“Where you start doesn’t matter.” – an interview with Lauren Farleigh, CEO & Founder of Dote

“I eat brutal for lunch,” is one of our favorite quotes we’ve heard. What does that phrase mean to you? How did growing up in Alaska prepare you for your life as an entrepreneur?

Ha. You are referring to the application video I submitted for Planet of the Apps. I joke about it sometimes but it’s also totally true—I have a very tough and determined side that stops at nothing. Growing up in Alaska cultivated in me a very specific orientation towards opportunities.

Basically, I don’t take them for granted, and when I see a chance, I take it. What I’ve learned time and time again is that seizing windows of opportunity leads to more and more doors. When I’m feeling hesitant, that’s when I know I should leap.

You’ve mentioned that Dote began with you, and only you, grinding away at developing this app for 6 months. What was that time like? What lessons did you take away from it?

In the early days of Dote, I learned a lot about what motivates me. I’m a risk taker and there’s something in me that really needs to find out what I can accomplish on my own. But the best part of this experience has been bringing on a team of talented engineers, designers, and creatives who provide fresh perspectives.

I’ve learned that no matter how much I was able to accomplish on my own, it was when I started hiring thoughtful people to work on Dote with me that we really started to become the company we are today.

I believe we are correct in thinking you did not have a lot of app development experience when you set out to build Dote. What was that learning curve like? What message do you have for young entrepreneurs that don’t currently have the skillset to build what they envision?

I always say, where you start doesn’t matter nearly as much as your rate of growth. You can teach yourself what you don’t know and you can always ask for help. Seize opportunities and then get to work. You’ll surprise yourself with how much you can do. (I certainly surprised myself!)

It is easy to look at your time on Planet of the Apps and think that to be a watershed moment for Dote, but were there any similarly pivotal moments that occurred before PotA in the early stages of the company? Any times that caused you to doubt whether or not you should move forward?

Getting Michael Dearing from Harrison Metal on board as a seed investor and board member was our first big win. He initially turned me down, but I was set on working with him, so he gave me a chance to pitch him over breakfast. We went to this very beloved Silicon Valley diner in Woodside called Buck’s and I was seriously pumped up.

When the waitress came over, I was already in sell mode so I looked down at the menu and ordered the first thing I saw. At the end of an hour, Michael was all in on Dote and I was doing all I could to contain my excitement. On our way out he joked that I hadn’t had a single bite of my enormous sausage scramble. I stumbled through some response about not being a breakfast person…

After being on PotA, surrounded by star power, and performing the way you did, it would be easy to let the new-found hype impact what you are doing. How do you balance sticking to what has gotten you to where you are today with adjusting for your new reality of being a VC-backed company?

Being on Planet of the Apps was a great learning experience and ended up securing our Series A with Lightspeed Venture Partners. We have Gwyneth Paltrow as an advisor and a relationship with the whole Goop team. I did a press tour after the show in New York with all the talent—Will.i.am, Jessica Alba, Gary Vaynerchuk—and each of them was and continues to be generous about sharing their expertise and networks with me.

The episode airing got us no insignificant bump in users and some great press exposure. That being said, at the end of the day, we’re still the same small scrappy team back at it, grinding it out, facing small setbacks and counting every little win.

You’ve spoken highly of the team at Dote. What makes the team you have in place great?

This is a team that values inclusiveness, positivity and open communication. We build each other up. Every Friday we share one thing we are grateful for—this is always our longest all-hands of the week. That kind of kind communication engenders a baseline of trust and assumption of the best in others amongst our team.

Another secret weapon of Dote? A diversity of opinions and perspectives leads to the best decision making and we have a very diverse team.

We have seen Dote taking steps to inspire more women to enter the tech industry. What has it been like to be a female founder in the tech world? With some of the recent horror stories coming out from tech giants, what advice would you give to female entrepreneurs looking to enter the tech space?

Be an example for young women who are absorbing what they see in the news and in their own interactions and who are forming a sense of what their potential challenges and limitations might be. Success of women in the tech industry today makes more success possible in the future. We don’t believe in the glass ceiling at Dote. We have women and men in leadership positions and it will always be that way.

We have noticed your interns taking a prominent role across your social media channels and blog, representing the company’s brand. What advice would you give CEOs in allowing team members to excel where they have talent regardless of position or title? How do you learn to trust your team after Dote was your baby for so long?

Whether they’re interns or execs, give the people who work with you the chance and confidence to grow. People are often stifled from achieving their full potential in the workplace. When I saw my episode of Planet of the Apps I watched myself say, “If I can do this, anyone can,” which prompted friendly pushback from Gwyneth. But it’s the truth.

I’m always amazed at what people achieve when they’re given the green light. When I’m presented with an opportunity, confidence in myself isn’t the only thing that grows, it’s confidence in others, too. And I hired them ;), so I trust my team completely.

Is there a lesson or piece of advice you haven’t touched on that you feel is important for young entrepreneurs to know?

No matter how productive or hard-working you are, entrepreneurship is not a solo act, so treat the people around you well. One simple thing to focus on in this respect is always saying “thank you” when people give you feedback.

Whether you agree with their advice or not, displaying gratitude to someone who has taken the time to think critically about your product or company is the right way to go. Being an example of this practice creates a culture of appreciation and generosity on your team around giving and getting feedback.

We would forever regret it if we did not ask you about your Chief Chewer, Taco. What does her presence bring to the team? How does she impact your company culture? Are there plans for an Instagram account or is she not one for fame?

Taco! I’m glad you agree that she’s outrageously cute and certainly enthusiastic. She’s also grown up with the team over the past year. Currently, there are no plans for insta-fame and -fortune for the pup but she makes frequent cameos on my Instagram and Snap stories, wearing a flower crown or otherwise adorned. Today, Taco’s in the proverbial dog house for eating a Doter’s lunch.

 

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