I had the honor of attending and speaking at the Forbes Under 30 Summit held in Boston this year. This event in particular is one that I look forward to every year, not just because I was included on the 2012 and 2014 lists, but the interesting people I have the opportunity to meet and experiences I walk away with are like no other event I’ve attended. As an alumni of sorts, I get the chance to help mentor younger entrepreneurs that now stand where I once was.
The conference this year was different than years past because there were four stages (Tech, Create, Capital, and Impact) instead of one main stage, all dedicated to specific markets and speakers within those industries and related topics. This year, I was lucky to be part of two different panel discussions alongside entrepreneurs and executives in both the technology and capital industries.
My first panel, Entrepreneurship: Gender, Adversity, and Success, dove into the pressing issue that female founders and entrepreneurs must face. The tech and VC space is predominantly male, so we had the chance to discuss how it affects females who create and run businesses in that space.
I normally don’t like to identify myself as a female CEO, but rather as a CEO of a growing company. This differentiation, in my opinion, further promotes a gender divide if we identify ourselves as separate from our male counterparts.
The panel, which also included Hayley Barna (co-founder of Birchbox), Jennifer Hyman (co-founder and CEO of Rent the Runway), and Marcela Sapone (co-founder and CEO of Hello Alfred), went on to address challenges we’ve faced in the funding and VC environment. With no shortage of anecdotes, it was interesting to hear how similar the barriers were that each of us encountered to create what are now very successful businesses.
Though each of our businesses is different from the others, there is a common thread that weaves us together. We’ve had to jump through hoops and face adversity because we are females operating in male-dominated positions—co-founders and leaders of our company. One of my fellow panelists even went so far as to say that you rarely, if ever, hear a female founder described as a visionary or a genius.
As the business world evolves, more women are taking on leadership roles, and it’s exciting to see how far the industry as a whole has come; however, we still have a lot of work to do.
Following my panel, a group of college students approached me. They were interviewing panelists for their local station dedicated to entrepreneurs starting and growing businesses. I was happy to oblige as it gave me a chance to further connect with an audience of aspiring business owners.
It’s moments like this where I am able to see how my career path is helping to inspire others, and how my words can have an effect on future leaders and entrepreneurs.
My second panel brought more exciting conversation with “Is Cash Dead, Here’s What’s Next.” This one proved to be my favorite because the mix of opinions made the conversation engaging for viewers and fun for the panelists. The panel included Shilpa Mehra, an analyst and portfolio manager at Fidelity Investments, and Jake Fuentes, head of new products at Capital One.
Spoiler alert: Cash is not dead in my opinion. Many of Revel’s single-location businesses still use cash, and in some cases they only accept cash. If you look at actual numbers, 85% of global transactions are still processed with cash. This is especially the case in developing countries that have limited access to updated technology.
Alex Konrad, staff writer at Forbes and the panel moderator, didn’t hesitate to get into a major point of contention for many—the issue of privacy. He wanted to know what information was “creepy” verses “not creepy” to have about people. Jake addressed the fact that most consumers do not read disclaimers on a service before accepting it. They often opt for the convenience in lieu of security, which then leaves the responsibility to the businesses.
Jake argued that certain information is too much information. However, I disagreed because targeted information helps businesses grow by better understanding their customers needs and addressing those needs proactively.
There are times when information is used inappropriately, but at Revel our customers have to voluntarily opt-in to receive recommendations based on purchase history. We don’t simply use information without asking.
The way we operate today has completely evolved from even six years ago when Revel first started. Though technology is changing the transaction process, there is still a ways to go before cash is obsolete. Mobile wallets are bound to take off, assuming there is a real benefit for consumers, like seamless access to Loyalty Programs and Online Ordering.
Being an entrepreneur today is no small feat, because we’re operating in a world where things are constantly changing and what’s new today is old tomorrow. I believe that as a co-founder of a business, I’ve learned lessons and gained knowledge I wouldn’t have the opportunity to do in any other role. I am glad to share this experience with others and hope I can inspire and encourage others to never give up on what they are truly after.