Cari Sommer, Urban Interns, Woman Entrepreneur

Images I was introduced to Cari Sommer of Urban Interns through Amanda Steinberg of Daily Worth, a company that I am personally invested in and am looking forward to out first board meeting.  I am not surprised that both Cari and Amanda clicked.  Two very sharp women. 

Cari grew up in Rockland County, NY made her way to Cornell and then on to Brooklyn Law.   After law school she worked for six months at a Wall street firm before finding herself at a law firm where she parked herself for six years.  It was there that she practiced bankruptcy and criminal law as well as different areas of litigation.  As an associate that wasn't on the deal side, you can really learn a lot by spending time in a variety of different areas.  What she learned there were a few things.  You never know how things can end up so keep in mind there is absolutely a reason for legal documents with lines in them that you can't imagine could happen but shit does.  Protection is key.  Also keep in mind, being a lawyer, in some regards is entrepreneurial. 

In her gut she knew she didn't want to be a lawyer forever.  She had graduated law school at 21 and after 10 years in law Cari started to feel it was time for a change.  Cari became in involved with Step-up Women's Network. Step-up is a National non-profit women's organization dedicated to connecting professional women and girls through mentorships and networking to create a better future.  Professional women connecting with under-served teen girls.  She chaired this organization for three years that began her path to becoming an entrepreneur. 

At Step-up Cari was involved in doubling the fundraising and growing the membership by 400%.  It was unbelievably gratifying to head up this growth with a great team and to watch the organization truly blossom.  She left her law firm and went to another firm to do contract law during her time at Step-up.  Life was starting to change.

Through Step-up she met Lauren Porat, her business partner.  They would meet and share ideas.  They would fantastize about hiring a part-time personal assistant.  This was the original idea of Urban Interns.  Yet all good companies generally pivot and grow before the sweet spot is found.  That original idea morphed into a marketplace for business opportunities. 

On a side note, Cari had a child during the time between leaving her Chairman role and launching Urban Interns just as the recession hit in 2009.  Her and Lauren boot-strapped the business at the beginning putting out a real bare bones site.  They felt they had a great idea and by creating a bare bones business they were able to use the input of their customers as the site got sticky to stand back and understand what the business needed.  People began to input information themselves and that data helped create what Urban Interns is today. 

So they stood back, raised $250K in an angel investment, and rebuilt the site and continue to with ongoing enhancements.  That $250K really moved the needle as they had already put in so much sweat equity. 

Employers go on Urban Interns and post a job and for $49.99 they have unlimited access to their database for 30 days.  On the job side, professionals enter in their resumes, bio etc.  There is a private messaging platform that allows companies to filter through the site to find the right match for the job.  People use the site in different ways.  There are over 10,000 people in the data base and that continues to grow virtually.  There is community management and brand ambassadors who bring in high quality professionals to the data base.  Their target base is small and growing companies.  They launched in NYC and have rolled Urban Interns into 12 other cities and are planning on more in the very near future.  What is very cool is how many virtual jobs are available which in turn allows them to be a national organization.  Just became your company is in Austin doesn't mean you can't hire your perfect person who happens to live in Minneapolis.   That opens up the talent pool particularly for strapped start-ups. 

Cari loves what she is doing.  Between being a Mom, having her own company and master of her own destiny she is amazed herself at what she has done over the past 3 years.  She has re-tooled her identity from bottom up.  She learned a lot in her legal career and still applies that knowledge to Urban Interns as she should.  She is best when she has a million things going on just like any true entrepreneur.  Her entire professional circle has changed as she has connected with more women starting businesses like herself who are using tech as a platform to launch their businesses, hence Amanda Steinberg. 

I was really impressed with Cari's energy.  Analytical and thoughtful and a big picture thinker.  Between family and business she actually told me she wants to be able to volunteer some of her time to help others.  When would you sleep?  She still continues to support Step-up as the mission of this organization is something Cari is still passionate about and it is near and dear to her heart.  There are a few companies doing what Urban Interns is doing and in many ways they all have their own niche and community.  An extension of the ever growing flatworld that we live in by connecting people with the right opportunity for their professional life. 



Comments (Archived):

  1. leeschneider

    Step-up is a wonderful program. My wife, who teaches High School Spanish, has been a mentor to two girls over the past 6 years. She finds the work very rewarding and the girls seem to get a lot out of the program. Cool post.

    1. Gotham Gal

      That’s so great your wife does that.

  2. Lisa O

    Joanne – you are soooooo right – shit DOES happen! Best to be prepared. My biz partner and I have been at our start-up for 3 years, bootstrapping with our own funds $300k+ and the last thing I want to do is be ‘partners’ with her husband (he’s a great guy…just not in our industry, not a ‘balls-out’ entrepreneur like his wife!). Early on we drew up legal contracts with other outlining the worst case scenario’s (becoming disabled,death, divorce, we end up hating each other, etc) and solutions that we agreed to. I have experienced friendship + partnerships gone bad too many times to take such an expensive risk. Great advice.

    1. Gotham Gal

      You just never know. What you listed below is exactly what you don’t wantto happy but it can and unfortunately sometimes does. That’s life

    2. Nancy

      Lisa — You were smart to detail all those “what ifs” in your Operating Agreement with your biz partner. I recently dissolved a biz partnership, and we were not so forward thinking. (Fortunately, it went relatively smoothly — only got a little gnarly when her hubby tried to inject himself into the proceedings! Had to gently remind him — and then not so gently remind him — that he was not my biz partner!)I heard General Assembly might be offering a class on structuring partnerships for the long haul and for every eventuality, including the topics you mentioned, and the pros/cons of key man insurance, etc. It’s not in their line-up yet, but here’s where to check….

      1. Gotham Gal

        that is great that general assembly might be offering that class. i amcurrently working with a small group that is interesting in providing aclass or a short seminar to help women to raise money but this piece mightbe a much needed addition

        1. Nancy

          That class sounds great, Joanne — and is sorely needed. I hope you’ll post about it, so we know when it’s being offered. I’ll post about that GA class here, as well, when I see it listed.The “what if” info would be fantastic to include in your seminar, as well. When I reached out to my women’s entrepreneur group for advice before splitting w/my Co-Founder, many had gone through it, but almost nobody had an operating agreement, let alone one that provided for dissolving the p’ship.I heard a nightmare story about one go-getter partner who wanted to part ways with a lame-o partner, but the lame-o refused to be bought out — or do any work. Since there was nothing in writing, the go-getter had no recourse but to proceed without help — and only 50% equity! Talk about a sucky situation. That made my very grateful that my former partner signed on the dotted line, even if her husband did hassle me in the process.It’s really important to provide for all the worst case scenarios that Lori O mentioned, so a split partnership doesn’t sink the business.

  3. Nancy

    I love to read about crazy busy entrepreneurs like Cari who prioritize giving back, too. It’s so important to keep that in the mix, but it’s not always easy.