Interview With Priska Oroz
Describe your product or service:
“Athena Founders is a community for female founders to connect, learn and grow. Both my co-founder and I are new expats in Portugal, and the pandemic made it very difficult to connect with people in general. It was especially hard to find other female entrepreneurs to motivate, inspire and connect with. So, we decided to create Athena Founders as a way to build the community we wished we had. Today, Athena Founders have grown our network to over 3000 female founders in the span of four months, making us one of the fastest-growing entrepreneurial communities in Portugal.”
Describe your company values and mission:
“With so many staggering statistics about female entrepreneurs, we’re determined to make a change. We are seeing growth of female-owned businesses globally, but we also learned that only 12% of female founders ever make six figures in revenue, and statistics show that women are more likely to feel stressed in their business. Our mission is to change that by providing tools and resources for female entrepreneurs to be successful in their business and an empowering and supportive environment through our community.”
How are you funded? I.e. type of funding, number of funding rounds, total funding amount.
“We are self-funded. Total funding to date is 5,000.”
How big is your team? Tell us a little about them (I.e. co-founders, freelancers, etc.)
“We are a small team of four. My co-founder, Lissele, is taking care of the business development and partnerships side while I take care of our marketing and product side. Our freelancers — we have one virtual assistant that we promoted to a community manager role. And we have one freelancer that helps take care of digital marketing, mainly on paid media. We also have third parties outside of our team that help us with social media content creation.”
How did you come up with and validate your startup idea? Tell us the story!
“The idea for Athena Founders was born out of a conversation I had with co-founder Lissele about the difficulties we both faced as female entrepreneurs. We spoke about how lonely it could be and how hard it was to find like-minded women to connect with. We discussed failed business ventures. I had failed my business before, and I felt that if I had only had the right resources at the time, it could have been a success.
Our conversation sparked our curiosity about the topic, and we did a lot of research on the global and local landscape for female entrepreneurs. We found that there is a significant gender gap when it comes to revenue, funding, and the level of support available for women in business. Then we researched similar companies like ours in Portugal, and the result was very little to non-existent. We saw this as an opportunity, and we jumped on it. We realized that there was a need for a community and platform like Athena Founders to support and connect female entrepreneurs.”
How did you come up with your startup's name? Did you have other names you considered?
“Yes, we actually did come up with a bunch of potential names. The list was so long, and we kept scratching things we feel don’t make sense. We wanted something that is easy to digest, and not something that was complicated to remember but is also relatable to what we do.
We loved the story of the Greek goddess of wisdom, Athena, and we thought it would be appropriate for our business as well. So we put that into consideration and we did a poll among a few names that were shortlisted, and this one came out a winner.“
Did you always want to start your own business? What made you want to become an entrepreneur?
“I started my entrepreneurial journey when I was in third grade. Back then, it was only about making extra pocket money to buy more candies after school, so I actually started making fried rice in the morning to sell to my classmates. I can tell you the fried rice, as I recall, was tasteless.
So from there, for the first time, I realised I really enjoy the process, and it’s such a rewarding experience. My mother is my role model in my journey, as she’s a successful entrepreneur. Back then, she told me to ‘learn how to sell, learn how to negotiate,’ and this is something she won’t let go of, and she’s always encouraging me to learn.
My first real business was in university, I was designing and selling t-shirts on a local online forum and that took off. It gave me enough money to travel. And since then I haven’t stopped.”
Did you encounter any roadblocks when launching your startup? If so, what were they and what did you do to solve them?
“I think entrepreneurship is never a smooth process. There would be a lot of roadblocks. Our first roadblock was breaking into the Portuguese market. We were both new expats in Portugal, and neither of us spoke the language yet. So naturally, there were a lot more expats than locals in our community, and we both wanted to have a higher percentage of Portuguese entrepreneurs on our platform. So to solve this issue, we put ourselves out there a lot more to create connections with the locals, and we are looking for outside help from somebody that knows the market very well.”
Who is your target market? How did you establish the right market for your startup?
“Our target market is women who are either running their business or have an entrepreneurial mindset. They could be at any stage in their businesses, from ideation to growth phase. We want to help them build and grow their businesses by providing the right resources, whether it’s through our online platform or offline events.
We established our target market by conducting market research, and we also did a lot of customer development interviews to validate our assumptions.”
What's your marketing strategy?
“I've been extremely fortunate to have a lot of experience in marketing, thanks to my past corporate jobs. I've worked with some of the biggest luxury brands in the world, including Belvedere Vodka, Glenmorangie, Calvin Klein, Marc Jacobs, Burberry, and Tiffany & Co. I've learned a lot about marketing and brand management, which I'm now using to grow Athena Founders.
Some of the marketing channels we're using include online ads (Facebook and Google), content marketing, search engine optimization, and email marketing. We're also active on social media, and we're constantly looking for new ways to reach our target market.”
How did you acquire your first 100 customers?
“We now have over 3,000 members in our community, and our first 100 customers were acquired before the company had even launched. This was thanks to our pre-launch marketing campaign, which was focused on building an email list of potential customers.
We did this by offering free webinars, and we promoted it through social media and online ads. We also reached out to relevant entrepreneurs and businesses to promote our webinar.
This allowed us to build a relationship with our potential customers before we even launched, and it helped us to get off to a great start.”
What are the key customer metrics / unit economics / KPIs you pay attention to to monitor the health of your business?
“Some of the key metrics we pay attention to include:
- Number of members in our community
- Number of partnerships formed
- Number of events held
- Revenue growth”
What's your favorite startup book and podcast?
“I listen to the ‘Mindset Mentor Podcast,’ as it's full of great advice for entrepreneurs. I also love reading books that inspire me, such as ‘Rich Dad, Poor Dad’ by Robert Kiyosaki and ‘Start with Why’ by Simon Sinek.”
What is a song or artist that you listen to for motivation?
“My work playlist changes depending on the task I need to finish. For design tasks, I like to listen to a chill playlist, and when I'm getting reports done or crunching numbers, I get a techno/electronic playlist.”
Is there a tool, app, or resource that you swear by to help run your startup?
“Slack is a great tool for startups, as it allows you to communicate with your team quickly and easily. We also use Google Sheets a lot, as it's a great way to track data and progress.”
"I think it's important to have a good support system in place, whether it's family, friends, or a professional network."
What is something that surprised you about entrepreneurship?
“I'm always surprised by how unequipped some people are to deal with failure. Failure is such a big part of entrepreneurship, and part of success, so I think entrepreneurs need to be equipped better on how to deal with it.
Not just about bouncing back from failure, but preparing your mindset for when failure takes place.”
How do you achieve work/life balance as a founder?
“I think it's important to have a good support system in place, whether it's family, friends, or a professional network. I'm very lucky to have a great group of friends who are also entrepreneurs, and we support each other through the ups and downs.
I also make sure to schedule time for myself, even if it's just a few minutes each day. This allows me to stay focused and avoid burnout.”
What is a strategy you use to stay productive and focused?
“I'm definitely a planner, so I like to create a to-do list for each day and week. This helps me to focus on the tasks that are most important, and it also allows me to track my progress. I block out time in my calendar for each task, and I try to stick to that schedule as much as possible.”
Did you have to develop any habits that helped lead you to success? If so, what are they?
“Definitely, I call these my ‘insteads.’ Instead of watching reels about random stuff, I look for reels about business. Instead of scrolling on Instagram aimlessly, I scroll on LinkedIn. Instead of listening to music on my commute, I listen to an inspiring podcast. I'm trying to be as productive as I can even when I look for entertainment. I'm not saying I don't watch TV or have downtime, but applying my ‘insteads’ more in my daily routine has helped me a lot.”
“I was extremely young when I started selling sticky rice cakes to my fellow classmates. It was a great way to learn about marketing and customer service. I also learned that if you're passionate about what you're selling, people will be more likely to buy it.”
More on Athena Founders
Priska Oroz, founder of social startup Athena Founders, shared valuable insights during our interview that will inspire and motivate aspiring entrepreneurs.