How MLM Takes Advantage of Would-Be Female Entrepreneurs

How MLM Takes Advantage of Would-Be Female Entrepreneurs

This post was originally featured on ThriveGlobal

Reasons why MLM could be a pitfall for professional women on their way to the top 

Pyramids are some of the world’s most recognizable structures—from Egypt to Chichén Itzá, you know one when you see one. It should be no surprise, then, that the pyramid shape also represents one of the world’s most notorious schemes and sale structures.

Pyramid schemes operate and turn profit via top-down recruitment—essentially built opposite the way a physical pyramid would be— and are illegal for a simple reason: they make money off the sale of distributorship rather than products and services. While the top of that pyramid reaps many rewards, mathematically as many as 99% of distributors end up losing money as it funnels ever-upward, making the structure unsustainable (another area where the parallel to ancient Egypt ends).

MLM businesses aren’t illegal, at least not technically—so long as there are legitimate products bought and sold, they can skirt the label. And who are we to deny the women that do feel empowered by the ability to make extra money while, often, doing the brunt of housework and child-rearing unpaid?

It’s a complicated topic. As a female entrepreneur myself, I try to support all women and whatever their version of success may be, because I know first-hand how harrowing it can be to prove yourself in a world that’s very eager to box you in. While it’s any woman’s choice to get involved in MLM, and business integrity is best judged on a case-by-case basis, overall MLM may be taking advantage of more women than it empowers.

A false promise of entrepreneurship

One way MLM businesses recruit is on one level an issue of semantics, and on another an issue of bombast. By calling independent sales consultants entrepreneurs, these businesses promote a false idea of entrepreneurship. In reality, those involved are salespeople with no control over the product or its prices. Like any other salesperson, they have a goal to hit and earn commission dependent on how well they do. That’s okay, but call it what it is, not entrepreneurship.

Unfortunately, women targeted and too often exploited by these kinds of businesses are sold on an idea of empowerment and entrepreneurship that is, at best, a smokescreen. It may not be likely an entrepreneur will make it big, but if she succeeds she can go from zero to 100 on her merit and hard work. The same isn’t true of the “entrepreneurs” in MLM businesses. Many put their savings and social lives at stake just to break even.
These women want what we all want. Financial independence. Flexibility. Credibility. Success. And if they fail to get there, it’s less their own failure than a failure by design. Ambition can only get you so far if you’re dozens of tiers down in a pyramid where cuts of your earnings flow to those higher up, and you rely on those below you to to sell and stay loyal (often by pressuring family and friends).

Women who could otherwise put their skills to use and find success starting up a small business may have their dreams warped by predatory MLM companies. And for those that do succeed, or enjoy it enough to ignore the small paycheck? It seems a shame to channel positive energy into a system that is likely to harm more women than it benefits.

A spectrum of severity

The appeal of the modern MLM business model is no mystery. With less of a startup cost than a traditional business and a built-in network of support, many independent consultants have found happiness with these opportunities.

But it’s important to note that not all MLM are created equal after all. I won’t paint them all with the same stroke because, while the model has its flaws, so do many models including capitalism. Like anything, there is a spectrum of severity. While the crimes of one shouldn’t indict the whole, they should caution them at least.

As one example, popular MLM business LuLaRoe has a billion dollar lawsuit on its hands after a number of consultants, who paid a hefty $6K startup fee, found themselves in mountains of debt trying to sell sometimes-damaged clothes of declining quality.

If that sounds bad, on the far end of the spectrum are groups like NXIVM, an MLM organization that purports to offer professional development and mentorship for women–in addition to referring to its members as “slaves,” physically branding their skin, and much, much worse.

The line between MLM and cult, then, is finer than any of us would like to believe. A vast majority of these businesses would never abuse their members, yes, but the association is disconcerting to say the least.

Knowing the difference

Those in the business can articulate what to look for if you actually want to find success in MLM. Network Marketing professional Gino Niccoli advises seeking an upline that trains you well and brings you prospects for your downline, for example. The product should be of quality and have a unique selling proposition, he says, if you don’t want to work uphill to make less money in a saturated marketplace. Lastly, if company profit comes from distributorship fees more than product sales, that’s a definite red flag.

At the end of the day we are all responsible to approach business propositions with healthy skepticism, but MLM has earned an extra dose of it in my opinion. Many of us as women can and should do more with our talents. The world needs them more than it does overpriced leggings.

Got Money Discomfort? Here’s How to Get Rid of It

Got Money Discomfort? Here’s How to Get Rid of It

This post was originally featured on ScoreNYC

Talking about money can be profoundly uncomfortable. The social awkwardness sets in at even the most casual times; a cheerful dinner with friends can devolve into embarrassed stammers when a waiter asks how they should split the check, or a business meeting might turn awkward when those involved hesitate over bringing out the company credit card to pay for coffers. Most of the time, we can tiptoe around the discomfort with a few halting words and split checks. For female entrepreneurs, however, the shadow of that monetary anxiety is a daily — and expensive — issue.

Women own more than 11.6 million firms in America. They employ nearly 9 million people, and in 2017 generated $1.7 trillion in sales; their owned ventures account for a full 39% of all privately held firms in the United States. Women aren’t waiting by the door for a chance to be let into the business world’s metaphorical conference room — they’ve pointedly claimed over a third of the seats at the table.

However, for all their success and progress, women entrepreneurs and employees still struggle to stand on an equal financial par with their male colleagues. A recent study conducted by the online accounting venture FreshBooks surveyed over 2,700 American professionals and found that women tended to earn around 28% less than their male counterparts. This gap, the study showed, remained even when the researchers compared male and female entrepreneurs in the same industry.

To rephrase: even when women entrepreneurs had the opportunity to determine their salary, they tended to pay themselves over a quarter less than male colleagues. For female business owners, anxiety over asking for money isn’t just a problem at restaurants and social functions — it has a real impact on their financial health.

The problem extends to the health of their businesses, too. Some studies have found that women are reluctant to be as assertive as men when asking for money at investors’ meetings. As Gloria Kolb, the co-founder of the women’s health startup Elidah and a mentor at the University of Connecticut’s tech incubator explained for Business News Daily, “When we pitch investors, we are often pitching realistic numbers. But men so often overstate and exaggerate that investors often discount the numbers off the bat.” This leads, Kolb explains, investors to assume that women are also inflating their figures. As a result, female entrepreneurs often receive lowball offers that don’t meet their businesses’ financial needs.

But why do we have such a taboo around money in the first place?

Forbes writer and senior editor Laura Shin suggests that our awkwardness has roots in old-money traditions. For many upper-class elites, she explains of her research, it was considered gauche to discuss monetary specifics and appear braggy or over-interested in others’ financials. Over time, their mentality trickled down through the classes — and with the rise of new-money entrepreneurs and an increased media focus on their financial activities, navigating money-centered conversations can become awkward, to say the least.

However, women tend to struggle more with the assertiveness talking about money requires. When you sit down at an investor’s table, you need to be firm, decisive, and unafraid to ask for the monetary resources you and your business need to grow. Social norms, unfortunately, tend to paint women in a less flattering light when they stand their ground.

As writer Olga Khazan puts the issue in an article for the Atlantic, “People expect women to be communal leaders and men to be autocratic ones. When women violate those norms — or “push” past them, if you will — they still suffer consequences.”

To Khazan’s point, women do tend to be labeled as “pushy” twice as often as men– and that negative label can have real repercussions on their business. The Freshbooks study mentioned above also noted that 20% of self-employed womenreported feeling forced to charge less than their male competitors to obtain and retain clients. Worse, multiple studies published by researchers from Carnegie Mellon found that people tended to penalize women who initiated negotiations for higher compensation more often than they did men.

Some might say that the potential for blowback means that women shouldn’t bother being assertive or asking for their due — but I couldn’t disagree more.

Fear keeps women entrepreneurs silent, and that silence leads in turn to a damaging ignorance about what they deserve from their industry. As novelist Porochista Khakpour reflects on the problem in an article for Forbes, “Because people don’t know what the rates are, [the taboo against speaking about money] creates a system in which people will say, ‘I’ll take whatever I can get.’”

This tendency towards settling thus reinforces the problem, Khakpour explains. “People are going to get cheated over and over, and it tends to be women, people of color, people in more marginalized positions — if people are silent about problems, things can be perpetuated.”

Female entrepreneurs deserve to be assertive in the boardroom; they deserve to earn, make, and claim just as much as any male in their profession. Discomfort over money is an outdated social norm that inevitably holds women back if they cede their voice to it. You can overcome your conversational anxiety about money if you remember these three steps:

Reevaluate your Discomfort

Consider the social context of your conversation. There is a difference between talking to someone at a social gathering and having a discussion with an investor or business partner. In the first case, you probably shouldn’t put someone on the spot by asking them how much they paid for their shiny new laptop or personal possessions. In the latter scenario, however, you’re not only allowed to discuss money — you are required to. It is quite literally your job to have those conversations to further your business.

Remember, no one will go out of their way to give you something. If you don’t take the initiative to ask, your chances of receiving the funding, advice, or support you need will drop to nil.

Reframe Your Questions

Trust your instincts. If you feel that it might be better to word your requests carefully and avoid the appearance of being too eager or stubborn, do so! Conversely, don’t be afraid to be assertive if showing confidence seems like the best way to make an impression. You can reframe your questions in a myriad of ways to better engage your conversational partner in a productive discussion. However, this advice comes with a caveat — never let your fear of being assertive hold you back from asking what you need to ask during a meeting.

Remain Firm

Above all, be yourself and take what you deserve. You don’t need to settle for less because outdated social norms dictate that you should feel awkward about discussing money! Entrepreneurs live in the financial spotlight; they need to talk about financial details to thrive.

More to the point — if women don’t push boundaries and ask for their due, how can we expect those outdated and confining norms to change?

3 Valuable Leadership Traits More Important Than Gender

3 Valuable Leadership Traits More Important Than Gender

This post was originally featured on ScoreNYC

The gender gap remains a yawning chasm. Forbes reports that just 2.4 percent of the CEOs at Fortune 500 companies are women.

Those exalted few who have reached that rung in the ladder share many qualities with their male counterparts. One study, while a bit dated (as it was completed in 2012), went so far as to suggest that female executives are actually superior to men in such areas as practicality, organizational ability and sensitivity to people.

Suffice it to say, then, that there are leadership qualities that transcend gender. Here are three of the more important ones.


It is variously described as “grit” and “tenacity” in relation to female executives, but a trait by any other name is still a trait.

There is no greater example than J.K. Rowling, author of the Harry Potter series. Jobless, nearly penniless and a single mother to a young daughter, she wrote the first book in the series in various Scottish cafes in the mid-’90s. The manuscript — “Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone” — was rejected by no fewer than 12 publishers.

It was finally accepted by a small British publishing house, Bloomsbury, and published in 1997. It was an immediate hit, and over the next 19 years, seven other installments were released, and some 400 million copies sold.

Rowling was, in 2004, the first author to become a billionaire, though her charitable contributions subsequently resulted in her dropping below that threshold.

She nonetheless remains a profile in perseverance — and far from the only woman who can be designated as such. There is also Michelle Breyer, who struggled to find investors for her beauty brand, NaturallyCurly, when it was in its infancy. It was much the same for Melanie Travis, founder of Andie Swimwear.

Nevertheless, they persisted. And it made all the difference.


Creativity is an often-overlooked quality, and one that can obviously be applied to Rowling’s prolific writing career.

Less obvious, perhaps, is how it impacted Spanx founder Sara Blakely. One night in 1998, she was looking to wear cream-colored pants with open-toed shoes. Wanting to smooth out the look, she elected to wear pantyhose underneath — while cutting the feet off the pantyhose.

That proved an unsatisfactory solution, as the pantyhose began riding up. She went in search of an undergarment that might alleviate the issue, but discovered there was no such item on sale anywhere.

Out of that grew the idea for her shapewear. She used all her savings — $5,000 — to found her company, and the first year it took in some $4 million in revenue. The second year her profits ballooned to $10 million, in large part because Oprah Winfrey gave the product a plug on her TV show.

By 2012 Blakely had become the world’s youngest self-made billionaire, at age 41.

Her advice?

“Differentiate yourself,” she once told “Why are you different?”

That aligns with something once said by Coco Chanel (1883–1971), the famed fashion designer: “My life did not please me, so I created a new one.”


Adaptability is especially critical in this day and age, where new ideas are coming down the pike with ever-increasing speed — especially in the tech industry.

As Ashley Cisneros Mejia, co-founder and Director of Communications at Chatter Buzz Media said in one report, adaptability and flexibility “will ensure you lead with a clear mind. In order for your company to grow, you must adapt to changes quickly and be open to take it in another direction.”

April Underwood, the vice president of product at Slack, is one example of a woman who has been able to reinvent herself. She branched out from her “day job” — her description, in a CNBC report — in March 2015, joining five female colleagues to co-found an investing group known as #Angels.

Two years in, that group had invested nearly $3 million in more than 50 startups.

Underwood told CNBC she sees nothing unusual about taking on this added responsibility, pointing out that men have been doing so for years.

“I am seeing a lot of female operators who are hungry and who have a bit of that — I don’t know how else to describe it — but, that ‘hustle,’” she said.

Not to mention that adaptability.

There are various other traits that are important — confidence and passion come to mind — but in my estimation, perseverance, creativity, and adaptability head this list.

3 Ways the Mentorship Relationship Improves Career Success For Both Mentor and Mentee

3 Ways the Mentorship Relationship Improves Career Success For Both Mentor and Mentee

This post was originally featured on ScoreNYC

Whether in a small or large business, mentor and mentee roles provide mutual benefits for guidance and support that can foster promising career opportunities. One need look no further than some of today’s most impactful leaders to gauge the impact of a great mentor — Mark Zuckerberg had Steve Jobs and Bill Gates had Warren Buffett.

Harvard Business Review survey found that 84 percent of CEOs with formal mentor relationships were able to avoid costly mistakes and become efficient in their roles more quickly. Further, 71 percent of CEOs surveyed also found that their mentors helped improve their performance.

Mentees also bestow powerful benefits upon their mentors, too. Research from Boston University supports the notion that mentoring enhances business executives’ leadership and management skills while increasing their knowledge and insights.

Business leaders and mentees who foster two-way partnerships can positively contribute to each other’s professional development and their company’s overall success. In terms of career growth, here are a few benefits which the mentor/mentee connection provides:

1. Learn How to Collaborate and Network Better

Establishing external business networks can afford both the mentor and mentee more collaborative support and new opportunities, ultimately helping to bolster your bottom line.

Famous pop artist Andy Warhol, for example, helped his mentee, Jean-Michel Basquiat gain connections to other neo-expressionist artists and patrons, ultimately leading him to global recognition. In return, Basquiat gave Warhol new and diverse artists to collaborate with while evolving his vision and talents into new areas.

Within organizations, beneficial mentorship relationships can create strong collaboration skills between various departments which allow for cohesive management, cross-department communication and employee productivity. As a mentor, take the time to educate, share ideas and ask for input on projects from your charges. When mentees feel valued and supported, they’ll be happier to be a part of the team, and more productive as well. Mentors may also find that the ideas and feedback mentees contribute fosters insightful, trusting workflows that help emerging entrepreneurs advance their business ideas.

Executives who exhibit consistent mentoring and coaching behaviors can help create highly collaborative teams that work more efficiently and engage in a more positive workplace atmosphere. The motivation to connect with team members and increase expertise can also extend to building professional networks. A successful mentor/mentee relationship not only includes engaged, flexible and authentic partnerships, but it also helps the mentee expand upon their communication skills so they can make professional network connections to which they might not otherwise have access.

2. Gain Insight into Diverse Perspectives

Adaptability and self-awareness are crucial for anyone’s professional development. While mentees can use a mentorship relationship to learn how to develop their professional skills and the necessary mindsets to execute everyday business decisions, mentors also stand to benefit by reskilling themselves to stay relevant in the changing digital economy.

As both the mentor and mentee expose themselves to different mindsets, diverse perspectives help them create and innovate. As Forbes mentions, experienced advice helps the mentee’s career blossom. Likewise, inexperienced entrepreneurs can benefit by utilizing their board of advisors to provide examples and solutions during their company’s growth stages.

Harvard University study also demonstrates that a mentor/mentee relationship helps both parties diversify their thought patterns and practices: a mentor experiences new perspectives from future members of the profession, while the mentee can absorb insights in defining business strategies and outcomes in their field.

Through open communication, both can understand major issues surrounding a leadership and an employee mindset. Besides, learning new perspectives provides you with the insight to maintain your company’s competitive edge and relevance, especially for smaller companies needing to cater to market demands and niche consumers.

3. Enhance Interpersonal Leadership Traits

Oprah’s mentor, the famous author/poet Maya Angelou, demonstrated how important humanistic qualities are to the role of a leader. Angelou taught Oprah that professional relationships depend not on who a person says they are, but how they act toward you and others.

Of course, professional relationships are incredibly nuanced, and it often takes years of experience to identify the right response to a difficult and unprecedented situation. The mentorship relationship serves that role, guiding mentees toward an effective response, whether it’s an assertive justification when finalizing a business deal or a meditative gesture when dealing with a stressful client.

For mentors, the value in guiding interpersonal effectiveness comes down to the development of their own leadership skills.

UPenn researchers found that the digital age has created new leadership styles ranging from the commander — a leader who gives orders and tells others how to accomplish it — to the collaborator role — a leader who works hand-in-hand with customers and employees. Mentors should comprise both these styles so they can act as the inspiration and an equal for their employees and mentees.

Through the steady practice — and teaching — of key interpersonal skills, mentors stand to benefit by confirming which leadership skills resonate best as they guide their mentees. This is no small feat — it could mean becoming more transparent with employees, fostering inclusive decision-making or incorporating employee feedback into managerial roles.

Oprah recalls that Angelou said, “Your legacy is every life you’ve’s every person you’ve harmed or helped.” Indeed, a helpful, two-way value exchange is essential for building a healthy mentor/mentee relationship. With consistent effort, this symbiotic association acts as a catalyst that expands learning, work ethic, leadership and, ultimately, your company’s bottom line.

Anniversary Of H.R. 5050: Not So Ancient History For Female Business Owners

Anniversary Of H.R. 5050: Not So Ancient History For Female Business Owners

It is hard to believe that women were not able to obtain business loans without a male co-signer  just 30 years ago. Up until 1988, an independent woman who wanted to start a business was denied a loan even when her finances indicated that she was qualified.

Therefore, the 30-year anniversary of the H.R. 5050: Women’s Business Ownership Act (WBOA) of 1988 is a historic and significant date. Introduced by John LaFalce, a former New York congressman, the act aimed to bolster female business owners by guarding against discriminatory lending practices. The purpose of this act was to recognize the enormous future potential of female business owners and entrepreneurs as well as women’s existing contributions to the economy.

The four tenets of H.R. 5050 included provisions that extended women rights that should have been established from the beginning: 1) Extending the Equal Credit Opportunity Act to include business credit, 2) Launching a “demonstration project” that resulted in the establishment of women’s business centers across the country, 3) Establishing the National Women’s Business Council 4) Directing the Census Bureau to include all women-owned firms in its quinquennial business census.

In 2018, it is sometimes hard to imagine that the principles of H.R. 5050 were needed at all. “Women business owners today are often shocked to hear about the challenges that their predecessors faced only 25 years ago,” says Virginia Littlejohn, a member of the National Association of Women Business Owners (NAWBO). It was the NAWBO leadership team that helped the House Small Business Committee organize hearings on H.R. 5050.

Littlejohn refers to a female witness at the time, who didn’t have a husband or father to co-sign her business loan, communicating, “[She] had to ask her 17-year-old son to co-sign for her—when he couldn’t even vote,” she said.

During the hearings, many stories came to light of open discrimination by which women were asked to put significantly more money down, and required to have guarantees and co-signers that men were not required to have. But with H.R. 5050 things started to change.

“This landmark piece of legislation ushered in a transformation in women’s enterprise development by addressing key barriers that had been impeding entrepreneurism and business growth by women,” said Billie Dragoo, former Chair of NAWBO. “As a result of this legislation, women entrepreneurs were provided with long overdue access to capital, education and technical assistance offered in a woman’s voice, access to federal policy making circles, and the undercounting of the number and economic contributions of women-owned businesses were finally addressed.”

Before 1988, women’s contributions to the economy were downplayed, and unaccounted for. A big part of this invisibility had to do with inaccurate census-taking regarding women-owned business. The concluding report of the H.R. 5050 hearings, which were the most extensive ever held by Congress on women-owned businesses, was called the “New Economic Realities: The Rise of Women Entrepreneurs”

Fast forward 30 years and the following statistics, though not as strong as we’d like, are still rosy. As of January 2017, there were an estimated 11.6 million women-owned businesses in the United States that employ nearly 9 million people and generate more than $1.7 trillion in revenue. During the 20 years from 1997–2017, the number of women-owned businesses has grown 114 percent compared to the overall national growth rate of 44 percent for all businesses.

The future is indeed female.

While Wright’s 1988 predictions have not yet come true, things are definitely looking up for female entrepreneurs. It is important for younger generations of women in business to be aware that prohibitive lending discrimination is not ancient history. Women must not forget that 30 years ago, they would probably not have had access to the capital and support necessary to start a business. Women must continue to fight for equality, but H.R. 5050–and the activists who spearheaded it–certainly helped and continue to help tip the scales.

Will Female-Led ‘Zebras’ Counter Tech’s Unicorn Obsession?

Will Female-Led ‘Zebras’ Counter Tech’s Unicorn Obsession?

This post was originally featured on

“Unicorns” have been prominent in the tech world, but a new type of startup called “zebras” could soon be taking their place — and many of them are female-led.

Unicorns have been a huge trend in and out of the tech world in the last few years. While silver hair and rainbow eyelashes characterized a nostalgia-inspired beauty trend, the “unicorn” label more prominently describes disruptive startup companies valued at $1 billion or more.

Yet the age of unicorns could soon see its dusk. As bloggers voted “Baba Yaga” the next unicorn in beauty, the “zebra” emerged as a practical-yet-fantastical unicorn alternative in the tech world. Following a year in which “feminism” was the reigning term and female silence-breakers graced the cover of Time, it should be no surprise that women are leading the charge in this transition.

Why zebras? Unlike a mythical shiny-horned horse, zebras are real. As companies, “zebras” are also grounded in reality: Their goal is solve meaningful problems while repairing existing social systems. As the Medium article proposing this concept aptly describes, zebras fix what unicorns breakwithout sacrificing profitability.

VCs have long been attracted to unicorns, which in part explains the gender gap in VC funding. Women tend to create more practical businesses that are less risky and more socially conscious, traits that characterize the zebra concept. As cause marketing grows, VCs may find these investments more worthwhile than unicorns, which at times come with more problems than they are worth.

The unicorn problem

To understand the problem with unicorns it’s important to understand where unicorns came from, what’s exciting about them, and what can make them problematic.

The term is still new, coined in 2013 by venture capitalist Aileen Lee to describe how rare they are. But unicorns aren’t so rare anymore: as of March 2017 there were 223 unicorns, Uber, Pinterest, and Airbnb among the largest. The quantity of unicorns has led many to worry about a unicorn bubble, which would result in dead unicorns upon bursting.

Some unicorns, like Groupon, have imploded. Others have skyrocketed to success but in doing so have done damage, all while hoarding huge profits by remaining private. Facebook has arguably contributed to social good, but was also a vehicle for vicious fake news propaganda. Uber, for its part, has weathered a shocking number of scandals over the last few years.

As CEOs Mara Zepeda and Jennifer Brandel wrote for Quartz, the problem with our obsession with unicorns is that “it rewards quantity over quality, consumption over creation, quick exits over sustainable growth, and shareholder profit over shared prosperity.”

Focusing exclusively on unicorns is not helpful in a world with numerous pressing problems in finance and beyond. Is it so radical to support businesses that “repair, cultivate, and connect” instead of chasing companies bent on disruption? In a capitalist society that knows no different, it may be a hard to make the shift, but worthwhile to attempt nonetheless.

The rise of the zebra

Along with Brandel and Zepeda, female founders Astrid Scholz and Aniyia Williams first proposed an alternative style of investing that focuses less on unicorns in their “Sex and Startups” article in 2016. In it, they suggest the future could hold “another style of investing, one that recognizes founders with long-term, wide-ranging visions” which focuses “not only on how much money is raised, and on investor returns, but also on how we generate value for users, elevate communities, and build a more equitable and inclusive system.”

The overwhelming resonance and response to this sentiment led these women to form The Zebra Project, publish more literature on the topic, and form a conference called DazzleConfor founders that identify with the zebra ethos.

While these women may have put a name to the idea, it’s worth noting that there are startups out there that may be zebras without knowing it. Entrepreneur’s Handbook cites Basecamp, Zapier, and Mailchimp as startups that “fit into the current market instead of blowing it apart and seek long-term survival through sustainable, responsible growth.” (These examples, it’s worth noting, all have male founders.)

Investors need to change their tune, though, for zebras to get the funding they need to make an impact, and become a model rising entrepreneurs will seek to emulate.

Will zebras bring change?

The Zebra Movement, as kicked off by Brandel, Zepeda, Scholz, and Williams, is building momentum. But is it enough to change an investing culture that prioritizes quick growth, big return, and a churn and burn style of making money?

It may take more dead or corrupt unicorns before we see a dramatic change, but trends toward socially conscious investing, diversity initiatives, and out-of-the-box VC strategy are lights in the tunnel ahead for entrepreneurs, and women especially. Consumers are increasingly drawn to impact-driven, minority-run businesses, so investors would be wise to follow what sells.

Who knows? It may be that losing a few horns to gain some stripes is the best decision this zoo of a world could hope to make.

Women-Owned Business Trends Paint an Exciting New Picture of Female Entrepreneurship

Women-Owned Business Trends Paint an Exciting New Picture of Female Entrepreneurship

This post was originally featured on ScoreNYC

A recent report by SCORE, The Megaphone of Main Street: Women’s Entrepreneurship, assesses the landscape of women-owned small businesses. Its insights show an exciting picture of female entrepreneurship — one that is evolving in some new and unexpected ways.

As a female entrepreneur who launched her first business when it was still unusual for women to do so, I am always delighted to witness how far my gender has come — even while acknowledging progress yet to be made.

Here are a few of the findings that stood out most from the SCORE report, and what I think they mean for female small business owners and entrepreneurship more generally.

1. Women are launching more startups in healthcare and education

According to the report, women are more likely than men to start businesses in both healthcare and education, two industries in which excellence is vital to societal health. Says the report, “Only 5% of men are likely to start a business in either the healthcare or education fields, while 10% of women are likely to start a business in healthcare and 9% are inclined to start a business in education.”

Healthcare and education are in need of improvement in America in the private and public sector, and I make it a point to support charities and foundation that seek to help. The fact that women are inclined to start businesses in these fields bodes well for some of the neediest among us — young people, the hurt, and the sick.

2. More women started businesses than men

One finding I found surprising was that, in 2017, more women than men started businesses. While the degree to which they are exceeding men in this area is slight, it is still indicative of the passion for entrepreneurship that has been ignited lately in women and girls.

Specifically, SCORE found that 47% of the women surveyed started a business in 2017 while only 44% of men reported doing so. While they do not speculate on the reason for this discrepancy, I think we can credit it in part to a business climate that is more friendly to female entrepreneurs than ever before.

3. Women-owned businesses are comparable to men’s in most ways

Sure, more women than men started businesses, and the industries they started businesses in differed as well. You might think that there would be other discrepancies in factors like success rate and funding, but SCORE did not find that was the case.

Female entrepreneurs were about as successful as their male counterparts when it came to revenue expectations, longevity, hiring, and overall reported success. This last point was a bit surprising to me because of the well-documented confidence gap between men and women, not to mention the pay gap, which you would think would leave women less satisfied. It may be that the combination of these issues makes for differing versions of what success looks like, reported at a roughly equal rate.

4. Mentorship makes a difference

SCORE’s report validates the benefits of mentorship they regularly espouse in their effort to connect like-minded businesspeople. As it turns out, having a professional mentor will tip the odds of success in your favor by a surprising amount.

Entrepreneurs with mentors were, in fact, five times more likely to successfully start a business. Gender, though, did not influence mentorship success by much. To get granular, women with female mentors do seem to feel more respected, listened to, and given more time relevant advice than those with male mentors — though only by a few small percentage points.

It’s clear that any mentor is an advantage for any prospective business owner, and most likely it comes down to the individual more than gender when identifying a good match.

SCORE’s report makes clear that women across America are stepping up and succeeding, but (as it should be!) they are not doing it alone.

How to Balance Your Business and Your Foundation

How to Balance Your Business and Your Foundation

This post was originally featured on ScoreNYC

Small business owners who find success in their industry often look for ways to give back. One way entrepreneurs tend to do so is through the establishment of foundations, which like businesses, take work to maintain and make effective.

At what point does it make sense to start a foundation, and will you be able to balance the responsibilities of your business and charitable endeavors? These are questions worth asking as you explore ways to amplify the good you can while keeping your foot in the private sector.

As business and finance specialist Gwen Moran wrote for, “foundation founders must get up to speed on laws and regulations, oversee operations, attract donors, and review programs for possible funding” among other responsibilities. This can be a lot for anyone to juggle along with the regular challenges of business ownership, but done right, it can be a rewarding and fruitful vehicle for charitable contribution.

Co-founding and maintaining The Charatan / Holm Family Foundation has been incredibly worthwhile; I recommend anyone with a deep interest in philanthropy to at least consider this path. For those that do, here are four tips for balancing your business and your foundation:

Align your foundation with your passion

There is no way getting around it: a foundation, as a separate and complex entity, will require significant time and effort on your part. As you may know, balance is easier when you are passionate about the items on your plate, which is how wives, husbands, mothers, and fathers are able to prioritize family and work despite the challenges. It’s the same for hobbyists — somehow, they always find the time to do what they love along with what brings home the bacon.

With a foundation that ignites passion within you, and is in line with causes you care deeply about, the commitment necessary will feel less like a dreadful chore than a joyful choice.

Do your research and seek council when necessary

Your new foundation must be registered appropriately and governed by bylaws that dictate how it will be run. An experienced attorney may be worth consulting in order to navigate these complexities, especially when you are first getting started. Whether you seek legal counsel or not, it’s a good idea to make time beforehand to familiarize yourself with nonprofit laws and create an operating manual so that you aren’t caught off guard — a mistake that could end up jeopardizing your business, too, by eating up too much of your time.

In other words, diligent preparation is your friend. Foundations have their own sets of rules every founder must abide by and create, as well as criteria for funding recipients, none of which can be followed or created in ignorance.

Assemble a board you can trust

Most foundations rely on a board of trustees whom together help set direction and strategy for the foundation, make grants, and oversee charitable investments, among other responsibilities. Many founders choose insiders including family members to sit on their foundation’s board, which in and of itself is not a bad idea, so long as there is some diversity of thought and a strong sense of neutrality and ethics.

Critically, your board members should be reliable and responsible so that the foundation will always be in good hands. Pick people who will actively advocate for your mission and attend meetings and committees without hesitation. Their help will allow you to allocate the proper weight to this significant endeavor.

Focus on sustainability

Lastly, a good foundation needs fundraising to be sustainable unless you have an independent source of wealth to keep it afloat. This means creating a plan that will continue to raise funds in order to keep supporting the causes and charities your foundation is devoted to helping.

Your focus need not be on making the biggest splash in the nonprofit world; another worthwhile mission is making consistent contributions that will improve the longevity of your impact. With a sustainable model for fundraising in motion, your foundation will run smoothly, allowing you to focus on business, charity, and everything else in your life unburdened by the stress of uncertainty.

How to Instill and Encourage Entrepreneurship in Young Women

How to Instill and Encourage Entrepreneurship in Young Women

This post was originally featured on ScoreNYC

Women entrepreneurs are becoming a force to be reckoned with in the business world, and you only need to read the news to realize it. According to CNBC, “The stars have aligned to help trigger the trend as robust ecosystems churn out enterprising females equipped with inspiration, know-how and funding.”

The future for female entrepreneurship is indeed a promising one.

I can’t help but think that the inspiration and know-how in this robust ecosystem is often handed down from someone who has mentored and encouraged women to take the leap towards starting a new business. It’s unfortunate (but true) that there are many young women who have the entrepreneurial spirit and don’t realize it.

Here’s how you can encourage and mentor talented women in your company.

Be a proactive mentor

Waiting around isn’t something entrepreneurs do well. We invent, we create–we are constantly moving. This should translate into your mentorship style. Don’t wait for young women who need direction to come to you. More than likely, you have already spotted women in your company who have the spirit and drive but just need a little nudge.

Remember, even entrepreneurs who have the ingredients to be burgeoning businesswomen may not yet have the confidence to approach you. Take the lead. Your example will show them that eventually, they can lead too.

Much is spoken about how mentees should seek out their mentors, but the flip side is also true. After all, it’s a give and take relationship and the mentor stands to learn as well.

Give constructive feedback

I ask myself three questions before I give potentially unpleasant feedback to a mentee: Is it necessary? Is it concise? Is it kind? Yes, kind. There is nothing that says giving constructive feedback has to be harsh or unforgiving. No one’s perfect–not even you.

However, for female entrepreneurs to make it, they have to develop a thick skin. So, if your employee has some areas that could be strengthened, let them know. But don’t forget to point out areas where they are strong too.

Open up about your past struggles

The greatest thing we can offer young women entrepreneurs is our honesty. Our past challenges are a part of who we are as much as our successes, something all beginners will need to understand. Through openly talking about the struggles you have faced and may still face, you demonstrate what all entrepreneurs have in common–we’re human.

What was a barrier? And most importantly, how did you overcome it? The latter is a crucial lesson for new (and seasoned) entrepreneurs.

Create a safe space

Though women businesses are on the rise, there are still still hardships many of us face. But what do female entrepreneurs do best? We create a place for ourselves that didn’t exist before. If you can, create a space within your company where you connect with your mentees.

And if you can’t have a mentorship group within your company, direct your female entrepreneurs to resources–like SCORE–that offer events, workshops, and advancement and development education for women looking to start a venture.

Keep expanding your skills

Whether this means further expanding your management skills or keeping up with the current news and breakthroughs within your industry, you must be a lifelong learner in order to be a lifelong teacher. Thinking you know everything is like hitting a different kind of glass ceiling–a self-imposed one. There is always an opportunity to go further and learn more.

Whether it’s taking refresher management courses, connecting with other entrepreneurs at speaking events and seminars, or talking to your own mentor, keep the passion you had when you were starting out. Soak up knowledge so you always have something valuable to pass on.

Most importantly, be yourself. Your relationships with the women you take under your wing are special, as they should be. Your experience as a female entrepreneur is what makes you uniquely qualified to be their mentor. There is always another someone else, but only one you.

4 Goal-Setting Strategies For Small Business Owners

4 Goal-Setting Strategies For Small Business Owners

This post was originally featured on ScoreNYC

Entrepreneurs are set apart from the rest of the population for one key reason: they have achieved the goal of owning their own business. Founding a company is one objective, and a sincere congratulations if you’ve gotten that far — you should be proud of your initiative and success. But most know the work does not stop there. There’s no such thing as cruise control once your business is rolling, so you will only need to get better at setting and reaching goals.

If there’s anything I’m obsessive about, this may be it. I set goals every day and consistently advocate that others do the same.

Here are a few pieces of advice that entrepreneurs and small business owners can take in order to set goals more effectively, follow through, and ultimately develop themselves and their businesses.

1. Dreams fuel destination: align your goals with with passions

Since I was very young, I had a dream: to be my own boss. A little later, when I had a firmer grasp on my professional needs I also decided that I wanted to own real estate. Of course neither of these goals were easy to achieve on their own, but my passion for financial independence was what eventually drove me to make them possible.

A goal without passion is like a paper plane without velocity. No matter how well-designed or aerodynamic, passion is the most effective motivator you’ll come across, and the one that will get you moving. More so than money. And far more than fear, despite misconceptions.

So align your goals with the dreams and desires that give you life. Not all of it will be fun, but if the foundation you laid your plans on brings you joy, what could be onerous will be infused with at least some excitement.

2. To-do lists are your friend: make them and stick to them

Professional goals obviously differ from personal goals in many meaningful ways. But the idea, here, is that goals need to be detailed and well-recorded if you want to have a real chance at achieving them. That’s why I love creating lists and striking items off one by one. By diligently tracking everything I want to achieve, my chances of actually taking care of each thing in a timely manner increase. I’m not going to pretend I never had the idea to begin with if it’s a fully-formed plan in written form.

3. Think micro and macro: goal-set annually, weekly, and daily

For businesses, the big picture is just as important as the day-to-day, if not more so. It’s important that entrepreneurs think macro and micro when setting goals for their companies and meeting them. One without the other is just not good enough.

I already mentioned that I like to goal-set every day by writing lists. That’s the micro: I list daily goals in order to prioritize the items on my plate and keep a strong record of what I’m up to. I also set weekly goals, which while still micro, allows for the completion of larger tasks as opposed to everyday busywork.

On the macro end of the spectrum are annual and quarterly goals. For your business, this type of goal-setting is essential because it ensures you are doing everything you can to grow. Know where you want to be at certain milestones and create a roadmap to get there.

4. You’re not alone: equip your team to achieve goals too

Last but not least, no small business owner is an island. There are certain tasks that are yours alone, certainly, but you will need the help of your team to turn larger-scale objectives into realities. And don’t expect this to happen on its own: as a leader, you will be expected to set goals for employees and equip them with the resources they need to meet them. These resources may include time, skills, and budget, all of which you must consider and allot realistically.

Transparency and motivation are key here as well. If you’re clear about your vision and your passion and are able to create incentives to motivate your employees to move the needle, you’ll be in a good position to reach goals large and small.