20VC Back To Back Female Led IPOs & Why It's Harder To Be A Female CEO Than A Male CEO with Leura Fine, Founder & CEO @ Laurel & Wolf



In the latest episode of "20 minutes VC," host Harry Stebbings interviews Lura Fine, the founder and CEO of Laurel and Wolf, an online interior design service. Fine shares her journey from working at a high-end design firm to launching her own business, driven by the mission to democratize interior design through a digital platform, making it accessible for all. She highlights the challenges of being a female CEO, the lack of role models, and the slow progress toward gender parity in leadership. Fine also discusses the importance of selecting the right board members, akin to choosing a life partner, and the value they bring in identifying blind spots and validating strategies. Additionally, she touches on the complexities of managing a three-sided marketplace involving clients, designers, and vendors, and the strategies to balance supply and demand. Fine envisions Laurel and Wolf becoming a global brand and emphasizes the impact and opportunities that working at a startup offers.

Summary Notes

Introduction to the 20 Minute VC Podcast

  • Harry Stebings is the host of the 20 Minute VC podcast.
  • Harry promotes the podcast and its behind-the-scenes content on Snapchat.
  • The episode features a Founders Friday segment with Lura Fine, founder and CEO of Laurel and Wolf.

This is the 20 minutes VC with your host Harry Stebings at h stepbings with two B's on Snapchat. And it'd be fantastic to see you there and show you all things behind the scenes at the 20 minutes VC.

This quote serves as an introduction to the podcast and the host, Harry Stebings, inviting listeners to engage with additional content on Snapchat.

Lura Fine's Background and Laurel and Wolf

  • Lura Fine is the founder and CEO of the online interior design service Laurel and Wolf.
  • She started the company in her dining room in 2014.
  • Laurel and Wolf has grown to over 60 employees and a marketplace of over 1000 interior designers.
  • The company has raised over $30 million in venture capital funding.

So joining me today, we have Lura Fine. Lura is the founder and CEO of leading online interior design service Laurel and Wolf. Driven by the desire to connect clients and design this through a digital platform, Lura launched Laurel and Wolf from her home dining room in 2014.

This quote introduces Lura Fine and her company, Laurel and Wolf, emphasizing the digital connection between clients and designers.


  • Harry thanks Paige Craig at Arena for the introduction to Lura Fine.
  • The episode would not have been possible without Paige's introduction.

And I do also want to say huge thank you to Paige Craig at Arena for the intro to lure today, without which this episode would not have been possible.

Harry acknowledges Paige Craig's role in facilitating the interview with Lura Fine, highlighting the importance of networking in creating podcast content.

Foundersuite and Greenhouse Promotions

  • Foundersuite is a CRM for raising startup capital.
  • Since March 2016, Foundersuite customers have raised over $130 million.
  • Foundersuite has a database of over 50,000 investors.
  • Greenhouse software provides tools for hiring and was recognized as the best place to work in 2017 by Glassdoor.
  • Greenhouse works with innovative companies like Airbnb, Slack, Snap Inc., and Lyft.

But before we dive into the show today, you must check out foundersuite. Foundersuite makes the leading CRM for raising startup capital.

This quote promotes Foundersuite, emphasizing its success in helping startups raise capital.

Lura Fine's Founding Story of Laurel and Wolf

  • Lura was an interior designer at a high-end firm before founding Laurel and Wolf.
  • She experienced inefficiencies in traditional interior design processes.
  • Lura noticed a gap in the market for affordable interior design services.
  • She identified a need to modernize the industry and make it accessible to a broader audience.

And as I was starting to build my own interior design practice, very much the old fashioned way, I think the biggest aha moment that I had know a combination of two things.

Lura describes her realization that the traditional approach to interior design had significant limitations, leading to her "aha moment" for creating Laurel and Wolf.

The Aha Moment and Market Opportunity

  • Lura's aha moment came after a frustrating client meeting.
  • She recognized that the interior design industry hadn't evolved since the early 1900s.
  • There was a disconnect between people's access to design inspiration and their ability to implement it.
  • Lura saw the potential to connect interior designers with clients digitally.

I realized that I'm in this industry that has literally not changed since it became a profession in the early 1900s, and it's 2014, and it's time for this to evolve.

This quote captures Lura's recognition of the stagnation in the interior design industry and her desire to innovate and modernize it.

Challenges for Female CEOs

  • Lura Fine discusses the scarcity of female CEO role models.
  • She believes there are preconceived notions about how CEOs should behave, which can be challenging for women.

I think one of the things that's hard being a female CEO is that there's just not a lot of examples, right. We didn't grow up having women that we could look up to where you're like, oh, I want to be exactly like this female CEO, because there are only a handful of them.

Lura Fine expresses the difficulty of being a female CEO in a landscape where there are few examples and role models for women to emulate, highlighting the gender disparity in leadership positions.

Gender Dynamics in Leadership

  • Gender expectations shape how leaders are perceived and allowed to behave.
  • Female leaders experience different interpretations of their actions compared to male leaders.
  • Embracing one's individuality as a leader is crucial, even if it defies traditional norms.
  • The appearance and behavior of female CEOs can challenge existing stereotypes and expectations.

"And I actually feel like I've gotten more feedback from male ceos saying, like, God, your job must be really tough, because I can scream, I can yell, I can punch holes in the walls. I can be rude, I can be aggressive. I can be literally everything and anything that I want to be, for better or for worse. And people just accepted, oh, it is what it is. Because he's the CEO, he's a man. That's how he's supposed to behave."

This quote highlights the double standards in leadership behavior based on gender, where male CEOs are often given leeway for aggressive behavior, which is not the case for female CEOs.

"So being bold is an important part of building any business. And I was not scared to embrace who I am as a founder, which is someone who is an interior designer. And someone who cares a lot about style."

Lura Fine emphasizes the importance of authenticity in leadership, especially as a female founder, and the need to maintain personal style and identity in professional settings.

Evolution of Female Leadership

  • There is a growing desire to recognize and support female leaders across industries.
  • Despite positive conversations, women remain underrepresented at high-level industry events.
  • Female leaders often need to advocate for the inclusion of other qualified women in these spaces.
  • Progress towards gender parity in leadership is slow but present.

"I've definitely seen a lot of desire for change and a lot of desire to recognize more of the female leaders in every category, and a lot of conversations about parity in the workplace."

Lura Fine acknowledges the increased desire for gender parity in leadership and the ongoing discussions to improve representation of female leaders.

"And in fact, I was out to dinner last night with a group that's hosting a conference in Santa Monica, pretty high end kind of tech conference, and they're reading me the list of ceos that were participating. And I was like, where are all the ladies?"

This quote illustrates the ongoing issue of female underrepresentation at leadership events and the need for proactive efforts to include more women.

Potential Catalysts for Gender Parity

  • A successful IPO by a female-led tech company could be a significant catalyst for change.
  • The rarity of tech IPOs led by women could magnify the impact when they occur.

"Yes, I think that you're going to hopefully see a couple of tech ipos happen in the next year to year and a half that are going to be female ceos."

Lura Fine expresses optimism that upcoming tech IPOs led by female CEOs could drive significant change in the industry's approach to female leadership.

Investor Relations and Board Dynamics

  • The value an investor brings can vary, and entrepreneurs have differing views on their impact.
  • Having supportive board members who challenge constructively is critical for business success.
  • The permanence of board membership decisions necessitates careful selection, akin to choosing a life partner.
  • Regular, open communication with board members is essential for addressing challenges and validating strategies.

"But having a supportive board who can ask the right questions, find the blind spots, things you may not be aware of, and challenge you along the way in the best possible way, I think is very important."

Lura Fine stresses the importance of having a board that offers constructive challenges and helps identify potential blind spots in decision-making.

"So I think as a founder, you need to be thinking about that. If someone is going to be on your board, you should probably consider how you select them in the same way that you would consider a partner in life, because they're going to be on your board for a really long time."

The quote emphasizes the long-term commitment involved in choosing board members and the need for careful selection due to the difficulty of changing board composition later on.

Effective Challenge from Investors

  • Being challenged "the right way" by investors involves constructive feedback and alternative perspectives.
  • Investors can provide validation or suggest different approaches to problems.
  • Regular conversations with investors outside of formal board meetings can be beneficial.

"And being able to have those conversations is incredibly helpful because they can serve as validation. They can say, no, we think you're thinking about this in the correct way, and it seems like you're thinking about it 360 and we would encourage you to move forward."

Lura Fine describes how open dialogue with investors can lead to valuable affirmation of strategies or provide new insights into tackling business challenges.

The Value of Experienced Board Members

  • First-time founders benefit from the experience of board members who have built big businesses.
  • Board members provide insights to avoid missteps based on their experience with other ventures.
  • They challenge plans and suggest alternatives to ensure the best path and strategy are chosen.
  • Open communication with board members is crucial, even if the founder's decision remains unchanged.

"So having board members who have been a part of building very big businesses, both personally and who have been a part of from the venture capital side, building big businesses, they've just seen the story over and over again, and they've seen all of the ways that people can get things wrong."

This quote emphasizes the importance of having board members with extensive experience in building successful businesses, as they can provide valuable insights and guidance to avoid common pitfalls.

Communication Strategies in Fast-Growing Businesses

  • Communication within rapidly expanding teams must be actively managed.
  • Physical proximity and digital tools do not guarantee effective communication.
  • Regular town hall meetings and presentations by business groups help keep the team aligned.
  • Understanding the strategy, mission, and individual roles is essential for team members.
  • Cross-functional work requires streamlined processes and ongoing evaluation.
  • Post-mortems on projects help improve future communication and project execution.

"We're actively working on how we can do a better job of communicating within our teams and cross functionally all of the time."

Lura Fine highlights the continuous effort required to improve communication within a growing company, ensuring that all team members are informed and collaborating effectively.

The Unique Dynamics of a Three-Sided Marketplace

  • Laurel and Wolf's marketplace includes clients, designers, and vendors.
  • The business model focuses on meeting client needs, designer resources, and vendor relationships.
  • Understanding and managing the interplay between these three sides is crucial for the marketplace's success.

"So we have our clients, our designers, and then we also work with all of the vendors."

Lura Fine explains the three-sided nature of Laurel and Wolf's marketplace, which involves balancing the interests and needs of clients, designers, and vendors to create a successful platform.

Overcoming the Chicken and Egg Problem in Marketplaces

  • Lura Fine leveraged her network of interior designers to kickstart the supply side of the marketplace.
  • Designers were believed to be patient with the platform's growth due to a lack of abundant opportunities elsewhere.
  • The focus was on building a community of designers before driving consumer traffic to ensure service availability.
  • The strategy was to prioritize the supply side to meet demand effectively when it arose.

"Let's build up the community of designers first, so that when we do get those clients, they will have access to a great designer who we know will give them a beautiful space."

This quote outlines the strategic approach taken by Laurel and Wolf to first establish a solid base of designers, ensuring that clients have access to quality services as the marketplace grows.

Addressing Frequency in the Marketplace

  • The frequency of use is less of a concern for Laurel and Wolf due to the nature of interior design services.
  • Customers often cannot afford to furnish an entire home at once, leading to staggered engagements.
  • Life events and the average American moving every five years create opportunities for repeated services.

"Well, frequency is actually not as big of an issue as people would think because most people, and especially our customers, can't afford to furnish an entire home at one time."

Lura Fine addresses the misconception about frequency being a problem for their marketplace, explaining that the nature of interior design work naturally leads to multiple opportunities for engagement with customers.

Home Decoration and Customer Behavior

  • Home decoration is influenced by life cycle events.
  • Customers often decorate their homes one room at a time due to the cost of furniture.
  • Public spaces like living rooms and dining rooms are typically prioritized.
  • There's a frequency to decoration as customers return to complete additional rooms.
  • The company's approach allows customers to fully finish decorating a room before moving on to the next.

In between, you have all these things that will not only be kind of predictors in terms of you moving your space, but then also you're going to change the space that you're in based on different life cycle moments that are happening.

This quote emphasizes that life events predict and influence the need for home decoration and changes in living spaces.

So people are coming to us, and they're typically starting with one of their public spaces, like a living room dining room, and they're going to decorate that first.

This quote highlights the common pattern of customers starting the decoration process with public areas of their home.

It's very different than how they've tried decorating their homes in the past, where it's like, oh, I need a couple of things for this room and a couple of things for that room.

This quote contrasts the company's comprehensive room-by-room service with the traditional piecemeal approach to home decoration.

Quick Fire Round: Personal Insights

Favorite Book

  • Lura Fine's favorite book is "Pride and Prejudice."
  • She appreciates a spunky female heroine.

Pride and prejudice... It's fantastic. I like a spunky female heroine.

This quote reveals Lura Fine's admiration for strong female characters, as exemplified by the protagonist in her favorite book.

Sources of Inner Strength

  • Lura gains strength from client and designer reviews, recognizing the impact on people's lives.
  • She also draws support from her husband, parents, family, and friends during tough times.

Nothing is more powerful than realizing that you're actually changing people's lives.

This quote underscores the motivational effect of seeing the positive impact of one's work on others.

And I look to them in times of challenges and they're wonderful in supporting me through those tough moments.

This quote highlights the importance of having a supportive personal network to draw strength from during challenging times.

  • Lura recommends the ojoy blog for its modern and fun approach to products and design.

We are very keen on ojoy at the moment. We think she has a really interesting eye, really modern, fun, brightly colored products.

This quote indicates Lura's current preference for the ojoy blog, praising its unique and contemporary style.

Perks of Working at a Tech Startup

  • Startups allow individuals to make impactful changes and drive the business forward.
  • The startup environment is ideal for ambitious people who want to execute big ideas.

There's no better environment to be in than to be in a startup because you can actually just shit. Done.

This quote captures the dynamic and results-oriented nature of working at a startup.

Future of Laurel and Wolf

  • Lura Fine envisions Laurel and Wolf becoming a global brand.
  • The company aims to help people worldwide with home design.

Laurel and Wolf is going to be a global brand, so we see this as an opportunity to help people all over the world design their homes.

This quote outlines the ambitious international expansion goals for Laurel and Wolf.

Acknowledgments and Outro

  • Harry Stebings expresses gratitude to Lura Fine for her participation and to Paige Craig for the introduction.
  • Harry promotes Foundersuite and Greenhouse Software as valuable tools for startups and hiring.

What a fantastic episode that was with Lura, and fantastic to hear about the joint love for pride and prejudice.

Harry's closing statement reflects on the enjoyable conversation and shared interests during the podcast.

Check it out today and take advantage of this exclusive offer.

Harry concludes the episode by encouraging listeners to explore the mentioned software solutions, highlighting special offers for the audience.

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