By Nathalie Molina Niño, CEO of BRAVA Investments
I don’t know about you, but I have never, in my entire life, read a book about launching a business that remotely reflected my experience as a woman, as a Latina and as someone who didn’t start out having friends and family who could write big checks.
“Fail fast” wasn’t an option for me because bouncing back from bankruptcy isn’t as simple when you don’t have family wealth or a trust fund (the dirty little secret most startup successes leave out when they’re constructing their romantic origin stories). Meanwhile women are starting businesses more than men, and 8 out of every 10 new women-led businesses is started by a woman of color. So I thought, someone really needs to collect the best hacks from entrepreneurs that look and live like most people, and write a realistic handbook to starting a business from the perspective of most of us, the majority. Or as my fellow investor, Arlan Hamilton, calls us, the underestimated.
So I did. It’s called LEAPFROG, The New Revolution for Women Entrepreneurs. And it’s filled with stories of amazing entrepreneurs that have figured out how to win the startup game on their terms. People like Nina Vaca who once and for all proves that Venture Capital (VC) is not the only game in town. Like my dad, she’s an Ecuadorian immigrant, who never took a penny of outside investment. Her company is slated to hit $1 billion in annual revenues and it’s officially the fastest growing woman-owned company in the U.S. So to all the VC’s that would tell you that the only way to grow and grow fast is by giving them material ownership in your company and being obsessed with a quick acquisition or IPO, I say two words: NINA VACA.
Speaking of quick exits, here’s an alternative. How about Lida Orzeck and Gail Epstein from Hanky Panky? They also never took outside investment and last November they rounded up their 170 employees at their factory in Jamaica, Queens, many of whom have been with them for decades, to celebrate their 40th anniversary by announcing their exit. Not an IPO. Not an acquisition. An employee stock ownership plan (ESOP) that essentially leaves the company to the dedicated employees who have made Hanky Panky the amazing cult favorite brand that it is.
The World Economic Forum says that at the rate we’re going, women will get to gender parity in 170 years. Unacceptable. Yet many of us hear the word shortcut and think “cheating.” We have, collectively, been so traumatized by the isms around us, the ones that are eager and ready to suggest we only got in because of affirmative action or we only got that role because we were the token women, that we feel the only way to survive is to follow the rules and be perfect. But we forget that the people with power, capital and influence got there by taking shortcuts. Even if that shortcut wasn’t a trust fund, maybe it was just the good luck of not having been born in the south side of Chicago.
We have to change the system, yes. But right now, today, we have to make lemonade out of the lemons we’ve inherited and that means creating our own shortcuts. We owe it to our daughters and everyone that will come after us to leapfrog (i.e. shortcut) the status quo.
So here’s my pitch to you. Embrace the shortcut. In fact, DEMAND it. Then tell the world. Or just tell me and I’ll tell the world! Now more than ever, we need your stories, your leapfrogs. And we need your courage to stand up and resist those who would have us stay small.
Nathalie Molina Niño is the CEO of BRAVA Investments and the author of LEAPFROG, The New Revolution for Women Entrepreneurs (Tarcher Perigee, a Penguin Random House imprint). She is committed to delivering returns to investors while making a catalytic impact on women in the world. A technologist and coder by training, Nathalie is a consummate entrepreneur, and a storyteller at heart.
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