Leveling the Playing Field: How Kat de Haën Is Advancing Women Leadership Through Boards and Investment Portfolios
Kat de Haën, Co-Founder of The Fourth Floor, is building a community dedicated to increasing the number of women on boards, empowering women entrepreneurs, and expanding women’s access to capital.
Kat started her career as the founder of a consumer goods company in the beauty industry, but due to a lack of support and investment, she had to close down the business. During this time of transition, she met Breen Sullivan, Founder of The Fourth Floor. It didn’t take long for them to join forces over their shared frustration of the struggles women face on boards and funding their startups. The Fourth Floor now has more than 1,200 active members and continues to build more opportunities for female leaders and executives.
We asked Kat about the most unexpected part of her journey, the achievements she’s most proud of, and what’s next for The Fourth Floor.
Q: Tell us the story behind the founding of The Fourth Floor: How and why did you start working on The Fourth Floor?
A: My background is as a founder of a consumer goods company in the beauty industry. I invented a beauty tool that I brought to market internationally. Unfortunately, due to lack of support, advice, and knock-offs, I was not able to sustain the business. As I was winding it down and contemplating what my next move should be, I was introduced to Breen Sullivan, an executive, general counsel, and the founder of The Fourth Floor. She was frustrated with her own lack of access to board seats and investment opportunities and was working on a solution.
After discussing the challenges we both faced, we knew that if we could bring together these two differentiated networks—founders who need to build out their boards and executive women who want to initiate and advance their board careers—in a community dedicated to creating and exchanging mutually beneficial opportunities, we would unleash an incredible amount of untapped wealth creation and innovation into the world.
Q: What problem does The Fourth Floor solve?
A: Women executives are often denied board seat opportunities due to a lack of experience. Women founders are often not getting the investments they need to grow and scale their companies. We are introducing these two highly-motivated groups to get more women on boards of early-stage startups so they can start their board careers and the startups can more easily raise capital. We are democratizing access to money and power in order to level the playing field for women and drive systemic change.
Q: What makes The Fourth Floor different from other such communities?
A: Many communities focus on just one group. We focus on three groups and have designed our community to be a true value creation circle. Each group has something of value to give and to get. Our stakeholders are women founders looking for board advisors, executives looking to serve on advisory or governing boards, and investors. By bringing them together in our community dedicated to creating and exchanging mutually-beneficial opportunities, we are able to unleash an incredible amount of untapped wealth creation and innovation into the world.
Q: What’s been the most unexpected part of your entrepreneurial journey?
A: It’s unexpected and maybe counterintuitive, but ask your customers for help. We found that the more you enlist help, the more you get. If people believe in you and your idea, they will want to help you. Be specific in what you ask to make it easy for them but don’t be afraid to ask. We have definitely benefited from the generosity of our community and love the contributions they are willing to make.
Q: What’s the biggest misconception that others have around entrepreneurship?
A: There seems to be this common belief that founders are doing it for fun and that they don’t need help or a reasonable way to support themselves on their journey. Investors frown on founders paying themselves too much—whatever that means. But it is important to understand how hard it is to be a founder, how all-consuming it is and that it often comes at the expense of family and mental health. Founder burnout is real and will have business-related consequences. A founder and their startup need to be treated holistically and given the resources to make sure both will survive.
Q: Have you felt like giving up? What made you persist?
A: At times we have questioned ourselves and what we are doing. Is it worth it? Are people finding value in it? How can we make actions more impactful? Luckily whenever we start to doubt ourselves, we receive an encouraging comment or success story, or see a member’s business succeed because of something we initiated. That makes it all worth it. That’s when we know we are doing the right things, which keeps us going.
Q: We dare you to brag: What achievements are you most proud of?
A: I welcome the opportunity to brag. We did focus groups in 2018, launched The Fourth Floor in 2019 with as much free, cobbled together tech as we could, and invested in a digital platform in January of 2020 to accommodate the demand from our community. We now have more than 1,200 active members in our board seat exchange and new opportunities are consistently being presented. It thrills us to see our founders finding their ideal advisors and getting investments and our executives finding new roles and ways to advance their careers. It’s all been happening so fast. We are so grateful to all who have supported us along the way.
Q: What would you tell your younger self if you were to start your entrepreneurial journey all over again?
A: I would definitely tell my younger self to go for it, but not alone. Make sure to enlist everyone and anybody who is willing to help. Listen to everyone and then make educated decisions. It’s never too early for an advisory board. Build it sooner than later. Being a founder can be lonely but you don’t have to be alone in your decisions.
Q: What’s next for you and The Fourth Floor?
A: We’re excited to keep building out our digital platform and to welcome new members and especially new partners. We believe that to move the needle we need to think about more than just ourselves. It is going to take a lot and so we’d love to work with anyone who believes in the mission. We’ve also started a new initiative called “Pay It Forward.” e are asking all companies, women- or male-led, to list their board opportunities in our board seat exchange for the price of two memberships, which we in turn give back to that company in the form of two memberships for their high-potential women executives. It allows companies to source diverse candidates and talent from our membership while, at the same time, support the advancement of their women executives. We believe we can make a big impact on the lack of diversity in privately-held companies with this initiative. It’s a win win!
Kat is a member of Dreamers & Doers, a private collective that amplifies the entrepreneurial pursuits of extraordinary women through thought leadership opportunities, authentic connection, and access. Learn more about Dreamers & Doers and subscribe to their monthly The Digest for top entrepreneurial and career resources.
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