Social Success: How Two Entreprenistas Built an Empire
Stephanie Cartin and Courtney Spritzer started Socialfly as a side-hustle. After 10 months, they quit their jobs to pursue the business full time.
Like many successful founders, Stephanie Cartin and Courtney Spritzer launched their businesses – a social first digital and influencer agency Socialfly and the Entreprenista podcast and The Entreprenista League, a membership and networking community — out of a combination of personal passion and market need.
Both became fascinated with social media when Facebook launched. “I remember thinking, ‘This is going to change everything I’m learning about,’” Cartin says, then a hospitality and business management undergrad. “I quickly became obsessed with the idea of social networking.”
Spritzer, meanwhile, who had begun working in financial services after graduating with a degree in economics and business, noted her new employer’s initiatives to grow a social presence. “That’s when I knew I really wanted to get into the space,” she says.
Realizing that businesses needed social media strategies to stay connected to their customers and reach new ones, Cartin and Spritzer began working on the side to help businesses do just that. And after 10 months of running the side hustle that is now Socialfly, they quit their jobs to pursue the business full time.
To scale the business in their first year, they quickly hired six interns and bartered with a printing company for affordable office space, and, as suggested by the print shop’s owner, joined a networking group. The networking group proved pivotal and prescient: it helped the owners develop relationships that connected them to business opportunities – and it seeded the idea for what is now Entreprenista. Socialfly now employs over 30 people and has worked with 300 brands creating and managing social media campaigns since 2012.
Choosing to Empower Other Women
Socialfly’s growing success came with awards and recognition, which led other women to contact Cartin and Spritzer for business advice. “Every week, women asked us out to coffee to pick our brains,” Cartin says. “We both wanted to help absolutely everyone, but started to realize that if we went out to coffee with every person who reached out to us, we would never have time to run our own business.”
Spritzer and Cartin brainstormed how to help as many women as possible. Rather than repeatedly sharing their own story, they decided to create a space where women could share knowledge and build a community. Recalling the networks they had been part of and the advice they had received over the years, they realized the abundance of women who are building businesses with insights and advice to share. “That was our ‘Aha!’ moment,” Cartin says. “Let’s start a podcast so we can share these stories.”
In November 2018, they released the first episode of the Entreprenista podcast, which took off quickly. Not only did Cartin and Spritzer know how to market the podcast – they run a marketing company, after all – but they were sharing inspirational stories every week that women wanted to hear, Cartin says.
When the pandemic hit, Entreprenista grew even more. “We were getting so many messages from women wanting to start a business,” Cartin says. “Some had lost jobs during the pandemic and were re-evaluating their priorities, especially given increased childcare responsibilities that, for many, necessitated a more flexible working environment. We realized we needed to go all-in and help these women.”
Because they’d already created the Entreprenista platform, adding new resources made sense. Cartin and Spritzer launched the Entreprenista League, an online community of trailblazing women. Members can take advantage of virtual event programming and coaching, get featured on the Entreprenista website, and connect and do business with each other. The Entreprenista League is the community that Cartin and Spritzer wish they had access to when they launched their first business and they wanted to create it to help as many women business owners have the tools, resources, and community that they needed.
Working to empower women is important to Cartin and Spritzer because, as women founders, they have experienced many of the same struggles others are facing, such as funding the business and fighting to be taken seriously.
“For us, it’s important to show that you can achieve your dreams, even if you don’t have millions of dollars in the bank,” Spritzer says. “There’s so much power in the stories that we’re sharing and the community we’re building. Socialfly has benefited from a community of like-minded founders, and now we’re bringing that to other women. And it’s so rewarding to be able to give back and do that.”
Facing the Challenges
Women founders often face similar challenges in starting and growing businesses, and Cartin and Spritzer are focused on finding solutions. Funding is one of the most common obstacles: In 2020, women received just 2.3 percent of venture capital (VC) investments, according to a Harvard Business Review article. And loan approvals for women are 15 percent to 20 percent lower than men.
The right relationships can be a solution to the funding challenge, according to Cartin and Spritzer, and women’s networking groups like the Entreprenista League can help facilitate those relationships. For example, an introduction made through the League resulted in a $1.5 million Series A investment in one member’s business. Not every business is looking for VC funding, but the right relationships can also help women founders find grants, business credit cards, partners, employees, and vendors.
In addition to securing funding, women founders often share the challenges of balancing motherhood and growing a business. “I have a toddler, and it’s not easy, but I draw inspiration from the women on our podcast who share their tips on how they’re able to manage it all,” Cartin says.
Another common theme for women founders is “impostor syndrome,” Cartin says. Many podcast guests and Entreprenista members say they’ve felt uncomfortable sharing their business idea or owning the fact that they’re a CEO, fearing that others will assume they aren’t capable or aren’t being honest about their roles.
For many women, learning that the challenges they face are not unique to them can be empowering, Spritzer says. Realizing that other women share the same struggles, and learning about what’s worked for them, can be freeing and restorative for women founders.
After building two businesses and spending three years interviewing other successful female founders for their podcast, Cartin and Spritzer have plenty of valuable advice for founders, including these three important bits of wisdom
- Find a community. “Our community and our network have been vital in helping us to quickly solve problems throughout our time in business. And that’s one of the reasons why we started the Entreprenista League, Spritzer says. “All of these women get access to a community of other like-minded women, and everyone wants to help and support each other.”
- Learn from challenges. When Cartin and Spritzer first launched Socialfly, it actually had a different name. After spending several months branding the business and getting it off the ground, they received a cease and desist letter explaining that their business name was owned by another company and they had no legal right to use it. “We had no idea what to do and what type of legal and financial trouble we could be in,” Cartin says.
After bartering for the services of a business attorney, Cartin and Spritzer ended up changing their business name to Socialfly. “The big lesson is that whenever you think everything is going wrong, you just have to problem solve and continue to move forward, and something really great can always come out of a tough situation,” Cartin says. “I would definitely say that the name Socialfly is much better than the name we first started with. There can always be a silver lining.”
- Believe in yourself. “Through the dozens of the interviews we’ve done for the podcast, a common trait among the women founders is their self-confidence,” Cartin says. “They have grit and resilience, and they don’t take no for an answer or give up after a lot of ‘no’s.’If more women could develop that mindset, to believe in themselves and not feel the need to make things perfect before taking risks, we’d see a lot more equality and hopefully more funding going towards women.”
Similarly, many of the women interviewed on the Entreprenista podcast launched businesses in fields in which they had little or no experience. “They were just so passionate about whatever it was that they were trying to solve and that passion fueled them and pushed them forward,” Cartin says.
Cartin and Spritzer firmly believed in Socialfly when they started, and again in themselves when launching Entreprenista. “There are all kinds of tools and resources for women who take that first step and lead with a passion for their craft,” Spritzer says. “You just have to be resilient and okay with things not being perfect. As long as you can keep moving forward, you have every ability to build the business and life of your dreams.”