Chicks With Startups
My friend Ksenia started a blog / community site this morning. PregnantWithStartup, for women who are starting up businesses. Crazy women, that is. She asked me to play with her, so I guess we'll start using the plural pronouns..... birthing this community together. And we need it. Desperately.
No one whose footsteps I'd rather follow in. (She's got a killer fashion sense, and that works for me.) Like Ksenia, I'm coming up on 3 years "in" launching my company, JUST CAUSE, and like her, I've gone through many iterations and incarnations to get where I am (which is squarely in that perpetual state of "almost there.")
Why a site for women? We've been accused - in a very funny email this morning - of being elitist, segregationist, setting the women's movement backwards and being a general detriment to serious business women everywhere. Indeed, it was pointed out to us, a site that only focuses on male issues would be offensive to many. (As we were told we were being, offensive, that is, not male.) I can see that point. I can.
But here's the deal. It's different. Women are different than men. And I'm glad. Just as smart, capable, brilliant, pioneering, strong and all that. But different. And I'm good with that. There are stories to be told that relate, rather uniquely, to being a woman launching a start up. Or a mother. Or a wife. Or someone in 3 inch heels on a rainy day going up and down steep hills in downtown Seattle. (Yes, I could wear sensible shoes, I know, but every time i see a woman in sneakers and "work clothes" I just cringe. And when I wear the lime green snake skin pumps, I'm fairly sure I can conquer the world.)
So I'll start my role here with an old story, and it's a quickie. Fairly early on I made the decision that, no matter what, I would just be me. That, of course, is an ever evolving definition. As I started "pitching" at various venture fairs etc.... It was suggested - more like explicitly demanded - that I not wear jeans. But here's the thing. I wear jeans. That's pretty much all I wear. I don't feel comfortable in anything else, and when I'm not comfortable, I'm not my best. And I owe it to my company, associates, family and investors to be MY BEST. So, when I was getting ready to do my first ever pitch - with a huge audience and a huge event - I went and bought a really nice pair of jeans. My company is all about social justice, so these jeans are organic, fair trade, give-back-to-the-world, ass-hugging goodness. In order to be as professional as possible in jeans, I donned a freshly pressed and well-tailored silk blouse, and a beautiful pair of black shoes with a flawless manicure.
I did the pitch. I have NEVER been so nervous in my life, but the audience loved me. It felt great, people flocked around afterwards gushing about how much they loved the company and how great I was. I loved it. Felt like maybe I really could be me in this big-bad-male-dominated world of VC and Startups. Once the buzz started to die down, another woman - older and presumably wiser - than I came up. She loved the company, thought my pitch was great. All in all, really supportive and kind, and I was grateful for the decidedly feminine and matronly support. Then, she leaned in, and said, "but I need to tell you something." Eagerly, I leaned in and said, "great, what?" "You might not want to be so sexy."
And there it was. Why do we do that to each other? That confirmed my resolve. I will be ALL of who I am. Smart. Funny. Creative. Tough. And yes, sexy. That's a battle I don't think many men face. How many men do you think are told, "dude, you're too handsome."
So, thanks Ksenia (another uberbabe, by the way) for asking me to create this forum with you. We all need to stick together. And be all we can be. And encourage others to be all they can be. And lest anyone think Ksenia and I are man-haters - far from it. Our current support group for entrepreneurs is almost all male, and we call them all the time. Love them, kick their butts at beer-pong, pick their brains for ideas. But I can guarantee you that none of them have ever been told to be less sexy, or tried to walk up Marion with heels on. There's some things they just don't "get."