I have lived in Burbank, CA for almost 13 years. I'll admit, it wasn't my first choice when I decided to move from Orange County to the L.A. area. I imagined myself in West Hollywood, Los Feliz, anywhere but true Suburbia, but good schools beckoned for my youngest daughter and I found myself on a tree lined street in a traditional California bungalow.
I slowly fell in love with my new town. Great vintage stores, super cool restaurants, and fantastic neighbors. I was involved with my daughter's school events and concerts and certainly felt like I was part of the community but didn't become deeply entrenched, until today.
The 2016 election was extremely important to me. I voted for Hillary Clinton for several reasons, yes – because she was a woman and I believe we were long past due for a female perspective on life in our country. But also, because I felt she was completely qualified and ready to tackle this all-important position as leader of the free world. I was confident and excited.
I sent in a write-in ballot because I would be on vacation in Israel the day of the election. I wasn't worried, I figured I'd be celebrating with friends when Hillary won. Sadly, there was no celebrating, only shock and utter silence. As we somberly and quietly attended our scheduled tours the next day, numerous people would come up to us and ask, “Are you American, have you heard, what do you think…?" It was overwhelming and incredible at the same time.
"If you think I was a Nasty Woman Before, Buckle Up Buttercup"
Once home a week later, and still in shock, I knew I had to do something but didn't know what. I felt paralyzed and completely powerless. When the Women's March was announced there was no question I'd be there, I couldn't wait. Outfitted in my “If you think I was a Nasty Woman Before, Buckle Up Buttercup" tee, I joined a few friends to march with 700k+ other men and women in downtown Los Angeles. It was an experience I'll never forget, we were together, and were on fire. I felt a kinship with women I would have never met, had it not been for the march. I had hope that as a movement we could make a difference.
I trudged along and looked forward to marching again and getting some of that united spirit back.
Over this past year, I must admit, I've lost a lot of that hope. That sadness I felt so far away from my country on November 9, 2016 had returned. I trudged along and looked forward to marching again and getting some of that united spirit back. I had planned to go to downtown L.A. again and then discovered a march was planned for Burbank, my little town that I've grown to love so much, was marching. I was elated!
I arrived early so I could meet the founder of this year's march, Joanna Peresie. When I asked her why she rallied everyone to march this year, she said, very simply, and very powerfully, “I did it for my daughter, Ella."
Joanna was quick to ask that I mention the three women who started last year's march in Burbank, Ashley Gogerty, Rhiannon Clark, and Sylvia Hendershot.
I listened to Joanna speak to the crowd about why she was here and why she took charge this year. Listened as her voice cracked but stood proud and strong. This is a humble woman, a loving mother, and I am honored to have met her today.
I also had the pleasure of meeting our state Senator, Anthony Portantino. He was dressed in a pink shirt and attending with his lovely daughter, Bella. He told me about his wife and both daughters, about his dedication to public service, and his belief in this march; “…it was too important not to be here." When he spoke to the crowd, he opened with “Are you listening downtown Los Angeles, because it's rockin' in Burbank!" The crowd roared! He then told us all that “this was a moment in history, meet the person next to you, say hello, share the sisterhood of this moment…" AND WE DID! It was a powerful experience! As he marched with us, I was filled with civic pride to walk alongside someone I had actually voted for. I thought to myself, 'my super power is voting!'
One of our John Burroughs High School teachers who teaches science, Jill Tobin, spoke and delighted the crowd. Once again, I swelled with pride as she told the kids in the crowd “YOUR VOICE MATTERS, YOU MATTER!" This fantastic past Burbank Teacher of the Year AND LA County Teacher of the Year award-winner is working with our future leaders! Aren't they lucky?!
Even though I knew the answer, I asked about our congressman, Adam Schiff. He was working tirelessly last night trying to stop the shut down of our government. Joanna shared that his office did call her yesterday and our hard-working congressman had wished he could be here. I absolutely believe that. One of the many things I've learned since last year's march is how hard Congressman Schiff works for his district, his people, our people. Community is deep in this man's soul, of that I am sure.
Our Vice-Mayor, Emily Gabel-Luddy spoke, and Burbank City Attorney, Amy Albano who also marched in DTLA last year, really got the crowd inspired! I was positively filled with hope as I stood and listened. More so than last year because these people work for my town every day. “Local" isn't just a buzz word for them, they live it. And I'm so glad they do. As I walked with men, women, children, families, and friends, we chatted, we remarked on so many clever signs, and for two hours on a very chilly Saturday morning we literally came together. We stood together, we chanted together, and we marched together. THIS is community. This is why we march, this is hope.
Sweaty Palms & Weak Responses
Early spring 2018, I walked into the building of a startup accelerator program I had been accepted into. Armed with only confidence and a genius idea, I was eager to start level one. I had no idea of what to expect, but I knew I needed help. Somehow with life's journey of twists and turns, this former successful event planner was now about to blindly walk into the tech industry and tackle on a problem that too many women entrepreneurs had faced.
I sat directly across from the program founders, smiling ear to ear as I explained the then concept for HerHeadquarters. Underneath the table, I rubbed my sweaty palms on my pants, the anxiousness and excitement was getting the best of me. I rambled on and on about the future collaborating app for women entrepreneurs and all the features it would have. They finally stopped me, asking the one question I had never been asked before, "how do you know your target audience even wants this product?".
Taken back by the question, I responded, "I just know". The question was powerful, but my response was weak. While passionate and eager, I was unprepared and naively ready to commit to building a platform when I had no idea if anyone wanted it. They assigned me with the task of validating the need for the platform first. The months to follow were eye-opening and frustrating, but planted seeds for the knowledge that would later build the foundation for HerHeadquarters. I spent months researching and validating through hundreds of surveys, interviews, and focus groups.
I was dedicated to knowing and understanding the needs and challenges of my audience. I knew early on that having a national collaborating app for women entrepreneurs would mean that I'd need to get feedback from women all across the country. I repeatedly put myself on the line by reaching out to strangers, asking them to speak with me. While many took the time to complete a survey and participate in a phone interview, there were some who ignored me, some asked what was in it for them, and a few suggested that I was wasting my time in general. They didn't need another "just for women" platform just because it was trending.
I hadn't expected pushback, specifically from the women I genuinely wanted to serve. I became irritated. Just because HerHeadquarters didn't resonate with them, doesn't mean that another woman wouldn't find value in the platform and love it. I felt frustrated that the very women I was trying to support were the ones telling me to quit. I struggled with not taking things personally.
I hadn't expected pushback, specifically from the women I genuinely wanted to serve.
The Validation, The Neglect, The Data, and The Irony
The more women I talked to, the more the need for my product was validated. The majority of women entrepreneurs in the industries I was targeting did collaborate. An even higher number of women experienced several obstacles in securing those collaborations and yes, they wanted easier access to high quality brand partnerships.
I didn't just want to launch an app. I wanted to change the image of women who collaborated and adjust the narrative of these women. I was excited to introduce a new technology product that would change the way women secured valuable, rewarding products. I couldn't believe that despite that rising number of women-owned businesses launching, there was no tool catered to them allowing them to grow their business even faster. This demographic had been neglected for too long.
I hadn't just validated the need for the future platform, but I gained valuable data that could be used as leverage. Ironically, armed with confidence, a genius idea, and data to support the need for the platform, I felt stuck. The next steps were to begin designing a prototype, I lacked the skillsets to do it myself and the funding to hire someone else to do it.
I Desperately Need You and Your services, but I'm Broke
I found myself having to put myself out there again, allowing myself to be vulnerable and ask for help. I eventually stumbled across Bianca, a talented UX/UI designer. After coming across her profile online and reaching out, we agreed to meet for a happy hour. The question I had been asked months prior by the founders of my accelerator program came up again, "how do you know your target audience even wants this product?".
It was like déjà vu, the sweaty palms under the table reemerged and the ear to ear smile as I talked about HerHeadquarters, only this time, I had data. I proudly showed Bianca my research: the list of women from across the country I talked to that supported that not only was this platform solving a problem they had, but it's a product that they'd use and pay for.
I remember my confidence dropping as my transparency came into the conversation. How do you tell someone "I desperately need you and your services, but I'm broke?". I told her that I was stuck, that I needed to move forward with design, but that I didn't have the money to make it happen. Bianca respected my honesty, loved the vision of HerHeadquarters, but mostly importantly the data sold her. She believed in me, she believed in the product, and knew that it would attract investors.
From Paper to Digital
We reached a payment agreed where Bianca would be paid in full once HerHeadquarters received its first investment deal. The next few months were an all-time high for me. Seeing an idea that once floated around in my head make its way to paper, then transform into a digital prototype is was one of the highlights of this journey. Shortly after, we began user testing, making further adjustments based off of feedback.
The further along HerHeadquarters became, the more traction we made. Women entrepreneurs across the U.S. were signing up for early access to the app, we were catching investor's attention, and securing brand partnerships all before we had a launched product. The closer we got to launching, the scarier it was. People who only had a surface value introduction to HerHeadquarters put us in the same category of other platforms or brands catering to women, even if we were completely unrelated, they just heard "for women". I felt consistent pressure, most of which was self-applied, but I still felt it.
I became obsessed with all things HerHeadquarters. My biggest fear was launching and disappointing my users. With a national target audience, a nonexistent marketing budget, and many misconceptions regarding collaborating, I didn't know how to introduce this new brand in a way that distinctly made it clear who were targeting and who we were different from.
I second guessed myself all the time.
A 'Submit' button has never in life been more intimidating. In May 2019, HerHeadquarters was submitted to the Apple and Google play stores and released to women entrepreneurs in select U.S. cities. We've consistently grown our user base and seen amazing collaborations take place. I've grow and learned valuable lessons about myself personally and as a leader. This experience has taught me to trust my journey, trust my hard work, and always let honesty and integrity lead me. I had to give myself permission to make mistakes and not beat myself up about it.
I learned that a hundred "no's" is better than one "yes" from an unfit partner. The most valuable thing that I've learned is keeping my users first. Their feedback, their challenges, and suggestions are valuable and set the pace for the future of HerHeadquarters, as a product and a company. I consider it an honor to serve and cater to one of the most neglected markets in the industry.