Between being a minority at pretty every much industry event, having to convince (mostly male) venture capitalists to invest in your company, and having those investors constantly question your judgment, being a female founder can be an isolating experience.
Luckily, there are women who have gone through that experience and didn’t just make it out alive, but created wildly successful consumer brands. Some of those women spoke at BBG Ventures Reset 2018 on Wednesday in New York City. Here were their top five tips for fellow female entrepreneurs:
1. Don’t just listen to your customers, act on what they tell you.
“Your customers are your roadmap,” says Shanna Tellerman, CEO of Modsy, a startup that creates three-dimensional renderings to help users design their homes. Because her product isn’t the most easiest to explain, the founder uses customer feedback to inform communication about her product. Jenn Hyman, CEO of clothing rental service Rent the Runway, says customer feedback led her team’s expansion strategy. In addition to evening wear, RTR now allows women to rent work attire, maternity clothes, accessories “because we heard from the customer that she wanted to use us more than a few times a year.”
2. Just because you fill a void in the market, doesn’t mean others can’t, too.
Kristen Jones Miller, co-founder of Mented Cosmetics, which makes makeup for women of color, says that once Rihanna launched her beauty brand Fenty, which serves the same demographic, she heard the question: “Can we really have more than one beauty brand focused on diversity?” The answer, of course, is yes. “It’s like asking if Lancome and Estee Lauder can both exist simultaneously.” In fact, Miller says, the Fenty launch has boosted Mented’s sales.
3. Admit when you need help—and get it.
Amy Chang, CEO of Accompany, an intelligent, adaptive virtual chief of staff product, says one of her biggest learnings from founding a company was how much she had still to learn. And anyone who doesn’t admit that “is hurting their company.” In addition to having a team and an advisory board that makes up for her skill gaps, Chang employs creative ways to soak up knowledge—like asking companies she admires or customers she serves to shadow them. “You’ll be surprised what people will say yes to.”
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4. Live and breathe your brand.
Danielle Weisberg and Carly Zakin, co-CEOs of theSkimm, a daily newsletter-turned-media platform, are “obsessed” with their brand voice. “It isn’t just how you position the company externally but also the experience every single day,” Zakin says. In addition to creating a brand document that everyone in the company knows inside out, the co-founders have made a point to brand all of their touchpoints—from fictional holiday called Skimm Day to their brand ambassadors (Skimm’bassadors). It’s not just about turning everything into a pun, but about being intentional about everything you do, says Weisberg.
5. Don’t underestimate your customer’s intelligence.
Marah Lidey, co-founder of Shine, a service sends you free daily text messages with motivational quotes, says one of the biggest mistakes she sees startups make—particularly when trying to monetize—is trying to “trick” their customers. “Don’t do that. Customers are smart.” Rent the Runway’s Hyman points out that her biggest piece of feedback from her customer was a sophisticated one: “They asked for shorter turnaround time. That’s the language businesswomen use!”