#Thefutureisfemale. Own it. Drink it. Be it.
With our partner General Assembly, the fourth installment of RM 72; our ongoing series of panel discussions for entrepreneurs dedicated to the tenacious startup spirit; brought together inspiring female entrepreneurs for a morning of coffee and candid conversation. In Honor of Equal Pay Day, the panel opened up about their fears, failures, the best advice they ever got, and the advice they never took throughout their lives, careers, and entrepreneurial journey.
Our family at Virgin Group invited artist Maria Ines-Gul to draw her way through female empowerment in Chicago. Check out her travel diary here. She not only inspired us through her interpretation of our RM 72 panel but she gave us awe-inspiring artwork that we’re showcasing in The Commons Club. Watch the full panel discussion here.
Meet the panel:
- Jessica Zweig, CEO of Simply Be Agency (@jessicazweig) and our fearless moderator!
- Alison Victoria, Host of DIY’s Kitchen Crashers (@thealisonvictoria)
- Diane Latiker, Kids off the Block (@kidsofftheblock)
- Keisha Howard, Founder of Sugar Gamers, Blaze Breakers, Wit Retreat (@sugargamer)
- Nicole Yeary, Founder of Ms Tech Group and Fear Paradox (@nicoleyeary)
JZ: We all sit up here as very accomplished successful women, that’s why you’re up here to share your stories. But I really think that we learn more from our failures and our mistakes more than we do our successes and our highest points. If you’re willing to share, what have been some of your biggest learning lessons in your journey as entrepreneurs?
DL: I was very naïve, very naïve. I thought everybody wanted to help young people. As a mom, you want to help your children, your community. If they succeed we all succeed. How wrong I was. I didn’t know that everywhere I went was male dominated…I was black and I was an older woman. So I was trying to break into something and they would say, “What are you doing here?” every meeting I went to, they sat me in the corner. I’m not telling you a story, this is true…Then I didn’t have a voice, because I was new, I was older, I didn’t know what I was talking about, I was African American. Now, I wasn’t getting this because I was naïve, my eyes are wide open, “oh boy I’m ready, got my fists up, hey ya’ll I’m ready to help.” And they’re telling me no, you’re not, you’ve got to earn your wings. And when you earn your wings you’ve got to know your place….For the last 13 years I’ve been learning my place. Now my place is out front, I didn’t look for the doors, I made my own. Because I wanted to help what I loved, I wanted to help young people. I had to fail many times because I was naïve and I believed in people. I’m not saying don’t believe in people, but know who you are. And don’t let anyone tell you you can’t do it, because you can.
NY: I had about a $50,000 mistake. I think that the important thing is to be passionate about what you’re doing…There were so many different things I had tried in my lifetime It wasn’t until I saw something right in front of me and I was juggling lots of things and one of my mentors stopped me…he said “If I want to send you business, I don’t even know what you do. What do you want to be known for? Pick that one thing that you see yourself making the biggest difference in your life. Do that.”…I had to lose my little nest egg of $50,000…Picking one thing and putting 100% of yourself into it…I can’t tell you how important that is. Forget about the stuff that you lose [along the way].
KH: One of the things that has been the most challenging for me, I don’t know that I would necessarily call it a failure…it has been an incredibly difficult road for me to ask for help. I’m coming from a place where I’ve been working since I was 14 years old, very independent, a lot of experiences where people have taken advantage of me, being distrustful of showing any vulnerability…You can’t do it yourself, you don’t have all the skills, you have to deliberately put yourself in a place to be around other people that are different from you…it has to be a process that you continuously do. Because I stopped at one point in time because I had found the perfect team: diverse, hardworking, accountable, dependable, and then life happened and that team dismantled…That for me has been one of the scariest things to continuously do but you can’t do something of that scale and do it by yourself.
AV: I love what you said, you don’t fail until you give up…There were two real memories for me. One was when I pitched myself to be the director of marketing at the Casino that I designed…to the owner of the hotel…I’ll never forget I pitched myself and he [the owner] was like you’re out of your mind. You know nothing about hotels, nothing about gaming. And I was like yeah but I’ll bring a new perspective…what’s the worst that could happen?…I’ll never forget I brought in 15 people…and it was all female. And I thought oh this is exciting, now we’ve got a room at the table. It was our first marketing meeting…I realized I wasn’t wanted there. It was almost like…everyone else didn’t believe it me, everyone thinks I’m there for some other reason. I found out 10 years later everyone thought I was sleeping with the owner…I still belong at that table and every table I sit at…that will never happen again, me being that naïve and not knowing that’s what they were thinking. The next one was getting into TV. I never knew what I was getting into. There’s a couple of women on the network when I get on, most of the hosts are male. You’re getting into this world of construction, design, and the women who are in there with you, you would think alright, we’re all going to hold hands and sing Kumbaya…I was very disappointed.
JZ: So, Nicole, you said female founders only receive about 3% roughly? What can we do as women and founders to change that? What are some of the best strategies for accessing capital? How can female entrepreneurs do to ensure they’re getting paid the same rate and wages as their male counterparts?
NY: How much time do we have? I think that a big part is knowing what you have and valuing that. A lot of times when I’ve worked with women entrepreneurs, I ask them about their meetings with investors, and I remind them that these are high stakes investors…they’re looking to place a bet…it’s not about asking for the money as much as about inviting them to an opportunity to grow. Each one of us play a really good role in the future of entrepreneurship and the investment of capital. Number one, every dollar that you spend is a bet on somebody…There’s a crowd source called Republic.co and you can invest in female entrepreneurs…a book I would recommend is Venture Deals by Brad Feld…If a man’s not going to pay you what you’re worth, pay yourself what you’re worth. That’s my opinion.
DL: One thing that should be number one for women, is if it’s not there and it’s not built, then we should put it there. Because it’s not going to get built before 2152…be a part of that change, we need women to start owning more businesses and sitting on those boards that make the decisions.
NY: Or make your own board.
AV: My brother whose my best friend…he goes why don’t you take this little nest egg that you saved up, which was not a lot, and bet on yourself, what else is there? And this was two weeks ago…he goes just bet on yourself, who else do you believe in. So whether you’re taking out a loan or asking for one from a group, just believe in what you’re doing…it’s also being real with other people. We’re talking about books, I read 2-3 books a week…There’s a book called Made to Stick and I was like how can I make my ideas stick?
NY: A great tool if you can’t write a business plan is to write a business canvas and evaluate all of your hypotheses and assumptions through surveys and focus groups, things like that…All you really need to do is do the math in reverse if you’re leaving your full time job…and figure out what that equates to monthly and dial back. It doesn’t have to be complicated.
JZ: So I want to talk about men… Raise your hand if you’re a man. I want to see all the men in the audience. Thanks for being here. I’m an entrepreneur myself and I’ve been fortunate enough to build business primarily with women. My experience with utopian in the sense that there was never any gender inequality. Then I went to work for a corporate company and it was a boy’s club. Once you see it you can’t ever un-see it, that’s what I always used to say – like literally women speaking up in board rooms and men shushing other women. That was my first experience with that. But I have worked with men throughout my career that are advocates for women that are really our allies. I would love to hear from the panel how we educate men, how we identify those men, how we work with men despite the disparities?
NY: I think that for myself, there are men in my life who kept injecting themselves into trying to help me. I’m like Keisha I don’t like to ask for help a lot. I tend to be heads down. But I really appreciated that these men were adamant about offering the knowledge that they had because I think knowledge share is key and sharing stories, advice, talking about your experiences. So be open to that, and for myself having a women’s organization it was really important to build a board that also included men because if we want to change the landscape for women we have to include men in the conversation. This was kind of before Emma Watson started her “he for she” which I think is great. I also believe in putting my dollars into other organizations that believe the same thing so we became a sponsored partner of the UN because I know they are doing a lot of work globally to include men in the conversation. But, I think that really being open to that and speaking out for advice if you see someone is doing well and not to be afraid of that.
KH: For me, it’s interesting because I have a hand full of brothers, every job I’ve ever had has been owned by a man, I’ve always worked with men and I did not forge any significant female relationships until I got to college. As a matter of fact during my adolescence women were actually the most mean to me. That’s just my experience though. My brothers have made it so I can kind of sift through some of the garbage, some of the bullshit because I’m so accustomed to speaking with men. What I’ve learned is forging relationships with the people that are our allies is really important. When I first started Sugar Gamers I was like “All women! No boys allowed!” but I realized that I was completely missing a lot of opportunities because there’s a lot of guys that are like “well we want to help too we promise we’re not trying to do anything funny. We just think that what you’re doing is cool can we help, can we come to the party?” And I’m like “yes but as long as you understand the mission.” I think that if you are starting a business and you understand your mission and people want to help your mission then it doesn’t matter who they are. Male, female, transgender, however they identify if they understand your mission they will only help to serve to progress your ideas.
DL: I definitely agree with that, what you just said. It doesn’t matter to me what color, it doesn’t matter if the green man comes to the door, as long as he helps me with the young people, come on in here. We’re 80% male and last year I opened my door to 8th graders who were helping young kids. The men, kind of got offended by that. I couldn’t help it that men flocked to the organization to help the girls and I had to coddle men…I’m not trying to raise them they have mothers, I’m a support system to their families. Then, when I did that and realized I really love what I’m doing, I have found my passion, the kids are helping me and so when I would see the men after I found that out, to the men I was like I need your help over here. I have like 80 boys in my house right now, can you come help? I stopped coddling and let them know lets work together to help the kids in our neighborhood. It’s not about us, that’s how I got around that, it’s bigger than that.
AV: You know, I guess the same. My brothers and my father I guess were my mentors. His work ethic, his first job was at 11 supporting his mom and his sisters as a paper boy. My brothers are my best friends, motivators. My first mentor, really my only mentor was a man who believed in me. So I don’t look at it that way, I feel like I’m a wo-MAN. I can do whatever a man can do. I’m surrounded by these dudes all the time it’s just like this, it’s so funny to watch them. They all compete with each other and I just sit back and with what I do in the construction world it’s so funny to watch these…I want to choose my words here. It’s not just men in general, woman can be dumb too and do dumb things, it’s just so funny to watch it. I never look at it that way I don’t compare myself. I can do whatever you can do. It’s one of those things when its brought to light and you tell me its 80 cents on the dollar or whatever it is and I’m like we’re here we’re doing this were talking to each other, we’re supporting each other and I’ve never looked at it that way because we need men just as much as they need us. It’s just a team effort.
JZ: Did you want to add to that Keisha?
SG: Yeah I did want to add to that. Sometimes while were in this sort of battle for equality, our allies actually in some cases can speak for us and get the things that we need and it’s not necessarily that we don’t have the power but again, if our allies understand our mission they can you know help us see it through. And I’ve been in situations where when I started the Blaze Breakers, and I had a client and did all this work. And I had introduced them to a professor which was also another white male and all the sudden the conversation became about “thank you professor for all the work you did” and I’m just sitting there seething as a woman and then a woman of color and if I say something going to be sensitive, if I say something I’m going to seem angry, if I say something I’m going to be looked down upon. And then I’m just sitting there looking at this like everything that happened in that situation happened because of me. And I knew that. So then my ally he came up and goes no Keisha did the work, we should give her a hand. As a matter of fact we should give her a bonus because she made you know assholes look good. And I was just like relieved, I didn’t have to say anything I didn’t have to take on the burden because I had help I had somebody that understood. And that was really important to me, like again we can’t do everything by ourselves.
KH: I want to add to that too because just this weekend I had someone I work with through one of my partnerships that heard that ways they were being treated in the workplace and in order for them to tell their boss, they went through another woman who they knew was closer with this person and I asked her before I left I said will you please do me a favor? You’ve got to speak up for yourself. And even if you don’t have an ally sitting there to interject for you, you have to feel confident and not be afraid of sounding whiney or whatever or worried you’re going to sound like anything. Speak eloquently and speak with intention and ask for what you what and what you believe in and be able to speak from that place without fear because if we don’t I think that’s where the change will be. Many of us work in a patriarchal environment. Let’s be real. Right? Let’s really talk about that because I think denying it like we aren’t in that place would be again to be defeating. Recognize that and embrace that and if you need to talk to a peer, speak to a boss or someone else, a man who has a leadership role then do that. But find the confidence to be brave and if that means you might lose that job it’s probably not the best environment for you anyways.
: That’s a great point and great segway. I want to touch on women, you had mentioned Alison that the moment when you showed up at that table with other women there and you felt like you didn’t belong, they made you feel that way and Keisha you spoke about that you didn’t relate, connect to women until college and I think that’s an experience we can all relate to. We want to learn from each other and I’m curious how we can create more support from female entrepreneurs. What are the opportunities to do so?
NY: I think we need to be reaching out and reaching down. The whole top down mentorship is impossible. There’s not enough women at the top so we can’t expect all the women at the top to be mentoring all the women down here. So we need to be reaching out, grabbing arms, and elevating each other.
DL: [In Fierce over 40] I got backlash from women and I did not get it. So I think that needs to be mended. What’s going on here amongst us?
AV: I couldn’t agree more. It’s again, we’re all talking and we all have our own stories. But my story is I felt like the struggle is with women. I do…it started when I got my first real job and then all the sudden, then the bullying started and I was like this is so weird…it’s weird how it happened. I do feel like, we’re all here together right? We’re all looking to inspire one another so support each other and competition is healthy. Look at it that way. Don’t look at it as like a fear. I will say one of my New Year’s Resolutions was to stop looking at Instagram and what I mean by that was the feed. So I still post and post away and whatever, but I found myself looking and comparing myself to everyone else. Well she’s doing that, and she’s got her new show, and oh, she just started this company. And that’s my own problem, I’m not saying everyone does it but I was wasting so much time comparing myself to other women that I just wasn’t focusing on myself and it’s not a competition. It’s your vision so let’s support each other with everyone else’s vision and move forward…I feel like I’ve been stopped more by women than men and that’s a shame, that’s embarrassing.
The next RM72 will take place at Virgin Hotels San Francisco in November 2017 and will focus on women in tech. Check out our previous RM 72 Panels.