Olin Senior Joins Siblings in Launching Social Startup for Women+
April 28, 2023
We recently interviewed Walter Villa ‘23, a software engineering & design major at Olin, and his two sisters, Cielo and Jenny, who together are working to launch the new social startup, CapeAble. The idea for CapeAble is a trusted platform for women+ who prefer to hire women+ for their handywork needs.
An Interview with Walter Villa ‘23 and the CapeAble team.
Where did the idea for CapeAble come from?
W: My oldest sister, Cielo, came up with the idea actually. She then shared it with my other sister, Jenny, and I. Cielo spells out how she came up with the idea on our About Page on CapeAble’s website, but the short version is that she’s always felt eerie about letting random men into her home to provide a service like plumbing, or even just setting up Verizon! She’s very aware of the dangers and discrimination women face in their day-to-day, and she wanted to create something that would help women navigate these situations in their own homes. She also graduated from Wellesley, so you know she’s all about empowering other women, so she thought CapeAble could also be a way of helping women in the handywork field get more money with their skills. Jenny and I absolutely agreed, and we all talked about how our different skill sets could help build this platform.
We think it's amazing that the team consists of yourself and your two sisters! How has it been working with your siblings so far, developing this great idea into a startup?
W: Working with my sisters has felt very freeing. People have advised me to not work with friends and family, but I believe our teamwork has been successful thus far because we do, say, and think things with respect towards one another. I believe that when working together, we really all have the best interest of CapeAble in mind. Even when we don’t always agree on every decision, we each respectfully stand our ground and explain our respective points of views.
It’s also kind of nice to be a team of three because one of us can always be the tie breaker, which makes making decisions a lot easier and faster! Aside from that, we have a really strong relationship with each other. We make jokes and speak freely because we have a deep level of trust with each other. We meet weekly to share updates and milestones, and also randomly call each other to brain dump ideas.
"I think our positive working relationship largely comes from having the “sibling bond.” But a good deal of it also comes from making sure we meet weekly, no matter what, and from having that comfortability to share ideas with each other," says Walter '23.
We know the social startup is in early research stages, but can you share how you envision CapeAble eventually working once launched?
W: Absolutely! That’s the most exciting part. We envision CapeAble being a marketplace platform that connects women who need some kind of handywork done with women who are in those fields. And, our focus is on the services being ones that have traditionally been male-dominated. So, for example, plumbing, electrical work, painting, furniture assembly, flooring, carpeting, etc.
By the way, I should make a note that aside from CapeAble being for women, it will also be open to folks from other marginalized genders. So, we will have LGBTQI+ filters that users can select if they prefer a specific gender. We are currently using the term “women+” to describe this inclusion. So, in essence, handywomen+ will sign up on the site to list the services they provide. Then, women+ who need a job done, can either post a job and get bids on it or they can look through the providers’ profiles to see if there’s something they like from their past work and contact them directly. We have a lot of other exciting ideas about how to provide value to women+ on both sides, but we don’t want to divulge too much too soon, so let’s keep it there for now.
Who is the target market for the platform and what is its overarching goal?
W: The target market is definitely women and folks from other marginalized genders who want to hire handyworkers to help them with personal projects - whether in their homes, offices, etc. CapeAble’s overarching goal is two-fold:
- Supply women+ with alternative providers for their handywork needs that make them feel more comfortable and safe
- Provide women+ with handywork skills a way to earn a side income from skills that may be overlooked in other settings.
What kind of research are you doing now to evaluate the idea with the target audience?
W: I have been responsible for leading the user research for our venture so far. I won’t lie, it’s been a hustle! At the beginning, we were unsure of how to reach people that might have had experiences with hiring people for handywork tasks, but after some thought we realized that perhaps reaching out to women that may have had more life experience could guarantee richer insights into what the process of hiring handyworkers was like. My team felt that it might be best to reach out to women-identifying professors in the BOW community. I literally sent over 200+ emails to professors during my spring break!
With surpassing our goal of 100 survey responses, we are now in the phase of interviewing a few of the women that we think represent a diverse group of potential users. We are excited to speak to them and most importantly learn from them.
How has being an Olin student contributed to this project - either the idea or goal of the platform?
W: Being able to tap into key teamwork skills I have developed at Olin has been instrumental to working with my sisters. Delegation, management, and knowing when to ask for help have been soft-skills that have been critical when building something that isn’t an assignment for class.
Additionally, a major part of this initial stage in developing product-market fit has been getting to know and develop empathy with our users.
"The course that has most shaped my ability to achieve our goals has been Collaborative Design (formerly known as User-Oriented Collaborative Design). I love this course so much because it made me realize great design meant understanding people first, and with that becoming an advocate for them in the space I wanted to pursue. I am currently a TA for the class."
Furthermore, taking classes at Wellesley has exposed me to becoming an advocate for a lot of women’s plights. Seeing so many women doing amazing things at Wellesley has fueled me to build a platform that is all about empowering women.
Olin is also technically our first funder because we’ve gotten the Catalyst funding (i.e. Olin’s entrepreneurship club and incubator) that is helping us to pay for domains, logistics, and software tools used to develop an online presence, as well as build our minimum viable product (MVP).
How has it been teaming up with your sibling, Walter, to build this social startup venture?
Cielo: It’s been a lot of fun! Walter and I have spoken about teaming up on a tech platform for a few years - we just never knew what it would be. He’s learned a ton about the tech space at Olin and is a really strong UX/UI designer. I have personally seen his progress from when he started to where he is now and WOAH. It’s amazing. We’re fortunate to have his skills to bring CapeAble to life.
Jennifer: Building a startup with Walter has been a great experience! I love seeing the same traits he’s had since he was little develop into good leadership skills. For example, he has always been a patient and motivating teacher (even being the youngest!) and now that has translated into him having the ability to keep our team moving forward and making sure the whole team is on the same page.
What, if anything, has surprised you so far, with regard to what you’ve been able to discover around women’s experiences hiring handiworkers?
Cielo: I knew that there was a need going into this because I know that there are a lot of nonprofit organizations trying to help and encourage women in trade careers. But, I was not sure whether there would be enough women+ who’d want to necessarily hire someone from their same gender versus a cis-man.
"Turns out that while safety is a huge concern for a lot of women+, there are also many other reasons to hire non-cis male handy workers. For example, for religious reasons, a lot of women would prefer to have women enter their homes instead of men, especially when they’re alone."
So, we’re learning a lot about other ways CapeAble will be useful for folks aside from just the original reasons we thought of.
Jennifer: Starting to build a community on Instagram, I have been in awe of the amount of women working in trades and handywork that are actively sharing their work on different platforms. Social media had been an amazing tool in our growth; so far having gained over 700 followers in only 3 months with no paid ads. This organic growth is more validation that this is a community that it sought after.
In the future we hope our growing community on Instagram will follow us to our marketplace platform. We have already had people reach out via direct messages (DMs) and email with enthusiasm to provide services or eager to contract handywomen who they have seen on social media.
What are the next steps for the team regarding CapeAble?
W: Our immediate next steps will be to finish our minimum viable product (MVP) and help our first couple of users to further test the waters. We are hoping to run our first pilot with our MVP this summer in New York City!