Karolina is the co-founder of the Subjective Guide App, a new generation social and recommendation network for travel enthusiasts, and she is also a philosophy enthusiast! After she completed a major in International Business Administration and a minor in philosophy, taking classes in The New School, The American University of Paris, and John Cabot in Rome, she started her entrepreneurial journey. She is passionate about the ethics of emerging technologies and trans-humanism, which encouraged her to enter the startup world.
Hello Karolina, how did you start your entrepreneurial journey with Subjective Guide App? What motivated you to become an entrepreneur?
I believe that upbringing is crucial. Everyone in my family is an entrepreneur; my father, my mother, my sisters…And I knew that sooner or later I was going to be an entrepreneur, but I wasn’t sure when.
I graduated in May 2018 and came back to Poland to look for jobs. Still, I was not happy with the idea of working in a corporation, so I co-founded the Subjective Guide App. I wasn’t scared to build my company because my sisters are strong women, and I had a lot of encouragement from them.
The idea of the Subjective Guide App actually originated from personal experience. We travel a lot with my friends, so one and a half years ago, when we were in Cuba, we had a struggle finding things to do that fit our taste. All the recommendations we encountered were very generic, and they weren’t suited to our liking. So we decided to build an app for it! This is how my journey with Subjective Guide App has started. Subjective Guide App is a social recommendation network, everyone can show the way they travel and find specific tips to their taste. It has been a fascinating journey so far.
Did you attend any entrepreneurial training?
I have a degree in business, which, of course, helped me. But I think to be an entrepreneur, it has to run in your blood.
We attended different accelerators and boot camps in Armenia, Poland, and Baltics, which are cool at the idea stage. These programs helped us to build a business plan, but there is a huge gap between business plan and execution. The best thing about these programs is meeting with people who have the same struggles with you.
During different accelerators and boot camp programs, we met mentors around the world. Everyone in the entrepreneurship world puts so much importance on mentorship. It is funny because, often, mentors are quite discouraging. And to be honest, I think the importance of mentorship is overrated! Let me give you an example. We were the youngest woman team in the accelerator in Poland. One guy, a mentor, asked us what did we study, and when we told him philosophy, he said: “Why are you not working at Starbucks then.”
The entire idea of mentorship is challenging you all the time. Building a company is already hard work, and there are a lot of people who are discouraged by mentors without even trying. Discouragement is really wrong. If only there was more encouragement than criticism, there would be more people building their businesses.
What does success mean to you?
Building a product that I am going to be proud of, and that is aligned with my values. I really want to succeed, and I want to influence the way people travel. Not crossing my moral standards while building a business is also a success. When you create an app, based on the context you have a database about peoples preferences, and a lot of companies are selling the data. We knew that we did not want to harvest data. This might be something small and personal, but I believe it is essential to have a vision that is aligned with your ethics.
There are multiple reasons why companies fail. What was your biggest struggle so far?
For us, the product-market fit has been the biggest struggle. We had a particular experience when we were traveling, but you can not base your company just on your experience. There has to be a trend in the problem that people are trying to solve. In social platforms like ours, the hardest thing is to find and attract people to your platform and identify what they exactly need. Sometimes the problem you think is not the biggest obstacle. This is why we pivoted a little bit; you get to know your customers through beta tests, and you adapt. I believe the most challenging thing is finding an ideal match between the product as you think it and the problem that the customers are trying to solve.
Did you have any particular difficulty because you are a woman entrepreneur?
Yes, the constant doubt. When you are young and woman, people just think that you are naïve and didn’t think it through. They think you are just playing with your idea and that it is another experience and it will pass. Guys who are at the same age are not questioned as much. When even your friends are doubting you, you realize how much effort and courage it takes to build a company. Not being taken seriously pissed me off, but it also pushed me to work harder. My sisters are my mentors, they were an excellent example for me to be aware of my capabilities and build a company despite what everyone else says.
In addition to the constant doubt, I observed that women are not asked real questions. We are reduced to what purse we are wearing, but we also have a fault in that. I have to say that I have a problem with celebrity culture around entrepreneurship. I don’t understand why women entrepreneurs are connected with being famous or fashionable. Most of the known women entrepreneurs are side celebrities, and it pisses me off. Look at the men, do you follow the Instagram of, let’s say, CEO of XYZ company who is male?
How did you build credibility? How do you fight against “legitimacy doubt”?
To build credibility, “the outside world” has to acknowledge you. Before we got our first investment, people were always telling us how to do things or explaining to us why startups fail… When the outside world gives you a high five, everyone who doubts you start to say yes.
Is there anything you would do differently, knowing what you know now?
I am thinking about all the mistakes we made, but you know what? You will always make these mistakes at the beginning. I would say, “Karolina, believe in what you think and don’t listen to people: it creates more mess than it helps.” All of this is of course very personal, and there is no absolute answer.
What habits helped you succeed so far?
80/20 rule, also known as Pareto principle, helped me a lot. You can apply this rule to many different areas of life. For example, for 80 percent of my time, I focus on the things that are directly related to the startup. For 20 percent, I concentrate on things that can indirectly help me grow my business.
For me, knowledge is the key. And you don’t only need to read about startups. Everything that you learn serves your company. Honestly, it has been the best year of my life. I am my own boss, and I choose my own books.
Is there a woman who inspires you?
There are three women who inspire me: my sister, my co-founder Tola and Sophia Amoruso.
My sister doesn’t give me advice when I don’t ask her. I see in her eyes that she truly believes in me and I appreciate that a lot. Someone believing in you is much better than any piece of advice.
Tola, my co-founder, is a great source of inspiration too. First of all, she is the creative mind behind our product. She is a true dreamer – we often laugh her ideas stand on the verge of crazy vs brilliant. She has this inner wisdom that is so inspiring. Subjective Guide would not exist if not for her.
Sophia Amoruso, the Founder, and CEO of Girlboss, is very inspiring as well. She created a professional social network for ambitious women. I love her story.
Can you recommend some resources, book/podcast/movie, for our readers?
Here are books which can be useful while creating a startup: Homo Deus by Yuval Noah Harari, Zero to One by Peter Thiel and Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the World by Adam Grant.
But I have to mention that my favorite book is “ The Unbearable Lightness of Being” by Milan Kundera and highly recommend it.
Imagine at this moment, you can send a message to all the women entrepreneurs who are trying to build their companies, what would you tell them?
Trust your instinct and be persistent. Don’t be scared of failing. I didn’t want to say to people that I was building a company because I was scared of failing and was thinking about “what my friends would say.” But if you are brave enough to try, it already tells a lot about you! So just continue.
And don’t forget the importance of the team. It is the most critical aspect of startup creation. My co-founder, who is also my best friend, always pushes me forward, and I saw the importance of that. Team up with someone who encourages you!