These 3 Philly founders have advice for others launching startups right now - Philly


Feb. 4, 2021 2:03 pm

These 3 Philly founders have advice for others launching startups right now

"You can't lose something that was never yours to begin with," one founder said of taking a chance with a pitch or an investor.
Startup founders (L to R) Robert Ashford, Amber Wanner and Todd McNeal.

Startup founders (L to R) Robert Ashford, Amber Wanner and Todd McNeal.

(Courtesy photos)

It’s not hyperbole to say starting a business now is unlike starting one in any other time in history.

While working on the 2021 RealLIST Startups last month, connected with the founders of many of Philly’s young, interesting tech companies, including several that have only been around for a year or two. Unsurprisingly, much of their business has been shaped by the coronavirus pandemic.

When we asked founders what they’d tell others in their position, the answers ranged from relying on your network, to admitting when you don’t know something, to making social and community impact a pillar of your work. Some of these, of course, are evergreen. But the circumstances in which they’ll play out, at least in the near future, are unique.

Founders Amber Wanner, Todd McNeal and Robert Ashford represent startups in the recruiting, SaaS and healthtech industries, respectively. Here’s the advice they’d give to other early-stage founders.

Amber Wanner, CEO of Vette

Wanner is the creator of Vette, a recruiting platform that outsources candidate screening for hiring companies. She launched the startup in early 2020 with two cofounders: Comcast’s former CTO, Sree Kotay, now Vette’s tech chief, and former airline pilot Austin George, now COO.

Other than making sure to vet your technologist if you don’t have a technical background yourself, she offered three pieces of advice:

  • Use your network of friends who might be lawyers, technologists or business development execs to help you build out your company, but be willing to help or provide value back to them.
  • “You can’t lose something that was never yours to begin with,” she said. Whether it’s an investor, a potential client or a candidate, if you pitch them and don’t make a deal, you haven’t lost anything. You can only gain from it.
  • And if you’re ever feeling nervous going into a meeting, or you’re feeling afraid to reach out to an investor or big client, just keep in mind they are humans, too. “Don’t be mechanical,” she added. “Let your human show.”

Todd McNeal, cofounder of Reflect

McNeal, cofounder of a platform that automates website and web application testing, recently raised a seed round and wrapped up time in Y Combinator’s virtual cohort.


He said one of the biggest lessons learned in recent months was the importance of being ready to change his opinion on something based on new evidence.

“When you start a company, it’s usually based on your own need, but we didn’t know if other people were going to need it,” he said. “The thing that really helped us move forward was solving the problem for a few people, and realizing, ‘Oh, then there must be more people like them.’ Find those few people first, and be willing to change your mind on what you think might be the right solution for them.”

Robert Ashford, CEO of RecoveryLink

Ashford, who launched a care management platform and suite of digital recovery tools in 2019 with two cofounders, offered two pieces of advice revolving around networking and making an impact.

Similarly to Wanner, he called out leaning on your networks. In COVID-19 times, that usually means virtually.

“We’ve been leaning into remote connection and found support from founder to founder through that,” he said. “We’ve been surprised and growing our network faster than we’d thought.”

He also said the company made the decision early on that along with proving market traction, they’d give back — offering parts of their product for free — even if it meant taking a bit longer to meet some of their goals.

“We’d rather sacrifice some of those early KPIs for making an impact,” the founder told “We’ve seen the exacerbation of this mental health crisis, and maybe it’ll slow down KPIs, but it’s the right thing to do and it feels good. That type of motivation can’t be understated in building your company.”


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