increase the likelihood that a person will be a successful founder and what type of person should perhaps seek a “regular job” as an employee? Can you explain what you mean?
Anyone can be a founder if they are passionate about solving a problem and have the conviction and grit to see it through. From what I have seen, dreamers, executors, optimists, problem solvers, risk takers, futurists, rebels, and strategists have an easier time with the founder life. If you are a rule follower, need an environment that has low risks and security, desire traditional working hours and a stable paycheck,struggle with change and need consistency, the founder life might not be a good fit. Is it impossible? No way. Nothing is ever impossible. It will just take more passion, conviction and grit to get you through hard days.
Ok super. Here is the main question of our interview. Based on your opinion and experience, what are the “Five Things You Need To Thrive and Succeed as a Woman Founder?” (Please share a story or example for each.)
1. Support and encouragement from a few friends or family members. They don’t have to understand or believe in what you are building but knowing they believe in YOU and will back you no matter what helps. My grandparents have supported us from day one. Half the time they have no idea what we are building but they understand our hearts to make an impact and they support our dreams. That level of undying support is the biggest vote of confidence.
2. Know your why. Shit will hit the fan and you will need a deep passion and conviction to get you through. Make sure you know your why, because it will keep you grounded. I remember the moment we heard back from a prominent accelerator program that out of 500+ applicants we made it to the top 20… only to find out that we missed the opportunity by one slot. It was hard to hear that out of 10 companies we were number 11. We were so close but not close enough. It would have been easy to look at the other companies and wonder how they got a spot and we didn’t. Instead, we re-centered by remembering our ‘why.’
3. A side gig, savings or the ability to be savvy with money. Not having constant financial stress will alleviate a lot of stress as you build your company. Yes, you will make sacrifices while bootstrapping but if you aren’t constantly stressed with your personal finances, you will be able to think clearer and make decisions from a better space. This is one of the top things I recommend to people who are in the idea stage of their founder journey. I wish I would have kept some contracts going on the side while starting our company. I think I had to be fully ‘in’ for me to gauge how serious I was about the process, but with hindsight I can see how it would have been easier to maintain a balance between startup life and contract assignments instead of the personal financial stress I had to navigate.
4. Join a female founder group. It could be in person or virtually but make sure you have people in your life that will be able to empathize with what you are going through. I’ve met so many amazing women on different parts of the founder journey and I have been encouraged by all of them. Early on I joined ALL RAISE’s female founder SEED raising bootcamp. It was such an impactful course that lended me so much advice, encouragement and support.
5. Wild optimism. The founder journey can be really difficult but optimism will hold you through it. At the end of the day, this is your company, your life and your decisions. Nobody else lives with them. Are you proud of yourself and your journey? Do you believe you have what it takes? If so, you will thrive as a female founder. The challenges you face will be reframed as beautiful growth opportunities and you will find yourself feeling excited about every ‘NO!” that comes your way because you can see how that brings you one step closer to your next yes.
How have you used your success to make the world a better place?
Honestly, I would say that I’m still on the journey to success. I’m three years into founder life and we are beginning to scale. I know success looks different for everyone, but for me, I am still trekking. In the meantime, I am passionate about encouraging other founders and mentoring college students. I think everyone has the ability to make the world a better place just by being intentional with their time, resources and talents. One day, my dream is to fund startups alongside my sister.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the greatest number of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
I would want to inspire a movement of connection. We are in a day and age where checking social media is confused with “staying connected”. No wonder there is a global loneliness epidemic. We need each other and beyond just a like or heart — we need depth, authenticity, and real connection.
We are very blessed that some very prominent names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them.
I would love to have a coffee with Whitney Wolf. I respect how she overcame adversity, built an impactful company, and became a pioneer for female founders.
Female Founders: Caryn Noel Werner of KOYA Innovations On The Five Things You Need To Thrive and… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.