As a part of my series about strong female leaders, I had the pleasure of interviewing Denise Holzer. Denise is the co-founder of Crunchet, a new app positioned to be the leading global mobile video gaming community in the growing crossover between esports, lifestyle, sports & entertainment. Denise is a native New Yorker, activist, multifaceted entrepreneur and investment banker with financial background.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
Thank you for giving me the opportunity to share my story!
I have always been a storyteller — I used to run a video arts collective after graduating college. We would film footage from protests and events, project it 360 degrees in NYC galleries & warehouses to recreate the experience, but more importantly, create a dialogue. Crunchet is the tool we needed then to make it easy for anyone to add content from their phones into group stories that could be shared with anyone.
As a preteen, I was a gaming enthusiast, but not many girls I knew played video games at that time. But there has always been a robust community of female gamers, we were just disconnected from each other. I went to Chapin, an all-girls school, that taught me to empower young women, to break down barriers. Most people don’t realize that 45% of all US gamers accounted for women last year, but many still do not yet know about esports. It’s so exciting and gratifying to come full circle now, as global gaming hits 2.2 billion users this year and a single esports final is expected to surpass the viewership of baseball, hockey and soccer finals in the next two years. With the growth of non-competitive esports, Crunchet can help the esports community gain more market share by involving female gamers.
We are thrilled to offer a social tool for both the casual & competitive gaming community to build around shared experiences. Crunchet gives gamers a way to express themselves through their personalities, plus it’s a way to socialize, connect with friends and your favorite professional esports athletes & influencers through Crunchet’s “group posting” feature.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
We launched Crunchet with the Women’s March Alliance in NY. Crunchet was responsible for helping select Gen Z voices and inviting Singer/Songwriter/Activist Halsey & Actor Veronica Dunne to speak. Halsey’s brave words “A Story Like Mine” went viral that day, proving the strength of one’s voice and the power of social media to deliver a message.
We also worked with the extraordinary student organizers for March For Our Lives to help share their collective voices on social media. I proudly marched alongside Paul McCartney, who lost his best friend, John Lennon, to gun violence. One of the major highlights, was hosting a sign making event for the student organizers — Ray Villeda from NBC showed up to interview the students, broadcasting their voices internationally for the world to hear from Crunchet’s NY office!
I am proud that Crunchet was able to encompass those stories via group posting photos from the events, YouTube videos of the speakers, articles, petitions, donation pages, and link to Halsey’s song “Control” and Lennon’s “Imagine.”
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons you learned?
When we launched our beta in colleges & high schools, our student ambassadors who were gamer enthusiasts pointed out that the real problem Crunchet solved was providing gamers the tools to put their entire social media meta — in one cohesive space. That’s when we realized Crunchet is not just a tool for social impact, but a vehicle for content creators, especially gamers and fans, to showcase their personalities and different interests, build identities and reach across platforms. You may listen to hip hop on Spotify, your favorite DJs on SoundCloud, search for the latest sneakers on google, check out esports streams on Twitch & religiously watch your favorite YouTube channels — why not be able to share all those interests together and reach beyond your siloed network.
I learned that you can’t create a successful app without critical input from your user base. In our case, our thoughtful student ambassadors taught us a lesson — they helped define our product.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
Crunchet allows group posting — it lets multiple users contribute to a single post. We connect gamers, content creators and fans, and transport them out of their social silos onto one platform where they access content from many platforms (camera, YouTube, Twitch, Google, twitter, Reddit, Spotify, Soundcloud, Instagram & FB) and share them as curated group experiences.
We recently partnered with esports organization Misfits Gaming to help support Florida Gulf State University’s college-run esports convention Couch Co-Op. Attendees were able to meet with players signed by Misfits as part of a “Play with the Pros” event. Florida Mayhem Academy & Drew “Surfnboy” Snediker from the team’s Fortnite division posted on Crunchet and student attendees interacted by adding to the story from the event and raising awareness to help tackle mental health issues, like compassion fatigue facing esports to help players avoid burnout.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
We are so excited about our newest partnership with Millenium Age Silent Discos powered by Crunchet. Silent Discos are next-generation “raves” but the main difference is now you’re wearing a wireless head-phone and you can flip through various stations while dancing. Our next event is this weekend in San Diego at the Hard Rock Hotel on May 26 — participants will be encouraged to download Crunchet and share their experiences together from the event to win prizes. The most rewarding part about this partnership besides being super fun is anyone with autism spectrum disorders/sensory sensitivities can join and thrive in a silent disco experience. So, in this unique way, Crunchet promotes inclusivity. This will also be our second year as a proud social media partner helping the HollyRod Foundation and RJ’s Place share their mission to support families of children with autism.
What advice would you give to other female leaders to help their team to thrive?
Never give up, don’t be afraid to ask questions or try new things, failed results can bring new opportunities.
What advice would you give to other female leaders about the best way to manage a large team?
A successful collective means everyone participates in their own unique way and benefits from its success.
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?
I’ll never forget watching a rainbow of balloons sweep over central park from a potential investor’s office forty stories high and seeing him and his three sons smile and then agree to be our first major investors. I realized at that moment never let go of your dreams and anything can happen.
I also have to credit my mother — I would not be here without her. She had an incredible attention to detail, creativity, kindness, grace and strength. She lost her battle to cancer but is with me in spirit.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
Margaret Mead said, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” Movements like March For Our Lives were started by netizens — citizens of the internet — and Crunchet is another tool to help tell those stories, share interest, educate and raise awareness for a cause together. What I love about gamers, gaming enthusiasts and streamers is gaming culture is deeply rooted in social consciousness and charitable giving. Twitch users have already helped raise over 100 million dollars for charitable causes since it launched in 2011. We celebrate this astonishing accomplishment and encourage Crunchet users to drive more awareness through collective stories because shared experiences unite people.
What are your “5 Leadership Lessons I Learned From My Experience” and why. (Please share a story or example for each.)
1. Read & Research.
2. Don’t be afraid to make a mistake and try something new.
3. Listen to criticism, learn from it.
4. The best ideas are born and nurtured through collaboration.
5. Entrepreneurship is a long journey. Be flexible, willing and open to pivot for growth.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
Crunchet is already sparking a movement. Our hope is to shift the incredible power of social media for Gen Z and beyond from personal expression to collective group storytelling.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
My grandmother was a survivor of war who went through incomprehensible times and taught me to “always look forward and never look back.”
Some of the biggest 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 🙂
YouTube’s CEO Susan Wojcicki & 23andMe Co-founder Anne Wojcicki — two unbelievably successful sisters that I most admire! Susan was one of Google’s first employees, urging the company to buy YouTube, then becoming CEO and one of the most active voices encouraging leaders to think about diversity from the top. She also demonstrated incredible leadership when her company had a deadly shooting at its corporate campus. Her sister Anne, pioneered biotech company 23andMe that became the first-ever direct-to-consumer genetics company to receive FDA approval for cancer-risk tests. Both are self-made, successful, visionaries who are innovators and a true inspiration for any young women considering entrepreneurship.