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.
Not too many years ago, my advice to political candidates would have been pretty simple: "Don't do or say anything stupid." But the last few elections have rendered that advice outdated.
When Barack Obama referred to his grandmother as a "typical white woman" during the 2008 campaign, for example, many people thought it would cost him the election -- and once upon a time, it probably would have. But his supporters were focused on the values and positions he professed, and they weren't going to let one unwise comment distract them. Candidate Obama didn't even get much pushback for saying, "We're five days away from fundamentally transforming the United States of America." That statement should have given even his most ardent supporters pause, but it didn't. It was in line with everything Obama had previously said, and it was what his supporters wanted to hear.
2016: What rules?
Fast forward to 2016, and Donald Trump didn't just ignore traditional norms, he almost seemed to relish violating them. Who would have ever dreamed we'd elect a man who talked openly about grabbing women by the **** and who was constantly blasting out crazy-sounding Tweets? But Trump did get elected. Why? Some people believe it was because Americans finally felt like they had permission to show their bigotry. Others think Obama had pushed things so far to the left that right-wing voters were more interested in dragging public policy back toward the middle than in what Trump was Tweeting.
Another theory is that Trump's lewd, crude, and socially unacceptable behavior was deliberately designed to make Democrats feel comfortable campaigning on policies that were far further to the left than they ever would have attempted before. Why? Because they were sure America would never elect someone who acted like Trump. If that theory is right, and Democrats took the bait, Trump's "digital policies" served him well.
And although Trump's brash style drew the most handlines, he wasn't the only one who seemed to have forgotten the, "Don't do or say anything stupid," rule. Hillary Clinton also made news when she made a "basket of deplorables" comment at a private fundraiser, but it leaked out, and it dogged her for the rest of the election cycle.
And that's where we need to start our discussion. Now that all the old rules about candidate behavior have been blown away, do presidential candidates even need digital policies?
Yes, they do. More than ever, in my opinion. Let me tell you why.
Digital policies for 2020 and beyond
While the 2016 election tossed traditional rules about political campaigns to the trash heap, that doesn't mean you can do anything you want. Even if it's just for the sake of consistency, candidates need digital policies for their own campaigns, regardless of what anybody else is doing. Here are some important things to consider.
Align your digital policies with your campaign strategy
Aside from all the accompanying bells and whistles, why do you want to be president? What ideological beliefs are driving you? If you were to become president, what would you want your legacy to be? Once you've answered those questions honestly, you can develop your campaign strategy. Only then can you develop digital policies that are in alignment with the overall purpose -- the "Why?" -- of your campaign:
- If part of your campaign strategy, for example, is to position yourself as someone who's above the fray of the nastiness of modern politics, then one of your digital policies should be that your campaign will never post or share anything that attacks another candidate on a personal level. Attacks will be targeted only at the policy level.
- While it's not something I would recommend, if your campaign strategy is to depict the other side as "deplorables," then one of your digital policies should be to post and share every post, meme, image, etc. that supports your claim.
- If a central piece of your platform is that detaining would-be refugees at the border is inhumane, then your digital policies should state that you will never say, post, or share anything that contradicts that belief, even if Trump plans to relocate some of them to your own city. Complaining that such a move would put too big a strain on local resources -- even if true -- would be making an argument for the other side. Don't do it.
- Don't be too quick to share posts or Tweets from supporters. If it's a text post, read all of it to make sure there's not something in there that would reflect negatively on you. And examine images closely to make sure there's not a small detail that someone may notice.
- Decide what your campaign's voice and tone will be. When you send out emails asking for donations, will you address the recipient as "friend" and stress the urgency of donating so you can continue to fight for them? Or will you personalize each email and use a more low-key, collaborative approach?
Those are just a few examples. The takeaway is that your online behavior should always support your campaign strategy. While you could probably get away with posting or sharing something that seems mean or "unpresidential," posting something that contradicts who you say you are could be deadly to your campaign. Trust me on this -- if there are inconsistencies, Twitter will find them and broadcast them to the world. And you'll have to waste valuable time, resources, and public trust to explain those inconsistencies away.
Remember that the most common-sense digital policies still apply
The 2016 election didn't abolish all of the rules. Some still apply and should definitely be included in your digital policies:
- Claim every domain you can think of that a supporter might type into a search engine. Jeb Bush not claiming www.jebbush.com (the official campaign domain was www.jeb2016.com) was a rookie mistake, and he deserved to have his supporters redirected to Trump's site.
- Choose your campaign's Twitter handle wisely. It should be obvious, not clever or cutesy. In addition, consider creating accounts with possible variations of the Twitter handle you chose so that no one else can use them.
- Give the same care to selecting hashtags. When considering a hashtag, conduct a search to understand its current use -- it might not be what you think! When making up new hashtags, try to avoid anything that could be hijacked for a different purpose -- one that might end up embarrassing you.
- Make sure that anyone authorized to Tweet, post, etc., on your behalf has a copy of your digital policies and understands the reasons behind them. (People are more likely to follow a rule if they understand why it's important.)
- Decide what you'll do if you make an online faux pas that starts a firestorm. What's your emergency plan?
- Consider sending an email to supporters who sign up on your website, thanking them for their support and suggesting ways (based on digital policies) they can help your messaging efforts. If you let them know how they can best help you, most should be happy to comply. It's a small ask that could prevent you from having to publicly disavow an ardent supporter.
- Make sure you're compliant with all applicable regulations: campaign finance, accessibility, privacy, etc. Adopt a double opt-in policy, so that users who sign up for your newsletter or email list through your website have to confirm by clicking on a link in an email. (And make sure your email template provides an easy way for people to unsubscribe.)
- Few people thought 2016 would end the way it did. And there's no way to predict quite yet what forces will shape the 2020 election. Careful tracking of your messaging (likes, shares, comments, etc.) will tell you if you're on track or if public opinion has shifted yet again. If so, your messaging needs to shift with it. Ideally, one person should be responsible for monitoring reaction to the campaign's messaging and for raising a red flag if reactions aren't what was expected.
Thankfully, the world hasn't completely lost its marbles
Whatever the outcome of the election may be, candidates now face a situation where long-standing rules of behavior no longer apply. You now have to make your own rules -- your own digital policies. You can't make assumptions about what the voting public will or won't accept. You can't assume that "They'll never vote for someone who acts like that"; neither can you assume, "Oh, I can get away with that, too." So do it right from the beginning. Because in this election, I predict that sound digital policies combined with authenticity will be your best friend.