Natalie Egan, 40
Not many of us get to see what life is like on both sides of the gender divide, but for transgender activist and tech entrepreneur, Natalie Egan, that unique vantage point has sparked an inspiring business idea. To help combat harassment and prejudice for others, the brilliant innovator founded Translator, a game-changing software that helps increase workplace empathy. “There is a ripple effect,” says Egan. “If we can make someone a little more empathetic it can actually save someone’s life.”
1. What made you choose this career path? What has been your greatest achievement?
Since I was age 5, I remember being obsessed with solving problems and trying to start my own businesses. So of course, that became my career path––I am an entrepreneur! My current company, called Translator, is a B2B technology company dedicated to helping large organizations positively manage human interpersonal differences while fostering a more open and inclusive culture.
I started Translator based on my experience coming out as a transgender woman after spending the majority of my life as a white man with access, privilege, and resources. Long story short; I experienced bias, discrimination, and hatred for the first time and became obsessed with building a for-profit company that systematically promotes empathy and helps people be themselves. And while our ultimate vision at Translator is #EqualityForAll, my greatest achievement to date is just finally having the courage to be me.
2. What’s the biggest criticism/stereotype/judgement you’ve faced in your career?
Ironically, my whole life I was told I could ‘be’ or ‘do’ anything I wanted, except the one thing that I wanted most: to be a woman. When I was born, I was “assigned male at birth” by a doctor and a society that never took into account my unique identity, how I want to express myself, my goals and aspirations, or who I am inside. I am not angry about it. We didn’t know any better. But we know better now and I won’t stand for it anymore. Not for me. Not for anyone. No one should be held back from living their truth and being their authentic self because of a body part, a skin tone, an ability, a belief, or anything. In my opinion, we are all humans and all humans are created equally.
3. How did you #SWAAYthenarrative? What was the reaction by those who told you you “couldn’t” do it?
As a transgender woman, I now face stereotypes and challenges that I never experienced in my life. People openly and blatantly discriminate against me. Others refuse to look me in the eye or won’t sit next to me. They pull their children away from me when I enter the room. When I walk down the street I don’t know if I am going to be verbally or physically attacked. I am told that I am mentally sick or perverted and that I can't go to the bathroom. And these are just a few of the challenges I face navigating the real world––let alone pursuing my career dreams. But none of this slows me down anymore. When people doubt or judge me it actually make me stronger. I am no longer bound by the limitations of other people's expectations. When I first figured out I was transgender I was so scared, but I no longer see being trans as a weakness. It is now truly my competitive advantage. My experience and point of view gives me a mental toughness in the business world that very few people can match.
4. What did you learn through your personal journey?
For me, #SWAAYINGthenarrative was about taking the ultimate risk. What if I just tried it? What if I was just me?
The reality is that I was programed my whole life to believe that transgender people were somehow “less than” everyone else. So much so, that when I finally figured out I was trans, I nearly killed myself. I had lost everything at that point. My marriage was in shambles and I had been fired from the company that I started by the CEO that I put in. But suicide would have been the easy way out and put those that judged me in a position of power and control. The moment of clarity and opportunity came to me when I realized I had nothing else to lose. I thought to myself, who cares what other people think? I am just going to be me and see what happens.
5. What’s your number one piece of advice to women discouraged by preconceived notions and society’s limitations?
My advice to all women and all people in marginalized communities is the same: Just be you. Don’t be afraid. It isn’t going to be easy but when you do it and do it consistently and authentically, good things will happen. People will be drawn to you and people are portals of opportunity. You are never going to be or do everything you want by yourself, no matter how strong you are. You need people and the best way to do that, in my humble opinion, is to just be yourself.
I have always been in love with all things art- I was obsessed with drawing and painting before I was even walking. In high school, I started a career selling art through various gallery art shows and on Etsy. I then went on to study fine arts at the University of Southern California, with an emphasis in painting, but took classes in ceramics, printmaking, cinema and architecture to get a really well-rounded education on all sorts of art.
During my senior year of college, my career path went through a huge transition; I started my own temporary tattoo brand, INKED by Dani, which is a brand of temporary tattoos based on my hand-drawn fine art designs.
The idea for the brand came one night after a themed party at college. My friends, knowing how much I loved drawing, asked me to cover them in hand-drawn doodles using eyeliner. The feedback from that night was overwhelming, everyone my friends saw that night was obsessed with the designs. In that moment, a lightbulb went off in my head... I could do some completely unique here and create chic temporary tattoos with an art-driven aesthetic, unlike anything else on the market. Other temporary tattoo brands were targeted to kids or lacked a sleek and millennial-driven look. It was a perfect pivot; I could utilize my fine arts training and tattoos as a new art medium to create a completely innovative brand.
Using the money I made from selling my artwork throughout high school and college, I funded the launch of INKED by Dani. I had always loved the look of dainty tattoos, but knew I could never commit to the real thing, and I knew my parents would kill me if I got a tattoo (I also knew that so many girls must have that same conflict). Starting INKED by Dani was a no-brainer.
I started off with a collection of about only 10 designs and sold them at sorority houses around USC. Our unique concept for on-trend and fashion-forward tattoos was spreading through word of mouth, and we quickly started growing an Instagram following. I was hustling all day from my room, cold calling retailers, sending blind samples and tons of emails, and trying to open up as many opportunities as I could.
Now, we're sold at over 10,000 retail locations (retailers include Target, Walmart, Urban Outfitters, Forever 21 and Hot Topic), and we've transformed temporary tattoos into a whole new form of wearable art.
My 4 best tips for starting your own business are:
- Just go with your gut! You'll never know what works until you try it. Go day by day and do everything in your power to work toward your goals. Be bold, but be sure to be thoughtful in your actions.
- Research your competitors and other successful brands in your category to determine how you can make your product stand out. Figure out where there is a need or hole in the market that your new offering or approach can fill.
- Don't spread yourself too thin. Delegate where possible, and stay focused each day on doing the best and most you can. Don't get too caught up in your end goal or the big picture to a point where it overwhelms or freezes you. You're already making a bold move to start something new, so try to prioritize what's important! I started off in the beginning hand packing every single tattoo pack that we sold and shipped. If I wanted to scale to align with the level of demand we were receiving, I needed to make the pivot to mass produce and relinquish the control of doing every step myself. I am a total perfectionist, so that was definitely hard! From that point on, overseeing production has been a huge part of my daily schedule, but by doing so I've been able to free up more time to focus on design, merchandising, and sales, allowing me to really focus on growing the business.
- Prioritize great product packaging and branding. It's so important to invest time in customer experience- how customers view and interact with your product. The packaging is just as important as the actual product inside! When we were starting off, we had high demand, and I definitely jumped the gun a bit on packaging so we could deliver product to the retailers when they wanted it. Since then, we've completely revamped the packaging into something upscale and unique that reflects what the brand is all about. Our product packaging is always called out as being one of our retailers' and customers' favorite part of our product!