Bootstrapping a Startup to Shake Up an Industry – with Sandy Connery and Jennifer Barcelos

American women have pioneered in many fields, but are they truly empowered and respected across the board? In the heavily male-dominated world of tech startups, two women stand out as they have forged an unusual path that has defied the odds and fueled their unstoppable momentum. Don’t miss today’s show about two amazing moms who have written their own rules in the world of entrepreneurship!

Sandy Connery and Jennifer Barcelos are co-founders of Namastream and Soulful MBA. Namastream is a virtual studio platform, a software technology that allows yoga studios, teachers, and other wellness professionals to serve, teach, and train their clients online. Sandy and Jeni are change-makers, female founders, feminists, and future thinkers who are focused on disrupting the wellness industry to make it easier for health and wellness practitioners to build and scale their online businesses. In this episode, Sandy and Jeni share how they were able to pivot from human rights lawyer and million-dollar brick and mortar business owner to becoming co-founders. They share their thoughts on the skills and mindset necessary to launch a successful online business and why they went against raising venture capital funding for their tech startup, after a VC told them they would never get funded as an all-woman team.

Coming from diverse backgrounds

Sandy has a degree in biomechanics, and she spent 20 years as the owner of a clinical custom orthotics retail business. She reached a place of burnout and searched for something else, mainly so she could be home more with her son. With lower overhead and increased flexibility being driving forces, she wanted to run a business in a different way than in the traditional brick and mortar space.  

Jeni spent her entire career in climate change and environmental advocacy, as an activist who became singularly obsessed with the intersection of climate change and human rights, and specifically, how people in the world with the least resources were impacted by climate change. When she became a mom, she realized the need to minimize her world travel and its associated risks. Her work had begun to feel “hopeless and apocalyptic,” so she looked for something more hopeful.

Finding and connecting

Even though Sandy and Jeni come from different backgrounds and businesses, they shared a passion to find something else in life. Before they ever met, they took an online course about starting a software company. When the live event/retreat was held as the culmination to the course, they met in person and became fast friends and soulmates who really understood each other–all the while functioning in a space completely dominated by men. As their friendship deepened, they talked every day as they built businesses and supported each other. They lived in different parts of the world and came from very different backgrounds, but the instant connection and partnership was realized as they joined together as co-founders of Namastream just three years ago. 

Developing Namastream

Namastream is a learning platform and software tool for teachers or coaches who impart knowledge to others. Live streaming and community are components of the program. They began in the yoga space, but transitioned to being a wellness space software. Namastream became a reliable platform for wellness business owners to scale their businesses, and it was designed to be something anyone could use, even if they weren’t necessarily “tech savvy.”

The struggle for many of these business owners was to market their online business, so Sandy and Jeni taught them to start with the people they already knew and work outward from there. Soulful MBA is the course that laid out the details in an easy-to-understand way, along with the live community component.

The world of online courses

Online courses are everywhere you look, but how many people are doing them the right way? Sandy and Jeni say the key is teaching something highly specialized, leveraging your expertise, and not trying to be everything to everybody. If you’re teaching an online course, then you are the best, and probably are ready to extend your reach past your current geographical location. Sandy and Jeni teach business owners to structure and price a course while getting specific. The biggest mistake is casting too wide a net and trying to have a general appeal to too many people. Don’t be afraid to offer only one thing. Another valuable tip is to focus on growing your following and creating your product BEFORE you launch.

Saying NO to VC funding

In a very non-traditional move, Sandy and Jeni decided to walk away from potential investors because they would have had to transform the company into something they didn’t want if they took the investors’ money. They weren’t willing to do that and give up that much control, and they didn’t want their business to revolve around trying to jump through hoops to please investors. “It would have killed what we were going for in our company.” They share humorous, but frustrating feedback they received when they met with investors as two female co-founders and decided to walk away and do it all on their own.

Playing both roles

Sandy and Jeni are mothers, in addition to the other roles they play and the key is that they want to do all their roles well. Motherhood and family are big reasons why they left their previous careers in the first place. They are learning to use their business experiences to teach children about entrepreneurship. They find that there is not really much separation between their business and family roles, but more of a mashup. They are redefining business, the rules of business, and when business happens. Time flexibility is the main thing that gives them balance in both roles. They agree that it’s a beautiful thing to model their experiences for their kids, who have grown up with their business as a normal part of life. 

Highlights of the episode:

  • 4:35 – How Sandy and Jeni joined forces
  • 9:25 – Forming the businesses
  • 13:55 – What it means to be a co-founder
  • 15:51 – What makes Namastream and Soulful MBA different
  • 24:06 – Challenges of teaching online
  • 30:10 – Why they said NO to investors
  • 35:54 – The bias they experienced while dealing with potential investors
  • 42:47 – How “mother” roles factor into the world of startup
  • 47:26 – Fem Five

Resources mentioned:

Fem Five:

1. Favorite book to recommend for women?

  • Sandy: Playing Big: Practical Wisdom for Women Who Want to Speak Up, Create, and Lead by Tara Mohr

2. Favorite self-care hack?

  • Sandy: “Baths. They bring moments of quiet and healing.”
  • Jeni: “A pleasure iPad, with no work stuff, no social media, and no email.”

3. Best piece of advice and who gave it to you?

  • Sandy: “I heard Tara Mohr say this recently, and I can’t stop thinking about it: ‘American women are liberated, but not empowered’.”
  • Jeni: “My mentor said: ‘Your role is to be humble before God, and not necessarily before every human being you interact with’.”

4. Female CEO or thought leader you’re into right now?

5. One piece of advice you’d give your five years younger self?

  • Sandy: “Know that you can learn to do anything.”   
  • Jeni: “It’s a marathon, not a sprint.”


Last Time on The NextFem Podcast

Pioneering Community Around a Socially Taboo Subject – with Alli Kasirer 

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