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 ...
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).
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.
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For decades, women have been unknowingly suffering from PSD and intergenerational trauma, but now Dr. Valerie Rein wants women to reclaim their power through mind, body and healing tools.
As women, no matter how many accomplishments we have or how successful we look on the outside, we all occasionally hear that nagging internal voice telling us to do more. We criticize ourselves more than anyone else and then throw ourselves into the never-ending cycle of self-care, all in effort to save ourselves from crashing into this invisible internal wall. According to psychologist, entrepreneur and author, Dr. Valerie Rein, these feelings are not your fault and there is nothing wrong with you— but chances are you definitely suffering from Patriarchy Stress Disorder.
Patriarchy Stress Disorder (PSD) is defined as the collective inherited trauma of oppression that forms an invisible inner barrier to women's happiness and fulfillment. The term was coined by Rein who discovered a missing link between trauma and the effects that patriarchal power structures have had on certain groups of people all throughout history up until the present day. Her life experience, in addition to research, have led Rein to develop a deeper understanding of the ways in which men and women are experiencing symptoms of trauma and stress that have been genetically passed down from previously oppressed generations.
What makes the discovery of this disorder significant is that it provides women with an answer to the stresses and trauma we feel but cannot explain or overcome. After being admitted to the ER with stroke-like symptoms one afternoon, when Rein noticed the left side of her body and face going numb, she was baffled to learn from her doctors that the results of her tests revealed that her stroke-like symptoms were caused by stress. Rein was then left to figure out what exactly she did for her clients in order for them to be able to step into the fullness of themselves that she was unable to do for herself. "What started seeping through the tears was the realization that I checked all the boxes that society told me I needed to feel happy and fulfilled, but I didn't feel happy or fulfilled and I didn't feel unhappy either. I didn't feel much of anything at all, not even stress," she stated.
Photo Courtesy of Dr. Valerie Rein
This raised the question for Rein as to what sort of hidden traumas women are suppressing without having any awareness of its presence. In her evaluation of her healing methodology, Rein realized that she was using mind, body and trauma healing tools with her clients because, while they had never experienced a traumatic event, they were showing the tell-tale symptoms of trauma which are described as a disconnect from parts of ourselves, body and emotions. In addition to her personal evaluation, research at the time had revealed that traumatic experiences are, in fact, passed down genetically throughout generations. This was Rein's lightbulb moment. The answer to a very real problem that she, and all women, have been experiencing is intergenerational trauma as a result of oppression formed under the patriarchy.
Although Rein's discovery would undoubtably change the way women experience and understand stress, it was crucial that she first broaden the definition of trauma not with the intention of catering to PSD, but to better identify the ways in which trauma presents itself in the current generation. When studying psychology from the books and diagnostic manuals written exclusively by white men, trauma was narrowly defined as a life-threatening experience. By that definition, not many people fit the bill despite showing trauma-like symptoms such as disconnections from parts of their body, emotions and self-expression. However, as the field of psychology has expanded, more voices have been joining the conversations and expanding the definition of trauma based on their lived experience. "I have broadened the definition to say that any experience that makes us feel unsafe psychically or emotionally can be traumatic," stated Rein. By redefining trauma, people across the gender spectrum are able to find validation in their experiences and begin their journey to healing these traumas not just for ourselves, but for future generations.
While PSD is not experienced by one particular gender, as women who have been one of the most historically disadvantaged and oppressed groups, we have inherited survival instructions that express themselves differently for different women. For some women, this means their nervous systems freeze when faced with something that has been historically dangerous for women such as stepping into their power, speaking out, being visible or making a lot of money. Then there are women who go into fight or flight mode. Although they are able to stand in the spotlight, they pay a high price for it when their nervous system begins to work in a constant state of hyper vigilance in order to keep them safe. These women often find themselves having trouble with anxiety, intimacy, sleeping or relaxing without a glass of wine or a pill. Because of this, adrenaline fatigue has become an epidemic among high achieving women that is resulting in heightened levels of stress and anxiety.
"For the first time, it makes sense that we are not broken or making this up, and we have gained this understanding by looking through the lens of a shared trauma. All of these things have been either forbidden or impossible for women. A woman's power has always been a punishable offense throughout history," stated Rein.
Although the idea of having a disorder may be scary to some and even potentially contribute to a victim mentality, Rein wants people to be empowered by PSD and to see it as a diagnosis meant to validate your experience by giving it a name, making it real and giving you a means to heal yourself. "There are still experiences in our lives that are triggering PSD and the more layers we heal, the more power we claim, the more resilience we have and more ability we have in staying plugged into our power and happiness. These triggers affect us less and less the more we heal," emphasized Rein. While the task of breaking intergenerational transmission of trauma seems intimidating, the author has flipped the negative approach to the healing journey from a game of survival to the game of how good can it get.
In her new book, Patriarchy Stress Disorder: The Invisible Barrier to Women's Happiness and Fulfillment, Rein details an easy system for healing that includes the necessary tools she has sourced over 20 years on her healing exploration with the pioneers of mind, body and trauma resolution. Her 5-step system serves to help "Jailbreakers" escape the inner prison of PSD and other hidden trauma through the process of Waking Up in Prison, Meeting the Prison Guards, Turning the Prison Guards into Body Guards, Digging the Tunnel to Freedom and Savoring Freedom. Readers can also find free tools on Rein's website to help aid in their healing journey and exploration.
"I think of the book coming out as the birth of a movement. Healing is not women against men– it's women, men and people across the gender spectrum, coming together in a shared understanding that we all have trauma and we can all heal."