Paulina Karpis of brunchwork: “Access to powerful female leaders”

More women should become founders because we can offer unique perspectives and solutions. When I stumbled across the huge gap in business education, I couldn’t believe that no one had come up with a modern alternative to the MBA. Higher education has typically been a male-dominated field. Nothing new had been done in that industry […]

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More women should become founders because we can offer unique perspectives and solutions. When I stumbled across the huge gap in business education, I couldn’t believe that no one had come up with a modern alternative to the MBA. Higher education has typically been a male-dominated field. Nothing new had been done in that industry since before my parents’ generation. More women founders are needed to offer solutions and help innovate.

Being a founder is also really rewarding. The direct impact you get to have on your customers and on the broader world, outweighs any kind of stress or challenges you might face along your journey.

I would encourage more women to become founders so they can make that same direct impact on the world.


As a part of our series about “Why We Need More Women Founders”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Paulina Karpis.

Paulina Karpis is the cofounder and CEO of brunchwork, a company that provides modern business education via a two-month Business Intensive, membership, and free newsletter. Paulina began her career in finance before pivoting to the business education space after she discovered there was a need for MBA alternatives. Through brunchwork Paulina has helped tens of thousands of millennial professionals obtain top-rated, online education from industry leaders.


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?

I initially started my career in finance at J.P. Morgan. I noticed a lot of finance jobs were becoming automated so I looked into MBA programs to help me pivot my career.

I wanted business training and a broader network, but the existing options for business education were shockingly outdated. Nothing had changed in the business education space since my parent’s generation. Back then it was just the norm to get an MBA, but nowadays the six-figure price tag doesn’t match the value.

I became dedicated to building a modern MBA alternative. That’s where brunchwork comes in. It initially started as a side hustle and has since grown into a top-rated, online business education program.

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

I never would have expected we’d have to quickly change our entire business model because of a global pandemic. Up until Covid, 100% of our revenue came from in-person events. Suddenly Covid hit and threatened our business with in-person event restrictions. We were able to act quickly and successfully pivot our workshops and classes to an online only platform.

It was a lot of work transitioning to the digital space in a short period of time, but we did it successfully. I’m really proud of that! A lot of our VC-backed competitors had to shut down. We had chosen not to raise venture funds, which allowed us to have a flexible model while our competitors were crushed by costly lease obligations. Part of our success also came from listening to our customers and accommodating their changing needs.

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?

I think every entrepreneur makes mistakes especially when you’re just starting out. You just have to learn as you go and keep reiterating.

A lot of my early mistakes stemmed from the fact that I had never been in the events business before. I dove right into hosting these active-learning events, where we brought industry leading speakers and rising business professionals together over brunch.

It was my first time hosting any event like this so I didn’t pay attention to some of the small logistical details like the food line. We ended up having over 100 people lined up for one food table. I didn’t realize until that moment that another food table would have streamlined the process.

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 cofounder Jon Levy, helped me get my vision off the ground. When I first started building brunchwork I was new to running in-person events and didn’t have access to the speakers I imagined hosting our programs.

I cold emailed Jon, who was very accomplished in building these kind of close-knit communities I hoped brunchwork would be. He tapped into his network, helped get some of our first speakers and the rest was history.

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 would encourage anyone creating a business to read The Lean Startup by Eric Ries. I read it in college and it’s made a big impact on my life and business. It taught me about iterative growth strategy which I’ve been able to apply to brunchwork.

The basic gist of it is using a Build-Measure-Learn cycle to test and progress your business. It’s basic 101 knowledge, but it will stick with you forever. I hope everyone finds this strategy!

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

Running a startup can be really challenging sometimes. It’s never a straightforward journey. I always refer back to this quote by Steve Jobs to help me stay grounded. He says, “You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backward. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something — your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever.”

It reminds me to just trust the process. This quote was especially helpful this past year. There were so many unknowns when Covid came into play, but we leaned into it and quickly adapted our business to an online model.

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

I set out to change the traditional business education model, because I didn’t believe that you should have to pay six-figures to get access to business training and a network.

Through brunchwork, we’ve been able to offer affordable and accessible online education.

Our programs are training the next generation of managers, founders and leaders so that they can go on to make the world a better place.

At the end of the day, there’s nothing more rewarding than knowing I was able to fill this gap within the education system and help tens of thousands of professionals advance their career.

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 you can be what you see. Having this disproportionate amount of male to female founders, contributes to this lack of confidence among women. The more female founders we have, the more other women will see that as a viable career path.

Women are also held to a much higher scrutiny than men in many different fields, including entrepreneurship. My strategy has always been to keep a track record of all of my numbers like growth rate and customer satisfaction scores. You can’t argue with a woman’s capability if she has the numbers and success behind her.

Overall, I think men and women are held back by a lot of the same things. The entrepreneur journey is not for everyone. There’s constant uncertainty and a lot of risk involved. It takes a certain amount of resilience and you need to be passionate about the change you’re making. Not everyone has those qualities, and might find entrepreneurship too intimidating.

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

I’m helping empower women by offering them hands-on learning and business education training. It can be intimidating being a female founder, that’s why it’s so important to offer a safe, welcoming community. We’ve built that inclusive space with brunchwork.

We’ve had an equal number of females and males come through our programs which has been really important to us.

In our weekly speaker series, we also make sure to host both accomplished male AND female industry leaders. Like I mentioned earlier, people become what they see. So it’s important to give these rising female professionals direct access to powerful female role models like we’ve done in our speaker series. We’ve hosted founder and former Sequoia VC Amy Sun, Nike VP of Product Design Jenny Arden and many more.

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?

More women should become founders because we can offer unique perspectives and solutions. When I stumbled across the huge gap in business education, I couldn’t believe that no one had come up with a modern alternative to the MBA. Higher education has typically been a male-dominated field. Nothing new had been done in that industry since before my parents’ generation. More women founders are needed to offer solutions and help innovate.

Being a founder is also really rewarding. The direct impact you get to have on your customers and on the broader world, outweighs any kind of stress or challenges you might face along your journey.

I would encourage more women to become founders so they can make that same direct impact on the world.

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?

  1. Inclusive education and training to help women navigate their startup.

In our brunchwork business intensive we teach eight critical business skills through live discussions and hands-on projects. We’ve helped many women entrepreneurs take charge of their business and career.

2. Access to powerful female leaders.

No one will quite understand the highs and lows of being a female entrepreneur in a male-dominated industry like another female founder can. We need more discussions and learning opportunities to be led by powerful female leaders crushing it in their industry.

3. More mainstream press on female entrepreneurs.

Representation can make or break a woman’s confidence in their career.

We need more women founders like Whitney Wolfe Heard’s Bumble success story on the front page news!

4. Set the record straight on common myths that could hurt their business.

One of the biggest mistakes women, or even male entrepreneurs make, is raising VC too early. We need to educate more women about VC and erase the myth that early stage startups need to raise capital as fast as they can.

5. Erasing the stigma that women can accomplish less than their male peers!

Numbers and success speak for themselves. Female founders are capable of anything they put their mind to.

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.

I think we just need more movements around accessible and affordable education in general. The more we invest in training rising professionals, the greater promise our future will have as one day they’ll be the ones making decisions in our world.

I also believe in offering equal education opportunities between men and women. Education can make all the difference in a persons’ confidence and potential.

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 love to grab brunch with Lynda Weinman, the founder of lynda.com. Lynda has been a trailblazer in ed tech. She organically built up an education platform overtime and it’s since become a major success and impacted a lot of people. I look to her strategies for inspiration in my own business.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

Readers can connect with me on LinkedIn, and get some of my latest business tips on our blog and newsletter.

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

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