People 04 December 2018
When Monique Idlett-Mosley was twenty-two years old, she talked herself into a sales job at USA Today that she was in no way qualified for. The woman interviewing her decided to play the long shot and give her a chance. That gamble paid off and now Idlett-Mosley works to help other woman in the same way she was helped – by giving them a break in a way the majority of others will not – by funding their business ideas.
Idlett-Mosley makes the magic happen via Reign Venture Capital, which she founded with business partner Erica Duignan Minnihan. It was in business school that Idlett-Mosley met Minnihan. Idlett-Moslet was smart to partner with her as Minnihan was already active in angel investing and involved with 1000 Angels.
“Together we are able to provide our portfolio with unique guidance on both capital and business strategy needed to accelerate growth, build a successful company, and get them to exit,"
Minnihan has spent her entire career in finance, working with public companies in investment banking at both Citigroup and Credit Suisse for the first eight years of her career. For the last twelve years, she's been investing in early-stage private companies, with transactional experience on hundreds of investments spanning over a decade. “Together we are able to provide our portfolio with unique guidance on both capital and business strategy needed to accelerate growth, build a successful company, and get them to exit," Idlett-Mosley says.
It was meeting and talking to Minnihan that led Idlett-Mosley down the investment trail and to found Reign Ventures, a $25 million fund. Reign is “an early stage investment firm that focuses on women and minority led startups.
The fund invests at the Seed and Series A Stage in promising technology and tech-enabled startups with high-potential founders" and has worked with companies that include LISN and Appy Couple. Since 2009, black women have received only .0006 percent of all tech venture funding. In an effort to change that, Reign ventures also serves as a mentorship network.
Idlett-Mosley's career has included working in sales, marketing, and public relations for clients that included Kanye West, Verizon, Burrell Communications, T.I., and Timbaland. Then, in 2008, Idlett-Mosley married Tim “Timbaland" Mosley and then served as CEO of Mosley Brands and Mosley Music Group, whose roster includes Timbaland, One Republic, Nelly Furtado, and Chris Cornell.
She is also the Founder and Executive Director of Always Believing Foundation, which seeks to find innovative and empowering solutions to combat childhood obesity and to promote healthy lifestyles and expression through education and communication. Since 2014, she served as a National Trustee for The Boys & Girls Clubs of America. In addition to the previously mentioned roles, Islett-Mosley is also on the Board of Directors for The Miami Bridge, a south Florida based nonprofit organization that provides emergency shelter, food, and counseling for at-risk youth and has previously served on the board of the Ryan Cameron Foundation.
Idlett-Mosley offers a unique approach to leveling the playing field for women and minorities when it comes to raising capital. Women and minorities receive less than 1% of total venture capital dollars annually. Why? Because of the homogeneity of investment managers, she says. “Take a look at the top Venture Capital funds, and you'll find the investment team is 99% white males."
It doesn't make sense considering that women and minorities contribute billions in investment dollars to the institutions (such as pension funds and insurance companies) allocating capital for investment, she explains. “It is critical they be active as investment managers and as founders receiving that funding. A big roadblock for black and women founders is 'unconscious bias' on the part of investors. As black women, we don't suffer that handicap when evaluating a deal."
Idlett-Mosley has truly taken a page from her background in entertainment (and managing artists) to build a machine that allows startup founders to find real success. “In the music industry, we find the 'it' factor and in-house we nurture the artist, from a development perspective and we provide all support through a machine." Within that “machine" they have PR, marketing, digital, legal, and any additional else that might be needed to build a successful brand and artists. “There are many correlations between the two. I have not experienced any successful person get there alone."
One of the most important things women need to do, Idlett-Mosley says, is to support one another and be more willing to invest in one another. “We will see women who don't blink an eye at contributing hundreds of thousands to charity, but are absolutely paralyzed by the idea of making a $25,000 investment into a woman-led startup. Men, on the other hand, often get their funding from the guys they went to college or business school with. She says that as women, we have to be more comfortable talking with each other about investing, and supporting each other as business leaders. “It's not a favor. It's not charity. It's an investment. That's the way men look at it when they invest in their friends and colleagues."
"In order to achieve greater success, women need to start thinking bigger," Idlett-Mosley says. “We tend to aim much lower than we could, because we have fewer role models to look to when it comes to building a billion dollar business." From her point of view, many founders make the mistake of not realizing they need an addressable market of at least a billion dollars to be investable. “Instead of pitching investors their outsized goals, they present a “conservative" scenario that doesn't get any interest." She and her partner are making great strides to change that, one company at a time. “It takes an ecosystem of founders, investors, mentors, and employees; but that work is being done and we are on our way there."
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.