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How These 4 Women Built Hot Startups Without Compromising Their Ideals

October 9, 2017, 9:51 PM UTC
Fortune Most Powerful Women 2017 Summit
005 FORTUNE MOST POWERFUL WOMEN 2017 SUMMIT MONDAY, OCTOBER 9, 2017 WASHINGTON, D.C. 2:00 PM CONCURRENT SESSIONS DIGITAL TRANSFORMATION BUSINESS BUILDERS Navigating risk and competition to invest for growth — how do the smartest business builders innovate and drive value? Hosted by TPG Julia Hartz, Co-founder and CEO, Eventbrite Sarah Kauss, Founder and CEO, S’well Bottle
Mariam Naficy, Founder and CEO, Minted Gregg Renfrew, Founder and CEO, Beautycounter Moderator: Michal Lev-Ram, Senior Writer and Co-chair, MPW Summit and Brainstorm TECH, Fortune Introduction: Greta Guggenheim, Firm Partner and CEO, TPG Real Estate Finance Trust Photograph by Stuart Isett for Fortune Most Powerful Women
Photograph by Stuart Isett for Fortune Most Powerful Women

If the four women founders on the Building Companies panel at the opening session of Fortune Most Powerful Women Summit 2017 in D.C. are to be believed, then the smartest way to build a business today is to care about more than one bottom line.

Gregg Renfrew of Beautycounter was inspired by the 2006 Al Gore documentary, An Inconvenient Truth, to help create a “clean beauty” category and a company that made products free of toxic chemicals and environmental impacts. It’s become a movement of 30,000 independent consultants and inspired an advocacy group of like-minded companies.

Mariam Naficy, the CEO of Minted, a now ten-year-old platform for emerging creative talent, talked glowingly about how self-taught “hobbyists” were now beating out professionally trained designers, like those from the Rhode Island School of Design, in prestigious competitions. “It’s a new way to think about the creative workforce,” she says.

Sarah Kauss, CEO of S’well, created a “hydration fashion accessory company” that makes swanky water bottles as part of a mission that aims to rid the world of plastic bottles. “We marry fashion, function, and philanthropy,” she says.

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But Julia Hartz, the co-founder and CEO of Eventbrite, summed up the sentiment for everyone. “It’s table stakes for building a great company,” she says. “If you want to build a once in a lifetime company that really matters, and really changes the space,” then social impact, philanthropy, and economic uplift need to be part of your thinking. “Legacies are built on the practices of your company,” she says. Renfrew agreed. “You can do well by doing good, and you should.”

While all four founders had stories to share about the nuts and bolts of building businesses. From working with investors, getting to profitability, and surveying existing customers for new product ideas—the idea of an expanded bottom line was essential. And, in many cases, unusual.

One example: Equity. When is the right time to share equity with employees? The Silicon Valley model, it was agreed, was old school. “Men hoard all the equity and give it out in snippets,” said Renfrew. “If you’re going to ask people to be committed to your mission, they should be included.”

Hartz agreed. “[Eventbrite’s] culture is very much… that it would be odd if we were not offering equity,” she said. “So there’s not much disparity.” But she said she was surprised to find that it’s not a universal perk. Employees in Australia, for example, were loath to accept equity because of tax implications. “That’s part of building a global company,” she says. Some 30% of Eventbrite’s business is outside the U.S. “When we see people opt-out, we look for other ways to help them participate in the upside.”