Several years ago a fellow New Yorker and entrepreneur friend invited me to join the online Dreamers // Doers community. The page description immediately caught my eye: “an entrepreneurial community of trailblazing women that welcomes you with open arms.” Upon browsing the site, the posts and comments so resonated with me (as a writer, performing artist and fitness coach) that I immediately felt goosebumps. Dreamers // Doers has expanded significantly since then and is doing something incredibly important: creating an inspiring community through which women support, educate and empower each other to achieve their dreams and goals. When I decided to launch No Bubblegum last fall, an article about Dreamers + Doers felt like an essential to me. Last week I had the pleasure of speaking with energetic, inspiring and vibrant founder Gesche Haas in New York. Below is part of her intriguing story and journey into entrepreneurhood, as well as some inspiring excerpts and insights from our conversation.
Gesche Haas’ childhood was the epitome of international. Half-German and half Chinese-Malaysian by birth, and with German as her mother tongue, Gesche and her family moved from Swaziland in Africa to many countries including Germany, Malaysia, Singapore and Mainland China, due to her father’s work in Development Aid. Gesche credits her broad international exposure as a child with instilling in her a fierce sense of curiosity, an ability to understand different perspectives and a desire to challenge the status quo.
Remarkable Self-Awareness. Gesche shared her experience as an 11-year-old moving from Singapore to Germany, where she was ostracized by her peers for being different. She remembers feeling very sad, naturally, but more than that she recalls this experience as having triggered her to recognize and accept that her classmates’ behavior had nothing to do with her personally. Once she was able to separate herself from the situation, Gesche recalls feeling liberated. “The only reason someone would be mean to someone else is because they themselves are feeling pain.” Gesche was remarkably self-aware at a young age, a quality which no doubt has helped develop her internal strength and resilience.
From Hong Kong to New York. After graduating from the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology with an impressive double major in Global Business & Operations Management and a minor in China Studies, Gesche Haas moved to New York to work for a hedge fund. She had fallen in love with the city during a semester abroad at NYU’s Stern School of Business, and was inspired by its diversity, vibrant energy and openness.
Finance Never Quite Fit. Gesche spent her first 5 years in New York working as an investment analyst at a healthcare-focused hedge fund that spun out of SAC Capital. Despite her apparent career success, she felt unfulfilled. “One of the main reasons finance never quite fit for me is there didn’t seem to be a lot of passion surrounding it. A lot of it seemed based on money and not because people truly cared about their work. I often felt I couldn’t be myself. It was generally shunned upon in the industry to have an active social media presence or, in fact, any presence outside of work. I felt a bit dead inside during those 5 years.”
Discovering the Startup World. “While I didn’t love working in finance, I also didn’t know what I wanted to do instead. Moving to another finance gig didn’t seem like the right thing because it’s not that I didn’t like the company I was at. However, as soon as I was exposed to the start-up world through Grouper – this was almost much exactly 3 years ago now – for the first time in my life I knew exactly what I wanted to do and that hasn’t changed since. I felt alive and invigorated by the thought of creating something from nothing and taking risks for something I believe in.”
New Entrepreneur Challenges: Less Support + Shifting Friendships. “There’s a lot of risk involved when you start something on your own. You’re doing many things for the first time as a new entrepreneur; meanwhile, friends and family tend to judge you (rightfully so, probably) so you really need a support system in place. This can be even tougher for women as it can sometimes seem there are less of us. I ended up connecting better with other women who are really passionate about what they’re doing – not that they’re necessarily entrepreneurs – but just passionate women in general – this happened naturally.”
Dreamers // Doers. After her first venture in the start-up world in a business development role for popular group-dating startup Grouper (where she took a 70% pay cut but felt truly happy for the first time in her career), Gesche “accidentally” launched Dreamers // Doers, out of her own personal need. Inspired by her observations and personal experiences, she built a community that brings together women from diverse backgrounds with the common goal of supporting each other in making dreams happen.
Women help more but benefit less. In discussing her inspiration for Dreamers // Doers, Gesche referenced to The New York Times article in which Sheryl Sandberg and Adam Grant discuss the prevalence of gender stereotypes that persist in the workplace. An excerpt from the article: “When a man offers to help, we shower him with praise and rewards. But when a woman helps, we feel less indebted. She’s communal, right? She wants to be a team player. The reverse is also true. When a woman declines to help a colleague, people like her less and her career suffers. But when a man says no, he faces no backlash. A man who doesn’t help is “busy”; a woman is “selfish.” Dreamers // Doers aims for women to help more and benefit more as a result.
Building Dreamers // Doers. “After one year I decided to work on D//D full-time. I had women from all over the world reaching out and telling me how it was changing their lives. At the same time, I was at crossroads where I had to either drop the project altogether for lack of time or give it 100%, and ensure I turned Dreamers // Doers into a full-blown, self-sustaining business. The demand and growth has been overwhelming; the tricky part has been the ‘how’ and the ‘what’. 2015 has been for me what i call ‘a year of direction’ in which I’ve been trying to fit a mold of expectations — outside expectations, but quite frankly also my own expectations. Because even though startups are very innovative, there is a certain approach to how people believe startups should be done – at least publicly.”
Journaling Twice a Day = Meditation. Each morning and evening, Gesche spends a few minutes journaling, which is her preferred form of meditation. “We are constantly reacting, and I find, especially as women, we tend to not to give ourselves enough credit while being extremely hard on ourselves. When I take a step back, I usually see that things are less of a big deal than they seemed in the moment.” To achieve this, she answers a pre-defined set of questions via her iphone every day (in the morning and evening, by using the Evernote app).
Her Work Out Go-To: ClassPass. As someone with rebel tendencies (according to Gretchen Rubin’s tendency quiz we shared a few weeks ago), Gesche relies on ClassPass to schedule her workouts each week. She prefers more intensive cardio/strength workouts to yoga, and claims that regular gym memberships have never worked for her “because I would automatically think, ‘Well, I don’t really have to go again.” Gesche appreciates that with ClassPass she’s required to schedule and show up to each class, having enough pressure to tame her constant rule-breaking rebel tendencies. She now works out regularly and early in the morning, so that she’s done before she would otherwise be awake, ready to attack the day… and make BIG dreams happen for herself and for those around her.
Calling All Inspired + Inspiring Women Entrepreneurs (who have not already joined): We encourage you to check out Dreamers // Doers, and to join their mailing list to stay up-to-date on their latest developments and member offerings. And if you’re currently job-hunting or hiring, you can immediately request access to Dreamers // Doers Jobs + Gigs.
Special thanks to Gesche Haas for your dedication, conviction and all you are doing to build an empowering community that enables dreams to become reality. We look forward to your updates and wish you and Dreamers // Doers continued success!
* Song For This Moment: “Heroes We Could Be” (Alessio feat. Tove Lo)
Related Articles of interest (click to view):
“Facebook Groups: The Best Kept Secret For Boosting Your Career” (The Muse mentions D//D).