The Wing CEO Audrey Gelman co-founded the company in 2016 with COO Lauren Kassan. | Courtesy of The Wing
Originally designed as an IRL space for women and nonbinary people, The Wing is now thinking about what services it can provide its members online, CEO Audrey Gelman says.
To date, The Wing has offered coworking and community services to paying members who can visit one of its eight physical locations in six cities across the US. But now, CEO Audrey Gelman says, it’s opening a digital hiring marketplace for those members, to help them hire each other.
“We have an app, so members message each other,” Gelman said on the latest episode of Recode Decode. “We recruit from it. A quarter of our employees are our former members, who we’ve found largely through our app, meaning engineers and product designers, etc. And now, we’re releasing a product where our members can post jobs and hire each other.”
Separating this new hiring service from much larger platforms, such as LinkedIn, is the fact that The Wing was designed to serve women and gender nonbinary people. Gelman said that with LinkedIn and some of its competitors, “some guys think it’s a dating platform and send messages to that effect”; but there are other facets of hiring bias she’s hoping to combat, too.
“Women are less likely to apply for jobs if they don’t have exactly the number of years of experience, so we coach people about the right way to post jobs to discourage that, and to encourage people who may have untraditional backgrounds, etc., to apply,” she said. “And just, obviously, making sure that we’re building in safety and moderation from the very beginning, rather than having to add it after a scandal.”
If all goes well, The Wing may expand into other digital services in the future, she noted.
“Women are so multifaceted,” Gelman said. “They take off and on hats so quickly. And then, they’re opening up about postpartum stuff or talking about some of the most personal things going on in their life. So, I think we have permission to productize and create value for women around a lot of different times in their life. This is just the first one we’re focusing on.”
Below, we’ve shared a lightly edited full transcript of Kara’s conversation with Audrey. Listen to the full interview by subscribing to Recode Decode with Kara Swisher wherever you get your podcasts, including Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Podcasts, and TuneIn.
Kara Swisher: Hi, I’m Kara Swisher, editor-at-large of Recode. You may know me as someone who loves to call middle-aged white men “bossy,” but in my spare time I talk tech, and you’re listening to Recode Decode from the Vox Media Podcast Network.
Today in the red chair is Audrey Gelman, the co-founder and CEO of The Wing, which is a coworking space designed for women with eight locations around the country. The day this podcast comes out, The Wing is also launching a digital hiring marketplace for its members. Audrey, welcome to Recode Decode.
Audrey Gelman: Thank you very much. Longtime listener, first-time guest.
Very funny, Audrey. So I want to talk a little about a lot of things, but I just want to note that Audrey is going to have a baby really soon, and she luckily lumbered herself down here to do this podcast. So I really appreciate your being here. This is her first child so it’s going to be a very exciting time for you. It’s a really good time to talk about women in the workplace and how women work. Why don’t you give people some background about you and how you started The Wing.
Because it’s really a lovely place: It’s like WeWork, but not annoying. I don’t know how else to put it, but you don’t have to say that.
Your words, not mine.
All right. So explain to everyone how you got to do this.
Sure. I grew up in New York City, and my dream was to work in politics, so I started out in my 20s working on campaigns and in government, and I was living a very nomadic lifestyle. I was on the Acela…
Who’d you work for?
I worked for Hillary. Then I worked in New York City politics. I did some races against Eliot Spitzer and other folks like that, and then worked at a consulting firm, SKDKnickerbocker. I was constantly on the Acela, working in every place except a desk, like a lot of young people. I was schlepping a lot, to be honest. The original idea for The Wing really came from that need of a place that you could go in the city where you could get some work done.
But there had been places. WeWork had been in existence. What do you mean by schlepping? You just didn’t have somewhere to go or you worked in coffee shops or …
Yeah, random coffee shops and just dealing with the indignity of a guy hitting on you, or it being loud or dirty or gross and just not having …
Whether you have wifi or not.
Right, and consistent wifi, just inconsistent everything. Also, I think that there’s men … My husband, God bless him, he gets to roll out of bed and go to work. It’s different for women. There were other things I needed, too. I didn’t want to pack my entire bathroom into my shoulder bag and get a hernia or whatever. So I had this idea of a pit stop almost. Then I met my partner, Lauren Kassan, and she had built physical businesses, really understood construction and operations, and I had no idea how to do any of that, and we really learned about the history of women’s clubs, and there had actually been about 5,000 of them.
They’re around. I just saw someone the other day in Indiana. We weren’t sure it was happening, what that was for, but there’d been a lot of women’s clubs with luncheons and things like that.
There’s brass plaques that you’ll see on a building that’s like The Women’s Club of Indianapolis.
But it’s sort of, at least for me, like my grandmother’s generation, they were dying out, and she really believed it could be a place for community, and so we had this idea of resurrecting the concept of the historical women’s club with some of the convenience of a pit stop, like women’s utopia with bathrooms and showers.
Talk a little about women’s clubs, because we’ll talk about … You have men allowed to join, correct?
We’ll get to that in a second, but the history of women’s clubs, what were you trying to get at for that part of it?
For all the women’s studies classes I had taken in college, I knew very little about them, but then we worked with a historian named Alexis Coe. She’d written her thesis on it, and there were thousands of these clubs. They played a huge role in suffrage and the overall advancement of women in this country. They were a really powerful force of organizing and spaces.
Yeah, voting. Spaces for women to scheme and plot, honestly. They had just gone out of fashion, but the idea of women gathering together was very, very powerful. So we pored over the menus, the membership cards, all the ephemera from these clubs, and we were very inspired to create something that was obviously more modern and progressive and diverse, but that had some of the spirit of those clubs.
All right. You had not done anything like this, right? You had not done any kind of …
No. I mean, I’d never even, basically, worked in the private sector. I’d really only worked in government and on campaigns. I was pretty unqualified, I would say.
So how did you go raise money to do this? How much have you raised?
To date, we’ve raised $117 million.
Wow. That’s good for a first-time entrepreneur.
Yeah, in two years. I mean, the other thing was, I’m a public school kid. I didn’t have friends and family that were like investors, you know?
I had friends of friends of friends and just was relentless and bugged people and got meetings, and then they acquiesced and introduced me to other people. We finally got a couple people who knew what they were doing and that we really liked to invest as angels.
So talk to me about the fundraising, because you would be compared to WeWork in terms of … Did you think of it, that it had already been in existence? How did you think about yourself as a different thing? By the way, they’re under a lot of pressure right now with the IPO, and they’re ridonkulous as one, but go ahead, which is different. It doesn’t mean anything about the business, but they definitely have a valuation that’s way out of line, I think, a lot of people feel. Talk about how you thought of it and especially in relation to them.
The fundamentals of our business are really different. We don’t take spaces and cut them up and have desks or anything like that. It’s an annual subscription business. It was really, the vision was also to build a brand. For us, we have an e-commerce business associated with The Wing that does really well and there’s girls in Oklahoma that want to wear Wing T-shirts and have Wing key chains, and it represents something powerful, that it’s not just, again, a desk.
In terms of fundraising, I think we did, I would say, zag when everyone else was zigging. I felt very strongly that to build real community and to ever get to a place where you’re going to take it to a massive scale digitally, you have to start locally and in real life. Even Facebook, to create the behavior and the escape velocity, they needed the physical college campuses. Originally, that’s where that behavior took hold. So we were like, “No, we’re going to do a physical space.” It is not the direction investors were keen on, but it’s really paid off for us because I think, again, it’s built that credibility.
Meaning that it was a club versus just a coworking space.
We didn’t know how …
If people work there.
It was an experiment, honestly. We didn’t know how people were going to use it. What we found was that people were there all day long working. They lived their whole lives there. They were showering there. They were working there. They were attending events. They were making friends. They were starting businesses, and then they were also eating. We were like, “Okay, we got to figure out how to do a cafe.” So a lot of it just came from studying the way that people actually use the space.
But do you see it? Do you see yourself as comparable? Because people always like to make comparables to a WeWork, because you’re expanding across the country right now.
We are. We have. We’re expanding our physical footprint. We’re opening our first international location next month in London. We do have physical spaces, but again, the actual fundamentals of the business is really different because it’s not taking a real estate, cutting it up and re-releasing it. It’s about building a community, and over half of our members don’t use The Wing as their office. They use it as a place, as a community, as a network, as a place to meet people. They get clients from the network and they attend events, etc. So it’s a much broader, addressable market. It’s very different, even though people do take their laptops there, some of our members, and work for the day.
But you don’t consider it, though. You’re not that kind of idea.
No, that’s not the growth plan that we have. Again, the fundamentals of the two businesses look very, very different.
All right. I want to talk about the business in particular, but explain to people what the experience is when they come in. It’s a really unique environment. Explain walking someone through a Wing. There’s several in New York. Is that two in New York?
We have three.
Three in New York.
By the winter, we’ll have six.
In New York, in the city?
Yeah, in Brooklyn and Manhattan. Yeah. Yeah. It’s interesting. I think that women spend their entire lives worrying and caring about other people. There is something that is profoundly liberating about walking into a space and feeling like someone has been worrying and caring about you, and the way that people describe it is really like your shoulders relax and release and you just feel this calm, and we call it the warm fuzzy feeling, but it is an amazing feeling that is hard to describe or quantify. The world is a men’s club, you know?
When you think about just everything from office temperatures to the height of shelves to the ergonomics of chairs, everything is built with a 6-foot-1 guy in a suit in mind. That’s the standard. When you walk into The Wing, we have really tried to create a new world for women.
Talk about what you try to do there. I mean, walk through, say, a typical Wing.
Sure. There’s spaces to cowork, so you’ll find people with their laptop and a cup of coffee working for the day. There’s meeting rooms. There’s a cafe. We do events at night. We have childcare. We introduced The Little Wing, so you can leave your kid.
Explain that, because that’s unusual.
I mean, it was interesting because my co-founder, when we raised a round for capital, she was eight months pregnant, and it’s supremely difficult, and we were really, again, thinking about innovation in the business, what new things we could create that would make women’s lives easier, and everyone told us, “It is impossible to do childcare. That’s why every big company in the world doesn’t have it. It’s just too hard. There’s too much oversight and regulation,” and we were like, “Anything is possible.”
It’s just that you don’t have people at the top that really are affected or care enough to break through the bricks. So we figured it out, and it’s a childcare space where you can leave your child for up to three hours. It’s $25 for three hours, and you can go and attend an event, have a meeting, take a shower, or whatever it is you need to do. There’s classes. They meet other kids. You meet other moms and parents. It’s been really incredible to watch.
If they come into work for three hours, have a meeting, they can leave their child there?
Yeah, or go to a talk or an event or things like that. Our staff use it. Our members use it. I am going to use it. It is possible, is really what we learned.
Do you think about extending it? Because three hours isn’t … that long.
Yeah. I mean, it’s not daycare. For us, it was about iterative steps forward to make life easier for women, not necessarily the entire leap, but we’re continuing to figure out how we can extend the business and what we hear from members is, “It’s a lifesaver.”
Right. So you have that, you have showers, you have an ability, so you’re trying to sort of be an … It is an office. It’s an office/gym. You don’t have a gym in there.
We don’t, yet. I mean, people work there for the day or they’re using it, again, between things. They’ll run over the bridge and then take a shower there and then go to meetings for the day. People will land from planes and go directly to The Wing rather than going to their hotel. It’s very convenient for travel and just, again, the nomadic. Women live six lives in one day.
Sure. Absolutely. You’ll have six in New York, but where are you expanding to? You’re trying to, with taking this $117 million, you’re expanding.
Yes, in a lot of different ways, not just physically, but we are in Boston, we’re in Chicago, we’re in LA, we’re in San Francisco, we’re in Washington, DC, and soon to be London, as well.
Your plans are to go all over the country? To smaller cities, to …
We’ve definitely been in dense, urban environments, but we have some interesting things coming up in the future that relate to smaller markets. But I mean, London or in New York or LA, you can have so many, and we’re …
So many locations.
I love the idea of just, it’s so convenient. It’s wherever you are and it’s in your neighborhood.
Which is a little like the Soho House. I mean, there’s these ideas around them. It’s a really interesting trend, these houses, because there’s Soho House, there’s WeWork, there’s a ton of coworking spaces. It spells the end of the office for a lot, for not everybody, but many people.
American life used to be defined by clubs that you’re a part of. For women, it was the Junior League and these kind of rites of passage.
And it was where you made your friends and had your connections, and all of that died out. I think that it’s both a reaction to the hyper-digitalization and isolation and loneliness to want to find your people and your tribe and community, and just that, fundamentally, people need that to be happy and survive.
When we get back, we’re going to talk about the digitization because you’re starting a digital network. When you have this amount of money you raised, and, obviously, WeWork is the poster child for this. The valuations are crazy. How do you describe yourself, because you’re starting a tech element of it but you’re not a tech company.
Again, I think that, at some point soon, everything will be a tech company in some ways.
We can’t do that.
Fair, but I think that we’re — it’s a community, and, again, we had a strong conviction that the way to build a community, even one that’s going to be global one day, is to start in a smaller, atomized way where you really learn how to build community between people and create meaningful connections.
Yes. In our case, yes, but there are so many different examples of it. There’s Run Club, it’s amazing. But I think for us, yes, we felt that to create ultimately what we believe is going to be a global community, a global brand, you start small, actually, rather than just turn it on and expect the world to come.
We’re here with Audrey Gelman. She’s the CEO of The Wing, which, I don’t want to call it … It’s not just a coworking space. It’s a community space for women. Let’s be clear, because I’ve already gotten a million tweets from people: Mostly women join there. Is that right? Is that correct?
Yeah, but we do not ask for your gender identity or expression and we have a really diverse community that includes trans women, folks who are gender non-binary. Our members are taking meetings with men all the time, but yes, it began as and really exists as a space and a community that was designed for women.
You do not stop men from joining, though. Correct?
I can answer the premise. People ask me that about The Wing all the time. I’m like, “I think, yes, of course.”
No, we don’t taze them or anything.
No, just a little. Just a tiny taze. Just a little bit when you touch the button or something. No, but they’re allowed in this space?
But you do think it’s important to have women, not “only,” women …
Autonomous women’s spaces was the vision. Again, I think that the world is, in so many ways, designed for men. There’s more guys named Stanley on that Forbes Innovation …
Oh yeah. We’ll get to that in a minute. We hear about how many Michaels there are.
Yeah. Johns, James, it’s outrageous.
This is a Forbes list of innovative people and they somehow managed to only have one woman.
And they couldn’t even find her picture.
I know. We weren’t on it. There are lots of people.
I mean, I didn’t expect to be, but yeah, I just think this is the status quo, and sort of what our vision was was to create autonomous women’s spaces. When you do that, and even in women’s colleges, you create the environment where women can take greater risks, have more confidence. No one’s talking over them, no one’s interrupting them. People joke, like you sneeze at The Wing and like 16 people say, “God bless you.” It’s just, it’s different. It really, really is.
It is. It’s such a pleasure to go there, I have to say.
Yeah. So, it’s just different. And the truth is, what you realize when you are in an environment that, again, is not women-only but is the majority of the people there are women, the atmosphere is totally different. And what we’ve seen is that women are like, “I’m going to quit my job. I found my kitchen cabinet of people who are going to help me launch my startup.” My publicist, my book editor, just everyone around me, the person who’s designing my website, my first ambassador, and you can really find your people. And once you do that, you can take greater risks professionally.
Yeah, it’s interesting, because I had dubiousness about any clubs of any kind, but it was really interesting entering there. It was so pleasant. It was such a pleasant environment, which I thought was interesting. And the other part was, it got me thinking, when I first came out as a gay person, when I went to Provincetown for the first time, and it was like, “Whoa, this is what life would be like if …” It was a lovely moment, and I don’t think people recognize how much they fit into a world versus a world fitting them kind of thing.
And that’s why, what we’ve done is said, “Okay, we’re going to move the furniture, change the paradigm.” We design 80 percent of our own furniture in our spaces.
How is it different?
It’s different because the ergonomics of the average chair are designed for a 6’1” man, and all these standards were set in place, largely in the ’60s. And what we’ve done is, we’ve done a ton of research and learned how to really design things where your feet can touch the floor.
Right. My feet never touch the floor, Audrey.
They will at The Wing. Well, I’m 5-1, so I understand.
But I think that part of it is, someone’s like, “Oh, my feminism is when the temperature’s set to 72 degrees,” or something.
Right, right, right. I guess. Yeah, that’s true. All right. So, talk about, one of the things is talking about whether you’re a … I don’t think you’re a technology company, but I’m not the one deciding.
We’re very young.
You’re very young. So, talk about what you’re doing now, this new thing that you’re doing.
Sure. So, one of the first things we heard from members was, again, we just watched them, this sort of economic opportunity, get created out of thin air, and what they wanted the ability to do was what they were doing in-person with their cards and scribbling their names down on a piece of paper and their email address, which was hire each other and really be able to build their businesses.
1,800 businesses are started by women literally every day in this country, which is amazing, and what we’ve done with this product is, we have an app, so members message each other. We recruit from it. A quarter of our employees are our former members, who we’ve found largely through our app, meaning engineers and product designers, etc. And now, we’re releasing a product where our members can post jobs and hire each other.
It’s essentially like a LinkedIn product. But the problem is that LinkedIn and some of the other dominant hiring platforms have a ton of bias around women, and some guys think it’s a dating platform and send messages to that effect. So, for us, we’re really building a community-driven hiring marketplace where our members get to do the thing that they’re doing already.
So, explain how it works. People who join The Wing can use it to put their resume, or what?
You can post a job. Right now, we had a bunch of members start doing it, and populate jobs. There’s jobs at Disney, Facebook, Twitter, the Wall Street Journal, etc. You post the job, you’re able to inquire and contact the person about it, send them your resume and connect. And then, similarly, you can say, “I’m a freelance writer and I’m looking for beauty opportunities,” to write about beauty or something, and sort of amplify, signal boost what you’re looking for professionally, and then people can find you that way.
Mm-hmm. So, it’s just a simple jobs platform, really?
It is a simple job. But the community is what’s so special, which is that, again, you have in two seconds, it’s not even launched, that level of quality of jobs and that level of quality of candidates and the ability for them to find each other.
So, how do … They find each other on the app? Or at the events?
Yeah, there’s a feed and we have an algorithm that matches you with people who have lots of things in common with you, new friends.
Do you have a digital element on The Wing right now?
Yeah. We have an app. Yeah.
You have an app. And then people just book things, like book rooms, and …
Yeah. You can RSVP to events, you can say, “Oh, I want to go see Gloria Steinem speak,” whatever, and then you have a profile. You can message with people, you can group message. I’m in a group message with all the women in my neighborhood who are Wing members, and then, now, you can post jobs and apply for jobs and hire each other.
Mm-hmm. So, is this something you think is important for your business? Are you expecting money off of this? What’s the plan?
Again, it’s really about solving problems for women. I think we have created, in some ways, a community and a social network that exists physically throughout our spaces. Now, we’re leveraging that into a digital platform and allowing our members to connect and get value and economic opportunity without even walking into the space.
When you think about creating these virtual communities, it’s an interesting thing, because one of the problems is, sometimes people have millions of social networks, essentially, or millions of ways to connect. Talk a little bit about how you think this is different. Right now, it’s just jobs, but do you see it as a bigger conceptual idea?
Definitely. That’s what we’re building. We’re just doing it step by step and really learning how to do each thing in an excellent way and solve problems for women, and again, do it differently, do it without bias. Our tech team is run by a woman who’s incredible, Nickey Skarstad. She came from Airbnb and Etsy. And again, we’re trying to approach all the problems around bias.
Such as? Could you explain that?
Just, women are less likely to apply for jobs if they don’t have exactly the number of years of experience, so we coach people about the right way to post jobs to discourage that, and to encourage people who may have untraditional backgrounds, etc., to apply. And just, obviously, making sure that we’re building in safety and moderation from the very beginning, rather than having to add it after a scandal.
Right. Yeah, I don’t think you’re going to get a lot of problems like that, though, correct?
But we’re going to grow.
I think you have to set rules from the beginning.
Right. Well, yes, yes. You know that’s my thing. That’s my big thing that I talk about almost continually, until my face falls off.
But it’s not going to be a social network, where people can just discuss being a new mother or about things like that?
That’s the idea.
Again, this is where we’re starting, and we’re really going to study, how can we be able to matchmake in terms of jobs and economic opportunity and gigs, too? Most of these dominant jobs platforms are not meant for project-based work, either, and so that’s what a lot of our members do. But no, our members, again, they’re coming and they’re working. Again, women are so multifaceted. They take off and on hats so quickly. And then, they’re opening up about postpartum stuff or talking about some of the most personal things going on in their life. So, I think we have permission to productize and create value for women around a lot of different times in their life. This is just the first one we’re focusing on.
Sure. Talk about that a little bit, because one of the things you touched on is that the things are not designed from the get-go. Just like clubs aren’t designed, furniture’s not designed from the get-go. What do you think happens on social networks now that’s a problem? Besides … Okay, we need six hours for this.
I think that it’s interesting. I remember being on Facebook and being so excited to get my Oberlin email address and make my profile. I just think that, also, these platforms are so big. They’re so big, they’re just riddled with bots and Russians and trolls and Nazis, and everyone kind of throws up their arms.
You don’t have those on yours? Not yet.
Knocking on wood.
No, we don’t. But I think that you’re going to encounter issues, you just have to make those rules from the beginning and know that they’re going to happen. You know what I mean?
And I think that the problem is, the people have this assumption that either assume good intent … I think you’ve just seen bad intent, honestly, from the beginning of design around that.
Right. Me, too. Right.
But yeah. It’s like, these platforms feel so impersonal. LinkedIn is very, very useful, but also one of the weirdest things someone can do is wish you a happy birthday on LinkedIn. You’re just like, shudder, you know? So, I think that they’re just so big and impersonal, and you don’t bring your full self to them, you bring sort of your work version. And a lot of — the thing that we’ve believed about The Wing is that women are multifaceted. They’re professional, ambitious, they also have tons of other stuff going on. You have to make room for all of that.
Are you worried that … A lot of the women’s communities online haven’t thrived. iVillage was one of the first ones, if you remember, and that was aimed at a wide range of women’s experiences, I know. But lots of them haven’t thrived. Did you think about that, like what it takes to allow them to thrive?
Again, I think that you start with atomization and super-high engagement, and you grow from there rather than just say, “We’re going to be a massive global community and we’re opening the floodgates.” So, that’s been our strategy, to be incremental, build real bases in different cities and regions rather than just say, sort of, “Come one, come all,” right away.
Right. So, this is for all Wing members? Or everybody?
Today, it’s for all Wing members.
Right. So, it’s just people who are there, so it’s by nature … How many members do you have now?
We have 10,000 today.
10,000. So, it’s just for that much, you’re building them their own social network, essentially?
And then, do you hope to make it larger? Is that … Because again, these women’s sites have not thrived.
Yeah. And I think, again, there’s a lot of things that haven’t, that just because something hasn’t worked in one form …
I agree, I agree.
But yes, the idea is to make it much more broader, and make the ability to become a Wing member much more diversified than just you’re a member with a one-size-fits-all option of these spaces. But this is just the first step towards it.
Right. So, you could have Wing members who aren’t actual, physical Wing members?
Yeah. I spoke to a woman in Lagos, Nigeria, the other day, who is opening her own space inspired by The Wing. And then I spoke to these women in Lincoln, Nebraska, who are starting a space.
Their own space?
Their own space. Yeah. But then, the people that buy our … We have a magazine, we have merch, all this stuff. It’s been so fascinating to study where they’re coming from. They’re all over the world, but they’re also in small towns and cities across the US.
And they don’t have access to the actual, physical spaces.
Yeah. So, you think you could do that? Because I’d be really fascinated if someone would actually build a women’s network, that it actually works and makes money and is really helpful. It’s a really interesting … And you’re right, just because it hasn’t worked doesn’t mean it wouldn’t work. It just hasn’t worked.
But a lot of those specific niche-oriented … And I don’t think women are niche, but you know what I mean? Like the gay sites.
Then we’re still considered niche, I guess.
No, but it’s the gay sites, the oriented sites haven’t done as well as the more broad sites. The broad sites have taken over everything, which, it is an interesting thing, because there were a zillion of them before. There was PlanetOut, there was gay.com for gay people, there were a whole bunch of feminist sites, there was women’s sites, there’s sites for people of color. They haven’t exploded in the way that the broader sites have.
Yeah, I think it’s all about execution. But I do think there’s a reaction against these megaplatforms right now.
Yes, absolutely, 100 percent.
And sort of a hunger for finding a smaller, more protected way of doing the same thing you do on those other sites.
Right. Are you charging for this, for people to …
No, it comes with membership.
Comes with membership. So it’s just an added thing? And you’re making money through … what? Just adding on.
Memberships, food and beverage, retail. It’s pretty diversified, actually, but membership’s the core.
But you’re not taking vig from the job placement?
No, no. We’re just watching how people use it and hoping they’re making money from it.
We’re here with Audrey Gelman, the CEO of The Wing. We’ve been talking about The Wing, which is this … You describe it. I don’t want to call it a coworking space, because it isn’t. It’s a women’s community, physical, and now you’re bringing it online?
But just for jobs.
Just for jobs and connections, but this is just the first big feature.
Okay, so talk a little bit about being in this space, because I think you do get … I did use the word niche, and I didn’t mean it the way I think a lot of people do, but how do you think … Do people, when you’re getting funding or things like that, think, “Oh, you’re the women’s site”? How is it being a woman entrepreneur where you’re selling a woman-oriented product?
It was much worse at the beginning, I would say. So, I do think that there’s been kind of an acceleration of …
Tell me a story.
There’s so much. There’s just a lot of, just, you open your mouth and you can’t get one word out, and there’s some guy who talks for 40 minutes and opines, and thought leaders. It’s just nauseating. I, honestly, have not had the worst of it. I’ve had so many friends and colleagues who’ve been through either people assuming it was a date or being sexually harassed. And I think, just in general, skepticism. I think men get to walk in and have a big vision without any proof, and women have to have it down to every line of their P&L like a bulletproof plan, so I think there’s just a lot of bias.
You want to be able to lie capaciously.
Correct. That’s real equality.
People make up stuff. It is so funny, some of it.
I want to be able to lose billions of dollars.
Yes, me too.
When a woman can do that flagrantly, then we’ve really made it.
Yeah. Yeah. Yeah.
Jen Hyman, she’s the CEO of Rent the Runway. But she said, like, “I’m not allowed to do that.”
You know what I mean?
Like, “I have to be profitable as a business.”
And I think that’s one version of, again, the bias that exists and the standards that women are held to. But it’s really changed. Our last round that we raised, it was entirely women. We were in the position, for the first time, of turning down a really prestigious venture firm because they didn’t have a woman partner.
Talk about why you did that, why you wanted to do that. Because there are more and more women partners at venture capital firms, for example, but it’s really still terrible.
Like, they pretend, but it’s still … You know. And it’s acted like it’s a big deal, like they want a pat on the back for it. But I don’t give pats on the back. I give smacks on the back.
If that’s what does it, like, you know …
No, no. It’s a really interesting thing. But it does create a downward stream thing, where you don’t get funding for people of color and women, and then they say, “They’re not successful,” and then, “We’re not funding them because they’re not successful.”
And then one fails and then it’s supposed to represent all women.
Right, right. Or people of color, whatever. It’s really … So, the conclusion would be that only young white men are smart.
Yeah. It’s like guys in vests and AirPods that are funding each other and that’s the network that exists. And I think that there are women who are fighting pretty hard and creating really amazing, innovative things, like AllRaise, that are changing the dynamic, and #Angels. But yeah, I think that for us, it was really important to bring in not … You know, really amazing women who are venture investors and who are partners at firms. But then also, we have the US women’s soccer team join as investors. Valerie Jarrett, Kerry Washington, Robbie Kaplan, a number of really amazing women from Time’s Up. So, it was …
Mm-hmm. Why did you think that was important?
Because I think you need your kitchen cabinet, you know? You need your presidential cabinet, and it can’t just be VCs. You really need a variety. I think that’s what we’re creating at The Wing, which is that members join and they find those women who surround them and support them. We wanted to replicate that in our investor base.
So what was the pitch to a Kerry Washington or Valerie Jarrett?
I think for a lot of them, they walked into the space and experienced the feeling and were like, “Whoa. There is nothing like this.” And, “This is the future and we want to be along for the ride.” You know?
Mm-hmm. In terms of when you raised the money, you said all women investors.
So, the partners that led the deal — Jess Lee and Kara Nortman — were … Again, it was women who are championing the deals.
Sure. Does that have to be like that? Because it’s really, it’s interesting. Because often, I get complaints from women that they have to be the ones that are the women at these firms or at these companies.
I don’t think it does. We have a guy on our board, Tony Florence, who’s a partner at NEA, and he does not do a lot of … He doesn’t want a lot of pats or smacks on the back, but he’s actually been … The majority of the companies in his portfolio were founded by women, going back to Care.com. And so, there are guys who I think get it, who understand, whether it’s consumer products or anything else. I don’t think it has to be women, necessarily, but I do think it’s important to … If you don’t see yourself represented …
So how do you change that dynamic? When you’re looking at it as someone who has raised money, how do you change the dynamic of that happening? Because there’s pressure on you to be really successful. If you screw up, people will be like, “Look, we tried it, and …”
Yeah. I think sometimes that’s the reality. It’s like, you know, failure looks like, “Oh, those cute girls. They tried.” You know?
”Gee, golly.” And again, if you …
You do have nice wallpaper.
Yeah. Is it wallpaper, or is it …
We have custom wallpaper …
We think of everything.
But I think that you represent the gender, you know? It’s not that way with men. Men fuck up and bankrupt companies every single day, you know? So there’s a lot of pressure, and I think that that’s why the people take what they’re doing really, really seriously. But I think things like The Wing, it’s like you … Again, environments where women feel like they can take on more risk and take the leap, go for it. You know, not all of them are going to work.
But you have to first take that leap. That’s the scariest part.
Right. So let’s get to the idea of diversity, because it was an unusually diverse group of people in there. Is that the case, or is it all white ladies meeting?
I would say that … It’s interesting, the legacy of these women’s clubs. They were so powerful. But the mistake was, again, there’s this assumption that, “Oh, we just celebrated the passage of suffrage.” It’s like, “No, we didn’t. We just celebrated the passage of suffrage for white women.”
You know? Women of color did not get the right to vote until the Civil Rights Act.
And so for us, it’s about making sure that we’re doing something that doesn’t just replicate the past. It takes some of the really great, disruptive spirit of the past, but in a progressive way that is diverse. Our eighth hire was starting our diversity and inclusion team. Again, I think that you always … It’s very intentional that work never, ever stops, but it’s also about hiring. Our CFO is a queer woman of color. You know?
So it’s from our C-suite all across the company, and it’s at the forefront of our minds, literally every day.
When you’re thinking about this … I mean, it’s interesting, because I think a lot … Some of my listeners will be like, “Oh, who cares as long as it’s good?” Why is there that focus? I would love you to articulate why you think it’s important that these intentional choices be made, just like you’re making intentional choices with the social network. One of my big things I bang on is nobody thought about these problems before they happened, or nobody is intentional about doing what they’re doing.
You have to set in place values that you believe in. Not as a reaction but the way that you start. It’s so much harder to do it if you’re doing it in response to something later. And so for us, it’s also about our policies. So, you know, creating things like child care, but also we provide health care to our part-time workforce. We provide stock options and a living wage to our part-time workforce. I think it’s about creating policies that are in line with your values and sort of walking your talk. You’ve never going to be perfect. I make 100 mistakes a day. But I think just setting those things up at the beginning, rather than doing it in a reactionary way.
It was that stream on Twitter about the WeWork employee who was early and didn’t get shares. That was a shock. That, to me, was a shock. But I guess it isn’t. It happens all the time.
Yeah, I do think it happens all the time. But again, the only thing that we can do is learn from it.
I’m going to finish up talking about a couple more things, but do you get dragged down by all the negative stuff around WeWork right now? Is that a problem with fundraising? Or you just raised money?
Do you think about it? Because they’re getting … I mean, you’re adjacent to them.
Sure, but I think so different. The fundamentals of the actual business model are very different. We are really building, again, a brand. And so, I think that it’s …
It’s more than just a space.
Yeah. Honestly, I know that people associate it, but they couldn’t be more different.
Yeah. Did you worry about that? Like that there’s a challenge, like, “This is happening”?
No. Again, I think that if you really look into our business, you know that it couldn’t be more different. So it’s not a big thing in my mind.
Finishing up, I’d love to get a sense of where you think you’re going. So, just more of these spaces? Or where do you think your big opportunities lie?
Yeah, I think it’s just growing our membership, you know? And what that means is membership in a lot of different ways. That’s what we’re excited most about and going to be rolling out over the next 18 months. I think that there’s such an exciting opportunity, again, to gather women together, like the magic and the impact and the influence that comes with that. It’s very scary. Woodrow Wilson, I remember, talked about these women’s clubs, and it was like it was the greatest threat to society, these women gathering together. And that’s what gets me going. So, it’s just about …
Right. He didn’t like women’s groups? He didn’t like women’s clubs?
No, because women were supposed to be confined to the home. It was actually disruptive.
Yeah. Yeah. Keeping people separate is usually the way you keep control of people.
Which is interesting. So, you want to have more … Where’s the business going, from your perspective? Is it actual physical spaces, or …
I do think that the physical spaces play a really important role. We’re going to continue to expand our physical footprint, but you’re going to see the business expanding what the definition of membership looks like, in a lot of different ways, in part digital, but other things, too. We just had camp, which was 500 women.
Yeah, I’ve heard about this camp. How was the camp? I wasn’t invited to your camp, Audrey.
Oh. You’re definitely invited. You’re always invited.
Explain what this camp was. I’ve heard …
Scott’s even invited. I love Scott.
Oh my God. You don’t want Scott at this camp.
That’s probably true.
You know what? Let’s bring Scott to the camp.
I think Scott would be like, “This is awesome.”
How about we do a live Pivot there, and then we hunt him down in the woods. Did you see that new movie of the rich people hunting someone? It’s a new …
Didn’t they take it back, like it’s too …
Oh, they did. They did. You’re right. Oh, you’re right. They took it back. Nonetheless, we can do that for Scott.
I’m a big Scott fan. The big dog.
We’ll give him a couple hundred yards to go first.
Yes, he’ll get a …
We won’t use guns.
He’ll be able to start.
We will just use … You know.
Yeah. Running start.
Maybe a bow and arrow or two. Just slightly wounded.
No tasing. So, tell me about the camp. Explain this camp thing to people.
Yeah, so we do a camp in Upstate in the Adirondacks. It’s 500 members. And it’s really amazing to see these women, who are so professionally capable, these corporate lawyers, just totally letting loose. It’s a nostalgia feeling. It’s so much fun. We have prom. And honestly, I call it reparative prom, because people have a lot of bad memories of prom.
Really? I had great proms.
I mean, you’re the shit. I don’t know.
But not everybody …
No, I did. I had a nice boyfriend. But anyway. So you have proms. What else? What do you do at this camp?
Oh, you know. People do karaoke.
Right. And what’s the idea behind this? I thought it was quite innovative and fascinating that you did this. For your top members, presumably, right?
It’s first come, first serve among members.
But it sells out really, really quickly. People are obsessed with it. We’re going to do more things like it. And I think it’s …
Yeah. It’s like the Summit but not annoying. Sorry. I shouldn’t insult them.
Well, it’s not like … It’s not a conference, per se, but it’s like a way to meet people and just have fun. You know?
And there’s tie-dye and crafting and pickling, and … Yeah. It’s just awesome.
That was I think the most interesting idea, the way you do events going forward and how you organize them. Because they’re quite lucrative, actually. You get a lot of sponsors, I understand, too.
Who sponsored tie-dyeing? Someone really …
Yeah, right. Okay, right. So, but it was interesting. So then you pull sponsors into these kind of things.
We do. Again, in a limited way and in a thoughtful way, but it helps us to be able to do crazy big things. You know, we had our deejay in a huge clamshell. You know, this year was Under the Sea themed, we had a “Wet Gala.”
I wish I was invited to your camp.
Please come next year. We’re going to do a lot more, that’s coming.
Were you a camp counselor? I was a camp counselor.
Well, I’m so pregnant, so …
But I did karaoke, and everyone thought I was going to go into preterm labor.
Well, you’d have a lot of help there.
Well, yeah. I would be … You know, there’s tons of doulas and physicians who are members, so …
It’s sort of like the one they have in San Francisco for all those men. What’s that thing called?
Bohemian Grove, yeah. My brother’s the doctor for that.
I know, sort of. But it’s so annoying to me that they get to all go up there and sit around in towels and talk to each other.
Be masters of the universe.
Well, no. Apparently, they do a lot of stupid things.
They do skits. Fun things, too. Yeah. But I always thought, why don’t women have that kind of thing regularly?
We can, you know?
It’s just how big we dream.
All right, Audrey Gelman. I’m coming to your prom next year.
All right? Anyway, thank you so much for coming, and very good luck with your first child.
It must be very exciting. It is very exciting. You’ll enjoy. It’s the best thing you’ll ever do. I can’t believe I say that, but it’s true. It’s an amazing experience, and you’re going to be a wonderful parent. But you’re also birthing this company, I guess.
Kind of a horrible metaphor, but it’s true.
Ow. Well anyway, all right. Thank you so much for coming on the show.