Tereza Nemessanyi, Honestly Now, Woman Entrepreneur

ImagesIt seems like I met Tereza years ago although that is what happens in the internet/start-up land.  One month seems like a year and although I still remember having our first lunch together easily more than a year ago it could have been two years ago.   She was just starting to embark on her own journey of building Honestly Now and then of course working to get funded.  I was just starting to hit my own personal stride talking to entrepreneurs and figuring out my landscape.  So when Tereza recently got funded and was able to spend time doing what she is passionate about, Honestly Now, I was thrilled for her.  She is a straight shooter, a smart woman and has had and continues to have a really interesting career, which includes the ever-ending balance of being a Mom too. 

Tereza was born in LI to Czechlosvakia political refugees who got to the US with about $100 in their pocket.  They each came separately and then re-met here and got married.  Initially her father was a caretaker of a large estate although a top engineer in Czechlosvakia.  They moved to Pound Ridge after connecting with her mothers’ old friends who was a holocaust survivor and her father got an engineer job in Stanford.  Terezas mother was a Mary Kay lady and Tereza grew up watching those sales tapes and learning exactly what it meant to be an entrepreneur.

She was recruited to play volleyball at UPenn.  She had studied opera too and had to make a choice between volleyball and opera.  Volleyball won out.  Tereza was one of the top six players in NY State when she graduated high school.  Through out college she had a variety of internships from MTV, CNN and a NBC local affiliate.  At NBC she worked for Tia O’Brien who was just coming off of maternity leave and she would bring Tereza along when she would interview people and through that experience she really learned how to see an opportunity and grab the moment. 

She had been to Eastern Europe before with her Mom on a trip and really felt compelled to return after graduation.  The first time there was life changing and the second time it became clearer to her where her parents came from.  Five days after graduating college she put on a backpack and found herself in back in Eastern Europe.   About 2 months after she was there the Berlin wall came down.   The idea was to come to this part of the world and become a journalist.   Tereza was totally focused on this taking German and French classes prior to coming so she could hit the ground running.  She knew that this part of the world was changing and wanted to be part of it.  I remember watching the wall come down on television and thinking how much I wanted to get on a plane and be part of history taking place.

Her first job was for a Czech economic magazine.  They had no money to pay her but the third day the guy she is working for says although they can’t pay her he could take care of her.  Quickly realizing what that meant she said let me think about that and walked out the door across the street to the Prague Post.   She got a freelance job there writing about changing businesses while networking her way around Eastern Europe. 

It was an exciting time to be there.  You could feel change in the air.  She got a call about a company that had just received an opportunity to create the first national television channel for Eastern Europe.  They had nine months to launch or they would lose the license. Tereza spoke four languages, knew the area and not surprising she was hired.  Ronald Lauder was funding this.  They hired the best and brightest to parachute in and Tereza would help them learn the ropes and translate for them.  You learn a lot when you are translating for people who are there to launch a national television channel.  She quickly learned it was either programming or sales to get to the top.  She maneuvered her way in to sales landing a huge sponsorship when no one else could landing her the opportunity to work on the biggest accounts.  The learning curve had ended and she felt it was time to return to the states.

Tereza returned to the states and decided to go to Wharton business school.  She still wanted to return to television and after having an internship at Disney in Burbank, the summer between the first and second year, she knew that she wanted to be in an urban area after graduating.  She was up to her eyeballs in debt and opted to take a consulting job at Coopers Lybrand figuring that being in a structured environment would be a good learning experience.  She would learn how to manage people. 

The group that she was working on did cross industry strategies.  She worked with large brands and agencies strategically thinking about joint consortia to do their media buying as a group to get major discounts.  She was working in the business to business marketing space of each of their clients.

While she was at Coopers they merged with Price Waterhouse and eventually sold to IBM.  Helping with the merger integration and always being the youngest in the room she was given the opportunity to be a partner.  Once the companies merged they decided to eliminate 75% of the employees in her division so she quickly jumped to the accounting side where the CFO/COO needed someone to run strategy.  That person is now one of her investors.  She stayed there for two more years until her father got sick. 

Her father was never a healthy man but this time it wasn’t good.   Tereza had one kid and living in the city with her husband. They barely had time to bury her father and then her mother was diagnosed with stomach cancer.  She moved with her husband and daughter to Pound Ridge to help her Mom.  They were considering buying a house down the street to be with her Mom and then her Mom died.  After that she had to give herself some time to just do nothing but grieve.  They never left Pound Ridge.

The guy that had hired her at Coopers was now at IRI and called her about doing a new innovation project with a large client.  Would she be interested in coming in to work on this?  The job was 15 minutes from her house so she said yes.  That job led to another project and then another project and then another project.  It wasn’t where she wanted to be but it brought in an income and she was close to home.

One afternoon she was sitting at Starbucks and picked up a book called planning the next five years of your life.  She didn’t move until she finished the book.  That was a pivotal moment.   After putting down the book she said to herself, I am going to start a company.

At first she thought about doing something in education and decided that wasn’t the right one but actually by saying no to that was empowering and relieving at the same time.  She had always been bothered about wondering how do I look.   At her mothers eulogy she wore this old blouse she found in the closet and wondered to herself who is going to tell me that this is ok to wear.  She had just got an iPhone and wondered as she was uploading her pictures if she could send out a blind survey to friends asking how she looked.  The idea for Honestly Now was launched.

It was 2009 and her partner came along six months later.  She knew she wanted the site to have structure and allow the users to keep their questions private.  As people began to use it she realized having a more public site was the way to go.  Although other similar sites were being launched she kept at it gearing Honestly Now to the 30-50 year old audience.  Through fundraising the initial site became a more complex idea.  Honestly Now got funded which for any first time entrepreneur that is empowering as someone else believes in what you are trying to create.  There are now four people working in the company, the product is socially integrated, questions have their unique urls and the audience continues to grow.

I am a huge fan of Terezas.  Her career including her family ties to Eastern Europe is very much a part of who Tereza is.  She has bravado and her willingness to roll up her sleeves and do whatever it takes to succeed in her business while juggling life as a mother of two (great and supportive husband on the sidelines) is dazzling.  It is impressive how she has quickly become a leader and voice of women in the tech community of NYC.  I had the pleasure of sitting on a panel with her and not only enjoyed listening to her story again but her insight into being a woman entrepreneur.  As I told Tereza when she got funded, I hope Honestly Now hits one out of the ballpark. 

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