Billionaire Stephen Ross, owner of the Miami Dolphins, SoulCycle, and Equinox (among dozens of other entities), is throwing an elite political fundraiser for Donald Trump in the Hamptons this weekend. Attendees will pay up to $100,000 for a picture and $250,000 to sit in a roundtable discussion--  and every penny will go towards four more years of Trump in the White House.

The news has brought on a tidal wave of backlash, with celebrities like Chrissy Tiegen and Sophia Bush leading the charge on a boycott of SoulCycle and Equinox, two luxury fitness giants. 

For many consumers, it's a moral dilemma of choosing between products we love and politics we hate. For founders and business leaders, it's an uncomfortable reminder that we will always be accountable for the money we take from investors and the money we make for them.

I am sympathetic to the businesses (many of them female-founded with worthy missions) who have accepted funds from Steve Ross and are now having to answer for his morally flawed political alignments. Founding a company requires a Herculean effort and fundraising is why most billion-dollar ideas never achieve liftoff (this is especially true for women -- only 2.2 percent of VC dollars go to female-founded companies). 

It's all incredibly difficult-- connecting with investors, developing relationships with them, successfully pitching your idea, and landing the deal. So, I understand the reluctance to be scrupulous when the only thing between you and bringing your business dream to life is Steve Ross -- and he's ready to cut a check.

But the truth of the matter is this: if you're building a company -- particularly that prides itself on inclusiveness like SoulCycle does-- you have to be mindful of whose pockets you line with your success. Your investors will be your business partners. You will make money for them and they will use it however they wish. This reality has led to, well, our current reality where men in power star.

I founded my company, The Riveter, because I wanted to create a union for myself and other women to thrive professionally, something I felt I could not achieve as a woman and a working mother in corporate America. I kept this front and center as I built my company, especially when I chose to take venture capital. I knew every check accepted would bring with it another owner of my business. 

So, I did my due diligence. And after three rounds and over $20 million in funding, over 50 percent of our investors are women. (What can I say? I want women to make a lot of money.) I weeded out VCs who advised me to not fundraise while visibly pregnant and others who were not a value-fit for what I wanted to create. All this not because I'm preaching from a moral high ground, but because I realize that my investors define The Riveter's mission, our culture, our offerings -- and our future --  just as much as I do. So anything else would be unfair to the community we're building. 

Brands and companies: let this be a hard lesson learned. Head into fundraising, acquisitions, and anything that will compromise the integrity of what you're building with a very sharp and critical eye. That is, if you, too, feel a moral obligation to do so.

I'll finish off with the only page I'd like to take out of Stephen Ross' book. As he said in his public response to this scandal "I always have been an active participant in the democratic process. While some prefer to sit outside of the process and criticize, I prefer to engage directly and support the things I deeply care about."

I respect this. I hope he appreciates us also engaging directly and supporting what we care about. I often wonder what the world would look like if we shopped our values. It turns out that Mr. Ross and his partners are learning a bit about this this week as some of his customers are voting with their wallets and walking away from his brands.

Published on: Aug 9, 2019
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