How the Founder of Tinder Taught This Interior Design CEO to Rely on Her Own Stoicism As She Grows Her Company
In the Women Entrepreneur series Mentor Moments, female founders sit down to chat with their own mentors (and us!) about how and why the relationship developed, and the lasting impact it’s had on their careers.
“Everyone puts their pants on in the morning.” It’s a simple but valuable lesson that Beatrice Fischel-Bock learned from her mentor, Tinder founder Sean Rad -- and one that keeps her grounded as she grows her company, Hutch, where she serves as CEO.
Fischel-Bock and her co-founders launched the earliest form of the Los Angeles-based startup in 2012, aiming to take some of the pain out of decorating a home. Today, the home décor app uses 3-D technology to help consumers virtually create their space (and shop for it too). The company has raised $17 million in funding—some of which came from Rad, who also serves on Hutch’s board.
The two sound off about their fast friendship and mentorship, and the importance of remembering that entrepreneurship is always hard.
Women Entrepreneur: How did you first meet Sean?
Beatrice Fischel-Bock: My co-founders and I were doing Shark Tank in 2015. Sean was super active in the Los Angeles tech community, and part of that was watching Shark Tank. After he saw us on the show, he reached out -- he’d dealt with buying furniture a lot and knew the pain -- and said he’d been thinking about something like our solution, and can he help? We met Sean, and we just got so excited. I needed a mentor, and he needed a mentee.
Sean Rad: I was totally the customer they were after. I heard their pitch and was like, Oh my god, I need this. I was very surprised at how none of the sharks seemed to get it. Bea and her co-founders almost took one deal, and when I emailed them I was like, I hope you didn’t do that horrible deal and give away the company for so little! Luckily, it didn’t work out.
BF: Partly because of your guidance.
SR: They needed some help connecting the dots with investors, thinking about the product side.
BF: We came from design school on the East Coast. We had no business background and no experience in the VC world. Sean lived and breathed it.
WE: Beatrice, you originally launched a version of the company back in 2012, but it’s evolved quite a bit. Can you talk me through its background?
BF: Our evolution is very in tune with the startup world and how quickly our industries are changing and adapting. When we started it was heavy on design -- we’d match customers with an interior designer. Wayfair barely existed, and it definitely wasn’t a given that people would ever buy furniture online. Obviously that pendulum has shifted. So while we started design heavy, we came out to the West Coast and started introducing the technical piece, working on automating those conversations with interior designers and using 3-D technology to help customers visualize their space. And now we’re starting to move into product.
WE: In what ways has Sean been a sounding board through the years?
BF: He’s the product guy on our board and in my life. If I ask him about financials, he’s like, whatever. So I don’t go to him for the P&L! But when we talk product, he’s like, let’s get to the screen, let’s talk about why that button is there.He’s really good at digesting and simplifying. When our team over-thinks, he can help us see the simplification.
SR: Most of our conversations are either about product or helping Bea...
BF: ...Helping my personal sanity!
SR: Being a CEO is never easy. I always wish I’d had a sounding board to help me focus on what really matters.
BF: Emotionally, it’s not easy. Having someone who’s been here a million times before, it’s good to hear from him.
WE: How did your relationship evolve from that first meeting? Beatrice, when did you really start seeing Sean as a mentor?
BF: I knew the moment. It was when he was thinking of joining us. We met for drinks or dinner, and he floated the idea by me. That’s when I knew he was very serious about our product. And of course, he put his own money into the company.
WE: You guys work in very different spaces. What’s been an unexpected lesson you’ve learned from Sean?
BF: The humanity behind not just Sean, but so many of the people on our board. You think of CEOs as these untouchables, but they go through all the same shit as you. And you get through it in the same way.
SR: I always have to remind Bea that we’re all just people.
BF: What do you say about pants?
SR: Everyone puts on their pants in the morning! Everyone is dealing with different circumstances, but probably the same kinds of feelings and struggles. Having a lot of people who depend on you requires you to be stronger as an individual, and grow and figure out who you are in rapid speed.
BF: About a year ago Sean told me about the philosophy of stoicism, and it’s been a whole different way of thinking. For me, it’s really about expecting that it will be hard and that there will be obstacles, but you can get through it without letting it tear you down. It helps you feel grounded.
SR: There’s a lot of pressure, and we tend to think about success as a straight line. But the reality is, you make mistakes and you learn from those mistakes and you apply the learnings. It’s most important to have the courage to acknowledge where you’re struggling.
WE: Hutch just launched its first product -- gallery wall kits -- and there’s a charitable component involved, with proceeds benefiting Girls Inc., which helps young girls find and harness their passions. Why was that important to the company?
BF: Unfortunately, you look at the top 500 companies and it’s mostly male CEOs. And if they’re not mentoring women directly, it can be hard for us to get through. So I always said I wanted to have a mentor that’s had success and can show me the man’s world and then I can do the same for more women. I work with an incredible team of women, and it’s great to see that a badass bunch of twentysomethings can run this company. We want to give that back, and Girls Inc. does that for 12-18 year olds who are still understanding what they can do.
WE: How has your experience been as a female founder?
BF: It’s a mixed bag. It’s a powerful thing to say we’re here, making a difference, as women. But while I was raising money, a lot of my statements of fact were questioned -- and I think that if a man had said them, they just would have been accepted. A VC once told me not to stress and then started massaging my shoulders. I was like, I’m not asking you to tell me to relax and massage my shoulders, I’m asking you for money for my business. I never told Sean who it was, and I’ve yet to. But maybe I should.
SR: I still want to know.BF: But for all those stories, there is hope, because there are men like Sean and other guys on our board. And they’re the good guys.