How many billion-dollar companies, better known by their “unicorn” nickname, have female founders? According to a study from PitchBook, the United States is home to 14 female-founded unicorns.
While these numbers can be extremely disheartening to look at, PitchBook cites the strides forward women entrepreneurs have made in building unicorns across a wide variety of industries. The 14 unicorns in the United States make up a melting pot of sectors, including event technology platform Eventbrite, SaaS based customer experience management software Medallia, and consumer finance company Credit Karma. No two businesses are the same. Even more noteworthy is that the majority of these U.S. unicorns are at least 10 years old. The youngest unicorns are Houzz and Nextdoor, both of which were founded in 2010.
Of those 14 unicorns, I was lucky enough to speak with representatives from Houzz and Sarah Leary, Founder of Nextdoor, for a glimpse into unicorns that operate with a woman co-founder and with a female founder.
The Houzz That Adi Tatarko (and Alon Cohen) Built
Houzz got its start in 2009 by Adi Tatarko and Alon Cohen, a wife and husband team, after a frustrating experience renovating a 1950s ranch home they bought in Palo Alto, California. They were excited to work together and bring their dream home to life. Then, they started the renovation process and their dream began to get crushed by reality.
Renovating turned out to be much more difficult than anticipated. The two struggled to find resources and inspiration to help them articulate a vision for their home and resorted to digging around for pictures in books and magazines. Another major hurdle was finding the right professionals to help them out. Tatarko and Cohen sought referrals from friends and family, but realized these renovation and design professionals did not share their same vision, style, budget, or needs.
For a year, Tatarko and Cohen spun their wheels before they decide to chuck out their initial plans and start all over again. The experience was expensive, time consuming, and frustrating, but it opened up a path to entrepreneurship. They set out to create Houzz, a platform for home remodeling and design that gives homeowners everything they need to improve their homes from start to finish. The concept was one that excited Tatarko and Cohen, along with other homeowners, designers, and architects in the San Francisco Bay Area. Those individuals made up the beginning of the Houzz community, which now consists of more than 2.1 million active home renovation and design professionals worldwide.
Houzz, which started as a side project, was officially made into a real company in 2010. Tatarko and Cohen hired the first members of their team, took funding, and got their first office space. Since then, Houzz has more than 40 million monthly unique visitors with a current valuation of $4 Billion. Numbers aside, the co-founders have continued to remain steadfast to their overall mission: provide the best experience for home renovation and design.
Going Nextdoor as a Team with Sarah Leary
As a former athlete, Nextdoor, a private social network for neighborhoods that connects neighbors together, was primarily built to help connect people to the people closest to them — literally the ones living next door. These kinds of connections would then improve the daily lives of people and help build stronger and safer neighborhoods.
It was, and still is, a unique social platform because it takes online conversations offline and into the community. That was Leary’s greatest differentiator, and one that allowed Nextdoor, based out of San Francisco, to become universally appealing across the globe. (Nextdoor is also available in the United Kingdom, France, the Netherlands, and Germany. This week, Leary is in Italy and Spain launching the Nextdoor presence in both countries.)
With a current valuation of $1.5 Billion, Nextdoor has traded resting on their laurels in favor of continuing to test, iterate, and improve their product. “Rapid change is part of what drew me to the industry and to start a company. The broad adoption of web and mobile technologies makes it easier to innovate and try new things, which in our case allows us to test and improve neighborhood by neighborhood.” Leary says.
The founding team for Nextdoor had two women on it, who helped shaped the product from the start and allowed everyone to better understand all of their members. “I strongly believe that diverse teams lead to winning teams,” Leary says, “I love finding up-and-coming people, identifying their unique talents, helping them stretch a little to put them in a position to help the team succeed. I find that most people want to stretch and be a part of a team that achieves great things together.”
As a child, Leary had an entrepreneurial grandmother who served as her role model and inspired her to fight for her dreams. Leary realizes that her specific circumstance was a gift and not everyone, especially female entrepreneurs, has had that unique perspective.
However, waves of change are coming for the Bay Area and beyond. Women-based venture capital firms are on the rise and providing greater access to capital. This, in turn, leads to helping fund diverse entrepreneurs who are solving broader sets of problems. Leary says it helps for investors to see her company — and other women-led businesses like Houzz — be successful.
Going back to the idea of teamwork and community, Leary says one of the biggest changes in the last decade is the movement around building a network of female entrepreneurs, leaders, and investors that look out for one another in Silicon Valley. The network has been nothing short of inspiring to Leary on her Nextdoor journey — and also great fun. “It is because of these women that I believe fundamentally that women are, and will continue to be, a huge source of innovation and growth in this country.”