How to Build in Times of Change: 5 Takeaways from the BBGV Accelerate Summit

BBG Ventures
7 min readJul 2, 2024


By Drew Silverman and Noelle Durkin, BBG Ventures

On June 11th, we jump-started summer in NYC by hosting over 180 founders and funders at the annual BBGV Accelerate Summit. The afternoon was buzzing with powerful connections, tactical discussions on scaling startups, and a hefty dose of inspiration from an OG female founder (hello, @marthastewart48)!

We kicked off with unicorn founders Toyin Ajayi of Cityblock Health and April Koh from Spring Health sharing their journeys in democratizing access to personalized healthcare — and the many demands that come with successfully scaling a VC-backed business.

We tackled early-stage founder challenges: from finding product-market fit in the early days with Danielle Cohen-Shohet (GlossGenius) and Sal Rehmetullah (Stax & Worth AI) to whether every start-up today needs to be an AI company — enabled or native? — with Matt Hartman (Factorial), Holyn Kanake (Kindred), Anand Kannappan (Patronus AI), and Jaclyn Rice Nelson (Tribe AI).

Exited CPG icons Neil Blumenthal (Warby Parker), Bea Dixon (The Honey Pot Company), Georgina Gooley (Billie), and Alexandra Friedman (Lola) spilled the secrets to building successful consumer brands in 2024.

Plus, we got the lowdown on how to raise a Series A in today’s challenging market when it feels like no one is actively investing (but every investor is asking you for a “coffee chat to stay up to date”) — with great insights from top investors like Rebecca Kaden (Union Square Ventures), Eurie Kim (Forerunner Ventures), James Joaquin (Obvious Ventures), and Charles Hudson (Precursor Ventures). We also matched over 80 founders with pre-seed, seed, and series A investors and lawyers from Lowenstein Sandler to have candid conversations about term sheets.

The grand finale? A visit from none other than Martha Stewart.

Here are five of our greatest learnings:

1. The market has changed and expectations have, too.

Crickets. That’s how the fundraising panel started when moderator, Charles Hudson, asked about recent Series A investments. But don’t panic — it’s not all bad news.

It’s no secret that there have been a lack of exits in the past few years. As a result, we heard from investors that they’ve been spending a little extra time supporting existing portfolio companies navigating this tough market.

While this may sound daunting for founders going out to raise, some optimism is in the air. Growth markets have reopened in the last 6–8 months, and as we heard from James Joaquin of Obvious Ventures “higher quality companies that adjusted faster, cut burn, and built paths to profitability are raising this year, leading to a higher quality cohort.” Across the board the top advice for founders? Focus on margin dynamics and capital efficiency, not just top-line momentum.

Other panels touched on the importance of building strong fundamentals, too — Toyin Ajayi, CEO and Co-Founder of Cityblock, summarized conditions best: “Recognize that the current market is likely a more accurate reflection of reality. 2021 was an anomaly. Founders must now be expected to have scalable business models and deliver necessary unit economics sooner. This is vital to proving that their ideas are investable. This environment is especially challenging for underrepresented founders, who have had to scrap their way to get here. [But] the skills that got them here can make them excellent founders, if they stay curious, humble, and continuously interrogate their plans and approaches.”

2. Take the problem you’re solving seriously, but hold your approach lightly.

… again, the wise words of Toyin Ajayi. A down market puts more pressure on ideas and plans, forcing founders to continually refine and question product-market fit.

Sometimes getting to PMF demands a pivot: We heard from April Koh, CEO and Co-Founder of double unicorn Spring Health, that she originally set out to sell software to help primary care providers prescribe antidepressants. Despite some initial pilots and revenue, April knew the traction she needed to succeed wasn’t there. When a health system COO offhandedly mentioned that “we’ve got a lot of doctors and nurses here who say they need mental health care,” and suggested April pitch Spring Health to the HR department — she didn’t say no. And that meeting with the HR team was the first time she saw genuine excitement about what Spring Health was building. Fast forward to today, and Spring is the leader in delivering mental health benefits for employees — covering 10 million lives worldwide. April says founders need to be intellectually honest with themselves and pay attention to cues.

Put another way, the key to unlocking Product Market Fit is checking your ego at the door. Danielle Cohen-Shohet, CEO and Co-Founder of GlossGenius, which most recently raised a Series C at a $510M valuation in 2023, recalled the early days of her company: she stressed her focus on customers as key to finding product market fit. She opted to market test with strangers over friends in the salon industry to avoid any sugar coated feedback. She was “obsessed with knowing the truth faster, even if it was hurtful, because time was critical.”

Finally — test, test, test. That was the advice of CEO and Co-Founder of Warby Parker, Neil Blumenthal. He stressed founders need to de-risk by failing small. Before Warby was on every corner, the first store was in Neil’s apartment. He used those early interactions as a chance to learn about what his customers did and did not like. (Fun fact: people prefer full-length mirrors when trying on glasses.)

3. Want to scale? You need to be able to sell.

Danielle Cohen-Shohet’s top lesson: Early-stage founders need to be the sales leader. Sales executives can’t fix your problems. Listen to the things that customers like and don’t like and do the scrappy work yourself before bringing in a sales lead. Co-Founder of fintech payments unicorn, Stax, Sal Rehmetullah agreed — he personally signed Stax’s first 100 customers. Those early pitches are crucial. As April Koh said, you need to see that spark with the customer. You can’t see sparks if you’re not there.

Speaking of sales, that skill is necessary for founders whether their company is B2B or B2C: Georgina Gooley, CEO and Co-Founder of feminine personal care company Billie dropped some golden advice for consumer startup founders. Beyond strong product-market fit and killer, differentiated brand marketing (Billie shocked the world with female body hair in ads), you need clear paths to exit. Today, exiting a consumer company (whether through acquisition or IPO) requires more than just DTC. You need to leverage an omnichannel approach to be meeting your customer at multiple points of sale. Easy, right? Nope. You need great margins to execute a successful wholesale strategy. Bea Dixon, who just exited the Honey Pot Company for $380M, told us that she used to be jealous of solely DTC companies because they could tell a clear brand story — but in the long run she’s grateful Honey Pot was also sold at retailers like Target because that’s where her customers are making personal care product choices.

Thinking, “Ok, this sounds really hard?” It is. But your chance of success skyrockets if you have lived experience with the problem you’re solving. Bea Dixon fixed her own infection, April Koh struggled with mental health in college, Toyin Ajayi worked in the ER, and Sal Rehmetullah faced challenges getting loans for Stax, leading him to start his new company Worth.AI. The better you understand a problem, the better you’ll be at solving (and selling) it.

4. AI is now a key start-up ingredient.

Today’s founders have an edge as AI-native companies. As we learned from Kindred Investor and industry insider, Holyn Kanake, AI is embedded deeply into native products and operations from the start. In contrast, AI-enabled companies adjust their processes to incorporate AI later on to enhance existing applications.

Incorporate AI into your startup’s DNA, because it’s fundamental tech that will impact every vertical. As Jaclyn Rice Nelson, CEO & Co-Founder of Tribe AI put it: “being AI-enabled will be table stakes.” Investors Rebecca Kaden of USV and Eurie Kim of Forerunner made this point crystal clear when describing AI as an ingredient rather than a separate bucket and saying that companies who don’t use AI will be left behind (as they will be growing linearly while the world takes a step towards change).

Factorial Investor, Matt Hartman, talked a lot about the immense opportunities for AI enterprise solutions with Holyn, Jaclyn, and Anand Kannappan of Patronus AI. However, this arena is not without its challenges, including privacy, accountability, and cost. Thus, we heard from our investor panel that they are eyeing other sectors too like consumer AI and science AI. Notably, Euire Kim is focused on consumer AI while James Joaquin backs teams building large science models for breakthroughs in chemistry, physics, biology, and geology. These deep tech AI solutions aim to solve humanity’s toughest problems, from new medicines to geothermal energy maps.

5. Your work life will have many chapters. Keep observing, keep learning, keep changing.

Our keynote with Martha Stewart was a highlight of the afternoon — in many ways she is the OG female founder. She built a unicorn company (Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia) at a time when there were even fewer success stories than today. Just as importantly, she continues to find new arenas to explore, new platforms to master, and new partners to link arms with.

She shared some truly incredible stories. We gasped, we laughed, but we are sworn to secrecy… What we can share is her advice for founders for lasting through times of change: pay deep attention to what’s going on around you. The world is constantly evolving, so you have to learn something new every day.

Martha’s parting words were “change is good — if you’re done changing, you’re through.” So our call to you is to recommit to changing, growing, and learning — it’s never too late to start. After all, Martha was 50 years old when she started Martha Stewart Living and 80 when she graced the cover of Sports Illustrated’s swimsuit issue!

The Accelerate Summit was a mind-opening day thanks to these accomplished and insightful speakers, and the energy from the founders in the room was palpable. DM us with your favorite summit takeaways at @bbgventures on your social medium of choice. And, keep your eyes peeled for our 2025 BBGV Accelerate date coming soon.



BBG Ventures

BBG Ventures is an early-stage fund backing female and diverse founders with big ideas that will reshape the way we live.