Launchers and Leaders: Brown Women and Entrepreneurship

Launchers and Leaders: Brown Women and Entrepreneurship


VICTORIA WESTHEAD: Hi,
everyone, and welcome. It’s lovely to see so many of
you here in the room today. And it’s also lovely to see
fewer umbrellas than yesterday. My name is Victoria
Westhead, class of 1983. Parent class of 2017 and 2019,
and chair of the Pembroke’s Center Associates Council. The Pembroke Center is
delighted to be sponsoring today’s forum,
Launchers and Leaders: Brown Women and
Entrepreneurship, and partnership with the
Jonathan M. Nelson Center for Entrepreneurship. The Pembroke Center for
Teaching and Research on Women organizes programs,
such as this one, to connect alumnae, alumni, and
other friends with the center. Founded in 1981, the
Pembroke Center’s Research and Teaching
explores social change and how questions of difference,
such as gender, race, class, and religion affect our
thinking and our world. The Pembroke’s
Center’s two archives preserve the history of
Brown and Rhode Island women and the intellectual history
of feminist scholars. Now it gives me great
pleasure to introduce Danny Warshay, class of 1987. He is celebrating
his 30th reunion. Parent class of 2020,
and executive director of the Jonathan M. Nelson
Center for Entrepreneurship. Thank you. [APPLAUSE] DANNY WARSHAY: Thank
you very much, Victoria. And thank you all for coming. I want to first
thank the Pembroke Center for collaborating with
the Jonathan M. Nelson Center for Entrepreneurship. As I was saying
to Victoria, we’re looking forward to lots
of other collaborations as we move forward. For how many of you
is– and this may not pertain to anybody– but,
is this your first time visiting back to campus? Oh, yes. It pertains to a few. So special welcome
to all of you, and hope we see you at
many more opportunities like this graduation
and reunion. I also want to say
a quick shout-out to classmates of
mine who are also celebrating their 30th reunion. And a special welcome back
to a former student of mine, Sadie, who I know is
going to talk a little bit about the relationship
she had with the course I taught on entrepreneurship. I’m going to tell you just very
briefly about the Jonathan M. Nelson Center, and then turn
this over to our illustrious panel. The Jonathan M. Nelson
Center for Entrepreneurship began just about eight
months ago, and we– I like to say– hit
the ground sprinting. And some of you are familiar
with all the program we’ve already undertaken,
and we’re really excited to consider
ourselves a startup. And part of that approach
is collaborating with people all throughout the Brown
ecosystem, including the Pembroke Center. We represent and we deliver
on our mission of making entrepreneurship
an essential part of the Brown experience in
three fundamental ways– curricularly, and that means
we teach entrepreneurship in the Brown curriculum,
as some of you know, since you’ve taken
courses in the curriculum. And that includes
the course that Sadie took with me back
in fall of 2011 called The
Entrepreneurial Process. So we take seriously
the academic rigor of our mission to teach in
the curriculum at Brown. We also do things
co-curricularly, outside the
classroom, which means we sponsor programs, and
events, and speakers. We bring folks like
Deb Mills-Scofield back to campus each semester to
meet with students, to mentor students, to deliver
value from the experience that they’ve had at
Brown and beyond Brown in their own
entrepreneurial careers. And then, finally we
provide a very wide range of venture support to startups
and other groups of students who were looking to apply
what they’ve learned in an entrepreneurial setting. So that includes
financial resources, grants of increasing
funding sizes, mentorship. We would encourage
any alums who are interested in mentoring
students to be in touch with us. We run a summer accelerator
to advance the trajectory of Brown launched startups. In fact, I see some
of our students who will be participating this
summer in that accelerator called B-Lab. And we have a real
commitment to making sure that student ventures don’t
just fall off the cliff once they leave College Hill. And we provide transition to– just like Sadie– make sure
that you can launch something, which has real sustainability. If you’re interested in learning
more about the Jonathan M. Nelson Center, you
can go to our website entrepreneurship.brown.edu. We would love to hear from
you, certainly to the extent that you’re interested
in participating with us. And you can email us at
[email protected] And then, finally, I’ll invite
anybody who’s interested– guests included– to
attend our open house, our entrepreneurship open
house this afternoon, which is 4:00 to 6:00 on
the second floor of Brown Hillel at 80 Brown Street. It gives me a lot
of pleasure to be able to introduce our moderator
for this morning for today’s panel, Deb Mills-Scofield,
class of 1982. And I know Deb for many years,
and we’re very close friends. And I said it feels a little
contrived to introduce you so formally, but I just
want to make sure that I don’t omit anything
from Deb’s illustrious career, since so much of it is so
meaningful for our panel this morning. Deb graduated from Brown with
a degree in cognitive science. And true to her identifying
her own entrepreneurship very early, was a
concentration that she helped to found as a student. And others have followed
in that path studying similar kinds of disciplines. In her professional
work of over 25 years, Deb has helped
numerous companies to create and implement
entrepreneurship and innovative-based
strategic plans. One of the most wonderful
things about the way the Deb works with
those companies, and a reflection, I think
of her generous spirit, is that Deb always asks her
clients to match and donate 10% of her fee to improve
the lives of those in their surrounding community. Deb is also a partner
at a firm called Glengary LLC, an early
stage venture capital firm in Cleveland– I happen to be a
fellow Clevelander too, so that’s one part
of our backgrounds that we share in common. And she is the co-creator
of a book that many of you, no doubt, know and use. Certainly all of my
former students know it– Alex Osterwalder’s book,
Business Model Generation– among other books,
including several of her own that are forthcoming. Deb is recognized
internationally as one of the top 40 bloggers
on topics related to innovation and entrepreneurship. And I think probably for
our context this morning, and the way in which many of
you know Deb already, certainly students, and recent
alumni is that, and I can say this I think
with some credibility, that Deb is one of the
most generous and most beloved mentors in any part
of the Brown community. She is constantly giving
of herself to inspire– and I think the right
word is nurture– hundreds of Brown students
and recent alumni, particularly aspiring
entrepreneurs. Sometimes– I know I say
you’re a Clevelander, but it really
feels like we share a town of living in Providence,
since you’re here so often. So I want to thank you,
Deb, for all that you do, all that you give to Brown. It’s rare that I have a public
forum in which to do that, and I wanted to take
advantage of that. And also for moderating
today’s panel. And one thing that Deb
wanted me to caution us about is that Deb has to leave here
right at noon because she’s in demand somewhere else to
participate in another event. So please join me in
welcoming to the forum, Deb Mills-Scofield. [APPLAUSE] DEB MILLS-SCOFIELD:
Good morning. Is this? They’re on. Holy, moly. So I’d like to welcome
you to this panel on women entrepreneurs at Brown. And I’m going to kick
it off with one story. So we’re going to
pick on Sadie today, because she is so good
at being picked on. In the process of
becoming an entrepreneur– she graduated in ’12– and over that summer,
she moved to New York to start her 305 Fitness,
which is a amazing thing. And I remember several
Skype calls over the summer with, it’s not
going to work, Deb. What am I doing? Did I do the wrong thing? And all that. And you look at her
today and where she is, and it’s tenacity
and going for it. So with that, I’d like to kick
off our panel this morning. You all have bios, so
we wouldn’t take up time going over them. So please read them. With a question for
each of you, and I’ll start down there with Sarah. Oh, you know– well,
you’ll introduce yourselves as I ask this question. Those are those little
things I kind of forget. How did being at Brown shape
you as an entrepreneur? SARAH CARSON: Well,
good morning, everyone. I’m Sarah Carson, and I’m
the founder and CEO of Leota. We’re a women’s apparel
company based in New York, and we make the most
comfortable, versatile, machine washable fashion on the market. We sell to
Bloomingdale’s, Nordstrom, Stitch Fix– hundreds
of stores globally. And we were named one
of the fastest growing private companies in America
for two years in a row, and then top 50 run by women. And Brown shaped me
as an entrepreneur, not from a fashion
perspective guys. OK? Shocker. I think when I graduated,
and the big thing was wearing skirts and
pants at the same time. No. But Brown is a place
where you pretty much had to write a business
plan for your education. And you walk in, you’re
given a lot of resources, but then you got
to figure it out. You got to figure it out. And that’s what it takes to be
an entrepreneur, in addition to having grit– so much grit and
so much tenacity– you got to be able
to figure it out. So that is what excited me
about becoming an entrepreneur. And that’s part of what
I got here at Brown. I was a women’s studies
major, excuse me, gender studies major at Brown. Sorry, that year
that I studied here, we changed it to gender studies. I was one of six. And I think the department has
grown so much in the last 15 years, but at the time,
a lot of the students weren’t really
willing to be like all in with gender studies. A lot of them were, OK, I’m
going to be economics also. I’m going to be comp lit also. I was one of six people that
was like all in for women. And I bring that way of thinking
to my business every day, because women are my job– figuring out what she wants. And so, I’m really glad that
I had the Pembroke Center and that I had Brown to shape
it that way as an entrepreneur. DEB MILLS-SCOFIELD: Thank you. And we’re going to come back to
that point in the next question too– that, as a woman. Vibha, how did being
a Brown shape you? VIBHA PINGLE: I’m Vibha Pingle. I was a grad student at Brown. I did my master’s and PhD
in sociology at Brown. I think the way– what I took away from
Brown, and the way it shaped me is just
being entrepreneurial in what I’m studying. Being entrepreneurial. And second, added to that, being
sort of globally integrated. I felt I got that while
I was a student here, I was here for about
four to five years, depending on field
work and so on. And I also taught here after
finishing, and more recently. And I think what I take away
is being in a community that’s very intellectually creative,
that’s very globally aware. And I think this is
true uniquely for Brown that students and faculty
and everyone of Brown is willing to encourage
people to make connections across disciplines,
exactly as you said. And I think that is
incredibly valuable to being entrepreneurial, being able
to make those connections. MORRA AARONS-MELE: Hi everyone
I’m Morra Aarons-Mele. I graduated in 1988,
which means next year will be my 20th reunion. SARAH CARSON: Yay. MORRA AARONS-MELE:
And I have to give– I am such a Leota fan. If you don’t own a
Leota dress, please– because they’re incredible,
and they travel, and I’ve worn them– also,
I’ve had three kids, and they go from pregnancy
to post-pregnancy. They’re amazing. So that’s my plug for you. SARAH CARSON: Thank you. MORRA AARONS-MELE:
So I agree that I think Brown really forces
you to chart your own path. And for me when I got to Brown,
I had grown up in New Jersey and I had big dreams. I wanted to be a media mogul. And I met people from
all over the world, from all over the country,
from so many different lives. People whose lives had
glamour and excitement that I could only begin to imagine. And it sparked my imagination. I also was allowed to
indulge and experiment with the various sides
of my interest at Brown, which I think is also
really useful in being an entrepreneur. I never thought I would
be an entrepreneur. I still don’t even consider
myself an entrepreneur. But I have a very Brown life. I am an author, I run a
business, I speak, I blog, I do all kinds of stuff. And I have– I’m a political ,
consultant but I’m also really into fashion. And I’ve woven it all
into my political life– I’m sorry, in my business life. And I think that 20
years later is the gift that Brown gave
me, is the ability to be a multitude of selves– figure out how to make
money off most of them. And also to deal
with the hard parts. I will say that
when I was at Brown, I was really depressed
a lot of the time. It’s very bittersweet
for me coming back here, because I think that
being in college is hard. And being in Brown
sometimes can be lonely, because no one’s
telling you what to do. And that was also
really good preparation in retrospect for
charting my own course, and figuring out a
life that was right. DEB MILLS-SCOFIELD: Very
interesting and important point. Sadie. SADIE KURZBAN: Well, I got,
really, my start at Brown. I started the business our
senior year of college. But even before then, I
was– so my name is Sadie. I run 305 Fitness. It’s a dance cardio
workout with a live DJ. We have three cities– Boston, New York, DC. We have international pop-ups. We have a team of 50
instructors, 35 DJs, 50,000 clients– it’s
really, really fun. I started– really got my
start teaching classes here. First day of freshman year,
went up to the gym and said, let me teach this class. It was the old OMAC. So that’s how I really
got my start, was– I would go flier around,
people would come to my class. And this was how I was
sort of testing the product and building an audience
was here at Brown. Obviously, to everyone’s
point, the flexibility and the independence
that Brown inspires in you as a student also really
helped me chart my own course. But even in the literal sense
of building a following, building a product. The friends that I made here– Brielle, who’s sitting
in the audience was the one who turned to
me senior year and said, you should do this. And then we tried to convince
Danny Warshay to let us into his entrepreneurship
seminar, which was so helpful in me
writing the business plan. And Sam who’s sitting
in the audience today, he’s my COO, so I met him
at the ice cream social. So a lot of– in and more like
literally sense, I really got my
start here at Brown. DEB MILLS-SCOFIELD: Cool. So one of the
questions I have is, as you all started
your business– and it gets to
your point, Sarah– I’m going to try
to keep us on time, about three minutes each– how do you think your view of
business and entrepreneurship as a woman, taking aside
issues of women, and parity, and raising equity,
and all that. Just as a mindset,
how do you think that shaped your business? SARAH CARSON: That’s
a good question. DEB MILLS-SCOFIELD: We
could come back to you, if you’d like. SARAH CARSON: I can’t think– I can think of one
way that being a woman has helped me in my business. Because for the most
part, it has not helped me as a business
person, as an entrepreneur. But one way that it has is that
I’m very willing to be wrong, and I’m very willing
to be vulnerable. And that’s not
just a lady thing. But I think women are a little
better at that, in general. I didn’t get to
where I am alone, and I’m not getting to
where I’m going alone. And so, asking questions,
willing to just get the right answer, no
matter who it’s from. It could be someone who just
walked in the door yesterday. It doesn’t have to
be all about me, so that’s helped me get to
the right answers faster. And it’s also helped me be
very agile as an entrepreneur. Because if I see
something’s not working, there’s no ego about it. It’s just like let’s change it– let’s change it right now. That’s something that’s
really cool about having my own business, also. You know how in New York when
people say they’re an actor, they’re really like a
bartender or a server? OK. Well, I love getting
advice from people. But it goes a little far. So I was at a benefit and a real
estate agent guy came up to me and he was like, you
know what, Sarah? You really got to
scale up your business. And he’s giving me all this
advice about what I should do. And I was so annoyed by that. And I called my buddy,
and I was like, dude, I’m so sick of people
telling me what to do with my business
that have no idea. What do you do about that? And he was like, no one tells
me how to run my business. And that actually
never occurred to me. [? MORRA AARONS-MELE: ?]
Totally. [? DEB MILLS-SCOFIELD: ?]
Good point. [APPLAUSE] DEB MILLS-SCOFIELD: Vibha? VIBHA PINGLE: So I started
founding this nonprofit Ubuntu At Work when I did research,
soon after I graduated from Brown, studying women
microentrepreneurs in South Africa. And I was there to
learn, to understand how they escape poverty, and
how they found their footing to grow a business, and so on. And the one thing– the two
things I learned that were critical in talking to
them– women in South Africa, and elsewhere in Africa
and Asia, later– was that, what really
worked for them is that they needed
to connect with others outside their community. And the other thing
they needed was they needed a strong community. That was important. So in many ways, after
I started Ubuntu, those two ideas became
critical to Ubunto, as in we needed ideas
from people around. We needed to connect with people
in different walks of life to get those ideas,
get those fresh ideas, get that entrepreneurial spirit,
without people lecturing you. So I get that. But at the same time, we
needed to be a community. We needed to define
ourselves as a community. And I think that
really helped, and that sort of strengthened
Ubuntu as an organization, and helped it become an
organic organization that could evolve in different
ways as the need arose. DEB MILLS-SCOFIELD: Interesting. Morra. MORRA AARONS-MELE: Well,
so women are my life too. My business is
called Women Online. We create digital campaigns
that mobilize women. And my husband calls it vag.org. [LAUGHTER] MORRA AARONS-MELE: When
he’s in a testy mood. So– DEB MILLS-SCOFIELD:
Is he still alive? [LAUGHTER] MORRA AARONS-MELE: He
did not go to Brown. [LAUGHTER] MORRA AARONS-MELE: So I
was a political consultant in Washington DC after
the 2004 election. And I was sitting with
a bunch of bloggers in a regular gathering
that they had. And it was all
these young dudes, and they were talking about
why health care was so stupid, and why are we always
arguing about health care? And even though I was
only 27 years old, I thought, god,
these men don’t know what they’re talking about. Health care is the
most important thing. But I was the only
woman in the room. I was often the
only woman that was a digital political consultant,
so I worked with so many men. And I just got
sick of it one day. I was always working
in rooms of men and feeling like my
voice was stifled. And then, I met the
founder of blogher.com, which sadly has been
subsumed and sold, but was for many years
the largest community online of women who blog. And the founder met
me and she said, I want you to be our
political blogger. And I said, I don’t know
anything about politics. I can’t write about politics. She said, you’re the director
of internet marketing for the Democratic
National Committee. You’ve worked for
presidents, like what the– And I started blogging. And that gave me a public voice. All of a sudden, I realized
I did know about politics. People did take me seriously. And it gave me the courage. And I left that one-sided
male-dominated political consulting, and I started
my firm Women Online. And we only work on campaigns
and for clients who women are their key, key audience. And even to this
day, I’ll meet men and they’ll say, oh, that’s
such a nice niche business. And I’ll say niche? Like, excuse me? But that’s OK. My niche is powerful. SADIE KURZBAN: I
agree with Sarah that it’s hard to think
of ways that being a woman has benefited my career, because
it is certainly hindered it in more ways than I can name. But I think maybe
one way that it’s benefited me has been just
being really intimately tied to my product. It’s a product that’s
mostly consumed by women, that’s
young, and millennial, and really has women
embedded in it. And I think a lot of
the unsolicited advice that I get, especially
from men, tends to be about like making just
crazy stupid ideas, honestly. That I’m like, a woman
wouldn’t appreciate that, so I think I can just
sort of understand it, because I’m a consumer
of my own product. And I think being a woman has
helped me understand it better. DEB MILLS-SCOFIELD: So I’m
going to go back to you, Morra, for a minute. And then, we can all
discuss the next thing, which is one should ask,
regardless of gender, how do you manage
being an entrepreneur and having a significant
other, and/or children, and/or being a daughter
or son, or a sibling, because some of us are getting
into that sandwich generation. Some of us, not yet,
but will, of taking care of parents, and all that. And this should be asked
regardless of whether we’re male or female. And there is a great
guy, Brad Feld, who is out of
Boulder who’s written a book about the startup
relationship or spouse, or something like that. So how have you all
navigated, dealt or not– or, well, you did, whether
we did it right or not– being a significant other, or a
parent, or a kid, or a sister, or whatever– how have
you navigated that? Because there is no
right or wrong to this. And so, since you
have three kids, I’m going to ask you first. MORRA AARONS-MELE: Well I
will say that my business has had fits and starts. When my business really got
up and running in about 2010, I was so gung ho,
and I was like ready. And then, I had my second– I got pregnant with my second
child sort of unexpectedly, when I still had like a
one-and-a-half-year-old. And my father became
terminally ill with cancer. And so, I lost a year. You know, I just lost a year. And that’s OK. You know and, with every kid,
I’ve had to sort of dial back and then I rev up again. My youngest child is
now two and a half, and I’m like ready to go. I think that part of
what I like to talk about in entrepreneurship is
that it’s your business, it’s not anyone else’s business,
to the mansplaining thing. When you are an
entrepreneur, everyone will try to give you advice. And you will read
Inc. Magazine and see people like Sarah who are
incredibly fast growing, and you will feel bad if your
business is not on that list. And I feel that
way all the time. I have a small business. We’re very successful,
we’re very profitable, but we’re small. And that’s OK, because I
have created a business that actually gives me time
to be with my kids, and gives me that
time that I need. And so, it doesn’t mean I’m
any less of an entrepreneur. I may never be a
billionaire, but I’m still a successful entrepreneur. And so, I think that my
thing about having a life and having a business is
you can absolutely do it. You’re going to have
to make compromises– that’s life. And I think that it
starts with having a really strong vision of what
you want from your business. DEB MILLS-SCOFIELD: Others? SARAH CARSON: I don’t
believe in balance. DEB MILLS-SCOFIELD: Yeah. [LAUGHTER] SARAH CARSON: I think
striving for balance is striving for mediocrity. I think you got to choose
a handful of things and do those things and
really, really well. And then, just not
do the other things, and not feel bad
about it at all. So that’s the challenge is
the guilt management, right? So strive for beauty,
strive for perfection, but don’t strive for balance. That’s boring. DEB MILLS-SCOFIELD:
And impossible. SARAH CARSON: Totally. VIBHA PINGLE: I think I agree
with you that balance is hard and balance is impossible,
and why strive for it? So I have a different
response to it, which sort of picks
up from what you said, which is I think the way to
deal with having a family and raising a child, or
children, and having a partner, and dealing with a startup– whether it’s an enterprise
or a social enterprise– is to really be immersed in it. To not really have a
work/life balance– to integrate the two. [? MORRA AARONS-MELE: ?] Yes. VIBHA PINGLE: And I think
that’s when it works. So it’s sort of choosing,
but choosing then– whatever you have to
choose, just doing it all, and bringing them together. So it means that I’ve taken
my son for an outreach meeting in South Africa in this
village in Limpopo, which was 45 degrees Celsius
and hot and miserable, and I was collapsing
under the heat– in the heat talking
to a group of women. And he was up a tree
showing his iPad to a bunch of kids from
the village who had never seen someone like him before. And it worked. Or I’m going to a
conference in Tanzania and I didn’t know what
to do with him while I was in the conference, and he
learned Swahili for three days. And sort of has a little
book that he totes around that has Swahili words. And the guy taught him
African songs, and so on. So I think it’s not about
looking for a balance, but about integrating the two. And really immersing
yourself in it. SADIE KURZBAN: I loved
Sarah’s response, and I tend to agree
that, when people talk about work/life balance,
for me, I’m not married, I’m single. I really devote all
my time to work. It’s really more priorities
for me, than balance. So I am unapologetically
ambitious. This business means
the world to me. It fills like an existential
need for me that doesn’t just feel like a job. So I think I’ve– when I owned that at a
younger age, it felt lonely, but it also felt really
liberating to say, this matters to me more than
anything else in my life. And I will do anything that I
can to make sure that it works. And that means that
relationships, and friendships, and family have often
taken a backseat to that. And I think that my true,
true, true good friends have understood that. And it has been difficult. I
don’t have time for coffees, and catch-ups,
and acquaintances. I have two good friends, and
that’s what matters to me. And then, building this business
really matters to me, so yeah– but I work with my best
friend, I work with my brother. So also integrating it into
work has helped as well. But really knowing
that this is what matters to me the
most in being able, and prioritize
everything after that. And knowing I have a
very limited amount of free time and social time. And maybe it’s
five hours a week, and I know the two people
I want to spend that with. DEB MILLS-SCOFIELD: I think one
of the nice things about Brown is it’s usually taught us
and/both rather than either/or, and the world is
still very either/or. And I think as we– from things
that we’ve all talked about here– taking your kids with you,
I’ve done that on snow days and had my daughter analyze
a client and the interactions among the C-suite. And later say to me, that
guy cannot stand that guy. Did you see that guy just
sit there like that this. And I’m like, ooh. Maybe forget school
for you, kiddo, and you can just
come work for me. But that integrating is
a really important piece. And I think you’ve given
your son opportunities most kids wouldn’t have. And your children,
and your children, and I look at my kids– so I
have a son and a daughter– and that impacts their view
of what a woman does in terms of thinking for my
son of his spouse, and my daughter for
herself as a person. And one of the things–
getting back to your point earlier about being vulnerable. It was one of my
mentees up here– and I’m looking to see if
she’s here, but she’s not– that brought up
with me, Deb, it’s OK to let us know you’re
not having a good day. And I thought of
that, well, really? I’m the mentor,
you’re the mentee. I’ve got to be in control. And that vulnerability
gives others the freedom to be vulnerable, and
then also opens up the Brown ethos of learning
to ask great questions. And one of the great
questions that always comes up with entrepreneurship
is, so, how’d you get your start financially? Because we all know
women do not generally have the opportunities for
angel, early-stage, seed, VC funding. So, how did you guys start
funding your business? SARAH CARSON: Well, I’ll start. My business is
totally bootstrapped. I’m the 100% owner
of the company, and have grown simply by
reinvesting cash flow. And we’ve been profitable
since year two. And I started with
$10,000 of savings. I was an investment banker
before this, but not during those years where
people made a lot of money in investment banking. But I did have a
little bit of a runway. I didn’t have to
work for a year. I wasn’t married at the
time, but that actually didn’t help me
financially at all. Love you. I had really good relationships
with banks, mortgagees before starting my business. So if any of you are planning
on owning your own company, get your mortgage first. Because once you
have your business, the banks are going to hate you. So get all those ducks in a row
before you quit your real job. SADIE KURZBAN: Good advice. SARAH CARSON: Yeah. VIBHA PINGLE: So I have
a social enterprise. It’s a registered nonprofit. And so, it started
with some donations from my husband and me, as
well as from close friends, and so on. And I think that’s actually
been one of the hardest bits of being a
woman-focused nonprofit is trying to explain
whether it’s to investors, or to explain to
donors, that it’s run and it is something
that’s organic. It depends on how the
women want to participate in the organization. There’s a sense in which
the business world sort of works better when it sort of–
there’s a manager out there supervising what happens,
and what doesn’t happen, and so on, and so forth. So it’s hard to
explain to donors and hard to explain
to angel investors, and so on, that
it’s an organic– it’s a woman owned business,
woman owned microenterprise at the local level. And we have to work
with these women– whether it’s in various
parts of Africa or Asia– and they have to participate,
and they get to have their say. It’s not about someone
in New York, or Boston, or wherever saying,
well, what’s your plan? And let’s– so I think it’s sort
of been interesting to see how being a woman-focused
organization has hurt it financially. DEB MILLS-SCOFIELD:
Interesting, yeah. MORRA AARONS-MELE: I
do think that if you’re a woman in business and
your consumers are women, you might get a
double penalty when you’re trying to raise money. So I also have a
bootstrap business. We’re a professional services
firm, so we don’t scale really. I started freelancing when
I was in graduate school, and I just picked up
some clients doing digital political
consulting, and just slowly built that until I
needed to hire staff, and needed to hire more staff. And I did invest in some
software and in a database when I felt ready,
because I wanted to have– it’s called
the Mission List, and it’s an influencer
database of powerful bloggers and social media influencers
who want to do good. So I did feel like to supplement
my professional services agency, I wanted
some sort of product. So I did invest in that
in year three, which was sort of the biggest outlay
of cash that I’ve ever done. And that felt scary. But I have learned
a lot of lessons, because I did go to Brown
and I haven’t taken math since 12th, 11th grade. [LAUGHTER] MORRA AARONS-MELE: I had
to learn a lot– although, in grad school I took a little– I had to learn
some lessons, and I had to learn to not
be afraid of money. And to treat cash flow as king. Cash flow, cash flow, cash flow. And actually, I have
to plug my book. It’s coming out September 26. It’s a business
guide for introverts. But I have a whole
chapter on how to manage your monthly nut
as a small business owner, because to me it doesn’t matter
what other people tell me about my money, if I’m
in control of my cash and I know what’s going on. And I think that’s been
the biggest lesson to me as a business owner
over these years. SADIE KURZBAN: Similarly,
I also bootstrapped the business, not really
out of choice but because it was so hard to raise money. It sucks. I don’t mean to be
like such a downer, but I definitely think that’s
one of the most sexist areas is out there raising money. It’s awful, especially
when you’re young, and especially when your
product is consumed by women. So it was very difficult.
I got a lot of nos. I got so many– you know, wasting so much time,
that was really, I don’t know, a creepy power play. Or trying to take me on a date. Or, like why? Just leave me the fuck alone. So that was really hard. And the first few years,
it was all bootstrapped. I won that business plan
competition. it was $25,000. It’s no money at all
to start a business. I’m also very honest
about the fact that I am very lucky
that I had parents who wrote a check basically to
help me out at the beginning. And that’s one way that I think,
if you’re an entrepreneur who doesn’t have that access
to capital and to privilege like I did, I
can’t even imagine. Because I knew, whether
that money was there or not, I knew where my next
meal was coming from. I never was really at risk that
would truly run out of money. So I think that’s definitely a
way that privilege has really helped, and I imagine
that being an entrepreneur and not having any access– whether it’s money or friends–
must be absolutely terrifying. Because for me, even having
that access was very scary. But most of it came– was just bootstrapped–
came from clients who I saw were
enjoying the product, and I basically beg,
beg, begged for money. Like I was like,
come on, Lauren. I know you have $25,000. It got that bad. I had to make all kinds
of scary phone calls and say hey, Mr.
Contractor, I know you just built this studio, can
I get a six-month extension? It was– like, it’s bad because
you build these studios– we’ve built these studios,
they’re very, very expensive. But now, luckily, that
it’s been five years, we’re very profitable, we
have multiple locations and tens of
thousands of clients. Now it’s almost too
easy to raise money. Now I’ve sort of hit my limit,
and we can’t raise more money. I’ve also learned in
the investing world how stupid it all is,
honestly, because I’m still the same person. I’m still just as
competent and confident, and the product is the
same, and it’s always been a fantastic business. But the psychology
of investing really matters, so getting
that right person who brings everybody else in. It’s like people now– I mean, I love my investors. I don’t want to talk to
talk badly about them– but oftentimes, people now who
are showing interest, or people who have never even seen the
product or engaged in it, and they just heard that
their friend wants to invest so they want to invest. So it’s kind of silly, honestly,
this world of investing. And I felt so shut out by it for
so long, and now like, really? This is it? And also, it’s all just learning
the lingo and the conversation. And that was something at
first asking people to invest, asking people for
money, was terrifying. And now you know these terms. So if you are
intimidated, if you’re trying to go out
there and raise money, my advice would be focus
on building your business so you can show profit. Because at the end
of the day, that speaks higher than anything
else that you can do. And then, getting
the right people and really learning the lingo,
and showing this kind of– that everyone else is interested
and you’re going to miss out. Being a kind of
salesperson in this way has really helped too, so– but it sucks raising money. It’s so dumb. It really is. DEB MILLS-SCOFIELD: I always
said that I would hate to be– I would hate to have to bring
a deal to my VC firm, which says something. That’s also why we have
really good success rate, but we liked having people
come to us who, they still needed money, but it
was such an oxymoron. The more revenue you had
coming in– so in a way, the less money you needed
to run, not maybe to scale– the more we loved you. And granted, that my
firm’s in Cleveland, which is the Midwest. It really is, even though
they don’t always admit it. Sorry, true. Isn’t it really in the Midwest? Thank you. We didn’t get that much
female deal flow from women. And we had one
that was a chemist, and we invested in that. And there were a
bunch of us that were really skeptical about
the science behind it, and lost a lot of
money on that deal. And then, we had
another young woman who had a lifestyle business. So she was building
a community online, and there were a few of us–
and I’m the only female partner in the firm, so there
were other men with me that thought you know this
could catch on really big. There’s no IP, but it could
be big, and we should invest. And we didn’t in that. And so, that one
then someone else invested in and did really well. I don’t know where they are now. But part of the
issue was, we didn’t have the deal flow
coming in to choose from because you didn’t want to
put yourself in that situation. Interestingly enough, none
of us up here have an MBA. So for any of those that
do, I’m very happy for you. Hope you enjoyed it. But I hope that raises the
point that it’s not necessary. It depends what
you’re going to do, and sometimes you need it
for the cache, or to attract the right network. But we have four very
successful women up here, and me, and none of
us have– well, sorry. [INAUDIBLE] We don’t have an MBA,
just a lot of grit. So before I open it up for some
brief questions, any word– how many parents are here? [? SADIE KURZBAN: ?] Woo-hoo! DEB MILLS-SCOFIELD: OK. Any words of advice for
parents of entrepreneurs? Things you would have
liked to your parents to know as you started
doing your thing? SADIE KURZBAN: I can start. DEB MILLS-SCOFIELD: Yes you can. SADIE KURZBAN: I have
incredibly supportive parents. Financially, yes, but
emotionally, were so, so, so supportive when I did this. I am so grateful for that. They are my biggest
cheerleaders. They saw that this was something
that I did with a passion, and they were so
enthusiastic and excited. They never put any pressure
on me about money either. So it was never
about making money. It was always just about
doing what you love, and doing it with pride I feel
very grateful to them for that. They also gave me a ton
of independence as a kid. So I grew up with four siblings. They were both parents
who worked very, very late and you know I was cooking and
making pancakes at age three. So they’d leave
us $20, and they’d be like figure out dinner. Go knock yourself out. My brother and I’d walk to KFC. So, KFC or Subway tonight, Ben? So that kind of
independence and confidence has really helped me at work,
because there isn’t a thing that I feel I can’t figure out
if I’m given the opportunity. However, asking a
lot of questions has been very irritating. So still, when I get on the
phone with my dad, I think he– you know, he’s kind of a
neurotic person anyway. He thinks it’s like
our way to bond. It’s like– it’s really a lot. You know, every day, it’s
like, how much money did you make today? How many people came in? I’m like, oh my
god, that is insane. So he’s sort of like
the nightmare investor. So I would say, back off on
the questions if you can, but full emotional
support and encouraging them to be independent. That was really, really helpful. AUDIENCE: Encourage
your kids to take risks. VIBHA PINGLE: It’s OK. They’ve gone through
Brown, they have– they’ve learned a lot. Let them have their
time to take a risk, and it’ll work out in the end. SARAH CARSON: One thing
my parents did great as parents of an
entrepreneur is they talked about their
concerns with other people. [LAUGHTER] SADIE KURZBAN: Not with me. So I really recommend
that to the parents out there, because of course
they’re going to be worried. What the hell is your kid doing? Don’t talk about it with
your entrepreneur child. And also, they found specific
ways that I wanted their help. And they were helpful there,
but didn’t try and help me in other ways. So for example, I would call
my dad and ring, ring, ring, he would pick up, hello,
and I’d be like, hi, is this the Leota HR department? He helped me with
all my HR issues, and I was so grateful for that. So find the thing your kid
wants help with, and do that. And then, my final
thing is, especially if you have daughters, take
a good look at whether or not you are– how you’re valuing them. And it’s not about what she
looks like, it’s not about whether she’s getting married,
or having kids, or anything like that. So my parents were
great at that, so hooray for feminist parents. SADIE KURZBAN:
Yeah, that’s true. MORRA AARONS-MELE:
Oh god, I’m 40, and I’m still
working this all out. I mean, my mother– I think for me, what’s– I mean, they were great. But I think for me the live
tension is still like, oh, we’re so proud of you and
all of your accomplishments, but why do you let nannies
raise your children? I mean, that is to
me a very real issue in my life every single day. And I don’t have any
good answers except to cultivate a tribe of women. And this can be
really hard, actually, depending on where you live. Gotta have your kitchen cabinet. You know, if I didn’t have other
women entrepreneurs in my boat to talk to when I’m just
overwhelmed with guilt, and you know my mother’s
driving me crazy, or whatever, I would be lost. So, yeah. Keep your allies. DEB MILLS-SCOFIELD: One
of the things that I– last year, I was
in Silicon Valley. I was brought out
by a major archetype out there to help their women
in tech rise up the ladder. So they are women in marketing
business, which was fine. But the women in tech, engineers
and CS, were not climbing up. There were a lot of reasons. And one of the comments that
one of the guys in the C-suite came up to me and he
looked over and he goes, you see that woman over there? I said, yes. And he goes, well,
she’s just really great. I’ve asked her to mentor
my daughter who’s 13, who’s really interested in STEM. So being the snarky
Brown kid, I said, oh, so what’s the going rate
for mentoring these days? Good for you. Well, what do you
have to lose, right? And he just kind
of looked at me. And I said, well, she’s just
doing it because, you know– I said, oh, that’s really neat. So whose daughter
are you mentoring? And I think as we
look out there– so I’m saying this to kind of
you males in the audience– if you’re in
business or wherever and you want your
daughters to be mentored, whose daughter are
you going to mentor? And raise that up. We have about five minutes. You want to do some Q&A? Do we have any questions? And I don’t know where
the Q&A thing’s gone. Oh, Martha’s got it. Any questions? Yes. AUDIENCE: I have a
question for Ms. Pingle. VIBHA PINGLE: Yep. AUDIENCE: Is that how
you pronounce your name? AUDIENCE: I worked
in nonprofit too. My career is [INAUDIBLE]
so I was interested in your presentation and
didn’t feel I fully understood. When you first started, did you
just start mobilizing women? And then, finally have a
case and then get a grant? Or– VIBHA PINGLE: Well, we
started with getting a few private donations. And then, doing
outreach with the women, and that’s how we started. And the goal is to get
self-funded through the work that we get the
women, so what we do is plug the women into
global supply chains. AUDIENCE: [INAUDIBLE] MORRA AARONS-MELE: Right, yeah. So the goal is to plug them
into global supply chains. And in a way, Deb, that’s
another place where I feel being a woman really hurts
because trying to explain a woman-focused nonprofit
to corporations, to private corporations
anywhere in the world– this is not a US problem– anywhere in Europe, this
is the same problem. To go explain to them that this
is what the women are doing and they need support
for what they’re doing. No one believes these
middle managers– or the senior middle
managers, whatever– never believe that the
women could actually be doing it and pulling it off. AUDIENCE: Hi. For anyone who could have
any advice on this, how have you managed making decisions
and being a leader? Making firm decisions
in situations that you’re really uncertain
of what the answer is? SADIE KURZBAN: Well,
I have a great team of organized operators. Sam, being one of them. And I just hope that they’re
flexible with change. Because sometimes at the
very, very, very, very, very last minute when we’ve spent
a ton of time working on it, I say, actually I
changed my mind. Let’s do this. So just rolling
with the punches, and not really making a firm
decision until you’ve made one. SARAH CARSON: And so– if I could just jump in there– I’m so glad you asked about
uncertainty, because that was one of the
biggest things I had to get used to as an
entrepreneur is dealing with this constant uncertainty. It’s a very insecure feeling. But the fact is,
you have to act. You absolutely have to act. And if you wait until you
have all the information and you’re really
positive, it’s too late. MORRA AARONS-MELE: That’s true. Well and I will agree with that,
and I will say, it’s funny– and one of the things that
I love about my husband and I’ve learned from him, is
he was an entrepreneur also for many years. And I always joke that I channel
my inner privileged white male. He comes from such a
spirit of abundance. Like, I feel like
a lot of women– scarcity is very real for us. Certainly if you’re
raising money, or whatever, we’re nervous
there’s not going to be enough. And one of the
things that I learned from him and from other
successful entrepreneurs I cultivated in my life
from my kitchen cabinet is you just got to pretend
that there’s plenty of pie. And like that– right? There’s enough pie. I am– you know what? Even if I lose this
client, there’s more. And literally cultivating
that discipline over years, and
years, and years has made me able to make decisions. SARAH CARSON: Great answer. DEB MILLS-SCOFIELD:
There’s very little you can do in life that is
irrevocable except, you know, die. SARAH CARSON: So true. DEB MILLS-SCOFIELD: As of
now, that’s irrevocable. But you know, even losing a
limb isn’t what it used to be. So I think, as you’re– you don’t know. you do have to just decide. And very few of
those decisions are going to permanently set
the course of your business or your life for
the next 80 years. SARAH CARSON: Yeah, yeah. DEB MILLS-SCOFIELD:
Any other questions? Yes? AUDIENCE: I would just
like to add to that. That making a decision when
you’re not really certain, it’s OK to take
interest from your team. DEB MILLS-SCOFIELD: Yeah. AUDIENCE: And not be
afraid of feedback from them. to free the dialog
back and forth so they have the ability and the right
to say what they believe, even if it differs
from what you believe. And to be able to hear
without defensiveness, and incorporate that and allow
them to be part of the process. I think has been critical
to my business success. DEB MILLS-SCOFIELD: Great. Just wanted to put
that out there. And in terms of one
more thing, on balance, I think that balance
should be redefined into a variety of excesses. Maybe that’s what balance– SARAH CARSON: I love that. DEB MILLS-SCOFIELD:
Oh, that is great. SARAH CARSON: I
variety of excuses. AUDIENCE: Right. And so, it’s just not– SARAH CARSON: Thank you. AUDIENCE: –having one thing
to excess in your life, it’s having three, four, five,
or whatever you can handle. that’ kind of how I made it
work, because, otherwise, I was busy– [SIDE CONVERSATION] AUDIENCE: –making
negative statements about myself. what’s
the matter with you? You’re not like
the rest of them. Yes. SARAH CARSON:
Thank you for that. DEB MILLS-SCOFIELD: Back there? AUDIENCE: Yes, hi. I was wondering if
any of you had ever felt like you wanted
to give up, and– PANEL: Every day. Every day. Every day. SARAH CARSON: Yes. VIBHA PINGLE: Yes, absolutely. Every day, but you
know I started this based on all what the
experiences of these very poor women in different
parts of the world who were starting their
businesses and running them. And I sort of feel
this obligation to never give up for that. I mean I have how– I couldn’t possibly give up. With my privilege, to be able to
say, I give up, is just not OK. Right? I mean, here are these women who
are literally living from hand to mouth, not sure
whether they can survive, or their kids can
survive to the next day. And if they’re fighting
for themselves, and they’re finding ways
to make it all work, then it’s an
obligation that we all have to find ways
to make it all work. SADIE KURZBAN: One of the
most motivating things for me is when I realize
that if I can just keep doing what I’m
doing, I don’t even need to do like that much more. Just keep doing what I’m
doing, eventually competitors will tire out, and we
will make it to a place where I want to go. Like honesty, it’s just
like persistence and stamina at some point. DEB MILLS-SCOFIELD:
Last question. AUDIENCE: first of
all, I just wanted to thank you so much for
a really wonderful panel, and for being so generous
with your experience and sharing it with us. And, some really
terrific advice, I think. I just wanted to add one thing
to the question about what parents can do. My husband does have an
MBA, and I have a daughter and I have a son,
and I am constantly having to help him
realize that he needs to give the same information
about financial– his financials– advice to
my daughter and my son. He’s a great dad, and
I think he’s not here. [LAUGHTER] [? SADIE KURZBAN: ?] Busted! AUDIENCE: Right, but I
do mind that there’s a– I constantly see an imbalance. And it not intentional,
but it’s kind of built-in. And so, if anybody has that
kind of advice to give, make sure that you’re
sharing it equally. MORRA AARONS-MELE: I
just want to echo that. And I want to say
one thing which, I’ve learned over the years. And it comes back to the
whole issue of especially if you get into like the whole
working mom debate, which is endless and exhausting. You know, one way to
shut that down is to say, I need to earn
money for my kids. And I think that women
have to be much more open about the fact that
money is a reality for us and we’re breadwinners. And that shuts down a
lot of these issues. It’s really hard, but I think
that it just makes it clear. Like, I need to earn
money, just like you do. SADIE KURZBAN: My brother
works for me, actually. He’s our CFO. So we take meetings
together sometimes. And it really dawns on
me in those moments, because we have so
many times where we’re meeting with
a man who’s talking to my brother the
whole time, asking him what the product is like. And I’m like, I created it. He just runs the
finances behind it. He came in later. But my brother is very
generous with that. And he’ll always
say– defer to me, and say, that’s actually
a question for her. And I sort of call out the
sexism as it’s happening. And it really dawns on me how
much my parents treated us as equals, and
made me feel like I had an equal seat at
the table as he did. So I’m very grateful
to them for that. DEB MILLS-SCOFIELD:
I just want to close with one comment for you
young startups out there. And some of you women,
I think will relate. The 50s just rock. So for you guys to
look forward to this. SARAH CARSON: Thank you. [APPLAUSE] DEB MILLS-SCOFIELD: You know,
once you hit the late 40s and on, man, it’s
like it– and I don’t know what the reasons are. But a lot of– as I talk to my
classmates here– you just come into it,
and it is just a blast. So don’t think it’s
over and you have to do it when you’re young. You do, but, guys,
it only gets better. SADIE KURZBAN: That’s awesome. SARAH CARSON: Oh, thank you. SADIE KURZBAN: Love that. [APPLAUSE] [? SARAH CARSON: ?] Yay!

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