Advice to entrepreneurs: Be willing to admit when you don't know
Maayan Ziv is a photographer turned tech entrepreneur with a creative story to match. From solving her own problems to changing the conversation about accessibility, Maayan is a trailblazer who is unafraid to admit when she doesn’t know something.
AccessNow recently won the inaugural #MoveTheDialPITCH competition, winning $10,000 cash on top of mentorship from an experienced panel of judges.
The judges’ core feedback was for Maayan to talk more about the business opportunity for AccessNow. Luckily for them and any future investors, the opportunity is huge.
“AccessNow is a a mobile app and website platform that allows people to discover whether or not the places they want to go to are truly accessible for them,” she explains.
The app crowdsources location information from a worldwide community of advocates and allies, helping to rank buildings based on their level of accessibility.
“Being a social enterprise, our mission comes first. Every decision we make about revenues or business model has to benefit the community.”
This focus on social mission, while noble, can often mean hard times at the beginning, and Maayan was not immune to that reality.
She describes her first year as “scrappy, but it worked,” explaining that new founders often don’t need a ton of money to get things going if they can work hard and count the blessings of some friends being able to help them (or others opening their networks).
“For the first year of AccessNow, I didn’t have much funding – I also wasn’t fully sure what I was doing at the time. Some amazing friends came together to help me build the platform, all of whom cared about the mission as well.”
Adding to that, she knows that when you have something you’re ready to take to market, you’ll need access to funding so you can bring on the team or build the developments that will amplify your reach and impact. Easy access to funding for small businesses, however, is one of the things she cites as crucially missing for new entrepreneurs.
Profit + Mission
Maayan’s mission with AccessNow is to change the conversation around accessibility, and building a massive database of accessibility information on the world’s buildings is the first step in that broader mission.
“There are so many conversations about accessibility as a medical tool or hassle in building codes. We are trying to reposition accessibility as something fun, approachable, and exciting – focusing on things people want to be doing versus things people think are annoying.”
AccessNow, she says, is about giving a voice to those who require accessibility or understand its value and importance in everyone’s lives.
The map-based platform was a great first step in order to build that community, but the business opportunities extend to data sharing, marketing, and other ways of sharing the information they collect.
“It took us a while to narrow down our business model to something both viable and attractive to users. We discovered so many places have already invested in accessibility, and we want to be a channel to promote those efforts. We can also help people learn more about what others are doing, thus changing the conversation around accessibility.”
The Power of Networks
Maayan could not have done any of this, however, without the power of networks – a power partially given by Jodi Kovitz, founder of Move The Dial.
“When I started out, I didn’t know much about the demographics of the industry. In time, I realized there was a certain “look” expected of an entrepreneur. I had a hard time at the beginning, but I talked to as many people as possible. I took every coffee that someone would take with me, and I asked tons of questions.”
“I came to realize that you have to know what you’re good at and play to your strengths – but then also know what you’re not good at and be unafraid to say ‘hey, can you help me?’”
“I then met Jodi at Elevate Toronto in September 2017, and within just a few minutes she was offering to help make connections. In a short period of time she, and Move The Dial, made a massive impact in terms of letting people know that there has to be a shift to talk about accessibility and supporting women founders.”
Growth On The Way
When it comes to what’s next in AccessNow’s journey, Maayan is looking to extend her network to include those who can keep pushing her forward. This could mean a strategic connection to a new mentor, a potential investor, or talented individuals she might be able to bring onto the AccessNow team.
Regardless, though, she’s confident that organizations like Move The Dial, and specifically their work with #GoSponsorHer – an initiative to encourage male executives to sponsor a woman in her career or business – can help her on that path.
“It’s all about your network and identifying people who can act as sponsors. People who have a great reputation and can vouch for me, who are willing to say, ‘give this girl a shot.’”