How One Woman Is Building An Empire, Fueled By Empathy

09/06/2016 11:08 am ET

Gesche Haas and The Rise of Dreamers // Doers.

Often coined as a “parallel universe,” Dreamers // Doers is supercharging women and leveling the gender playing f
Jennifer Trahan
Often coined as a “parallel universe,” Dreamers // Doers is supercharging women and leveling the gender playing field in untraditional ways.

It’s no secret that starting a company is a challenge.

Male or female, the demanding title of entrepreneur is one that can only be tackled by a motivated trailblazer. An individual like Dreamers // Doers founder, Gesche Haas, who realized that the entrepreneurial title can be particularly challenging to face as a woman. Thus, she set out to shatter the stereotype by creating a selective, online platform where women can leverage each other and gain the support they need to heighten the chances of turning their entrepreneurial ideas into reality.

“As a highly committed woman you want to surround yourself with others who are equally committed,” says Haas. “I don’t believe in zero-sum games. Women are incredibly good at making the pie bigger. Why not play to this strength?”

Recognizing one of her key strengths, and one that particularly resonates with women, Haas has proven the power of empathy in the, typically, cut throat world of business.

An all female, membership community, Dreamers // Doers began over brunch meetings where friends and fellow founders gathered to discuss each other’s ventures, dreams and visions. Haas and her group originally labeled themselves as Dreamers Who Brunch; a simple, effective name to describe their supportive, co-working meetings.

“I was shocked how big of a difference it made. We helped each other with roadblocks, openly talked about fears, while continuously encouraging each other. At that time I kept saying, ‘This is not a business, it’s a community.’ But then I was put in a position where I had to either stop working on it entirely or go all in - and I decided I had to give it my all.”

So Haas, who had prior spent five years working as an investment analyst at a hedge fund, declined several job offers, and the opportunity to pursue any other business ideas, to entirely dedicate herself to Dreamers // Doers. “I felt such a deep sense of responsibility for the other women in the community. I knew I had to find a way to make Dreamers // Doers self-sustaining and to bring it to more women.”

Two years of bootstrapping and burning through personal savings, Haas officially has a profitable company; a direct result of the business model that relies heavily on membership dues.

“Initially, I felt really bad about charging for a product that was adding so much value,” explains Haas, admitting that although it was empathy that drove her to commit to Dreamers // Doers, it was this same empathy that nearly destroyed the company. “I realized that not charging was the most selfish thing I could do. I was jeopardizing the existence of the company.”

When Haas introduced a membership fee, she further rationalized it with the fact that many necessities only exist, today, because society has become accustomed to paying for them. Yet, even with the introduction of dues, Haas highlights how Dreamers // Doers does not advertise or promote these paid portions because the goal of the organization is to organically attract members with initiative; members who truly want to be there.

Haas also realized that the costs were effectively enhancing the overall community experience, by enforcing commitment. “Like everything in life it’s all about fit. What works best for a particular woman depends on how high touch she wants to go, her financial situation as well as relationship to money.” This mindset and understanding is what influenced Haas to include a variety of free offerings such as job boards, local postings and newsletters to maximize Dreamers // Doers reach and impact. “That’s why an ecosystem of offerings made most sense.”

Haas describes how the group isn’t meant to come off as exclusive but rather as a protected platform where women can feel safe opening up about vulnerable situations, whether they be personal or professional. “We optimize much more for personality fit than pedigree. It’s comparable to a company that very carefully curates its company culture,” explains Haas on how the community’s positive support is ensured through this careful curation of its members.

The platform is also an effective space to allow females to focus on their careers, no matter where they are in their maternal lives. Through her original coworking discussions with fellow female entrepreneurs, Haas recognized how difficult it was for women to entirely separate their personal and professional lives. This includes looking at a career ten years down the line, while also accounting for dreams of having a family. Now, some of the most cherished feedback she’s received has come from new mothers.

“Hearing things like, ‘This has changed my life. I’m able to achieve so much more and a lot of it from home. I can be a better mother to my child and pursue my dreams’ is incredibly heartwarming.”

Reflecting on her work up until now, Haas views it as only the beginning to a global, and eventually, gender agnostic movement. “It’s a new way of doing business and going through life.”

She continues to reiterate the importance of a female community coming together, describing a study that supports the vision of Dreamers // Doers. “It shows how women feel less confident and less likely to hold onto their related aspirations if they’re consistently in the minority,” says Haas. “Small groups in which women are the majority may help to protect them from the consequences of being in the minority overall. We’ve found a way to hack empathy as a force of good.”

With a mission to “increase the number of successful ventures launched by women by changing the name of the game,” Haas and her company embody this study’s lesson and stand as the perfect proof that those who dream big, do big.

Getting to know Haas on a personal note:

"I’m definitely a rebel which is one of my superpowers and weaknesses at the same time," says Haas.
Jia Wertz
"I’m definitely a rebel which is one of my superpowers and weaknesses at the same time," says Haas.

Can you discuss the dynamic of your family life growing up and the influence of it on your work?

My parents divorced probably 25 years later than they should have so it was really hard growing up, especially because I’m someone who really feeds on others’ energy. We lived abroad, there were no other parents that were divorced, so none of my friends talked about this and there was no internet to fall back on. I just assumed, ‘Wow whatever is going on at home is not normal and just really, really painful.’

I believe pleasure and pain are closely tied to each other. Like I’m a very happy person right now but partially because I went through so much pain growing up. I was forced to understand myself really well. I can now recognize if a situation isn’t working for me and am extremely motivated to change it. Being bullied in school for being different strongly contributed to this, too.

I’ve learned that there’s no perfect path. Any major decision we make, we’ll be able to find someone who’ll like us less, think we’re less cool because of it. We need to optimize for what’s most important to us, and consciously do so for our path to feel right.

With a Chinese mother, German father and a childhood filled with moves from Africa to Hong Kong, you’re certainly worldly. How does this international background affect the work you do?

I’m definitely a rebel which is one of my superpowers and weaknesses at the same time.

Having lived in so many different countries you see so much diversity that when you look at a problem, or something in your life that you don’t like, rather than just accepting it you say, ‘No I’m going to change this.’ In terms of empathy, it’s made me really understanding. When you see so much variety you judge less and appreciate others for their differences.

You continually say to focus on strengths, what would you consider yours to be?

Well one of them is empathy, just caring so, so, so much. I think that what we are most self­-conscious about, is actually oftentimes something we’re really good at because we can see all the ways that we can improve in that area. Understanding this link can really help with confidence by the way.

Is there a daily routine that you can’t skip?

Journaling. Literally just taking a step back and analyzing my emotions. I try to do it every day before I start actual work. It’s usually the first thing on my ‘To­-do list.’

So often we go through life staring at our phone screens or computers, never actually checking in with how we’re feeling and why. So just two minutes of writing, if I’m stressed out about something, can give me an answer, give me perspective.

You seem to quote Mark Zuckerberg and Sheryl Sandberg often, would you consider them as your role models?

Mark Zuckerberg and Sheryl Sandberg are definitely role models but I also really like Scott Belsky who founded Behance. When I first started out on this journey, I had a lot of internal struggles. I was mostly working alone and when I hit roadblocks there was no one to compare notes to. It wasn’t until after reading his books that I stopped thinking there was something wrong with me. He goes deep into the most common pitfalls that creative people face when putting out their best work and the in-depth processes they adopt to overcome them.

So rarely do we get to see other people’s behind-the-scenes, what it takes for them to be productive. It’s one of the things people don’t talk about enough. When you do your own thing, it can be insanely hard. It’s another reason I believe so much in the power of community and sharing our journeys more openly.

How are men reacting to Dreamers // Doers?

One of the most humbling things has been the surprisingly large amount of men this has resonated with. It’s general intrigue and many questions on the nitty gritty of how Dreamers // Doers works.

What’s your biggest advice for women with social media?

First asking, why you even want to be on social media. Then very specifically based on your why, structuring your strategy around it. Let’s say your why is work, let’s say your why is personal, let’s say your why is just because you enjoy it, then figuring it out from there. Too many people try to do all the platforms, the most successful people tend to dominate on one.

Then just being really, really authentic. Yes, you won’t resonate with everyone. But honestly, do you really want to succeed at resonating with people that your natural self doesn’t resonate with?

Lastly, how has Dreamers // Doers changed how you look at life?

That we can have a lot more than we think. That we can be happy and be successful.

Dreamers // Doers only truly took off after I spent more time identifying and honing in on my own values. I also learned the importance of self care. We can only be the best founder, best friend, best significant other, if we are the best version of ourselves; even if sometimes it involves redefining priorities, or happiness itself. To express true empathy we have to start with applying it to ourselves.

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