A new digital marketplace called West Tenth, now backed with $ 1.5 million in seed funding, aims to provide women with a platform to start and grow their businesses at home. Using the mobile app, women can promote their business to others in the local community, then answer queries and inquiries via the app’s integrated messaging platform, and complete transactions via in-app payments.
The startup was co-founded by Lyn Johnson and Sara Sparhawk, who met while both working in finance. Johnson stayed in finance, but Sparhawk later worked at Amazon.
Johnson explains that her experience has given her a better understanding of the economic inequality of women in the United States, where they only own 32 cents per dollar in financial assets than men. A big reason for this is that women are leaving the workforce, often to raise children, resulting in years of no income.
“We’re really good as a society at helping women on the way out of the workforce to care for their children, but really terrible at helping them on the way back,” says Johnson. “Women know this, and as an alternative to jobs that seem simply to fail, they are creating businesses in droves.”
With West Tenth, the goal is to promote this type of entrepreneurship – and, more broadly, to help women understand that the many talents they have developed at home are actually potential businesses.
This includes opportunities such as home bakers and cooks, photographers, organizers or designers, home florists, baby sleep consultants, party planning and event services, craft classes, fitness training, homemade goods and much more.
The company notes that the app isn’t necessarily closed to men, but the current US private company market favors women as they are more often the partner who leaves work to raise children. There are a few men on his platform, however.
Although many of these entrepreneurs are now marketing their personal businesses on Facebook, they are missing out on the opportunity to reach customers if they are not heavily involved in local groups and responding to requests for referrals. Instead, West Tenth centralizes local businesses in one place to make discovery easier.
In the app, customers can browse and shop for local businesses by filtering by category using buttons at the top of the screen. The results are sorted by distance and offer photos, description and the starting price for the goods or services offered. Integrated messaging enables users to directly request a quote or more information. Customers can also complete their purchases using the app’s Stripe payment integration. West Tenth receives a 9.5% commission on these sales.
Another important aspect of West Tenth is the educational component, The Foundry.
Subscription membership of $ 100 per quarter (or $ 350 per year) allows business owners to attend bimonthly events, including courses that cover the basics of starting a business, marketing, customer acquisition, and other topics. These courses are also offered a la carte for around $ 30 each for those who want to pay per session.
Additionally, attendees hear from guest speakers who have experience in the domestic business market and can join mastermind networking groups to share ideas with their peers.
This system, which combines education and networking with business ownership, could potentially help more women become entrepreneurs rather than joining multilevel marketing (MLM) companies as usual.
“When we first started, we realized that MLMs are one of the few industries that focuses on this demographic of women who have left the workforce – a huge, untapped talent pool in the US,” notes Johnson. “But they are really predatory. Only the top 1% of distributors really make money and the rest of them lose money. And they also lose their social capital. What we’re really interested in is becoming an alternative to MLMs in many ways, ”she adds.
Unsurprisingly, MLMs are not allowed on the West Tenth platform.
The startup, which completed Kansas City TechStars last summer, has now raised $ 1.5 million in seed capital to get its platform off the ground. The round was led by Better Ventures together with the Stand Together Ventures Lab, Kapital Partners, the Community Fund, Backstage Capital, Wedbush Ventures and Gaingels.
The funds will be used to develop the product and expand its user base. Over time, West Tenth aims to develop product features to better highlight local businesses. This includes shopping elements that let you see what friends are buying and video demonstrations, among other things.
As of 2019, West Tenth has grown from just 20 companies in the app to over 600 now, mostly in the LA and Salt Lake City suburbs. The goal is now to grow in Phoenix, Boise, and Northern California.
The time for West Tenth to expand is at the end of the COVID-19 crisis which has only gotten worse for traditional women’s employment.
School and daycare closures, coupled with job losses, which have had a major impact on the role of women, has resulted in more women being ousted from the workforce compared to men. And, according to McKinsey, women have made up nearly 56% of the workforce since the pandemic began, despite only making up 48% of the workforce. According to studies, this COVID-controlled “shecession”, as some have called it, also has a disproportionate effect on women of skin color.
“We saw 5 million women quit the workforce – some because they were laid off or on leave, and a large part because they opted out because the responsibility for caring has just become overwhelming,” says Johnson.
“The thing is, when women leave the workforce for reasons of care – for some reason we really shut it down and we make it even harder for them to get back to work. So I think we will see a sharp spike in domestic economic activity in the next 18 to 24 months as women try to find additional sources of income by running a home-based business, ”she says.
The West Tenth app is available for both iOS and Android.