In the Women Entrepreneur series Mentor Moments, female founders sit down to chat with their own mentors (and us!) about how and why the relationship developed, and the lasting impact it’s had on their careers.
Nicole Gibbons and Eunice Byun have very similar tastes. Both created direct-to-consumer brands in the home space — Gibbons as the founder of paint startup Clare, and Byun as co-founder of kitchenware brand Material — and both selected to house their businesses at The Yard, a New York-based coworking space. Thanks to that geographic proximity, the two met, became fast friends, and soon, business confidants. They now view each other as a sort of peer-mentor support system and chatted with Entrepreneur about how their relationship keeps them sane and their businesses growing.
How did you two first meet?
Nicole Gibbons: We met at a breakfast hosted by [public relations firm] Jennifer Bett Communications. Eunice and I ended up sitting at the same table. When the breakfast wrapped up we asked each other where our offices were and, because they were a block apart, split a cab. During that ride, we realized we both went to Northwestern, both set up our companies at coworking space The Yard — neighboring locations — and we had all this stuff in common.
Eunice Byun: The fact that our offices are so close really helped our relationship develop. If we ever need a breather, we can go for a walk around Madison Square Park or meet at a coffee shop downstairs. When you’re running a business, time is money. So the proximity to run downstairs and check in and find some clarity has been great.
When did the relationship evolve from someone you liked spending time with to someone you could really confide in about your business?
NG: We started meeting once a month for coffee, formally. And the more we met, the more we got to know each other, and it went from “I’m having coffee with a founder” to “I’m having coffee with a friend.”
EB: As an entrepreneur, your personal and professional lives get blended so much. It’s really nice that as our friendship has evolved, we’ve learned to help each other on both sides of the equation. If physically, I feel like I’m dying, Nicole will tell me about a great experience she just had with acupuncture. And then in the next beat, we’ll talk about our investors and leveraging partners.
NG: It’s also nice that our companies are both at similar stages — we’re going through a lot of similar things. If Eunice had been further along or if my company was more mature, we may not have had much common ground. But we’re building at the same time.
What kinds of problems have you two helped each other resolve or work through?
EB: Oh God, so many. We talk about partners, who we’ve used for fulfillment, potential vendors that we’ve already spoken to — when you have such lean teams, having someone trusted that might share a short list of folks they’ve already vetted, that makes it a lot easier to take it and run with it. How do you handle accounting? Have you had success with any of these marketing platforms? We get pretty transparent and real. Yes, there are a lot of events and talks for founders, but the challenge of being in the early stage is that everyone projects this shiny veneer. But with Nicole, it’s always open and honest.
NG: I’m a solo founder, and you can’t talk to your team about everything and you can’t talk to your investors about everything. I really rely on support from others, and Eunice has become a top go-to.
Do either of you have people you consider more formal mentors?
NG: I have a couple angel investors that I really look up to and look to when I’m dealing with tough problems. But it’s different from my relationship with Eunice because it’s more a professional relationship than friendship, so there’s a line there that never gets crossed.
How important has it been to have a close relationship like this with another female founder, specifically?
NG: It’s awesome. We’re part of a small, sort of elite group of women who have been fortunate enough to build companies and have venture investors, and I think along with that comes a lot of challenges and we can relate to each other on that level. Women are naturally supportive of one another, we’re invested in helping each other. I think it binds us in a way that wouldn’t necessarily exist with a male founder.
EB: Female founders are interconnected. I know it sounds a little contrived, but when one of us succeeds, we all succeed. There’s nothing that brings me greater joy than being able to tell people about Clare or other companies that friends have founded. We know how hard it is, we know how much effort and energy it takes. I’m so inspired by Nicole, so it’s very easy to advocate for her and her team. The ultimate goal is for all of us women founders to lead the way.
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