The Most Valuable Lesson Learned in Business, According to 8 Female Founders

No one starts out as an expert. These entrepreneurs look back on their own learning curves.
The Most Valuable Lesson Learned in Business, According to 8 Female Founders
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Magazine Contributor
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This story appears in the October 2019 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »

We asked eight of the entrepreneurs featured on our 100 Powerful Women list: What did you know the least about when you first started your business, and how did you get up to speed? 

“I’m naturally introverted. It’s hard to walk into a room of strangers, let alone a room of potential investors. For me, it was learning that the best way to build a network is by offering value first -- asking how you can serve someone else before asking them for help in return. Gradually, I learned how to become more extroverted and started creating spaces for others to network based on this ethos.” -- Lisa Wang; Former Olympic gymnast; founder and CEO, SheWorx, a global platform and event series that has helped more than 20,000 female entrepreneurs succeed

“During our seed fund-raise, we had to sell our idea to investors prior to launching and securing membership. Not having a proof of concept was very challenging. To get around that, we leaned on the market data we had collected related to women’s networks and managed a pilot peer group program. We launched in January, and by the time we went out for our Series A, we had thousands on the waitlist and closed at $22 million, the largest from female founders at that point in 2019.” -- Carolyn Childers; CEO and cofounder (right, with cofounder Lindsay Kaplan, left), Chief, a private network for C-suite women

“Raising venture capital is the worst. When I first started, I went after investors I thought understood what I was building, who looked like me, and I got rejected by every single one of them. Emotionally beaten down, I stopped and just continued building the business. When I started back up, I flipped the type of investor profile I went after and targeted ones who cared about the value of my company -- about the impact we were having on the media landscape. And when I did that, the conversation just flowed.” -- Morgan DeBaun; Founder and CEO, Blavity, a digital media company that reaches 30 million Black millennials a month

Related: The Young Founder of This Celebrity-Loved Activewear Company Shares Why You Should Always Trust Your Instincts

“The hardest part for me was figuring out how to grow the right team. For a startup, you need to bring together people who have a passion for what you want to build, the skills to build it, and the willingness to operate with few resources. I thought, How am I going to find them? So I asked [other] entrepreneurs how they found their first hires. I asked investors -- even those who had declined to invest in my company -- if they knew anyone. And I asked friends. I also treated the recruiting process like a full-time job, because that’s what it takes.” -- Amy Nelson; Founder and CEO, The Riveter, a coworking space and community for women in business

“I knew what kind of beauty company I wanted to build, but I knew nothing about operating one. On launch day, our team of 15 huddled around a laptop to watch the orders come in and then hopped in Ubers to deliver them in New York. I’ve had to learn -- and relearn -- what operations means at every stage of growth by talking to experts and listening to customers, and we’ve built robust teams to manage our supply chain and warehouse operations. It’s still a challenge.” -- Emily Weiss; Founder and CEO, Glossier, a millennial beauty brand with a valuation of $1.2 billion

“In college, when I realized there needed to be a technical apparel brand that made recreational activity synonymous with fun, I didn’t know where to start. So I turned to the internet to research the industry and found a trade show in Utah that my dad and I went to -- and drove through a hailstorm for! -- where I discovered a mill that would help me develop a material that felt like cotton without showing sweat. Making apparel isn’t rocket science, but there’s a lot that can go wrong.” -- Tyler Haney; Founder and CEO, Outdoor Voices, an athletic lifestyle apparel brand

“I’ve always been obsessed with good ingredients and how they can make you look and feel better from the inside out. What I didn’t know when I started my wellness company was which ingredients would complement and activate one another. So I enlisted the help of my friend Amy Shah, who is an immunologist and double board-certified MD, along with scientists and top innovators in the field.” -- Bobbi Brown; Founder, Bobbi Brown Cosmetics; founder, Evolution_18, a wellness company with products now in Walmart

Related: 3 Proven Methods Brands Like Glossier Use to Grow Their Social Media Impact

“When I first started, I had no idea how to build digital products. I’d worked in relatively traditional e-commerce, but we’re building a social network, and the learning curve is high. So I’ve spent as much time as possible with advisers, founders, and investors who have worked with social products, built similar teams, and scaled similar businesses, and that has allowed us to iterate and learn so much faster.” -- Sophia Amoruso; Founder and CEO, Girlboss, a LinkedIn-style network and more for young entrepreneurial women

Check out more stories from our October/November issue's list of 100 Powerful Women.

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