Focus on creating a solution that solves an industry problem
Align yourself with investors and partners who are passionate about your work
Don’t seek advice from too many places. Everyone has an opinion and it can be distracting
As a part of my series about “Lessons From Inspirational Women Leaders in Tech”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Jessica Schaefer, Founder and Chief Executive Officer of Bevel, a communications consultancy driving quantifiable results for clients in tech, venture capital and more. She holds her MBA of Finance from Zicklin School of Business at Baruch College and is a graduate of Quinnipiac University where she studied Public Relations. She currently serves on the Board for Children’s Cancer Recovery Foundation and volunteers a significant amount of her time doing public relations for non-profits focused on pediatric cancer.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to learn a bit more about you. Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
Istarted my career at the beginning of the financial crisis of ’08 at a mid-sized PR agency. I completed my MBA while working and went on to multiple sales and marketing roles at Moody’s, which included Head of Marketing Communications and Director of Global Sales. I truly honed my communications skills during my tenure at Point72, where I led communications for the firm’s venture capital arm — Point72 Ventures — in addition to serving as Vice President of corporate communications of the family office.
I loved working with Point72 Ventures’ portfolio companies advising them on how to create a compelling narrative. After a few CEOs approached me to work as their head of communications, I saw how much money was going into tech, and realized the opportunity to launch Bevel. In 2017, there was $84B invested into technology startups and in 2019 that number increased to over $136B. Bevel was uniquely positioned at a time when venture capital was exponentially increasing.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began at your company?
I really enjoy being a part of bringing brands to life and connecting the story to who the story is being told to. I have worked on projects that are not only aimed at traditional media but include a more 360-degree campaign that creates something out of nothing.
In 2019, Bevel helped to launch a Healthcare Tech Platform. The launch was taking place in Monaco during the EY Global entrepreneurs award. We chartered a yacht and had the media take a tender to the event. There was a Q&A with Steve Clemmons from The Hill. We got great footage and were able to cut it into content and use it across social media and for press opportunities. We created a comprehensive marketing campaign out of nothing for the platform launch.
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?
Going from working in corporate at Moody’s or at a family office, every single type of IT support was available. Starting Bevel, I was constantly plagued with tech difficulties, such as a very full voicemail, and clients who would remind me of it. During the first few years, I learned a few lessons like:
- Don’t have a full voicemail.
- Always get back to your clients within 24 hours
- Always pick up the phone for the person who first gave you money, but if you can’t pick up your phone then make sure your voicemail isn’t full.
Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey? Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?
Every. Single. Day. I think things were especially hard when I went away for a work ski trip and found myself in an ICU in Sallanches, France where no one spoke English. All the while, I had two offices that were fully operating, resulting in both clients and employees calling constantly without knowing that I had just broken six ribs, had a collapsed lung filling up with blood and a fractured shoulder with a torn labrum. Instead of giving up, which isn’t really in my nature, I decided to end ties with certain clients who didn’t prioritize my health and wellbeing. This experience gave me the understanding that I don’t need to be so responsive to everyone all of the time.
When things are easy they’re not rewarding.
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?
Every single founder or investor has challenged me and my team in a different way. We’re fortunate to have the opportunity to work with the smartest people in the room — this brings a certain level of intensity and expectation, but can also be highly rewarding.
In the short time since founding Bevel, I’ve grown more as a professional than in my entire career.
Some of our louder critics or advocates, depending on the day, are Noah Kerner, Ian Sigalow, Alan Patricof, and Milana Rabkin Lewis.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“When one tugs at a single thing in nature, he finds it attached to the rest of the world.”
Ok super. Thank you for all that. Let’s now shift to the main focus of our interview. We’d love to learn a bit about your company. What is the pain point that your company is helping to address?
We don’t work like other communications consultancies and instead operate more like a VC model. We pick a founder with the most interesting idea, not necessarily the most money. There are a lot of people who can pay for PR, but they might not be the best candidate to represent. We only work with category-leading brands. Since Bevel’s inception, 3 clients have already been bought, which is a pretty solid track record for three years.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
We don’t work with competitors. Most PR firms build their portfolio in a specific industry. I don’t know how you could ever work with both Coca-Cola and Pepsi or Citadel and Bridgewater.
We’ve been approached several times by competing firms because of how we’ve built a brand and we always refuse the business. This has led to trust and loyalty that you never see in the PR industry.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
We are working on an initiative to save the restaurant industry in New York City. I think it is going to be one of the most profound coalitions of CEOs from one industry to save another.
Let’s zoom out a bit and talk in more broad terms. Are you currently satisfied with the status quo regarding women in Tech? What specific changes do you think are needed to change the status quo?
I think people always focus on the number of women in tech as a bottom-line number, but I find that the way we are mentoring younger women is more important than this number. We need to look at how women are coached and how they’re paired with leaders within an organization. The important thing is not just getting more women into tech, but rather creating the culture to make them want to stay.
At Bevel, I once worked with an executive who called one of my colleagues a girl instead of woman. I spoke to him and very clearly asked if he thought it would be appropriate for me to call his analysts boys, which would never happen. He realized his error and has never made the mistake since.
At Bevel, I feel lucky to coach women in their roles. There are certain expectations in the business world and sometimes women need to be taught to not downplay their intelligence or voice in the conference room. I think women in tech need to have an open dialogue about how to strengthen their voices.
In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges faced by women in Tech that aren’t typically faced by their male counterparts? What would you suggest to address this?
Genetically, women are still on a timeline. This timeline is extending, but generally speaking women have a biological pressure to have both a family and a career. We work with a lot of 40 year old single male founders who aren’t under the same pressure.
What would you advise to another tech leader who initially went through years of successive growth, but has now reached a standstill. From your experience do you have any general advice about how to boost growth or sales and “restart their engines”?
I think putting a focus on earned media is a great way to “restart your engine”. Brand awareness is a definite way to boost growth and sales and position your company as a first-mover in its space.
Do you have any advice about how companies can create very high performing sales teams?
We work on a performance-based model, which is rare in our space and I find that it makes for a very high-performance environment. The structure of the firm also mirrors that of a typical hedge fund or private equity firm leveraging a PM/analyst model. Bevel’s Directors manage his or her own portfolio of clients and have two associates working underneath him or her. Each portfolio is diversified and includes a mix of crypto, fintech, consumer tech and venture capital funds. Directors are incentivized by client retention and management of his or her respective associate team. Our success as a firm is driven by how much we can move the needle for our clients. We want to work with and build category-leading brands. In order to do that, we need to attract top talent and maintain peak performance.
In your specific industry what methods have you found to be most effective in order to find and attract the right customers? Can you share any stories or examples?
Nearly all of our new clients are from referrals, and I think that says a lot about the quality of our work. We also have numerous repeat founders who choose to work with us on their second or third ventures including Phillip Raub, co-founder of b8ta and newly minted CEO of Model No., and Jeff Cruttenden, co-founder of Acorns, Say and Treasury. I like to work with founders who are doing something innovative and have a point of view because we both are going to get the most out of that relationship.
Based on your experience, can you share 3 or 4 strategies to give your customers the best possible user experience and customer service?
Generally, our clients are engineers, quants or people who think with the left side of their brain. PR people generally have a very enlarged right side of their brain and fundamentally like to please and build relationships. On a psychological level, you always need to think about how to motivate different kinds of people. If a client says, I want to speak at Milken, their PR person will spend the next 72 hours trying to figure out how to get you a speaking opp at Milken. The same goes for a media opportunity, but if the client just says, “Why wasn’t I on CNBC?”, this can be very demotivating. What they should say is, “Who do you know at CNBC?” They will get an extremely different response and usually a better outcome.
As you likely know, this HBR article demonstrates that studies have shown that retaining customers can be far more lucrative than finding new ones. Do you use any specific initiatives to limit customer attrition or customer churn? Can you share some of your advice from your experience about how to limit customer churn?
I was once told that if you lose a customer, they’re never going to come back. I think meeting your customer where they are and communicating with them to understand what success would look like to them. If you are clear on expectations and deliver against them, you will limit customer churn.
Here is the main question of our discussion. Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things one should know in order to create a very successful tech company? Please share a story or an example for each.
- Focus on creating a solution that solves an industry problem
- Build a great product
- Align yourself with investors and partners who are passionate about your work
- Don’t seek advice from too many places. Everyone has an opinion and it can be distracting
- Always follow your Mission
Wonderful. We are nearly done. Here are the final “meaty” questions of our discussion. You are a person of enormous 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. 🙂
We only work with mission-based companies that benefit society in some way or another. They’re not always focused on profitability. It’s one of the main reasons I started Bevel. I wanted my talent to help promote products that were helping people.
When it comes to profitability, if a company’s product hurts the environment, it should be a non-starter. It’s like a pharmaceutical company creating drugs that harm people, but make money. They just shouldn’t be created.
We are very blessed that very prominent leaders 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 🙂
Governor Cuomo — I have a GREAT PR idea for NYC.
Thank you so much for this. This was very inspirational, and we wish you only continued success!