Abby Schneiderman is a repeat NYC-based startup entrepreneur who loves finding ways to use technology to make people's lives better. She is the Co-Founder and Co-CEO of Everplans.com, a website that helps people create and organize all the important documents and information their loved ones need in one place so that when something happens to them their families will have access. Prior to Everplans, Abby was a Principal at Tipping Point Partners, a NYC start-up incubator, where she was part of the team that launched several businesses, including AppOrchard, an iOS consultancy for the enterprise, and Cookstr, a recipe-driven nutritional technology company which was recently acquired by Macmillan. In 2004, Abby co-founded Haystack Media, a pioneer of music social networking.
Abby earned her BA from the University of Pennsylvania and currently lives in NYC with her husband and daughter.
How has your life experience made you the leader you are today?
I grew up knowing I wanted to build businesses some day. I was fortunate to be surrounded by people (families, educators, mentors) who instilled in me the confidence and mindset that anything I set out to do with the right dedication and hard work I could achieve. I just had to dream big and believe that nothing was impossible.
At this point in my career, I've been through ups and downs at companies, experiencing amazing success and amazing challenges. I'm married. I have a two and a half year-old and I've also lost members of my family. All of this has brought a bigger, broader perspective to my work: I'm no longer a 20-something entrepreneur...and it's no longer just about me. I think there's something to this idea of grownups in tech that hasn't been fully embraced by the tech community yet. Tech startups require a huge amount of creativity. Having diverse perspectives is critical. So now I consider myself a grown-up in tech. A parent in tech. I'm now an entrepreneur who isn't only thinking of building businesses to suit my immediate needs but who is thinking about the bigger picture. My co-founder Adam and I are both parents of young girls. We're interested in building things for our kids. Or for our kids' kids. It's about listening to other people, having a longer-term view of what success means and addressing real needs that exist in the world. As a leader, it's important to have a broad view of the value of our business, the value to our customers, and the value we can bring to the world. I think without this view Everplans would have never been imagined.
How has your previous employment experience aided your position at Everplan?
I co-founded my first company in my early 20's, Haystack, which was a pioneer in music social-networking.
I went on to become a Principal at Tipping Point Partners, a NYC-based incubator where I helped other entrepreneurs turn THEIR ideas into businesses. Over the years I have worn an incredible number of hats at multiple startups and have learned a tremendous amount about creating products, building teams, raising capital, and scaling customer bases. Now, at Everplans, with those experiences as a guide, we're taking on a social taboo and that's an unconventional idea for most of the entrepreneurial community. For everyone else it's something that really needs to be changed and something that millions of people struggle with.
What have the highlights and challenges been during your tenure at Everplan?
Everplans is a website that helps people become heroes to their families. I'm really proud of what we have accomplished so far. We have an incredible team of people with a lot of experience and expertise working together to create Everplans. We're actually trying to do something that no one has done before. Though many companies exist to help with bits and pieces of this planning (online legal forms companies, financial services, healthcare companies, etc), no one has knit the whole thing together. Why not? They come at it from their business perspective and haven't thought about it from a 'whole life' perspective. Now we're partnering with those companies who will offer Everplans to their customers and we get to tie it all together. A major highlight, has been launching our product into the marketplace and hearing from our users on a daily basis thanking us for building Everplans.
There was one big challenge for me personally which was that over a year after we had started Everplans, I experienced a tragedy which was the loss of my brother who died in a fatal car crash. That was a profound challenge in that I didn't know if I could continue doing this, dealing with the subject of death every day. While I thought about giving up, my grief actually turned into a positive, driving force. I learned what it was like to lose someone, what it was like to have to deal with grief, and what it was like to deal with the many complicated aspects of what happens when someone dies. It became very clear that there was a huge need for what we were doing and it turned into a personal mission for me, for Adam, and for the whole team.
How is technology helping to address end of life issues?
Though technology has created a new set of end-of-life problems because we now have increasingly complex lives to organize and we have so many assets, both digital and traditional, that are stored and saved in many different places where people might not find them just by looking. Technology has also created new opportunities. It's never been easier to put everything in one place, secure it, and share it with the people who need it. Using technology allows us to help people navigate this tough topic by providing them step-by-step guidance and a plan of action that is customized to their particular life situation. Hopefully by making the process easier, we'll enable more people to get these types of plans in place, so their families aren't left to scramble in case something happens to them.
What advice can you offer women who are seeking to be a social entrepreneur?
Think beyond yourself and your needs and figure out what the greater community might benefit from. Figure out where the holes are in the market. And then go and build that. Don't try to create everything at once. Start small, validate your concept, and then iterate. Know what you don't know, and surround yourself with people who do know. And if you fail, do it again, and again, until you get it right.
How do you maintain a work/life balance?
It's difficult juggling being a mom, being a wife, leading a business, spending time with friends and family, and doing things that I fundamentally like to do and want to find time for (going to the gym, cooking for my family, organizing my apartment). It's not always easy to come home from the office, and then switch gears to be able to play with and focus on my 2.5 year old daughter. It takes a lot of organization, and a lot of discipline, and a lot of putting my phone away. The good news is that we're building a company that deeply cares about families. The whole point of Everplans is to make sure your family is taken care of. So of course, having a work/life balance is really important to me, and is a big part of our culture here at Everplans.
What do you think is the biggest issue for women in the workplace?
Take a look at the recent photo from World Wide Developers Conference (WWDC). The biggest issue for women in the workplace is also our opportunity. There are simply not enough of us and certainly not enough of us in the top seat. 89% of startups' founding teams are all-male. Diversity of perspectives is critical. We need to get more representation and that needs to start now.
How has mentorship made a difference in your professional and personal life?
I've been very fortunate to have wonderful mentors and role models supporting me as I've developed my career. It's so important to have trusted people to turn to for advice, and who can help to offer new perspective in areas I might be too stuck in the weeds in to see clearly. It's particularly valuable to seek out the views of older people who, although not necessarily as experienced with technology, they have a wisdom and maturity that comes from real life that is invaluable. Interesting things happen when you bring together the energy and idealism of youth with the experience and wisdom of elders.
Which other female leaders do you admire and why?
The incredible female leaders running companies we read about in the news every day (Marissa Mayer, Sheryl Sandberg) are of course inspiring. And they're bringing light to some very important issues surrounding women in the workplace and the work/life struggle. But the female leaders who I relate to more, are the ones I know are struggling with the same challenges I face. Take for example Katie Workman, the amazing cookbook author, publishing executive, and mother who took her passion for cooking and kids and turned it into a business. Take Heather Myers, who is a personal mentor and business advisor who's on a mission to support local NYC women entrepreneurs through her company Spark 9. And then look at the women behind some of the companies we see popping up all over cities nationwide, Elizabeth Cutler and Julie Rice who founded SoulCycle. I admire all of these women. These are women taking risks, being bold, and finding ways to create businesses they're passionate about... and doing a phenomenal job of it.
What do you want Everplans to accomplish in the next year?
Over the course of the next year we'll be releasing new and innovative products, including an Enterprise version of the site for financial advisors and estate attorneys. This will allow Everplans to get into the hands of even more people who can begin planning for their families. We want to build a multi-billion dollar category and we want to be the undisputed leader in that category. It sounds like a big aspiration but with the growth of the world's populations and the average age of that population getting older and older, our business is only getting bigger. End-of-life planning is a massive white space that impacts everyone and it's not being seriously addressed by anyone else from a technology perspective.