This profile is published as part of Pledge 1%’s Women Who Lead series, which celebrates women in the Pledge 1% community who are creating change within their workplace and communities.
Janine Sickmeyer is the CEO & Founder of NextChapter, a web application for attorneys to prepare, manage and file bankruptcy cases online. As a business leader and entrepreneur, Janine provides strategic vision and direction for NextChapter and is particularly fascinated in the intersection between law and technology in the bankruptcy market.
In addition to being CEO of a legal tech company, Janine is also a wife and mother of a one year old girl and a boy on the way. She is passionate about sharing her story with female entrepreneurs and business leaders to help them overcome challenges when starting a new venture. Janine is inspired by business leaders like Gary Vaynerchuk, Sheryl Sandberg and Marc Benioff. She lives by the quote:
“Be relentless. The difference between success and failure isn’t talent, it’s hunger.” Tony Robbins
NextChapter was inspired from Janine’s personal experience as a paralegal in the bankruptcy field. She started a virtual paralegal firm, preparing bankruptcy documents for attorneys all over the U.S. While doing this, Janine was using competitor software and found it to be time-consuming, unreliable and inefficient. She knew there was a need for cloud-based bankruptcy software so Janine learned how to code, built a team of skilled developers and two years later NextChapter was born. NextChapter launched in January 2016 and has seen enormous growth month over month.
NextChapter’s Pledge 1% Commitment
Since their founding, NextChapter has been passionate about giving back to the community and helping those in underserved markets. Inspired by Salesforce, the Pledge 1% model allows NextChapter to achieve this goal through integrated philanthropy. NextChapter donates its product for free to attorneys providing pro bono bankruptcy services to support low-income families in disadvantaged communities. In addition to the product donation, the NextChapter team works with deserving non-profits in the local community using employee Volunteer Time Off.
Encouraging Women in Business
NextChapter is a proud partner of the Lean In movement and through this partnership, Janine encourages and supports young women who are ready to make the leap as an entrepreneur or become a leader in their industry.
Challenges as a Female Founder
All bets were against Janine when building her company. She struggled with losing two cofounders, running out of money and pitching NextChapter 82 times to VC firms from New York to Silicon Valley only to be rejected and offered unfair deals and below market terms. Despite these challenges and more associated with being a female founder in a male-dominated industry, she kept going. She was resilient and tenacious. She managed to her get company off the ground by self-funding and staying lean and in the process, she learned a lot about business, patience and the power of believing in yourself. Janine is writing her first book for women of all ages who want to build a business and become a leader, even if they also plan to become a mom.
Advice to Women Starting Tech Businesses
Janine shares: “I have 5 pieces of advice for women who are interested in starting their own venture in the tech space:
- Be patient and persistent. Even with most calculated business plan and beautifully branded pitch deck, a company will not blossom overnight.
- Stay confident in yourself and your idea because it will shine through in everything you do from product development to customer support to marketing and branding.
- Refine your elevator pitch to one sentence and say it proudly. People will judge your entire company based on how well you can explain it.
- Never settle. There were many times when I was offered funding but the terms were not close to what I had in mind. I got creative with bootstrapping efforts so I didn’t have to sell all my company off before it even got started.
- Always choose happiness. Starting a technology company is hard. Being a solo founder is lonely. It’s up to you to find the sunny on even the darkest days.”