Hidden amongst the exciting list of accomplished speakers at the first United State of Women Summit was an insightful, inspiring panel featuring an impressive list of female entrepreneurs. Led by Elizabeth Gore, Entrepreneur-In-Residence at Dell, six women spoke candidly about their successes, failures, and advice for women who want to follow in their footsteps.
Lisa Price, Founder of Carol’s Daughter - @IAmLisaPrice
Debbie Sterling, Founder and CEO of GoldieBlox - @debbieblox
Maria Burns Ortiz, CEO of 7 Generation Games - @burnsortiz
Nina Vaca, Chairman and CEO at Pinnacle Group - @ninavaca
Melanie Whelan, CEO of SoulCycle - @melaniewhelan1
Alexa von Tobel, Founder and CEO at LearnVest - @alexavontobel
Moderated by Elizabeth Gore, Entrepreneur-In-Residence @ Dell - @ElizabethGore
Elizabeth: Let’s start where we usually end, and kick off the panel with a single piece of advice from each of you.
Lisa: This too shall pass.
Debbie: If you find a passion, don’t be afraid to follow it; you’ll never regret following your dreams.
Maria: There is never a perfect time, so do it now.
Nina: See it, then be it! You can draw inspiration from conferences and panels like this.
Melanie: When building a culture, every person matters. Take your time with each one.
Alexa: Get Up, Dress Up, Show Up: get up early, pull yourself together even when you want to wear yoga pants, and show up with a great attitude.
Elizabeth: Women's access to capital is a hot topic - what are your thoughts and experiences?
Alexa: Take it one day at a time. Dream big - because nobody else will dream for you! Go as big as possible; even if you can’t boil the ocean, you should want to. Then do your homework. Work hard. Use your smartest friends to help you work through the hardest questions so that you’ve put in the work and are prepared for the important moments.
Debbie: Kickstarter is a great way to prove market demand for your product when everyone is telling you no. But until you’ve emailed everyone you’ve ever known to ask them to ask everyone they’ve ever known for money, you haven’t really done a crowd-funding campaign properly. It’s not easy.
Lisa: Don’t be afraid of selling your business, even if it’s your baby. Carol’s Daughter was my first baby, but it was time to let her go and be independent. She grew up after 20 years and I had to allow her to be who she needed to be in the world. But of course I’m still there as her MOM every day! And one day when I’m gone, she’ll live on her own.
Trying to raise capital for your business?
Read: How the Glassbreakers CEO Raised Capital as a First Time Founder
Watch: A Step-By-Step Guide to a Successful Crowdfunding Campaign
Elizabeth - Each of you is at a very different stage of growth in your company, and each of you have taken a very different path. How did you maintain your culture as you grew?
Alexa: You have to be receptive to what you’re bad at and learn from others - for example, I had to learn how to let people go. The culture has to be authentic, which only happens when you dig in and own your mistakes. Get lots of feedback and always take a hard look at it.
Melanie: It’s hard to maintain culture across two thousand employees and 70 studios. But if you hire for both aptitude and attitude, then give them the tools to learn (like an internal training platform for all managers that addresses professional and personal growth) then it's possible. I send our new studio managers out to the field before they feel ready, but I know they’ll succeed and get the job done because they're 86% women. [cheers]
Debbie: It was hard when I quit my job to start GoldieBlox; I was living my dream but I was lonely. I went to a networking event and introduced myself. Afterwards I had tons of volunteers who had the same dream; they came to my apartment every day to help and we became a team based on my mission.
Working on growing your business from the ground up?
Read: Practical Thoughts on How to Start Your Own Business
Watch: What to Expect When Deciding to be an Entrepreneur: the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly
Listen: Episode 7 of the Ellevate Podcast, Being an Entrepreneur with Georgene Huang
Elizabeth - Nina, you work with so many other large firms - what innovation challenges do you see in other companies?
Nina: Their challenges are always people. Driving people is critical, as is understanding how to focus on themes that motivate them. One of the themes that works for me is ‘People don’t work for me, they work with me'. I don't call them employees, everyone is an associate.
Elizabeth - For each of you, what was that key moment when you felt you made it?
Lisa: There were several, because you go through stages of growth and succeed at each stage. I always want to live with failure versus living thinking ‘what if’ - don’t haunt and torture yourself with regret, you’ll make it through with courage from each of your previous successes.
Debbie: My successes and clues always come from the customer. When girls get excited by the product, that’s when I know I’ve won.
Maria: It’s the same for me; when students who never liked math get excited about our games and ask if they can play again the next day, that’s the biggest success. Plus, when the numbers are showing that it’s working!
Melanie: Yes - you have to listen, learn, and accept when you’re wrong and the customer is really right.
Nina: I thought I was coming to share today, but I was coming to learn. [cheers] When I started I had nothing, and I didn’t have an ecosystem of successful connections around me. I asked myself ‘how do I become SOMEBODY, when I’m nobody?’ I went to a networking group and started meeting people - that access to opportunity is key.
Elizabeth - OK, once more - let's go around quickly and do one tweetable piece of closing advice:
Lisa: Know what you can do and don’t doubt you can achieve your dreams. Others are doing it, and there’s no stopping us.
Debbie: No means maybe!
Maria: You deserve to be here.
Nina: You don’t need permission to follow your dreams.
Melanie: Change happens one person at a time. Be a part of that change.
As it was stated time and again at the United State of Women summit - change doesn't happen on it's own; change is the result of many individual, unknown people doing what they can to improve the world. As First Lady Michelle Obama remarked at the end of the summit:
"As we’ve seen time and again, the women and girls who are out there working, they are truly force multipliers, spreading opportunity through their families and communities -– and not just by creating programs and nonprofit organizations, not just by hiring other women, but also by serving as role models themselves... I can’t even begin to imagine the impact that so many of you will have as you continue your efforts to lift up women and girls here in America and around the world."
How will you use your voice to be a part of that change? I pledge to listen and act - to meet women and girls where they are, listen to their needs, then to take action for change. Share your pledge in the comments below or with us on Twitter.