Jean Lauer, Sweeten, Woman Entrepreneur
I was introduced to Jean by Scott Heiferman, the
entrepreneur behind Meet-up. He had just
done a project with Jean and between my love of real estate and woman
entrepreneurs he thought we should meet.
I liked what Jean was doing from the get-go. Her story also stuck with me too. Sweeten is a marketplace for architects,
interior designers and contractors to connect with clients. This is a word of mouth business so why not
use the crowd in your local area to see what other people have built, what
recommendations are out there instead of just trusting the friend down the street who
had their kitchen done. The Sweeten
already had done a variety of projects at all different price points and after
using my friends in the real estate industry for a little diligence I invested
in her seed round.
Jean grew up in New London, Ct. Her mother is from the Man of Isle in
England. Growing up her mother worked in
real estate doing title searches. Her
parents divorced when she was young but her father is in the area. Her worked a variety of jobs from banks to
the police department. Jean had her
first job at 13. She lied saying she was
16 because she was so tall. She was the
kid that made business cards for babysitting jobs. Even had a newspaper route that her Mom shut
down based on the neighborhood. She
scooped ice cream, shoveled snow, anything to work and make some cash.
Jean was good in math and science and also really liked art classic. She was dyslexic but managed to keep that
information to herself just working a little harder and out hustling everyone
else. She refused to deal with it until
much later on. Her guidance counselor
suggested that Jean might like architecture.
Her Mom got out a book, basically college for dummies, and saw that
Cooper Union was free. She suggested
that Jean apply there because they didn’t have enough money for school. Cooper Union is almost as hard as Westpoint
to get into. Only 32 people get into the
program. There is a home test you have to
do where you have to draw the answers to nine questions. She loved them. She also realized that was how her mind
worked. The one question that comes to
mind is that you had to draw a highway that you can’t drive on. She had just got her license. She took a piece of paper and drove over it
several times and responded with this is a bogus question because I can drive
on anything. She got in.
Jean moved down to NYC and continued to work while going to
school. Cooper Union might be free but
food is not. She was 17 years old. She was a waitress at a variety of mediocre
spots around the village making decent money.
One place she quit because she refused to wear the skirt as short as
they wanted her to. She even worked at
Rockefeller Plaza on summer outside with the hoards of tourists. By the time she was in her junior year she
got a job with Elizabeth O’Donnell, the Associate Dean, as a part-time drafter. O’Connell has an architecture business.
Jean graduated in 5 years as that is the program at Cooper
Union being a professional college. She
continued to work for Elizabeth graduating on Monday and back at work on
Tuesday. Then 9/11 happened and everything
Jean was on her way to work walking over the Manhattan Bridge and was freaked
out just like everyone else watching the 2nd plane hit the
tower. She started to piece together
everything she knew which was building buildings and why would someone want to
knock them down. She felt clueless in
terms of what she was doing with her life.
She wanted to have a better understanding of money and power and began
reading every economics book she could get her hands on. She decided she had to get outside her box
and take a job in corporate America to see what that was all about.
The perfect job came from Coach. It was a strange evolution but made
sense. She was made the Senior Manage of
Global Architecture. Jean traveled
around the world as Coach rolled out their retail stores. She helped set standards for design and
construction in the retail stores. At
that time she also started to get interested in the internet. She went to the COO of the company and
pitched him on an idea of her building an intranet for the company that would
help them manage the projects and in turn leverage their buying power include
insure consistency throughout the stores.
She entering the information, did the design, the UX, the whole
thing. It launched on a Monday and when
it started to crash on Tuesday people were pissed. In less than 24 hours that intranet had
changed the way the company did business internally. It was fast and fun.
At this point Coach wanted her to take her smarts to help
the handbag department. She had no
interest unless it was related to architecture and construction. It just seemed incredibly uninteresting to
her and she started to think about building her own business. She was almost too chicken to jump ship and
go out on her own until she found something out. Here she was doing her job while running and
building the intranet business for Coach as a side project and she finds out
that one of her male counterparts who was doing 50% less of what she was doing
and ranked lower than her was making $40K more a year. She quit.
Jean left in a terrible economy. She had never raised money and her only built
websites inside a relatively cushyy environment, aka she had the 800 pound
gorilla of Coach standing behind her.
Being an entrepreneur means standing there by yourself. It can be scary but exhilarating.
Jean and her husband had just finished buying a wood framed
house in BedSty that Jean had renovated.
After that project she knew she wanted to build a site that helps in
renovations. Their apartment had an
extra room that Jean took over as her office.
She acted as if she had a full time job.
She got up every morning and went into that room and worked 9-5. She started to go to meet-ups around the city
that were geared towards real estate and women entrepreneurs. She cobbled
together the first version of the Sweeten called Hey Architecture. It didn’t work. She kept on.
Jean went to a Meet-up and gave a presentation on what she
was building. After she left a woman ran
after her into the subway and told her to apply for the Loeb Scholarship at
Harvard. She told her I am going to
nominate you. That is what I love about
the tech industry. Everyone truly wants
to help others succeed. 200 people
apply, 9 get in. It is the graduate
school of design at Harvard and many of the classes are taken at the Kennedy
School. She was so fired up about the
application process that she got the momentum to relaunch the Sweeten at the
same time. Both worked. She got in and traction began to take
place. The Sweeten was picked up by
Daily Candy and things began to happen.
She convinced her husband that they were going to sell their place in
BedSty and move to Cambridge. He
followed. She spent the entire time in
Harvard taking classes Tues-Thur and working on the Sweeten Friday thru Monday.
While she was at the Sweeten she met someone who would join
her as a partner. Preeti was working as
an architect and attending the school.
She said to him that neither of them come for money and she wanted to
built a platform for people like them when it comes to renovation projects. We are going to work hard and we are going to
bust up the system. He signed up.
They all moved back to NYC and worked out a Starbucks in the
village for six months like it was their regular office, 9-5. She met some amazing people in tech
particularly Matt Meeker, who started to make introductions and meet with them
monthly and give advice. Then at Matts
wedding she met Scott who posted the project he was doing on line and then she
met me. Little did I know that I was the
first to say yes I am in.
I has been amazing working with Jean. They have just formed a partnership with
Corcoran to help their millions of clients use the Sweeten for projects. They are providing renovation data for brokers and clients. Every project that is posted gets up to 3 bids to compete for the job which is just a small part of what The Sweeten is doing. In the next month they will also be launching renovation maps. This will educate people around the local renovation market. Sweeten has done small projects and big
projects. Currently they are just in NYC
but trust me, world domination is just around the corner.