Helene Berkowitz of ReceetMe: “Be someone else’s mentor”

Be someone else’s mentor. Women place a lot of value on mentorship and professional guidance. Invest in more women-led companies. Knowing there are opportunities to infuse capital into great business ideas can give women the push they need to start those same businesses. Network. Reach out to former colleagues, supervisors, your college roommate, family friends, […]

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Be someone else’s mentor. Women place a lot of value on mentorship and professional guidance.

Invest in more women-led companies. Knowing there are opportunities to infuse capital into great business ideas can give women the push they need to start those same businesses.

Network. Reach out to former colleagues, supervisors, your college roommate, family friends, people you met at a conference, etc. You never know where a good lead can come from. You may just be that lead for someone else, too.

As a part of our series about “Why We Need More Women Founders”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Helene Berkowitz, a Retail Tech executive and startup founder with a background in finance and international payment systems. She is passionate about technology with a human component. In 2017, Helene founded ReceetMe to create a digital retail experience focused on the customer experience.

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?

It started with a pair of jeans. My husband wanted a new pair of jeans and since he hates clothes shopping, I offered to pick up a pair for him, but I mistakenly bought the wrong size. I tried exchanging them for the right size, but I couldn’t find the receipt. I looked everywhere with no luck.

That’s when I had my ‘aha’ moment. It occurred to me that although we’re living in an age of next-gen technology (think IoT devices, robot-assisted surgery, and packages delivered by drone), so many aspects of our lives have remained low-tech and inefficient. I thought about how toxic thermal receipt paper is and the massive environmental issues they create, and I knew there had to be a better way.

Coming from a background in Financial Services, I had a deep understanding of a customer-driven market and the need for practical digital transformation processes.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?

In 2017, I saw a Facebook post about an international conference organized by the American and Indian governments. The theme of the Global Entrepreneurship Summit was “Women First; Prosperity for All”, encouraging women from all walks of life to embrace entrepreneurship.

Since ReceetMe is a woman-led company, I applied to participate and was accepted. I flew to Hyderabad, India, and joined 1,500 other delegates from around the world to learn, network, share, and be inspired. I met incredible men and women who were actively rebuilding communities in Haiti devasted by the 2010 earthquake, volunteering their dental care services to poor communities, creating programs to encourage girls to get into STEM fields, and more. Business and government leaders from around the world spoke of the importance of how prioritizing inclusion could boost prosperity for all of humanity. These were 3 of the most incredible days of my life.

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?

When I first started my company, I maintained a full-time job elsewhere since ReceetMe was still in “stealth mode”. I was approached by an investor to discuss my venture and scheduled a conference call, but there was no place for me to make a private phone call except outside of my office building with noisy traffic. The only place I could find was a different floor inside that was under construction. After the call, I returned to my office, which had an open-floor plan of cubicles. Minutes later, someone noticed a huge trail of dust and tiny pieces of debris all over the carpet. I had unknowingly trailed in construction debris from my shoes that ended up strewn all over the floor!

The lesson I learned was this: be more careful and plan for contingencies.

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?

My parents. They’re immigrants who came from humble beginnings who got to live the American Dream. I learned about hard work, dedication, and the importance of helping others from them. My father emigrated to North America without speaking a word of English, built a career in hi-tech, and was laid off 8 times throughout his 30-year career, but he never gave up. He helped other people find jobs and taught them about networking. My mother worked for non-profit organizations and taught English to new immigrants. They’ve both always supported me in whatever I chose to do in life and were one of the first to help me get my company off the ground.

Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?

I recently read Satya Nadella’s “Hit Refresh”. I was inspired by how he blends his passion for business with his dedication to family; they aren’t mutually exclusive. This is something I try to emulate in my own business while managing a busy family life. I’m a mother of 4 girls. Showing my daughters what they can accomplish is something I’m especially proud of.

Do you have a favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life or your work?

“Authenticity is your most precious commodity as a leader.” — Marcus Buckingham

I think for many entrepreneurs, we believe we have to be like everyone else. We see business leaders and CEOs of huge companies and use them as sort of a cookie cutter mold, but that’s inauthentic. I need to be myself, and so I never begin a meeting or presentation by showing graphs or discussing the market opportunity. I tell the jeans story because we’re all shoppers; we’ve all experienced the frustration of returning something to a store. It’s human and it’s real.

How have you used your success to make the world a better place?

While ReceetMe is primarily about digital transformation and convenience, there’s an element of sustainability at play, too. Thermal receipt paper is not recyclable. It’s coated with chemical substances, which lay around in landfills and can actually end up in groundwater. Not exactly good for our planet. Even more alarming — the use of thermal receipt paper is increasing by 2.3% each year.

So we’re on a mission to help retailers incorporate sustainable practices into their operations, decreasing the use of water, chemicals, and trees used to create millions of paper rolls, and ultimately easing the strain on our environment.

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 one of the biggest things that hold women back from starting companies is FEAR.

Sometimes it’s fear of failure, when trying something new makes a woman worry that it will be too difficult, so it’s not even worth doing, thereby avoiding any potential disappointment.

Other times, it’s a fear of judgement, especially from other women. Starting a company while managing children’s schools, extra-curriculars, doctor and dentist appointments, personal relationships, and everything else is a tough challenge. People can judge a woman’s dedication to her family when she’s also a CEO and make negative comments about that, which can cause self-doubt and insecurity.

Think about it — female entrepreneurs are always asked how they “do it all”. Male entrepreneurs are never asked that question.

Financial worries are a strong obstacle, as well. The fear of being unable to pay a mortgage or rent, childcare, utilities, car payments, and all the other ongoing bills while taking on business expenses is a serious one. The massive gender gap in VC funding only exacerbates this fear. According to TechCrunch, less than 3% of all VC funding goes to female entrepreneurs. It’s even less for women of color.

Can you share with our readers what you are doing to help empower women to become founders?

One thing I do is actively participate in female entrepreneurship groups. Whether virtual or in person, these groups bring business women from all over the spectrum into a single place to share ideas, brainstorm, and help each other.

I also take calls from women founders all the time. I’m often approached by someone who’s considering starting a company and needs objective advice. I’m happy to be that listening ear and pay it forward as others have done for me.

This might be intuitive to you but I think it will be helpful to spell this out. Can you share a few reasons why more women should become founders?

Women adapt to change more easily than men, and that’s a critical business skill. Customer behaviors and market trends shift so rapidly, so the ability to readjust priorities and change things are usually easier for female founders.

Because women typically have strong interpersonal skills, they can develop business relationships very well. This can mean the different between new business deals or stagnant processes. It also means that women are usually more open to collaboration vs. the “lone wolf” mindset, which is more common among male founders.

Women are great multi-taskers. The ability to manage multiple responsibilities simultaneously is a huge asset for a startup founder. Overseeing the daily operations of the company, fundraising, launching a new product, hiring staff, sales and marketing campaigns, customer onboarding — founders are constantly pulled in multiple directions. Multi-tasking skills are super valuable here.

Ok super. Here is the main question of our interview. Can you please share 5 things that can be done or should be done to help empower more women to become founders? If you can, please share an example or story for each.

Get more men involved. Women can talk about empowerment and best practices all day long, but when male founders or investors speak about this issue, it’s often more effective.

Be someone else’s mentor. Women place a lot of value on mentorship and professional guidance.

Invest in more women-led companies. Knowing there are opportunities to infuse capital into great business ideas can give women the push they need to start those same businesses.

Network. Reach out to former colleagues, supervisors, your college roommate, family friends, people you met at a conference, etc. You never know where a good lead can come from. You may just be that lead for someone else, too.

Start young. Women founders should speak to junior and high schoolers about founding a company and growing their businesses. Share your story and include both successes and failures. By inspiring young women at an early age, we can create greater opportunities for future business leaders.

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.

If I could inspire a big movement of greater good, it would be about mental health. I wish that mental healthcare was on par with physical healthcare. Although mental illness is far less taboo than it used to be, there is a long way to go before we get to a place of exceptional healthcare for both physical and mental health.

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’d like to meet Serena Williams. Not only is she a world-class athlete, wife, and mother, but she’s a savvy business leader who believes in supporting diverse companies and backs that up with action. Serena Ventures has been in business for just 7 years and already has a 14 billion dollars portfolio of companies. That’s impressive and inspiring.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

We’re on LinkedIn: www.linkedin.com/company/receetme/, Twitter: @ReceetMe, Facebook: www.facebook.com/receetme, and YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCSChFS6EDnH78XshtuNil7w

We publish insightful, funny, and interesting blogs on our website, as well: https://www.receet.me/

Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.

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