She Can Do It!

Posted by Dave Allen on May 10, 2011
She Can Do It!
The influx of women into the workforce during the Second World War revolutionized the role of women in modern society. En masse, women entered positions typically held exclusively by men—jobs in factories, banks, and offices. Their mantra was “We Can Do It!” and the movement was personified in the feminist icon, Rosie the Riveter. Increased earning power translated into independence and economic mobility and, though manufacturing was scaled back after the war, women gained significant ground in the workforce.

Today, with jobs scarce as the economy simmers, a second revolution of sorts is under way: Amid much uncertainty, a wave of young college graduates is turning to entrepreneurship to create opportunities for themselves. What’s telling is that the new face of entrepreneurship is arguably female.

Overall, the number of female-owned private firms is quickly approaching the share owned by men, and growth by female businesses is twice that of businesses in general. Women also make up nearly half of the Young Entrepreneur Council, an influential nonprofit founded in 2010 to fund and encourage new ventures. Meanwhile, online communities are springing up to promote increased collaboration and networking between female entrepreneurs.

From this crowd of rising self-starters, we asked seven women to share their advice for creating and sustaining a business, their visions for success, and the things they wish they had known before setting out on their ventures.

Show And Tell
Company: Rent the Runway
Locations: New York
Established: 2009
Founders: Jenny Fleiss and Jennifer Hyman

Many women fawn over dresses found in the pages of Vogue—but with designer labels come designer price tags. That’s why fans of high-end threads have embraced Rent the Runway, which rents dresses and accessories typically priced out of reach for the average Jane. Hard work by founders and Harvard classmates Jenny Fleiss and Jennifer Hyman has yielded a prominent mention in the New Yorker in January, and a growing cache of customers renting dresses and the designers to provide them. Fleiss advises not holding on too tightly to your ideas for a new business. “The fear of sharing ideas only holds you back. There’s so much to gain by getting them out there.” And while you shouldn’t be stifled by negative feedback, you shouldn’t turn a deaf ear to it either: “If enough people tell you it’s a bad idea, there might be something to that.”

Help Your Sisters
Company: Second Glass
Location: Boston
Established: 2006
Founders: Morgan First and Tyler Balliet

Morgan First, cofounder and CEO of Second Glass, which promotes wine appreciation and hosts wine-tasting events in the Boston area, has brought on a lot of women to join the staff of her startup. “I work really hard in my office to empower women and make sure they know they can do anything. I think it’s just been fun to see how much having a strong, powerful leader inspires other women to follow their dreams.” Spreading the word about Second Glass has been tough, and First doesn’t sugarcoat it. “Hopefully people see me and think, ‘Wow, if she’s dyslexic and is kind of crazy and could start a company, then I can too!’”

School Your Investors

Company: Miss O & Friends
Location: St. Louis
Established: 2005
Founder: Juliette Brindak

No matter the business, investors need to understand who is going to buy your product. When she founded the news and entertainment site Miss O & Friends, Juliette Brindak had to educate potential backers about her niche audience: pre-adolescent—or tween—girls. Inspired by her sister and her preteen peers, Brindak had the first-hand knowledge to back her idea up. “They didn’t realize how important the tween years are for young girls, and how this time really sets the stage for the rest of these girls’ lives. By giving these people testimonials from girls and showing them research and evidence for why this time is so crucial, I changed their minds.”

Youthful Assets
Company: Marketing Zen
Location: Dallas
Established: 2008
Founder: Shama Kabani

When Shama Kabani founded web-marketing firm Marketing Zen, she kept her age a secret. At 23, Kabani, feared clients would write off a company with such a young CEO. “I later realized that clients came to us because they specifically wanted my expertise as a ‘digital native.’” Marketing Zen has become known as a “hip, young company” as clients look to Kabani to guide them in the era of digital marketing. With two successful years under her belt and clients on four continents, she’s much more vocal about her age.

Find inspiration
Company: Business Beware
Location: Venice, Fla.
Established: 2006
Founders: Ashley and Robert Bodi

Non-paying customers have always been a problem for small-business owners. Tapping into this market, Ashley Bodi and her father, Robert, founded Business Beware, a site that allows businesses to share information about and avoid deadbeat customers. While Ashley’s father brought valuable experience from running a landscaping business to the table, her mother set the example of the resolve and determination it takes to run a business. “She never settles and is never afraid to go after something,” says Ashley. Outside her family, Ashley looks to Oprah Winfrey, Anne Curry, and Tina Fey. “They are all different, but they love what they do, they’re passionate, they’re generous, they rock at their jobs, they’re driven.”

Flex and Balances
Company: Extreme Entrepreneurship Tour
Location: Plainsboro, N.J.
Established: 2005
Founders: Sheena Lindahl and Michael Simmons

For an entrepreneur, what could be a more fitting business than one that lets other entrepreneurs trumpet their success stories? Sheena Lindahl explored this niche when she started the Extreme Entrepreneurship Tour, a speaking circuit for the Donald Trumps among us. It wasn’t her first idea, though: Lindahl started out wanting to publish books on entrepreneurship. “It’s good to have a plan, but it’s especially important to have the flexibility to veer from that plan when all signs are pointing in a different direction.” Another kind of flexibility has also come into play: She’s a mother of two small children, and running her own business has given her control over her schedule and time with her kids. In terms of work-life balance, Lindahl says, “You can have it all.”

The Bottom Line

Company: Her Campus
Location: Cambridge, Mass.
Established: 2009
Founders: Stephanie Kaplan, Windsor Hanger, Annie Wang

Many media companies have staggered or fallen in the wake of the recent recession. With a close eye on the bottom line, the founders of Her Campus have managed to turn their idea for a Web magazine for collegiate women into a tightly run venture and, in a little more than a year, a profitable one. Stephanie Kaplan recommends young entrepreneurs take a similar economical approach. “Keep your costs as low as possible, and don’t spend money on anything you don’t have to. If you are going to spend money on something, make sure that expense will somehow further your goals. If it won’t, don’t do it.”

About the Author