This past weekend, I drove up to Michigan with a car full of women for a daylong spiritual retreat. My entire car was filled with female startup entrepreneurs.
During the drive, all five of us shared stories about our “war wounds”—bad business partners, bad press, bad exits, going broke, not raising enough money, failed technologies, gossip behind our backs—the lists were endless.
Because the simple truth is this: No one knows how to perfectly run a company, and no one talks about that.
And seeing as today is International Women’s Day, and we are celebrating ways to #BeBoldForChange, I found myself wanting to start a new conversation, like the honest, raw talk we had in the car. Because our boldness comes not from our wins as women and entrepreneurs, but from our losses…and our perseverance despite them.
Because, whether we like it or not, when it comes to media coverage and scrutiny for what women do and how we do it, we have a target on our backs. And it often says: Double Standard.
Let me give you an example.
We had an opportunity last week while launching the Fear Paradox, to make the exciting announcement that Sophia Amoruso was speaking at the event. At the same time, this WSJ article hit the media, putting a negative light on Sophia. Our publicist told us we should wait to let the media storm calm down before announcing Sophia, because that’s what we do, right? We wait for the scandal or negative attention to pass.
While I love my publicist and appreciated her pragmatism, it made my blood boil. This article ripped apart a company, NastyGal, that Sophia had taken years to build. Nowhere did it mention her infinite successes and the grit it took to get there; instead, it highlighted the toxic culture, the poor management and bad business decisions. Which made me irate.
The Bold Truth: There are various men-owned companies that have similar situations the media doesn’t harp on. Look what happened to American Apparel: It shut down its brick and mortars due to poor sales and had a male CEO accused of constantly sexually harassing its underage employees. Did it receive endless scrutiny? No. Take a look at Uber, which is currently being exposed for the sexual harassment issues internally (not to mention its multiple cases of drivers assaulting female riders). Its CEO just released a statement last week saying, “Sorry, I need to do a better job being a leader.” And then, the media moves on.
Being bold for change means changing that conversation. It’s about changing the narrative around our failures and deciding that the word “failure” is an asset in business, not a detriment. It seems we revere only the success story, not everything it took to get there.
I don’t know about you, but I know I would feel much safer and more excited to leap into the unknown and take risks knowing that other women—women we respect and admire—have been through the shitter too, only to have gotten back up and keep trucking in spite of criticism or setbacks.
That’s being bold. That’s being brave.
We have this idea that, to follow our passions, means to go after something singular. I want to be a businessperson, an entrepreneur, an artist, a musician, a writer! We put all our time and energy into this one thing, narrowing our scope to get there, when there are infinite avenues to get from point A to point B.
There’s no one way to succeed in business, or in life. So why do we put so much pressure on ourselves to land somewhere, instead of growing and changing and making mistakes?
Hear this, girlfriends:
Our first dream is not our last dream.
Our first idea is not our last idea.
Our first love is not our last. (Unless you married your high school sweetheart, in which case, that’s awesome.)
The next time you hear a huge success story or see someone get torn apart in the media, remember there’s a story you don’t know, a piece of the puzzle you haven’t heard.
Being bold really takes owning our stories—our entire stories—and using them to help empower those around us, as well as ourselves.
And we all have them. So let’s start telling those stories. Let’s start sharing those setbacks. Let’s take more risks. And fall harder. And celebrate the successes and failures. Let’s keep falling in love with what we do and realize there’s more than one way to complete the journey.
Above all else, let’s stay bold, even when we’re criticized, even when we’re scared.
Let’s keep the conversation real. It’s the boldest thing we can do.
Photo Credit: afewgoodclicks.com
In 2016, Renee Wang sold her home in Bejing for $500,000 to fund her company, CastBox. Two months later, she landed her first investment. Just a half hour after hearing her pitch, she was offered one million dollars. By mid-2017, CastBox raised a total of $16 million in funding. CastBox's user numbers at that point? Seven million. Fast forward to today. Renee Wang of CastBox announces a $13.5 million Series B round of financing, bringing her funding total to a tidy $29 million. CastBox is now serving more than 15 million users.