New York City-based serial entrepreneur Allison Monaghan McGuire created Walc, an app to help get you from point A to point B. But Walc isn’t your average map app, it is specifically designed for women, providing directions that are context based that also empower women to explore new areas with confidence. As Monaghan McGuire was growing Walc, which is now used in 139 countries around the world, she continually noticed in meetings and pitch competitions how women were hesitant to speak up and be heard. Which led to the creation of her second business, Monaghan McGuire, a consulting firm that helps build confidence in female entrepreneurs.
Monaghan McGuire‘s story, as told to The Story Exchange 1,000+ Stories Project:
I have two businesses: Walc and Monaghan McGuire. Walc is a walking navigation app that gives directions based on visual cues instead of north/south directions, like walk towards the coffee shop, or turn right at the bank. Monaghan McGuire is a consulting firm that imbues confidence in female entrepreneurs. With Walc, we provide directions in a way that speaks to women, which is context-based. Women typically have a different amount of iron in our brains, which is why men say we’re “bad” at directions. We’re not bad, we’re different. Male is the norm but directions based on context have been used for centuries. We’re taking this concept and applying it to a 21st Century format: the phone. From this, women and girls feel confident walking. Whether it’s getting out of the subway and navigating in the right direction (walk towards Starbucks) or knowing more about a street before choosing to walk down it, women now have the critical information they need to walk.
“The Future is Female” is apt; for far too long, the female perspective has been molded to fit the male narrative. No more. Women’s voices are crucial for a better future. Through Walc, I’ve pitched in competitions across the world. A funny thing happened: in every competition in which I’ve pitched, I’ve won. However, I saw other women lacked the confidence to do the same. I then noticed in meetings women were afraid to speak up or undercut themselves by downplaying their ideas. I took the lessons learned from my speaking gigs and founded Monaghan McGuire to help support these women. I strongly believe if the world were a more confident place, we’d be a safer, more equitable, and understanding society. Women’s voices can only be heard if we have the confidence to speak up. Since starting my businesses I’ve watched women become inspired and go on to do incredible things. So many women took chances on me and that empowered me to take risks. It’s my duty to do the same for others.
I see work and life as integrated (which is probably why I’m not successful at the work/life balance.) Success is financial security while doing something I love. I only love things that help other people, so obviously that is a core component too.
I find success when my team feels successful, when I close a new client, when I launch a product. My biggest success to date I would say is coming back from a particularly painful and grueling startup failure. I pivoted the business and built Walc, which has gone on to be positively received across the globe. (And out of 196 countries in the world, it’s used in 139!)
“Women’s voices can only be heard if we have the confidence to speak up.”
– Allison Monaghan McGuire, Founder of Walc and Monaghan McGuire
Creating an environment where all employees succeed is important. Diversity is essential in addressing this. At a prior employer, there was only one woman in the all-white C-Suite. When she left, half of the office (women) felt defeated and all the people of color in the office felt there was no hope for greater aspirations. When we heard they’d tried to find a woman to replace her but just couldn’t find one (and went with a white man), both women and people of color felt disillusioned. Creating a space where people feel confident to speak up gives all employees’ ideas equal weight. When an employee is quiet in a meeting, asking them what they think opens up the door for new ideas. I also have a strict rule about no cell phones in meetings. Phones are a huge disruption and by having everyone leave their phones in their offices, it gives us the space to think freely. Most importantly, at the end of my weekly team check ins, we all say thank you to one member of the team. It creates a collaborative and appreciative atmosphere, which is essential on tough startup days.
In order to deal with harassment and inappropriate behavior in the workplace, men need to do their part. There have been many situations where I, a confident and outspoken women, am not able to speak my mind or call out inappropriate behavior. However, when a man speaks up, it shows other men that behavior is not acceptable here and that women are not “crazy” or “emotional” because they have a problem with that behavior.
A discreet, confidential reporting system is essential for all employees to feel safe sharing when these incidences occur. Following that, rigorous enforcement is required or people will learn there are no consequences to bad behavior. It sounds silly but it’s kind of like running a kindergarten — this isn’t rocket science. A friend of mine worked for a big bank. When she reported one of her higher ups for calling a bartender the N-word (!!!?!?!) at a company event, the next day she was brought in and chastised for throwing her higher up under the bus. That guaranteed she’d never speak up again or she’d face humiliation or losing her job.
Establishing a culture that values all voices and doesn’t embolden frat activities (e.g. endless beer, sports on tv, foosball tables) but one that thinks about adult needs (e.g. pumping room, meditation space, tea/coffee options, healthy food) shows that childish behavior isn’t acceptable. “Brotopia” by Emily Chang outlines this problem well and provides some great solutions too.
While I’ve raised over $1MM, I’ve gotten the financing in dribs and drabs, never empowering us to truly take off. After not paying myself for years then seeing all the male entrepreneurs I know pay themselves first, I decided this had to change. In order for my company successful, I realized I had to be financially secure. So I started my consulting firm to bring in consistent income and made sure this business aligned with my core values, skillset, and helped others find a voice within.
My personal health has been a struggle. I was in a car accident that rocked my world. Initially I thought I’d be fine (classic startup mentality) and ignored the pain. That came back to bite me. Only when I started taking more time for myself to heal did my body start to recover. I’ve also dealt with depression. I still have a hard time giving myself the space to *not* work. I feel guilty when I’m not on, when I’m not working. So I’ve started to build moments into my travels where I take time just for me. I’ve started to create real vacations for myself (in which I struggle not to take business meetings). I’ve started meditating. I journal. I have a therapist. And I go to the spa at least once a month.
I surround myself with people who believe in me: my boyfriend, advisors, best friends, and some investors. I call them. Literally, they’re on speed dial. Or I shoot them a text. I did it yesterday. They are able to hold up a mirror to show me what I’m doing, to help stop me from beating myself up, and to put things in context. They all have startup experience so they know how commonly my experiences occur with other startups. They are empathetic and understanding. Sometimes I’ll pull out letters that students have written me and remind myself of how I’m helping lift up those without voices, inspiring them to reach their potential. And on other days, I get a massage. I’ve been knocked down more times than I can count. That comes from sexism, from bad luck, and from a number of other factors. But the confidence to move forward in the face of all odds is essential for success.
I have so many role models. Public figures who speak their mind like Sheryl Sandberg, Pink, and Michelle Obama; my mentors like Lisa Arie, Mackenzie Chambers, and Rachel Goslins who think about business from a holistic perspective; my closest friends who are pursuing their dreams; my boyfriend who has such a deep well of kindness, empathy, and generosity; and my family who love me for me. Through these people, I’ve learned to always keep my eyes open for the next opportunity, know that I’m on a path without even knowing it, look outside of my world for inspiration, and be nicer to myself.