Business 22 May 2017
Ever had a business idea so good it hit you like a ton of bricks, because you realized there was no way you'd raise the money for this crazy venture?
You're not alone. There are thousands of women who've had the same thought - "I just can't gather that kind of capital." Business is so competitive and fundraising is one of the scariest things you'll ever do as an entrepreneur, so naturally people shy away from the prospect.
And of course as a woman, you're not approaching VC's on a level playing field. It's statistically proven women have a tougher time securing funding from investors than men, thus adding to that scary fundraising nature. Karen Cahn, CEO and founder of crowdfunding resource for women, iFundWomen, recognized the gender gap in the fundraising game and decided to do something about it.
iFundWomen is a useful resource and tool for women looking to start a business but not ready to begin reaching out to big firms for capital. Crowdfunding is an inexpensive way to navigate the beginnings of a new business and has been put to great use by many entrepreneurs SWAAY has featured since we began telling these incredible entrepreneurial stories. Below we talked to Karen about why it's vital to have such a platform as iFundWomen in today's business sphere and how women can get their pet projects off the ground with some smart crowdfunding.
1. What is iFundWomen and what problem are you solving?
iFundWomen is a crowdfunding platform built exclusively for women-led startups and small businesses. Our platform was created in response to the very real funding and confidence gap that female business owners are faced with. It's a massive problem that only 2-6% of venture dollars go to women and we are committed to doing something about that.
2. Are all crowdfunding platforms created equal? How does one choose?
If you are a female entrepreneur who is looking to raise capital for your business, iFundWomen is the right platform for you, plain and simple. iFundWomen is unique in very important ways. First, we address the confidence gap that women entrepreneurs face with crowdfunding coaching for anyone who needs it. Second, we help women tell the story of their businesses through professionally-produced videos. Women typically don't like to promote themselves, so we are helping them get their story across. Another way in which iFundWomen is different is through our pay-it-forward model where we directly reinvest 20% of profits from standard fees into live campaigns on the site, which creates a virtuous cycle of funding for all.
3. Many founders are afraid of crowdfunding. What do you attribute that to?
Crowdfunding is a lot of work and we know that first hand. Our team successfully crowdfunded for our startup last year and it was through that experience that we discovered just how laborious the whole process is. We also found that there was very little guidance offered as we prepared and carried out our campaign. I think women in particular are hesitant to crowdfund because they bear the burden of the confidence gap. As I mentioned, women don't as readily promote themselves or their businesses among their friends, family and followers (their “FFF's"). Having the support of your FFF's is crucial to a successful campaign.
You have to get out there and be the face of your brand or idea. Furthermore, you often have to make a video to support your crowdfunding efforts and that can be a really daunting task for many people. iFundWomen's mission is to provide all the services and guidance possible to help women overcome this confidence gap and successfully crowdfund for their businesses.
4. Does crowdfunding interfere with raising capital from VCS or investors?
Quite the opposite. Crowdfunding is quickly becoming the means to a future round of investment for your business. More and more VC's and investors want to see that you have a successful crowdfunding campaign under your belt before they will even consider investing in your company. They want to know that there really is a need in the market that you are fulfilling with your business.
5. What are some tips you have for women looking to crowdfund?
Our number one piece of advice to women looking to crowdfund is to round up those FFF's before you launch a crowdfunding campaign. It is imperative that you have a network of supporters lined up so the second your campaign goes live, you are inching towards your goal. The hard part is keeping that momentum up throughout your campaign, and that's where iFundWomen's coaching services can be immensely helpful.
6. What advice do you give a founder whose crowdfunding campaign seems to have plateaued?
There comes a time in every crowdfunding campaign where you are confronted with the trough. The period where all those donations start to taper off and you start to panic at the thought of not reaching your campaign goal. This can happen multiple times throughout the length of a crowdfunding campaign. As exciting as it is to celebrate the highs during your campaign, it's equally as important to anticipate these lows. It's all about preparation and posting, constant contact with your network through email and social media is an absolute must. This means you need to be prepared with content for your updates so, for example, having new rewards to roll out during your campaign is a great reason to reach out to your supporters.
There's so much to say about the trough, but just remember that the trough is temporary and tomorrow is a brand new, potentially great day for your campaign!
I walk into a room full of men and I know exactly what they're thinking: "What does she know about whisky?"
I know this because many men have asked me that same question from the moment I started my career in spirits a decade ago.
In a male-dominated industry, I realized early on that I would always have to work harder than my male counterparts to prove my credibility, ability and knowledge in order to earn the trust of leadership stakeholders, coworkers, vendors and even consumers of our products. I am no stranger to hard work and appreciate that everyone needs to prove their worth when starting any career or role. What struck me however, was how the recognition and opportunities seemed to differ between genders. Women usually had to prove themselves before they were accepted and promoted ("do the work first and earn it"), whereas men often were more easily accepted and promoted on future potential. It seemed like their credibility was automatically and immediately assumed. Regardless of the challenges and adversity I faced, my focus was on proving my worth within the industry, and I know many other women were doing the same.
Thankfully, the industry has advanced in the last few years since those first uncomfortable meetings. The rooms I walk into are no longer filled with just men, and perceptions are starting to change significantly. There are more women than ever before making, educating, selling, marketing and conceptualizing whiskies and spirits of all kinds. Times are changing for the better and it's benefitting the industry overall, which is exciting to see.
For me, starting a career in the spirits business was a happy accident. Before spirits, I had worked in the hospitality industry and on the creative agency side. That background just happened to be what a spirits company was looking for at the time and thus began my journey in the industry. I was lucky that my gender did not play a deciding role in the hiring process, as I know that might not have been the case for everyone at that time.
Now, ten plus years later, I am fortunate to work for and lead one of the most renowned and prestigious Whisky brands in the world.. What was once an accident now feels like my destiny. The talent and skill that goes into the whisky-making process is what inspired me to come back and live and breathe those brands as if they were my own. It gave me a deep understanding and appreciation of an industry that although quite large, still has an incredible amount of handmade qualities and a specific and meticulous craft I have not seen in any other industry before. Of course, my journey has not been without challenges, but those obstacles have only continued to light my passion for the industry.
The good news is, we're on the right track. When you look at how many females hold roles in the spirits industry today compared to what it looked like 15 years ago, there has been a significant increase in both the number of women working and the types of roles women are hired for. From whisky makers and distillers to brand ambassadors and brand marketers, we're seeing more women in positions of influence and more spirits companies willing to stand up and provide a platform for women to make an impact. Many would likely be surprised to learn that one of our team's Whisky Makers is a woman. They might even be more surprised to learn that women, with a heightened sense of smell compared to our male counterparts, might actually be a better fit for the role! We're nowhere near equality, but the numbers are certainly improving.
It was recently reported by the Distilled Spirits Council that women today represent a large percentage of whisky drinkers and that has helped drive U.S. sales of distilled spirits to a record high in 2017. Today, women represent about 37% of the whisky drinkers in the United States, which is a large increase compared to the 1990s when a mere 15% of whisky drinkers were women. As for what's causing this change? I believe it's a mix of the acceptance of women to hold roles within the spirits industry partnered with thoughtful programs and initiatives to engage with female consumers.
While whisky was previously known for being a man's drink, reserved for after-dinner cigars behind closed doors, it is now out in the open and accessible for women to learn about and enjoy too.
What was once subculture is now becoming the norm and women are really breaking through and grabbing coveted roles in the spirits business. That said, it's up to the industry as a whole to continue to push it forward. When you work for a company that values diversity, you're afforded the opportunity to be who you are and let that benefit your business. Working under the model that the best brand initiatives come from passionate groups of people with diverse backgrounds, we are able to offer different points of view and challenge our full team to bring their best work forward, which in turn creates better experiences for our audience. We must continue to diversify the industry and break against the status quo if we really want to continue evolving.
While we've made great strides as an industry, there is still a lot of work to be done. To make a change and finally achieve gender equality in the workplace, both men and women need to stand behind the cause as we are better collectively as a balanced industry. We have proved that we have the ability to not only meet the bar, but to also raise it - now we just need everyone else to catch up.