10x Your Team with Elizabeth Gore
December 5, 2022
Elizabeth Gore serves as co-founder and president of Hello Alice, which helps businesses launch and grow. A multi-channel platform powered by machine learning technology, Hello Alice guides business owners by providing access to funding, networks and services. Through a network of over half a million companies in all 50 states and across the globe, Hello Alice is building the largest community of business owners in the country while tracking data and trends to increase owner success rate.

Elizabeth previously served as entrepreneur-in-residence at Dell Technologies. There, she drove initiatives to support Dell’s goals of helping small and medium businesses scale and prosper, fueling the expansion of global entrepreneurship. Elizabeth personally advises the growth of purpose-driven companies. In addition, Elizabeth is part owner of Gore Family Vineyards in Sonoma County. She is the emeritus chair of the United Nations Foundation’s Global Entrepreneurs Council and previously served the UN for nearly a decade as the first ever entrepreneur-in-residence for the foundation, as well as vice president of global partnerships, where she founded strategic grassroots efforts like Nothing But Nets, Girl Up, and Shot@Life. People magazine named her one of its “Top 100 Extraordinary Women,” Fast Company called her one of the “Most Creative People in Business,” and she was named one of Entrepreneur Magazine’s “Women to Watch.” She has been covered in media outlets like ABC, CBS, CNN, MSNBC, Fox Business, Fortune, Glamour, and Time.

Outside of the boardroom, Elizabeth is a world champion equestrian, a sprint triathlete, and has climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro to raise awareness on behalf of the UN. Elizabeth serves on the board of The Global Entrepreneurship Network which operates a platform of projects and programs in 180+ countries aimed at making it easier for anyone, anywhere to start and scale a business. Elizabeth is a graduate from Texas A&M University, and resides in Sonoma County with her husband, James Gore, a California elected official, and their two hilarious children.

My career is actually as a humanitarian. I was Peace Corps and then had a full career at the United Nations Foundation, serving the UN before I went to the private sector and bridged over with Dell Technologies as their entrepreneur in residence, where I learned a lot. That was definitely my unofficial MBA on scale, and corporations and oh my gosh, so much to learn there. And then when I met Carolyn, my co-founder, we met through a mutual friend and we both were the only women that kept ending up at these tech conferences. She's a three-time entrepreneur. Her first company failed, second company was a success is when I met her. She also says that she learned more from the failure company than the success one, coming into our company. But I will show you the picture on the far right is when we were sat next to each other at a conference and asked to stack our business values. We were the only people within 100 people that had the same ones. It really was like, we should talk more, we have similar values, we have similar passions, and ours was our passion for small business owners, and particularly women, and how do we help them become entrepreneurs, have their dream self-fulfill, and have them be economically viable? That was our original connection.

And as you start building and hiring and digging up dirt in your company, I think ensuring those values stay with you all the way through as much as you can, there will be swings and misses

How are you ensuring that you're hiring people with those same values?

When we built Hello Alice. We had the idea, eight, nine years ago. I was coming from Dell, where I was asked to find some of the best technologies we could invest in to help small business owners that were scalable, and I just didn't see them or the bias was so thick towards white men in them that I felt like it was leaving out a huge business market.

Carolyn came at it from being a self-made Latina entrepreneur. She really wanted to give other people an easier shot at it than she had. Very interesting to come at this from two different perspectives. Then, just like life comes, we both had children. And then we said, you know what, we're gonna do this.

I kept my day job at Dell as we built at night, and Dell was awesome about supporting the build of Hello Alice. Carolyn took the risk and jumped in with both feet. And the two of us built as fast as we could. And I bring up the childcare thing because I think it's, especially for women, whether you have aging parents, childcare, or you're involved in your community, or you can't leave your day job because you need insurance. I think it's fair to talk about all of that as you scale.

We don't have the luxury of sleeping on someone's basement and their couch and taking the huge risk. I think women, many of us need to take calculated risks. So, we bootstrapped our way through this. And now fast forward all these years, our software went live in May of 2017, so next week is our fifth-year anniversary, which is crazy. We now support 700,000 diverse small business owners, who we call the new majority. Women, People of Color, our US veterans, the LGBTQ plus community, military, spouses, people with disabilities, also white males, but our main priority, 90% of our small business owners fit in that new majority category.

We have really kept that laser focus purpose of what do small business owners need? What barriers are they jumping over? And how can we help?

Carolyn is very technical, so she led the building of our machine learning and data focused technology. And it helps that a business owner based on their stage of growth, their physical location, their industry, but then also their gender, ethnicity, any other status, we pull that in with our data to give live recommendations on how to build your business.

My side of the world is finance, marketing and sales. And if you put us together in a blender, we make a much better founder, so it's great to have a co-founder. We since have continued to refine our focus.

Something when you grow, it's very difficult to shy away from opportunities. At one point, we were doing everything on our platform, from helping you build a website, to hiring your first employee, to doing your taxes. We are continuing to see that access to capital is the most important thing for our founders. And that is in high times like if you look at 2019, we were in a boom growth time. We call our users on Hello Alice owners, small business owners. But 2019/2020, there's this huge surge in growth and need for access to capital, and then you look at the very difficult time of 2021, poor folks needed capital to survive.So we've continued to narrow our focus on how do we ensure equitable access to loans, credit, grants, finance tools and accounting.

We had two employees, just the two of us, for a long time. And then Jillian Benvenuti was our first employee, who's now our chief of staff on our leadership team. Then when we had 12 we had to move out here. And we had these compliance things like I had to put real doors on the bathroom so it locked. We had to hire a payroll company. I mean, there's so much that we jumped at when we had 8 to 12 people. Then we had what I felt like was a big jump at 30. 30 people meant we couldn't hire all in the same location. We had diversification of talent. We had to ensure that people were brought together and convene. We had to look at office space. So there are these jumps you will have to make.

I think staying true to our purpose is what drove us to suddenly get over 100,000 small business owners, 200,000, 300,000.

And we kept jumping. That middle, messy middle of growth is also very hard because you have to spend to grow. We're in this time when we absolutely have to be frugal, so we don't know where cash is coming from or if the damn world is ending. And then also, I need to spend to hire more people to support all of these small business owners coming in. It was literally a day-to-day decision on budget shifting and hiring, and really understanding where the next thing was coming from. I do not think though that is uncommon for when you hit your stride, when you hit the minimum viable product, and suddenly you have product market fit for any small business owner.

We were also growing all over the country. Our base was really Texas and California, and suddenly we are in all 50 states. So having to listen to different types of need, different types of consumers. We also went from three to four industries to a really equal split across industries. The other shift was we went from brand new businesses, about 40% of our business are what we call historic businesses that have been in 5, 10, 20 years, but suddenly had to go cashless, they had to have websites, they had to do e-commerce. The way we survived during that was just constantly polling, listening to our owners, testing, and then failing forward and failing fast.

I really also lean on our board and had to get a lot more help from our investors. And, I can tell you that the only way I can describe it is if you just add water and suddenly poof. And also if you're a founder who really cares about your employees, and you're used to talking to them and often being with them in the office, knowing everything going on their lives, this is physically impossible now. You have 100 employees that are all over the country. We don't have offices. We had to really put in place a completely different company.

The first thing we did was we pulled all of our outsourced HR internal and hired, we really over indexed and hired what I think, Kathy Savard is the best HR individual we could find. She brought a talent and advice, a wisdom. Also there's this interesting time when absolutely it's more cost effective to outsource. But then bringing it in house did make it more personal, ironically. We also hired a top recruitment individual, Melissa Porcello, to make sure as we were hiring fast, we were hiring within our values and those were really two very, very important hires.

The other thing we've just done, this just happened, is, well, let me back up. We established a really strong leadership team 18 months ago, and before we hired all of those people, as a founder, you're a generalist.

We have a great company value that we still use called everyone takes out the trash. And in the early days, Carol and I did everything, right. And then suddenly, you get to hire a couple more people, and a couple more people, and suddenly, the generalist mentality is getting more specialized.

Before we made these huge investments in talent, we made sure to hire very top professionals in that skillset. Kelsey Ruger was the best product engineering leader we could find. Before we put millions of dollars into engineering product and data science. We were not the right experts to make those calls. Megan McDonald, before this position, top marketer in the country, found her, so on and so forth.

And that is hard by the way, as folks that Carolyn and I are really in each thing, we really wanted to ensure that we let go and trusted, which can be very hard for a founder. You think it's hard at that point, but then when you hire 100 people, you have to let go and you have to establish trust with these leadership individuals to ensure that you're doing it in the right way.

In just the last couple of weeks, we are building an executive leadership team for the overall vision, operations, and financial strategy of the business.

So what this means is Carolyn and I are continuing to, I don't like the term step back, but I think step to the side, to ensure that there's a consistent eye and fast decision making at senior levels.

For us, we felt strongly about a CFO. As a FinTech, we felt this was super important. We're launching a credit program very soon. Both of us, again, are pretty good at finance, but not this good, right. And then we promoted from within, Megan McDonald, the chief strategy officer, who's leading the day-to-day measurement strategy and project management of the entire organization. I imagine this could continue to grow. But this is the structure we did put in place at this time.

I wanted to come back to our company values, and just say that I think having anchor values are important, and then ones that evolve as your company grows. "Everyone takes out the trash and drives the mission forward." We have had since the day we started. For us a mission is ensuring diversity and inclusion in small business, so complete equitable access in small business. But the "simplifying" "commit" and embrace failure is new.

Over the last year, we had to really speed things up, which means we're going to fail fast, test, but also with a bigger team, we have discourse. We have exchange of ideas, but then we simplify, we commit, and move forward. And then finally, "innovate always" really came through the pandemic. I think everyone right now needs to continue to innovate and innovate weekly, because the world is changing so fast.

Consumer behavior is changing so fast. Business is changing so fast. I just don't see how you can't constantly innovate right now and make it.



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