“You know you’re on the right path when the push you give to an idea accelerates that much faster because of an undeniable pull.“
Lee Rotenberg is a powerhouse. She is the Co-Founder of Ivy, the number one software for home remodeling pros to run their business. From the 32nd floor of the gorgeously designed offices in Tel Aviv, we shared an uplifting conversation with Lee about being a founder. With confidence, eloquence and a radiating energy, Lee shared insights into her entrepreneurial journey and her path to getting acquired by Houzz just last year.
An East Coast native, Lee decided to go on a world tour after college which ultimately brought her to Tel Aviv where she met co-founder Alex Schinasi. Taking the literal road less travelled seems to be the first trend in her personal and professional life that has been a driving force in her success. The second is her hustle, hard work, and dedication. Lee can often be found traveling across different continents and time zones in a single day. “If you love what you do, you’ll have infinite fuel to keep pushing.” Lee laughs and tells us about how when their startup led them to San Francisco, she and co-founder Alex lived in a tiny apartment with Alex’s 3.5 month old teething baby and husband for the sake of building a business they truly believed in.
Did you always want to be an entrepreneur?
When I was a little girl I always said I would be the President (laughs).
I always wanted to create things, but it wasn’t that I woke up and said “I want to be a founder”. I was living in Tel Aviv and there’s something really contagious about creating in this city. There’s a unique energy that somehow seeps into your blood and just makes you hungry to hustle, hungry to tackle challenges, and hungry to build solutions to problems.
You actually founded another startup called Artsetters, before Ivy –
Yes, Ivy is the third pivot into our startup story. We actually raised a million dollars from a $79 Shopify website, where we built a B2C platform for designers from all over the world to connect. And then we pivoted this concept into a B2B platform, and from there we joined NFX Guild in Palo Alto and that experience had us really rethink things. That’s really where Ivy was born.
We were really excited about joining NFX with James Currier and Gigi Levy – the gurus of “network effects” – because we wanted to understand the ethos and learn the ingredients of building a true market network, which Artsettes aimed to be and Ivy later became because of their teachings. Joining NFX Guild was instrumental to our successful startup story with Ivy.
As a founder, it must have been a difficult decision to pivot. How did you know it was time to do so?
We had garnered a lot of momentum with Artsetters but we didn’t feel that forceful pull from the market that drives unstoppable growth. When we started thinking of Ivy, we immediately felt that crazy market pull and knew we were on to something BIG. You know you’re on the right path when the push you give to an idea accelerates that much faster because of an undeniable pull.
Community has always been at the heart of Ivy – why?
I think in the digital age it is really easy to forget how powerful human connection is but that can be the secret sauce in a startup scaling quickly. Alex and I have, in all the phases of our entrepreneurialism, really honed in on community to scale our ideas. Who would have thought that a software company needed a community? But Ivy’s community is an integral part of who we are and it’s allowed us to be much more than just a software to our users. Our community has been instrumental in helping us know what features to build, how to improve our features, so it allows us to build a really compelling product much faster.
What would you say has been the hardest challenge as a founder?
To remain grounded despite the ups and downs. There are so many ups and downs as a founder. If people aren’t ready to ride a rollercoaster, then they should not be a founder. It can be tough, but it’s imperative to stay grounded because otherwise you’ll waste energy on emotions and lose focus on pushing your startup forward.
What do you do to stay grounded?
Remind myself of the power of positive thinking. Positive thinking techniques have given me the endurance to get through the dark days that come with being a founder. And that can mean a lot in terms of your own success, because being an entrepreneur isn’t a sprint but a marathon. Don’t mistake positive thinking with being blind to logic though. You need to always be open to seeing the problems in front of you so you’re able to know when to pivot course.
What advice would you give to first time founders?
Figure out the balance between confidence and humility. There’s nothing worse than a founder that’s so arrogant in their idea that they can’t see anything else – that’s not fun to be around. You need humility, because it’s going to make people want to connect with you and want to help you in so many more ways. At the same time, you do need to be passionate, confident and feel like you’re onto something that’s truly unstoppable because that’s what people invest in. Always work hard on yourself to figure out the balance between confidence and humility. If you balance those two nicely, it will open up a lot of doors and change the trajectory of where you go.
I’ve heard you talk about the strong bond you have with your co-founder Alex as imperative to your success. How did you decide who would be CEO?
We’ve always been Co-CEOs which was actually somewhat controversial. Everyone was saying you need to have just one CEO, and we just said “Guess what? We’re not everyone.” Alex and I have complementary strengths – my weaknesses are her strengths and vice-versa so together we like to say we’re “superhuman”.
What advice would you give someone looking for a co-founder?
Respect is the most important ingredient. I say that because it’s a rollercoaster ride and you’re going to share the darkest days together. And on your darkest days you’ll probably be your worst self. You’re going to be grumpy, tired, you’re going to have the potential to be a real monster. If you don’t have a deep respect for your co-founder, you’re going to say or do something that damages the health of this partnership. Respect will keep you in line, make sure you nurture and never cross the line that could jeopardize your relationship that’s invaluable to your startup success.
Did you ever expect your rollercoaster ride to bring you where you are today?
I never expected my life to be so beautiful. Ivy is on fire, it’s just so exciting! If you’d ask me a year ago where I thought Ivy would be I couldn’t even come close to imagining the growth we’re seeing. I’m so grateful for this journey, my team is incredible, being a part of Houzz is incredible, and all the people I’ve learned from along the way. I wake up every morning with an overwhelming sense of gratitude.
You’re also the founder of Female Founders Forum –
Yes. A lot of the conversations in the Female Founders Forum isn’t “we are women, let’s talk about women’s issues”. It’s more – let’s talk about startups, let’s talk about building unicorns, let’s talk about scale. The only difference is that it’s refreshing having these conversations in a room full of girl bosses because usually it’s a room full of men.
F2 Capital is a specialized, seed-stage venture capital fund backing Israeli deep technology companies at the junction of Big Data, Artificial Intelligence and Connectivity. Founded by Jonathan Saacks and Barak Rabinowitz, F2 Capital invests before others are ready and partners with leading international venture capital funds in future rounds. As value-add investors, F2 also operates The Junction, Israel’s leading pre-seed investment program to back game changing founders from the ground up.
Ivy is the fastest-growing business management software for interior design firms and other home design companies. The platform brings the trade industry into the modern age by streamlining and automating a firm’s workflow and business operations including procurement, client billing, vendor purchasing and time tracking. This ensures that the entire project lifecycle, including profit and loss reporting, are all managed in one easy-to-use application. Ivy has built a thriving community around its platform, including an online forum, trade magazine, educational webinars and member meetups across the United States. Ivy is a subsidiary of Houzz Inc., with teams in New York, San Francisco, Irvine, Nashville and Tel Aviv. For more information, visit ivy.co.