Editor’s note: This profile is part of Something Ventured, an ongoing series by Crunchbase News examining diversity and access to capital in the venture-backed startup ecosystem. As part of this project, we’ll follow seven seed-stage entrepreneurs over the course of several months as they build their businesses. Access the full project here.
More than 2,000 venture-backed companies with sole female founders have been funded in the United States in the past five years. Los Angeles-based Repeat is one of those companies, but it happens to have two female founders. They also happen to be a couple.
Kim Stiefel and Sarah Wissel met in 2015 while working for the Los Angeles-area startup Vytmn. Wissel, who grew up in Los Angeles, has always been an entrepreneur. As a child, she sold caterpillars on the playground to other kids for $20, and as an adult she worked for herself — playing poker, editing books and working in growth marketing consulting before joining Vytmn.
“Really at the core of it all … entrepreneurship just means you like creating, which very much aligns to just everything I like about life,” Wissel said. “So it was very obvious. Kim and I are both risk takers in different ways. I was literally a gambler, so I was cool with that. I’m very comfortable betting on myself. Kim is very comfortable in high-stress situations. She performs amazing in those types of situations.”
Stiefel grew up in the Washington, D.C.-area as an athlete who played soccer and swam. She didn’t always know she wanted to be an entrepreneur, but always had a competitive spirit. She worked different jobs in different industries, progressively moving to smaller companies where she’d have greater responsibility and learn more with each role.
The origin story
The two began working together and became a couple. When Vytmn shut down, they started their own company, UNDR. The business focused on replenishing easily worn-out clothing items like T-shirts, socks and underwear through a subscription.
But they soon realized the drawbacks of regular subscriptions.
Wissel turned to Stiefel and proposed an idea: Getting data on when men typically started to get pit stains on their T-shirts, so the company could advertise to customers when it was time for them to buy new ones. But that sort of data didn’t exist, so they built the software to collect it.
The duo set up a survey on UNDR’s website during the customer check-out process to learn more about their use of items: How did they wear the T-shirts? How often did they wear them? etc.
And then, Repeat
That’s how the idea for Repeat came about, but now the founders aren’t focused on clothing. Instead, their SaaS platform is used by consumer packaged goods brands including Youth To The People and No.2 Toilet Paper to help turn one-time customers into repeat customers.
Buying packaged goods is repetitive in nature, as consumers have to replenish things like toilet paper, skincare products and toothpaste regularly.
Repeat’s technology helps companies better understand individual customers and their relationship to a product. The platform analyzes single-buyer behavior along with household behavior so it can nudge customers when it’s time to purchase a product again. It also keeps track of purchases in a customer’s shopping cart, similar to how food delivery companies do, so buyers can quickly reorder what they need.
“You want to be reminded when you might be running low on something, but you might be apprehensive to subscribe to those products,” Stiefel said.
The biggest challenge so far in building a company has been the loneliness that comes with being a founder, even when your co-founder is your partner, Stiefel said.
For Wissel, the biggest challenge was not building within a community. “We made the mistake early on of not really building in a community and getting the support that we needed,” she said. “We kind of isolated ourselves when we were doing it.”
The pair recognized their mistake early enough, and quickly course-corrected. They got in touch with the managing director of entrepreneur community Grid110, and joined the group. That led them to join another startup community, the accelerator Techstars.
Playing to their strengths
It’s no secret that technology and venture capital are fields dominated by men. American startups founded solely by female founders raised $3.2 billion in 2020 — down $1 billion from its peak in 2019, when they raised $4.2 billion, according to a Crunchbase analysis. That $3.2 billion figure represents just 2.4 percent of overall venture funding in 2020, which was a record year for venture capital investments.
Moreover, while there are many small businesses founded and run by couples, it’s less common in venture-backed startups, although there are a few notable cases. Tech giant Cisco, for example, was founded by a husband and wife, as was lingerie startup ThirdLove. While there isn’t data available for venture-backed companies founded and run by two women who are in a relationship, it’s safe to say it’s relatively rare.
Stiefel and Wissel, who plan to get married, were initially nervous about how to approach disclosing their relationship to investors and others, Stiefel said.
“It’s been really interesting,” she said. “When we raised with Act One, who led our pre-seed, we told them and we were really nervous about it. We didn’t know how they would respond because we had heard the same thing about investors feeling like it was risky to invest in a couple.”
It felt like Act One took a chance on them, Stiefel said, adding that Repeat was Act One’s first investment in a company led by two women in a relationship.
While Stiefel and Wissel were nervous about how investors would react initially, they’ve since shifted their mindset and go into those conversations with confidence. If an investor doesn’t want to invest in them because they’re a couple, so be it. They’re open about the fact that they’re a couple to investors, the press and the people they work with.
“We’ve had to ask ourselves at one point in the process of hiring people, do we mention that we’re a couple? I mean hopefully they’ve read it out there, we’ve put it out there,” Stiefel said.
In fact, the pair have heard that investors and employees often forget that they’re a couple in addition to business partners. Because when they’re working, they’re working.
Stiefel and Wissel have also established some boundaries, such as never taking a meeting in the same room, even when they’re working from the same house. (During this interview, they were in separate spaces and logged on for the interview separately. I wasn’t aware they were in the same location until they told me about the protocol.)
That rule also helps to establish the company’s remote-first culture.
And they work well together: As head of product, Wissel is the more analytical executive, looking at the business through a microscope. Stiefel looks at Repeat’s strategy and go-to-market through a big-picture lens.
As Stiefel put it, they speak different languages, but they’re always on the same page.
“Our partnership works so incredibly well for so many reasons, regardless of our personal relationship,” she said. “I think being in a personal relationship makes our business partnership so much stronger and vice versa.”
Photo illustration by Dom Guzman
Stay up to date with recent funding rounds, acquisitions, and more with the Crunchbase Daily.