By: Clare O’Connor
Usually saying you ‘learned from the best’ is hyperbole, but not for Camille Hearst. The Stanford engineering graduate started her career at Apple during the Steve Jobs era, right as the late billionaire and product genius was working with designer Jony Ive to change music consumption forever with the iPod.
Hearst was one of the first product managers at iTunes, where she worked between 2005 and 2010. “It was the number eight music retailer when I started,” she said. “And the number one when I left.”
Her trajectory since then has included stints at tech giants YouTube and Google, as well as a gig with Hailo, the U.K.-based taxi hailing app that failed to crack the U.S. market. But she’d always itched to strike out on her own as an entrepreneur, since taking part in the prestigious Mayfield Fellows startup work/study program as an undergraduate.
Today, Hearst is the cofounder and CEO of Kit, a social recommendation platform where tastemakers share products they love. In November, she and cofounder Naveen Selvadurai, formerly of Foursquare, announced a $2.5 million seed round to grow the company.
Investors include Social Capital, Precursor Ventures, Slack head of product April Underwood, former Reddit CEO Ellen Pao, Authentic Ventures, Black Angel Tech Fund, and Expa. The latter, a startup incubator, originally backed Kit when it quietly launched in the fall of 2015.
This seed round makes Hearst only the 12th African-American woman ever to raise more than $1 million to grow a startup, according to data from Project Diane, a definitive study of the state of black women in tech entrepreneurship that took the better part of a year to complete.
Hearst says funding will go into testing as Kit explores ways to monetize effectively and expand its search capabilities. It’s currently pre-revenue, although the influencers using its platform are already making money through Amazon.com affiliate codes.
High-profile names using Kit to recommend product bundles, or ‘kits’, include entrepreneur and author Tim Ferriss and YouTube star Casey Neistat. Ferriss’ kits include his favorite podcasting tools, while Neistat has shared filmmaking gear.
“A lot of the people who’re having a ton of fun on Kit already have an audience on other platforms,” Hearst said. “They’re constantly looking for ways to engage with fans.”
Kit has already launched an integration with Amazon.com’s Alexa bot and Twitter. Users can ‘Ask Kit’ questions about recommended products.
Claire O’Connor~I’m a staff writer at Forbes, where I write about women entrepreneurs, workplace equality, and diversity in Silicon Valley and the tech world. Before taking on this beat, I spent three years covering retail and e-commerce, and the three before that chasing the super-rich for our Forbes 400 and World’s Billionaires lists. I still profile billionaires and entrepreneurs for the magazine, focusing on self-made women. Before Forbes, I worked as a news reporter in the UK and my home country of Bermuda, a travel writer for Frommer’s and an intern for CNN’s Anderson Cooper while completing a master’s degree at Columbia University. Got a story idea? Email me at email@example.com.