Are you single and in the mood to meet women in your area now? There’s an app for that. Wing Ma’am is the brainchild of Ariella Furman and her crack team. Her mission is to connect the LGBTQ community in a safe, immediate way. She shares the secrets to her start-up success with Lesbian.com.
What do you do and why?
My company is Wing Ma’am. Wing Ma’am is the mobile app for LGBTQ women, helping users safely connect while keeping them informed about related events going on in their city. We even empower users by giving them the option to create their own events anything as small as a book club to as large as a dance party. It’s community-building reinvented.
I started it because at the time, I was running an LGBTQ Women’s dance party in Pittsburgh that blew up in popularity in ways I never imagined. Five hundred women at a time were attending my events, while thousands more kept in touch via social media. I heard from so many women that other than my event, there were little opportunities for LGBT women. They told me they felt isolated from their community and that all information was fragmented. Most people said dating was a challenge.
I always thought this was inexcusable. In a world of amazing technological enhancements, why is it still so difficult to be LGBTQ? The women that attended my event and met friends, met the love of their lives, embraced their identities these were the women who motivated me to start Wing Ma’am.
I feel like I understand our community and the ways we are comfortable interacting. Now, I’m translating my knowledge into an app. I not only want to improve things for Pittsburgh, I want to try to change things for the entire world.
What did you do before you started your company?
I ran a 3D animation company for years, managing teams from all around the country to produce training animation content for Fortune 500 companies. I used gaming technology as my set, then used a 3D camera to fly around while hitting certain keys that would trigger character animations. I guess you can say, I was always a tech geek.
What’s the single most important piece of advice you received when first starting your company? What would you tell a young entrepreneur in turn?
There are always going to be too many cooks in your kitchen. People will take notice in your business and attempt to guide or advise you. Sometimes, this can be amazing. Sometimes, this can be confusing. When I was part of an accelerator in Pittsburgh that funded Wing Ma’am, I was getting advice every which way from many different advisors. I remember constantly questioning every decision I ever made and feeling dejected, especially if my own strategy in running my business was contrary to someone with years more experience.
One piece of advice I would give is be careful who you take advice from. The only person you should completely base and reflect your decisions on is your audience. They know the experience they want. Everyone else, you can either take with a grain of salt or take their advice. It’s important to listen and stay coachable, though. Don’t let your ego get in the way. But, at the same time, never make a decision without weighing your advice and options.
What aspect of business ownership came as the biggest surprise to you?
The biggest surprise to me was how much I didn’t know. I thought running a 3D animation business would make me prepared to take on a mobile app business. Boy, was I wrong.
The thing about Wing Ma’am is that it is scalable. It can grow into something massive and so impactful, that it makes me dizzy thinking about it. And I will never take it for granted that I’m on this path now. I have to work as hard as I can and give it my all so everyone else can benefit as much as I have.
I’ve learned so much that I was never prepared for: The legal stuff, the tax stuff, preparing for fundraising, working with a team 15 hours a day, networking with others in the same shoes, product development, etc. There were days it was so difficult, I would have night terrors for a week straight about failing. I guess I didn’t realize how hard it would be emotionally, nor the impact it would have on the people around me.
At the end of the day, I found my balance. I feel headstrong about what this product needs to be and what I need to do. I am so much more confident than I was a year ago. At the same time, I am finally happy and all the important people in my life are still beside me and understand.
So if I can answer in a short way, I just didn’t know how hard it would be. I also never knew how much I would grow as a person. I would never wish this experience never happened.
What do you find most rewarding about owning your own business?
Owning my own business made me a stronger person, both in professional and personal matters. I can multi-task like a champion. My communication skills are the best. I am no longer deathly afraid of giving a presentation to a large audience.
Owning my own business helped me face my fears and overcome my weaknesses. I would say I am more aware of myself as a person because I stretched myself so thin over so many areas (business, marketing, finance and product) that I came out ready to take on any challenge.
It also made me more balanced as a person. I am never involved in drama. I forgive friends more easily. I can rationalize anything someone does, so I am not quick to judge. Heck, if anyone knows about making mistakes, it’s me. I made a ton of them when I first started my company.
It’s also really helped my relationship with my girlfriend. We are so strong and know how to enjoy the little moments of peace and relaxation. We don’t waste time on being petty or fighting. We haven’t had the slightest fight or argument, well, ever. I think we carry so much strain on our shoulders that when we come home to one another, we want nothing but peace, love and all things good. Oh and yes, my girlfriend works on Wing Ma’am as well (she is the director of operations).
Where do you see yourself and your company in five years?
I would love to see Wing Ma’am become a niche media company. I do believe that LGBTQ singles need an app now more than ever. It will be an invaluable resource for us. However, I also believe we need build these networks through other sources that will help bridge the gap that is happening in our community now that all the lesbian bars are closing. I am not sure what the solution is yet.
What resources would you recommend to someone who is contemplating starting her own business?
I would say, if you are starting your own business, the best thing to do is network with those who have done it before. Feel free to email me through the Wing Ma’am website. Try to connect with the other women featured in this article through LinkedIn. Buy them lunch or coffee and see what they have to say.
After you network, the best place to start, in my opinion, is on a blank palette. It’s totally OK if you can’t draw, but expressing yourself even though little boxes or stick figures or a flowchart will get you to start communicating your ideas. You’ll find that’s the strongest skill you will learn is how to communicate your ideas to others and make magic happen.
Also there is a book I recommend called “The Lean Startup.” Get it and read it on your lunch breaks. It’s a great read.
What would you say is the single most important key to sustaining a business long term?
I would say it’s all about the customer. The customer can get you more work either through their connections or as a repeat client. Also, the customer can tell their friends about you. We have 20,000 users on Wing Ma’am, but we need tens of thousands more to get our next round of funding from investors. If those 20,000 people told one friend about how they are satisfied with our service, our business will double. The growth through your existing network is going to be stronger than trying to find new networks of people, so my goal is to always keep the customers happy.
With Wing Ma’am, we launched over the new year and we already have the fifth version of our iOS app out. Whenever people comment on something they’d like to see, if it is reasonable, we’ll develop it. Version 1.4 is our most robust and fast version. I’ve noticed ever since we came out with it, people are filling out their profiles more, adding events to their cities more often and staying on it for longer. Plus, they’re likely to tell their friends about it.
Also, one of the first business decisions we made, even before we could afford it, is to start developing the iOS version. Your product or idea has to be accessible to everyone on a major platform. Whether that’s iOS, Android or even just making sure your website works for all browsers. Always remember to put yourself in the shoes of your user.
We are finally finishing Android after getting our last pennies together and launching it this month.