Two years ago, Brooklyn Bridge Ventures became the largest seed investor in The Wing--a network of co-working and community spaces for women founded by Audrey Gelman and Lauren Kassan. They recently opened their second location in Soho after raising an $8mm Series A from NEA earlier this year, and their 3rd and 4th will open in the next few months. It's perhaps the most well executed company I've ever been involved with, and there are some key lessons to be taken from watching how they've become one of NYC's fastest growing rocket ships.
1) Don't assume anything.
What I said above isn't exactly true--I didn't really invest in "The Wing". At the time, the company was a Powerpoint about a space called "Refresh"-- a four walls experience that was a lot more utilitarian than today's incarnation of The Wing. What changed? Well, instead of resting on the initial idea after a successful seed round, the founders surveyed their potential customer base to make sure the space had exactly what people wanted. While there was interest in a women's space that had showers and a place to clean up between work and going out, among other amenities, there was a ton of interest and curiosity around who else might be at the space. In fact, the desire to network and connect with other women in a safe and supportive space was so strong, it drove the brand in a more community centric direction. Just because some investors put money into your idea doesn't mean you can't question it--even at its core.
2) Make big asks.
The Wing raised a $2mm+ seed round on a Powerpoint and they made no bones about asking for a big Series A to launch three more locations. The founders knew they had something special and desired to make it appropriately impactful, which could only be done with real capital. It sent a strong signal to the investor community that they had national and global ambitions, more so than if they had asked for "just enough to break even" or a smaller round than they knew they could execute on. This is something I see with too many non-male/non-white founders in general, and I often find myself asking, "Is this the right amount to raise? What would you do with more?" Undercutting yourself on a raise is fixable, but it makes even me worry about whether or not you'll make the big asks the company needs down the road--for that NYT piece, for that hire that would be crazy to take that leap, etc.
3) MVP and great product aren't mutually exclusive.
The original Wing location is smaller than their new spaces--but it's a beautiful, extremely well done and expertly designed space. It served as an example of what could be done when you create such a community space, but it was built on a reasonable budget and less space than what future locations would entail. Too many products cut experience and design instead of cutting features, making the limited number of data points users and investors have about your MVP that you can't build something interesting. The Wing showed that they could build a great product, even if a little smaller, without breaking the bank, but also without scrimping on who they worked with around the design and the brand either.
4) Build a network ahead of building a company.
When I first got the pitch deck, I had no shortage of people telling me that Audrey Gelman was a rock star and that I had to meet her. That stood out more than anything she could have put into a deck. Having that kind of network and reputation is wind in the sails of any business--and should be worked on years in advance of setting out on your own to build something. Who needs to know you to help you with this business? Go build a relationship with them before you even start the business--because after, it will be less authentic and more transactional.
5) Stand for something.
If you follow The Wing on social media, it makes no apologies for making bold statements and standing for more than just a consumer value proposition--nor should it. In today's environment, people want to know what side your own and what you believe in. A more conservative partner might be put off by their content--but if conservative means not standing up for women's rights, then that's not a partner The Wing would want to work with. In a sea of competition for your customer's time and money, I don't think companies should be afraid to take stands on issues they would be proud to share anywhere, anytime and fight for.
It's exciting not only to watch the success of this company based around these kinds of moves, but moreover to see the value they contribute to the community creative and impactful women.