Tool Kit

How Do You Build Your Network?

Author Aimee Dunne Published September 26, 2018
Share

As an entrepreneur, you’ve heard about the importance of networking. Whether you’re finding your way in a new community, looking for volunteer opportunities or mapping your growth path, building your network will be instrumental. But how do you actually do it?

 

The short answer – a lot of coffee. But how you get to that coffee meeting and what you say when you’re there can make the difference between building a strong network and wasting a lot of time and $5 lattes. There are two outdated misconceptions that stop people from networking – the ick factor and the perfectionist’s dilemma.

 

Networking for Entrepreneurs

 

The ick factor 

For too long, networking has been associated with building your client list and collecting business cards. While this is still important in some fields, networking has become much less formal and… icky. Think of networking as an opportunity to talk about what is important to you, connect with others who share your interests and learn something you don’t know. Yes, you’re looking for something (an ally, a volunteer, a mentor, a client) but so are they, and you might as well do it together.

 

 

“Your best networking happens when you’re not talking.”

 

The perfectionist’s dilemma. 

There is no need to perfect your pitch before you start networking. If you try to wordsmith each sentence, you’ll just come out sounding like a robot, which is never a good thing. Instead, have a few main points about yourself in mind, set a goal for the event or interaction, and just talk. Networking is an excellent way to get feedback on your idea, growth path, even the story you’re telling. No robots allowed!

 

As you think about networking, you may realize you’re doing it already – when introducing yourself at the start of a meeting, at a conference, chatting with your neighbor and yes, at a networking event. Here are a few tips to make sure you’re doing it well:

 

– Give context. Help someone understand why you’re there (“I’m really interested in the program on technology and education”) and what your goal is (“I hope to form a board of advisors soon”).

 

– Ask questions. It is true that your best networking happens when you’re not talking. Ask about someone’s career path, what they love about their job, what they’re looking forward to in the coming year – and just learn.

 

– Be confident, but not arrogant. We know the difference, right? Be confident in your skills and in delivering your message, but watch the namedropping and other things that might make it seem like you don’t need anything at all.

 

– Know what you need. Building on the tip above, you should be asking for something. Not a million dollars for your business or a big introduction – those might come later. But have in mind something you’d like to learn, an organization you’d like to get involved in, or the types of people you’d like to meet.

 

– Passion and authenticity trumps all else. If you forget your pitch and everything you’ve practiced goes right out of your head, just be you. Most people respond to authenticity and passion, so talking about your interests and asking questions is always a good thing. You’ll do better the next time!

 

Networking allows you to tell your story in a way that connects you with others so that you can find the resources you need to move forward. No matter your goal, a good story will help you be remembered. So work on the details, hone the pitch, and consider the ask, but overall, tell your story.

 

Looking to connect with your fellow female entrepreneurs? Consider becoming a Brazen Member. 

Brazen Member

Tool Kit

How to Tell An Origin Story That Serves You and Your Business

Author Hillary Rea Published August 29, 2018
Share

When running your own company and representing your own brand, it’s important to tell a story. And so often the story told is too general or isn’t rooted in true experiences. These stories lack structure and aren’t actually about the person running the show. (Hint: That person is you.)

 

Before you can jump into a brand story or a customer story, it’s necessary for you to find a story that answers the question: How did you get to where you are now?

 

This is an Origin Story.

 

Hillary Rea Brazen

 

In the world of comic books, this phrase is used time and time again to let the reader know how a particular character (a superhero) gained their super powers. It’s a hero’s journey where the listener can learn about all of the obstacles and adventures that happened along the way.

 

Despite the “How To” in the title of this article, there is no template for telling a great story. The good news: Beyond it needing a beginning, middle, and end, great stories take all shapes and forms. Stories can be physical, bizarre, visceral, uncomfortable, long, grounded, and hilarious. Give yourself permission to tell it however you want to tell it, so long as you are speaking your truth.

 

Hillary Rea Origin Story

Photo by Joanna Nowak

 

Here are some tips for finding and sharing the life experiences that have impacted you personally and professionally.

 

Dare to share. There’s a natural inclination to separate the personal and professional. Don’t be afraid to share the parts of yourself that go beyond the blazer. Recently, when working with a client on the Origin Story of her consulting business, she shared that she spent a year living in a convent and a year in beauty school. Both of these things came up casually in tangential conversations. However, when we explored the stories that went along with those life experiences, they ended up playing a huge role in how she got to where she is now. The more we can communicate the full, 360 degree version of ourselves, the more our audience will be able to connect.

 

This is not your entire life story. Your Origin Story is not every moment of every day from the moment you were born until now. Find the small moments that transform into big stories. Think back to a time when everything started to make sense for you. Or a moment where everything went horribly wrong and it forced you to set off on a new path. The stories that stick with us are usually the best ones to share.

 

Work backwards. If you are feeling overwhelmed while brainstorming your Origin Story, break the story prompt into two parts: Where are you now? How did you get there? You might have more than one answer to each of these questions. That’s OK. Think of it as Choose Your Own Adventure. You might have two different stories that take you to the same ending. Play with both and find the one that resonates with you the most.

 

Showcase your Superpowers. It’s easy to doubt our stories and downplay our accomplishments. There is the worry that if we share too much of ourselves, including what we’ve achieved, we run the risk of sounding like we are bragging. In an Origin Story, our superpowers usually arise from action or conflict (whether internal or external). If you bring your audience along for the ride and share both the positive and negative moments that led you to your great feats, then the risk of judgement and assumption dissipates. Storytelling is a path to understanding.  

 

Have fun. Tell the stories that you want to tell. If you find you are answering the story prompt in ways that make you feel less than or nervous to share your story, then continue the search. You should never tell a story that you aren’t proud of. There might be real life moments within the story that you aren’t proud of, but usually we tell those stories because we love who we are when the story ends. You can also have fun by playing with your story structure and digging in to the humor of everyday life.

 

Be the main character of your story. Brené Brown says, “When we own our stories, we avoid being trapped as characters in stories someone else is telling.” Your business’ story begins with you. If you are in business with other people, each person should have their own Origin Story. This will only strengthen the mission, vision, and values of your whole company.  

 

Hillary is the founder of Tell Me A Story, a company that supports you and your stories through artistic guidance and educational practice. She is also the producer and host of the narrative storytelling podcast Rashomon

 

Looking for more expert resources? Check out Brazen Power Hours.

Brazen Power Hours

Interviews

Letting Innovation Be Your Guide

Author Tamara Keefe Published August 21, 2018
Share

For Tamara Keefe it all began with a $2 hand-crank ice cream maker. Growing up poor in southern California, she would watch wistfully as other families stopped for ice cream every Sunday after church. Tamara yearned to partake in the weekly tradition, but it wasn’t until her mother discovered an at-home churner at a garage sale that they were able to enjoy their own DIY ice cream ritual. That family activity quickly spiraled into a neighborhood gathering, and from then on, ice cream became synonymous for Tamara with the notions of home, family, community, and childhood. It brought her joy and a sense of belonging, and now she’s spreading those ideas at Clementine’s, the first and only microcreamery in the Midwest.

 

A destination that’s all about the experience of creating memories through happy ice cream, Clementine’s boasts all-natural, decadent flavors of naughty (boozy) and nice (alcohol-free) ice cream.

 

Known for dreaming up all the flavors herself and her trade secret process for infusing wine, spirits, and locally brewed beers into her boozy ice cream creations, Tamara is an innovator like no other. In this Brazen interview, we explore innovation as an entrepreneur – from products to strategy and even funding.

 

Tamara Keefe

 

When you first started, where did you see your company headed? Where you see yourself and your business in 10 years? 20 years?

Initially I had romantic notions of opening one ice cream shop, having a baby and having her grow up around the shop and keeping it all very simple. Little did I know we were creating something truly unique and different that needed to grow and have a life of its own. It’s also ingrained in me, I create brands and grow them, it’s in my DNA. In 10 years, we will be a national brand and have shops across the USA.

 

How have you deviated from your original plan? Has anything stayed the same since day 1?

I haven’t really deviated from the plan but I definitely course-correct all of the time. My strategy over time has gotten more refined.

 

Do you create goals for yourself or your team? How do you measure and define success and how far are you willing to go to succeed?

We definitely set goals as a company and individually. Goal setting is key and keeps you on track and accountable to yourself and your team. Success defined changes over time, as I grow and the company grows, the bar gets set higher and higher. But at the end of the day, I still own my destiny and get to have breakfast with the man I love every morning!

 

How do you generate new ideas? How important is innovation in your business?

I am constantly inspired and get new ideas, and opportunities everywhere. Travel is key for me especially as I develop new flavors. Clementine’s is known to some as a 15-minute vacation, so bringing great flavors from around the world and a unique flavor perspective is key. Innovation isn’t something that the ice cream industry has typically embraced. So those of us who do it are changing the game for sure. Our trade secret process for infusing alcohol into ice cream up to 18% is causing major waves and causing the competition to try and innovate to keep up with us.

 

How do you view strategy? Do you have some examples of tactics you use to look at the big picture and work “on” your business (vs. “in” your business)?

To begin with we have an actual strategy and marketing plan that we execute against. All activities come from that. From production of new flavors, to market specific PR plans, and targeted store openings.

 

How long do you stick with an idea before giving up? When do you know that it’s time to pivot? Can you give us an example of a dead-end strategy or a time you had to pivot?

We stick with an idea as long as it’s working, progress is being made and the team feels comfortable with it. An example where we pivoted would be when we were trying to participate and sign-up early for a big food hall coming to St. Louis. The management kept changing the contract and pushing back their timelines and we just didn’t feel they were above board and honest, so we bailed on that project and signed a lease for another store opening in downtown next year.

 

You come from a corporate background. What was the biggest lesson you took from corporate America that has made you successful as an entrepreneur?

My keen understanding of the interdependencies of a cross functional organization and how they are tied, and dependent on one another for success. Additionally, having been raised in a diverse and culturally aware environment allows me to work with and appreciate all kinds of people. Talent is everywhere if you look.

 

Clementine’s recently expanded to a second location. Congrats! How did you know you were ready to expand? As other entrepreneurs think about expansion, what questions should they ask themselves first?

The never-ending 4-hour lines out the door every night was a good indicator that we needed another location! Expansion was and is very natural for us. As long as people keep asking us to open more stores and patronizing us then we will continue to do so. Expansion is tough depending on what your goals are. Thinking through the cost to expand, the bench required to execute it, and your personal sacrifices are all important considerations.

 

You’ve recently received some alternative funding from a program to support woman-owned businesses. Where should other female entrepreneurs look for funding opportunities like this and how can they be most successful when applying?

I am 100% self-funded however I did get accepted into a highly sought-after special program for female entrepreneurs created by Goldman Sachs. Looking for programs that fit with your goals is super important, by the very nature of what you are doing and support your seeking will align you with various programs out there.

 

 

A food industry veteran with over 25 years of experience in corporate America, Tamara Keefe, puts both her work and family background to good use, dreaming up all the flavors herself at Clementine’s. All of the small-batch ice cream is handcrafted at their 5,000 square foot state-of-the-art FDA certified ice cream kitchen in St. Louis. Many of the candies, sauces, cakes and cookies that go into the ice cream are also made from scratch, and ingredients are always traceable; but the distinction between Clementine’s and other ice cream shops doesn’t stop there. Known for her exotic food creations, Tamara sources from all over the world, and tapping into local resources. Signature flavors like Tommy’s Toffee Butter Brickle (based on Tamara’s mom’s recipe) and Maple Bourbon (for the adult crowd) contain dairy from local rBst- and hormone-free, grass grazed and pasteurized fed cows, and about 50 percent less sugar than most ice cream, letting the unique flavors shine through. They also have a trade secret process for infusing wine, spirits, and locally brewed beers into their boozy ice cream creations at up to 18%. This all results in ice cream perfection from cow to cone.

 

Want to meet more incredible women like Tamara? Consider becoming a Brazen Member. 

Brazen Member

Tool Kit

Making the Most of LinkedIn as a Marketing Resource

Author Brazen Global Published August 15, 2018
Share

It’s no secret that social media should be a vital part of your marketing strategy, but while Facebook, Instagram and Twitter seem to reign supreme, you may be overlooking what LinkedIn can do for your business. Sure, it’s a great place to look for a job, but LinkedIn also offers the opportunity for you to make the most of your personal network and take advantage of your connections for the benefit of your business. As an entrepreneur and business owner, it’s also an excellent platform to establish your own thought leadership.

 

LinkedIn Marketing Image

 

In this post, we’ve rounded up the LinkedIn basics and best practices. And before you continue reading, be sure to follow the Brazen Global LinkedIn page to see these recommendations in action.

 

Status Updates

LinkedIn status updates are for short content (maximum character count for updates is 600, but the ideal length of an update is only 100 characters). Status updates are broadcast to your personal network. If someone in your network likes your update, your status update is then shared with their network as well. The more likes you get, the more eyeballs on your update.

 

So how do you write a status update that gets lots of likes? It’s all about engagement! Here are some suggestions on how to engage your readers:

 

Directly mention and tag people (use the @symbol to do this)

Include rich media such as photos and/or videos in addition to text

Ask for responses and feedback in your status update

Add hashtags to topic tag your posts

Add commentary to your post to engage viewers and start conversations

 

As you craft your status update, is important to remember that LinkedIn is a professional network. Take advantage of it but don’t abuse it. Here are some things to avoid:

 

Getting too personal

Being spammy / posting too often

Talking about sensitive or controversial topics

Being too commercial – this is not the place to constantly pitch

Posting outside of work hours (generally, the best time to post are the working hours of your industry)

 

Hashtags can also be helpful for driving engagement on your status update. Consider three categories of hashtag to increase your update’s visibility – hashtags related to the topic at hand, hashtags related to your industry and hashtags related to your company’s brand. Using a mix of these hashtags will help your post be seen by people outside of your network, but with similar interests.

 

Long Form Article

 If you have something more to say than will fit in a status update, consider publishing a long form article. Publishing an article allows you to further establish your professional identity by expressing your opinions and sharing your experiences. Articles are likely to get higher engagement because your connections will often get a dedicated notification alerting them to the publication of your article.

 

What happens when you publish a long form article on LinkedIn?

 

Your original content becomes part of your professional profile. It is displayed on the “Articles” section of your LinkedIn profile.

It’s shared with your connections and followers in their news feeds, and sometimes through notifications.

Members that aren’t in your network can follow you from your article, so that your next article will be surfaced in their feeds.

 

Your article may be searchable both on and off LinkedIn, depending on your profile settings. Having your public profile visibility set to “everyone” will distribute your articles publicly.

 

Because articles are more often shared, followed, and searched than status updates, there are many benefits to publishing on LinkedIn. First, you’re sharing with your target audience. Considering the majority of your connections are like-minded professionals, it’s easy select topics that will resonate. This type of shared interest provides an opportunity to create a two-way dialogue where everyone is sharing their expertise and strengthening their relationships. You also get those eyeballs because every post you write and publish prompts a notification for your connections. Lastly, articles can increase your following. If your connections like your content enough to like it or share it, that can open doors to a whole new audience. And if your connection’s network sees your posts and finds value, there’s a chance they will follow you to keep up with your contributions.

 

If you are interested in publishing long form articles on LinkedIn, check out these 4 easy steps to get started.  Don’t forget to check out LinkedIn’s Publishing Platform Guidelines to make sure your article follows the guidelines in place on LinkedIn. Most importantly, make sure you have the right to any content you publish and that you’re not using any infringed content.

 

As you look to grow your business through social media, don’t neglect LinkedIn. This powerful network could be just what you need to break through with fellow professionals.

 

Looking for more marketing resources? Check out the events on the Brazen calendar. 

Brazen Events

Tool Kit

Market Research on a Budget

Author Jennifer Ehlen Published May 15, 2018
Share

We’ve previously debunked all of the reasons you are telling yourself that you don’t have the time or money to embark on market research. Consider a few budget-friendly market research methods that you CAN and SHOULD use to define and validate your target market. 

 

These are primary research tactics to validate that you are pursuing the appropriate market, and with a product or service that effectively addresses the pain point that you are trying to solve. These suggestions are not methodologies to define the size of your total or addressable market. 

 

Even if it feels like everyone is telling you to go from idea to  launch in 24 hours, consider completing these strategies prior to your public launch (even public beta). It’s OK to take some time as long as you are making the best of it. Doing research  will help you in the long run. So instead of a startup weekend, you might have a startup month or two. It’s ok. The entrepreneurial ecosystem Gods won’t judge you. Well, not too much anyway. 

 

1)  Electronic surveys – With numerous free-to-inexpensive online survey tools available, you could foreseeably generate some cheap initial market research in a matter of minutes. Check out SurveyMonkey, Pollfish, and even Twitter Surveys are excellent tools for gathering qualitative feedback in volume on your product, as well as valuable quantitative data on actual propensity to use it and whether they will pay. Our opinion is that the best surveys are no more than 10 questions long and take less than 5 minutes to fill out. As you attempt to identify your best customer market, you could send the same survey out to three targeted industry groups and require participants to self-identify. The comparison data between the groups and which ones need your offerings the most and/or are willing to pay the highest price for your product or service will be extremely interesting to you and potential investors.

 

2)  Focus groups – Because of the amount of time and resources required to successfully host a focus group, you are not going to obtain large quantities of data here. However, if facilitated correctly, and with the right constituents, the organic, verbal feedback you receive could be invaluable. Think about a focus group this way: even small information sessions can serve as informal focus groups and provide valuable insights. Discussions at an event, exit surveys, and follow-up questions can all give you the same information that a formal focus group might provide.

 

3)  Industry conferences / personal interviews – It’s time to speak to as many industry professionals as you can to determine if there is true demand for your product outside of your personal connections in the space. So how do you find these professionals, aside from purchasing an expensive list?  Pack your bags and head to some trade shows. Better yet, head to a few trade shows in a few different industries. No travel budget you say?  You may find that there are some local professional chapters with monthly meetings that you could attend.

 

This is a great primary market research technique – it is essentially the equivalent of a survey + focus group in one. Load a tablet with a demo of your product, prepare a 30-second elevator speech, and memorize  four questions you want to ask each person you meet.  Bring college interns with you and walk up and down the aisles pitching to attendees and asking questions. Then document their answers, one by one. If you are lucky, you could speak to more than 100 professionals in one day. That’s real market research to bring back to your product team, your sales team, your future customers and your investors. 

 

Hopefully these few ideas help you to brainstorm even more ways to gather market research on a bootstrap budget. A couple of additional tips to remember as you embark on this worthwhile endeavor

 

The quality of your results will only be as good as the quality of the tool used to gather it. If you ask the wrong questions, you could steer your company in the wrong direction based on the results.

 

Be selective in who you invite to participate in your market research. Your initial customers may be friends, family, and close connections. They are only piloting your product because they love you. Not because their company actually needs your product. If you want valid market find professionals outside of your network to participate.

 

Next steps? Put a plan together to embark on a few strategies to gather market research over the next 3-4 weeks. Resist the urge to steer your company toward the next shiny ball. Ask the hard questions. And then listen to the answers.  You may find that your product is beyond perfection and your initial hunch at a target market was spot on. Or you might not. No matter what you find, you will feel more confident taking next steps to grow your business.

News

Brazen Announces Expansion to Six Cities

Author Jennifer Ehlen and Aimee Dunne Published April 24, 2018
Share

Brazen Full Team Photo

 

It’s a big day at Brazen.

 

After growing in St Louis for four years, the time has come to expand our programs and services into six new markets: Chicago, Dallas, Denver, Detroit, Fort Worth and Philadelphia. To the women entrepreneurs in these new Brazen cities and beyond – we are thrilled to meet you!

 

We have worked in the entrepreneurship space for over 20 years combined, in academic entrepreneurship environments and serving as coaches, mentors, speakers and investors. At various points in our careers, we each became increasingly aware of the incredible ways that women innovate. It was also clear that they faced unique and meaningful challenges.

 

In our hometown of St. Louis,  women entrepreneurs were facing significant challenges. Our region consistently ranked among the lowest in the country in terms of growth and economic clout of local women business owners. So, like many women entrepreneurs, we decided to do something about it. We set out to develop a program that would go beyond the monthly speaker series and explore topics that would engage women business owners at a deeper, more actionable level. 

 

Somewhere along the way, we realized that we were facing the same highs and lows that the women we serve experience every day: the highs of new customers, new team members, new investors, and the lows of our website breaking, the bank account getting a little low, and the fears and concerns that keep us up at night. This entrepreneurial journey is not for the faint of heart!

 

We are sisters on this adventure with you, and we wouldn’t have it any other way. Brazen is the organization for women on this terrifying and exhilarating journey. There is power in coming together with other women entrepreneurs to celebrate each other on the days you’re at the top of the mountain and encourage each other on the days you wonder how you’ll keep climbing. We are more Brazen together. And we will never lose sight of that.

There is power in coming together with other women entrepreneurs…We are more Brazen together.

 

 

These are our core principles at Brazen, and our promise to you:

 

1 – GROWTH SEEKING – We will always focus our services on “growth seeking” women entrepreneurs looking to take their companies further. We will not place exclusionary labels like “high growth” or “tech” on our participation requirements. We don’t care what label you choose to wear, sisters. If you’re looking to kick things into the next gear, we want to help you get there.

 

2 – BUSINESS FOCUSED – There are many organizations that help professionals ask for a promotion or negotiate a raise. These are all important skills, to be sure. But we stay true to helping you answer the scary questions that keep women business owners and CEOs up at night. We offer business focused content, including core strategies and nuts-and-bolts tactics for growing your business.

 

3 – INTERSECTIONAL FEMINISM – We welcome all who identify as women and all intersections of life that they bring to the table. Period.

 

4 – CONTINUOUS, IMMERSIVE PROGRAMMING – We know the feeling: you’ve just attended a great event and want to keep the fire going. But then you return to CEO island, feeling as lonely and on your own as ever. Brazen connects you to programs and a membership network that helps you feel supported 24/7/365.

 

5 – HIGHLY CUSTOMIZED, HYPER-NICHE PROGRAMS – You are a unique woman, running a unique business at a unique stage of growth, looking to take things to the next level. A cookie-cutter approach to programming isn’t going to help you get there. We provide you with programs and content that feel hyper-relevant to YOU and YOUR business, in an affordable and accessible way. And if you’re not in one of our new Brazen cities? We have a place for you in our Virtual Growth Groups.

 

6 – GLOBAL NETWORK – This journey is hard as hell. We want to connect you with a tribe of sister CEOs both where you live and beyond your geographical boundaries. With other women who GET YOU and have your back. We can learn from one another in a way that cuts through the noise and gets right to business. There is a world of women entrepreneurs who are waiting to connect, help you with your business challenges and hope you might help them with a few of theirs.

 

We are ready to keep growing Brazen right alongside you as women entrepreneurs ourselves — attending our own events, joining Growth Groups, asking questions online and connecting with other women CEOs.

 

Along our journey, we’ve learned to do it our way, with no apologies.  And we can’t wait for you to join us.

 

Let’s Be Brazen together.

 

Event Recap

Be Seen Brunch: Celebrating Women Entrepreneurs of Color

Author Brazen Global Published March 13, 2018
Share

Between 2007 and 2016, the number of women-owned firms increased by 45%, a rate 5 times the national average. 78% of these net new women owned firms are owned by women of color. Unfortunately, women of color received only 0.2% of all venture capital funding over the last five years.

 

Recently, Brazen St. Louis co-hosted the Be Seen Brunch Celebrating Women Entrepreneurs of Color along with the Hispanic Chamber, the BALSA Foundation, and DK Solutions, and with support from the JP Morgan Chase Foundation. The goal was to help historically underserved women entrepreneurs find new connections, resources, and inspiration to help them take their businesses to the next level. Because supporting female entrepreneurs means supporting all female entrepreneurs.

 

 

More than 120 attendees, including women entrepreneurs of color, decision-makers from the St. Louis investment community, and entrepreneur support organizations, participated in the Be Seen Brunch. 

 

As one attendee put it:

“Today, so many connections were made between women of varying nationalities, ethnicities, color, and creed. But most importantly, black and brown women were heard and seen.”

 

 

Following a keynote by speaker Rica Elysee, founder & CEO of BeautyLynk, attendees participated in business-first breakout sessions and roundtables with local experts. The event culminated with an elevator pitch competition, reviewed by a blue-ribbon panel of judges from the St. Louis investment community. Shayba Muhammad of Mahnal Jewelry won the competition and an award package that included a $2,500 cash prize, made possible by a generous gift from the Clark Fox Family Foundation.

 

In addition to at the event itself, our pitch finalists were seen and heard on Fox2Now TV (watch the 3 minute segment here) and on NewsRadio 1120 KMOX. 

 

 

We are energized and committed to making a meaningful difference and empowering women entrepreneurs of color in our region.  

 

To stay connected and learn about future events like the Brazen Be Seen Brunch and other events for female entrepreneurs, sign up for our newsletter (at the bottom of this page) or consider becoming a Brazen member.

 

“This was a great event. I left feeling “brazen” enough to further pursue my entrepreneurial goals and inspired by the positive energy in the room.”   

 

 

Photography Credit: Mena Darre Photography

 

Interviews

Family Member’s Need Sparks Idea for Beauty App

Author Rica Elysee Published December 19, 2017
Share

 

Rica Elysee, Founder and CEO of in-home salon service app, BeautyLynk, created a network of natural hair beauty professionals which grew into the business she leads today. Focusing on the beauty professionals as their #1 client, BeautyLynk has grown to a community of over 14,000. 

 

What inspired you to start your business? What pain were you solving? How did you get motivated to take the first step? Two years ago, a disabled member of my family needed assistance doing their hair. Naturally, I looked to help by calling professional stylists off a list I created for my Natural Hair Meetup Group.  The stylist arrived and my family member’s self-esteem was back to 100%.  It was not until two weeks later when I got a call from the stylist did I realize more connections and access was needed.

 

What sacrifices have you had to make to become a successful entrepreneur? As an entrepreneur, you make several sacrifices…a steady paycheck, time with your family, and even material things. My biggest sacrifice building my business the first two years was giving up my painting hobby to do more work and save more money. I’m looking forward to revisiting my creativity.

 

What motivates you and how do you stay motivated? The stories that come out of the community of beauty professionals my team has helped build over the last two years. Learning why someone went into beauty, the everyday struggles they have, and their dreams inspire me, the team, and our product.

 

The stories that come out of the community of beauty professionals my team has helped build over the last two years are what keep me motivated. 

 

If you had the chance to start your career over again, what would you do differently? If I could start over again I would spend more time learning about the technical side and learn to code more than simple CSS.

 

How has your business changed your life or the lives of others? My business touches lives every day by making people feel beautiful which is a great reward for the pros and my team.

 

Have you ever been treated differently because you’re a female? How did you deal with that discrimination? I have been treated differently because I am a Black woman. It is something that is pretty significant to me as I have a double consciousness of how bad discrimination can get from unconscious biases in terms of race to sexual harassment as a woman. It was hard at first to ignore, but now I use it as my power to move forward and be a role model to others.

 

I have been treated differently because I am a Black woman….It was hard at first to ignore, but now I use it as my power to move forward and be a role model to others.

 

BeautyLynk needs to get two different users on board in order for the service to work: stylists and clients. How do you market to each segment to ensure you have the capacity to make it all work? As you have grown your user base, what has been your biggest struggle to scale and what has been your greatest success? We have had to learn how to scale digitally on both sides. From the pro perspective we know we can grow constantly by building community and education. However, the customer side has been challenging because of the capital it requires to scale. In a world where it can get loud online, we are challenging ourselves to get creative with marketing methods.

 

Besides continued expansion into new markets, what is new for BeautyLynk? Any big ideas up your sleeve? BeautyLynk is always innovating as a team. My extensive vision for the company has a few curve balls coming in 2018. I think the most fun we are having is in the male grooming space.

 

BeautyLynk believes its #1 customers are stylists and beauty professionals rather than the clients paying for the services. Traditionally, most companies would view their customers as the individuals paying the big bucks for the services. Why have you taken a different stance and how has this belief helped your company grow and be successful? We believe that treating the professional well will lead to more quality services and experiences. It has led to our community of pros to grow from 25 to 250 to 14,000.

 

Rica Elysee is Founder and Chief Executive Officer at BeautyLynk (www.beautylynk.com), an on location beauty service that brings style and convenience to your doorstep with a few clicks.

 

Prior to launching BeautyLynk, Rica founded the Boston Naturals group, which has grown to include more than 1,200 members on the ground and 25,000 online and was Editorial Director for Amour Creole Magazine.

 

She felt compelled to create the Boston Naturals community when she noticed that there was a lack of spaces and opportunities for women of color in the Boston area with natural hair to come together and learn more about and bond through their unique hair and beauty needs.

 

It was in this same spirit and void that she noticed the lack of salons that employed experienced stylists who specialized in multi-textured hair. However, through her work with Boston Naturals, she knew that they existed and wanted to create a business that could connect these professionals with this underserved community of beauty enthusiasts.

 

News

Proud to be Brazen: Introducing Mindy Mazur, Brazen STL’s New Executive Director

Author Mindy Mazur Published November 28, 2017
Share

 

The wonderfully brazen and bold Mae West said, “You only live once, but if you do it right, once is enough.”

 

It’s with that spirit in mind that I’m excited to join Brazen St. Louis as its first full-time Executive Director.

 

I have spent my entire career either directly or tangentially working for gender equity, which simply won’t happen without the economic empowerment of women.  Brazen St. Louis is empowering more women entrepreneurs and business leaders every day – and it’s the tip of the iceberg.  I’m so thrilled to be part of it and join you on this journey. 

 

I thought I’d answer some questions to start:

 

 

What’s My Background?

My work experience has spanned a variety of leadership and management positions in nonprofits, government, campaigns and a multi-media advertising and public affairs agency. In those roles, I’ve had the opportunity to define new organizations and initiatives and help build them from the ground up. 

 

Through the years, I’ve worked to advance and empower women through work such as strategic consulting for women’s and civil rights organizations, electing women to public office, mentoring and sponsoring women inside and outside the office, and volunteering my time in women’s leadership groups. My work has been largely focused on action – taking concrete steps to help more women advance in their careers and chip away at the leadership gap that still exists in almost all arenas.

 

 

What will I be doing?

As the first Executive Director, I will be responsible for leading all efforts related to Brazen St. Louis (a 501c3), including operations, administration, membership, events, program management and community partnerships.  In short, I’ll be running the St. Louis regional “branch” of Brazen.

 

 

What about Jennifer Ehlen and Aimee Dunne and Brazen Global?

Now that Brazen St. Louis will have a full time Executive Director, Jenn and Aimee will be directing their focus on the expansion of Brazen Global, its for-profit parent company.  They are actively exploring opportunities to help more women entrepreneurs grow their businesses in other cities around the country.  Stay tuned for more on this!

 

 

Anything else to add?

Yes!  Please connect with us.  As I take on this new role, I look forward to meeting Brazen STL members in the region to see how we can best help you advance your business.  I’ll also be reaching out to others in the community to support our efforts, and of course grow our amazing network of members.  In the meantime, please “like” our new Brazen St. Louis Facebook page, subscribe to our newsletter, and sign up for a Brazen membership…and invite a friend to as well.

Interviews

Be Fearless in Your Fundraising

Author Stephanie Leffler Published October 10, 2017
Share

When it comes to fundraising, Stephanie Leffler has heaps of experience. She shares lots of tips and information with us that any female entrepreneur, whether seeking investment or not, would find helpful. And on top of it all she seems to have navigated the investment waters with a bold and brazen attitude!

Where did your organizations funding come from? How did you obtain investors for your venture?

Our seed funding was supplied by me and my business partner. We sold our first startup and had funds available to invest into this new venture. That got us through the first few years. We then raised a Series A round from Highland Capital, a venture firm based in Boston and Silicon Valley. Finally, we raised a Series B round led by Lewis and Clark Ventures in St. Louis, along with participation from Highland Capital.

 

Seeking funding can be intimidating. Tell us how you felt about it. Was it a scary process for you? Or were you confident? Why?

When you outline an idea that you are passionate about, you feel exposed. There is always a risk that they won’t like it. The reality is that you might go and see ten potential investors and nine of them might not like your idea at all, but all you need is one. The key is to go in with complete confidence and stand behind your idea. Do not come at it with weakness or fear. Put your knowledge on display. Teach the investors something and you’ll gain an advantage. I believe that just about any idea can be sold with the right amount of confidence.

 

Teach the investors something and you’ll gain an advantage. I believe that just about any idea can be sold with the right amount of confidence.

 

What are some interesting or helpful things you learned about funding that you might not find in “Seeking Investment for Dummies?”

One of the best pieces of advice that I can give would be to hire a great, well-connected lawyer. You will need a lawyer to help you negotiate and manage the legal part of your round. Getting connected with the right lawyer can help create the network effect you need in order to get funding. It’s not a great position to be seeking funding. It’s much better for VC’s to hear about your company through the grapevine or from someone they trust, forcing them to reach out to you. If you start by hiring a well-connected lawyer, they can help you create buzz and generate interest. For me, that part of the process was relatively unexpected.

 

We know the importance of a pitch deck and a strong ask. What was your hook? How did you get investors to take the bait? Why was your pitch so compelling to them?

The most important hook is the size of the market and the value that can be created with your solution. Investors want to know that you can build a company big enough for them to get a return. Establishing that, not through gut instinct, but through actual data, is tremendously important. Investors see upwards of 50 pitches per month. Your pitch has to check all of their boxes: a solid market, a good go-to market strategy, and having an experienced team or a plan to bring on an experienced team. You have to be able to demonstrate that your technology works. Your pitch has to do all of these things, and above all else, it has to do so in the form of a story. People generally make decisions with emotion, and even though you’re dealing with very logical people in the investment world, if you’re not weaving together a clear and coherent story, it will fall flat.

 

Investors want to know that you can build a company big enough for them to get a return. Establishing that, not through gut instinct, but through actual data, is tremendously important. Investors see upwards of 50 pitches per month.

 

What went right when you were raising capital for your business? Did you get all that you asked for? What went wrong?

What went right:

Both of our funding rounds. We got what we asked for. The key to doing so is having multiple parties at the table. You need to have more than one firm who is interested in investing because you can’t aggressively ask for what you want unless you have more than one person interested.

 

What went wrong:

You have to hold a lot of meetings in order to get a handful of people interested. In some cases, you’ll go into a meeting and the person sitting on the other side of the table has zero interest in what you are saying and they may not even want to be there in the first place. You just have to pick yourself up, walk out of that room, and ask yourself if there is anything you can carry forward into the next meeting to improve upon and move on. I experienced that more than once in the fundraising processes but I didn’t let it slow me down.

 

What advice would you give to a female founder seeking investment capital?

Number one: don’t contemplate gender when you’re thinking about raising capital. I don’t think there is anything that is gender specific when it comes to raising capital. Number two: show up early, be prepared, make sure your technology works, shake hands firmly, look the investor in the eye, have your shoulders back, have the body language of a winner and of a leader, and make no apologies for your pitch. Investors will likely ask questions that you don’t have an answer for, and you can absolutely say, ‘let me get back to you’, or ‘that’s a great question, we need to think through that’, and then come back to them with an answer. You have to be able to take those questions and not get rattled. Above all, know your numbers and be prepared to speak to the basics (how many customers are you going to acquire in year one, what revenue are you projecting, if it’s a SaaS product, what kind of churn are you projecting). Even if you are pre-revenue, you need to be able to answer those questions so you aren’t caught off guard.

 

Before OneSpace, you founded MonsterCommerce. What lessons did you bring to OneSpace from MonsterCommerce that have helped you succeed? Have you been able to avoid mistakes you made before? Have you been able to grow faster?

I’ve brought forward so many lessons learned from MonsterCommerce that it’s hard to choose the most important. The biggest lesson learned is that recurring revenue is a very helpful monetization strategy to help grow a successful company. The biggest mistake that comes to mind was underpricing our product. We were looking at the market in terms of what customers would pay instead of what value the product would create. We probably left money on the table with the way that we priced our product at MonsterCommerce.

 

While OneSpace did not start out as a recurring revenue business, we had a vision from day one to launch a software as a service product (SaaS) and build that revenue model, and we have now successfully done so. At OneSpace, we think about pricing in a much more value oriented way: what is the value we are driving for the customer and how much value is our platform creating? I feel much more comfortable with where we are from a pricing perspective at OneSpace versus MonsterCommerce.

 

At OneSpace, we think about pricing in a much more value oriented way: what is the value we are driving for the customer and how much value is our platform creating?

 

Can you explain a little bit about how OneSpace helps its customers and how you use the OneSpace methodology and process within your own company?

OneSpace is a platform that allows companies to scale quickly with on demand talent. We use our own platform in many places in the company, one example is within our sales team. We research companies and people within those companies who might want to buy the OneSpace platform. To execute that research, you have to look at hundreds of companies a day, which would take our team a great deal of time to complete. To save our team time, we built a workflow on our platform that leverages freelancers to find all of the information we need to make better decisions about whether or not a customer is a potential target. That has been a major advantage for us.

 

As our name implies, we encourage women to be brazen and bold! Tell us about a moment you were brazen in your business. When did you do something bold? Were you excited or scared? What was the outcome?

I have done a lot of things that I feel are brazen or bold, and in almost every case, I have been a little bit nervous. There are two particularly “brazen” moments that I feel are applicable to any entrepreneur: the feeling you get when you are asking a customer to sign a big contract, and needing to let somebody go who has been important on your company’s journey.

 

I once heard a mentor of mine say, “If you don’t feel uncomfortable asking, your price is probably not high enough”. That is definitely one area where everyone should challenge themselves to step outside of their comfort zone.

 

Every once in a while there is somebody in the company that needs to move on, and you know it would be best for them and best for the company. There is never going to be a good time to do it, but the key point is you have to be brazen. You have to take some risk and go out on a limb that your gut instinct is correct. It is a scary thing, but you have to do what your gut tells you. I’ve never regretted doing so.

 

You can Follow Stephanie and OneSpace on Instagram and Twitter at @onespace_com, Facebook at OneSpace.com, and check out their website at onespace.com

 

Stephanie Leffler is the CEO of OneSpace, an all-in-one workflow automation platform that brings businesses in need of flexible, on-demand talent together with freelancers seeking assignments that match their skill sets. We’ve helped companies like Staples, Overstock, and Instacart rapidly scale their operations by giving them instant access to talent where and when they needed it most.

 

Prior to OneSpace, Stephanie Leffler founded MonsterCommerce, an ecommerce platform that grew to serve over 8,000 small businesses. MonsterCommerce processed more than $3 billion dollars in annual sales and posted annual revenue exceeding $20 million in the year prior to being acquired.

 

MonsterCommerce was voted an SIIA Codie Award finalist for Best E-Commerce Software, recognized as the Fastest Growing Private Company in St. Louis by St. Louis Business Journal and chosen as one of St. Louis’ Top 50 Businesses by STL Commerce Magazine.

 

Leffler has been recognized by Ernst & Young as an Entrepreneur Of The Year Finalist, by the Stevie Awards as a Best Young Entrepreneur Finalist, and by the St. Louis Business Journal as a “30 Under 30” and “40 Under 40” honoree.

 

Leffler mentors entrepreneurs through the Pipeline for Entrepreneurship organization and serves as a guest lecturer at Washington University’s Olin School of Business and at St. Louis University’s John Cook School of Management.