#SWAAYthenarrative
BETA
Close

What I learned Pitching Investors

Business

Lessons learned while pitching a business venture to VC partners and investors. Encompassing my unique entrepreneurial journey and the truth behind the #startuplife.


When I set out to begin Leon, I knew one thing - I wanted to work in business but struggled to find clothes that made me feel confident while doing so. With little to no knowledge or experience in the tech and fashion industry, I ventured to conceptualize Leon, an eCommerce petite women's clothing brand. Through collaborations with my passionate team, YouTube videos, university courses, mentorship sessions and real time trial and error, I learned about business management, design making, supply chain operations and the inevitable ups and downs that the entrepreneurial journey ushers.

I thought to myself, what will be next? Do I find more mentors that will help me refine my business plan? Raise seed capital? Or, close the shop and venture out onto a new idea? Well, because my problem of finding petite clothing didn't vanish, I knew I had to make this work. I dipped my foot in the raising funds for Leon idea and was taken aback when I learned ...

U.S. female-founded startups have raised just 2.2 percent of venture capital investment in 2018, even though women founders are outpacing men in new business. Latina women received less than 1%.

2.2%!? Less than 1%? At first, I was excited to see this number, I've always liked a good challenge but then I let it sink in…

2.2%. What would my odds be? What would make my company stand out? And why was that percentage so low? Without an answer to this question, I was motivated to fortify Leon and joined Almaworks, Columbia University's Start-up Accelerator. The reason? To learn exactly what VC's were investing in and learn how I could lead Leon to a standard in which the 2.2% did not feel so intimidating. During this time, I met with engaging, intelligent and kickass mentors who would ultimately help me refine Leon's business strategy and make priceless relationships. During the last day of Almaworks, the cohort participated in Demo Day, where each company presented their venture to a room brimming with VC partners and investors. While pitching Leon, I recall feeling anxious yet prepared, nervous yet excited and the results? Invaluable experience, constructive feedback from top NYC VC partners and an immense sense of relief. While answering investors' questions with confidence and complete transparency, I learned a few lessons during this journey that I'd like to kindly share with women who find the 2.2% daunting and perhaps discouraging.

Remember your WHY!

What led you to begin your company? Was it a personal problem you were attempting to solve? Does it make a difference in your community, the world? Even during the toughest times, my passion for Leon hasn't waned. I believe it's vital to find your why and stick to it because it will get you through the ups and downs your venture will inevitably encounter. In terms of your business valuation, you have clarity as to how much you allow a VC firm to decide your company is worth. Honing in on your WHY can arm you with the confidence you need to firmly say no to a deal or enthusiastically ask for more with full awareness of your company's potential, purpose and impact.

Create and nurture your support system.

Let that be your communities, friends or start-up accelerators that support your vision and want to see you WIN! Nurturing this support system and seeking constructive criticism is vital to the continued evolution and success of your business. Leon's support system are friends, families, mentors and communities of like-minded individuals who enjoy creating solutions to problems everyday people face. Our communities like Latinas En New York and Almaworks help Leon stay focused and on track. We move forward because petite women motivate us to do and be better. It's encouraging to have a support system that is chanting for us to WIN.

You and only you are responsible for the success of your business, so make it happen.

Raising funds through an investor or VC firm isn't the only way your company can succeed. Tapping into other resources can empower you to lead your company in an authentic manner. In the earlier stages of Leon, I worked a part-time job during college to help grow Leon (bartended on weekends and invested that income to build Leon's first website) as well as gained the support of my family and friends who contributed as models, photographers, creative directors and advisors. Besides, VC funding, there are grants offered to minority business owners, crowdfunding campaigns, corporate partnerships and start-up accelerators that cater to under funded business ventures. Also, remembering the power of your community, family and friends is vital in the beginning stages of your start-up. You may have the privilege to raise funds within the community you serve and family and friends that support your vision.

Get good with numbers OR find a confidant that is.

If you are not an expert at P&L financial statements, you can learn. Getting scrappy by learning online, taking university courses (check out Stanford University's School of Engineering free online course, Entrepreneurship Through the Lens of Venture Capital) or Google's free resources, can set you apart and arm you with the knowledge necessary to get your company to the next level without overextending your budget. (Just like my confidant, my middle school best friend now investment banker who is always a phone call away).

Have grit.

Starting a new venture and leading it, is not EASY! At first it's exciting, so exciting and then its devastating, heart wrenching and down right upsetting but then it kicks up again and you're on cloud 9. To say the least, it's like a roller coaster and if you're like me and you LOVE your business and the problem its working to solve, you will stay on the ride until the very end. Reality is, there is no defined formula for the success of your business or that of anyone else's. It's all about trial and error. Being realistic about your businesses successes and failures makes you human and opens you to growth opportunities. For instance, noticing that your business is not on track motivates you to seek mentorship if needed. Or, if your company is doing well, sharing business advice to other women entrepreneurs venturing to level the playing field may serve as an opportunity to give back.


Our newsletter that womansplains the week
4min read
Lifestyle

Going Makeupless To The Office May Be Costing You More Than Just Money

Women have come a long way in redefining beauty to be more inclusive of different body types, skin colors and hair styles, but society's beauty standards still remain as high as we have always known them to be. In the workplace, professionalism is directly linked to the appearance of both men and women, but for women, the expectations and requirements needed to fit the part are far stricter. Unlike men, there exists a direct correlation between beauty and respect that women are forced to acknowledge, and in turn comply with, in order to succeed.


Before stepping foot into the workforce, women who choose to opt out of conventional beauty and grooming regiments are immediately at a disadvantage. A recent Forbes article analyzing the attractiveness bias at work cited a comprehensive academic review for its study on the benefits attractive adults receive in the labor market. A summary of the review stated, "'Physically attractive individuals are more likely to be interviewed for jobs and hired, they are more likely to advance rapidly in their careers through frequent promotions, and they earn higher wages than unattractive individuals.'" With attractiveness and success so tightly woven together, women often find themselves adhering to beauty standards they don't agree with in order to secure their careers.

Complying with modern beauty standards may be what gets your foot in the door in the corporate world, but once you're in, you are expected to maintain your appearance or risk being perceived as unprofessional. While it may not seem like a big deal, this double standard has become a hurdle for businesswomen who are forced to fit this mold in order to earn respect that men receive regardless of their grooming habits. Liz Elting, Founder and CEO of the Elizabeth Elting Foundation, is all too familiar with conforming to the beauty culture in order to command respect, and has fought throughout the course of her entrepreneurial journey to override this gender bias.

As an internationally-recognized women's advocate, Elting has made it her mission to help women succeed on their own, but she admits that little progress can be made until women reclaim their power and change the narrative surrounding beauty and success. In 2016, sociologists Jaclyn Wong and Andrew Penner conducted a study on the positive association between physical attractiveness and income. Their results concluded that "attractive individuals earn roughly 20 percent more than people of average attractiveness," not including controlling for grooming. The data also proves that grooming accounts entirely for the attractiveness premium for women as opposed to only half for men. With empirical proof that financial success in directly linked to women's' appearance, Elting's desire to have women regain control and put an end to beauty standards in the workplace is necessary now more than ever.

Although the concepts of beauty and attractiveness are subjective, the consensus as to what is deemed beautiful, for women, is heavily dependent upon how much effort she makes towards looking her best. According to Elting, men do not need to strive to maintain their appearance in order to earn respect like women do, because while we appreciate a sharp-dressed man in an Armani suit who exudes power and influence, that same man can show up to at a casual office in a t-shirt and jeans and still be perceived in the same light, whereas women will not. "Men don't have to demonstrate that they're allowed to be in public the way women do. It's a running joke; show up to work without makeup, and everyone asks if you're sick or have insomnia," says Elting. The pressure to look our best in order to be treated better has also seeped into other areas of women's lives in which we sometimes feel pressured to make ourselves up in situations where it isn't required such as running out to the supermarket.

So, how do women begin the process of overriding this bias? Based on personal experience, Elting believes that women must step up and be forceful. With sexism so rampant in workplace, respect for women is sometimes hard to come across and even harder to earn. "I was frequently assumed to be my co-founder's secretary or assistant instead of the person who owned the other half of the company. And even in business meetings where everyone knew that, I would still be asked to be the one to take notes or get coffee," she recalls. In effort to change this dynamic, Elting was left to claim her authority through self-assertion and powering over her peers when her contributions were being ignored. What she was then faced with was the alternate stereotype of the bitchy executive. She admits that teetering between the caregiver role or the bitch boss on a power trip is frustrating and offensive that these are the two options businesswomen are left with.

Despite the challenges that come with standing your ground, women need to reclaim their power for themselves and each other. "I decided early on that I wanted to focus on being respected rather than being liked. As a boss, as a CEO, and in my personal life, I stuck my feet in the ground, said what I wanted to say, and demanded what I needed – to hell with what people think," said Elting. In order for women to opt out of ridiculous beauty standards, we have to own all the negative responses that come with it and let it make us stronger– and we don't have to do it alone. For men who support our fight, much can be achieved by pushing back and policing themselves and each other when women are being disrespected. It isn't about chivalry, but respecting women's right to advocate for ourselves and take up space.

For Elting, her hope is to see makeup and grooming standards become an optional choice each individual makes rather than a rule imposed on us as a form of control. While she states she would never tell anyone to stop wearing makeup or dressing in a way that makes them feel confident, the slumping shoulders of a woman resigned to being belittled looks far worse than going without under-eye concealer. Her advice to women is, "If you want to navigate beauty culture as an entrepreneur, the best thing you can be is strong in the face of it. It's exactly the thing they don't want you to do. That means not being afraid to be a bossy, bitchy, abrasive, difficult woman – because that's what a leader is."