Starting your own company from scratch is difficult, regardless of your gender, sex, race or age. Theoretically, gender shouldn't matter when it comes to fundraising and getting your company off the ground, but female entrepreneurs unfortunately do experience different challenges than their male counterparts. I've seen just how skewed the funding process can be against women first-hand in my experience as the founder and CEO of Beautiac, a subscription-based makeup brush company I started in 2018.
As soon as I had the idea for Beautiac, I was excited to hit the ground running. I wanted to create a makeup brush that would prevent breakouts; as the solution, I designed an interchangeable makeup brush system. Customers get new brush heads in the mail every month, pop off the old ones and send them back to us for recycling. This concept had never been done before; it was quite a hectic period while I designed and sourced everything from scratch. I knew I needed capital to turn this dream into a reality, so I started the fundraising process ASAP.
Luckily, I was familiar with fundraising. Before Beautiac, I was the founder and CEO of a candle and home décor wholesale company, where I raised over $2 million to expand brand partnerships and retail channels. When I exited that role to start Beautiac, I was excited to get back in the swing of investor meetings, but I also knew to expect some ups and downs. After all, female founders collectively received $10 billion less in funding than the company Juul alone received in 2018. That's right. Let's say it louder for the people in the back: a vape company accused of causing a teen smoking epidemic received $10 billion more in funding than the hundreds of female entrepreneurs combined.
Given that, along with the nature of my product, I knew that explaining the nuances of makeup brushes to rooms full of men wasn't going to be easy. However, I also had something else to worry about: a growing baby bump. Don't get me wrong—I was overjoyed when I found out I was pregnant with my son. Fundraising while pregnant however, opened up a whole new can of worms, and I had a lot of anxiety about it. As a woman in a man's world, I was used to the subtle digs and implied biases, but nothing could have prepared me for the blatant sexism to come.
While speaking with potential investors, I would constantly be asked whether my pregnancy would impact my vision and abilities as an entrepreneur or how I was going to manage both an infant and a startup. I've even sat across the table from a potential investor who said "We would be interested… but given the state your in, we're going to pass," while gesturing at my large belly. Every encounter like that left me incredulous, but nevertheless I persisted. The key is to find investors who not only believe in your brand and in you as a founder, but also in you as a person. Business partners who respect and celebrate every aspect of your life—not just your company—are the partners you want. Sometimes, that means walking away from a check. Turning down cash is hard, but you'll never regret standing up against biased behavior, and in my case, standing up for the desire to have a family and be an entrepreneur at the same time.
Admittedly, there were a few times when I got worried and asked myself, "Should I really be doing this? Are they right?" To doubt yourself is to be human, but don't let a little doubt deter you. Throughout my experience, I used my pregnancy to fuel my passion for Beautiac even more. It's hard to be in a position where you constantly feel the need to prove something, change peoples' minds and change the way something is thought about. It feels like a nearly impossible task and it's exhausting. Someone once said to me, "just show up every day, and every day thereafter, and every day after that." By showing up time and time again, you break down barriers and prove to people just how serious you really are. I subscribe to that method in my life with almost everything I throw myself into. I just keep showing up!
I took Beautiac from concept to consumer launch in just nine months, raising a $750,000 seed round along the way. Incredibly, it was the exact same time frame I was pregnant. In fact, I was in labor only two days after we began officially shipping Beautiac kits to our first customers! I was able to do this balancing act because I work with investors who understand the vision of Beautiac and support me as a founder, CEO and mother. And as Beautiac is fundraising again, I've become even more confident in my role as both a mom and an entrepreneur. There's no place for sexism or bias in my company. We celebrate all women, all people, and all stages of life, encouraging everyone to dream big and be at their best each day.
I'm looking forward to instilling those Beautiac values in my son as he comes of age and to everyone else the Beautiac brand touches. Because together, when united, we can be a powerful catalyst—making this world a more open-minded, caring and supportive place. A place where women are not just included but are actually thriving in their roles and sought after because of their amazing talent and skill sets, which are often developed by being moms with undeniable perseverance. A woman who is determined is a powerful force, one that is unstoppable.
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During a recent meeting on Microsoft Teams, I couldn't seem to get a single word out.
When I tried to chime in, I kept getting interrupted. At one point two individuals talked right over me and over each other. When I thought it was finally my turn, someone else parachuted in from out of nowhere. When I raised and waved my hand as if I was in grade school to be called on (yes, I had my camera on) we swiftly moved on to the next topic. And then, completely frustrated, I stayed on mute for the remainder of the meeting. I even momentarily shut off my camera to devour the rest of my heavily bruised, brown banana. (No one needed to see that.)
This wasn't the first time I had struggled to find my voice. Since elementary school, I always preferring the back seat unless the teacher assigned me a seat in the front. In high school, I did piles of extra credit or mini-reports to offset my 0% in class participation. In college, I went into each lecture nauseous and with wasted prayers — wishing and hoping that I wouldn't be cold-called on by the professor.
By the time I got to Corporate America, it was clear that if I wanted to lead, I needed to pull my chair up (and sometimes bring my own), sit right at the table front and center, and ask for others to make space for me. From then on, I found my voice and never stop using it.
But now, all of a sudden, in this forced social experiment of mass remote working, I was having trouble being heard… again. None of the coaching I had given myself and other women on finding your voice seemed to work when my voice was being projected across a conference call and not a conference room.
I couldn't read any body language. I couldn't see if others were about to jump in and I should wait or if it was my time to speak. They couldn't see if I had something to say. For our Microsoft teams setting, you can only see a few faces on your screen, the rest are icons at the bottom of the window with a static picture or even just their name. And, even then, I couldn't see some people simply because they wouldn't turn their cameras on.
If I did get a chance to speak and cracked a funny joke, well, I didn't hear any laughing. Most people were on mute. Or maybe the joke wasn't that funny?
At one point, I could hear some heavy breathing and the unwrapping of (what I could only assume was) a candy bar. I imagined it was a Nestle Crunch Bar as my tummy rumbled in response to the crinkling of unwrapped candy. (There is a right and a wrong time to mute, people.)
At another point, I did see one face nodding at me blankly.
They say that remote working will be good for women. They say it will level the playing field. They say it will be more inclusive. But it won't be for me and others if I don't speak up now.
- Start with turning your camera on and encouraging others to do the same. I was recently in a two-person meeting. My camera was on, but the other person wouldn't turn theirs on. In that case, ten minutes in, I turned my camera off. You can't stare at my fuzzy eyebrows and my pile of laundry in the background if I can't do the same to you. When you have a willing participant, you'd be surprised by how helpful it can be to make actual eye contact with someone, even on a computer (and despite the fuzzy eyebrows).
- Use the chatbox. Enter in your questions. Enter in your comments. Dialogue back and forth. Type in a joke. I did that recently and someone entered back a laughing face — reaffirming that I was, indeed, funny.
- Designate a facilitator for the meeting: someone leading, coaching, and guiding. On my most recent call, a leader went around ensuring everyone was able to contribute fairly. She also ensured she asked for feedback on a specific topic and helped move the discussion around so no one person took up all the airtime.
- Unmute yourself. Please don't just sit there on mute for the entire meeting. Jump in and speak up. You will be interrupted. You will interrupt others. But don't get frustrated or discouraged — this is what work is now — just keep showing up and contributing.
- Smile, and smile big. Nod your head in agreement. Laugh. Give a thumbs up; give two! Wave. Make a heart with your hands. Signal to others on the call who are contributing that you support and value them. They will do the same in return when your turn comes to contribute.
It's too easy to keep your camera turned off. It's too easy to stay on mute. It's too easy to disappear. But now is not the time to disappear. Now is the time to stay engaged and networked within our organizations and communities.
So please don't put yourself on mute.
Well, actually, please do put yourself on mute so I don't have to hear your heavy breathing, candy bar crunching, or tinkling bathroom break.
But after that, please take yourself off mute so you can reclaim your seat (and your voice) at the table.