People 25 March 2018
Four years ago, Orit Hashay was the definition of a multi-tasker. She was visibly pregnant and working her tail off to raise funds for a new start-up – Brayola.com, “the world's smartest personal bra shopper." There are lots of bras out there. So why put yourself through the paces for another one? That answer is simple - Fit. So what made and continues to make Brayola so special in that department? An algorithm that matches every woman to the exact right one.
That algorithm is so effective that in 2016, the company hit a $10 M revenue run rate by the end of the year. And if things keep going as planned, Hashay expects the company to hit a $27 M run rate through this year. Brayola has raised $5 M in Series A financing.
Today you'll find her on Forbes' “10 Female Founders To Watch Out Of Israel" list and listed as one of TechCrunch's “Three Israeli Femme-preneurs To Keep an Eye On." Clearly, it's one heck of an algorithm.
Being the entrepreneurial problem solver that she is, Hashay wanted to find a way to make bra shopping simpler.
Orit Hashay was raised in an ultra-Orthodox family in Petah Tikva in Israel, but, she explains, she “bolted at age 15 for a secular high school." As a kid, she was quite the opposite of what she is today. Then she was as shy as could be. “I mean, really shy, I couldn't even get myself to order food in a restaurant!" But now, she says, she loves “to be on stage discussing what it took for me to get where I am."
Hashay became interested in the lingerie biz because, ironically, she wasn't interested in the bras she was finding. Being the entrepreneurial problem solver that she is, Hashay wanted to find a way to make bra shopping simpler.
“I did not like bra shopping and I thought I could make it better," says Hashay. "I would always leave stores feeling frustrated—some bras I tried on immediately land in the 'no' pile because they were ill-fitting or just off. Others might have looked perfect on, but as soon as I put on my shirt, the silhouette was not quite right. You know how it goes—some bras fit in size, but you can end up looking squashed, separated, droopy, too big, too small…the list is endless!"
When she was growing up, of course, Hashay didn't even give herself the luxury of dreaming about a career, “because in an Orthodox culture like the environment I was brought up in I never saw women having careers. I did know that I wanted to be the boss of my life and have the freedom to say what I wanted."
Hashay is no stranger to tech. She trained as a software developer and, over the course of ten years, launched mit4mit, an Israeli consumer wedding services review site; Ramkol, Israel's leading local reviews site; and Vetrinas, a virtual window on hundreds of stores worldwide. She then joined Israeli venture capital firm Carmel Ventures as an investment manager before founding Brayola, where she had the chance to really see how its portfolio of internet companies got off the ground.
It certainly wasn't easy as a woman pitching to predominantly male venture capitalists about the woes of bra shopping, Hashay says.
“I needed to have both guts and patience," Hashay remarks. "Men don't necessarily know the frustrations that bra shopping can bring, so being persistent and unafraid of shocking the audience helped me get through the initial hesitation that came with pitching a technology targeted specifically to women. In conclusion, I'll leave you with this: Yes, it will be difficult, but difficult does not mean impossible."
A lot of companies are now claiming they offer the perfect bra and the perfect fit. But, Hashay says, Brayola prides itself on being the first online lingerie shop to match women with bras based on their personal sizes, tastes and styles. To date, their algorithm has analyzed more than 50 million data points shared by women, which combined with our Bra Matching technology, has helped them achieve return rates 10 percent below the industry benchmark. With the goal of becoming the smartest way for women to shop for bras, Hashay says, they already carry countless best-selling brands in a size-inclusive range that spans from 28A to 58N.
Raising money as a female founder of a bra startup was incredibly difficult, Hashay explains. It may be 2018, she says, but the tech industry is still predominantly male. She adds, "not to mention, when I was raising money, I was several months pregnant, so some advisors and potential investors asked me if I'd want to revisit this conversation when was I 'less occupied."
"While the investors liked my ideas, they seemed preoccupied with the prospect of my impending motherhood and how it might change my priorities," the Founder explains. "They suggested I wait, which was not in the cards. I didn't want to take money from people that were trying to convince me that I wasn't sure about starting a business that I knew I was passionate about."
Her fundraising advice is simple. “Don't give up and don't take no for an answer!" she says. "Difficult does not mean impossible. There will always be people who will doubt you and your abilities, but it's up to you to prove them wrong. For me, my pregnancy cast doubt in a lot of investors' minds, but I remained passionate about my ideas and confident in my business plan and eventually, they came around. As long as you believe strongly in your ideas, stick to your guns, and put in the hard work, the results will come. I was persistent, using all my patience and guts to push through regardless of the skepticism of what I was trying to do. I have worked as an investor as well as a striving entrepreneur. I know how hard it can be, especially in a male-dominated world. However, I consistently ignored the fact that it is hard and I didn't take no for an answer. Any difficulty that I had, I found a way to resolve it."
Hashay says that seeing the functioning site and the algorithm out there in the real world working to help women find the best bras felt – and still feels – amazing. “You know I founded Brayola when I was pregnant, my body was changing, and bra shopping was the last thing I wanted to do. With my background in software development, I knew I could make bra shopping easier for myself and for women like me. And it makes me so incredibly happy knowing that not only have I accomplished this goal, but I'm helping women feel more comfortable and confident when they shop for bras."
Although this isn't necessarily how Hashay imagined her life. She says it's sure how she hoped it would be. She dreams, naturally, of continuing to grow Brayola, enjoying her family and friends, and, she says, “I'd like to inspire other women to strive for their dreams!" Her work has been full of happiest surprises. But, Hashay says, “I think just the sheer growth we were able to achieve has made me the happiest. Especially because of the speculation we were faced with!"
As for Hashay's advice for turning your own dreams into a reality, Hashay says, “Never give up, and don't take no for an answer! There will always be someone telling you you're not good enough, your ideas are not good enough, but if you learn to tune those out and persevere, you will succeed."
Women of the Middle East have made significant strides in the past decade in a number of sectors, but huge gaps remain within the labor market, especially in leadership roles.
A huge number of institutions have researched and quantified trends of and obstacles to the full utilization of females in the marketplace. Gabriela Ramos, is the Chief-of-Staff to The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), an alliance of thirty-six governments seeking to improve economic growth and world trade. The OECD reports that increasing participation in the women's labor force could easily result in a $12 trillion jump in the global GDP by the year 2025.
To realize the possibilities, attention needs to be directed toward the most significantly underutilized resource: the women of MENA—the Middle East and North African countries. Educating the men of MENA on the importance of women working and holding leadership roles will improve the economies of those nations and lead to both national and global rewards, such as dissolving cultural stereotypes.
The OECD reports that increasing participation in the women's labor force could easily result in a $12 trillion jump in the global GDP by the year 2025.
In order to put this issue in perspective, the MENA region has the second highest unemployment rate in the world. According to the World Bank, more women than men go to universities, but for many in this region the journey ends with a degree. After graduating, women tend to stay at home due to social and cultural pressures. In 2017, the OECD estimated that unemployment among women is costing some $575 billion annually.
Forbes and Arabian Business have each published lists of the 100 most powerful Arab businesswomen, yet most female entrepreneurs in the Middle East run family businesses. When it comes to managerial positions, the MENA region ranks last with only 13 percent women among the total number of CEOs according to the Swiss-based International Labor Organization (ILO.org publication "Women Business Management – Gaining Momentum in the Middle East and Africa.")
The lopsided tendency that keeps women in family business—remaining tethered to the home even if they are prepared and capable of moving "into the world"—is noted in a report prepared by OECD. The survey provides factual support for the intuitive concern of cultural and political imbalance impeding the progression of women into the workplace who are otherwise fully capable. The nations of Algeria, Tunisia, Morocco, Libya, Jordan and Egypt all prohibit gender discrimination and legislate equal pay for men and women, but the progressive-sounding checklist of their rights fails to impact on "hiring, wages or women's labor force participation." In fact, the report continues, "Women in the six countries receive inferior wages for equal work… and in the private sector women rarely hold management positions or sit on the boards of companies."
This is more than a feminist mantra; MENA's males must learn that they, too, will benefit from accelerating the entry of women into the workforce on all levels. Some projections of value lost because women are unable to work; or conversely the amount of potential revenue are significant.
Elissa Freiha, founder of Womena, the leading empowerment platform in the Middle East, emphasizes the financial benefit of having women in high positions when communicating with men's groups. From a business perspective it has been proven through the market Index provider MSCI.com that companies with more women on their boards deliver 36% better equity than those lacking board diversity.
She challenges companies with the knowledge that, "From a business level, you can have a potential of 63% by incorporating the female perspective on the executive team and the boards of companies."
Freiha agrees that educating MENA's men will turn the tide. "It is difficult to argue culturally that a woman can disconnect herself from the household and community." Her own father, a United Arab Emirates native of Lebanese descent, preferred she get a job in the government, but after one month she quit and went on to create Womena. The fact that this win-lose situation was supported by an open-minded father, further propelled Freiha to start her own business.
"From a business level, you can have a potential of 63% by incorporating the female perspective on the executive team and the boards of companies." - Elissa Frei
While not all men share the open-mindedness of Freiha's dad, a striking number of MENA's women have convincingly demonstrated that the talent pool is skilled, capable and all-around impressive. One such woman is the prominent Sheikha Lubna bint Khalid bin Sultan Al-Qasimi, who is currently serving as a cabinet minister in the United Arab Emirates and previously headed a successful IT strategy company.
Al-Qasimi exemplifies the potential for MENA women in leadership, but how can one example become a cultural norm? Marcello Bonatto, who runs Re: Coded, a program that teaches young people in Turkey, Iraq and Yemen to become technology leaders, believes that multigenerational education is the key. He believes in the importance of educating the parent along with their offspring, "particularly when it comes to women." Bonatto notes the number of conflict-affected youth who have succeeded through his program—a boot camp training in technology.
The United Nations Women alongside Promundo—a Brazil-based NGO that promotes gender-equality and non-violence—sponsored a study titled, "International Men and Gender Equality Survey of the Middle East and North Africa in 2017."
This study surveyed ten thousand men and women between the ages of 18 and 59 across both rural and urban areas in Egypt, Lebanon, Morocco and the Palestinian Authority. It reports that, "Men expected to control their wives' personal freedoms from what they wear to when the couple has sex." Additionally, a mere one-tenth to one-third of men reported having recently carried out a more conventionally "female task" in their home.
Although the MENA region is steeped in historical tribal culture, the current conflict of gender roles is at a crucial turning point. Masculine power structures still play a huge role in these countries, and despite this obstacle, women are on the rise. But without the support of their nations' men this will continue to be an uphill battle. And if change won't come from the culture, maybe it can come from money. By educating MENA's men about these issues, the estimated $27 trillion that women could bring to their economies might not be a dream. Women have been empowering themselves for years, but it's time for MENA's men to empower its women.