Business 09 January 2020
One hundred and seventeen times, that's the number of times I've been rejected for funding while pitching my business, soona, to banks, angel investors and venture capitalists.
When you start a company, one of the most ubiquitous pieces of advice you'll receive is "learn how to have thick skin." It's common advice, because it's true. Every successful entrepreneur learns to grow comfortable in a suit of armor the way most millennials have embraced athleisure as the new business casual. It's the only way to put up with the inevitable deluge of rejection that comes in service to the pursuit of a dream.
And yet, being rejected 117 times barely registers an emotional reaction for me compared to the handful of times my gender played a role in raising money for my business.
When my cofounder, Hayley Anderson, and I first dreamed up our business, we thought about the potential of our shared dreams. Soona studios in every major city! Brands being able to get professional video the same day they shot it! The internet being eradicated of stock content! Every day, we suit up to pursue our mission to make professional photo and video affordable for all with our $39 photos and $93 video clips. We opened our first studio store in Denver in the spring of 2019 and launched our second in Minneapolis that summer. Our online-only product, soona anytime, gives brands access to our services through our real-time, remote platform.
And while building soona has been one of the most amazing journeys in my career, there are lots of things that can go wrong in a startup.
Pictured: Elizabeth Giorgi on set
In the winter of 2019 as we were preparing to launch and in the thick of early fundraising conversations, I found myself crying on the floor of our AirBnB between fundraising meetings. The cause? I was being harassed and had just received a lewd text from a potential investor.
I wish I could tell you this was the first and only instance of sexual harassment in my entrepreneurial career, but it wasn't. However, it was the catalyzing event that inspired me to think differently about the ways in which we could advance feminism while pursuing our startup. And one of those became the Candor Clause.
The Candor Clause is an open-source legal disclosure that is to be included in the Representations and Warranties portion of a financing agreement. It's a simple two paragraphs, not much longer than a tweet. But it is a powerful 150 words. The clause outlines that all parties are required to disclose any instances of sexual harassment, sexual assault or otherwise gender-based discrimination. Failure to disclose provides the business the ability to buy the other party out of the company at the price they paid during the initial financing.
This is important for two reasons:
1. It Generates Radical Conversations Between Founders and Investors
With this disclosure requirement, we can have an open, candid dialogue as founders and investors about how we want to do business at the very earliest stage of the relationship. In introducing the clause to our lead investors, we were able to share very clearly what we value as founders and our shared expectations about diversity, equality and general fairness. It also provides a clear opportunity to create advocates and champions out of investors, the vast majority of whom are men. Each of these conversations is an invitation to do better, be better and treat each other better.
2. It Makes it Clear to Perpetrators That There Will be Consequences
When someone is a victim in these types of situations, the onus is often on the victim to take on the legal, financial and personal strain of resolving it. By requiring a disclosure at the very earliest part of a business relationship, we are creating a clear standard. This is critical for removing barriers to a possible resolution in the future. By including the Candor Clause, it also sets a tone for how we will approach any future issues.
This year, of the companies that receive venture capital backing, only 2% of those companies will have a female founder. This is a statistic that has held strong for 13 years. Meanwhile, women are founding companies at record rates. The math doesn't add up, and it's critical that we start taking action from all sides.
Modern feminism is a commercial opportunity. Hashtag enamel pins and sloganed t-shirts targeted to women on Instagram are a step toward advancing the cause. But let's get real: we aren't going to get anywhere real with feminism as a fashion statement. It's my belief that making meaningful progress is the necessary though unglamorous work that no one pays attention to.
The opportunities to change the world are in the innocuous moments during the transactions of modern life and business. To paint a picture: the fight for equality might just be about getting the right words in the fine print.
The day I received a term sheet from our first venture investors, I remember feeling validated in a way that erased all the rejections that came before it. Much of the journey of building your business is surviving the process.
But what I recall even more clearly about that day was the way my stomach turned when the fund partner and I sat down for a chat to discuss the terms. I knew I had to bring up the Candor Clause. It was non-standard legal language. It was going to come up with the attorneys—might as well get ahead of it.
"Yeah, no duh. It's a great idea. We can include it. Now, onto timeline," he said.
It was, and still is, the only time in my life when being told "no duh," felt so good.
Great business ideas eventually find the right backers. Great founders eventually find their circle of cheerleaders. And it's now my firm conviction that great investors are realizing that the best investments are in people of character and bravery.
Today, when people ask me what impact the Candor Clause has had on my ability to raise funding, I am proud to say that it 100% has not impacted my ability to attract investment interest. And what it has prevented has been well worth it. I haven't been harassed or treated improperly as a woman during this round of financing.
The Candor Clause is open source and available for download at candorclause.com. Those interested in using it should visit our website for step-by-step instructions on how to navigate the inclusion of the clause with investors and legal advisors.
6 Min Read
Motherhood, no matter how you slice or dice it, is never easy. Running after small children, feeding them, tending to their physical and emotional wounds, and just taking the time to shower them with love— that's a lifetime of internal resources. Now add a job on top of all of that? Geez. We spoke to 14 working mothers to get an open, honest look at the biggest day-to-day challenges they face, because despite what Instagram portrays, it's not all dresses on swingsets, heels, and flawless makeup.
1. “Motherhood in general is hard," shares Rachel Costello. “It's a complete upheaval of life as you once knew it. I have a 22-month-old due any minute and a baby. The hardest part is being pregnant with a toddler — chasing, wrangling, etc., all while tired, nauseous, and achey. Then the guilt sets in. The emotional roller coaster punctuated by hormones when you look at your baby, the first born, knowing that their life is about to be changed."
2. “I'm a work-from-home mom," shares Jene Luciano of TheGetItMom.com. “I have two children and two stepchildren. The hardest part about parenting for me is being the best mom I can be to someone else's children."
3. “I joined the Air Force at 18 and had my first child at 20," tells female power house Robyn Schenker Ruffo. “I had my second baby at 23. Working everyday, pumping at work and breastfeeding at lunch time at the base, home day care was rough. Being away from my babies during the day took a toll on me— especially the single mom days when they were toddlers. I had a great support system of friends and military camaraderie. The worst was being deployed when they were 6 months old, yes both, and I was gone for 90 days. Not seeing them every night was so depressing."
4. “Physically, the hardest part of the parenting experience (and so far, I'm only six months in with twins) was adjusting to the lack of sleep in the very beginning," shares Lauren Carasso. “Emotionally, the hardest part is going to work everyday with anxiety that I'm going to miss one of the twins' firsts or other milestones. I know they are in good care but potentially missing those special moments weighs heavy on my heart when I walk out the door each morning," she continues.
5. “The hardest part of being a parent is social media, actually," says Marina Levin. “Shutting out the judgmental sanctimommy noise and just doing what works best for you and your family in a given moment."
6. “Trying to raise a healthy, happy, confident and self-respecting girl, when I'm not a consistent example of those qualities is the hardest for me," explains Adrienne Wright. “Before motherhood I was a pretty secure woman, and I thought passing that onto my daughter would be a piece of cake. But in the age of social media where women are constantly ripping each other to shreds for the way they raise their kids, it's nearly impossible to feel confident all of the time. Nursing vs. formula, working vs. stay at home, vax vs. anti-vax, to circumcise vs. not, nanny vs. daycare— the list goes on and on. We're all doing the best we can with the resources we have. We should empower each other to feel confident in the decisions we make for our families."
7. “The hardest part is the sense of responsibility and worrying that comes along with it," says Orly Kagan. “Am I feeding my kids properly? Are they getting too much screen time? Are they getting enough attention and love? Are they developing as they should be? It goes on and on and on."
8. “For me, by far the hardest part of motherhood has been managing my own guilt. As many triumphant moments as there may be, the moments when I feel like I did badly or could have done better always stick out," confesses Julie Burke.
9. “Balancing work and doing all the mom things and all the home things and all the husband things are not the hardest part of motherhood (for me, anyway)," shares Zlata Faerman. “The hardest part of motherhood is trying to figure out just how to deal with the amount of love I have for my son. It can be super overwhelming and I'm either alone in this sentiment, or not enough moms talk about it."
10. “The hardest part for me is giving things up," shares Stacey Feintuch. “I have two boys, an almost 3-year-old and almost 7-year-old. I have to miss my older one's sports so I can watch the little guy while he naps or watch him at home since he will just run on the field. I hate that other parents can go to games and I can't. I also really miss going out to dinner. My older one can eat out but we rarely eat out since my younger one is a runner!"
11. “I think if I'm going to be completely real, the hardest part to date has been realIzing that I chose this life," shares Lora Jackle, a now married but formerly single mom to a special needs child. “I chose to foster and then adopt special needs, as opposed to many parents who find out about the special needs after their child is born. It's still okay to grieve it sometimes. It's still okay to hate it sometimes and 'escape' to work."
12. “I'm a work-at-home mother doing proofreading and teaching 10-20 hours a week. The hardest part for me is not yelling. I took the 30-Day No Yelling Challenge and kept having to restart. I love my kids, don't get me wrong," says Michelle Sydney, exemplifying the difficulty of balancing work with family.
13. “I'm a full-time working mom of a 2.5-year-old," shares Anna Spiewak. “I bring home equal pay, keep the apartment clean and take care of dinner. Still my male partner gets all the praise for being a good dad and basically sticking around. It's mainly from his side of the family, of course. What I do is taken for granted, even though I'm the one who still changes the diapers, bathes her and wakes up in the middle of the night on a work night when she cries. I wish all moms got credit for staying on top of things."
14. “I am a stay-at-home-mother and currently working full-time from home on my start-up clothing brand, Kindred Bravely," says Deeanne Akerson, founder of Kindred Bravely, a fashion line devoted to nursing, working mothers. “The hardest part of my parenting experience is the constant feeling of never doing quite enough. There is always more to do, meals to make, laundry to fold, kids that want my full attention, errands to run, or work in my business. And since there really always are more things to do it's easy to feel like you're failing on nearly every aspect of life!"
This piece was originally published July 18, 2018.