Layla Shaikley, Co-Founder of Wise Systems

Visible Hands
Visible Hands VC
Published in
5 min readJun 10, 2021

--

The average relationship with the investor and co-founder is 7–10 years. The average marriage in the United States is shorter than that. Ultimately, you and your co-founders are each other’s mental, strategic, and emotional support because there are highs and lows, and you’re all looking at each other saying, “We’ll find a way through this.”
— Layla Shaikley, Co-Founder of Wise Systems

Layla Shaikley, Co-Founder of Wise Systems

Founder Visibility is an interview series that highlights founders that inspire us and shares how they found their firsts: co-founder, customer, capital, and confidence.

Meet Layla, Co-Founder of Wise Systems, an AI-driven dispatch and routing solution that empowers operations teams and drivers to improve fleet efficiency and customer service, seamlessly adapting to the everyday challenges they encounter. Read Layla’s story below.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

Tell us a little bit about yourself and your journey leading up to starting Wise.

I’m Layla Shaikley, an Iraqi-American, and a Southern California native. I come from a very traditional Middle Eastern family that focuses on medicine and law, but have always been creative. When I was going through school, creative careers were not as ample as today on social media. So I went into architecture — particularly post-conflict development — and I loved it so much that I got two degrees in it.

Things took a turn after I received my first degree in architecture when I got an internship at NASA, and the folks behind it said it would be cool to have a designer in the program. I was there for a year along with seven other students across the U.S. But I went back to school with a focus on post-conflict development.

I was getting my Master’s degree at MIT when I got a job for consulting at UN-Habitat. At the same time, I had met a few folks at MIT in a class, and we were told to change a billion lives with technology at the Media Lab, and the guys I was working with had a background in software. Meanwhile, I knew Photoshop and Illustrator well enough to put an interface together. We also brought on another person onto our team who was at Harvard Law School at the time. All of us built the technology and became the darlings of the class and the professor. Finally, when the time came to decide whether we wanted to turn this idea into a company, all of us agreed, and we did it. So we went to an MIT accelerator, which was very important in our inception, followed by Techstars and MassChallenge.

Today, we have grown to a total of $23 million, and we’re about 90 people in Cambridge.

What did you learn from raising your seed round?

Our seed round was a huge learning curve in its place. In general, the statistics for VC funding are abysmal. 4% of funding goes to male-and-female-founded teams, 2% goes to all female-founded teams, and an even smaller percentage goes to Black-founded teams. We were so fortunate to have gone through the MIT accelerator, which, as mentioned previously, was incredibly important in our inception. While raising money is definitely a feat, it is only a piece of the challenge. Ultimately, the goal is to build faster and prove the value that investors have put you at, and that’s where we are now.

Another thing to remember is that the narrative matters. Before you’re raising money, you should be figuring out the story you’re going to tell with your seed round because, ultimately, the investors are investing in you and your ability to think about big solutions. After all, the idea will change, so you want to make sure that you’re following a strategy that will further extend — how does it take you to series A?

Now here’s the not-so-pretty part of the process: 96% of investors’ trust (read as: dollars) goes to a very particular profile that rules out women and people of color. This is not my favorite narrative, but I understand it and I work to change it. You invest in people rather than the idea because you’re investing in resilience and people who can quickly change course based on what they learn. You are investing in people who are willing to take out the trash, people who are willing to wear tons of hats — it’s a test in resilience.

What were you looking for in a co-founder?

In many ways, we fell backwards into luck when we found each other. I would say that the fact that all four of us have very complementary skills is purely based on luck. But we also learn from each other and value humility. We aren’t afraid to be wrong — or right.

The average relationship with the investor and co-founder is 7–10 years. The average marriage in the United States is shorter than that. Ultimately, you and your co-founders are each other’s mental, strategic, and emotional support because there are highs and lows, and you’re all looking at each other saying, “We’ll find a way through this.

Some advice we got early on was not to use a C-Suite naming convention outside of the CEO, and that ended up being really smart and true. As you raise more money and bring on investors, if you call yourself a C-something, and you only have four years of experience, and it’s at your startup, you’re making yourself liable to get fired. The goal is not to elevate yourself; it is to make sure that you’ve positioned yourself to build the best possible team and become a valuable company over the duration of your company.

What is one piece of advice you would give to early-stage founders?

There’s a lot of imposter syndrome, particularly with women and people of color. It’s proven that women and people of color tend to feel like they are not welcome, are not right, or “got lucky” to be there. When in reality, imposter syndrome often equates to a skills gap.

Once you rationalize imposter syndrome, you make yourself less likely to experience it and give yourself the confidence you need because people are investing in you, and you want to make sure you have that confidence.

Thank you for sharing your inspiring story with us, Layla.

Visible Hands invests in underrepresented talent who strive to build their tech startups. Take our quiz to learn which type of Visible Hands founder you are.

--

--

Visible Hands
Visible Hands VC

Visible Hands is a VC fund with a 14-week, virtual-first fellowship program that supports overlooked talent in building technology startups.