This Founder Ditched Investment Banking to Help New Moms -- and All Women -- Feel Confident
In the Women Entrepreneur series My First Moves, we talk to founders about that pivotal moment when they decided to turn their business idea into a reality -- and the first steps they took to make it happen.
Shamanth Pereira spent years building a successful career in investment banking, but she missed her freedom -- and her family. “It was increasingly challenging to be present with my young family,” she says. “I had to make a choice.” She walked away from the finance world and enrolled in business school, with dreams of owning her own business someday, one that would provide both stability and flexibility for her busy life. But it was her second pregnancy that gave her an a-ha moment, and led her to launch Invisibelly, a line of leggings that help women avoid the dreaded muffin top and help them feel comfortable and confident. Here’s how she did it.
1. Build what you know.
Pereira was pregnant with her second child and was looking ahead to recovery after the birth. “After I had my first son, I was so focused on taking care of him that I didn’t look after myself,” she says. “It took me a really long time to feel comfortable in terms of weight gain, so this time around I wanted to focus on my own care a bit more.” She wanted to create a versatile garment that women could comfortably wear even as their weight fluctuated, and decided to dig into the Asian tradition of belly wrapping, which she had long ago learned about from her mother. “You wrap your abdomen with a really long piece of material and the belief is it promotes internal healing,” Pereira says. “And I should say, my grandmother had 10 children and always did this, and she looked amazing.” If Pereira could bring that kind of function and comfort to a pair of leggings, she knew she’d have a hit. “All the mums around me had the same problem, and we all wanted a solution.”
2. Find partners to translate your vision.
She’d seen plenty of compression leggings on the market to reduce muscle soreness for athletes, but Pereira wanted to shift that technology to the abdomen. With zero contacts in either fashion or manufacturing, she started cold-calling factories. “When you’re a startup, factories really don’t take you seriously, and I wanted to create a seamless legging, which requires a very special machine,” she says. “I didn’t know how to translate my vision, so I took store-bought leggings around with me and simply told manufacturers what I wanted to change.” Still, she hit plenty of dead ends and was about to give up -- until she got one great piece of advice. “I was told to look into this company called Utelier that connects startups like me with really good manufacturers and designers,” she says. “That was the turning point -- they connected me to an activewear manufacturer that understood my vision.”
3. Pick the perfect name.
Pereira used Facebook to survey women as she built her product and to better understand their needs. So when it came time to name the brand, she returned to that growing audience. “Someone suggested Invisibelly, and it was just great,” she says. “I kept going back and forth between having a name for the company and a separate name for the product, but then I thought of Spanx and the single-name simplicity. I decided to take that approach.”
4. Secure funding -- and customers.
It took more than a year to perfect Pereira’s prototype, and once she had a product she was proud of, she turned to Kickstarter. “The reasoning was twofold,” she says. “It wouldn’t just help me raise money, but also get valuable feedback from our earliest customers. I started with just four sizes but throughout my campaign realized that plus-sizes were very popular, so we expanded our range. It helps you avoid spending a bunch of capital building a product that people might not like.”
5. Manage expectations.
Pereira considered aiming for an aggressive six-figure fundraising goal but then decided to start small, asking for just 10,000 Euros. “The reason I wanted to launch my own business was to get out of investment banking and be more present for my kids,” she says. When one of her sons became ill three months before she launched the crowdfunding campaign, she considered pulling the plug on the whole operation. “But every entrepreneur I talked to encouraged me to just get to launch and see what happens,” she says. “So I scaled down and brought my expectations down a bit.” It worked: She raised more than four times her goal on Kickstarter, and started shipping product worldwide in December.