Amy Nelson is founder and CEO of The Riveter, a co-working space for women built on the idea that workplaces are rooted in equality of opportunity for all, rather than for the select few.
She leaned on her background in politics, law, and motherhood to create one of the largest, most dynamic and creative spaces for women to work. If she’s not on a plane, a panel, or pitching investors, Amy’s welcoming business leaders, politicians, authors, and hundreds of everyday female entrepreneurs into her beautiful community spaces, or spending quality time with her family at home in Seattle.
Read on to learn what inspired Amy to build The Riveter, her best advice for pitching investors, and how being a mom has made her a better businesswoman.
Name: Amy Nelson, Founder and CEO of The Riveter
Location: Seattle, WA
Education: NYU School of Law, JD; Emory University, Bachelor’s of Arts, International Studies
Children: Reese, 3, Sloane, 2, and Merritt, 9 months
Can you tell us a little bit about your career journey up to this point?
My career path has combined my love of politics and a love for tackling big issues, both in and out of the courtroom. During college, I interned for President Jimmy Carter at The Carter Center where I was hired on full time before I graduated to work on issues around democracy – like elections and access to information – in Latin America and Africa. It was an amazing first full-time job after years working as a nanny and in restaurants. I traveled to places like Ethiopia and Jamaica with world leaders. I learned how to work with foreign officials and how to coordinate lunches for large groups in countries without WiFi or cell service!
After receiving my law degree from NYU and passing the bar, I was a corporate litigator on Wall Street until I moved to Seattle with my husband. During that time, I worked as a volunteer with a stellar group of friends to build President Obama’s Gen44 fundraising team across the country from the ground up. Once we moved to the Pacific Northwest, I continued practicing law and eventually moved to an in-house role with a tech company.
The career pivot from lawyer to entrepreneur happened just after I gave birth to my second child, but my mission has always remained the same: redefine the place for women in politics, in the workplace, and our communities.
What inspired you to open the Riveter – the amazing women-focused co-working space?
During my time as a lawyer, I understood first-hand how difficult it was to be a mom and a full-time professional in a world that was designed for men (who are still in the minority in terms of primary caretakers) to succeed. I noticed that fewer women continued practicing law after having a child, and even fewer became partners. While pregnant with Reese, I came across a telling statistic from Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In: 43% of highly-trained, professional women “off-ramp” after they have children. I remember thinking: if this is true, corporate America is completely broken, we all seem to know it, and yet nothing is being done. This, paired with seeing my own capacity to be both a mother and lawyer called into question, strengthened my desire to help women succeed.
After reading Lean In, I really dug into the question of where mothers were going after leaving corporate America. The narrative we hear in the media is that these women are going home. But this is far from the truth. Many of these women are starting businesses and putting their skills to use outside of the traditional 9 to 5. Mothers are launching marketing consultancies, lawyers are putting their skills to use as real estate agents, and women are banding together to put together amazing startups.
In fact, women are starting businesses at a rate five times that of men in the United States today.
Knowing a shift in priorities was in order, I started to sketch out a big idea: Places designed for women, wherever they are in their careers, to find a community of support, a professional network, and the resources to know how to build businesses or make a career pivot. In 2017, that idea became The Riveter, female-forward workspaces and an online community platform. We opened the doors to the first space – yes, named for Rosie – in Seattle in May 2017 and our second followed four months later. In June 2018, we took our movement to Los Angeles where we have one location welcoming members with another set to open in August. We have a third Seattle location scheduled to launch in September, and we’ll grow across the country from there!
How did you raise the capital to start The Riveter?
I left my last position as an attorney in January 2017 and a couple of hours after I walked out of the building, I walked into my first pitch. To raise the money to start The Riveter, I talked with angel investors, individuals who inject capital into a startup in exchange for ownership equity. I met the investors by telling everyone I knew – from the moms in my daughter’s preschool class to former bosses – about my idea. I created a pitch deck and walked many potential investors through the idea for The Riveter, how I planned to grow it, and the incredible market opportunity. I ended up raising $700,000 in about six weeks, and from there we started building out our first space.
Notably, I was pregnant with my third daughter during this entire period. I received some advice from those in the startup community to “hide” my pregnancy, but I knew that anyone who had doubts about my ability as a leader given that I was a mother was not someone we wanted on our team. I told everyone I talked to that I was pregnant, and we ended up with an incredible group of investors.
You just raised a lot more money to expand The Riveter; how did you raise this capital and what will it be used for?
My background is in political fundraising, but pitching venture capital firms for investment was a new venture. We decided that VC funding was the best move forward so that we could scale the business quickly. So in late 2017, we set out to raise a more substantial Series Seed.
All-female founding teams in the United States receive around 2% of all venture capital funds. This seemed daunting as we set out, and there were days when I asked myself if the cards were stacked against us. However, I knew we had a few things on our side: a great idea, an amazing team, and a solid business plan. I heard a lot of no’s along the way, and it was a tough exercise.
I traveled to San Francisco, Los Angeles, and New York. I was lucky that I could bring the baby with me when I traveled to the Bay Area because my older sister lives there with her children and I could hire a sitter to watch Merritt. This was wonderful because I was nursing, and we all know how hard it is to travel and pump! I also definitely worried about leaking breastmilk in more than one pitch! In March 2018, we announced that we raised 4.75 million Series Seed funding led by Madrona Venture Group — an incredible firm based in our hometown of Seattle.
Who was on your original team? And how many people are on your team now?
The Riveter’s original team was a small handful of employees and a small army of friends who greatly wanted to see this startup succeed. I remember spending hours with my husband helping to frame out and drywall the private offices downstairs in the Capitol Hill location. David Valadez, our head of operations, has stories of installing the showers and reframing doors to work with our flagship location, which was built in the early 1900s. Now, we’ve grown to 24 employees across our corporate team and three locations (soon to be five!), which is still mind-blowing to me.
You began in Seattle and just opened in LA. Why did you choose to open the Riveter in those two cities first, and where are you headed next?
Opening in Seattle was a natural fit as there was a need for a female-forward coworking space in our city. After I stopped practicing law, I started working and taking classes from various coworking spaces. The problem was that I didn’t feel like I belonged in any of them. I couldn’t find the community or the network that I needed as I made a significant career change. I also noticed that they were started and run by men with features that looked and felt like the same corporate America that I left when I left the law firm. It became clear to me that the world needed a future of work reimagined by women, so I decided I would build it.
Once we opened our first location and there was an opportunity to expand it to two, I quickly realized my goal to scale this business beyond Seattle and across the nation. After raising our seed round of funding, we knew that we needed to have a location in a larger city, and the vibrant tech and entrepreneur scene in LA was the perfect place to expand beyond the Pacific Northwest. Within the next three months, we’ll double our square footage and have two additional office spaces on the West Coast, one of which will be Marina Del Rey, California.
What is a dream city you hope to be in one day?
I have to say that we’re already in two absolutely amazing cities, Seattle and Los Angeles. That said, I am particularly excited to bring The Riveter to the middle of the country. I was born and raised in the Midwest, a place full of wonderful people so much innovation. I also spent five years in Atlanta and absolutely love the South! I know so many women starting such cool businesses in places like Minnesota and Tennessee.
How did you decide to begin doing events and panels? Was this always a part your plan?
The Riveter has – and always will be – much more than a co-working space. From the early days, we envisioned a space where we could have events that brought the community together to discuss a wide range of complex topics. We are honored to host and organize a variety of events and work with local community groups to large national organizations. Since we opened our doors in May 2017, we’ve welcomed multiple Olympians, six U.S. Senators, and luminaries like Sheryl Sandberg and Jennifer Palmieri. For the 2018 Women’s March, we provided space for march organizers to stage logistics plans and gather key leaders.
What has been your favorite event you’ve hosted at The Riveter?
It is impossible to pick just one! That said, we recently hosted an incredible conversation between Ijeoma Oluo, the author of So You Want to Talk About Race and Ruchika Tulshyan, a journalist, author, and diversity expert. We had a 90-minute conversation with over 100 people in attendance. Ijeoma and Ruchika hit on hard topics and asked all of us to ask ourselves hard questions. The event was so powerful, and The Riveter was built for discussion like this.
Besides events, what other projects is The Riveter going to take on this year?
We have a few projects that are going to bring The Riveter communities together, both offline and online. First, we’ll double the size of our workspaces to 70,000 square feet by the end of the year. These new additions to The Riveter community are going to be filled with powerful women and advocates. Next, we’re expanding our online community to meet The Riveter’s broader community with access to members, a growing network, and our enhanced learning and development programming, regardless of where they live. More on that development soon!
What is your best advice when pitching yourself/your company to investors?
My best piece of advice is to understand that you and your investors may not share the same belief about what will make your business idea successful. For example, we’re building a movement at The Riveter to redefine the future of work for women. While that is a mission we’re passionate about and investors may wholeheartedly believe in it, they are also looking to the bottom line. Our investors saw a sound business plan and a large growth potential in the market, and we had to adapt our pitch to highlight the components that funders wanted to see.
You were a mom when you founded the Riveter, and it has been growing like crazy — what are some of the boundaries you set around work and home life?
I try not to use the words “boundaries” or “balance” when talking about the juggle of entrepreneurship and parenting. I see so many similarities between the two, and I think my experience as a mother has been invaluable in understanding the demands of starting a company. At all hours of all days, I am both a mother and an entrepreneur.
That said, there are hours I focus on one and hours I focus on the other. Unless I am traveling, I make a commitment to be home for either breakfast or dinner with my girls. I put my phone away, close up the laptop, and enjoy the three little ones that make life so fun. There are also days where I take advantage of the flexibility that owning your own company brings. Last week, I had to head to France to speak at the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity. Because I knew I’d be gone – and on work duty – for some time, I took an afternoon off and went to the park with the girls. We had a blast!
How has being a mom made you a better businesswoman?
I think being a mother has made me what I am today as a businesswoman. Yes, I can say the typical things we all say: I know how to multitask! I’m much more conscious of my time and work more efficiently so that I can get home to my kids! These things are all true. But for me, it goes a lot deeper. As a parent, I practice compassion, empathy, and listening every day. When I practiced law prior to becoming a parent, these are not things that I consciously worked into my work day on a regular basis. Now, they are a part of who I am inside and out. And I know I am a better leader for it.
What are some of the skills you’ve learned in your career that have helped you as a mother?
As an entrepreneur, I have to give up on perfectionism every day. If I get to perfect, I’ve done it wrong because when you start a company you commit to working really hard and moving fast. Perfectionism slows you down. Learning this lesson has been amazing to apply to parenting. I’m okay if dinner is cheese and crackers or if the laundry isn’t done. I know that we’ll get to where we need to be and my babies will be loved, and that’s more than enough.
As a parent, I practice compassion, empathy, and listening every day. When I practiced law prior to becoming a parent, these are not things that I consciously worked into my work day on a regular basis. Now, they are a part of who I am inside and out. And I know I am a better leader for it.
What is your best advice to moms in the workforce?
My best advice is to vote with your feet to the extent you can do so. So many employers are not friendly to parents, nor do they value the retention of women. We get a lot of lip service but not a lot of action. That said, there are many employers who DO make these things a priority. Find them and work for them!
How does the Riveter empower women and moms?
Our workspaces and programming are designed by women for women to succeed. We believe that women have the ability to make powerful things happen, and often just need the network connections, training to advance their career or business, or a space to make their idea a reality. Our workspaces and membership plans also are flexible to meet the various needs of women in business. We’ve intentionally designed our spaces so that there’s a mix of seating and that the aesthetic is inviting. We’ve included mother’s rooms and wellness partnerships or offerings at all of our locations. And we also partner with female-founded companies to provide valuable global member benefits.
Amy Nelson is the Everymom…
Favorite morning beverage?
All the coffee.
Favorite self-care activity?
Time with the girls and sleep!
Last book you read?
No One Tells You This, by my friend Glynnis MacNicol. It is amazing and comes out this summer!
Favorite part about being a mom?
All of it. I just love it. I was built for this! (Well, all of it except the lack of sleep!)
Favorite way to spend time with your family?
I really love when we spend time outside together, in our backyard or at the swimming pool. My oldest daughter, Sloane, learned to swim this year, and it’s so much fun.