Female Disruptors: “Figure out what you you’re good at and what you don’t know early on” with Liz Curtis

Figure out what you you’re good at and what you don’t know early on. There will be times where it feels like you have to play every role for your company, but in the long run this isn’t sustainable. If you’re spending weeks learning to code and understand the intricacies of operations infrastructures, you aren’t […]

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Figure out what you you’re good at and what you don’t know early on. There will be times where it feels like you have to play every role for your company, but in the long run this isn’t sustainable. If you’re spending weeks learning to code and understand the intricacies of operations infrastructures, you aren’t fostering the areas where you naturally excel. This risk here is that you lose focus of your vision for the company. Build a team that allows you to refine your sweet spots while keeping the ship sailing smoothly.

I had the pleasure of interviewing Liz Curtis, Founder and CEO of Table + Teaspoon.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! What is your “backstory”?

I’ve always been interested in creating beautiful things — luxe tablescapes, interior design, plush floral arrangements, but never had the creation of anything remotely culinary tempted me. Ten years ago, a dinner party at my house meant an impromptu potluck, where my erstwhile contribution was delivery pizza. Literally, Dominos.

Everything changed the summer I spent studying at home for the California Bar Exam in 2009. Going stir-crazy and craving comfort food, I turned on the Food Network and decided that it couldn’t possibly be that hard to roast a chicken (particularly given that the entire process looked like it took five minutes). Though it took a bit more than five minutes to roast the chicken, the results were more than worth the effort.

After this experience, the call of the kitchen sounded fiercely. I cooked nearly every recipe from Ina Garten and Julia Child’s cookbooks, and started posting my creations on Facebook via my Blackberry. I shared the fruits of my labor at weekly dinner parties, which also allowed me to up my table setting game. Similarly culinarily-challenged friends asked me to start a blog that made seemingly difficult recipes easy, which is how Table + Teaspoon was born. With a little encouragement from family and my loyal blog following, I decided to leave the security of my corporate litigation job in 2013, and turn Table + Teaspoon into a catering, events, and interior design firm. The idea was to get my hands dirty learning the industry, and then figure out how to scale it into something nationwide.

The specific idea hit me while I was picking up my zillionth order from an enormous (and very unglamourous) party rental warehouse in South San Francisco. I thought to myself, in a city where you can order literally anything on-demand — flowers, dresses, tuxes, meals, chefs, groceries, cocktails, servers, sommeliers — why can’t you similarly order your tablescape? Pulling together everything you need to serve your meal can be more daunting than preparing the meal itself. So what if there was a website you could go to, put in your party date and the number of guests, choose from beautifully curated designs that include everything you need to set your table, get all of this on your doorstep with step-by-step instructions, and then box it back up and send it away when your party is over?

With this new idea in mind, I used my entire savings and a loan from my family to bootstrap the vision for a “rent the table” model with the goal of disrupting America’s $15 tabletop and $10 billion event rental and planning industries. This meant designing flatware and linens, forming relationships with glassware and China manufacturers, finding a suitable space to store, sanitize, and ship product, creating elegant reusable zero-waste boxes (environmental consciousness is a core value) that would ship both ways without breakage, negotiating shipping rates, building partnerships, and relaunching the Table + Teaspoon site as an ecommerce platform with rental capabilities.

Now that this first product is fully formed and functioning throughout the United States, I’m finishing a venture raise to continue to grow and identify other disruptive product offerings that will remove traditional barriers to entertaining. The goal is to encourage more people to host their friends and family at home by making the process seamless so that the focus is the experience at the table rather than the hassle of planning, executing, and cleaning up.

Why did you found your company?

I founded Table + Teaspoon to make entertaining accessible. One of my favorite stories to tell about my final decision to leave law is a night when I was making Mac & Cheese from scratch, and asked a fellow lawyer to help by “putting the pasta in” for me. She promptly dumped the macaroni into the small pan of simmering milk (for the roux) rather than the big pot of boiling water. I realized then that there was a niche for a company that could make the daunting aspects of cooking, entertaining, and decorating more straightforward so that everyone has the ability to create that unparalleled moment around a dinner table where connections are formed and beautiful memories are made.

What is it about the work you’re doing that’s disruptive?

The On-Demand economy is enormous, and growing exponentially every day. People want to entertain in their homes, but don’t know how or don’t have the bandwidth. Hiring an event planner every time you have people over, or curating and buying your own dishware is expensive and time-consuming.

I knew that this was a space that needed disrupting, what I didn’t realize is that I could disrupt several industries at the same time. The On-Demand Food is a $35 billion industry, but everything comes without anything to serve it on (cocktails, chefs, groceries, pre-cooked meals, etc.). Event Rentals is a $5.3 billion industry, with no tech innovation whatsoever. Tabletop is a $15 billion industry with very little innovation, and most home goods brands are finding it difficult to gain a millennial following. The market is clearly ripe for the service Table + Teaspoon has to offer, and no one else is doing it.

We all need a little help along the journey — who have been some of your mentors?

This is a particularly interesting question, because until last year I’d never had any mentors. Many people motivated me (mostly unbeknownst to them), and I certainly had people help me along the way with advice and support, but no one other than my (AMAZING) mother truly wanted to understand my goals, the way that I think, identify areas I needed help in, and bend over backward to guide me in building my dream.

My father jokes that my primary objective in life is seeking new ways to “drink from the firehose,” meaning that I’m constantly finding myself in a position where I have to learn as quickly as possible to meet my professional goals. But this time I really threw myself off the deep end, having no experience in the startup world and no applicable academic foundation. In early 2018, I was struggling to figure out the fundraising process, and didn’t have anyone in my life who could break down the steps. I was close to taking a bad term sheet when I had the fortune of meeting a group of female founders and investors called the 3% Club (referencing the amount of venture capital that goes to women founded startups). Since then, I’ve developed relationships with people who have become incredible mentors. Sarah Lacy (Pando Daily and Chairman Mom), Courtney Broadus (early Salesforce, angel investor), Lisa Fetterman (Nomiku), Agatha Precourt (early Stella & Dot, angel investor), Kim Moore (Glynn Capital), and Leah Busque (TaskRabbit) have been invaluable resources for both my raise and orchestrating the next steps for Table + Teaspoon.

How are you going to shake things up next?

Without divulging too much, Table + Teaspoon will continue to remove barriers to entertaining. We are developing tools to disrupt weddings, creating a community forum to share tips and photographs, and navigating how data science and augmented reality can lend even more innovation to the entertaining space.

Can you share 3 of the best words of advice you’ve gotten along your journey? Please give a story or example for each.

Figure out what you you’re good at and what you don’t know early on. There will be times where it feels like you have to play every role for your company, but in the long run this isn’t sustainable. If you’re spending weeks learning to code and understand the intricacies of operations infrastructures, you aren’t fostering the areas where you naturally excel. This risk here is that you lose focus of your vision for the company. Build a team that allows you to refine your sweet spots while keeping the ship sailing smoothly.

On that note, hire lawyers who are paid to have your back during the fundraising process. When I started my raise, I thought that as a former lawyer I could learn everything quickly enough to understand different types of investment vehicles, write my own term sheets, and negotiate with my investor’s lawyers. This ended up wasting a lot of time, which beyond the immediate repercussions, served as a reminder that no one can do everything on his or her own while creating a high-growth scalable company.

Finally, do the work necessary to deeply understand your consumer. If you’re creating products for yourself, you’ll likely end up with a great company, but not one that is a game-changer. Test your designs, experiment with your pricing, and ask for feedback (even if it feels uncomfortable). Before seeking institutional funding, I researched every single person who placed a Table + Teaspoon order. I knew roughly how old they were, what they did professionally, where they lived, and often found out what type of event they were hosting. This knowledge was invaluable because my customers were nowhere near who I thought they would be when T&T was in business model form. If you know what your customers want/what’s missing in their lives and have the ability to create it for them — you have the chance to build something revolutionary.

What’s a book/podcast/talk that’s had a deep impact on your thinking? Share a story with us.

The podcast How I Built This with Guy Raz has been a phenomenal resource. When I started putting together my deck, I listened to Sarah Blakely of Spanx, Jennifer Hyman of Rent the Runway explain their journeys in a very humble and human way. Listening to other founders describe their lightbulb moments, failures, and successes helped me keep perspective while embarking on such an unknown and risky future. I’d listen and relisten to these two episodes usually around 2AM while furiously taking notes that I never actually used for anything other than motivation in those moments. I’d fall asleep knowing that if I worked hard enough, I could reach my goals — just as these two powerhouse women had before me.

Once I finished the deck and began investor pitches, I listened to nearly all of the episodes in the series to gather data points that weren’t available via articles or Google searches. For example, Katrina Lake of Stitch Fix talked about cost of customer acquisition, the number of people she beta tested the concept on while in business school, and how many customers and orders she had immediately prior to IPO. Almost none of this information was available outside of the podcast, but was integral in framing my responses to investor questions.

In many ways, listening to the other founders relive the unorthodox paths to building their companies was comforting during the particularly difficult moments — sort of a reminder that there will be highs and lows, but none of them will be career defining if you keep forging through to learn more, build better, and dream bigger.

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 whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might see this. 🙂

Without hesitation, Kirsten Green of Forerunner Ventures. Kirsten has her hand in every female founded direct to consumer company changing the game in their respective fields — Glossier (beauty), Lumi (packaging), Outdoor Voices (athletic apparel), Birdies (women’s shoes), Away (luggage). Kirsten’s philosophy is to “champion companies who rewrite the rules of culture,” and that’s exactly what I’m doing with entertaining. I would kill (just kidding, sort of…) for the opportunity to illustrate my vision for Kirsten and tap into her wisdom for the future of Table + Teaspoon.

How can our readers follow you on social media?TABLE + TEASPOON (@tableandteaspoon) * Instagram photos and videos
32.4k Followers, 476 Following, 450 Posts – See Instagram photos and videos from TABLE + TEASPOON (@tableandteaspoon)

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