#SWAAYthenarrative
Photography by Timothy Gordon

What I Learned Pitching Investors As A Latina Founder

4 Min Read
Business

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 wanted to work in business but struggled to find clothes that made me feel confident while doing so.

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%. 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.

Latina women received 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…

On 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. As I answered 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 it's 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.

This article was originally published July 1, 2019.

3 min read
Health

4 Tips to Not Lose Friendships Over Your Mental Health

Life can be messy, and you might be wondering if you should involve your friends with your mental health ups-and-downs. You might be afraid because your friends are undereducated and misinformed about people living with mental health issues. They might be in the dark.

You've heard them whisper, "She's off her meds." As if a pill will solve everything when it is more complicated than that to be truly healthy. Your friends might have said that if you took better care of yourself, you wouldn't have problems. They might have insinuated that your issues are a wet blanket.

It's time to address your mental health without losing friendships.

Mental health is a chronic condition not unlike diabetes or hundreds of other medical conditions. You can ask for support beyond your medication and attending regular therapy appointments.

We are all in need of a friend's help from time to time. Here are four tips when you're feeling low, out of sorts, or on the edge:

1. Be Selective

You're looking for your friends' support and you're looking to be understood. You're not looking for hundreds of people to validate your latest post, you are looking for one brave friend who can be steady for you during a storm. Be aware that people might not see your mental health challenges through the same lens as you do. They haven't lived it.

The friend who you turn to for support might not be your best friend, instead they might be the best person during difficult times. Like a friend of mine called the 'fixer', he had been groomed to be the number-one emergency contact since he was a kid. He was a better guy, a more likable guy during tragedies.

All of your friends might show up when you call them on the first day of a crisis, but there's a chance they might have left the building before all the dust settles. An emotional crisis can last months not just a few hours and very few friends are built to stand-by you for a long time. Involving the right person is key.

2. Be a Planner

Once you've selected the most compassionate, dependable friend to be your contact and possibly help you out during an emergency, you'll want to plan.

Tell them about your medical history and how you manage your condition currently. Share the name and phone number of your health care professional that you see for therapy and medication and give an accurate list of any medicines that you take.

Listen to their concerns and answers their questions. Holding back information can affect whether your friend can truly help you and whether or not they feel a part of your team.

3. Be Committed

Telling a friend about your challenges does not mean that you've hired a personal garbage collector — person to pick-up and take out your trash. Instead, once you've involved a friend in your quest for stability, you will be held accountable to follow the plan that your health care provider and your friends and family outlined.

You should be honest when you fall short of following the plan whether it be not taking your medication or not seeing your therapist or avoiding stress.

4. Be Charlie Brown

Acknowledge that you, too, will be there for your friend.

Thank your friend in writing and out loud after they have helped you get your life back on track. Promise them that you will be there when they need you. You have the unique experience of understanding how people need help from friends and you will be the best helper to your friend.

The friend who helped you through this storm will likely face some kind of challenges in the coming days. Demonstrating that you will be there for your friend is the best way to ensure that they will show up for you.

If you are feeling alone and thinking about harming yourself, please call this hotline: 1-800-950-NAMI or visit NAMI's website.

You are not alone.