#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.

Creative DIY Tips for Making Your Own Calendar

The current state of the world definitely affected us in many ways, it made us stay locked up in our homes away from all the social events and seemingly fun stuff. But the responsibilities didn't just vanish into thin air, they are still there, waiting to be organized and prepared. Times are super hectic and you are probably not in the mood to think about the foreseeable future, but there are ways to turn in into a fun time. Starting a journal or making a simple calendar can bring you peace, use that creative time to yourself and relax while doing it. Grab your colored pencils, stickers, scraps, and everything in between, your inner DIY queen is about to jump out!

Fill in the blank

So probably the easiest way to start when it comes to making your own calendar is by simply printing a blank template found online. This way you'll have a base, a blank canvas if you will. Take all the materials that you have in your house, like washi tapes, sticky notes, glittery colorful pens and anything you can think of that could work as a decoration on your calendar. And go at it! There are no rules when it comes to decorating, it's super personal and it can differ from person to person.

The only real advice you'll need is to leave some space while decorating, don't overdo it since it will clutter and distract you from the written parts. Finding the perfect template that will suit your aesthetic is extremely easy and fast, a simple google search could get you whatever you want and the best part is, it's free! There are many printable options out there, so don't worry about not finding something you'd like, the possibilities are endless and you'll find just the right calendar you imagined!

Start from scratch

If you don't have a printer at home or you're just determined to make the calendar yourself, there are awesome ways to make the best and most unique personalized calendar there is. This gives you the full freedom to do whatever you can think of, want to make a calendar from old newspapers, do it! Want to cut out a certain shape and disguise the calendar as an art piece in your kitchen, why not?

Nothing is stopping you when it comes to unleashing your creative side, use everything that you can get your hands on, think outside the box, don't be afraid to experiment. Making a calendar from scratch is an amazing opportunity to explore your artistic side, especially if you've been busy with work and responsibilities. This is a great excuse to do something creative, at the end of the day you are making it for the purpose of being more organized and having everything mapped out and planned. So make this time, the best time possible, be free and create!

Mix and match

Since there are absolutely no rules when making any diy project at home, what's stopping you from making the ultimate, super personal calendar! If you have basic knowledge in photoshop, you can even modify the blank calendars you got online, add pictures of your loved ones and family, maybe your pets or anything you like, and then print it out. Or you can print the blank template right away and add pictures or polaroids later on by using some washi tape.

Also, you can even paint over the printed blank calendar, this is a good option for those who aren't as skilled, so you'll have a base to start, just dip in your paintbrush in some acrylic or watercolor paints (or whatever you have around the house) and go for it. This is a great way to start doing artsy projects while still having some form of direction and help.

Have fun

Sure keeping your priorities at bay and making plans and notes for everything is important...but the heart of this project has to be your willingness to turn something as boring and blank as a calendar into something spectacular. This calendar should proudly be up on your kitchen wall, so loud and colorful it just draws your attention to it.

If the calendar is decorated, personalized, and fun to look at, maybe it will inspire you to look forward to some events or responsibilities even if you didn't feel like it in the first place. So be creative and free, there are no rules so just go at it. With everything that happened this year, try to be positive and find little joys in seemingly insignificant things like diy calendars!