Business 02 November 2017
Raising venture capital in today's business world is tough. Raising venture capital for women's consumer products is extra challenging. Here's why: Female entrepreneurs looking for investors are faced with an investor pool that is 97% men. Those might be great odds for dating, but for business? Not so much.
One, if not the biggest, challenge I have faced with Jewel Toned is being tasked with raising capital for women's products in a male-dominated environment.
It is logical that most investors tend to invest in things that they themselves are passionate about, would use themselves, or really understand. Since investing capital is risky business, investors have specific focus areas where they have a high confidence level for investing. This logic lends itself to the fact that most men typically do not understand women's shapewear, which makes my job even more challenging.
For example, if I am analyzing a potential investment opportunity as an investor, and I hear that the product is, let's say, a new experimental drug for cancer that is being pitched as much more beneficial for patients because of X, Y, and Z. I personally have no idea if that is usable, or if there are other products like that on the market, or if it would be too risky of a venture because in my line of business I just don't know about the medical market. That's most likely how a male investor feels when I talk about shapewear. I have to use visuals comparing Jewel Toned's Major Mini Dress to traditional ugly shapewear so male investors can visualize why my product is better than all of the other options out there.
Also, since most men would not usually be buyers or users of women's consumer products, they don't really see a need to invest in them. So, it's like looking for a needle in a haystack. There aren't many of the 97% of male investor demographic investing in women's consumer products like shapewear. Those that do may only invest in 1 women's consumer product that year, so I have to convince them to choose my brand. Keep in mind that all of my competition wants their investment dollars just as much as I do.
"It's like looking for a needle in a haystack. There aren't many of the 97% of male investor demographic investing in women's consumer products like shapewear."
As the first female business founder to independently raise $1M in 2015, I think the fact that I even raised $1M is unbelievable. I recently went to a women's networking dinner and there were ten women of above average level of accomplishment, and all of them had only raised money with the assistance of male backers – not on their own. One had used crowdsourcing, but that isn't the same thing because it does not require any proof of concept. I was able to overcome that challenge, which leads me to my next point: As a female entrepreneur, you must have persistence and determination, because this is a long and winding road, and it is going to be tough. My biggest piece of advice to women out there trying to raise capital is not to give up. There are going to be a lot of doors closing on you, but you have to be completely unwilling to take no for an answer. That doesn't mean you bang on all of the closed doors, it just means that when one door closes you go down the hall and find another door to knock on. Sometimes you might even have to build your own door in order to make your vision a reality. Become your own force of motivation. This might require you to really ramp up your efforts because you get out of things what you put into them. Don't expect to put part-time efforts into something like raising venture capital and get monumental results.
"There are going to be a lot of doors closing on you, but you have to be completely unwilling to take no for an answer."
Once you get the funding, it's all about execution. Your idea isn't worth anything. Execution is. If you don't have the tools to execute your idea and bring it to life you need co-founders who do. Hiring it won't work at first because you need people to be just as in it to win it as you are. And let's face it if it's your baby only you will be that completely involved, at least at first.
"Once you get the funding, it's all about execution. Your idea isn't worth anything. Execution is."
Another challenge I face in my business is the constant chicken-and-egg nature of the startup business. You need funding to get products, and you need products to get more funding, and you need staff to get orders, and you need orders to get funding. Starting a business is a very delicate balancing act. Getting all of this done means moving one domino ahead half an inch, and then moving another forward an inch, and then turtle stepping each domino. In addition to managing raising funds, you must also successfully weed out the needless opinions and well-intentioned advice that goes along with running a start-up business.
Lots of people will give you opinions and tell you what you can and cannot do, and rattle off about this and that. Listen to your higher self and follow your gut. We don't know Beyoncé. So many people I pitch to say, “Hey, why don't you just get Beyoncé to wear your stuff?" I don't have her cell phone number, and even if I did, she doesn't wear people's products for free. In the startup world, there is a constant string of advice that doesn't even really apply to this type of business. Tune it out. Learn how to analyze and evaluate what is important. Unless the advice-givers have done exactly what you are trying to do before, or are as invested in your business as you are, you might need to take a step back and not hear what they're saying.
Once you experience that first round of success and accomplishment, you have to keep going – don't slow it down, but be mindful of striking a balance in your life between work and play. Having the grit to keep going is very important, especially in the face of rejection (and there will be rejection) but you also need to practice self-care, and that will look different for everyone.
We are all so connected in this world that it is very easy to work 24/7, but in order to be your best self and accomplish as much as you can as successfully as possible, you need to take excellent care of yourself. My routine includes making time to practice yoga, being close to people who nourish my soul, and going outside in nature so that I can remain grounded and focused. Do whatever it is that rejuvenates your soul and makes you the most productive version of yourself to stay focused and able to keep your eyes on your ultimate end goals.
In 2016, I finally found my voice. I always thought I had one, especially as a business owner and mother of two vocal toddlers, but I had been wrong.
For more than 30 years, I had been struggling with the fear of being my true self and speaking my truth. Then the repressed memories of my childhood sexual abuse unraveled before me while raising my 3-year-old daughter, and my life has not been the same since.
Believe it or not, I am happy about that.
The journey for a survivor like me to feel even slightly comfortable sharing these words, without fear of being shamed or looked down upon, is a long and often lonely one. For all of the people out there in the shadows who are survivors of childhood sexual abuse, I dedicate this to you. You might never come out to talk about it and that's okay, but I am going to do so here and I hope that in doing so, I will open people's eyes to the long-term effects of abuse. As a survivor who is now fully conscious of her abuse, I suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and, quite frankly, it may never go away.
It took me some time to accept that and I refuse to let it stop me from thriving in life; therefore, I strive to manage it (as do many others with PTSD) through various strategies I've learned and continue to learn through personal and group therapy. Over the years, various things have triggered my repressed memories and emotions of my abuse--from going to birthday parties and attending preschool tours to the Kavanaugh hearing and most recently, the"Leaving Neverland" documentary (I did not watch the latter, but read commentary about it).
These triggers often cause panic attacks. I was angry when I read Barbara Streisand's comments about the men who accused Michael Jackson of sexually abusing them, as detailed in the documentary. She was quoted as saying, "They both married and they both have children, so it didn't kill them." She later apologized for her comments. I was frustrated when one of the senators questioning Dr. Christine Blasey Ford (during the Kavanaugh hearing) responded snidely that Dr. Ford was still able to get her Ph.D. after her alleged assault--as if to imply she must be lying because she gained success in life.We survivors are screaming to the world, "You just don't get it!" So let me explain: It takes a great amount of resilience and fortitude to walk out into society every day knowing that at any moment an image, a sound, a color, a smell, or a child crying could ignite fear in us that brings us back to that moment of abuse, causing a chemical reaction that results in a panic attack.
So yes, despite enduring and repressing those awful moments in my early life during which I didn't understand what was happening to me or why, decades later I did get married; I did become a parent; I did start a business that I continue to run today; and I am still learning to navigate this "new normal." These milestones do not erase the trauma that I experienced. Society needs to open their eyes and realize that any triumph after something as ghastly as childhood abuse should be celebrated, not looked upon as evidence that perhaps the trauma "never happened" or "wasn't that bad. "When a survivor is speaking out about what happened to them, they are asking the world to join them on their journey to heal. We need love, we need to feel safe and we need society to learn the signs of abuse and how to prevent it so that we can protect the 1 out of 10 children who are being abused by the age of 18. When I state this statistic at events or in large groups, I often have at least one person come up to me after and confide that they too are a survivor and have kept it a secret. My vehicle for speaking out was through the novella The Survivors Club, which is the inspiration behind a TV pilot that my co-creator and I are pitching as a supernatural, mind-bending TV series. Acknowledging my abuse has empowered me to speak up on behalf of innocent children who do not have a voice and the adult survivors who are silent.
Remembering has helped me further understand my young adult challenges,past risky relationships, anger issues, buried fears, and my anxieties. I am determined to thrive and not hide behind these negative things as they have molded me into the strong person I am today.Here is my advice to those who wonder how to best support survivors of sexual abuse:Ask how we need support: Many survivors have a tough exterior, which means the people around them assume they never need help--we tend to be the caregivers for our friends and families. Learning to be vulnerable was new for me, so I realized I needed a check-off list of what loved ones should ask me afterI had a panic attack.
The list had questions like: "Do you need a hug," "How are you feeling," "Do you need time alone."Be patient with our PTSD". Family and close ones tend to ask when will the PTSD go away. It isn't a cold or a disease that requires a finite amount of drugs or treatment. There's no pill to make it miraculously disappear, but therapy helps manage it and some therapies have been known to help it go away. Mental Health America has a wealth of information on PTSD that can help you and survivors understand it better. Have compassion: When I was with friends at a preschool tour to learn more about its summer camp, I almost fainted because I couldn't stop worrying about my kids being around new teenagers and staff that might watch them go the bathroom or put on their bathing suit. After the tour, my friends said,"Nubia, you don't have to put your kids in this camp. They will be happy doing other things this summer."
In that moment, I realized how lucky I was to have friends who understood what I was going through and supported me. They showed me love and compassion, which made me feel safe and not judged.