Kate Isler and Susan Gates launched TheWMarketplace with a simple purpose in mind: to support women-owned and “gender-balanced” businesses.
“Our goal is be an economic engine for women,” Isler says. “We want to harness their massive purchasing power, make it easy to support women-owned businesses and put more money in women’s pockets.”
The e-commerce platform also connects shoppers with women-owned professional services, including attorneys, accountants, coaches and fitness instructors. The site launched last month.
Isler, a former Microsoft executive who launched Be Bold Now, a nonprofit dedicated to accelerating gender parity, and Gates – a former trade adviser to the U.S. government with an extensive sales background – have been friends for years.
Q: How did TheWMarketplace come to be?
Isler: “As the spring wore on, and we started really seeing the effects of the pandemic and the economic crisis on women, there had to be something to do. There has to be something to promote women and to actually give women income right this minute. I started looking around and thinking, ‘Oh, my gosh, there's no place for women to buy from women and connect.’ I was telling Susan about this and I said, ‘I think we ought to start a marketplace. I think we ought to have an alternative to all the online shopping, to give women's business a lift.”
Q: What is the goal and mission of the marketplace?
Gates: “The mission of a W marketplace is to be the economic engine for women. And what that means on a practical level is we want to put money in the pockets of women business owners. There are many sites that bring together lists of women-owned businesses, like aggregator lists. They do a really great job at that. But we're really looking at ourselves as an alternative to Amazon, where you can come in and there will be a huge range of products all from women-owned and gender-balanced companies, where you know that you're going to shop your values and put the money in the pockets of women.”
“Honestly, our goal is to change the culture so that women have more economic power, more political power, which then shifts into better health, better education and better political representation.”
Q: Did you encounter any hurdles in starting TheWMarketplace?
Isler: “Here's the thing; we keep waiting for the bad day. I have to say, we have a very clear mission, which is to help women thrive. When we thrive, they thrive. So when we talk to people about the mission of the company and what we're trying to do, we have had virtually no one say, ‘That's crazy. Why are you doing that?’
“I think the road is steep. And I would say the good problem that we have is that we're growing much faster than we thought we were going to. That's the biggest challenge right now, to really continue this momentum, both in terms of stamina and finance.”
Q: How has TheWMarketplace been received since it started?
Gates: “We can't believe it's only five weeks. We probably say to each other at least once a week, ‘So it's been five years since we launched, right?’ We have actually grown faster than we ever projected. We have almost 200 sellers right now, and we have almost 1,000 products, which is about three times more than we expected to have at this point. We are investing in our marketing and promotional campaigns for the holidays. We are looking forward to driving customers and traffic to the site to shop their values.
“There is a real interest in desire and finding, both from the seller side and from the customer side, an alternative that they feel good about putting both their business on the platform and putting their money as shoppers into the platform. The reception is, I think, really related to the timing of what's happening in our society right now.”
Q: With the holidays coming up, are you placing an emphasis on intentional shopping?
Isler: “Women make 85% of the purchasing decisions and often feel that they are not spoken to in the sales process. One of the things that we have really seen and we are really focused on is listening to women. Women care where they buy from, they care about the relationships, they care about the company, and that is increasing. We can start to support that thinking that is in line with our values and women's values and raising the stakes for gender parity. We have a moment to change culture, and now is that moment. So we're taking full advantage.”
Q: What does the future of your business look like?
Isler: “I see the future of the W marketplace is being an alternative to Amazon. If we look at the impact that women have on consumer purchasing decisions, I think that if we start to look at women as that primary customer and listen to how they want to shop, how they want to sell and how they want to engage, we are going to be a force. We are not just a product merchandising company, but we're across the spectrum. You can shop for products, you can shop for services, and you can be educated in terms of what is the gender gap today, and what's happening with women in women's voices.”
Gates: “A point of huge differentiation for the W marketplace is the place where women professional service providers can list their services. There really is not another platform in existence that is an aggregator for women professional service providers. Say you want to hire an accountant, an attorney, a financial planner, a life coach, a fitness coach; you can go to one place, and each of them can have a beautiful listing that talks about who they are, what their values are, what the service is that they have to offer, and you can connect directly with that professional service provider.”