Last weekend I had the privilege of being surrounded by over 200 amazing, inspiring female entrepreneurs as part the Project Entrepreneur Class of 2018 representing Maia Moda. Project Entrepreneur is working to break down the barriers facing women building high growth companies and is a program by Rent the Runway Foundation in partnership with UBS. Every year they select a number of women to gather together for two days in the heart of Manhattan to share knowledge, network and inspire. I’m still buzzing from all the good vibes!
Programs like Project Entrepreneur are so important to build a supportive ecosystem for women running companies. With programs like these it’s no surprise that New York is the best city in the world for female entrepreneurs, so proud to call this place my home! As many of our readers are entrepreneurs or intrapreneurs with primary businesses or side hustles I wanted to note my key takeaways, highlight some of the incredible companies that participated and share my list of recommended books that I took away from the conference. The conference was packed with 4 workshops, 2 keynote addresses, a mentor lunch and a pitch competition so there was no shortage of learnings to pull from.
Arianna Huffington - My founder crush!
I was most inspired by Arianna Huffington, a keynote speaker at the event which was moderated by Jenn Hyland, the CEO of Rent the Runway. I’ve seen Arianna speak before and I must admit I have a serious founders crush on her. After building HuffPost into a media empire and writing 15 books, she is now focused on pushing back on our culture of burnout to achieve success. All the science shows that when we prioritize our well-being, our productivity actually goes up, yet we still lean on expressions like “You can sleep when you are dead” or brag about how many hours we worked in a week. Athletes already know this and prioritize their diet and sleep to perform at their best, it’s baffling that our culture hasn’t followed their lead to be a high performer at work. She has recruited some powerful figures to her cause including Jeff Bezos who wrote “ Why Getting 8 hours of sleep is good for Amazon ShareHolders. We all need to declare an arbitrary end to the day, because there will always be more to do, sleep with our phones outside of our room (guilty!) and recognize that prioritizing sleep is not a luxury, but a requirement to perform at our best.
The Power of Collaboration
As a small company another powerful accelerator is collaborations. Speaking on the subject was Della Heiman, the CEO of Della Bowls, who literally created a space for her business and direct competitors to serve the public. In a perfect example of “the tide raises all boats” collaborating with her competitors ultimately expanded the reach of her own company and gave back to the entire Miami community. The space is called The Wynwood Yard and has evolved into an amazing space for the city of Miami. Investing in her local community and collaborating with like minded individuals and companies has been the key to her success. I loved all her energy and definitely planning on checking out The Wynwood Yard when I find myself in Miami.
Don’t Be A Schmuck
One of the most memorable workshop was "How Not to be a Schmuck: Listening to Customer Feedback Smartly" presented by fellow New Yorker Liza Landsman, past Chief Customer Officer at Jet.com and CMO at Etrade.com. The focus was how to collect honest and useful feedback, because as Henry Ford once said “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.” Her approach is all data driven and leans on analyzing what the customer does (and not what they say). Another key takeaway was the order of focus, start first on product, followed by customer targeting and then harness the creative. Far too many companies expend too much energy on the creative but if you the components upstream aren’t optimized it’s a losing game.
I was blown away by what these 200 women were working on, and if you want to read more about them please check it out here. Many were addressing women specific issues, which is why we need more women in business. Solving the problems of 50 % of the population is no small task. Since the list is too long to name, I wanted to highlight some ones that really stood out for me:
- Leche Lounge: Stephanie Conduff is making it easier for moms to pump. She has developed a kiosk style nursing room that can be installed anywhere in less than 2 hours. Pumping in comfort and never in a bathroom - yes please!
- Bundl: Another parenting focused company; Bundl provides long term baby gear rentals. Bundl is currently serving the LA area and gearing up for expansion. It would have been great to have this option with my child when I invested in a deluxe bassinet, only to have him hate it. The CEO Tracy Bitterolf already has a great track record in the parenting space, producing for the YouTube channel What’s up Mom, a must watch channel for all things parenting.
- Path Spot Technologies: Started by four founders with PHDs (impressed already!), this product tackles the issue of food borne illnesses. It’s hard to believe, but 80% of food borne illnesses could have been prevented with better hand washing. Yet our only solution are those ubiquitous signs that say “ Employees Must Wash Hands”. PathSpot Technologies is a device installed in the washroom that can immediate scan your hands to check for any pathogens and if there is an issue, just wash your hands again. I’m wondering when they’ll come out with the consumer model, for us overzealous parents with newborns.
- Floss Bar: Started just this year by Eva Sadej a Harvard alum, Floss Bar makes going to the dentist as easy as getting a blow out. As someone who knows how hard it is to convince my family to go to the dentist; I can’t wait to see this company expand. Serious innovation is needed to make going to the dentist more convenient and affordable. With 80% of Americans suffering from serious gum disease; it's great to see some creative solutions.
- Tote Savvy: For our fashion forward mamas this product is a must. Started by Lauren Kutting, with Tote Savvy you can easily turn any one of your favorite handbags into an organized diaper bag. #nomoreuglydiaperbags
The Book List
And last but not least I collected a number of book recommendations that are now on my must read/listen list. If you check them out please let me know your thoughts!:
- It Starts With Why by Simon Sinek : For anyone in marketing this concept is an accelerator!
- Thrive by Arianna Huffington : I read this book a couple of years ago and still lean on these learnings. When I’m dead tired at 9 PM from watching kids all day, but feel like I could be working she convinces me to pick sleep and I’m thankful every time.
- The Sleep Revolution: Transforming Your Life, One Night at a Time by Arianna Huffington: Ariana’s Latest book - I’m looking forward to learning more about the subject of sleep.
- Everybody Lies by Seth Stephens-Davidowitz: A fun easy read for those into data marketing.
- Outrageous Openness: Letting the Divine Take the Lead by Tosha Silver : Recommended by a fellow participants, this one is an easy read of short stories. She indicated she often goes back to this book for inspiration.
- I know how she does it - by Laura Vanderkam: A perfect book to combat the mom guilt and better prioritize how you spend your time. The author, Laura gathered time sheets from over 100s of successful women that make upwards of $100,000 a year to better understand their success.
Hope you guys found this useful and inspiring. Wishing you a powerful week!
MAIA MODA Co-Founder