Mandy Balak, Founder & CEO at The Ace Class
1. What does The Ace Class do?
The Ace Class stands for activate, cultivate and empower. Our mission is to change the way women connect with women. Barriers exist for connection among women and we offer a platform that removes those barriers. Women’s empowerment is becoming the new normal, but we position ourselves around vulnerability and storytelling by leaning in to ensure that connection happens.
2. What inspired you to start? What problem are you solving?
The Ace Class started completely by accident as result of my other business, It’s Date Night. I participated in the first cohort of ATB X where I was paired with my mentor, Michelle Berg. We dove into my audience, which is when I realized that I had made so many assumptions. I thought It’s Date Night would be a pocket concierge to help men take women out on dates, but ATB X made me realize that my audience was 75 per cent women.
That is when we created Babes Who Brunch, which later became our signature event at The Ace Class. Babes who Brunch was intended to be an experience that women of all walks of life could attend. Our first brunch sold out less than one week after posting it on It’s Date Night. We brought in a keynote speaker and took concepts from some of our other events, like bold conversation cards, to provide structured connecting opportunities. I saw so much excitement around the opportunity to connect with other women – which I had never experienced before – and I realized it was a much bigger problem that I wanted to solve.
3. How long did it take you to go from idea to launch?
After hosting our first brunch in January 2017, we separated the event from It’s Date Night and branded The Ace Class in May/June of 2017. The idea that we could change the way women connect with other women was a movement on its own.
4. How did you determine who your audience might be for this product?
For the first three to five events, we saw the It’s Date Night audience (ages 27 to 34) in the seats. Our audience then diversified, creating a strong secondary market of women ages 34 to 44, as well as women in their fifties who are going through big life moments like an empty nest or are struggling with their career. The common denominator of all those women is that they are seeking connection with other women. We now see women of all ages at our events and that contributes to a bigger conversation around women’s empowerment and connection.
5. How did you go about building your team?
Our team consists of two full time people. Kayla Pearcey manages all of our branding and marketing while I focus on building the business model and providing leadership opportunities within our team. We also have a part-time Editorial Director, Lauren Steeves, and a National Events and Operations Manager, Donna Vecino. Hiring an events manager was key because, before that, I was focused on planning and executing all of our events. It is really hard to focus on the vision for your business when you are in survival mode running the day to day.
We are also growing nationally which led us to engage community activators in each of our six cities so that we could have a face representing the brand in each market. Volunteer support is also crucial to supporting our mission because our volunteers can help us increase the scale that we can facilitate connections.
6. If you could hire someone today to help you with one thing what would it be and why?
We are looking to establish a very curated network of female business owners and decision makers so a business development manager could help us put in the face time required for relationship building and finding out what our community needs supporting our program development.
I could also use more support on the tech side because we are building an online and digital community for our members. If I could have an Ace app tomorrow, I would. What I learned from my past experience with It’s Date Night is that having a technical co-founder can make a huge difference. If you aren’t incorporating technology into your business model now, your business will not survive.
7. If you could learn one new skill what would it be and how would it help you build your company?
I have had a lot of success in building community, but I would like to better understand how to moderate a community to keep people engaged. I am also working with a coach to improve my public speaking, but I am still terrified by it. Being able to properly communicate our values and take a bigger stance in the women’s empowerment space is essential.
8. What are your greatest achievements so far?
I am so proud of the community we are building and the impact we hear that we are having. In just over a year, we have had 5,000 women out to our events and expanded nationally to six Canadian cities. We have had women tell us that it has changed their life in some way due to things like increased confidence and companionship.
9. What are your short term goals for your company?
We recently launched our membership and we have a goal of reaching 200 founding members by September 2018. We are hoping to fully launch our membership platform, which is an online and digital community for women to come together and connect and support one another while providing tools and resources that support our members personally and professionally. We are planning a conference on International Women’s Day next year here in Calgary and we will have launched our marketing for that conference by the end of this year.
10. Who do you look up to in the Calgary startup community?
Alice Reimer because she is very real with me and challenges me. The thing I appreciate most in a mentor is someone who doesn’t just tell me I’m awesome all the time but provides feedback that lets me think differently.
Hannah Cree has also been one of my biggest supporters and mentors for my entire entrepreneur life. She has come into my business to support me on more than one occasion as an acting mom or CEO.
11. What event, program or resource in Calgary's startup community made the biggest impact on your company?
ATB X was the right thing to light a fire under me and provided a mentorship opportunity that helped me think differently. The Accelerator’s program helped me work on my pitch skills. Valhalla Angels BaseCamp helped me understand valuation and I think I learned more in those three days than I did during my entire degree.
12. If you had to tweet another startup advice, what would it be?
There is a big difference between those who say they are going to do something and those that do - roll up your sleeves and get to work.
Learn more at https://www.theaceclass.com/
Published on June 26, 2018