I'm Audrey Gelman, CEO & Co-Founder of The WingFeatured

Hi Elpha!I’m the CEO & Co-Founder of The Wing, we’re a network of work & community spaces designed for women. We opened our first space two and a half years ago in New York City, and have since expanded across six cities in the United States and will be opening our first international space in London this fall. We most recently raised a $75 million Series C last December led by @jesslee of Sequoia Capital, a round that was entirely led by women and also included Kerry Washington, Valerie Jarrett and the members of the US Women's Soccer team.I started my career working in communications on Hillary Clinton’s 2008 campaign for president, and in political consulting in New York City.Ask me anything about working in politics, creating a physical space for community building, raising capital, creating a brand that empowers women, or something else.-- Audrey Gelman
Thanks so much for joining us, Audrey!Hi everyone! Post your questions for Audrey before Thursday. She may not have time to answer every single one, so upvote the ones you’d most like her to answer.
First and foremost, THANK YOU for helping to create The Wing and give women all over the US (and now world) the opportunity to have a safe, creative, empowering space to work, network, thrive and socialize in. Truly happy to see your venture be as successful as it's become. While most of your membership fees are competitive with say the WeWorks and Spaces (specific to the co-working aspect), what are your plans for providing membership and networking opportunities for lower-income women especially those in underrepresented communities, etc?
Hi Whitney! Thank you for this super important question. Inclusion and accessibility is something we obsess over here at The Wing everyday. Early last year, we launched a Scholarship Program that provides many hundreds of free memberships to applicants who work in industries that are underrepresented in membership, are typically underfunded, and whose work advances issues including education, immigration, criminal justice, housing, and advocacy. We’re really proud that this is a national program and will be also available in our London location this fall. We are also working on a number of new tiers and offerings that will give prospective members new ways of joining The Wing and becoming part of our community, so stay tuned.
Thanks so much for your response, Audrey! So happy to hear that inclusion and accessibility is a priority and focus at The Wing. Even better to hear that there will be no geographic limitation with this. Looking forward to hearing more about what's to come in the future!
Thank you so much for doing this!Fundraising:1. If you can remember going back to your initial seed raise, how did you decide on when to go raise a seed round? Was there a point of traction or leverage where you felt like it was the right time?2. As you were iterating on the pitch, how did you practice painting a bigger vision as opposed to talking about the "now" and where product is specifically? I know sometimes people when pitching can paint a smaller picture of their company (unintentionally) which I think comes from focusing on talking about where they are *now* (v0 of a product which ofc won't be a billion dollar co yet!) as opposed to the potential. 3. Having a physical space, did you ever encounter questions around scale velocity? How did you address those? (Would mentioning WeWork here be an analogy to help paint a story where physical can scale like software)
Hi Vera! Fundraising...sigh. Anyone who has been through it knows how truly miserable it is. Here's a few things I learned along the way. 1. For The Wing's seed round, we were pre-product, pre-launch, but didn't have the money to bootstrap a first location ourselves, so we needed to raise capital. I don't necessarily recommend raising money with just a deck and a dream - you have way more leverage when there's proof of concept, even if it's small in scale. 2. I think women routinely make the mistake of thinking small in their pitches to investors. Sometimes it feels scary to walk into a room, look someone in the eye and tell them your company is going to profoundly change culture, society, consumer behavior, but without that confidence, investors aren't going to see the mega opportunity and it will be easy for them to dismiss as niche. Start with the big picture story about how your idea will be truly transformative, and then back into how you get there with (just enough) credible specifics.3. Our business is growing faster than Soul Cycle or WeWork were at this point in their maturity. But the reality is that physical spaces can't scale in the way software can. Our belief and what we told investors was that The Wing is in the business of building community, and the way you credibly build community starts IRL and it starts locally - but just because our business began as physical spaces doesn't mean it's where we will be in 3, 5 years time. I'd also say that investors love hockeystick growth, but it's important to stick to your guns when it comes to building a meaningful product that delivers something distinct and special and that will stand the test of time - not just growth for growth's sake.
As someone who works in community building, you're an incredible inspiration! I've got so many questions (at least 5 about your email categorisation system...) but will limit myself to three:1. When did you decide that having your own physical space/location was important in growing your community? (Rather than, for example, hoping to connect women in a city through an events programme etc.)2. How did you decide upon your name and branding? E.g. I love your "witches/coven" angle but imagine this didn't come easily. Or when considering name / fonts / your ad you do a lot of market research on your audience (£££) or do you just go with what feels right / like it would most connect with people?3. As someone UK (non-London) based, how do you go about empowering women that have jobs /obligations that don't allow them to work from a co-working space? Or that can't afford to rent a desk? Or that doesn't have a similar support system in their city?
Hi Belle! 1. We definitely took a risk by creating a business that built IRL experience and physical spaces in a time when so much is digital. I like to say that we zagged when others zigged. But in many ways, it was the perfect time for us -- with so much going on in the world that is focused on division, creating a space where people could come together and connect on their common interests and be part of a community was critical. 2. The name 'The Wing' was inspired by Virginia's Woolfe's A Room of One's Own and the concept that women needed a space (a wing of a house, if you will) of their own to truly be self-actualized and independent. Some of the witchy stuff was honestly inspired by this amazing New Yorker cartoon. It was also inspired by the idea that large groups of women gathering together was a threat to society, a threat to the domestic home, which was the sentiment that surrounded many of the women's clubs in the late 19th century; it reminded us so much of the Salem witch trials and how men often assign sinister or occult qualities to women doing things that don't include them. With regard to our branding, we worked with an agency (appropriately) called Pentagram led by a partner named Emily Oberman who helped us create the brand identity for The Wing. I find so much start-up branding to all look the same and be so boring, and we wanted our branding to be multi-faceted, textured, inspired by history. We made a list of women whose spirit we wanted The Wing to embody, and it's been insanely cool to watch so many of those women (Lisa Simpson, Fran Lebowitz, Gloria Steinem, Shonda Rhimes, Fran Drescher Valerie Jarrett, Kerry Washington) walk through our doors IRL.
Thanks for such a lovely reply. The links to historical women (both single inspirational women and groups of women) is so lovingly researched and honestly, a breath of - much needed - fresh air! The fact your branding grew from a list of kick-ass women is amazing!For someone who can't attend a Wing branch myself, you truly give the inspiration and motivation to carve a Wing of One's (my) Own.
I'm a recent Wing member and obsessed with everything about it. Kudos to you and Lauren for building such a wonderful company + team.My question(s):- How did you and Lauren meet and decide to jump into this business together, and how have you worked through your roles as the company has scaled?- At the beginning when you perhaps didn't have the financial resources or cred to hire the best of the best, how did you find and hire the right people to get the Wing off the ground (and what roles did you hire for first)? Or, did you fundraise first in order to hire?
Hi Mitra!! I'm so thrilled you are a member and hope we can meet in person one day.1. Lauren and I met through a mutual friend who thought we’d be a good fit for each other. One of the best pieces of advice I got when starting a company was to find a partner - STAT. Being a founder is too lonely and too stressful to do on your own. When I met Lauren I knew immediately that we should be partners. We have completely different but complimentary skill sets and backgrounds. Her experience and expertise was in real estate, construction, and operating/growing physical businesses. I had never walked onto a construction site in my life. 2. I disagree with the notion that if you don’t have capital you can’t hire the best people. I hired the best people, and I credit that to the success we've seen. Sometimes that means looking in places others haven’t, or for experiences that aren’t obvious or traditional.
I have a question around how you measure success at The Wing. How do you measure the value that your existing members are getting from being/working in a space like the Wing? Broadly speaking, what should "empowerment" KPIs be for women-centered physical or social networks?
Great question - we're working on representing this data more quantitatively, but there's a ton of research that shows women feel more confidence, take greater risks, feel a more positive emotional outlook and benefit from the ecosystem of support when they work in women-dominant environments.
I remember hearing you raised your first round on your idea alone. How did you do that? How did you target investors?
I am so thankful to have The Wing (Dumbo) a part of my life every week. The staff there is amazing. I have a couple questions:1. I constantly read questions from people (here and elsewhere) about lowering the cost of the product you provide. I'm curious if that feels like an added pressure on you as a woman founder? And do you hear men start-up founders fielding questions about lowering the price of their products as often?2. How have y'all handled inquiries about acquisition? I assume you've had a few...
Hi Lauren!! Yay that makes me so so happy. Dumbo is a magical dream place.1. I definitely think that women are asked to compromise or put a discount next to what they charge because they are women-led or owned companies and that’s something we are looking to actively challenge at The Wing. How many times have we been asked to lower the standards for how we value ourselves or our product simply because we're women?Our pricing is extremely competitive and we offer so much more for much less while facing more scrutiny about pricing than many of our male-owned competitors. There are workspaces in New York which are truly grotesque that charge twice, three times the amount of the cost of The Wing! Plus, when you spend money at The Wing it's going towards supporting hundreds of independent, women-owned small businesses and vendors, paying our hourly employees a living wage, giving them access to health-care, and supporting the non-profits we partner with, like the Women's Prison Association.Being a woman founder comes along with so much more scrutiny and a different set of standards than being a man founder. The great thing about creating an environment like The Wing is that we’re all going through similar challenges like these and are familiar with the extra pressures that women face and can help each other navigate them together.2. We are less than three years old! We are heads-down focused on continuing to grow our business. Not even something we think about at this point.
I think that criticism comes from the Wing marketing itself as a feminist organization, situating itself in the political world open to political critiques around privilege, access, and class; if WeWork were to market itself as feminist or progressive, I think they would face similar critiques (and in fact, they do face many critiques of their business practices and model, if not their pricing). The Wing is feminism commercialized, and most businesses that use feminism in their marketing open themselves up to political critiques about whether their business practices align with their marketing; see the outrage around Feminist Apparel's male CEO's abusive behavior: many others, I wish the Wing would provide more financially accessible options; there are many people who don't need or wouldn't qualify for a scholarship but don't need the full membership benefits or price point. I work at an office full-time and don't need access to as many services of the Wing as a full-time member, but I'm still so interested in the community; I just can't justify paying $250/month for something I would use only a few times.
The Wing has undoubtedly created fantastic opportunities for female entrepreneurs.1. Can you speak to the success rate of female led startups in coworking spaces such as The Wing? Have you seen any differences between female and male startups due to the way you structured your community?2. What types of resources do you suggest for women that are not able to afford the membership or are not accepted through the application process?
Hi Caitlin!1. We have hundreds of incredible examples of members who have met, started businesses, raised capital, hired one another, and sought mentorship through The Wing. ~ Member Nicole Gibbons built her on-demand paint business CLARE at The Wing and is one of the only women of color to raise more than $1 million in capital. She took the leap to quit her day job and start her own business after Office Hours with VC Susan Lyne at The Wing, and hired her first employees via The Wing's networking app.~ Members Sierra Tishgart and Maddy Moelis started GREAT JONES at The Wing and recently raised $3.5m from General Catalyst. ~ Member Bea Arthur's startup THE DIFFERENCE, a virtual talk therapy company which uses Amazon's Alexa to pair users with therapists has gotten huge early traction and partnership growth. She raised capital through our Wingable investment program. Bea was actually the first black woman to be accepted into YCombinator. 2. As I mentioned earlier, we have an incredible scholarship program that is available nationally + new offerings you'll hear more about soon that will give prospective members new ways of becoming part of The Wing community.
Hi Audrey, I am a huge fan of all that you do. When you started fundraising for The Wing as a first time entrepreneur and with such a capital-intensive project, how did you get investors on board? It's my understanding that you didn't do a pop-up space first and really only had a deck and a dream (albeit an incredible dream/vision ;). How many investors did you meet with before you got through to someone who got it and wanted to lead the round? Was your first funding round Angel Investors? Friends and Family? VC? Did you have a fully fleshed out financial model at that point? Would you say it was based on your personal connections? Or did you reach out to investors with no intro? Excited to hear more details about your investor journey from pre-seed to series A. Thanks for your time!
Hi! Thank you for your question.When I came up with the idea for The Wing, I didn’t have a lot of (read: any) friends and family with the kind of disposable income to give us money to build it so I just asked everyone and anyone I knew for introductions that were two or three steps removed - meaning friends of friends of friends.I also reached out cold to some investors that had invested in companies that I thought were similar to The Wing -- some emailed me back but most didn’t. I probably met with sixty+ investors for our seed round. I just kept trying until we got our first YES, from Built By Girls Ventures. Because it was so hard to raise money, we structured it as a rolling close on a convertible note - so no one 'led' the round, we just took checks as we were able to close them until we met our goal.
How have your responsibilities and focus changed over the the past 2.5 years? What did you miss / not miss about the days when the first ever location was just opened?
Hi Kuan! This is a great question. I think there's a point you tip over from being a 'co-founder' to truly being a CEO and that's happened recently for me. I miss the early days when I could just be in the space, hang out with members, help make every decision from the pastries we carried to the playlists we used. Now the scale is so much different, and my time is spent on recruiting executives, leading our executive team, building culture internally and helping set our multi-year strategy. But I have to be honest, some days I miss the pastries...
Do you feel that investment in the women's empowerment and the future of work sectors will continue?
Hi Suzanna! YES! Hopefully because of spaces like The Wing.
I've heard great things about The Wing and I really love and support women-forward co-working spaces. They are awesome. I have 3 questions: 1. What are some of the trends or innovative things you're seeing in co-working? For example, I have heard about pay by the minute co-working. That seems intriguing. 2. Will The Wing ever provide onsite childcare? I don't have children, but I have many friends who do and could benefit from affordable childcare. I have yet to hear about co-working spaces that really do this in a massive way. Would love to see some innovation there. I bet you could even partner with other entities to support and subsidize costs for this service :-)3. I think access should also include geographical access which doesn't seem to get much attention. Does The Wing model include expanding to areas that are not major cities? Could working with public libraries, churches or community halls help fill the co-working geographic-gaps? I understand that may not align with The Wing brand but, curious what your thoughts are on this.
Hi there!1. Childcare is a new trend we are seeing in co-working spaces. We introduced it early this year with The Little Wing, a dedicated babysitting and enrichment space for our members and staff.Another trend I think is relevant to us are amenities specifically for women. At The Wing we have showers, lockers, lactation rooms, and beauty rooms stocked with products.2. We already do! The Little Wing.3. We are hearing from people on all corners of the earth about wanting a Wing and we wish we could answer every one of these requests! But we really are focused on being intentional about our growth and making sure that we are maintaining the integrity and magic of The Wing as we expand our footprint.
How did you first approach building a community and did you face any challenges along the way that changed your strategy?
Thank you for creating inclusive community spaces for women to build their dreams. As you are expanding to more cities, I'm interested in learning about what you (and your teams) are doing to continuously grow and improve your current locations and if the cultures of each city play any role in operations.
If I am correct, correct me if I am wrong! WeWork I believe has expanded into residential living? Will The Wing follow in the future?
I am a huge fan and supporter of The Wing. I was a member when I lived in SF and NYC and will join again the second you open in Vancouver and/or Toronto. I got so much out of it, personally and professionally. What struck me was how well the brand and mission were woven into every detail, from the scent of the space when you walk in, to your presence on instagram, to the workshops and meetings run out of the space. How do you ensure every detail is so on-brand, and what challenges have you faced or sacrifices have you made to do so?
Audrey!I am the founder of a women's empowerment event/conference in MPLS MN, called "BA.Women" (BadAss Women). Over +300 women attend each event! I want to bring this experience to multiple cities around the country and even the world.What would you say has been the most powerful way for you to grow your community in cities outside of NYC? What was the Wings first steps in taking the leap across states?Thank you for your time BA!-Emma Sievers
I'm soOOo for women coworking spaces. After visiting CoWomen in Berlin, I became a true believer. Thank you for everything you're doing to support women.1. Did you always plan to expand to different locations?2. What's the process for finding the right locations to open up shop?3. Any advice for merging in-person events/community with an online presence? Should one become before or after the other?
Hi Audrey, thanks for being here! What do you think are the keys for taking from an idea to building it into a company? What have you learned in the journey?
Hi Audrey, thanks for taking out the time to answer our questions. I really appreciate that. I am curious, are there any communities like The Wing for immigrant women of color? Our experiences are unique in a way because from my interactions with others we are interested to pursue more advocacy but some of us are on visas or just green cards. And the challenges are different because of visa restrictions. So I am curious if you have interacted with such communities. Please let me know if you can. Thanks.
Hey Audrey, thanks for taking the time to answer questions. I have an early stage digital health company in the women's health space called Brazen. We are building tech that can help women significantly improve their periods (80M women in the US have life interrupting PMS and cramping). While on the surface we look like a digital health/life science company that also makes products, our mission is to lead a revolution around women's health. When we found out that more than 80% of women are significantly compromised by their cycles, we asked ourselves, how in the hell can we be in the middle of a women's movement and no one is talking about (or equally importantly) why isn't anyone doing anything about this.So my question is what are the best strategies to begin marry Brand and movement (#SeeingRed). Or do you keep them separate? Both are incredibly important to us. We believe that helping women see that their menstrual cycles aren't curses, but rather one of the most valuable feedback markers of our present and future health. When women are healthy, they have the most access to power...and the energy and means to support and elevate other women. Thank you!!