Did you know that, in 2017, female founders got only about 2.2 percent of venture capital funding? A sobering statistic, but an unsurprising one to any woman who’s working to turn their idea into a viable business. Still, many have been able to cut through all the noise to create some of your favorite products, from Away carry-ons to Outdoor Voices leggings. And they have some real-talk for anyone hoping to follow in their footsteps.
At the Glamour Women of the Year Summit, Audrey Gelman of The Wing, Jen Rubio of Away, and Ty Haney of Outdoor Voices came together in conversation with Suitan Dong from the Female Founders Fund to discuss what it takes to get from pitch deck to big business. You can follow all the inspiring speakers and panels from the on our Summit recap—below, we round up some of their most pressing tips for female entrepreneurs.
Don’t get discouraged by the no’s.
Away’s Rubio has been on both sides of the fundraising conversation, so she knows that “no’s” are just a part of the process. But, from her experience, she sees women get discouraged by the sheer amount of rejection you face in those early stages of the business. “It’s part of the process,” she says. So it’s important to prepare yourself for it.
When she was first pitching Outdoor Voices, Haney would introduce her idea as “the next big activewear for women”—more often than not, to a group of men, who would counter with the names of the big-name activewear brands you know (and are, well, mostly run and designed by men). A lot of times, they wouldn’t get her vision for Outdoor Voices. So Haney came up with a new strategy: Send product ahead of a meeting to the women in the office, to the VC’s wives… Then, she started to hear yes from the rooms full of men. “Being a woman is a competitive advantage when you’re building a company for women,” Haney says.
The process doesn’t end once you get that coveted “yes,” though: The Wing’s Gelman stresses that what you do once you receive it is just as important. In her case, it’s fostering a community that then allows for more female entrepreneurship: having members network, encourage each other’s ideas, hire each other, and so forth. Pay it forward to get more voices in the room.
Know when to take advice—and when to not.
Rubio and her co-founder, Stephanie Korey, both came from Warby Parker, which is often held up as the paradigm for start-ups—but “one of the first things we realized is that there’s no traditional startup experience,” she says. There’s no playbook for starting a small business; in fact, a lot of what they learned during their time at Warby Parker didn’t really translate to their new concept, of starting a direct-to-consumer luggage brand. When you start a company, you get advice from a lot of people. The key, according to Rubio, is to learn how to filter through all of it and apply what makes sense for your business.
Cultivate a sense of community within your customer base.
The Wing’s 6,000 members are “their marketers,” according to Gelman: They spread the word on the co-working space and create interest in what they’re doing, attracting new customers. From its inception, The Wing would host events for specific sub-sets of their community—based on where they lived, or what industry they worked in—where they would pass physical business cards to each other, connect in real life… And that proved to be a valuable asset. Now, The Wing is working to launch a mobile app that allows its members to get in touch outside of the physical space, whether that’s for advice or networking.
Remember that fundraising is a two-way street.
Walking into a room to pitch your idea for a business can be extremely intimidating. But Haney encourages people to remember: You’re just talking to a person. If you’re real and vulnerable, it’ll come across.
Gelman points out that, when you’re fundraising, the power dynamic can feel imbalanced: They have money, you don’t. So when you’re preparing to pitch your company to potential investors, try flipping that and asking, “Do I want to partner with this person?” It takes the power back, if only energetically—and it offers you, as a founder, an important lens through which to think about potential partnerships.
Rely on your community of fellow female founders.
The community of female business owners is, unfortunately, still pretty small—but it’s there, and there’s often overlap when it comes to potential executive hires and VCs. Backstage, Rubio and Haney were discussing some candidates they were looking at for open positions at their respective companies. Because you often end up talking to a lot of the same people, you can recommend folks to each other and get real insight that you can’t find elsewhere.
This network is also not city-specific: Haney launched Outdoor Voices when she lived in New York, but she then relocated to Austin. And though the decision to move her still-growing company to Texas might have felt odd at first, she slowly began building her own community out there, thanks to some introductions from other female founders. (Girlboss’ Sophia Amoruso introduced Haney to Bumble’s Whitney Wolfe Herd, for example.) “Don’t be scared to leave your comfort zone,” she says.
Be really, really sure that you want to do it.
Newsflash: Starting a business is hard. You’re going to be told “no” a lot. It can feel lonely. What’s going to get you through is passion, says Rubio. “You have to really want to do it… It’s easier than ever to start a company—it also means you can go too far in a direction you don’t want to be in.”
For Haney, it’s all about execution, and making sure she can deliver on an idea she sets her mind to. She has a rule of having no more than three goals at a time, for instance—that helps her stay focused and ensure she doesn’t muddy her vision.
Also, don’t get caught up in what other people are doing. Gelman likes to think of the quote, “Don’t compare your insides to someone else’s outside.” You might see something in a magazine and think they have it all together, but it could be a whole different story behind the scenes. Keep your eyes on your own path.
Get more from Glamour‘s Women of the Year Summit here.