If Malcolm Gladwell had a poster girl for the “connectors” he famously wrote about in his best-selling book The Tipping Point, it might just be Francesca Lana. The London-based entrepreneur and mother-to-be is well-known among friends and colleagues for bringing together people; sometimes through a quick email exchange or other times, through the dinner parties she organizes with a meticulousness and passion that would make the grandest of dames proud. Being a connector is inherent to Francesca, who splits her time between New York and London. It’s a trait that has served her well as an entrepreneur and international real estate adviser. It has also inspired her latest venture, NetworkHer, an organization that seeks to connect professional women. Emmy-winning journalist Rita Cosby sat down with Francesca at The Carlyle, the luxurious Upper East Side hotel, to talk about NetworkHer, Francesca’s new role as a mother, and some favorite spots in New York. The two power women met two years ago at a private dinner party – appropriately, organized by Francesca – on Memorial Day Weekend to honor veterans and their families; just one of the great causes Francesca is dedicated to.
Rita: Tell me how you got your start in business?
Francesca: When I moved to London from Rome in 2012, I met a successful real estate agent, Grant, when searching for my apartment. I began introducing Grant to friends who were interested in buying properties or investing in real estate, and we quickly became business partners. I realized I had a passion for real estate, which had grown out of my travels and appreciation for architecture. After a two-year partnership with Grant, I started my own real estate company, ERA International.This was my first foray as an entrepreneur. I made this leap, which can be overwhelming, because I trusted in my ability to connect people and knew this skill would serve me well in bringing buyers and sellers together. Today, as the founder of ERA, I advise international clients, from more than 30 countries, on real estate purchases. Most of my clients are time-strapped and my mission is to facilitate their search, negotiate the best price for them and manage the buying process so it’s seamless.
Rita: You recently launched another business, NetworkHer, which has grown out of your great affinity for bringing people together and for supporting women. How did NetworkHer come about?
Francesca: I travel a lot for work and it can be isolating. Three years ago, I started organizing dinners for women in London so I could reconnect with friends and meet new ones. I encouraged my friends to bring their friends, and the dinners became a great success. From my experiences and conversations with women at these dinners, I recognized that there is a tremendous need and desire for support and encouragement among women. Even the most self-reliant woman can benefit from the help of other women. I have been blessed with a very wide network, filled with vibrant and dynamic ladies. I wanted to build the same global community of support that I have been able to develop for myself. One woman’s success can only help another’s.
Rita: I know you love collaboration so who is the team behind NetworkHer and how are you working together?
Francesca: My co-founders are Jackie Cuyvers and Lika Dossybieva. Jackie is the co-founder of The Conversationalist Agency, which works with business to develop digital strategies around social media listening; Lika is a business consultant working in the oil- and-gas industry. While we each have very different backgrounds, we all have the same goal: to build a powerful and inspiring network of brilliant women. Beyond the co-founders, we have small team made up of corporate leaders and entrepreneurs.
Rita: What are your long-term plans for this NetworkHer? This sounds exciting and boundless.
Francesca: We’ve heard so much about the importance of women leaning in over the past few years, but leaning in requires support from other women. NetworkHer is creating a global community of professional women who can give each other a boost in their respective professional goals. For example, we know many women would like guidance on how to become a board member, how to set up a foundation, or how to prepare for their first TV interview. Through the NetworkHer community, women are supporting women. We consider ourselves unique because our members are quite accomplished in their fields. Even at this early stage, we have members from more than 10 countries. We are planning a series of regular events in New York, London and online, including two annual conferences. We are building business and personal development workshops around topics such as how to develop a personal brand and how to become a smart angel investor. We are also establishing partnerships with charity organizations.
Rita: This is fantastic! So…how can I join NetworkHer?
Francesca: We would love to have you join, Rita! Your work in journalism has inspired so many women! You can learn more about our upcoming events and member benefits, and register at NetworkHer.org.
Rita: I know you are active in various charities but how did you become interested in promoting women? It’s something we often hear spoken of, yet in reality, it doesn’t always happen.
Francesca: My mother works in politics in Rome, where I was born. Politics is male-dominated in Italy, much like in the United States. But that has never deterred my mother. In fact, she has always invited female colleagues to our home so they could meet and grow to support each other. Over the years, I’ve witnessed how these women have created a powerful female network and the successes, big and small, that they have been able to effect. Seeing my mother’s role in shaping a women’s network, has, in part, inspired NetworkHer and its possibilities. In addition to my work with NetworkHer, I’m very proud to work with three other organizations: the Robert F. Agostinelli Foundation, which supports American war veterans; the Kirsten Haglund Foundation, which helps men and women seeking treatment from eating disorders; and Techo, which works with young volunteers to fight poverty in Latin America.
Rita: You’ve turned your skill for connecting into a meaningful organization, and a way to give back. What is your advice for making connections, professionally and personally?
Francesca: Everyone has something interesting to share or teach. Show your genuine interest in what people do and what interests them. Be an active listener. You’ll likely learn something new. When you listen closely, you remember small details about a person; they will appreciate you for doing so. And, always start with a strong handshake!
Rita: You are juggling a lot these days and you are about to become a mother this summer. How do you find that balance, which we all strive for?
Francesca: My passions and optimistic outlook on life often lead me to my endeavors. Work is never really “work.” That helps me from feeling overwhelmed by what I do. I also try to leverage what I do well, rather than doing things that don’t come naturally. My friendships, professional relationships and travel are rewarding personally and have helped me grow professionally, for which I’m immensely grateful. Now that I’m about to become a mother, I know that I’ll be balancing the hardest job in the world with my professional life. Like all new moms, I’ll have to find the right balance, but I hope my work in business and in supporting women will inspire my daughter, just like my mother’s work has with me!
Rita: When you’re not thinking about new business ventures, what do you enjoy most about New York?
Francesca: Well, as I’m Italian, I love the food in New York. My favorite haunts are Sette Mezzo and Kappo Masa, and I adore the green mille crêpes at Lady M’s. I’ve had quite the sweet tooth during pregnancy!
I enjoy spending time with my close friends in New York and going for walks in different parts of the city. It’s is the best way to discover new shops and restaurants. New York is a great place to indulge my love of the arts and I always look forward to going to the Metropolitan Opera and the New York City Ballet. The arts are dear to my heart as I was a classically trained ballerina and started dancing when I was three. Even back then, I was fast on my feet! When I need a quiet moment, I love visiting the Church of St. Vincent Ferrer to pray and thank God for the many blessings that I’ve received. I feel so fortunate to give back to others based on what I’ve learned and my experiences. I look forward to helping other women find their life’s mission so they, too, will discover great joy in inspiring and connecting others.