The Latina-owned, women-run tech company Hello Alice found a way to become the small business that saved small businesses during the pandemic. Gain insights from co-founders Carolyn Rodz and Elizabeth Gore on how they found success and continue to help other small businesses along the way.
Hello Alice is the first machine learning technology to help business owners find personalized opportunities and resources. In short, the platform represents a small business on a mission to boost others just like it. In pursuit of this mission, Hello Alice launched their Business For All Initiative last year, a nationwide movement bringing together small business owners, enterprise partners, entrepreneur organizations, policymakers, and individual consumers to uplift small businesses toward success.
Providing access to invaluable resources, grants, and mentorship from the likes of Gwenyth Paltrow, Armando Christian “Pitbull” Perez, and Lisa Price, Business For All was launched two weeks prior to major U.S. lockdowns in response to the Covid-19 pandemic. Quickly acting on the immediate needs of their target market, Hello Alice launched their Covid-19 Business Resource Center in April of 2020, pivoting Business For All’s focus and structure to better serve struggling owners.
Partnering with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation, eBay Foundation, Global Entrepreneurship Network, Salesforce Essentials, and UBS, Hello Alice’s Latina-owned, woman-run tech platform provided invaluable support to business owners most in need of guidance. In addition to giving real-time updates on all things Covid-related for small businesses, Hello Alice helped raise and distribute just under $20 million in emergency grants, making them the small business that saved small businesses.
I had the opportunity to speak with Hello Alice co-founders Carolyn Rodz and Elizabeth Gore in a recent interview where we discussed how they were able to make such a profound impact on the lives of small business owners while facing similar challenges. Below are some of the strategies and organizational necessities the partners deemed as crucial for the success of securing millions in emergency funding during the pandemic.
Stay Focused On Your Core Mission
Rodz pointed out that unlike other tech companies, at Hello Alice they refer to their users as owners, “So that our whole team remembers they are real humans. There are real lives behind every single one of those user IDs,” she explained. With Hello Alice’s allegiance being to the new majority—people of color, women, immigrants, anyone identifying as LGBTQ+, veterans, and people with disabilities—their mission remains deeply rooted in providing access.
The first woman in her family to graduate college, it wasn’t until a friend of Gore’s dropped out to have a child did she realize hers was the only school in its category without childcare support or facilities for female students. “I protested,” she recounted. “I got in a little bit of trouble, but then ultimately, I worked really hard to help the campus raise money and build its first ever child care center.”
From that day forth, giving women equal access to basic necessities like health and education became the driving factor in Gore’s work, taking her from the Peace Corps and UN to entrepreneurship opportunities with Michael Dell where she met Rodz and eventually launched Hello Alice. So when the lives of marginalized individuals were turned upside down by the unprecedented events of 2020, all of Hello Alice’s business decisions were already solidified—they would help the new majority navigate the rapidly changing business landscape.
“Everyone keeps saying let’s get back to normal, and I don’t agree with that,” exclaimed Gore. “I want to get back to the new normal, where women and people of color and U.S. veterans are held up as not the right thing to do or social good, but the best economic bet in this country.”
Continuing to provide grant opportunities through partnerships with organizations such as the NAACP, BEYGood, and more to be announced later this year, Hello Alice remains committed to supporting the launch and growth of small businesses through actionable tips and resources.
Remain Clear on Your Value Add
Agreeing that people start businesses for a variety of reasons, Rodz declared that the most successful of those endure when they are formed to solve a problem. “When you start a business to solve a problem, you’re starting with a very clear market need that’s validated,” she revealed. With this information, the business model becomes more distinct and execution of the idea much easier.
Rodz and Gore have always been clear on the value they bring to their owners by their continued recognition of Hello Alice’s place in their lives and the success of their businesses. “We’re in such a funny situation that we literally embody the people we support through Hello Alice,” said Gore of their user base, which is made up of 65% women.
Keeping a close eye on their owners as the pandemic ensued, the cofounders saw themselves facing many of the same challenges their users faced. Referring to the spikes in data they noted revealing the overwhelming loss of business funds, issues with finding and juggling child and elder care, the difficult aspects of letting go of employees, and the challenging task of obtaining capital, the pair recognize how the events of the last year have emboldened the unique challenges women are consistently up against.
Through weekly (now monthly) reports filled with aggregate data mapping out owners’ top questions, challenges, and concerns, Hello Alice gave enterprise partners the inside information they needed to better serve their communities. As a result, owners were given access to the real-time, relevant information they sought in addition to the precious capital Hello Alice’s partners were hoping to share, thus demonstrating their value add to both their consumers and collaborators.
Leverage Valuable Partnerships Built On Trust
Stating that no one of us has everything to execute, Gore challenged entrepreneurs to ask ourselves whether we could accomplish what we hope with the help of someone else. “Even if you are completely a superhero, which most women are,” Gore said, quoting the three fires, flood, major power outages, and loss of sick parents the two have faced over the past year. “If you can have even at the start a small team working with you, it’s just going to be a more functional business.” Gore added trust as an important component for maintaining these invaluable relationships, often built on a set of shared values.
Rodz and Gore contest that their partnerships are the lifeblood of the success of their company. With the help of notable partners including Verizon, L’Oreal, DoorDash, VistaPrint, and the Boston Celtics, Hello Alice empowers small businesses while giving them access to the extensive networks, vital capital, and exceptional business services that saved many of them in 2020.
“No matter what size your business is, even if you haven’t launched, seek out partners,” emphasized Gore. “Partnerships exponentially grow programs and exponentially increase your output. It brings new diverse ideas to the table. And while they sometimes can be more time consuming, the outcomes are always larger, I think, and more efficient.”
Gore also advises owners to be patient and honest with partners in addition to lawyering up over agreements as good partnerships bring huge power to a business, making even the smallest feel big and more wide-reaching. And for those who may be reluctant to expand their circles, Gore encourages readers to view themselves in a different light as they build their businesses. “Relationships, nurturing your network, and building trust [are things women] do quite well,” she said.
Believe In the Power You Have to Pivot
During uncertain times, businesses capable of successfully pivoting into new territory are those with a stronger staying power. However, the act is rarely easy. “Any business owner knows that you’re going to go through huge barriers and obstacles. But if you just keep your head up high and you keep pushing, you’re going to get there,” said Gore.
Having spent summers in Bolivia watching her grandmother work as an owner of the largest cookie and bread factory in the country, Rodz stated that she probably would’ve laughed at the thought of running her own business when she was younger. After leaving her corporate job in investment banking to start a business, failing, and trying again, Rodz shared how today she sees promise in the resilient entrepreneurs Hello Alice supports.
“They’ve pivoted in such incredible ways over the past 12 months,” she exclaimed. “I’ve absolutely no doubt that everyone is going to emerge successful. And it might look very different for every individual, but there is an incredibly bright future for the small business community.”
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