Inspirational Woman Interview: Caroline Hofmann
Caroline Hofmann is the Chief Operating Officer of Republic, an investment platform that allows individuals to invest as little as $10 in early stage startups. She previously served as Associate Principal of McKinsey & Company in New York, and has worked at McKinsey’s London office as a Business Analyst. She holds a MBA from Harvard Business School and a M.S. in International Political Economy from the London School of Economics.
You are currently the Chief Operating Officer at Republic. How did you come to join Republic and what are some programs you’ve developed/led?
Caroline Hofmann: Serendipity or “Power-networking” are probably the two ways you could describe how I found Republic. I was ready to move into an operator role at a startup, but had largely focused on healthcare companies given my experience in the field. I got introduced to Republic’s CEO Kendrick Nguyen through a friend of a friend and we instantly got along well. I cared about joining a company that had values and a broader mission I could identify with and I found that with Republic.
The great thing about joining an early stage startup is that so many things can be shaped and defined. There’s room for trial and error experimentation and every employee has to wear multiple hats every day. Since starting, I have launched a lot of different marketing initiatives, from scaling up our social media, to launching our blog and holding regular webcasts for our investors. We’ve also increased personalized outreach to investors and keep optimizing everything related to our deal operations (they way startups move through the fundraising process with us end to end).
You have to be comfortable with the changing priorities and pace of working at an early stage startup, but it’s a fun ride!
How did your background in consulting at McKinsey shape your interests in investing and crowdfunding?
Caroline Hofmann: My transition from McKinsey to Republic was mostly about shifting to become an operator in a startup. While spending time at McKinsey & Company taught be a lot about working with clients, being structured and analytical, I wanted to move away from an advisor role. My role at Republic allows me to shape the growth of a startup in the day-to-day, the impact is much more immediate and tangible than working in an advisory role for large corporations.
Can you explain how Republic differs from traditional crowdfunding platforms?
Caroline Hofmann: Republic is very different from traditional perk-based crowdfunding like Indiegogo and Kickstarter, because we allow investors to “invest” in companies rather than back a specific project. This means our investors will benefit when the company does well and they get more than just a reward like a T-Shirt or a prototype. If a company they invested in gets acquired or files for an IPO, they become shareholders of the company and can get a return on their investment. We view this as a real step towards democratizing the investing landscape – Investing in startups is no longer reserved to high net worth individuals, and companies have a much easier and accessible funding mechanism.
What have been some challenging aspects of your work, and what helps you get through them?
Caroline Hofmann: In an early stage startup, you have to be comfortable with a lot less structure and a lot more changing priorities than in large organizations. I absolutely love this 90% of the times, but there are certainly days where it’s harder. I also moved from a set-up where I had multiple teams working under me to a company with ~10 people, so the reality is that execution is a lot more in my hands too. Not all of that is fun, but I see it as a critical step to learn to “build” a company almost from the ground up.
Can you talk about one woman who has impacted you?
Caroline Hofmann: I don’t think I have a single “role model” or person who impacted me as a whole. There are definitely personality traits in women I admire and try to emulate, especially being in a leadership role in business, and a working mother.
- Independence – I’ve always been inspired by strong women, who are independent and go their own way. My mother, from an early age on kept telling us that we had to grow up to be able to stand on our own two feet and be able to support ourselves. She encouraged us to study, find real jobs and not just wait for prince charming. I do think it really defines today who I am.
- Embracing multiple identities – I’m a professional, I’m a mom, I’m a wife. These identities are sometimes hard to reconcile, but the women I most admire embrace all three and the imperfections this comes with. I think Sheryl Sandberg has done a lot to get more people to speak about the many conflicting priorities women face, but I’m equally inspired by close friends and colleagues
- Positivity – I’ve never been a fan of just focusing discussions on the fact that women do not yet have a level playing field in most sectors, that sexism in the workplace exists and that a lot of other factors work against us. I look up to women who take a much more positive mindset and say “so what, let me try and change it!” I’ve always worked in very male dominated environments and I haven’t put much thought into whether this is an obstacle for me on a day-to-day basis. Instead, I try to mentor the women I work with, I try to attract women to work with us, and I try to solve issues when they arise.
What career/personal advice do you have for individuals interested in leading investment platforms like Republic?
Caroline Hofmann: My biggest advice is agnostic of the specific job you pursue. I think it’s critical to be honest to yourself and pursue something you really love doing. No job will be perfect 100% of the time, but if it doesn’t feel right 80% of the time, it’s probably not the right thing. For me personally, finding the right role was less about a specific industry and getting into fin tech, than it was about other aspects such as the mission of the company, the team and the day-to-day responsibilities I would be given. I love what we build at Republic, but it is equally important to me to be surrounded by the right team and work on a broad range of projects I’m excited about.
What are your favorite books, websites, films, and/or resources?
Caroline Hofmann: Between my job and having a toddler (and soon another baby) at home, there’s really never enough time to read or watch movies. I’m 1 season behind on House of Cards, but absolutely love watching the episodes when I get a bit of downtime. I love to listen to the audio version of the Economist on longer drives in the car or when I walk/run outside. Sitting down for an hour to read the New York Times on the weekends in print version with a good coffee has been a long-standing ritual I can’t do without!