5 Start-Up Tips from Female Founders

NY Power Panel 2015

Virág Gulyás is Founder and Chief Editor and Shamim Shahzeb is Editor of MissCareerLess, a down-to-earth magazine dedicated to women of all ages. Its ultimate goal is to create a virtual storytelling platform and be the go-to empowerment site for women. MissCareerless’ uniqueness lies in its exceptionally multicultural content that proves that no matter where we are, we are in the same game together.  

NY Power Panel 2015
Virag and Shamim from MissCareerLess

This past month, we attended a Career 2.0 and Economic Ventures event in New York City bringing together five women entrepreneurs who shared their startup adventures and encouraged other women to follow their dream and launch their own businesses. Though they came from very different backgrounds, the Power Panel of female founders shared a common characteristic: they all started their journey to success with one idea that happened to be in line with their passion. Today, through determination, hard work, and skill, they are proud owners of their respective businesses:

  • Barbara Werner, owner of Musical Pairing Inc., a unique concept of pairing your meal with music.
  • Mary Molina, founder of the gluten- and GSA-free Lola Granola.
  • Deborah Hernan, founder and CEO of Ottilie and Lulu skincare products for tweens.
  • Sumeera Rasul, founder of Madesmith, an online artisanal product marketplace that shares stories of artisans and their products.
  • Marlo Scott, the founder and CEO of Sweet Revenge; a popular eatery at West Village, which pairs desserts and savory dishes with wine and beer.

Here are five key take-away messages they shared with the audience:

DO YOUR HOMEWORK – by Marlo Scott

NY Power Panel 2015
Marlo Scott

We have all been taught to do a basic business plan before venturing out to establish your own business. Identify the gap in the market, do your research qualitative or quantitative, and have a roadmap ready that will guide you in the initial stages of your entrepreneurial adventure. But write your business plan even if nobody will read it. You are doing it for yourself. And if after writing it, you still love your idea, then do it. The panelists agreed that to have a successful business plan, research is the most important step and, for that, you must think “outside the box.” For instance when Deborah began her qualitative research she went to different department stores and malls but couldn’t find her audience, tweens. So she went outside the box and did her research at a toy store and got the data (and chance) she was looking for. Thus, start by looking at places where you otherwise normally would not.

NEVER UNDERESTIMATE YOURSELF – by Deborah Hernan

NY Power Panel 2015This one is self-explanatory, but easier said than done. When you have setbacks on the path to your entrepreneurial venture, remember to believe in yourself and your capabilities. “People, who look really confident, might not be as confident as they appear.” There are days when you get up and feel everything is possible. But there are those days when you feel you are in the backseat. That is when you have to believe in yourself even more. Mary, echoed Deborah’s message by saying: “I faced quite many setbacks and troubles in getting the required certification for my granola.” There were days when she would simply cry after talking to people on the phone who refused to give information to her. But she persisted. She believed in herself, her capabilities and, most importantly, her product. This led to her granola bars being picked up by Whole Foods and her business steadily taking off.

JUST JUMP IN – by Sumeera Rasul

We have all been there: sitting at our desk, tired of the same 9-to-5 routine and our challenging (bad) bosses. We keep telling ourselves the NY Power Panel 2015calming mantra: “One day I will start my own business with that great idea that has been lurking in my head for a long time.” As reassuring as it sounds, our panelist warns us: that time will never come. So either you jump in or you never ever jump. (“It helps if you are laid off’”– added Marlo with great sense of irony). Do not wait for that “one-day’” to come, make today that day. And how do you motivate yourself to take that plunge? Change your mindset. To become an entrepreneur, you must start thinking like an entrepreneur. Once you have a business plan and the initial ground stone of your company or even just a business idea, start talking about it. Ger the word out. Tell everyone you know and even people you don’t know. You will be surprised how doing this might lead to the next step in your venture. If you get started, other people will lift you up!

SEEK OUT AND TAKE ADVANTAGE OF THE MYRIAD OF RESOURCES – by Mary Molina

As it is so pervasive, we often overlook that we’ve got Google as our primary and free resource to use for research. It allows us to study about our business idea, to gain a sense of awareness from the market we are venturing into, as well as to get to know about competition – if any. Another great tool we have is reaching out to people who might be already in the market. You can ask them to link you with people who might be interested in your new business. The key here is to  actively build a network of people who can support you and could be valuable sources of information and help. At the same time, you have to be determined and confident about your idea. As Sumeera intervened: “If you want to know who your friends are, start a business.”

NY Power Panel 2015
Lisa from Career 2.0 (center) with Gwendy & Carrie from Economic Ventures

If you find yourself without any support to begin with, you can always reach out to different platforms. Think of SCORE, which brings together a group of retired entrepreneurs who offer guidance and resources to to-be-entrepreneurs or already established business owners who are retiring or selling out. Then there are organizations like the Tory Burch Foundation: Finance for Female Entrepreneurs, which provides economic support. Or Goldman Sachs that provides resources such as 10,000 Small Businesses and 10,000 Women, which help entrepreneurs and women business owners by providing them with the required education, capital, and support.

KNOW WHAT YOU KNOW AND THEN CAPITALIZE ON YOUR STRENGTHS – 11406790_470060686492234_6554088178124972224_nby Barbara Werner

The multifaceted Barbara is driven by curiosity and believes that everything we learn we will be able to use somewhere along our journey. But how do we know if something is really worth our time to dive in? “You know you more than anybody else do.” So know what you don’t know and commit to learning it! But also – and to establish your business – you need to know your strengths. You need to be able to line them up and build on them. Even the statement: “Well, I’ve been a mother for 15 years’”shows that you are patient, you’ve got great communication skills, and you have determinationOnce you established your strengths and know your business plan to the smallest details, collaborate with people and organizations, which have the strengths and skills that you or your company might be lacking. That is how you can start building up your team. Only by preparedness you will be able to anticipate the changes in the market and be ready to react to these changes in your business plans.

Stay posted for more Power Panels organized by Career 2.0 (coming to DC soon) and a follow-up event in NYC with Economic Ventures.

Nichole Montoya: “Nacho” Ordinary Payment System

Nichole Montoya and Molly DiCarlo at National PTA EventAccording to the Urban Dictionary, the go-to source for the definition of all terms hip and cool (or in our case, slang we hear our kids using) to “Cheddar Up” is “to gain money through legal or illegal means.” As in “Man, I gotta get my hustle on and cheddar-up.” No small irony then that two moms in Colorado, by way of the Iowa and Nebraska plains, should settle on Cheddar Up for the name of their venture, the latest and most innovative arrival to the stage of group payments.

“Every time she hears me explain that ‘cheddar’ is slang for money, my co-founder Molly can’t keep a straight face. There is just something about two moms, handing out cheese cubes and company flyers at a school carnival that doesn’t scream Jay-Z,” laughs Nichole Montoya. (more…)

Calee Blanchard: Leaving Teaching to Test Her Talents

Calee Blanchard at the DeskCalee Blanchard thought she had finally worked her way up to her dream job of teaching literacy in elementary school. She had taught abroad, taught students with special needs, acted as a resource teacher, and was now teaching reading to small groups of first graders in Nova Scotia, Canada. She had thought, at one point, that it was just where she wanted to be.

The problem was that as much as Blanchard enjoyed teaching, there were aspects of it that she just couldn’t embrace. After ten years she found that while she loved working with the kids she didn’t like the strictures of teaching. She didn’t like the fact that no matter how hard she worked and honed her skills, the job itself didn’t change much, and there was little to distinguish the hardest working teachers from their less motivated peers.

“I worked my butt off and thought I was a good teacher, but you might be standing next to someone who hated what they were doing and you’re both regarded in the same way,” she recalls.

Calee Blanchard iMac-27All that changed in 2014, when Blanchard decided she needed to make a change. Blanchard’s friend, Katelyn Bourgoin, was in the early development stages of an innovative new idea and suggested that Blanchard would make a great partner. Blanchard had done some volunteer work with Bourgoin and clearly saw the possibilities for herself and the new company. So Blanchard quit her teaching job and together they launched Vendeve, an online marketplace that allows women to buy, sell, or swap services based on their own skills. It is, as far as they know, the world’s only skills marketplace for women.

Blanchard knew when she left teaching that she was stepping into a completely different world, but it was these differences that intrigued her. “The coolest thing is that as a teacher your pay is based on a set number of hours, and no matter how hard you work or how many extra hours you put in, the pay stays the same. In my new world, it’s all about results; it’s all based on talent and hustle. If you work really hard and are good at what you do, it pays off. The energy that I’m surrounded by now is amazing.”

“As founders, we have to be super organized and wear all the hats to get all the jobs done. As we grow, we may be able to specialize more. But you have to get your hands dirty. Luckily, we’re realizing that as women we’re pretty good at everything.”

There is a simple vetting system required to become a member of Vendeve, after which a member is able to set up a profile offering their skills, and if Calee Blanchard Offersthey wish, requesting the skills or services they are hoping to find. The services offered are richly varied – logo design, nutritional counseling, interior decorating, legal services, and proofreading are but a few of the offerings. Some services, like hair cuts or personal massage, require that both parties live in the same area, while many can be exchanged virtually anywhere in the world. Members can choose whether they wish to sell or swap their service.

Blanchard, listed as Vendeve’s COO and co-founder, refers to herself as the yin to Bourgoin’s yang. “Katelyn is definitely our spokesperson; she excels at sharing our ideas and vision, and I love the behind the scenes execution. It’s a great balance —  she’s the maker and I’m the doer.”

Coming from a teaching background there were definitely some adjustments that Blanchard needed to make. “In teaching you often have to work solo. But now, collaboration is huge and at times I have to push myself to get out of my comfort zone. I am an introvert by nature. But I’ve learned that putting your ideas out there, making yourself a bit vulnerable, is what takes you places.”

Calee Blanchard Black and White
Vendeve co-founder, Katelyn Bourgin

And Vendeve is going places. They have four employees currently on their team and are looking to add a fifth. They have secured funds from angel investors and are in final negotiations with a venture capitalist firm. And, in just a few short months, they’ve enrolled close to 2000 members in over 18 countries.

“Sometimes fundraising and financing can be frustrating because it takes us away from other things we’d like to prioritize, but it’s a necessary part of the process,” Blanchard says. In the interest of raising capital they’ve hosted investor nights, participated in Launch 36, an accelerator program, and perfected their pitch.

“As founders, we have to be super organized and wear all the hats to get all the jobs done. As we grow, we may be able to specialize more. But you have to get your hands dirty. Luckily, we’re realizing that as women we’re pretty good at everything.

“Sometimes it feels like things are going slowly but then we look back and we’re like ‘Holy crap, we have really come far.’ We can actually just log onto our page and see the results right in front of us, the things we were just thinking about that are now reality.  We are right on target or even ahead, so we’re pretty proud of what we’ve accomplished. It’s only been a few months and we have come a long, long way.”

Think Vendeve sounds intriguing?  Interested in learning more? Calee and Katelyn would like to offer Career 2.0 readers full and instant access to Vendeve so you can check it out for yourself. Just go to Vendeve and enter Invite Code C2.0Passion.

Tips from Calee Blanchard
  • You have to have the right mindset for a start-up. You need to be stubborn and competitive and keep pushing forward.
  • Stop thinking about it, dreaming about it, reading about it. Take the plunge.
  • Share your ideas and get feedback. Ask for things. It’s amazing what can come from being direct. And offer help in return; it has to flow both ways.
  • The best advice we got from an adviser was this: When you pitch, share the big-picture vision of where you want to go. Don’t frame your pitch based on where you are now; it should be about your dream and where you hope to be – your vision. That made all the difference for us.

One-on-One With Alicia Syrett, Angel Investor and Start-Up Advisor

squareAlicia Syrett is the Founder and CEO of Pantegrion Capital, an angel investment vehicle focused on seed and early stage investments. She serves on the Board of NY Angels as the Chairman of the Board of HeTexted and her past and present advisory board roles include Enerknol, iFunding, Cuipo, The Pitch Deck, Beauty Booked, Cissé Trading Co. and Willa. A recurring panelist on CNBC’s PowerPitch, Alicia was voted one of Wharton’s “40 Under 40” young alumni and has been featured on Fox, MSNBC, Inc, Associated Press, Huffington Post, and USA Today, among others. She mentors start-ups and students alike and is a member of Women Corporate Directors. 

(more…)

CJ Scarlet: What Doesn’t Kill You Helps You Change the World

CJ color 5At 15 years of age, CJ Scarlet won the title Miss Optimist in a local competition. In the intervening 39 years, that optimism has been sorely tested, but today she is once again the reigning queen of positivity. The 54-year-old is out to change the world by reducing violent crime using technology and she believes – as do many around her – she’s got a pretty good chance of succeeding.

Following a brief but memorable career as a Sonic Drive-In carhop on roller skates, Scarlet joined the US forest service straight out of high school. She returned home to attend college but dropped out after an event that would forever change the course of her life.

“Although there was no a term for it back then, I was date-raped. He was a sheriff’s deputy and it was our second date. He told me no one would be believe me and, 19 years at the time, I believed him. I didn’t tell anyone; I felt so ashamed and blamed myself,” Scarlet recalls.

CJ in cammies with M16
CJ in cammies with M16

Needing to get as far away from Arkansas as possible, she joined the Marines as a photojournalist. “My father, brothers, and brother-in-law were all marines so I wanted to show them how it was done,” Scarlet jokes. She served for five years before moving to Virginia to work for two NGOs consecutively while attending university. A BA in political science was followed by a Masters in humanities with an emphasis on human violence.

“As an undergrad, I was on the board of the Rape Crisis Center of Virginia. I started working through the trauma of what had happened to me and recognized my story was the story of so many women; it was happening to women everywhere. I started to develop a deep passion for protecting people from violence and crime.”

After graduate school, Scarlet moved from Virginia to North Carolina and became Executive Director of Kids First, an agency supporting child abuse victims and their families, before taking a position as Director of Victims’ Issues for the Attorney General’s Office in Raleigh.

It was there that Scarlet made her mark launching the Commission that designed the Statewide Automated Victim Assistance and Notification System, which alerts crime victims before their perpetrators are released from custody. Over the years, she worked with hundreds of assault victims, but her achievements came with a price.

A decade earlier, Scarlet had been diagnosed with lupus, an auto-immune disease, and had been managing it but, compounded by stress, she got so ill she had to stop working.

“After three years, I burned out. I was tired of being there for victims after the violence had occurred. My health went downhill. I had to crawl on my ands and knees to go upstairs and couldn’t even turn a door knob or hold a hairbrush,” she recalls.

CJ with family
Ode to Joy: CJ and her sons

The next years were dark ones for Scarlet. Doctors told her she was going to die, and, not surprisingly, she withdrew into herself and suffered from depression and severe anxiety. A turning point finally emerged when she met a Tibetan Buddhist lama, a last resort for her at that time.

“I told him my tale of woe and that’s when I learned lamas don’t do drama,” Scarlet laughs. “He very kindly but very sternly told me stop feel sorry for myself and think of the happiness of other people. I replied, ‘I can’t even take care of myself, let alone anyone else,’ but he repeated my mission and sent me on my way.”

It started that very day when an ambulance rushed by and she wished that whoever was inside would find help and healing. Scarlet made her goal reasonable and decided to do one small act of kindness each day, such as letting people get in front of her in traffic or in the checkout line at the grocery store.

“They were little things that cost no time or effort but it felt so good. I didn’t realize it at the time, but with every act of kindness, I was a getting a rush of pain-reducing endorphins and mood-boosting serotonin, and healing my body from the inside out. After 18 months, I reached a point where I was so filled with happiness that it didn’t matter if I was sick or dying.”

To her doctor’s amazement, her lupus went into remission.

CJ with pin hi resIn 2009, feeling like a new person, Scarlet returned to work and launched an international coaching business with two partners. Unfortunately, with the downturn in the economy it was not the best time to seek clients and, after four years, they closed shop. Just as she was winding down her business, she read Abundance, the Future is Better Than You Think It Is, which discussed how technology could be used to address poverty, climate change, and other human challenges.

“I was so inspired. I tried to think what I could do to impact people’s lives. Although it kept popping up, I repressed my criminal justice background because I had gotten so burned out. But it dawned on me I could use technology to keep violence and crime from happening rather than applying it after the fact.”

Thinking of her own experience and that of other rape victims, she brainstormed what could have made a difference and developed the idea for the Tiger Eye Security Sensor, TESS for short. TESS is a wearable security device the size and weight of a quarter that looks like a decorative pin. Voice activated, TESS records audio and photographic evidence, sending it to the cloud, while alerting a monitoring security service of the crime and sending a GPS signal of the victim’s location. It’s like a portable home security system.

“What I love about TESS is that it provides actionable evidence. There won’t be any of this ‘he said, she said’ and women will have the courage to comeTESS forward because their word can no longer be doubted. And they won’t have to go through what I went through,” Scarlet explains.

Starting solo, Scarlet quickly built a team around her to implement the tech solution and develop a prototype. She bootstrapped until small angel investors came on board and she was able to hire a CEO. Her innovation was recently recognized when she was invited as one of 15 finalists from around the US to pitch in the Small Business Administration’s InnovateHER business plan challenge. And although she didn’t win, Scarlet is 100% confident she’ll be able to commercialize TESS on the market in 2016.

“I just feel like I am doing what I was put on this earth to do. I still have health issues and lupus but I don’t ‘suffer’ from it anymore. I don’t suffer from the assault either. I don’t see these things as stumbling blocks but rather stepping stones that got me to where I am today and put me in a position to help other people. And now that I’ve finally got the chance to do that, I’m not going to stop until I succeed.”

Tips from CJ Scarlet
  • Surround yourself with the right people. I wish I had recognized earlier that I’m a great visionary but a terrible manager. You can’t be afraid to hire people who are smarter than you are, or who have skills that you don’t.
  • Financing is a huge challenge. Almost every business starts out by being “bootstrapped” by the founders until you can build the product or company to a point that investors want to get on board. Surviving until you get to that point is probably the toughest and most common challenge faced by companies, but you have to hang in there if you want to succeed.
  • Dream bigger. Only three percent of women-owned businesses achieve $1 million in revenues. If you plan big from the start, you will be more likely to achieve your business and financial goals than if you think small.
  • Don’t be afraid to change the world. Humanity is facing huge challenges and we need people who have the courage and determination to solve them.

Marlo Scott: The Sweetest Revenge is Just Being Happy

Marlo Scott

Everyone’s job stinks from time to time, but if you find absolutely no joy in what you do then it’s time to get out. Some of us are lucky and can do this sooner rather than later but others, like Marlo Scott, bide their time, planning and preparing for the day when they can bust out of the toxic work environment once and for all.

“I spent seven years in a hostile industry. The media business is full of bully bosses, but this was only fuel for me to figure out how to work for myself. When I was passed over for a promotion that I should have gotten, I swore I would get my sweet revenge on my bad boss. It was only a matter of when.” (more…)

Lisa Crites: Helping Mastectomy Patients Feel Better and Heal Faster

Lisa Crites

In her 30s, shortly after getting married, Lisa Crites lost her mother in a car accident. She was devastated and sank into a severe depression. At the time, she wanted to reach out to other women who lost their mothers tragically but it was too difficult. A decade later, she felt the same helplessness when diagnosed with breast cancer, but on that occasion she decided to take control of the situation and user her experience to help others.

“When my mother died, I never found a platform to help others but equally I didn’t have the strength to do it. When I was diagnosed with cancer, although I had no control over the cancer in my body, I did have control over how I could use what I was going through to make life better for other women. By developing the Shower Shirt I was not only helping others, I was helping myself.” (more…)

Sumeera Rasul: For the Love of Handmade

unnamed (4)Sumeera Rasul was raised with an appreciation for all things handmade. In her native Pakistan, her father made his living exporting handmade furniture and clothing, and her grandmother taught sewing, knitting, and embroidery to underprivileged girls.

“We grew up around that; it was part of our culture,” Rasul says. “We were always watching my grandmother and learning from her. We had respect for people who work with their hands, as well as for the quality of the things they made. I remember my grandmother looking at certain textiles and saying ‘No, I don’t want that, it’s machine-made.’ To her that meant it wasn’t of good quality. Something made by hand, even with imperfections, feels so much more valuable.”

Throughout the years, Rasul never lost that appreciation for handmade items or the people who make them. (more…)

How to Counteract your Brain Wiring During a Career Change: Part 2

This is Part 2 of an earlier contribution from Career and Leadership Coach, Rebecca Dallek.

Rebecca DallekMost mid-lifers will remember the commercial put out by Nancy Regan’s “Just say no” campaign.  It showed a “normal” brain and then showed an egg cracked on a hot pan and said “this is your brain on drugs.”

At that time Scientists believed the only way to the change the brain was through surgery, injury, or harm by medications and drugs.

Let’s start by saying I’m no neuroscientist.  I’ve read, attended lectures and talked to experts enough to know that your brain plays a huge role in your career change or lack of change, for that matter.

What qualities do career changers possess?  They are usually risk takers, they are willing to go out on a limb, experience failure and have the grit to keep going, they leave the house in pursuit of something.

Notice that I didn’t say they were smart, outgoing, witty, magnetic, well-educated or rich.

All of the qualities I described for career changers are not necessarily innate. They can easily be developed and honed through experience and repetition.

This is where the brain comes into play.  Scientists used to believe that that brain was static.  Our synapses were in place and set for life by the time we reached our adult years.  Attempting to change behavior or routines were really about overcoming our brain. (more…)

Countdown to the Final Pitch: National Business Challenge Aims to Make a Difference in Women’s Lives

shutterstock_122837833

Update 8th May, 2015: the SBA has announced winners of the InnovateHER competition: 1st place went to Lia Diagnostics, 2nd to The Shower Shirt, and 3rd to Trusst Lingerie.  Congratulations!

Most of us are familiar with The Shark Tank, the ABC business pitch reality show that gave entrepreneurship a shot in the arm, fueling the desire in many to quit that staid job, launch their own business, and of course become millionaires. But let’s face it, only a select few will ever get the chance to face The Sharks, and frankly, it’s not for everyone. But clearly there is an appetite for business challenges as they have burgeoned in number, extending far beyond their traditional space on college campuses, with more serious participants competing for bigger prizes. So numerous are these business plan competitions there is even a website dedicated to tracking them. (more…)

Lyndsey DePalma: Working to Create a Space to Relax

Lyndsey DePalmaAlthough it’s hard to pinpoint the exact reason that Lyndsey Clutteur DePalma decided to open a tea shop, it could have been her great-grandmother Agnes, with her lifelong love of tea and appreciation for its medicinal benefits, who planted the seed.  Or it might have been DePalma’s own longing for a space for tea drinkers to relax in a world overrun by coffee shops. Or maybe it was the fact that she was turning 30 and did not relish the idea of a lifetime in human resources at a big four accounting firm.

DePalma majored in biology as an undergrad but realized about halfway through that while she did like biology, she couldn’t imagine herself working in a lab. After graduation, a friend helped her get a job at PricewaterhouseCoopers, where she started in an entry-level administrative role. She was soon moved to the human resources department and from there worked her way through the ranks to become an HR manager. She stayed for nearly eight years.

A few years into her job she decided to go back to school part-time to get her MBA. She didn’t have any particular goal in mind at the time; she just wanted to become more business savvy and thought the degree could be useful in her career. But as she pored over the business plans of so many others as part of her MBA classes, the idea slowly began to take root that perhaps she shouldn’t just be studying other people’s business plans but actually writing one of her own. She’d always had the idea in the back of her mind of opening a tea shop, so she decided that maybe, just as an exercise, she would write a business plan. “And that’s when it all kind of came together,” she says. (more…)