Navigating the startup world isn’t easy. Finding the right networks, raising money, and refining your pitch are a few major items to include on your startup to-do list. Tricky? Yes. Too tough to tackle? Definitely not.
New to the startup world, Opportunista Lauren Beebe is already the Founder of two businesses. In 2013, she started Like A Local Tours, offering unique experiences in NYC, Brooklyn, and Long Island for travelers and locals alike. Her most recent venture, GigSesh is a community of experts that offer advice or access to their network for a fee or donation to a charity of their choice. In navigating this new world, Lauren has learned about everything from improving GigSesh’s market offering and leveraging key resources to build her network…to the importance of finding someone to help advise her and the benefit of helping others. Hint: Lending a hand is well worth your time and effort.
Lauren’s honesty alone is inspiring. Her resourcefulness and perseverance? They’re enough to make you want to dive head first into your own startup journey.
Let’s meet Lauren and learn her story.
Name: Lauren Beebe
Location: Brooklyn, New York
Title & Company: Founder, GigSesh // Founder, Like A Local Tours
Industry: Professional & Career Services // Tourism
Education: Pennsylvania State University
What inspired you to start Like a Local Tours and GigSesh?
From 2007 to 2015, I was head of marketing for a small private equity / venture capital firm. We made investments in Argentina, and I learned a lot about several different industries such as hotels and hospitality, wine, and mixed use real estate development. We even started a fast casual restaurant chain. Very diverse. That experience made me realize that I like to build and create. In many ways, that’s my most satisfying outlet (other than lying on a beach in Belize).
The last couple of years that I was with the PE firm, I was getting restless. There was no room for me to grow, and I wasn’t having any luck finding a better career path or job opportunity. That’s what inspired me to want to create my first business, Like A Local Tours, which was created somewhat organically. I had already created ‘tours’ or recommendation lists for friends that also included what to order where and the best times to go. I was reading Entrepreneur Magazine when I came across an article about a woman in Chicago who took her unique knowledge of Indian cuisine and spices, and created a successful tour business in Chicago. That was my first “aha” moment.
I started Like A Local in 2013, and although it’s successful, I painfully came to the realization that it isn’t scalable. So I decided that I needed to start another business. I thought about my experiences of trying to switch careers. I was taking meetings with my network to ask about job opportunities or to get advice. I was also asking for my network to put me in touch with their network to further my chances of discovering my next job opportunity.
There was one woman that I really wanted to meet with but she kept blowing me off. I knew she was on the board of a non-profit, so I offered to donate money to the organization if she would give me 30 minutes. She agreed to meet. About six months ago, I shared that experience with someone, and I had a second “aha” moment. That’s when GigSesh was born.
How did you raise money for Like A Local?
Part of the fun of starting Like A Local was that I was able to do everything myself and without much startup capital. The tour business has a relatively low barrier to entry, which I think correlates to its lack of scalability. I created the products myself, and sourced additional tour guides from within my network and eventually through contacts within the NYC tour guide community.
You brought GigSesh to The Founder Institute, a startup launch program for entrepreneurs. What was that experience like?
I must admit I was probably one of the most skeptical Founders accepted into The Founder Institute program. I was obsessed with asking graduates what they got out of the program. Everyone kept telling me, “you’ll get as much out of it as you want to.” What the hell did that mean? In the end, I learned that it meant the more diligently you complete the assignments, research, pitch sessions, and utilize the mentors available to you, the more successful the experience. FI accepts individuals who they believe have the potential to be successful entrepreneurs. It’s less about your business idea and more about you. Although most of my classmates who graduated came in with a solid business idea, many of them dropped out or were asked to leave based on not hitting certain milestones. I was about a month in with my business idea (GigSesh), but FI really helped me validate the idea and refine the offering, product, and market fit — all of which are critical.
How have you been raising money for GigSesh? How are you building your team?
So far I am self-funded with commitments for a Friends and Family round once I reach that point. We recently launched a Beta version of the platform, which has been very exciting. As far as sourcing the team, I have leaned on my mentors. Other resources have included ExecRank, AngelList, and CoFounders Lab.
As an entrepreneur, what is your take on getting an MBA?
I am admittedly not much of an academic. Sure, I’m a voracious daily reader of business and startup related books, relevant publications for the industries I’m in, and The New York Times, but I was never much into honing in on an exact field or studying things that don’t excite me. That being said, once I know what I want to do with the rest of my life (hopefully turning GigSesh into a global company), I would love to go back to school for an MBA if it makes sense.
What advice do you have for entrepreneurs looking to build a network in the startup world?
I am new to the startup world, and one thing I’ve really enjoyed is how dialed in everyone is. If there was ever a group of people who are interested in one another, I think this is it.
If you meet someone you connect with, people are incredibly excited to help. But, you should absolutely look to help others first. This will pay back in spades.
To get started building a network, find the publication in your city that lists all of the events you can attend. For NYC, I used Digital.NYC. On any given night there are 25 to 50 events. It’s nuts! I started by attending events centered around speakers I was interested in or events for women.
Do you have a mentor or have you had one in the past?
I’ve always worked in male-dominated environments and unfortunately a mentor (male or female) never really materialized for me. My job responsibilities had ranged widely, which also made it difficult to have one. I now have several mentors, which I hope is a sign that I finally found my calling.
What do you love most about what you do?
I love building, creating, and problem solving. Especially when I can reach into those little compartments in my brain and make connections with people who can help in specific areas, or when I call to mind experiences that I’ve had and can apply to different scenarios. Being able to translate an idea from my brain, into a platform that other people can benefit from is an incredible experience.
What do people never ask you, that you wish they did?
Had to think about this one for a second. Fellow Founders already know this, but sometimes I wish the lay person would ask me, “What’s the hardest part about starting a business?” And I would tell them that ideas are easy, but execution is incredibly hard. You can read between the lines on that one.
What did you find were the greatest challenges in launching and running a startup that you didn’t expect? How are you overcoming these challenges?
For GigSesh, the hardest part has definitely been the technology. I have a spreadsheet of over 25 technical companies and people that I’ve interviewed and noted everything from “does not understand English” to “get this person on board!” But I’ve learned a lot, and it’s a process I think every non-technical Founder should go through. Talk to as many people as you can, but try to find at least one technical person who can advise you. That person won’t be doing the actual work, but can talk you through the process and help you understand what you should be looking for.
As an entrepreneur, what advice can you share with aspiring entrepreneurs?
Hopefully, some of my answers have been helpful, but one other piece of advice I can give is to BUILD YOUR TEAM AS SOON AS POSSIBLE. Once you’ve validated your idea that is. My team keeps me going. They keep me focused, motivated, and provide invaluable assistance. You really can’t do it all. And by team I mean advisors, mentors, and a freelance person and/or intern.
Lauren is The Opportunista.
Top three favorite restaurants in NYC. I mostly eat out near my apartment in Williamsburg or near my office in Flatiron, so my top three right now are ABC Cocina (the manager is a friend), Obica (it’s also a stop on our Flatiron Food Tour), and Lilia (Wburg). I recently got a tour of the William Vale Hotel in Williamsburg (newly opened), and I have a feeling the restaurant and rooftop bar with insane views of Manhattan are going to be a new hangout for me.
Your local hangout spot in NYC: Hotel Delmano.
Vacation destination on your bucket list: Right now it’s Croatia and Serbia. I’m about to book a trip!
What did you want to be when you were 8 years old? Honestly, my answer probably would’ve been a feminist. My mom tells a story about me going to see Ghostbusters in the theater with her and a friend, and when the Statue of Liberty walks down the streets of Manhattan I apparently whispered, “Isn’t it great that the Statue of Liberty is a woman?”
Who is your role model? My mother. From growing up without indoor plumbing in northern Wisconsin to running a $10+ million dollar non-profit that feeds the state of Delaware and where she influences statewide and sometimes federal legislation, she’s pretty cool.
My friends describe me as: Motivated.
Favorite way to unwind. Traveling, hanging with friends, volunteering, live music, art galleries and museums, movies. In the summer, you’ll find me in Greenport on the North Fork of Long Island.
Tell us a secret! Much of my motivation for GigSesh to become a success is so that I can start a family.
Let me know – How has Lauren’s story inspired you to create your own opportunities to live your best life?
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