“Being an entrepreneur is not for the fearful," declared WeFestival co-founder Joanne Wilson at this year's sixth annual event in New York City. “I believe women need to unite as a community to grow their businesses."
Wilson's opening set the tone for WeFestival 2016, where women entrepreneurs from all over the world, at all stages of business growth, came together for two days of inspiring panel discussions and constructive networking. But what resonated most from the event, sponsored by American Express OPEN, was the sense of empowerment attendees received from hearing each others' stories. Both the speakers and fellow guests shared their business highs and lows and gave tactical advice on what's helped them grow. Here are five stand-out tips from throughout the event.
1. Be confident when looking for funding.
Asking for money can be awkward, but pitching to investors—and getting funded—is almost always the first step to bring your business from idea to inception. According to speakers from the event, confidence can make all the difference when telling your story. Investors are “buying into you and your vision," affirmed Venuebook CEO and founder Kelsey Recht. Recht, whose business makes it easier to search for and book event spaces, continues, “You have to walk in with confidence. [Your] story is the most important."
—Kelsey Recht, founder and CEO, Venuebook
Christina Mercando, founder and CEO of Ringly, a jewelry and accessories line whose products connect to your smartphone to alert you of texts, notifications and more, said to be bold about the amount of money you ask for. “One million dollars seemed like a crazy amount of money [to ask for]," she recalled. So Mercando pitched her company at $500,000 instead. But investors rejected her. They didn't think her company would take off with so little money. It wasn't until she negotiated for the full one million that she finally landed a terms sheet. “You need more money than you think you do," she said.
2. Break ideas down for your audience.
While women may understand a product that's made and marketed strictly for them, potential male investors may have trouble seeing the light. Take Ringly as an example. Mercando's smart rings and bracelets use varying vibration and light settings to notify you of incoming messages, calls, texts and more on your phone. That can free up women from fumbling through their purse to check their notifications. “Men keep their phones in their pockets, women don't," Mercando explains when pitching to male investors, who will often bring the product back to their wife or daughters for feedback. Mercando also comes ready with statistics to prove her company's worth, such as how much money women spend a year on jewelry. “Do your research [to] show there is a market," she said.
3. Recognize the power in saying no.
Nailing your Series A round of financing may be your goal, but panelists at WeFestival warned against accepting cash too fast. “Knowing when to say no is a really important lesson," emphasized Jennifer Martin, co-founder of mini popcorn company Pipsnacks. When Martin's business was approached by investors, “[We] were about to sign the paper, and then said no," she said. "[Our business] was not at the place it could've been, so we said no and asked [the investors] to come back next year. And they did come back."
Martin knew her business wasn't ready to accept all that cash, but what if you're poised for growth with seed money on the table? Take a second look at the investor's personality before diving for financing. “It's tempting to skip over personality," said Courtney Nichols Gould, co-founder and co-CEO of gummy supplement brand SmartyPants Vitamins, “but you've got to slow down to find someone who has your best interest at heart."
“If they're not the nicest people up front, it's an indication of how they'll work with you down the line," added Kellee Khalil, founder and CEO of wedding inspiration and e-commerce platform Lover.ly. “[You] gotta trust your gut."
4. Think of failure as data.
“In science, failure is data. Rejection is only information," affirmed Lisa Abeyta, founder and CEO of mobile app platform APPCityLife. Not getting an investment on the first try can only teach you how to improve your pitch on the next. Another piece of advice? “Be a good listener," suggested Gould. Tell investors that you appreciate their time and would love to hear why they chose not to invest. Critiques and honest feedback can be gold in helping you bring a useful, successful product or service to life. Khalil agreed: “If three people say the same thing, know that there's validity in what they're saying."
5. Sell to your team, not just your investors.
Team members may not be financially invested in your company, but they definitely have sweat equity in the organization—they're clocking long hours and distilling creative energy to get your dream off the ground. “You need to sell your team as much as you do investors," said Venuebook's Kelsey Recht.
Knowing when to delegate can also help your team feel empowered. While the title of CEO may seem all encompassing, it doesn't necessarily mean it's worth your time to manage each task. “Do every job yourself, then figure out what you're the worst at," said Recht. Those tasks and others, like bookkeeping, accounting and sorting through insurance policies may be better off passed to someone else.