Female Founders 100: Empire-Builders These women have overcome huge odds to build massive businesses--whether they are entertainment powerhouses, public companies, or simply on the cusp of dominating their industry. 

CREDIT: Courtesy company

Therese Tucker

BlackLine

Tucker became a computer programmer in the 1980s, just as women started dropping out of the industry. She overcame sexism, harassment, business betrayals, and product failures to bootstrap her enterprise accounting-software company. In 2016, she led a successful IPO, joining the tiny number of female tech founders to crack the public markets. In 2017, revenue was up 44 percent from the prior year, and the company's shares have steadily climbed since--giving Tucker oversight of a business that's added roughly $1 billion to its market cap in the past year, bringing it to $2.7 billion by late summer. --Maria Aspan

Sadie Lincoln

Barre3

Using supermodels as the face of good health never sat well with Lincoln, a longtime exec at 24 Hour Fitness. Growing up in Eugene, Oregon, she was raised by her single mom in an all-female collective, so women supporting women felt like a much more authentic pitch. That insight led to Barre3, a boutique fitness studio she founded in 2008, after she and her husband invested their entire $250,000 savings into what is now a multimillion-dollar national chain with more than 130 franchises. Last year, the always-mindful Lincoln even paused expansion to focus on creating more "conscious growth." "I unapologetically lead with love," she says. "It feels good, and if it didn't, why even do this?" --Michelle Cheng

CREDIT: Courtesy company

Emily Heyward

Red Antler

Casper mattresses. Allbirds shoes. Goby toothbrushes. They say there's a Warby Parker of everything these days, and the company you can thank for creating the always-airy brand identities of many of them is Red Antler, a creative consultancy and marketing agency co-founded in 2007 by Heyward, a veteran ad strategist. She's so central to this universe that, when Red Antler--now an equity partner in 75 startups--begins working with a new company, "we know there are up to three companies launching at the same time in the same space--and we usually know because they've all approached us," she says. --Tom Foster

CREDIT: Courtesy company

Julie Wainwright

The RealReal

After becoming the CEO of Pets.com in 1999, and then taking it public right before the dot-com crash, Wainwright was left with a less-than-stellar reputation. By 2011, then in her 50s, she decided to launch her second startup, a luxury consignment retailer that sells everything from Tiffany diamonds to Hermès Birkin bags, online and off. Seven years in, with nearly $300 million in venture capital and over 40 percent annual revenue growth, Wainwright is eyeing an IPO--again. "When you fail so publicly," she says, "it frees you up to be more bold." --T.F. 

Courtney Adeleye

The Mane Choice *

In 2013, Adeleye's hair was her business. Today, there's a good chance that your hair is also her business--which brings in more than $50 million a year. Five years ago, the Madison, Alabama, resident wanted her hair to sport a long, natural look, but couldn't find the hair care products to help her do it. She documented the process on YouTube, and started making her own hair care concoctions in her kitchen. Adeleye told her YouTube fans how to make the stuff, but they weren't particularly interested; they wanted to buy it directly from her. Adeleye obliged, launching the Mane Choice, now in more than 50,000 retail locations including Walmart and Target. Adeleye also has her own show, "Who's the Bawse?" and an Instagram following that's 181,000-strong. --Kimberly Weisul

CREDIT: Courtesy company

Kendra Scott

Kendra Scott

Scott was desperate. She'd started her eponymous jewelry line in 2002, and spent six years getting distribution in several hundred boutiques around the country. Business was OK--"enough to live on"--but then the financial crisis hit, and in 2009 many of those boutiques had to shut down. "It was horrifying--like, oh, my god, I'm going to lose my company," she remembers. What to do in the face of a retail collapse? Open her own store, of course. The designer struggled to find an investor, until a local Austin banker who happened to like Scott's jewelry agreed to give her a loan, if she put everything she owned up as collateral. Today her business is valued at a billion dollars, and Scott still owns the majority of it, making her one of the wealthiest self-made women in the country. --T.F.

Renee Erickson

Sea Creatures

Erickson's culinary empire, a group of Seattle restaurants collectively called Sea Creatures, started with a lucky break when she was 25. The aspiring chef was working at a small French restaurant whose owner decided to sell. She bought it, and 12 years later opened a second place, the Walrus and the Carpenter. Sea Creatures--and her reputation in the Pacific Northwest--grew steadily from there, and today includes a steakhouse (wth locally raised beef) and a coffee-and-doughnut shop called General Porpoise. The restaurant industry can be harsh on workers and the environment, and Erickson feels a sense of duty to both. In 2015, she eliminated tipping at her restaurants, raising base pay to $15 an hour. This year, the company also stopped serving chinook salmon, the primary food of endangered Puget Sound orcas. Her latest venture, Deep Dive, is a dark, retro bar housed in the Spheres, a trio of glass structures owned by Amazon. Jeff Bezos might own Seattle, but Erickson dominates its restaurant scene. --Sophie Downes

CREDIT: Courtesy company

Sallie Krawcheck

Ellevest

Krawcheck jokes that she's the only person to have been fired on the front page of The Wall Street Journal--twice. But her Wall Street gigs--head of global wealth management at Bank of America Merrill Lynch and CFO of Citigroup--prepared her for her next mission: building an investing platform specifically for women. "There's a reason women rank finance 33rd out of the 33 industries that serve them," Krawcheck says. "They feel talked down to, misunderstood." Her answer is a four-year-old investing platform that is driven by an investor's goals--like buying a house, paying for child care, or retiring by a certain age. Krawcheck hopes Ellevest, the fastest of the so-called robo-advisers to reach $100 million in assets under management, will help close what she calls the "investment gap," or the fact women invest less than men and, on average, keep 68 percent of their money in cash. "This is quit-your-job money," she says. "This is get-out-of-a-bad-relationship money. This is important." --K.W.

Emily Weiss

Glossier

Glossier is only four years old, but somehow feels like it's been dominating the beauty scene (and making Estee Lauder nervous) forever. Rather than taking the traditional retail route via Sephora, Weiss's digitally-native, direct-to-consumer startup has trained an army of 1.4 million Instagram followers to spread brand love. Her strategy of priming fans to share their bathroom shelfies of Glossier products and its signature Millennial Pink bubble-wrap bags worked so well that this year Weiss, 33, began formalizing that fandom machine. The New York City-based startup now has a social-selling website, which allows customers to interact, create networks, and discover recommended products. With a new round of $52 million in funding, the acquisition of a digital-strategy studio, and new board member Stitch Fix founder Katrina Lake on her side, it appears Weiss is only getting started. --Christine Lagorio-Chafkin

CREDIT: ABC

Shonda Rhimes

Shondaland

"Storytelling is our business. Showing you the extraordinary possibilities of your story is why we exist." So reads a manifesto published by Shondaland.com, the new website published by the production company Shondaland, which belongs to the prolific TV hitmaker Rhimes. After a 15-year run at ABC, during which she created such shows as Grey's Anatomy, Scandal, and How to Get Away With Murder--with strong female leads, often women of color--last summer Rhimes announced she was leaving the network for an estimated $100 million, multiyear exclusive deal with Netflix, which shook Hollywood. Rhimes--whose hits are estimated to have earned Disney at least $2 billion over the course of her career--already has eight shows in the works for Netflix, including one about Ellen Pao, the former tech exec who famously battled sexism in Silicon Valley. --T.F.

CREDIT: Courtesy company

Kristi Knoblich

Kiva Confections

Knoblich and her husband, Scott Palmer, had a small wedding photography business--finding clients through Craigslist--but still couldn't make ends meet. So the couple started a small cannabis grow in their Bay Area backyard, selling small marijuana plants to dispensaries around northern California. By 2010, they observed that most edibles companies didn't have sophisticated branding, and saw their opening. "We wanted to make products that people who shopped at Starbucks and had iPhones would buy," says Knoblich. They started making high-end, lab-tested edibles with precise, smaller doses of THC, wrapped in stylish packaging that felt more Blue Bottle, than Dunkin Donuts. Today, Kiva has become famous for its infused chocolate-covered espresso beans, blueberries, and low-dose mints, now available in hundreds of dispensaries across Arizona, California, Illinois, and Nevada. "One day, we hope to be available around the world," says Knoblich, hinting that Kiva will release another new product line this year. --Will Yakowicz

Tracy Anderson

Tracy Anderson

From afar, having celebrity devotees like Gwyneth Paltrow, Jennifer Lopez, and Victoria Beckham seems like it would be any trainer's fantasy. But for Anderson, it eventually became toxic. "The most challenging part of my career is when I started training celebrities," says the fitness entrepreneur, who founded the New York City-based Tracy Anderson Method 19 years ago, just after the birth of her first child. "As a single mom in business, I have a certain amount of bandwidth. Do I care about my business, or do I care about hanging out with celebrities?" So six years ago--around the time her second child was born--she stopped training celebrities herself, instead focusing on thoughtfully scaling her business. And that she has. In the past three years, her fitness empire--which includes seven studio locations in New York City, Los Angeles, Madrid, and the Hamptons; private training services in London; 170 DVDs; a weekly streaming service; and two new fashion lines--has grown 43 percent. In the works: an interactive streaming service, which Anderson expects to launch in 2019. "At this point in my career," she says, "I don't have to worry about messing up." --Diana Ransom

CREDIT: Courtesy company

Peggy Cherng

Panda Express

In 1983, Cherng left her career in engineering to help her husband, Andrew, start a fast-casual Chinese restaurant in a Glendale, California, mall. Thirty-five years later, Panda Express has become the food-court juggernaut behind orange chicken and chow mein in airport terminals, malls, and highway exits around the world. As co-CEOs, the Cherngs don't franchise most of the company's 2,000-plus locations, an approach that has served them well. Panda Restaurant Group has reportedly opened 150 new stores each year since 2005, and earned more than $3 billion in sales last year. Family businesses have a reputation for falling apart, so how has this couple--who have a reported net worth of $3.3 billion--held it all together for so long? The secret might lie in a gigantic red sculpture recently placed in front of the company's Rosemead, California, headquarters. In all-caps, it reads: "LOVE." --Cameron Albert-Deitch

CREDIT: Courtesy company

Kathryn Petralia

Kabbage

Petralia knows small businesses. As co-founder and president of Atlanta-based online lender Kabbage, she has spent the past decade making more than $5 billion in loans to small-business owners. Her startup, which she co-founded with CEO Rob Frohwein and Marc Gorlin, brought in more than $200 million in revenue last year and is expanding into new products. Petralia, a veteran of credit card companies and early fintech startups, is both ambitious and practical about work--and her personal life. A couple of years ago, she and her husband decided to have a second child, almost 17 years after their first, in spite of Petralia's busy schedule running her company. "I'm just a rower," she says. "There's water in the boat but I just keep rowing." --M.A.

Nancy Silverton

Mozza Restaurant Group

A serial entrepreneur and groundbreaking chef, Silverton knows how to bounce back from adversity. After founding the artisanal La Brea Bakery in Los Angeles, she sold it for more than $5 million in 2001--and lost it all, after she decided to invest her profits with Bernie Madoff. Silverton persevered to start the Mozza string of acclaimed Italian restaurants--in partnership with Mario Batali, the celebrity chef now accused of sexual misconduct. Batali is in the process of divesting from his restaurants, while Silverton takes on a bigger leadership role at the parent company. And while she continues to navigate the food world's #MeToo maelstrom, Silverton is working on expanding her business, contemplating locations in New York City and London. "As a restaurateur, I'm not static," Silverton told Eater in June. "There is opportunity out there for myself and for the staff--and we want to take that opportunity and do some growth." --M.A.

* Correction: This story has been updated to include The Mane Choice's correct revenue, number of doors, and the year in which the company was founded.

How to Grow From a Small Company to a Large One
Published on: Oct 4, 2018