Sep 09, 2021 | 30 min read

Creating an Inclusive Tech Community with Desiree Vargas Wrigley

By: Patrick Emmons

Creating an Inclusive Tech Community with Desiree Vargas Wrigley

Founders looking to secure funding face a long, arduous process. Founders of color can find it almost impossible and often receive significantly less money than their white counterparts. Desiree Vargas Wrigley believes that the tech ecosystem in Chicago needs to do more to support and nurture the untapped potential of Black and Latinx founders.

Desiree is our guest this week on Innovation and the Digital Enterprise. She shares her experience as one of the two Latinx women in the last decade to have raised over a million dollars and her vision for an inclusive Chicago tech community. Listen to the episode for more from Desiree and her company, P33.


Pat: Welcome to the Innovation and the Digital Enterprise podcast, where we interview successful visionaries and leaders, giving you an insight into how they drive and support innovation within their organizations.

Shelli: Today we're welcoming Desiree Vargas Wrigley to the show. Desiree is vice president at P33, an organization that helps underrepresented founders get the support they need to launch and thrive.

She is currently leading a new DENI initiative called TechRise with large corporate partners to bring capital community and customers to black and Latinx founders. Prior to P33, Desiree founded Pearachute, the largest aggregator of family-friendly activities in the world. And co-founded GiveForward, one of the world's first crowdfunding platforms that helped users raise over $200 million.

Desiree holds a bachelor of arts in Latin American studies from Yale University. Welcome to the show, Desiree.

Desiree: Thank you so much for having me.

Making Chicago an Innovation Hub (01:05)

Pat: Desiree, If you don't mind, please share with our listeners a little bit about your role at P33 and your current initiative TechRise.

Desiree: For those listeners not familiar with P33, we are a nonprofit that was started by Penny Pritzker, former secretary of commerce under Obama, Kelly Walsh from the civic committee, and Chris Gladwin, one of our unicorn founders here in Chicago. We were founded with the vision to help make Chicago an innovation hub and reclaim the stature that we had in 1933, which is the last time that we hosted the world's exhibition.

With that lens, we look at the areas that Chicago has a differentiated advantage in terms of innovation. There are a few different pillars that we look at. One is around deep tech and life sciences, where we have a ton of research, but not a lot of monetization. Another is around our tech talent and the pipeline that we have of amazing universities and city colleges and making sure all of our students of the future are skilled to take on the jobs of the future.

Lastly, to have an innovation hub, you really have to have a thriving startup ecosystem, which is where I work. TechRise is focused on making sure that Chicago becomes the best city in the world for Black and Latinx founders from a funding perspective, from an access perspective, and from a networking and knowledge perspective.

TechRise is in its very first phase. Right now, it is a series of 30 pitch competitions that we do every Friday from 12:00 to 1:00 pm central, where we invite five Black and Latinx founders to the stage to pitch their ideas in front of judges who deliberate live and choose a winner. Each week, we deploy somewhere between $20,000 and $50,000 to help these founders go from idea-stage to exit, hopefully. We've done 14 pitch competitions so far and we've put about $320,000 into founders' businesses. And we're seeing really incredible results already.

Pat: That's really great stuff.

Finding Founders (03:07)

Shelli: How did these founders find out about you?

Desiree: It's a combination of things. At first, we did a lot of LinkedIn stalking to see who has a founder or CEO in their title.

But as a lot of you know, first-time founders or idea-stage founders are moonlighting. They have day jobs and they're not putting this on LinkedIn. So we definitely relied on our partners like 1871, Matter, mHub, and other business service organizations like Sunshine Enterprises and North Lawndale Employment Network, and many of the Chambers of Commerce to help tell the story. We've been really aggressive on LinkedIn in general and trying to get the word out about what we're doing using social channels to welcome founders in.

We have a pretty strong thesis around the fact that there are many Black and Latinx founders who have been in our ecosystem for several years. The problem is that traditionally founders of color start with somewhere around $5,000 to $35,000 in access to capital when they're building their businesses, but most white founders start with something more like $110,000 or $120,000. And that delta is actually building a minimum viable product (MVP) or getting into the market.

Because of this, it takes Black and Latinx founders three times as long, which makes them less attractive to angels and VCs because they don't have the same trajectory as their white counterparts. So we want to give acceleration capital to the founders that are already in the market, but also the people who are sitting behind a screen somewhere or behind a checkout stand at Target or at home with kids who have really great ideas, but don't necessarily have personal network or knowledge or capital to be able to launch those businesses.

How can we open the top of the funnel, so to speak, of our tech ecosystem by inviting people with great ideas to come and join us on the stage?

New Areas of Focus (04:51)

Pat: Considering your very unique background, being one of two Latinas here in Chicago who were able to raise over $1 million in funding, what are some of the things that you've learned that have helped you identify and focus attention in areas that traditionally were not a focus?

Desiree: It is a shockingly sad number. Isn't it? At least in the last decade and a half, there have only been two Latinas that have raised over a million dollars. And that number is reflected across our African-American and black women founder community too. It's not unique to Latinas.

Having lived this experience, here is what I think has happened. I present as white and I went to Yale, so I have a pedigree that looks familiar to a lot of VCs and angels. However, I still really struggled to raise money for both of my businesses. And I think that you know, the similarity between GiveForward and Pearachute was that both times I was solving a problem that was unfamiliar to a lot of the older white male VCs that I was pitching. So GiveForward was a crowdfunding platform for personal needs before there was Kickstarter or Indiegogo. And it was hard for a very wealthy investor to understand what it's like to be $500 short one month because of a medical bill.

Similarly, most male investors had never spent three hours looking for floor hockey for a seven-year-old, so they just didn't understand the problem to be solved. I think that's the same problem that founders of color face across the board. Usually, first-time founders solve the problem that is meaningful to us. That we understand in our lives. And if it's something that's too unfamiliar or VCs and angels haven't heard it enough, they can't contextualize the problem. They don't understand how big it can be.

Pat: Mm-hmm [affirmative].

Desiree: They're left kind of trying to believe what the founder says, without a lot of context or proof. If the founder is out of network for that investor, they're even less likely to have enough confidence to invest their money.

I think one of the biggest opportunities in Chicago is to break down some of those previous barriers. TechRise is more than just a pitch competition. We actually introduce every founder that comes on stage to an existing seed or series A founder in our ecosystem that can hopefully open some doors for angels and VCs to build some network connection.

We live-stream this on YouTube every week, partially to bring visibility for the founders, but also to create pattern recognition for our funding community so they can see similarities around the problem to be solved.

The haircare market for people of color is a massive industry, and there's so many different ways to come at it. Things like that, that they just don't personally know or have not lived. And we hope that we can help change some of the challenges that founders have faced.

We also think that having this vehicle that is live-streamed is a way for us to recruit more founders. We encourage every founder, who's pitching to invite all their friends and family to watch. Once you've seen someone that looks like you and sounds like you doing something like this, you're more inclined to say, “well, if they can do it, maybe so can I”. That's really one of the goals about welcoming more potential entrepreneurs into this experience.

Network Access (07:57)

Pat: Part of the reason why I was able to start a business was because my father started a business. Growing up, I remember thinking that I don't know how he was able to do that. It's still pretty scary stuff, but it definitely makes it so much more available. When it's somebody from your neighborhood or somebody who went to your high school, really has an impact. I do think the network is really the most valuable thing when it comes to encouraging and creating success for any entrepreneur. You have to have other people who will keep encouraging you.

Desiree: Absolutely. And one of the things that you mentioned that I also want to note is that it's not just people who look like you from a race perspective, right? If you are black and just graduated with an MBA from Booth you have access to a network.

It's going to be very hard, but you're in a different place than a founder who is from Englewood trying to start a tech business. So it's also important that there is familiarity in the backgrounds of these founders and that their personal stories are coming through in these pitches so that you can see that you don't need to have an Ivy League education to make your dreams a reality. You just need to understand the path towards making it happen and where the resources exist in our city. And for a long time, we've concentrated those startup resources in the loop, River North, or Fulton Market.

What COVID has allowed us to do is move everything to virtual, which allows us to more easily include people who previously were excluded because they had a busy day job. There's no way they can take the train downtown to do a pitch competition. Over a lunch hour virtually means that we can welcome people from all over the state.

Need for Speed (09:49)

Pat: One of the topics we talked about before this was that complexity. Access to capital is critical to be able to fund and move faster. right? So the 5 to 30 grand versus over 100 grand, which you can get some kind of MVP or a prototype done where there's a physical representation of the idea. Why is that need for speed so important?

Desiree: Yeah. So for a while now, I've been talking about the need for us to fund founders faster. And I know that as a founder myself, I wanted that because I wanted to get back to working on the business.

And there's a real internal desire in the company to make that happen. From an ecosystem perspective, it's actually crucial that we accelerate the speed of funding for Chicago in the Midwest. If you compare founders here to founders in Silicon Valley, there are a lot of founders in Silicon Valley who are on their third or fourth company by the time that they're in their early thirties.

And they probably raised money for all of them. And the amount of learning that happens in that short period of time and the teams that they build around those problems, who then go on and help solve other problems. You know, that life cycle requires. funding early, so you can fail or scale fast. And if you don't do that, what we end up with is what we have in Chicago, which is really great, high potential eager gritty founders who grind for four to five years and we take the most productive, passionate years and we, we kind of ruin them, right? Because they're ...they get so tired of trying to find people who will fund their ideas. That by the time we actually fund the companies, only the ones that are like the hardiest and grittiest survive, and usually have meaningful revenue. But that means that we've pretty much like siphoned off a lot of great potential early on in that life cycle of a founder that is unlikely to come back in.

And so we're actually wasting talent within our tech ecosystem. by creating such a long funding line, in our, you know, our life cycle. Like If we get people to get $1 million to 3 million. In the door in the first 12 to 18 months. And they could figure out quickly whether or not they have a viable business model and, you know, customer acquisition makes sense if they don't, then they fail and they go do something else, go work for someone else.

The team that they built goes and brings value somewhere else. Maybe someone spins off and starts a secondary version of that first company, but that's just not happening in Chicago yet because it takes too long for people to get that first stage of funding unless they really are kind of like a tiger by the tail cameo story.

But you know, those are called unicorns for a reason. Like they're kind of mythically seemingly impossible. Of course, there are 11 of them this year, so it's not so impossible.

Pat: It seems more likely every day. Doesn't it? It's amazing how much that is going on. You mentioned cameo in a Cameo, for many of those people.

That was their second one as well. There's a straight line from a previous organization for many of the folks that are there. To your point of like and this is what I hear. And I'd, I'd love to get your perception on, you know, the idea that like one, you know, versus Silicon valley Chicago's success rate is significantly higher, which seems consistent with what you're saying.

Like, hey, we're the rough we've got to, get ...there's a much longer process. It's more rigorous. So you're gonna have more successes because the stronger are only going to get through this, right. The ones who are. Right? You know, but that has that other downside of like some of the other ones aren't gonna make it.

And they may have had a bigger success longer term if they just were given a little bit more money at the beginning. So I hear what you're saying when it comes to, you know, the people in Chicago, like the VC, the money in Chicago is, Hey, if you're making a profit, you'll get money. Right. And Silicon valley, it's like, if you're making a profit, how are we doing it wrong?"

Desiree: Yeah. Or you waited too long to raise, right?

Pat: Right, exactly.

Desiree: I think that's The story there, you know, this comes from a little bit of personal experience, but also just watching other founders. So with GiveForward, we could not raise a dollar for the first many years. People kind of laughed me out of the room saying, why would anyone give online without a tax deduction?

I don't think there's really a market for this business. It doesn't sound like a business. It sounds like a nonprofit. And then, you know, fast forward 10 years, and it is a multi-billion dollar industry with the jobs act behind it. And crowdfunding, when I was pitching it, you know, didn't exist as a term or in people's minds.

And if Chicago had backed that earlier, you know, would we have beaten GoFundMe? probably. like because we were so much farther ahead. I went to breakfast with those guys. And then they candidly told me they stole our business model. So that is an example. And it's not sour grapes. I mean, I, we got out-executed, that happens, but the fact that we do have great founders building like bold visionary businesses here, and the ones that aren't food delivery or FinTech or SaaS, like they feel like they have to leave Chicago in order to get the support and resources that they need, which is the exact opposite of what we need in our ecosystem.

We need people with great ideas. Staying here. And if you have a social app, you should be able to build it here alongside building the next enterprise-level, SaaS solution.

First Levels of Support (14:59)

Shelli: So, you're giving so many resources and such a great network to these founders. I'm just curious, you know, when, when you were a founder of not only GiveForward, but Pearachute as well.

I mean, what, if any resources did you have.

Desiree: So GiveForward we were building in like 2007, 2008, so this, that predates 1871. There was really the CEC existed, but it was kind of a good old boys club and felt very off-limits to me and my co-founder and neither one of us was from Chicago. So that made it even harder.

So we really You know, I waited tables at night. He blogged on the side and that's how we bootstrapped the company for two years. And it wasn't until we hit $1 million in transactions. That we felt confident enough to kind of go back out into the market. And at that time, the first generation of Techstars Chicago, so it was called Accelerate Labs was launching.

And I knew about it because I previously worked at the Kauffman Foundation and I knew these incubators existed and it was the first kind of visible one in Chicago. So I thought we should apply, even if we got laughed out of the room again. And it was just, just so happened that Sam Yagan, the founder of OkCupid and later CEO of match and ShopRunner, he had just had to solve this problem for his assistant who needed to raise money for her sick son. And so he personally got what we were trying to do, and I don't know if it was just him, but he, got us into the program. And that is where we got our first kind of level of support. So we had a mentor named Tim [Crosskauff 00:16:25] who, you know, didn't have experience in our industry, but really believed in the vision.

But honestly, like there was so little money coming to us and it wasn't until David Cohen from Techstars in Boulder, saw us on stage and said he would put money in that Chicago investors actually started to say they would too. And so it took an outsider to fund what is now you know, a multi-billion dollar industry opportunity.

And I think that's happening over and over again behind the scenes. And it's happening to founders of all colors to be candid, but it's especially happening to founders solving problems in the consumer space and founders. of color.

Shelli: Wow.

Desiree: But there are a lot of resources now and like, I don't know. There's so many places now to get advice and mentorship.

I love Techstars. Of course. I think, you know, the long jump community is doing an incredible job of bringing together operators. There's a tool called Eureka that brings together mentorship. There's just so much out there now that didn't exist back then, but it's still sometimes hard to navigate as a first-time founder.

Founding GiveForward (17:18)

Shelli: If you don't mind me asking, you know, just with GiveForward, was there something personally in your life that inspired you to found it?

Desiree: It was a couple of things. When hurricane Katrina happened when I was at the Kauffman Foundation. And when you work at a foundation, you, You know, often pay attention to kind of overhead and admin and charges and where the dollars are going.

And I felt that, you know, individual donors didn't have a say in where their money was going and that if people knew that they could give directly to people trying to rebuild after Katrina, that, you know, people would individually probably give a lot more. And so I thought like that's a problem with philanthropy that needs to be solved.

And then I saw a change jar at a convenience store for a baby that needed a heart transplant. And I was like if this was happening online, this you know, wouldn't be a quarter at a time. It would be $250 at a time. But if I'm really being honest with myself, I think a lot of the heart behind the why for me was that you know, I was raised by a single mom that didn't go to college until I went to college and we were Lower middle-class and in every way, and I remember what it was like for her struggling to pay bills. And I remember one time her saying, I just wish someone would drop $300 in the mailbox. And like, that is what I built it. We literally would send surprise checks. And in the beginning, they were only $300 later.

They became 30,000 at one point, one million. But I think, you know, that's what happens with founders. Like you bring in your personal experience and that influences how you solve real-world problems.

Shelli: That's awesome.

Pat: Great story.

Desiree: Thanks.


Pat: So Desiree, incredible story. And obviously, it shows through you're such a genuine and authentic person when it comes to engaging the future. Entrepreneurs, which as an entrepreneur, I can't but want more people to have that experience. It's transformative. There's no better self-help program in the world than, you know, being a founder because it's all your fault, right. Everything. [laughing] There's no one to blame.

Desiree: The good, and the bad.

Developing Chicago (19:23)

Pat: The good, the bad, Right. And you know, it's a great source of humility at all times. You know, what are some of the things, you know, we've got a lot of people we've talked about that you know, are choosing to leave Chicago. They've got great experience, great education. They come from our great communities. You mentioned the, you know, the coin thing on the counter. Like that, that to me is a totally Chicago thing where neighborhoods pull, they support each other. People get sick, they have fundraisers, there's donations, all of that kind of thing. These are very, I think very Midwestern values, very Chicago kind of behaviors. And obviously, we want to keep these great young people here in Chicago. So, you know, what are some of the things that you think we need to be doing or are doing, and that you'd think more people should be made aware of to help encourage those people, to stay here and to help develop and restore our city and build it up and continue to make it great.

Desiree: Yeah, it's a great question. And one that we are very focused on at P33. You know, how do we bring back the boomerangs who went to college here, you know, grew up here, but have left to go pursue tech careers in New York or in the bay area or anywhere else? How do we bring that, that brainpower and that energy and all the skills that they've learned, but then also thinking, about, We have, you know, every year students going to the University of Chicago, Northwestern, U of I's computer science program. Those are three of the best schools and programs in the world. And we want to make sure that that talent stays here. And then at the same time, we have some incredible city colleges that are.

Focused on technology and training students in the jobs of the future, but there is still a bit of a gap between where they end their education and what the skills are that these companies in our community need. And so how can we help those students get fully prepared for. The jobs of the future. And I think, you know, we talk a lot about talent and it's either like founder talent or it's tech talent.

But I really think that they're part of the same spectrum and that if you are interested in tech, even a little, that you have the potential. to Observe an opportunity that is worth pursuing, and you might not do it as a solo founder. You might put together a team of people that work with you at another company, and then go build something together.

But I think that part of it is just modeling that, right? And so when we have companies that do really well and have big exits or IPOs, what that inevitably does is create an opportunity. to kind of Put new cash into new businesses, either as angel investors or as founders who can kind of self-fund or bootstrap through that option pool that they've been able to exercise.

And so, you know, I think that there's a level thereof creating energy around if you've been at cameo and you've done a killer job, there, like, what's next for you? What are you gonna go do? And that creates actually a brand opportunity for Chicago that I think has been missing. So my long answer to your short question is really, so if the bay area is like the Hollywood of the tech startup scene, like how can we make sure that Chicago is known by students as an incredible place to build their careers?

In some ways, it's potentially similar to what's happened in comedy, right? Like people from all over the country and the world come to second city and come to our improv scene because it is world-class and people go on to go be on shows and in the movies later, but they come here to have that kind of deep enriching ecosystem where people can kind of do things together and learn from each other.

And I think that early-career tech people can have that exact same experience in Chicago. And we have The very distinct advantage that Chicago is the most diverse city in the country with over 60% of our city being black and Latinx. That means, you know, that we actually are most representative of those communities.

And so I believe we can be a draw for students, you know, from elsewhere. Also, have to come here and pursue those careers. But I also think it's the job of the startup community to do a better job of recruiting students. Right now, most of us are so busy building our businesses. We post something on LinkedIn or built-in Chicago, and then just hope that these early career kids are gonna find these roles.

And it's just not realistic. So we need to kind of collectively go to these job fairs and talk about our startup community as a whole so that they recognize, you know, how much they can learn from coming into one of our companies early. And I think that's, you know, work to be done that probably still hasn't been the solved

Pat: I was lucky to have family that was in technology, And I think that's a big part of it. Just the introduction at that point or like when you're thinking about careers in high school and college stage and having somebody say, Hey, look, you might want to give this a shot. Right. And just to have somebody to be able to like open the door, even show you.

That it's possible or right. It's not just a bunch of weirdos hanging out in the closet.

Desiree: [laughs]

Pat: not talking to humans. Right? Because I, with entrepreneurship and with technology, I think it's very much like ya know the movie “Ratatouille” of anybody can cook, but it's really, you know, there's certain people and they're everywhere, right?

It's not like it's this demographic or this school or this right community. But they're very, they're very specific people who have the capabilities who have these talents, but they're everywhere.

Desiree: Mm-hmm [affirmative].

Pat: And I think what you're doing is amazing. Spread a wider net, create greater growth, right. Infuse all of these neighborhoods with the potential of contributing to the greater good of Chicago and creating greater growth for everybody.

It's really an important thing.

Desiree: Thank you. I agree. And I, you know, you noted my, my major at the beginning of the intro, and I guess I just want to remind people of what that is. And I was a Latin American studies major. I was not a tech or business major, and I don't know how to code. And I am still a tech founder here in Chicago.

And I think a lot of students think that tech is binary. You're either. into computer science

Shelli: Mm-hmm [affirmative].

Desiree: and programming, or you're somewhere over here in the rest of the world. And the reality is that every company now is a tech company, whether you want it to be, even like the corner store, and there's so many efficiencies to be gained.

And in terms of finding your customers, like you rely on tech, no matter what you're doing. And so even artists, I mean really, truly everything. Now, tech is eating the world in the best and worst ways. And so, you know, I really hope. that Listeners or, you know, young people think about the role of technology is going to play in their careers no matter what, even if they decide to or not to go into a traditional tech industry, but also thinking through the skillsets of what tech companies need.

Like they need storytellers because they have to go and pitch these businesses and make commercials. They need great project managers, people who are super organized, who can keep the trains running on time, that don't need to write any kind of code. They just need to be great communicators. They need excellent writers who can do copy that is compelling and mathematicians and, you know, accountants who can help them with financial modeling and optimizing revenue. So there's just so many ways to enter tech that isn't just being an engineer.

Tech is Changing (26:20)

Pat: Absolutely. I went to a small liberal arts college and I started out as an engineer, but I'll tell you, I think it was a competitive advantage to have a liberal arts background that we don't build software for the computers. And many of the founders, more of the, you know, the jobs and the gates and, and they've all recognized the need to get these more robust people, as opposed to somebody who really is an engineering wizard, because that's becoming less of the job than it is about the solution, right? Like who are we building this for?

Why are we? That's a big transformation in a lot of the software industry? Like you have to understand the customer, everybody needs to understand the customer. And, like you mentioned, you know, diversity. Means you have a greater horizon of, of empathy for a larger market. It's such a critical component that if you've got an engineer, you're gonna ask them to fill some gaps there.

If they can't empathize with the person who's going to be using and consuming their software, it's not gonna work. So I couldn't agree more that everybody can be in tech, there's a role, historically it would always say we're here to support the business, right? The business, the business. And what I like to say is you're the growing part of the business, the business isn't like your neighbor.

It's not like your idiot brother who lives in the basement. You've got to, you know, you're the business and you need to start embracing that. Right. And so I think you're, you're spot on.

Desiree: And tech is changing, right? The no code low code launch is now a real thing. And there are so many third-party tools that can do a lot of the work and the heavy lifting of what you used to have to build entirely custom.

And so. You know what used to take, a 10-person development team. Maybe now can be one front-end developer on top of existing code structure. So you, as a founder with an idea can go from zero to, you know, minimum viable product with sometimes 25 to 30 grand, If you can build on top of an existing framework or, or platform, And so the people that have closed off their ideas, because they just don't know how to even get started or where to go. I think have self-selected out of tech, but tech is asking them to come back in because tech is building tech for the non-technical founders.

Inspiration and Mentorship (28:34)

Shelli: So Desiree, who's been your inspiration through all this. And Patrick and I also like to ask, you know, what, what type of mentors you've had.

Desiree: Yeah, I have had the great fortune of having many mentors along this journey.

And some of them are, you know, moral support and some of them are kind of the nuts and bolts of running and growing a business. I know I mentioned Sam Yagan earlier, but he's been probably my longest-standing mentor and one that I can continuously go to for questions about kind of structure and fundraising.

And is just, kind of, always available in the kindest and most generous way. Paul Purcell, one of my most recent board members from continental Advisors Brings in such a different perspective and helps me kind of recognize how big the world can be. And, and those are two of my more immediate, but then I've also been part of a CEO kind of peer mentorship group for seven years and being able to witness and I was by far the.

I was Definitely in a weight class well, way above my rank or whatever that's a lot of mixed metaphors, but they were more experienced founders and operators working on bigger businesses, but I was lucky enough to be in the room and watch them go through very similar challenges to me, just a different scale and be able to provide thoughts of how I would handle it or ways that I've kind of seen something similar to play out.

And then, of course, having their guidance and support during some of our challenging times. You know, if you look at my LinkedIn, you'll see that I went from founder CEO to chief strategy officer at GiveForward. And you know, that was a transition that I did with, you know, the CEO group. And they really discouraged me from giving up the CEO seat but I was at a place kind of mentally where I was at my complete limit on stress. And you know, just felt like maybe someone else could grow the company faster than I could. We tripled every year. Then we doubled and my board wasn't as impressed with the doubling. and it, you know, it was a really tough decision. And one that I, since regret, I wish I had listened to my CEO group and just, you know, stayed the course, but it was a part of my journey and learning.

And without that peer mentorship group, I'm not sure I would have rebounded as well as I did. after that.

Blame & Credit (30:34)

Shelli: Wow. Thank you for sharing that. I'm sure you're asked for advice all the time. And I guess what advice do you give now, knowing that you've been through this yourself, or maybe said differently, what do you wish you would've known?

Desiree: I think that it's impossible to like wrap up all the, you know, to do's and not to do's of a 15-year startup career. But I think one of the most important lessons is actually kind of counter to what we were talking about before. But is that you can't take too much credit for when things go, right? Or when things go wrong.

And one of my very first mentors told me that too because there's so much that goes into things going right. It's timing in the market. It is meeting the right people. It is. The right idea at the right time with the right people on your team and the right amount of funding, it needs to be this like perfect storm in a good way.

But when things go wrong, all of those things can you know, be the cause too. And, you know, for example, GiveForward was on a great trajectory and then Facebook changed the algorithm and all of our content suddenly got pushed way, way, way down the feed. And we lost 50% of our traffic overnight. I don't know if we could have anticipated that.

So, you know, you can't blame yourself too much and you can't take too much credit. And it's really just about finding your path towards that north star and being able to tack pretty quickly to get back on track when needed. So I guess don't be too hard on yourself, that's really don't be too proud of yourself either when it goes, right?

Shelli: Yeah. Thank you.

Pat: Like I, I agree 100%, but, and I think this is a challenge for a lot of younger entrepreneurs, like your emotions, your, your ability to like get hot. Use that emotion to create action is one of your best assets of like, you're gonna use that to fire people up and activate them and get them moving. But you're right. There's that you've got to modulate the amplitudes on that wavelength of like, I coached some people on leadership skills and one of the things I focus on is like, your emotions are really a great asset, right? If you got that, you can burn hot. It's sweet. Right? You've gotta be able to do that, to get groups.

I use the metaphor of like Cyclops in X-Men. Right. If he's not wearing his little visor thing, it's destroying everything. Right. But you've got to put the visor on. then you can focus that emotion specifically to where it needs to go, as opposed to just waste everything. But then there's the other, the self-talk and like the, making it through the downtimes of like, You know, you ride those highs and like you're a super person. And then you're, you're the worst person. And this is the thing I see with almost everybody, not just founders or entrepreneurs, but people who are really setting audacious goals that always have that imposter syndrome. Right. Of like, why did I think I could ever do this?

And it's like because you can. Right. And you just, you had a setback, pick it up.

Desiree: No, I completely agree. And I mean, one of the reasons I think that certain personality types love this is because the highs are so high. I mean, having done other careers, it is incomparable to anything else, right? When you hit a certain milestone on customer acquisition, or are you close around funding, or you get to be on Shark Tank, there's these moments where you're like, this is so incredible.

And it's hard to communicate to people who haven't gotten to experience it. And I think the nuance of what I was saying was more about the blame. and the credit. Like yes. Technically me closing a deal with Mark Cuban on TV was me killing it. Right. I had a great pitch. He said. Yes, it was the second-biggest deal on shark tank at that point.

And the reality is one, a lot of people helped me prepare for that. And the stars had to align in many ways for me to even get that opportunity. I just happened to be the first pitch of the day, which means that they were fresh and excited. Like there's so many things that were out of my control that contributed to me being able to have this successful outcome and having done a lot of kind of executive coaching for myself.

I mean I'm hiring a coach and trying to be more kind of analytical around when we hit those highs, like what's going on, what's going right. And when we hit those lows, you know, what did I do to contribute to that? But also what were the external forces and trying to be less emotional about. The observation is I think a crucial skill of entrepreneurs that you develop over time.

And so I guess another piece of advice related to that is just like making sure that you reflect on, like, why are we winning and why did we lose right here so that you can kind of constantly be improving.

Shelli: That's awesome.

Pat: I couldn't agree more that whole, why are we winning instead of like, oh my God, we've got to figure it out. Like, you know, there's luck.

Desiree: I mean the quote about when opportunity meets preparation. I completely agree with that, but I actually think there's a third element and it includes optimism. And so I say that to my teams a lot, but like you have to come in with the right kind of energy to be able to create the luck. Right.

You have to be prepared to receive the luck when it comes the opportunity comes and you are capable of receiving it. Well, you have to do it with. like The energy and the positive, like a long-term vision of what this means, and then the luck can happen. And, And once you get it on this road, and then people say it all the time, it's like, it's amazing.

Once I started telling people what I was doing, how many people came into my life that just like happened to be able to open a path for me. And it's like, that's because you brought optimism and preparation to this, this opportunity. And so, you know, I think that's it.

Pat: Awesome. Well, I really appreciate you taking the time and sharing your experience, your wisdom, your vision, your goals, sharing what's going on with P33, and obviously, we're pulling for you.

And if there's anything we can do to help, please let us know.

Desiree: Thanks for having me. It was a lovely way to spend the afternoon.

Pat: So we also wanted to thank our listeners. We really appreciate everyone taking the time to join us.

Shelli: And if you'd like to save new episodes, as they're published, you can subscribe by visiting our website at, Or find us on iTunes, Spotify, or wherever you get your podcasts.

About Our Guest

Desiree Vargas Wrigley is a Latina serial entrepreneur and Executive Director of TechRise by P33. Her companies include Pearachute, a company that helps parents and children drop into the best family activities in town.

Prior to launching Pearachute, Desiree co-founded GiveForward, the world’s leading crowd-giving platform for people facing a major life event. Under her leadership, the company helped friends and family contribute nearly $160M to loved ones in need.

After graduating from Yale, Desiree worked at the Kauffman Foundation as a specialist in entrepreneurship and at Arabella Philanthropic Investment Advisors. She taught New Venture Discovery at Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Management. Desiree has been named Inc's 30 Under 30, Crain's 40 Under 40, one of Parents Magazine's Most Inspiring Moms, one of Forbes' Women to Watch, and has appeared on Shark Tank, closing one of the largest deals on the show to date. When not working, she enjoys spending time with her 2 young sons, stepdaughter, and crime-fighting husband.

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This podcast episode was produced by Dante32.

About Patrick Emmons

If you can’t appreciate a good sports analogy, movie quote, or military reference, you may not want to work with him, but if you value honesty, integrity, and commitment to improvement, Patrick can certainly help take your business or your career to the next level. “Good enough,” is simply not in his vernacular. Pat’s passion is for relentlessly pushing himself and others to achieve full potential. Patrick Emmons is a graduate of St. Norbert College with a Bachelor of Science degree in Computer Science and Mathematics. Patrick co-founded Adage Technologies in 2001 and in 2015, founded DragonSpears as a spin-off dedicated to developing custom applications that improve speed, compliance and scalability of clients’ internal and customer-facing workflow processes. When he is not learning about new technology, running a better business, or becoming a stronger leader, he can be found coaching his kids’ (FIVE of them) baseball and lacrosse teams and praising his ever-so-patient wife for all her support.

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