For the NYU Entrepreneurial Institute’s September Female Founders Lunch, we were joined by Lisbeth Kaufman (Stern ‘15), the Co-Founder & CEO of Kitsplit. KitSplit makes gear rental and insurance easy and affordable for filmmakers and production companies. They have been quoted by Forbes as the “Airbnb of cameras”, and have built a community of over fifty thousand. Kaufman grew up on film sets, got her business chops in consulting, and wrote policy in the Senate. She is an avid film enthusiast, recovering policy wonk, and is passionate about empowering storytellers by democratizing the filmmaking process. At KitSplit, Lisbeth runs a 20 person team and leads growth strategy, marketing, geographic expansion, fundraising, and accounting. Lisbeth is a Yale Grad, and NYU Stern MBA Dean's Scholar.
So that we could get to know her a little better, our Programs Manager, Emily Baum, moderated a quick interview about her journey. Lisbeth talked about the risks and rewards that come with being a female founder. Below are some highlights from their discussion:
How did you meet your co-founder?
I joined a fellowship program called InSITE during my MBA doing consulting for startups. That is where I met my co-founder. We bonded over our mutual interest in film and started working together.
How did you think about risk early on?
Being in school is a great time to start a startup because it felt like lower risk. For me, I got investments from the Dorm Room Fund, and then got accepted into ERA. Both of those gave me enough affirmation to feel confident to pursue this full time after graduation.
How did you get started building the business?
I spent a lot of time validating the problem. I had an intuition that getting equipment was difficult, and the process for getting gear was outdated. So, I did a ton of research. The NYU library was useful because we were able to do a ton of market research through their resources. Additionally, we conducted a large survey, roughly around 300 people, to understand the details of the problem. Luckily, we both come from the film industry, so we were able to land several connections through warm introductions. Later, we finally built the platform on Sharetribe and saw people actually using our product.
What were your biggest challenges?
Definitely the emotional roller coaster. It’s an EmoRoCo for sure!
Talk to us about how you manage your team as it grows?
Right now we use a 360 review for all team members, and we just brought on an executive coach. It is important to set up some structure. For example, using the OKR (Objectives and Key Results) system can be helpful for your team, because you want to make sure everyone knows what the goal is, and what key results to measure.
When you started to think about fundraising, what was top of mind?
Well, first of all, we had to think through whether our company was a venture scalable business. Once we determined that it was, and made the decision to raise money, we approached the Dorm Room Fund. After applying to their accelerator, they taught us best practices for raising capital. One of the things they taught us was to think about raising as a sales process. You build leads, keep people updated, follow up, and keep track of everything. Remember, there will be 50 no’s for every yes, but be focused on who you reach out to. It's important to talk to funds who specialize in your sector.
Do you think gender played a role in fundraising? What would you tell other female founders who are considering raising capital?
The odds are against you, but there are more and more resources to support you. For example, Kitsplit is part of an incubator at Hearst (HearstLab) for female run companies which is really nice. We have gotten a lot of inappropriate questions from investors, in the past, some we had to walk away from. It happens. But keep in mind, there are a lot of people who are really excited to support women entrepreneurs. So do not be discouraged!
What is the best piece of advice you’ve been given?
“It all comes from the top.” I am becoming really aware of how my emotional state echoes on the rest of the team.
After the fireside chat, we opened up the discussion to Q & A from attendees. Here’s a look a look at what the female founders in the room asked:
Do you feel like your degree helped you with your venture?
My MBA was helpful for sure, and useful - especially when it came time for fundraising.
How did you split time and responsibilities with your team?
Each member of the team had a portfolio of responsibilities they owned. It was also helpful to define what equity split would be. Discussing those things can lead to potentially difficult conversations, but I would recommend you talk about it as soon as possible to avoid having your team fall apart.
Do you have any tips for gaining confidence when pitching?
First thing is to have confidence in the idea. You have to believe that you’re really improving on the problem you’re solving. Use that confidence in the idea as a way to get personal confidence. Practice your pitch a lot out loud. Record yourself, watch it, improve it.
What specific NYU resources did you use while attending NYU?
Several things I found really helpful. First, The Leslie elab and all their resources. Also, check out the book Talking to Humans, it’s a great read! Second, The Bobst library. That is where we did a lot of our market research. Lastly, taking classes in entrepreneurship and meeting other NYU students working on their startups. It is always helpful to grow your network any way you can, and sometimes it starts with classmates.
What tips would you give NYU female founders starting out today?
Take advantage of the resources the library offers. If you’re building a marketplace, find a platform to piggyback off of like we did with Sharetribe. First Round has great online resources too. Just get started!