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Powrsuit co-founders on why International Women’s Day matters

Kristen Lunman and Natalie Ferguson are trying to help empower women all year round through their new startup Powrsuit.


Fiona Rotherham

Powrsuit co-founders Kristen Lunman and Natalie Ferguson

Today marks the UN-endorsed International Women’s Day, which this year has the theme of ‘Invest in women: Accelerate progress’.

The day, which the UN started supporting in 1975, is aimed at raising awareness of the need to achieve gender equality and promote women’s wellbeing in all aspects of life. It has identified five key areas needing joint action: investing in women; ending poverty; implementing gender-responsive financing; shifting to a green economy and care society; and supporting feminist change makers.

Kristen Lunman and Natalie Ferguson, co-founders and co-CEOs of Powrsuit, which is a leadership development platform for women, say this year’s theme resonates with their startup’s mission.

The pair were co-founders with Jarred Sewell and Jakub Chodounský of online share investment platform Hatch, which Kiwi Wealth sold in 2021 for $40 million to global wealth management provider FNZ.

“We’re coming from that investment background and we want women to really take ownership and control of their money and grow it, but equally Powrsuit is ‘invest in your women and you will accelerate change in your organisation’,” says Lunman.

Women are often the most underinvested in and least optimised part of the workforce yet it’s widely known that an organisation’s profitability, engagement and customer success metrics rise when a company has gender parity across all levels, she says.

“There’s more engagement of the workforce, and shareholders like it too because not only are they seeing valuations of the business increase, but shareholders are now really discerning and they want to back businesses doing good.”

Kristen Lunman

Powring on

The pair have chosen International Women’s Day as an opportunity to make a bit of noise about their new global venture, which has just launched in New Zealand and Australia after a paid pilot that was started in June last year.

Lunman says while working at Hatch, they first became concerned about the gender wealth gap and that typically women end up with far less money than their male counterparts at the end of their careers due to a bunch of factors. After leaving Hatch in 2022, the two serial entrepreneurs figured there was an opportunity for a fintech specifically for women and their wealth to help close that retirement gap. 

Initially they considered an investment fund that would invest in public companies with women at the top but there turned out to be too few for the idea to be sustainable.

“We’re like ‘we can’t launch a fund with 156 companies’ but that is the problem to solve and how do we get more women into positions of power and influence. Enter Powrsuit,” says Lunman.

They set up a newsletter and podcast in December 2022 to test whether they could attract an audience of women and whether there was a gap to be filled addressing topics such as gender pay parity.

Powrsuit quickly grew an audience of more than 3,000 people across its channels (expanded to 7,000 today) and then launched a pilot, Powrsession, to see what things worked to make women feel successful.

They defined successful women as those who had been able to navigate their career and achieve whatever success looks like for them on their own terms. Their early research showed some women simply don’t want to get into top management jobs under the current system because of “the juggle, the sacrifice, the compromise” they would have to make, says Ferguson.

Their research revealed three things successful women had in common. One was having a peer group that met regularly, sometimes for decades, to grapple with challenges they were facing. 

The second was tailored learning – the ability to get to the bottom of barriers and learn the way they chose to, be it by video, conferences, books, podcasts or therapy.

The final element was advice, and the ability to quickly access experts to help tackle the specifics of whatever they were going through.

Natalie Ferguson

The help up

Ferguson says the paid pilot, which involved cohorts of 15 to 20 women, was also aimed at finding out how many organisations would be willing to invest in their women leaders and emerging ones. 

“We priced it at $1,200 as we wanted to make sure they were serious about it and have now had 130 women through the pilot.”

Overall, 90 percent of participants self-reported an improvement in communication skills, management of conflict, time management and people management. In more recent cohorts, nearly a quarter negotiated a pay rise during the month-long programme. 

From the employers’ side, 80 percent rated motivation and engagement at work being better or much better after going through the leadership programme.  

Most women taking part said they felt feedback on their efforts at work was poor – something that was fed back to their employers. They were also concerned there was no clear line of progression in their jobs and a lack of pay transparency.

Most attendees were funded by their organisations for the pilot and more latterly, some have come through referrals from those who had done the programme, says Ferguson. 

“So we know we’ve got something magic. We know we’ve got something that fills the gap and now we are all guns blazing on turning that into a scaleable solution that drives meaningful change.”

Powrsuit has evolved into a SaaS business, offering monthly or annual subscriptions for $42 and $504 respectively, to access virtual learning on tap and mix with like-minded women. They're in discussions with several foundation partner organisations.

“This is our particular brand of learning, which is bite-sized and actionable, and also having access to a private community which is a safe space [in which] to grapple and chat to each other and make connections,” says Ferguson.

There will also be a safe place for allies to connect (these are male members, who make up 10 percent of Powrsuit’s newsletter subscribers and want to learn how they can be allies in the workforce) and they can also have a partial membership for $17 weekly or $204 annually.

As an aside, there is also an International Men’s Day on November 19 themed on positive male role models, though it is not UN backed.

Lessons from last time

The pair are bootstrapping the business, although they’re likely to seek external funding at a later stage once the product-market fit is further advanced. Too many founders give away too much of their venture too early, says Lunman.

“It’s particularly important for us to be able to choose that on our terms, much as we want women to build a career on their terms,” she says. “We want to choose when we go to capital, and we also recognise the smartest time to go for capital is when you are just simply dumping in the top and growing incredibly quickly.”

The biggest change in their approach to this venture from Hatch is the advancement of technology, says Ferguson.

“We have the opportunity now to create a much leaner business that is really efficient, and focus a lot more energy on growth and scale than operations than would have been the case about five or six years ago.”

Lunman says her experience as both a director and startup founder is that you’re likely to have a team blow-up within the first two years. She hopes their experience from Hatch on how to structure a business in the right way and fill the right roles with the right people will stand them in good stead.

“The first few hires are critical,” she says.

The other thing the co-founders plan to be deliberate about this time is communication and information dissemination throughout their team (once they have one). “It’s not all going to be sitting in Slack or it’s not all going to be sitting in Natalie and my brain,” says Lunman.

So what will success look like for Powrsuit’s founders?

Says Ferguson: “That we see a world where you go to the office, power up your laptop and it’s got a Powrsuit sticker on it and everyone goes ‘okay, we’re going to take this person really seriously because we know that they have a leadership philosophy that works, we know they’re equipped with the skills to be able to navigate challenging environments, and we know they’re backed by a global network of women who have their back’.”

The pair also want to be a billion-dollar business and “we’re loud and proud about that”, says Ferguson.

“We know women control 85 percent of global spending. We are an economic superpower and the way we’re going to start showcasing that and driving change at a global level is when people start to sit up and see where the money flows are going. For us, it’s really important to turn this into a massive platform that is of global significance.”


Fiona Rotherham

Fiona Rotherham has worked at numerous business publications as editor, co-editor and senior journalist. Her passion for startups was sparked while working at former entrepreneur magazine Unlimited of which she was also editor.

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