Elizabeth Shaffer & Lizzy Brockhoff

Ladies Who Launch

Elizabeth Shaffer & Lizzy Brockhoff

The co-founders of Masse talk about the product-recommendation app, meeting at Moda and work-life balance.

Photography Mimi Crawford
Interview By Isabel Ashton

There comes a moment in every expecting parent’s life when they reach out to a Wing Mom for The List — a spreadsheet or lengthy email that breaks down the products and brands you need and the items you don’t. When Elizabeth Shaffer and Lizzy Brockhoff became pregnant and started putting together their own baby registries, the lightbulb went off. What if they could harness all this intel with the power of social networking in one app. Masse was born.

Since we’re all more likely to trust recommendations from friends, the platform connects users with their contacts so the endorsements you get are tried-and-true from your own personal network. Not just for moms, the app is a one-stop-shop for any query, be it beauty, DIY, sports or travel-related.

Shaffer and Brockhoff met six years ago in New York as product managers at Moda Operandi, and together they went on to be key players in the development of jet.com, the e-commerce platform that Wal-Mart purchased for $3.3. billion. We caught up with the co-founders and first-time moms to celebrate Masse’s debut this week and find out how it came to be.

1. You have the same name. Were you always Elizabeth and Lizzy?

ES:When we first started working together six years ago, we negotiated who would be called what, and it stuck. We can’t change now.

2. What sparked the idea for Masse?

ES: We were both aware of this problem in e-commerce, where there’s so much available online right now that consumers are feeling more pressure than ever before to make the right decision, i.e., you’ve got to buy the sustainable option or you’ve got to get the safest option for your kids, especially when it comes to baby products.

LB: Time and time again we’d observe people open multiple browser tabs and go down that rabbit hole for hours. We thought, "We can solve this." Masse really works for anyone who wants to cut through the chatter and find what they’re looking for fast.

3. How did becoming a mom inspire the development of Masse?

ES: When we had to build our own registries that was a big catalyst moment for us. We discovered the phenomenon of the “baby list.” But these conversations are happening over email, so all the recommendations are ephemeral and get lost in feeds and timelines. At Masse, we store a catalog of those recommendations so they’re easily accessible.

4. How long has it taken to build and get to this moment of launch?

ES: We started working on it when we went on maternity leave in March last year.

LB: Our daughters are both 19 months now. We became pregnant one day apart and our babies were born one day apart!

5. Who is the typical Masse customer?

LB: We see Masse being particularly useful for people who are going through those big moments in life – having a baby, moving, getting married – when you’re making a bunch of these big, sometimes stressful purchase decisions.

ES: We see people asking questions that are pretty personal, like “What do I do for hair loss?” We really wanted to create an environment where you can ask the embarrassing questions and get answers when they may not be immediately obvious.

6. What have been the biggest challenges you’ve come up against in this process?

ES: I would say the amount of things you have to get done in a day! We were used to working with pretty big teams, and then it was just Lizzy and I looking at each other like, “I guess we’re going to do that now!” You have all these channels that you’re juggling at the same time, and as both of us have young daughters at home, managing that balance is hard.

LB: I think we both struggle with the strategic work to keep the business moving forward, but then there’s a lot of administrative and execution stuff you need to do as well. That conflict is a challenge, as is making sure that you can be the best you for your family.

7. Do you have any advice for juggling work and home life?

LB: I don’t have all the answers! We’re both pretty religious about getting home for bedtime and making sure we have that special time. Yes, at the moment we switch back to working afterward, but it’s prioritizing that important time.

ES: It’s also important to allow yourself to be present on whatever you’re focusing on. I don’t really believe in multitasking. So, when I’m home and my daughter is there, I try to be totally switched on around her. And when I’m at work, I really try to block everything else out. I think a little bit of compartmentalization is a good thing.

8. What are the things that you do for yourselves that keep you sane?

ES: I’m an early riser, so I wake up before my daughter and husband. I have a really nice view of the East River, and I sit in a chair and have my coffee and a moment of peace before everything descends into chaos!

LB: iMy commute is a sacred time: fresh air, no music, no podcast. It’s ok to be unplugged from everything and remember that you don’t need to be optimizing this 15 minutes — you can just have it.

9. Do you think you were born natural builders or is it something you’ve taught yourself?

ES: I think it was always innate for me. Even when I was little I was playing with blocks of bricks, I just liked building things. I always knew I wanted to try doing my own startup.

LB: I suppose I was a fixer. I was a racehorse vet in Australia. That was my undergraduate degree and then I practiced for a small time.

ES: She can actually perform surgery on racehorses!

LB: I knew it wasn’t going to be for me, but it was only when I came to New York that I was aware of product management as a profession. I think the builder in me came from my experience in startups.

10. You’ve worked together for years, but how is it working together as business partners?

LB: We’ve been asked before, “When you’re starting a business do you get the idea first, or do you find the co-founder first?” Finding someone you know and trust and that you can align with is very important. We’re constantly pinging things back and forth.

ES: It definitely helps that we’ve worked together for so long. We talk all the time. We always laugh because we have no secrets. There are no secrets!