For years, Sara Koślińska was considered a poster child of Poland’s startup scene: a young female founder working on a fintech app, who featured on the front page of Forbes and studied at Harvard.
So it came as quite a surprise to some to see her pictured on enormous billboards all around Warsaw wearing a shiny golden gown — and then watch her on TV talking about her love life.
Koślińska — along with two other Polish startup founders — agreed to star in a new series of the American reality TV show The Real Housewives, based in Warsaw. They’d spend time with a group of rich and glamorous women, dining in fancy restaurants, going to balls and horse races, hanging out on yachts and in gyms. And — most of all — scheming, gossiping and acting dramatically.
But contrary to what the title might suggest, most participants aren’t housewives spending their rich husbands’ money: they own clinics, marketing agencies and hotels, write books and earn good money of their own as influencers. And they’ve founded startups, too.
“It’s turned out to be an incredible success in other markets, and the people featured in it gained popularity which translated into their businesses,” says Koślińska, who wanted her appearance to show viewers that women can be successful in tech, too.
But is starring on the show working out as planned?
The Real Housewives
The Real Housewives started to air on the Polish TV station Polsat in September. Alongside Koślińska, who founded investment app Limitless (in which she’s not involved anymore), the show also stars Monika Żochowska, the cofounder and CEO of Glov, a startup that produces innovative cosmetic products, such as makeup removal gloves or heatless hair curls. Reality show veteran Monika Goździalska — a former Big Brother and MasterChef contestant and the founder of Petgram, an Instagram-like app for dogs — is also on the show.
Koślińska says appearing on TV was on her bucket list — but she originally hoped to have her own show about personal finance and investing.
Żochowska thought it could be “a great adventure” — but had her doubts. “I realised this could be some sort of burden for the company."
“I think it's better to regret doing something than not doing anything,” says her cofounder Ewa Dudzic, who ended up making the decision to do it for Żochowska. “I thought that from the business perspective, we only should get advantages, we shouldn’t really get disadvantages. The question was how big the advantages would be — and we decided to check it out.”
The impact of The Real Housewives on business
Glov’s cofounders hoped to use Żochowska’s newly-acquired celebrity status to boost their business. While Żochowska was participating in shoots for the show (which, she says, were very time consuming and emotionally draining), Dudzic came up with ways to monetise her popularity.
“We thought that Monika’s reach on social media would increase — and impact the brand’s reach,” says Dudzic.
They started a marketing campaign — dubbed “The Real Monika” — where Żochowska changes from her show-time luxury gowns and sophisticated makeup into a tracksuit, and gives demos of Glov products. “We treat Monika as an influencer,” Dudzic says.
Throughout the show, Żochowska has used every opportunity to showcase Glov’s products on air: driving her car wearing a Glov towel wrap and undoing Glov’s heatless hair curls mid-interview.
Dudzic says that while the startup’s social media reach has increased, it hasn’t turned into sales yet — it’s still too early. “In September and October, we’re working on reach. We assume that we’ll monetise it in November,” she says.
Koślińska is now working on a new product: a platform for investment for women. She’s hoping to line up some potential customers and business partners, including banks. “So far one financial institution has agreed to sponsor a number of participants of the platform,” she says.
The founders’ participation in The Real Housewives has met mixed views in Poland’s startup ecosystem. Some say the luxury-themed reality show isn't a good place to promote female entrepreneurship; others praise their bravery, and their knack for marketing.
”A reality show provides visibility, that’s undeniable. But I’m not sure if there are more benefits than just ego feeding,” says Marcin Sierant, a PR expert for startups. “People developing a B2C, or even more so, a D2C brand, might reason this will help their business — it’s an opportunity to become an influencer, instead of having to pay someone else. But after that one-time spike it will be difficult to sustain the interest of the audience.”
In the show, the founders reveal a lot about their personal lives — Koślińska shocks other participants talking about how she persuaded her husband to have a vasectomy, goes to her first ever aesthetic medicine treatment and to a fertility clinic to learn more about freezing her eggs. Żochowska shows off her extravagant gowns — including one accompanied with an enormous beetle-shaped hat — and organises fortune-telling seances and hunts for her wedding dress. They both play the TV game — they fight with other participants, gossip, scheme and cause drama.
The whole concept might be frowned upon by investors.
Koślińska says that she wanted to keep the show away from her business circles — and hasn’t mentioned her appearance on LinkedIn. “But it proved impossible,” she says.
“I assumed none of my business connections would be interested in it. With some surprise I noticed that people are impressed with someone starring in a TV show.”
Glov’s cofounders say their investor, Darek Żuk from AIP Seed, a Polish VC, was quite worried Żochowska might not come across as a serious CEO.
“Monika's participation in the programme is associated with certain risks as well as business opportunities. Above all, it was a personal decision. I hope that, both professionally and personally, Monika's participation in the programme will prove to be a good choice,” Żuk tells Sifted in a statement.
Dudzic says she isn’t worried about how investors might react to her cofounder’s fame when they next head out fundraising, once market conditions improve. “They should only be happy. The fact that the founder is popular is only a positive thing.
“We sent a video of Monika’s billboard to all our business partners — it won’t help them in business, but they’ll know that the brand is strong, visible and that the founder is successful. It’s a guarantee for a good partner to work,” she adds.
Żochowska stresses that she was tired of the fact that “only stupid people” participate in such shows.
“Why can’t we show that someone has made their own real success, come from a small town and been successful?” she says. “I get messages from people: ‘I come from a small village and you inspired me, and you’re a role model for me’ and then I think — if it was even for this one message, it was worth it.”