It’s Female Founder Friday and I’m delighted to share the startup story of serial woman entrepreneur, Ronit Avni. Ronit is the founder of Localized, a new platform geared for the 100 million students in emerging markets whose schools don’t have alumni networks, career services infrastructure or access to employers. Localized specifically targets STEM and business-focused schools to help students access career guidance, industry insights from global professionals who share language, culture and roots. The platform then connects students to employers looking to hire talent in these growth markets.
When I met Ronit, I was struck by her both her passion and intelligence. When she spoke about Localized I could hear the layers of industry research, personal experience, and love for the problem she is solving. I was impressed enough to jump at the chance to highlight her in today’s Female Founder Friday!
So, if you’re curious how a company can harness immigrants’ desire to share their knowledge and skills with their home countries, don’t miss Ronit’s startup inspiration, challenges, and advice for fellow female founders raising money below!
What inspired you to create your company?
I’m an immigrant, I’m the daughter and granddaughter of immigrants. I’ve worked with immigrant communities on international social issues for over a decade at the intersection of technology and media, first at the human rights/technology organization, WITNESS and then as founder of the media organization, Just Vision, which operates in both the U.S. and Middle East. I have seen the degree to which immigrant professionals want to give back to their communities-of-heritage not just with their money (remittances account for $600 billion dollars annually), but with their time and talents—by sharing their knowledge remittances. At the same time, I’ve seen students and aspiring professionals in emerging markets looking to access experts that they can relate to–what we call proximate role models—who understand the circumstances they face and also the opportunities.
Localized solves a broken pipeline problem for companies, colleges and students around the world. We focus students globally whose schools lack career and alumni services infrastructure to help them find great jobs in today’s knowledge economy. Localized connects university students around the world with top employers, world-class experts and elite professional associations to help young professionals succeed no matter where they live or what language they speak.
The Head of Consumer Marketing at Google in Dubai attributes his career path to a brief presentation given by a visiting Microsoft employee when he was a student. Seeing a fellow Jordanian at Microsoft changed his life, helping him realize he could pursue his own dreams. We want millions of other students to have the same access to professional role models that Najeeb did. Najeeb is now a mentor on Localized and is bringing his peers onto the platform to inspire the next generation of STEM and business professionals.
What was your biggest obstacle and failure in going from idea to business?
The biggest challenge has been raising capital. Women receive less than 3% of all venture investment (white women receive about 2% and women of color receive a fraction of that). Since we’re working in emerging markets and straddle EdTech and Career Tech, some investors are not familiar with the need or the markets we serve. It is pretty brutal to be a female founder raising funds.
Also, I went to some early-stage investors too early and have heard that same regret from a variety of successful female founders. Whereas men can cultivate relationships with investors early, women often get penalized for doing so as studies show that men are often given the benefit of the doubt if they don’t have all the answers for a given stage (including college students and recent grads) but women are expected to have those answers from the get-go, even if some are unknowable early on.
What are you afraid of?
My motto is “no fear, no ego.” I never want to make decisions out of either fear or ego. Also, ensuring we have the systems in place to keep anticipating and adapting for growth. But that’s a great problem to have.
Building a great company. Localized is live in the Middle East and we’re expanding to India. We are raising our seed round of financing (over half is in the bank) and we’re looking for some more investors to close the round in the weeks ahead.
What is a life or business hack that you recommend to help other female founders?
Wake up early. I get up every morning between 4:00 am – 6:00 am and hit the gym so I can be focused during the rest of the day. I also suggest power walk meetings to and from the office—I’ve had several people meet me at my office and we walk home together, or we walk to the office.
Please share your best piece of advice for aspiring female founders.
Become fluent in the terminology investors use. Push back on unreasonable requests and don’t take money from people who are not aligned with your mission, company stage and vision. I’ve walked away from potential investors in the past because it was the right thing to do for our company even though it was hard. And, sadly, you may not want to speak with investors too early. We have to change these norms on many levels, but you don’t want to get premature ‘no’s from people who might have been excited about your company a few months later. Finally, let’s have each other’s backs as female founders—the more we can support one another with introductions, references or more, the better.