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Featured on Dec 07, 2010

Tereza Nemessanyi

"I don't do other people's quotes.  I just say what I think and hope people will quote me."


On a mission to monetize word of mouth.  I also write a blog called "Mashups, Markets and Motherhood".  It's about -- you guessed it -- what it's like to be a startup founder who happens to also be a mom.

Who do you think is most interesting person involved in the NY tech scene? Why?

I'm a huge fan of Joanne Wilson, a/k/a The Gotham Gal. She really gets it. I see an evolution in NY moving toward a Web 3.0 where we use the social connections from Web 2.0 to take our life experiences to the next level, weaving artfully and meaningfully into our offline experiences and even our emotional ones. Joanne has blogged for a very long time and made investments in really cool, top-quality businesses in areas she's passionate about, such as food and art. As her time shifts with her kids getting older and she on-ramps back onto the tech scene, I can't wait to see how she shakes it up. For example, in January she's hosting a Women's Entrepreneurship Festival at ITP in January. Her husband Fred gets all the glory and no doubt has done incredible things to set the tone of the NY ecosystem. And it's everyone's dream to have him invest in their company. But I see how passionate Gotham Gal is about the businesses she supports and how tireless she is in helping her companies get to the next level and I think -- WOW -- that's a dream investor.

You are an advocate for increasing the number of girls in the math, science, and technology fields. In your opinion, what are some of the changes that are needed in our society to make this happen?

Let me clarify that statement a bit. I'm an advocate for increasing the number of children who enter STEM...or are at least fluent and effective with it to enable innovation across all fields. I know, based on my own experience, and as a mom to two girls, that culturally, it's been "not cool" for quite some time for girls to be "proud to be geeks", at scale, in our country. More so than in other countries. We can't be competitive if we let raw talent go to waste. That's starting to change and we need more of that change. But there is clearly tons of talent going to waste among boys. And that kills me, too.

There's so much emphasis on testing now in the schools. It's a bit dispiriting. And at the same time, I think girls see verbal, written and creative expression as inherently "social" and numbers and analysis as "solitary". What I want to see is STEM skills sit at the core of games that are delightful and addictive to girls. That means it has to be a legitimately and deeply social experience.

I want to see all kids routinely bantering, laughing and partying it up about how Britney or Jack solved this or that gruesomely hairy problem. And the STEM "cool kids" in high school should be matched with the middle schoolers, and the middle schoolers with elementary schoolers. We gaze with starry eyes at the kids a few years older than us. So let's set it up so the younger kids have visibility into and ability to worship the Mathletes a few grades up.

We need to want parents saying "Suzy, I've asked you THREE TIMES please put away that femme robot-building social game you're doing on your phone with Emily. We're at the dinner table. SHEESH!!!"

Our kids need to become addicted to problem solving. If we do that, we'll blow the lid off innovation in this country.

In an older blog post titled, "What Mom Taught Me About Business," you mentioned that your mother always carved out time every day to do something for herself that she loved. Is something that you practice as well? If so, what are some of the things that you do?

I try. It's a lofty goal right now. My girls are 7 and 3.5 and they need mommy. So they perceive my startup -- which is consuming -- as my "me time". And work perceives my family time as my "me time". And then there's my husband. Budget is tight for Saturday night babysitters so our together time is after the kids are asleep Friday nights. Let's face it, i'm at a life stage where there's not enough of me to go around. You just do the best you can.

A common question from non-technical people who want to start a new company is, "what is the best way to find a technical cofounder?" If someone were to ask you this question today, what would your answer be? Also, how did you get involved with your tech partner for Honestly Now Inc.?

A lot of people are struggling with that right now. When i came up with Honestly Now I initially looked for a technical co-founder and just didn't find the right fit. Mostly because I'm 40 with a lot of highly competitive experience starting and growing businesses and a very full quiver of market attack strategies. I felt that a "partner" of mine would need to have a symmetrical and similarly rich skill set. Someone who's willing to hack for free was likely to be a LOT younger than me and I started imagining there being a funky mother/son dynamic. Would that be weird, or what?! I wouldn't have time to spend explaining the ins and outs and nuances; they'd have to immediately "get". A lot of full-fledged adults don't get what I'm talking about half the time, so how could someone right out of college.

I interviewed tons of people, nothing felt right, and yet I uniformly heard the product would be simple to build (I since realized they ALWAYS say that! LOL). And I realized having a terrific UI was critical. So I figured, screw it, i'm just gonna take my small amount of money, hire a top-flight UI person to work with me on the func specs, then pull someone in to do the tech specs, outsource the build as cheaply as possible, and own the IP outright. I'll test it in the market and then we'll take it from there.

Halfway through the initial beta build, based on some concept validation from a prominent VC, I decided to re-try my partner search. In 24 hours my Prince Charming of startup partners appeared! True! LOL. Turns out we actually knew each other a couple years through the Wharton network but had lost touch; a couple people who knew us both said, "You should really talk to him/her." Serendipity. He had been looking for the right "vision partner" for him to run the build and was already weighing some opportunities. He is an extremely seasoned startup tech, we operate at consistently very high standards in our respective disciplines and have the same code of ethics.

I got very, very lucky, but I guess I kinda made my luck too.

I think the lesson here is, don't wait to pursue your business until this or that shows up. Just f-ing do it, and you'll surprise people and they'll become fans.