Interview With Genevieve Ryan Bellaire
Describe your product or service:
Realworld is a mobile app and web platform simplifying the transition from college into the working world for the next generation of adults. Our personalized, step-by-step playbook helps members navigate decisions like signing a lease, building a budget, and filling out first-day employer paperwork.
Describe your company culture in 3 words:
Mission-driven, fun-loving, quirky.
Describe your company values in one sentence or more:
Realworld as a company is focused on solving a problem. While it may sound strange to be problem-first, it's important to us to remain steadfast on the reason why we started Realworld - to solve a problem that every young adult has felt in some way. While our solution is constantly evolving, we remain true to our mission of simplifying adulthood for the next generation.
What are you ultimately hoping to achieve with your business?
We want to change the way that the next generation enters adulthood, ultimately simplifying every aspect of independent life from student loans and building credit, to buying a home, getting a pet, and saving for retirement.
How are you funded? I.e. venture capital, angel investors, etc.
We closed out seed round in March 2021 - more information here: https://techcrunch.com/2021/04/08/realworld-seed-funding/.
How big is your team?
Tell us about your team (I.e. co-founders, freelancers, etc.)
Our full-time team consists of the following: Founder/CEO, Head of Engineering and 2 full-time engineers, Head of Product, Product Designer, Content Manager, Head of Brand. We're currently looking to hire a Head of Growth Marketing as well.
What made you want to become an entrepreneur?
I wanted to solve the problem that I personally experienced. Compared to policy or the nonprofit sector, business is a great way to create a sustainable solution to everyday problems. I also wanted to create jobs and find that to be a fulfilling aspect of entrepreneurship.
How did you come up with your startup idea?
I experienced the problem first-hand. After completing my JD/MBA program, I went on to work at an investment bank. This was my first 'real' job and I felt completely unprepared for the paperwork, benefits, and general nuances of the working world. I began talking to peers about their experience and realized the problem was more widespread than I expected. That's when I thought of Realworld!
How did you come up with your company name? Did you have other names you considered?
We had considered other names, but decided on Realworld because it is simple and encompasses exactly what we aim to do - simplify life in the real world for the next generation.
What is something that makes your company unique?
We're the first-of-our-kind! While many companies have developed incredible products in one vertical (Lemonade in Renters Insurance, Mint for Budgeting), there is no one else building a horizontal platform designed for this unique life moment. We're taking on adulting as a whole and building a hub for young adults as they enter and grow within the real world.
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What is the greatest challenge you faced in starting your business, and how did you overcome it?
Creating a new category is really exciting, but in the early days, it was hard to focus on where to start and what we could initially build to start making an impact for our community. Each element of building a brand new business brought a unique challenge as we created a new category and a new business model.
Is this your first business? If not, how did your experiences with past businesses influence your decision to start this new business?
Yes, first-time founder.
Who is your product or service made for?
It's built specifically for the recent college graduate beginning their first full-time role. We cover everything you need to know in your first few years out and add new content to continue to fill in gaps where our members need guidance.
What's your marketing strategy?
We aim to meet our members where they are - which is primarily on social media or searching for this kind of information on Google. We also partner with colleges and employers to offer our resources to their young alumni and new hires as a tool as they navigate these decisions.
How did you acquire your first 100 customers?
Before launching our direct-to-consumer platform, we had an educational course that we sold to college career centers and alumni offices. Through those partnerships we were able to build a pipeline of young adults who turned to Realworld for their adulting resources, and that's where we gained our first 100 customers.
What are the key customer metrics / unit economics / KPIs you pay attention to to monitor the health of your business?
With acquisition we focus on growth (new users) and the CAC associate with that growth. We also pay attention to engagement and how often our users are returning to our platform.
How has your approach to managing your business changed from when you started to now?
The business' focus has changed from being on the people we were selling to vs. people we were serving. Our educational course product was sold to university admins, who have a very different set of needs than the students they're serving. One of the main reasons we switched to be direct to consumer was so the people we're selling and the people we serve are the same. We always wanted to build a brand that young people loved, and a platform that served their needs.
In terms of managing the business, in the early days I was in the weeds, working across marketing, product, hiring, strategy, operations, etc. Now I have hired experts across each business vertical who can lead their function and I can take more of an overseeing, strategic role.
If you could go back in time and change anything about your entrepreneurial journey, would you?
Yes, I would have worked at another startup before starting my own. You get to learn from other people's mistakes while getting paid to do so!
What is the biggest lesson you learned during your journey?
I've learned to trust my own gut - no one knows the business better than my team and I do, and while many people are quick to offer advice, it's important to trust our own vision and go with what we believe to be the best for the company.
Who is your support system?
My husband, family, and the Realworld team.
Who or what inspired you to start your business?
The problem - having experienced it myself, I was inspired to pay forward everything I learned from my own mistakes to the next generation and build a scalable solution.
What motivates you?
Solving the problem that got me started in the first place. We have the opportunity to change people's lives for the better and ease a lot of the anxiety and fear that comes with not knowing what you're doing. Every time someone says "I wish I had this when I was younger" keeps me going to pay forward everything I learned the hard way.
I also am motivated by the desire to building a place that people want to work!
What’s the #1 resource you rely on for success?
My network has been an immeasurable resource in building Realworld - whether it's fellow founders, investors, operators, or subject-matter experts - I'm so grateful for the sage advice and learnings they have shared with me along the way.
Did you have to develop any habits that helped lead you to success?
So many! I try to prioritize and protect my time. Focus is key and making time for deep work has proven crucial to staying true to our strategic vision for the future. I have also learned to be metrics/data driven, tying everything I do directly to an outcome.
And finally, I send regular updates to keep our network aware of and excited about what we're working on! This was a habit developed during our time in the Techstars accelerator in 2019 and it's proven to be so helpful in maintaining a consistent relationship with our network of supporters.
How do you define success?
Building a product that people love, and that that solves a real problem in their lives.
What are you most proud of as an entrepreneur?
I'm most proud of having grit and making it through the ups and downs. Pivoting and iterating come with the territory, but we've never strayed from the vision and always remain determined to build something incredible.
What advice do you have for aspiring entrepreneurs?
- Go work at another company first. Think about what you would do differently or what you'd replicate. There's no better way to learn than sitting front row!
- Over-index on customer discovery. Before we built anything, I spoke to over 1000 young adults, their parents, professors, hiring manager, career coaches, etc to determine exactly what the problem was at-scale. Those insights are still so valuable and gave me 100% confidence that this is a real problem worth solving. Validate as much as you can before you build anything.
- Find great people to work with. Not only will it make your business better, but it will be more fun to build.
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