Former Hatch executives Kristen Lunman and Natalie Ferguson are back in business with a new venture aimed at helping women get to the top of their game.
Lunman was CEO and Ferguson, formerly the chief experience officer, left Hatch in July last year, 10 months after it was sold by Kiwi Wealth to global wealth management platform provider FNZ.
“Nat and I just didn’t fit in that corporate world,” Lunman said. “For us, personally, it was back in the super uber traditional financial services. It wasn’t for us.”
Then the serial entrepreneurs began to look around for their big next idea.
“When we left we had just come out of Covid and the biggest stat we were hit with was that women in particular suffered. Every gender equity metric from representation at the table to pay equity had backslid because of Covid. We had made all this progress and then gaps on every level had been smashed in a really bad way.”
Lunman said many women had to step out of the workforce to look after children during lockdowns while women were also disproportionately impacted by layoffs.
“We lost a huge amount of economic participation and GDP.”
At the same time, Lunman said many organisations were facing big challenges like hybrid work, climate change, ESG (environmental, social, and corporate governance) and wellness.
“We know that diversity can solve these challenges but based on early research and statistics we just don’t think organisations know how to do it.”
She said many didn’t know how to build diverse teams in order to solve these complex challenges.
“This feels like the intersection of some pretty crazy trends, being this backsliding but women wanting more and organisations that haven’t quite figured it out. We can solve this in a really unique way - that felt like a really interesting problem to solve.”
The pair put their heads together and came up with Powrsuit - a technology start-up that plans to charge organisations on a subscription basis to train their female employees to be leaders through online education and peer-to-peer mentoring.
Ferguson said diverse teams had a big advantage. “We know we need more women in leadership at every level. Powrsuit is the leadership playbook that women have never had.”
Lunman and Ferguson are leaning into their experience in leadership roles.
“We have been there and done that. We have navigated the system, we have got to leadership positions so we want to open source that playbook with the confidence, skills and knowledge to shape their careers on their terms.
“And that’s really important for us - we are not advocating for women to change to fit into the system and to lead like a man. We are equipping women to lead on their terms,” Ferguson added.
They started by interviewing a lot of women to learn how they achieved success.
“It was a really interesting insight that there are two factors that everyone who gets into leadership positions has. And women specifically have a third.
“Everyone has formal training and learning and conferences, courses - all that sort of stuff - everyone seems to need coaches, mentors, sponsors but women specifically need this third thing which is a peer network, the ability to connect with like-minded women and be able to navigate their careers and the unique challenges that are posed to women.”
Just four months into the start-up they have launched a newsletter and this week will add a podcast to their offering while they have begun a trial with an organisation to work out the details of their product offering.
While it’s still early days the pair are taking a Silicon Valley approach and want to be able to scale it up and expand into the United States.
“We have an eye to the US but we are starting here,” Lunman said.
Ferguson said globally it was trying to solve a trillion-dollar problem - the lack of full utilisation of women in the labour market.
“This is a problem that is costing organisations a lot of money - we know diversity wins - we know diverse organisations perform better so we believe they will be very motivated to equip women with the skills, confidence and knowledge, and pay for these services because there is a financial incentive to do it.”
The belt-tightening environment isn’t a worry for them.
Ferguson said: “Companies are looking for productivity in recession. They are not necessarily looking to cut costs, they are looking to squeeze as much out.
“If you are equipping people to be more productive, if you are driving more revenue through better decision making, if you have got higher engagement, lowering churn because women are more motivated to stick around, it’s a no-brainer in a recession.
“We actually think this is the perfect time.”
Lunman said companies were more likely to cut air travel, conferences and in-person meetings as a way to save money.
She said online learning platforms had democratised information. “They will be looking to solutions like this.”