“How We Changed It” was the title of the panel held on Friday, Feb. 8th at New York Fashion Week that consisted of four women who weren’t afraid to push boundaries or make their own rules. In doing so, they’ve managed to create their own lane, using their businesses to give the people what they never even knew they needed.
These ladies included Yael Aflalo, CEO, and Founder of the planet-friendly clothing brand Reformation, Michelle Smith, the Creative Director and Founder of Milly, Alli Webb, who founded Drybar in 2008; and Heather Philip, a Senior Vice President of Wells Fargo. The panel, more of a conversation between powerful women, was moderated by Visa Senior Vice President of North America Marketing, Mary Ann Reilly.
At the beginning of the panel, Reilly took no time to address the elephant in the room. She revealed that despite the fact that women are creating small businesses at one and a half times the rate of the national average, they are only getting two percent of venture capital funding. With that, the ladies began to drop gems; explaining how women should and can grab a hold of their business and finances.
A reoccurring theme was passion. Each woman took the risk of stepping out of their comfort zone to become entrepreneurs in an area they were passionate about. “I realized what I was passionate about was marketing,” said Philip who worked in publishing and had a quick venture in entrepreneurship before landing her SVP position. “You have to start a business in an area where your passion is. You listen to these ladies and you hear the passion, you hear a new category being started. Find your passion, stay with it. You’re going to get a lot of no’s along the way, but don’t let those be the things that stand in your way.”
While it’s good to be passionate, Smith made it clear that passion is nothing without being properly educated. “It’s really important to learn the business and the industry that you want to be in. It’s really helpful to work for other people first. You’re going to make a lot of mistakes, and you’re going to make them on someone else’s dime, not your own. That’s what I did! I made mistakes on other people’s dime,” she admits with a chuckle. “But seriously,” she asserts.
“I didn’t seek enough advisors when I was starting out,” Aflalo reveals as she encourages the listeners not to make the mistakes she did. “I was like I don’t need any help and also I’m too shy to ask for it. A dangerous combination of shy and egotistical. I would’ve avoided a lot of mistakes had I sought out advisors that could give me the right direction at the right time.”
As for Webb, she didn’t have much she’d change about the way her journey unfolded. She humbly accepts the mistakes she has made, and even thanks her bald-headed brother who, although skeptical at first, became Webb’s business partner who “knows more about blowouts than any straight guy should know,” according to the former stay home mom. However, Webb does confess that she wasn’t comfortable with handling the financial aspect of her business after Smith admitted to the same insecurity.
“I tend to delegate things that I don’t want to delegate as much because of my insecurity about money,” said Smith. In response Philip, backed by her passion for finance, stresses, “We can’t shy away from the monetary aspects of our business.” She continues, “You don’t want to have just the creative part of it because you don’t want to be the person waking up ten years later and not realizing that the money that was supposed to be in the bank is not there or that the expenses have taken over the revenue. If that’s not where your sweet spot is, make sure you have people you trust.”
Although she happens to be good at numbers, Aflalo also reassures that handling a businesses finances isn’t always easy. But she doesn’t make the financial terminology intimidate her. “If I’m on a call or in a meeting I stop everybody and ask ‘What does that mean?” Aflalo explains, ” I’m a smart person so I should be able to understand anything you want to say to me. If you can’t say it in a way that makes sense to me, then you’re not the smart person.”
The evening wrapped with some of the ladies sharing that they bring their daughters to work sometimes to see their mom be a boss, and how they manage to be the only woman in the room at times. These women have made it clear that they are spotlighting minority groups, empowering and creating opportunities for young women; all while reshaping what it means to be a woman. Takeaways? Ask questions, get creative, and take charge.