From watching her parents struggle to make ends meet as a child to connecting with an excellent mentor as an adult, these are the moments that shaped Hefets’ career.
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From an early age, Adena Hefets came to the understanding that in order to someday become an entrepreneur — or even merely survive — she needed to build up some equity and become financially independent. That was a primary motivator for her to work at Goldman Sachs as her very first job.
After getting her toes wet in finance, Hefets went on to gain experience at household names like Bank of America Merrill Lynch and TPG Capital before moving into the startup space. Once there, she was an early member of the team that started Square, a now ubiquitous point of sale solutions company.
Today, Hefets is co-founder of Divvy Homes, an industry-disrupting startup helping to make homeownership more accessible by providing a pathway for potential homeowners to rent-to-own their home. Divvy purchases a home on behalf of its customers, customers pay rent while a portion of that rent goes towards a down payment, and then those customers can either buy the home at the end of a three-year lease (or before), or walk away with the money they’ve saved up.
Inman recently caught up with Hefets via email, and she revealed the three moments that shaped her into the industry disruptor she is today.
Working at TPG Capital
“From a skills set perspective, working at TPG is like being with the elite squad,” Hefets told Inman. “I felt I was part of the Navy SEALs.”
It was at TPG Capital that Hefets said she learned about what makes a strong business model, a skill that came in handy later on at both Square and Divvy Homes.
“[Working at TPG] trains resilience and builds grit,” Hefets explained. “I learned so much there, most of which makes me who I am. I learned how to convert customers, build out a funnel, how to build a new product … So much happened there.”
Hefets also found a valuable mentor in Carrie Wheeler, former partner at TPG Capital and now CFO at Opendoor, while working at the investment company.
“She really mentored me,” Hefets said. “She would take care of me and make sure I stepped up and got staffed on the best projects.”
“The importance of these mentorship relationships is … you keep these relationships over decades,” she added.
Building Square Capital
At Square, Hefets learned what product market fit feels like when it’s done well — a crucial point of understanding that’s helped Divvy Homes find its unique place in the industry.
“[Good market fit is] a feeling of not needing to sell, but rather, having buyers just line up,” Hefets said. “Scale of your growth keeps compounding; [but it] doesn’t mean it’s without challenge.”
Hefets learned at Square, when a growing company needs support, they should reach out for that support. “It’s always going to feel like it’s hard,” she said.
Growing up in a low income family
Money was tight for her immigrant parents when Adena was growing up alongside her three siblings in Long Island, New York. Therefore, when her parents achieved homeownership, it was a monumental accomplishment that provided a boost of security for her family as a whole.
“What my parents got was an insurance policy,” Hefets explained. “It just meant that if we ever needed money or financial support, we could access that by leveraging the house. A value that would always allow us to access capital. If the car breaks down, or a kid goes to college.”
Witnessing her parents struggle through financial hardship drove Hefets to pay her own way through college and build up some savings as soon as possible.
“The first job I got, at Goldman Sachs, was purely to get rid of student debt,” Hefets said. “I also felt that in order to start a company and take that risk later on in life, I needed to create that sort of stable financial base earlier on. For purely practical reasons, I thought to myself, ‘Well, I have to work in private equity. I have to be able to pay my bills, and do those things, and work these jobs, earn good money.’ I had to do these things to get to the really great opportunities and be able to take a risk later in life and start a company.”
But Hefets also learned the important distinction between money and happiness.
“Money doesn’t make you happy,” she said. “But I knew I needed to be financially stable in order to take the risk of becoming independent. I saw that with my parents early on.”