At GoKart Labs, we value curious minds. We love learning from people who are doing cool things out in the world, so we’ve made it a regular pursuit. The Entrepreneur Series is a GoKart Labs-hosted, guest-speaker focused highlight of startups and the individuals who built them. We invite a business founder to share their startup story and the challenges and lessons they have encountered along the way.
Name: Alex West Steinman
Startups: Strong Like Mama (2014), The Coven (2018)
Titles: Entrepreneur, Founder, Co-Founder
Background: Alex Steinman comes from the ad agency world, working in and out of the industry in communications roles since 2011. In 2014, she started her side hustle, Strong Like Mama, a blog and apparel brand that highlights the strength of mothers. Since leaving her position as Communications Director at Fallon at the end of 2017, she co-founded The Coven and runs day-to-day operations of the community workspace.
Story: Steinman is a problem solver. When it comes to injustices in the world, she sees the opportunities to make real, impactful change. During her maternity leave from Fallon in 2014, she found it difficult to connect with other working mothers, even though they were all going through similar things. This led to her first venture, Strong Like Mama.
Strong Like Mama began as a blog and served as an outlet to share the ups and downs of her experience being a working mom. Her initial thought was to break some of the conventions she was seeing from other mommy bloggers, mentioning, “a lot of [moms] have the same perspective, but it’s hidden behind lifestyle blogs that are like, ‘everything’s great! I love going to Target with my kids!’… people were posting these beautiful pictures on Instagram, but it wasn’t real life.” After some initial success, the blog evolved to incorporate an apparel line that captured the essence of a mama. “I was seeing all these t-shirts that were always ‘mom’s so beautiful’ and ‘dad’s so strong’ but there wasn’t anything saying ‘I have a strong mom.’”
She’s taken a lot of this momentum around changing cultural norms into her recent startup, The Coven. As a community and workspace, The Coven’s purpose is to transformationally change the culture around business and entrepreneurship to better serve women and non-binary people. Launching in March of 2018, the co-working space proved it’s necessity with a campaign on iFundWomen, a crowd-funding platform designed specifically to support women and non-binary-owned businesses. They were met with excitement and support, receiving $315,000 without major investors or independently wealthy founders.
The Coven stakes its claim in the coworking industry as a community first. As one of four founding members, Steinman sees her role as a Chief Connections Officier. In an environment full of folks who didn’t have spaces designed with their needs in mind, connecting members with each other is priority number one if any shift in culture is to occur. With these connections comes access to capital from angel investors who work in the space, opportunities for mentorship and a sense of belonging overall. In addition to connections, The Coven offers weekly speakers and events in the space on a broad range of topics, a scholarship program and discounts to other local, women-led organizations.
But there’s still more to come. “It’s listening and evolving with our community so we’re always open to feedback,” says Steinman as she discusses how The Coven reaches its audiences and how it plans to reach them in the future. “This isn’t just ‘Welcome to The Coven. That’s it.’ It’s a long-term plan.”
Future: Alex and The Coven are still learning a lot about the business. They’re looking to understand the ebb and flow of the work their clients do, considering many are entrepreneurs with seasonal schedules, as this affects membership. With a 5 year plan in hand, they are excited about the potential expansion into different markets. Specifically, they are interested in St. Paul, but also looking out of the North into the rest of the country, potentially on a franchise-basis. They’re also hoping to make headway into providing a hotel-like space within The Coven itself to align with the goals of providing safe spaces to their clients while aligning with many of their clients business-travel needs.
Learn a lot, fast because running a business is hard but it teaches you a lot. You never know when you start how hard it’s going to be. If your business needs a website, you have to become a tech person. When a printer breaks, you need to become an IT person. It’s tough, but you never know when that knowledge will come in handy later.
Find your own path because it can make taking a risk one of the easiest decisions of your life. “As soon as I started feeling like myself, I didn’t feel like I fit in [at my previous position]” she says, illustrating the importance of knowing when to move on when things don’t feel right.
Remember what you have achieved even when you fail. It’s easy to get down on yourself when you are young because a lot of learning is failing, especially as an entrepreneur. Try to think about what your younger self would say to your older self. When you have difficult moments, you’ve got to remember how far you’ve come since you started.