Lessons from a Momtrepeneur
HandsDown, the social commerce platform that allows users to share what they “hands down” can’t live without and discover what they’ve been missing, from people they trust the most, their inner circle.
An Influencer Marketing innovator and pioneer, Jenna Sereni is widely known as the original creative inventor for the first ever influencer marketing agency, WHOSAY (co-founded with CAA and acquired by ViacomCBS). Today, Jenna continues to pave the way into the future of influence as the Founder of HandsDown.
Jenna has always had a passion for helping brands tell stories in partnership with influential voices. Seeing the power of influencers well before it was a “thing”, Jenna has now set her sights on a new way for people to have genuine interactions that lead to a greater community of real feedback, as it relates to brands, trends, and more.
Eve #WealthWednesday Highlight 57: Jenna Sereni, Founder of HandsDown
Can you share a bit about yourself?
My great-grandmother, Rozy, was an entrepreneur and she founded our family business in 1947. My whole childhood, I saw this incredible woman powering through and owning it. She started business as a solopreneur, marching down the streets of New York City, demanding people to work with her. She did an amazing job and built a huge business that was handed down throughout the family. Every one of us, all of her great-grandchildren, we worked for her business at one point. We got to experience up close and personal what a business looks like. The good, the bad, the ugly, the fun, celebrating the wins all the way to stocking shelves in the warehouse, which most of us did as our summer jobs.
Entrepreneurship runs in my blood. It’s something that I was born with and my grandparents identified in me. After college, I marched down to 38th street and worked for the family business where I learned so much. After a couple of years, I like to say I basically got my MBA launching an e-commerce brand for the family business which helped us secure some major growth for the company.
I decided to move on and got a job at Teen Vogue where I worked for five years. That was an incredible experience because at the time Teen Vogue dominated the world of young millennial women and was a highly influential media figure. It wasn’t about Anna Wintour, it was about the brand, the Teen Vogue brand, and what that meant. It was accessible, authentic, and cool. I was captivated by the brand and the connection we had with our audience.
I’ve worked with some major influencers during my time at Teen Vogue but wanted to get into a more purely digital experience. I then moved on to a site called DailyCandy. It was the holy grail and absolute best. It’s a women’s lifestyle brand that will tell you what was cool at the time and had an indie vibe that celebrated new and emerging designers and brands.
Refinery 29 came out and DailyCandy was fading a little bit. I was on a team with these brilliant women and we are on to revitalizing the brand but I kind of felt they weren’t totally in it. My publisher from TeenVogue called me about a startup that she wanted me to meet with. I took the call and the meeting and that’s how I ended up at WHOSAY.
The bulk of my professional experience lies in building a startup and being the only female executive at that company, it got really successful and was then acquired. WHOSAY started as an application for celebrities to tell their brand story on social media and to chat with their fans. It's a way for them to be themselves online and navigate the new worlds of social platforms. This was before you could even share a video on Instagram, it was just Twitter, maybe FaceBook, and My space. Hollywood agents were really nervous because Reese Witherspoon, Chris Rock, and Steven Tyler were creating Twitter accounts and publishing photos of themselves at home. That was an extremely foreign concept at the time.
Our company helped these talents and their teams to feel comfortable and navigate the evolution of this space. The company evolved over time from just working with a talent on social to partnering them with brands to create content and share it on social. This was in the super early days of influencer marketing. Before it was properly productized, there was a lot of testing and learning around matching talent and brand combo, telling a cool story, and promoting that through social media platforms. We made every mistake and wins over a 10-year period. We helped to pioneer what influencer marketing looks like today and we also take responsibility for the chaos it has become.
What was your first investment?
My Grandfather was into real estate as a result of our family business. When he passed away, we all got a small distribution of income. With that, I decided to go into the Airbnb business. I had no idea what I was doing but I found this tiny cottage on the north side of Southampton. I knew people paid a fortune to rent houses in the Hamptons because I tried to rent one for my husband's 30th birthday and we couldn’t afford it. When I got a Zillow alert that this cottage was for sale at a reasonable price due to its random location, I knew we had to take a look. I honestly bought it impulsively, furnished it through Craigslist and Facebook Marketplace and got creative at HomeGoods. We threw it up on Airbnb and never paid a penny for that house, which we sold during covid. That was so much work and pain but it allowed us to earn enough and invest in another Airbnb that ended up becoming our home in Vermont today. It’s the absolute best investment and decision we’ve ever made.
How/why did you get into your space?
I’m very inspired by real-life experiences and have a creative mind that’s always at work. I’ll come up with a business idea one second and a cool way to renovate my shower the next. The ideas are ever-turning and I’m always inspired.
My best friend is the Vice President of Product at Etsy. At the time, I was running shopper marketing at Viacom which is now called Paramount. Shopper marketing is essentially where brands allocate specific budgets to drive toward retailers. Burt’s Bees has a specific budget just for driving people into a Walmart store in this region to buy this product, and sometimes that’s done through content marketing. That’s the department that I was starting and running.
At this time, my best friend and I were on this group text with our friends where we talk all the time. Oprah’s Favorite Things came out and we all wanted to take a look to see if there was anything for us. We weren’t super inspired by it but we liked connecting with each other in a group chat that day. We thought, why don’t we share our favorite things with each other? We embarked on this activity that ultimately inspired my best friend Sonia and I started thinking about how there’s no successful way for friends to share their favorite things with each other. There are plenty of ways for influencers and creators to do that but a lot of those are sponsored which is okay but it’s hard to know what’s purely authentic. Sonia and I got right to work figuring out how we could solve this problem because we as consumers and business leaders were experiencing it in real-time.
We started mapping out HandsDown in 2019. It was on the back of a napkin kind of situation and we couldn’t stop. We had live Google documents going for 2 years where all we did was jam at any free time we had until we had a real plausible product road map. We called one of our friends who is an engineer and we got to work and started building it.
What role do you play in the wealth space and why is it important?
It is important to have women in impactful positions, generating wealth for other women. Especially right now when women’s rights are being stripped from them. We need people who are in charge of decision-making to be women at least 50% of the time. It will be challenging for our daughters, nieces, and granddaughters to become female founders that they now in this world should have the opportunity to be.
We have had experiences where we meet with VCs and they will say, “Oh my gosh, HandsDown sounds like an amazing shopping platform. I’m going to give it to my daughter and she’ll decide if this is something that we should move forward with.” Their daughter is 16 and if that’s the person that’s making the final decision about whether or not you’ll be investing in our business, then I don’t think this is the best fit.
We need more women in Venture Capital. We need more women representing women deploying capital and female founders. We have to get everybody involved. It’s up to us as women business leaders to empower and lift other women. Offer up mentorship, access, and help. We need to support each other in any possible way because that's the only way we’re going to get equality. Not just for women but people of color and underrepresented types of founders in businesses.
What do you believe is the most exciting thing you’ve learned and want others to know?
Nothing is going to be easy as you think it will be. Everything that happens needs to be seen as a learning opportunity because starting a business is hard. There’s so much distraction, content, new, and happening, and breaking through it all is challenging. I’ve learned to be kind and allow myself to feel all the things or emotions that come with it. It is an emotional roller coaster especially in tech right now. It’s highly competitive and the world is seriously evolving.
It’s hard to be in business at all. Whether you’re a coordinator, media company, or startup CEO. No matter where you are in your career it will be challenging. As a mother myself, It is important to understand how you're setting an incredible example for your children. Making space, having that kindness for yourself, and surrounding yourself with the right people who respect you for who you are and believe in you and your lifestyle.
I wrote an article called lessons I learned from raising venture capital and potty training a toddler all at the same time. You have thirty VCs who turned you down and said no, that’s just like not as bad as wiping poop out of everything all the time. Everything gets put in perspective when you are potty training.
When I was pregnant, I learned about motherhood where everything changes in your body hormonally, chemically, mentally, and emotionally. The same thing happens when you become a CEO. There are things in our life that totally transforms us and seeing these forms side by side was eye-opening. You never know what someone is going through. You could be working with a woman and not see the bottom half of her body and know that she’s about to pop. There are challenges in life and in business everywhere and we need to be able to laugh at them and not take them too seriously even though everything is on the line. If you’re not going to have fun with it, it’s not worth it and will be too hard.
Is there a person or a company that’s really inspired you?
I am obsessed with Jay Shetty, He is a writer who wrote a book called “Think Like a Monk” which completely changed my life. Super transformative. He was a monk for three years before he went to school in England. The monks noticed that he was good at educating people about why and how monk life works. Every morning I meditate with him in the calm app. I highly recommend it, it’s a fun read and actionable. Actionable tips on how to transform and be better for yourself not for other people.
How can we stay in touch?
HandsDown is a shopping platform built for communities and friends. It’s a place where you can share your absolute favorite things in your life. We help you curate them and discover the favorite things of the people in your life that you trust and love. It’s more fun with friends, I encourage everyone to come and join us at itshandsdown.com and share your favorite things.