Who do you turn to when you’re a woman trying to navigate your career in advertising? One app hopes you’ll turn to your fellow—or rather, the Fellow app.
While it’s still in the beta-testing phase, the platform aims to fill a gap in the industry and provide women with “the tools needed to meet relatable mentors, rise within their agency walls and elevate their careers beyond them,” according to the app’s website.
As a woman in advertising herself, Venables Bell & Partners senior art director Aisha Hakim co-founded the app after noticing she and her male counterparts were experiencing the same industry differently. “I had a lot of great male mentors as I came up in this industry, and as I rose, there started to be these situations where I craved the point of view of a woman who had lived through the same situations that I had,” Hakim said.
Hakim said she’d seek advice from male mentors but was often met with responses like “I don’t know, because I haven’t experienced that.”
While Hakim noted much of her success can be credited to men that have helped her along the way, she wanted a space that targeted the needs of women navigating maternity leave, asking for salary increases and breaking the glass ceiling. And it needed to be industry-specific.
“There were other platforms that offered connections, but none of them catered to advertising. I think all of us know this is a very unique industry [that] can put us in unique situations,” she said. “When I realized the hugeness of the gap, it felt natural to pursue something that’s not only accessible like an app—where you can cut through the issue of time, but also open up the agency doors and realize that maybe if we had more connection to each other, we could all do better at work.”
Hakim worked with co-founder and VB&P new business supervisor Christoph von Ruexleben on Fellow, which is currently 100% backed by the San Francisco-based ad agency.
VB&P partner and managing director Kate Jeffers wouldn’t give a dollar amount as to how much they invested, but she did say it was a “considerable amount of both hard costs—so money that we invested—as well as all of the resources that went into it so agency support for Aisha and Christoph with producers, account people and strategist and obviously leveraging our network to help create some interest and enthusiasm for it.”
Jeffers said agencies would bear the burden of the subscription, purchasing the app on behalf of their female employees.
“We are scaling the model so that very small agencies all the way to very large network agencies can participate in a way that feels appropriate. It’s not intended to [bleed] people,” Jeffers said. “It’s intended to have the agency pay for this access and to leverage that revenue initially to put it back into the usefulness of the experience.”
At the moment, VB&P is the majority owner of the Fellow app and intends to stay that way but is open to the idea of other investors in the future.
“We’re much less concerned about the ownership of the idea [than] we are about bringing it to life in a way that’s useful and making sure that we’re maximizing its potential,” Jeffers said. “As of right now, we’re happy in our role to provide 100% of the funding and to play the role of majority owner.”
According to Hakim, there are about a dozen agencies interested in participating in beta testing, including Wieden+Kennedy, RPA, and Goodby Silverstein & Partners.
Caroline Cappelli is an associate creative director at GS&P who has expressed a personal interest in the app. The idea of a one-to-one, female-to-female mentorship is something not every agency offers, she said. Much of the industry doesn’t provide much female support, and it can be uncomfortable having these conversations, even with your inner circle.
“I think this is a nice platform that tackles all of it,” Cappeli said. “Ideally, people are organically having these conversations at their agencies. Hopefully, this will help open doors for people and for conversation.”
While fingers are crossed for a fall launch, Hakim said the official launch date depends on the feedback received after the beta phase.
As for the app’s name, that’s pretty much set in stone. It’s a tongue-in-cheek title that Hakim said models a tech company while simultaneously “taking a word that has been gendered and equaling the playing field, so to speak.”
“It felt like the natural thing to take their word back and re-appropriate it for a community for women,” she said.