Lately, we have seen quite a few articles written about funding for startups, most predominately, about female founders. This subject holds true to my heart as my company is also looking for funding and it can be difficult as a woman to find investors who understand your vision and your passion. Why aren’t there many female investors out there? Well, we haven’t found them yet and Vicki Saunders, founder of SheEO is here to change that paradigm.
StilettoGal: How did you start your company?
Vicki Saunders: I started SheEO to solve a problem that has made me crazy for years – the lack of funding and support for women to run businesses on their own terms. We are obsessed with chasing unicorns (billion dollar companies with huge returns – that are not the norm) and have built a narrative around ‘go big or go home’ and ‘winner takes all’ that has left us with a world where 62 people have the same wealth as 3.5 billion people. It’s a model that is not serving us well and it needs to be redesigned. Women have a much more practical ways of running businesses that are steeped in reality, exceptionally capital efficient and focused on creating a better world. I think there this a huge wealth creation opportunity here that is being missed.
SG: Who inspires you and why?
VS: Everyone who comes up with an idea and seeks to make it reality is an inspiration to me. I think that making your dream a reality is one of the hardest and most rewarding pursuits there is and the world needs a lot more of us out there pursuing new models and a better world.
SG: What are some challenges that you have had in your businesses and how have you overcome them?
VS: Where to start? I have started and run 5 businesses and created countless programs and initiatives. The biggest challenge I have faced is believing in how I see the world (almost everything to me seems broken) and holding on to that when most of the world seems to have their head down and thinks “that’s just the way it is”.
I know that we made all of this up and we can change it if we want. Holding on to your vision and pursuing it against the tide is a big challenge and I managed to surround myself with my tribe over the years; the people out there who are working on new models and a better way forward.
One of my favorite quotes is from Buckminster Fuller: “You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.” I cannot read and remember that quote enough.
SG: If you could go back to your 25 year old self, what would you say to her?
- Own your greatness
- Be bold
- Show up with love and respect
- Listen deeply
- Take your time
- Consider the future
SG: How can we change the status quo for women and funding?
VS: We change the status quo for women by redesigning the processes we have in place and respecting a different way of operating. I think we have focused on women as the “problem” for years. We say, how can women to bolder, be more confident, to take more risks, etc and I say, really? i think the last thing we need is more risky, shoot for the moon, bet it all on red thinking. We need new models that are more capital efficient, that focus on building thriving communities and a better world. Women start at that point and the world needs more women. Thankfully, the ladies are coming and we are starting businesses at 1.5x the pace of men. We are inheriting 75% of the largest wealth transfer in history and we make 80% of purchasing decisions. We have all that we need to help each other.
SheEO’s Radical Generosity Initiative calls on 1000 women per region to contribute $1,000 each as an Act of Radical Generosity to provide 0% interest loans to women-led ventures with at least $50K in revenue that are creating a better world. Our goal is to have 1 million women finance and support 10,000 entrepreneurs by 2020, community by community and build a marketplace of exceptionally talented, ambitious female entrepreneurs changing the world.
SG: How do you define success?
VS: Living to my fullest every day. Being compassionate with myself and others.
SG: What do you want your legacy to be?
VS: I want to be remembered as a great mentor and as a radically generous goddess!
SG: What kind of shoe are you and why?
VS: Purple converse. I love to be free in all I do, including movement. Purple is the color of SheEO because it represents the calm stability of blue and the fierce energy of red. Purple represents creativity, wisdom, dignity, devotion, peace, mystery, independence and magic.
To learn more about this movement, check out the website and follow on social media.
One of the components to being a StilettoGal is confidence. Nicole Rodrigues Owns who she is and has built an award-winning PR agency from the ground up. She redefines what it is to be a confident woman in an industry that has so much stigmatism. Her story below is not only inspiring but it makes me want to reach even higher than I ever have before.
StilettoGal: Who or what inspired you to become an entrepreneur and start your own business?
Nicole Rodrigues: I’m the oldest of nine children so being a leader has always come naturally to me. For some reason, in college, I knew the way to really make an impact on the public relations industry was to start my own firm. I didn’t know when it would happen and I wasn’t sure how, I just knew it was a long term goal I eventually wanted to meet. From day one, I worked every day to be the best possible PR pro I could be. I wanted to master every level of the profession so when it came time to hire I would know the types of skills and personality someone would have to have to be successful. Now, 16 years into my professional career I can smile and know that the 19-year-old dreamer in college was RIGHT. I feel strong and capable to run my own team. I can identify great talent and I know how to train them to make them even better. I’m on an entirely new journey as a business owner and it’s exciting to see the growth and momentum so far.
SG: Do you believe mentors are an intricate part of starting a business and why?
NR: I know firsthand that mentors are an intricate part of starting a business because without mine I wouldn’t be where I am now. I’m blessed to have multiple mentors on the PR side of my career. In this stage of my career, Ken Rutkowski, entrepreneur, thought leader, networker, and co-founder/host of Business Rockstars Radio, is one of my best friends and a mentor I am blessed to have on my side. I think any great entrepreneur knows his/her limits and therefore should be open to guidance and advice from people who’ve successfully built businesses.
SG: What are three tips you can give to women who want to start their own PR or marketing firm?
Tip 1) It’s not as easy as it looks. If you want to build a solid company, you need to be solid in your PR skills and your ability to lead and teach. In order to grow, you need to be able to attract and retain talent. If you’re not good at what you do, how can you hold your team members to a high caliber?
Tip 2) Don’t send away great new business ops just because they don’t have huge budgets. My first pieces of business had zero to no budget and I worked hard anyway, just to have them as resume builders for the agency. Thank God for that, the great work done on those accounts helped attract bigger business ops and eventually led us to win ‘Best New Agency of the Year’ in Bulldog Reporter’s Stars of PR award competition. Now that’s helping impress others who want to give us new business.
Tip 3) Know and love social media tools. If you’re trying to make it in PR and build an agency that will be around in the future, recognize that without the knowledge of social media and digital marketing tools, you’re going to be lost like the other agencies that only understand and deliver traditional media relations.
SG: How do you define success?
NR: Success is setting goals, no matter how big or small, and reaching them. Period. In every level of my career I’ve set small and large goals for myself, knowing that if I accomplished those, over time, I’d be successful in my career.
SG: What do you want your legacy to be?
NR: When aspiring PR pros learn about, read about, and aspire to be like the game-changers and leaders in the field, I want to be one of the people who stand out. I didn’t get into PR just to do a “job.” I got into it because I love it and am passionate about everything our profession stands for. I know it often gets a bad rap because of others who don’t take what we do as seriously. I take my job as seriously as a doctor would take his job. I may not be saving lives at a hospital but often times I’m saving ENTIRE COMPANIES through strategy and hard work. I have brought companies to life as well. That’s the beauty of being able to work with startups. I love strategic public relations and want to be an inspiration to anyone else who loves or will love the profession just as much.
SG: What challenges have you faced and how did you overcome them?
NR: I was a mom two weeks after graduating college. Imagine: 22, just out of college, married, with an infant, fighting to be recognized amongst all the other junior people in my career who had no hangups, big bills, or children at home. I had to work harder than anyone else to show my bosses and co-workers that I could do just as good of a job, even with huge responsibilities at home. My daughter is 14 now and I thank God she motivated me to be the best from day one. I had no other choice if I was going to provide the bright future I knew she deserved.
SG: What kind of shoe are you and why?
NR: The Christian Louboutin ‘So Kate’ heel. Depending on my mood, I can be multiple colors. Mostly black, because it’s classic and elegant, yet powerful. My ‘So Kate’ heels are my signature event and red carpet shoes. I feel the most ‘me’ in them!
I am so excited to introduce you to a woman who is making major strides for those in need. I had the pleasure of meeting her at a Los Angeles Business Journal event last year where she was a keynote speaker. She took one small challenge in her life and turned it into several businesses. She is the epitome of confidence, poise and grace.
StilettoGal: Tell us about yourself and your company?
I am a professional ballroom & salsa dancer and dancepreneur and currently run 3 businesses
- Sexy Salsa Ballroom (www.SexySalsaBallroom.com): Quality dance instruction & dance entertainment, founded in 2012.
- Infinite Flow – A Wheelchair Dance Company (www.InfiniteFlowDance.org): A non-profit 501(c)3 and America’s first professional wheelchair ballroom dance company, founded in 2015.
- Marisa Hamamoto (www.MarisaHamamoto.com): me myself as dancer, actress, speaker, and … hopefully author in the near future.
SG: What was the inspiration behind launching your company?
MH: Dancing has been a passion of mine since I was 6 years old. It made me feel powerful, beautiful, and free from a young age, and during my teens I pursued a professional ballet career seriously. I wasn’t made for classical ballet and after rejection after rejection, I gave up on the ballerina career. However, I continued to dance during my college years and secretly hoped to build a career as a contemporary dancer.
In July 2006 while a Senior at Keio University in Tokyo, in the midst of a contemporary dance class after school, I felt some tingling in my elbows, and momentarily collapsed onto the ground. I couldn’t move my legs or my arms and I lost sensation from the neck down. The next day I was diagnosed with a rare neurological disease called Spinal Cord Infarction and was told I may never walk again. I was devastated because not being able to walk meant not being able to dance, and dancing was everything to me.
Some dark days continued, but there was still a voice inside of me that said “DANCE” and I was determined to find a way to dance no matter what, and continued to imagine myself dancing and incorporated my dance knowledge into all aspects of rehabilitation. 2 months later, I miraculously walked out of the hospital.
While my physical recovery happened faster than anyone had imagined walking out of the hospital after 2 months, I suffered PTSD for several years fearing that the paralysis could return anytime, and distanced myself from dancing as well as a social life altogether. However, once a dancer, always a dancer, even at the darkest of times I continued to believe that I would find myself dancing again at the end of the tunnel.
In Jan 2010, I discovered salsa and ballroom dancing and fell in love with it immediately. Partner dancing was not only a great way to continually rehabilitate my mobility, but through ballroom and salsa, I was also making new friends, challenging myself artistically, and my spirits were being uplifted. Thanks to the new dancing, I was able to pull myself out of fear and PTSD.
I soon earned my certification as a ballroom dance instructor, returned to the states, worked for a year in Orange County for a ballroom dance studio, and when I moved to Los Angeles in 2012 to pursue an entertainment career, it was by survival I started my own dance instruction business, next to performing and acting. Sexy Salsa Ballroom started with one class per week with 6 adult students. I put my heart and soul into creating programs that were financially and socially “accessible”, and today I count close to 1500 students who have walked into my classroom doors with a relatively high retention rate. The results have been amazing: Just like ballroom and salsa dancing gave me back my life, I am happy to so many adults not only becoming good at a new hobby but also building lifelong friendships, including some who have found their significant other.
In March 2014, I discovered wheelchair dancing at the LA Abilities Expo, and having been paralyzed from the neck down myself, I couldn’t help but feel compassion, and felt like there was something there for me. One thing led to the next, including instructing a wheelchair wedding couple for their First Dance and finding a wheelchair dance partner to experiment with (Adelfo), and discovering how underdeveloped wheelchair dancing was along the way, in January 2015, as a way of giving back my love and passion for dance to those who continue to live with paralysis, I founded Infinite Flow – A Wheelchair Dance Company.
Infinite Flow officially became a nonprofit 501(c)3 in March 2015, and with ballroom dancing and other commercial dance forms as its base, Infinite Flow has the mission to break barriers artistically and socially through excellence and innovation in wheelchair dance performance. In the last year, we have accomplished much to get the organization up and running and we are moving forward in strides, week by week. I look up to productions such as Deaf West Theater’s Spring Awakening, closing its run on Broadway shortly am driven to build Infinite Flow to become the American Ballet Theatre of wheelchair dancing.
SG: What has been your biggest challenges thus far in starting a business?
MH: I would say my biggest challenge has been learning to delegate. I have always been a strong independent minded person, and asking others for help has been a challenge. This has changed slowly over the last year as Infinite Flow – A Wheelchair Dance Company took shape one project at a time, and seeing the potential of the impact and difference the company can make globally, I realized it was for the better for the society to ask for help and recruit the right talent and team.
SG: What are three tips you could give to young entrepreneurs about launching a business?
1. Pursue Passion & Purpose
Starting your own business is like marriage or bringing up a child. Even if you are not at your desk, on the phone, networking, or delivering the service or product, your business is part of you 24/7, and maybe in the beginning 25/8, so you’ve got to like the business you pursue and find enjoyment and fulfillment in the work. Passion is not enough, however. Both passion and purpose have to work together. Your purpose, I think lies in an innate talent you have, or a unique ability you have. What do you love to do? What do you care about? And what are you good at? Be honest, and keep seeking if you haven’t figured it out yet. If you are someone who has multiple passions, start with one passion and you can always expand later. All 3 of my businesses are based on my passion for dance and purpose to share the power of dance, whether performing, teaching, choreographing, speaking, producing, or writing.
2. Find the Missing Link
Go back to the scientific method: Ask a question, do background research, construct a hypothesis, test it out… What problem are you trying to solve in your business? What is missing in your market? It doesn’t have to be a global or national issue, your new business may be fulfilling a local need. If there is a need, and you have a means to fulfill the needs, there may be a business opportunity there for you.
3. Just Do It
It’s very easy to daydream and talk. Training, education, and study is useful, but ultimately you got to just do it. Take action, even if it is small. Put a deadline to a project and go for it. You don’t have to have a full business plan written up to get started, you can write it up along the way. Hands on experience will give you the answers to what is next.
SG: What do you want your legacy to be?
MH: Borrowing Martin Luther King’s words, “I have a dream that one day all the little wheelchair girls and wheelchair boys can join hands with all the little ambulatory girls and ambulatory boys like brothers and sisters.”
Alvin Ailey created a professional contemporary dance company of minority black dancers in 1958, and Arthur Mitchell created Dance Theatre of Harlem (a ballet company) in 1969. Both dance visionaries created the companies so African American dancers had a place to train, grow, showcase their talents in an accepting environment, and make a living as dancers during an era in which black dancers were not yet quite seen as contemporary or classical dancers. Both dance companies became companies that young black dancers around the nation looked up to the dancers in the two companies, and today they are both mainstream and high quality professional dance ensembles as well as respected educational institutions, and African American dancers are seen performing in dance companies across the nation. Infinite Flow can do the same with dancers with disabilities. Just because you are black doesn’t mean you can’t be a classical ballerina, and just because you have a disability doesn’t mean that you can’t be an extraordinary dancer and dance professionally.
That’s one of my legacies.
SG: What kind of shoe are you and why?
MH: Dance Boot: Danceable, Sexy, Adventurous, Unique