Founder Fridays: An Interview with Diana Sonis, Director of Business Development at NabeWise

Name, Age, Current Occupation: Diana Sonis, 28, Director of Business Development at NabeWise

My start-up path: My background is a patchwork of different experiences, all of which, in retrospect, have been extremely helpful in start-ups. I started out studying journalism and game-theory politics at NYU, both of which allow you to hone your writing skills and prepare you to analyze different situations from a variety of angles. I then spent a few years investing in alternative assets on behalf of a private Swiss bank, which gave me a solid base in understanding financials and operations. But, I always knew that I wanted to build a company. So in 2007, my husband, a partner, and I co-founded UnitConnect, which provides property management software for both commercial and residential property managers. Then a friend introduced me to NabeWise. I immediately loved it because I saw its application in travel, and I am an obsessive traveler (I’ve been to 60+ countries.) When I met Ann Baldinucci, the Co-Founder of NabeWise, we clicked and decided to work together.

NabeWise was started because: When you move to a new city, you need information but it’s hard to know what it’s like to live in a neighborhood. NabeWise brings neighborhoods to life. We have local reviews, rankings of what neighborhoods are known for, curated photo descriptions and school records.

What’s your role at NabeWise? I head up business development and marketing. I expand our sphere of influence and spread the word about NabeWise. I find partnerships with companies that would want to utilize our data, and in general have been working on our monetization strategy.

The initial idea for the company has (or has not) changed over time: The core concept is the same. But our revenue products and exactly how we will make money has changed over the last year. Our goal hasn’t changed though – our goal is to put neighborhoods on the map.

What’s a lesson you’ve learned from working with bootstrapped start-ups? If people love your concept, they will work with you and support you. We’re lucky because we have a good concept that people believe in. That’s very important.  Also, figure out how to get revenue in the door as fast as possible – this keeps you alive, and also helps in raising money.

Any advice on marketing to a bootstrapped start-up? Marketing is the hardest when you’re bootstrapping, but there are a lot of free marketing strategies. We use social media to reach out to our community. We also focus on partnerships and SEO.  If you have really good content, people will come and get to know you. You can also contact influential voices in whatever sphere you’re in and get their attention. Remember, no creative idea is crazy. Unless it’s illegal. Then, don’t do it.

The best piece of legal advice I ever received was: Figure out the equity split between you and your co-founders. And make sure that your responsibilities are aligned with your equity split.

The one legal concept I didn’t understand at the outset was: It’s tough to figure out what type of legal structure to start with and what’s best.

The greatest lesson I’ve learned over the course of my experience as a founder is: Building a great team is essential.  Without a great team, you will fail. It doesn’t mean you have to have a co-founder, but I do think you need to have people around you who believe in your idea and are passionate about helping you bring it to life. Also, be humble and help people even if they can’t help you right now. Whether it’s advice, intros, anything to help them succeed. Don’t keep score and it will come back to you at some point.

Right now, the books I’m reading are: The Idea Writers by Teressa Iezzi, Do More Faster by Brad Feld and David Cohen, and Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer.

The blogs I’m reading are: and Mark Suster’s blog. I read those religiously. I also read Hacker News, Early Stager and love Paul Graham’s essays. Finally, I love reading Inc. Magazine to remind me that not all entrepreneurship revolved around tech!

This post was authored by Nithya Das.

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