Hey! VINA has been profiled in media outlets including ELLE, Cosmopolitan, Wired, The Atlantic, The New York Times, Fast Company and The Guardian. This week, Olivia shares her startup successes, struggles and details the ‘crazy’ time budget system that changed her life with Catherine Robson.
Hey! VINA is the groundbreaking social networking app often referred to as the “Tinder for (girl) friends”. A natural connector, Olivia came up with the concept for Hey! VINA when she moved to San Francisco in 2009. With no connections in her new city, she joined an online dating site. Although relationship chemistry didn’t spark, she realised the site had the potential for friendships.
“I realised that the women on the site were really cool, they had a funny sense of humour and liked to do the same stuff as me and I was like ‘Oh my gosh I totally want to be friends with these girls but we’re on a dating site!’” she recalls.
Launching in 2015, VINA is backed by Greylock, Tinder, and NEA, seriously impressive for a first-time entrepreneur but raising funding wasn’t easy.
“Someone had told me you know, all you have to do is make a pitch deck and you’ll be able to raise money immediately. That was absolutely not the case,” she says.
“I was a first-time entrepreneur. I hadn’t exited a business or a startup before. There were a lot of big risk factors and investors aren’t just going to throw money at me for having a good idea.”
“It’s hard to raise funding, especially in the world of social and consumer-focused products for women”
“Most investors are by definition or statistically speaking, men. They don’t necessarily understand the fact that this was not just a cute idea for women to go and make a friend.”
“Women truly desire and want a network to belong to and to build their community.”
“It was a big stretch, an educational process, to teach not just about my product and my vision but how do women think and how do women work.”
Olivia launched Hey! VINA without funding but after 100,000 women joined the platform in the first week, VCs took notice.
“That really threw out the argument ‘Oh does this have wide-scale demand?’ it was just a resounding Yes,” she says.
With users in 158 different countries, Hey! VINA’s popularity continues to snowball and Olivia’s role as CEO is a 24/7 responsibility.
“I spend a decent amount of time talking with other entrepreneurs on how do you structure your business through problems.”
“I also have invested in coaches in myself through this process because it is so important to me”
“Everything that happens has a lot more emotional reaction to it because it’s so personal.”
“You’ve never had a more harsh boss than yourself.
“Sometimes I need a hired coach that says ‘Look, you need to take a break, this is not sustainable’. At the end of the day running a business is definitely a marathon, it’s not a sprint.”
Since creating an intensely scheduled ‘time budget’, Olivia feels less stressed about time and gets more done.
“I kind of have this crazy time budget system that I invented because I had a lot of guilt around time.”
“What I actually did is budgeted out Monday – Friday from 7am to midnight, which is basically my waking hours, ” she explains.
“I booked out every 30 minutes of the day for sleep, exercise, commuting hours. A percentage of the week that’s dedicated to employee mentorship to open hours for meetings, to the time I spend doing emails, to the time I have allocated for friends and social time because that’s important.”
“it’s actually been life changing.”
On the topic of budgets, Oliva slashed lifestyle expenses and took on as much consulting work as she could handle to fund the launch of Hey! VINA. Her husband also shouldered a lot of financial responsibilities for their household in the early days.
“I took on consulting work and in total honesty, I had the support of my husband who made sure I had food and shelter. I like to be really honest about that because I think it’s really hard for people to look at other people and say ‘Hey, how are you doing this? Why can’t I do this?’ and feeling like you’re stuck because someone has some secret they haven’t told you.” says Olivia.
“That’s the reality of it. Until you have a product that’s actually ready to take to investors, you have to cobble together a livelihood. Cut back on basically anything and everything that are like fun things to do and make it work!”
When the investor dollars do start coming in, her advice is to think a few steps ahead of where you are right now.
“There’s basically two schools of thought. One, raise as much money as you possibly can and the other is raise only as much money as you possibly need, the least amount you need, to get to the next level,” says Olivia.
“I still don’t know which camp I’m in. It’s like take as much money as you can but I don’t think it’s a good idea to sell more than 20% or 30% of your company in a round. Imagine yourself in 5 rounds from now.”