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Inspirational Women Leaders Of Tech: Laurel Hess of hampr On The Five Things You Need To Know In Order To Create A Very Successful Tech Company

An Interview With Penny Bauder

Saying yes to something means saying no to something else: In order to be successful, you have to be really scrupulous with your time. There will be a ton of demand on your time and attention — and when you say yes to something, you’re also saying no to something else. I try to stay as open as possible to all things but when it comes to my time, I make sure there is always something left for me and I don’t do anything I’m truly uncomfortable with (but not scared — I do scary things all the time!).

As a part of my series about “Lessons From Inspirational Women Leaders in Tech”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Laurel Hess.

Laurel Hess is the founder and CEO of hampr — a peer-to-peer on-demand laundry platform. As a busy working parent, Laurel created hampr as an answer to her own pain point and needs — she is obsessed with finding solutions for busy working families. hampr launched in 2020 and has scaled to more than 9 states with nearly 10,000 members.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to learn a bit more about you. Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

I have hated laundry for as long as I can remember. And the problem only compounded when I had my two sons. One day, I had returned home from a business trip and we were at the ballpark for T-Ball opening day -but we also had 3 birthday parties to attend that weekend. I was stressed and didn’t know how I was going to get everything done. I was at the ballpark ordering my groceries on my phone and it hit me — this wasn’t my pain point. We could order food if we had to but we needed our laundry done. Laundry is such a time intensive chore with lots of mental gymnastics (hint to anyone reading this — do you need to move your clothes to the dryer?!). I was passionate about making laundry as easy to tackle as ordering groceries on your phone.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began at your company?

One thing I was really surprised by was how many investors didn’t understand this problem. Typically — and statistically — when I’m pitching hampr to an investor, it’s a male investor. I can’t tell you the amount of times I heard, “is this really a problem? My wife does the laundry.” I was truly floored. I know that, statistically, household management tends to fall on the female in the home but I didn’t realize how pervasive it would be when pitching the company.

The flipside of that, though, is that when someone gets it, they really get it and can be just as passionate as me — if not more so. The numbers don’t lie either — this is a $56b industry that is largely fragmented and ripe for disruption.

It has been said that our mistakes can be our greatest teachers. Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

I think I have a missing chip where I’m not afraid to look stupid or make mistakes. So, it’s hard for me to remember any, to be honest. I tell my team all the time that if they aren’t coming to me saying, “well, I really messed that up” on a monthly basis, then we aren’t trying enough things and moving fast enough. If you can learn from mistakes and do better, were they really that bad? Shouldn’t we then WANT to make more mistakes? I want to make a mistake every day because then I’m just that much smarter than I was the day before. I don’t make the same mistake twice.

Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey? Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?

Oh, we faced so much adversity and many challenges — especially in the early days. But I never wanted to give up because I was so resolute and passionate about the problem I was solving. In the beginning, our original technical co-founder quit a few weeks before we were supposed to launch and we soon realized he hadn’t done any of the work that he said he did. We had to start over from scratch. Then, we launched our company two months before the shutdown in March of 2020 and all verbally committed investments disappeared. We weren’t sure if we were going to make it — but we were open to every opportunity and found a really scrappy way to stay alive by using our platform to deliver prescriptions for a local health system.

At every turn, we could have thrown in the towel but, instead, our team looked at the problem and moved like water — “ok, that path isn’t going to work, let’s try another way around the boulder.” And we continued on like that day-in and day-out. Sure, there were days that were filled with despair but we kept showing up.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

Hands down, my quote is “do it scared.” We have it hanging on flag in our office. All of us are doing things that we have never done before — and it can be really scary to try new things and do something out of your comfort zone. But you can move through fear — fear doesn’t have to stop function. You can be scared and do it anyway — it doesn’t need to stop you. When I was making the leap to full time entrepreneurship — with two babies at home — I had a full blown panic attack. Who was I to leave my stable job and bet on myself? My business partner at the time asked me, “well do you really want to do this” and I told her yes. So she said, “well, then you’ll have to do it scared.” And that has made all of the difference.

Ok super. Thank you for all that. Let’s now shift to the main focus of our interview. We’d love to learn a bit about your company. What is the pain point that your company is helping to address?

hampr is so near and dear to me because it addresses a pain point that I personally had — I never have enough time on the weekends to manage laundry on top of all of the other responsibilities and activities that our family has to do. It’s amazing how much time you can free up on the weekends by outsourcing your laundry — and, by doing so, you’re helping another family earn additional income. It’s a win-win all around.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

I think the hyperlocal aspect of the company truly makes it stand out — these are people in your local community helping each other. We had a member who went into early labor with her twins and had a very difficult delivery — she hadn’t even had a chance to wash clothes for her babies and she sent off a hampr full of brand new clothes with all of the tags still attached that needed to be washed. Because of her recovery, she wasn’t able to do any laundry. Her washr was also a stay-at-home mom saving for a Disney trip and had also had a difficult delivery with her daughter and understood the issue. She went above and beyond to make sure this new mama’s babies had fresh clothes for when they returned home.

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?

I do have a super secret project that I’m working on that will help busy families even more but I am still in the proof of concept stage. Let’s just say it goes beyond laundry and is even more helpful in giving you back precious time and works to alleviate the mental load.

Let’s zoom out a bit and talk in more broad terms. Are you currently satisfied with the status quo regarding women in Tech? What specific changes do you think are needed to change the status quo?

I am so lucky to have met some really fabulous women in tech that have taken me under their wing and really became my support system. There seems to be an unspoken agreement between most women in tech that we need to help carry each other to really change things. As Madeline Albright said, “there’s a special place in hell for women who don’t help other women.” And while I agree with the sentiment, we do need to lift each other up, we also need more from the start-up and venture community. I don’t work with any venture firms who don’t have an inclusion policy and an emphasis on female founders. It still amazing to me when I see start-ups post team photos on LinkedIn and I think, “where are the women?” I know they are out there — my team is 63% female and we’re in South Louisiana. If you’re committed to it, it’s not hard to make it so.

In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges faced by women in Tech that aren’t typically faced by their male counterparts? What would you suggest to address this?

I think the biggest challenge is lack of visibility — as stated above, it starts with companies giving more women a seat at the table. There’s no reason to not have equitable representation on your team.

What would you advise to another tech leader who initially went through years of successive growth, but has now reached a standstill. From your experience do you have any general advice about how to boost growth or sales and “restart their engines”?

My biggest advice would be to fall in love with your problem and not your solution — if things are reaching a standstill, then something isn’t working and your solution isn’t resonating anymore. Is the problem still a problem? If so, find another way to solve it. And don’t be afraid to go back to basics — you absolutely have to read Levers: The Framework for Building Repeatability in your Business by Amos Schwartzfarb and follow the steps to find what isn’t working and why. It will truly change your business for the better.

Based on your experience, can you share 3 or 4 strategies to give your customers the best possible user experience and customer service?

For our support team, our top strategies are:

  1. Empathy — we have something called “anatomy of a support response” that is structured in way to maximize empathy to ensure the user feels heard and supported. Empathy is the cornerstone of this response.
  2. The world is won in inches — going the extra mile can feel daunting or overwhelming. But it’s always easy to go the extra inch and do one small thing to put someone’s experience over the top.
  3. 1 member is every member — this one is trickier. It doesn’t mean that just because someone is having a problem, everyone is having a problem. It means that we treat each member like every member is having the problem — that is to say, if someone is having trouble with the app or placing an order, we don’t brush it off as user error. We act as if that one order is critical to the success of the company and apply the appropriate resources to it.

Here is the main question of our discussion. Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things one should know in order to create a very successful tech company? Please share a story or an example for each.

  1. You’re the only one that can solve this: Early on at hampr, I suffered from Imposter Syndrome — am I really a CEO? Would a CEO do this or that? It was unrelenting. And then, one day before my first timed pitch competition, I was having a big ol’ anxiety attack pacing around the floor. I forced myself to stop in the moment and I said, “what in the world are you anxious about?” and I answered back to myself, “well, I just care SO much.” That’s when a moment of clarity hit me. If I care THAT much then I’m the only one who can do this — no one is going to care as much as me. And that is how I knew I was the only person who could solve this problem.
  2. Do it scared: This bears repeating — you can function in fear. Being scared doesn’t mean something is wrong — you can do it anyway and just carry the scared feelings around with you until they aren’t so scary anymore.
  3. Saying yes to something means saying no to something else: In order to be successful, you have to be really scrupulous with your time. There will be a ton of demand on your time and attention — and when you say yes to something, you’re also saying no to something else. I try to stay as open as possible to all things but when it comes to my time, I make sure there is always something left for me and I don’t do anything I’m truly uncomfortable with (but not scared — I do scary things all the time!).
  4. Be like water: What does water do when it meets and immovable object? It flows around it — it still reaches its destination. It just takes a different path. When you meet an obstacle, you just need to find another path around.
  5. Ask for help: No one succeeds alone — literally no one. Everyone has help — don’t be afraid to ask for help. The worst they will say is no. Most of the time, if they can’t help, they will point you in the direction of someone who can. If I’m vibing with someone, I ask if we can have regular touch base calls — or I reach out to them when I encounter a problem. Having outside perspective can help to “un-stick” you and give you the viewpoint you need to move forward.

We are very blessed that very prominent leaders read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them :-)

Kim Scott — she wrote Radical Candor, which shouldn’t feel as brave and subversive as it does to me as a female in tech. She does a great job weaving so much of her story and experience in to her book but I still feel like I have so many questions and want to carry her around in my pocket for a day so she can nudge me and tell me when I’m not being clear or help others on my team be more communicative with each other. While I’m not afraid to look stupid by asking a questions, I do go above and beyond to not hurt feelings and try to make space for everyone’s trauma and feelings — sometimes to a fault. Empathy is so crucial to me that I work hard not to stay too long in what Kim calls “ruinous empathy.”

Thank you so much for this. This was very inspirational, and we wish you only continued success!

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In-depth Interviews with Authorities in Business, Pop Culture, Wellness, Social Impact, and Tech. We use interviews to draw out stories that are both empowering and actionable.

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Penny Bauder

Penny Bauder

Environmental scientist-turned-entrepreneur, Founder of Green Kid Crafts

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