This week Series W spoke to the founding team of Monarq, a soon to be launched free iPhone app created for women by women. Diana Murakhovskaya and Irene Ryabaya founded Monarq with the mission of making it easier for women to make one-on-one, authentic, obligation-free connections with like-minded women so that they can make friends, whether for a day or a lifetime. Murakhovskaya and Ryabaya shared their views on founding a company first, finding an idea second, and their simple powerful advice of: share your idea, commit to it, ask for help.
How did you develop the idea for Monarq?
As with many things we do, we did not take the traditional path to starting a business – we decided to start something together BEFORE we had an idea of what that something would be. We both knew we wanted to be entrepreneurs and tried starting companies with other co-founders but did not find the results satisfying.
One day on a mountain in Borneo, Malaysia, after an intense all day hike, in late 2014, it dawned on us that the best way for us build an inspiring company we’d be proud to call our own would be to blend our skills in tech, sales and finance and to combine our mutual tenacity and overarching ability to get sh*t done. We came home from that trip and gave ourselves 30 days to start a company and find an idea that we were passionate about. It didn’t take long for Monarq to come to the forefront and we quickly got to work registering our company and figuring out a way to make it come alive.
Monarq is a soon to be launched free iPhone app created for women by women. Our goal with Monarq is to make it easy for women to make one-on-one, authentic, obligation-free connections with like-minded women so that they can make friends, whether for a day or a lifetime. The Monarq mission is to inspire women to lead a more meaningful and fulfilling life, spark authentic conversations, and experience the joys of new friendships.
How did you make the decision to take the plunge and start your own company? What was your professional alternative?
As always, we didn’t take the normal path and after almost a decade in finance we left the glitter and flashing lights of Wall Street knowing we wanted to be entrepreneurs but not really sure what that would mean. We traveled the world (both together and apart), mentored, connected with many inspiring people and worked on separate EdTech, FinTech, foodie and social media startups. It wasn’t until we decided to approach starting a company the opposite way of most – by making the concerted plan to work together and then choosing an idea that really resonated with us – that our journey began. Our professional alternative to go back to finance was not an option that we ever considered once we decided to pursue entrepreneurship.
How did you get your first investors on board? What would you do differently?
We were lucky enough to have saved enough money after a decade on Wall Street to be able to jump start Monarq and do it on our own terms using our own funds. Self-funding and bootstrapping has made us great at hustling and putting our money to use in more creative ways. We’ve been able to rally people who are incredibly passionate about working with us to help out in many different areas instead of just those looking for a paycheck.
Staying true to our vision is paramount to us so we planned from the start to not seek funding until we had a proof of concept and strong user base. Now that our app is being reviewed by the app store and we are gearing up for our Phoenix launch, we expect to be fundraising later this year and will likely have a different answer for you in early 2016 🙂
What has been your greatest WFIO (we’re f*****, it’s over) moment so far?
We definitely have had some hairy moments with running our own bootstrapped company. When we were fairly close to wrapping this phase up for release our lead developer landed in the hospital for a while with a collapsed lung and our designer had a death in the family. Things halted for a bit and seemed dire but we knew that start-up life would throw us many curve balls yet. When you’re in WFIO mode it’s hard to see the light but we took a deep breath and threw ourselves into taking action. We worked through it and with the support of our incredible network still made progress.
What has been the most exciting moment so far?
There have been so many and watching our friends Beta test the app we built from nothing is definitely up there! But we would have to say the MOST exciting moment so far has been the launching of SheHacks a series of all-women hackathons in New York and Arizona with a mission to bring more women into tech and startups.
We wanted to build a company for women created by women and went on a vigorous search for female tech talent. After coming up empty and attending our fair share of tech events that brought in a mostly male crowd we saw a need to forge a new path to help women who want to start their own businesses close the all-too-well known gender gap. With #SheHacksNYC we have been building a collaborative community of entrepreneurial, creative and technical women and are bringing them together to combine their skills and build new businesses. It’s been incredibly time consuming but ultimately one of the most rewarding experiences we’ve had. At the end of the weekend when we get hugs and really meaningful comments from all the participants we couldn’t be more excited.
What did you look for in your first hires?
The people are the most important aspect of any business and we are very careful about who we involve in Monarq. Passion for our mission and our company is first and foremost a quality we look for in anyone working with us. We never want to work with some who just wants to punch the clock.
We also are very much aware of our weaknesses (an important quality for any entrepreneur!) and have discovered new ones as new challenges arose. Given that, we always look to hire people who are better than us in what they love to do and who complement our weaknesses. We also look for people willing to teach and share their knowledge because have deep need to understand and strive to become proficient in every aspect of the business and tend to ask a lot of questions.
Your product helps women network and find connections – what networking practices have been most helpful for you both while launching Monarq?
We love talking to people about the power of collaboration and networking and have actually run workshops on the topic both in NYC and Arizona. When we first started we spent 6 months going to 2 events a day, 4 days a week. We wouldn’t have gotten as far as we have in as short a time if it wasn’t for all the amazing people we have met who have supported us every step of the way. The most important advice if you are starting to network and meet new people is to invest in relationships for the long term and to ask the people you meet how you can help them first. We have found that the most successful people always ask “what can I do for you” and have made it our mantra. We love connecting people and now regularly make introductions so often that people new to the space see us as an authority on women in tech and startups.
What advice do you have for women still in school and thinking about start ups?
We have three pieces of advice: share your idea, commit to it and ask for help.
We love this quote from Johann Wolfgang von Goethe “At the moment of commitment the entire universe conspires to assist you.” Building a company is a REALLY HARD and you have to be quite driven, passionate and ready to work like mad.
You absolutely cannot do it alone so you have to share what you are working on with everyone you meet and see how you can help each other. Ideas are abundant but drive isn’t so you can put your worries about “someone stealing your idea” to rest. Once we committed to Monarq, we received an amazing outpouring of support and advice from a lot of terrific people, women in particular which is what has made it possible for us to get where we are today so quickly. If you surround yourself with caring and passionate people, you will find that when ask, someone will always help you find the answer.