Female founders know that when one of them succeeds, the odds get better for every other woman running a business or waiting in the wings. This is how one woman supporting another becomes a pattern--and progress.
Amy Errett, founder of Madison Reed
If anyone could claim to be too busy to be a mentor, it's Amy Errett, the CEO of 250-person hair-color company Madison Reed, which she founded in 2013. She's also a partner at VC firm True Ventures and, to add to the crazy, raising a family with her wife. Yet Errett also finds time to regularly mentor about eight women founders over coffee. Each month, she gets a handful of requests for advice through her personal network and 60 to 80 inquiries via LinkedIn. She takes on as many as she can, covering issues like fundraising, hiring, and building a board. Says Errett, "I won't refuse if I think I can help the next woman in line." Once, that was Smitten Ice Cream's Robyn Sue Fisher, who's now drawing her own line of women, who then help still more women.
Robyn Sue Fisher, founder of Smitten Ice Cream
Robyn Sue Fisher met Amy Errett when Errett was a general partner at Maveron, the venture firm co-founded by Starbucks chair emeritus Howard Schultz. "She came to Smitten when we'd just opened our Hayes Valley store in San Francisco and said, 'Has Howard seen this?' " says Fisher. "I was like, 'Are you kidding me? Hello?' " Years later, Fisher and Errett were at a conference right after Fisher's grandmother had died. Fisher was a mess. "Amy was like, I'm here for you. Forget the conference--let's have a drink," Fisher says. "People really prove themselves in a moment of need, not just in those moments when I'm killing it."
Julia Collins, founder of Planet FWD
Julia Collins designed her food company Planet FWD to be healthy for people and the environment. But having just survived the startup gauntlet as a co-founder of Zume Pizza, she says, she needed some professional nourishment. Enter Robyn Sue Fisher. Fisher has "done it all," says Collins: bootstrapping, raising money, growing teams, opening stores, closing stores, and expanding her company. "She's one of the fittest, healthiest, happiest people I know," says Collins. "She helped me connect with the joy."
Tiffany Dufu, founder of the Cru
When Tiffany Dufu was getting ready to raise money for the Cru, a peer-coaching platform she founded for women, she didn't really understand venture capital. Then she met Julia Collins at Black Women Talk Tech. Collins was part of a team that raised more than $400 million for pizza-delivery platform Zume Pizza. She explained to Dufu that once she took venture money, she would have to be on a path of hypergrowth. How she staffed for that and how she operated would be critical. "She taught me that funding changes the trajectory of your company and how you build it," Dufu says. The conversation prepared Dufu to raise a successful seed round.
Bonus mentor: Nora Abousteit
While Tiffany Dufu was fundraising for the Cru, she found support from Nora Abousteit, serial entrepreneur and angel investor. "The fact that she said, 'I believe in this so much that I'm going to put in money,' was huge," says Dufu. Now she refers to Abousteit as her big sister founder. Says Dufu, who is the oldest of four girls, "You need someone who's been around the block just one more time than you have."
Amy Nelson, founder of the Riveter
Amy Nelson was launching female-focused co-working space the Riveter at about the same time Tiffany Dufu was beginning work on the Cru. The Riveter started growing quickly, and with that came a ton of advice--much of it conflicting. Nelson turned to Dufu, who she knew was an honest, grounded guide. "Tiffany reminded me that I knew what I was doing," says Nelson. "Tiffany said, 'You know the right thing to do, even though it's hard to listen to your gut sometimes. But if you don't trust yourself, you won't get anywhere.' "
Bonus mentor: Amy Griffin
When she was raising her Series A round, Amy Nelson had set aside $3 million for female angel investors. Then she needed to find and persuade them. Amy Griffin, the managing partner of G9 Ventures and now the co-founder of Social Studies, assembled a room of about 10 female angels for Nelson to meet with, plus another 10 for her to connect with on the phone. "She put it together in about a week," says Nelson. "It was just totally amazing."
Laura Malcolm, founder of Give InKind
Laura Malcolm says Amy Nelson just keeps showing up for her. Malcolm is the founder of Give InKind, which makes it easier for friends and family to assist those in crisis. When Malcolm was running low on cash, Nelson hired her to do some project management on a consulting basis. As Give InKind began looking to raise money, Nelson talked Malcolm through her cap table and her pitch. And, as an investment partner in XFactor Ventures, Nelson made an investment herself.
Melissa Strawn, co-founder of MyPeopleNow
Melissa Strawn was struggling to write an executive summary for MyPeopleNow, a freelancer directory and employee engagement platform. She posted a note asking for help on a forum run by the Female Founders Alliance, and heard back from Laura Malcolm. Malcolm showed Strawn her own executive summary and her term sheets. She advised Strawn to track CAC (customer acquisition cost) and LTV (customer lifetime value). When those numbers are in line, "it's a signal you've gotten to the point in the life of your startup where it might be investable," says Strawn. "I could have Googled this topic forever and gotten only tidbits."
Niallah Cooper-Scruggs, founder of Sugar Queen Bakery
In May 2019, Niallah Cooper-Scruggs won $3,000 in a business-plan competition. She also won some mentoring for her business, Sugar Queen Bakery, and got paired with Melissa Strawn. Strawn suggested Cooper-Scruggs try pop-ups. At the first one, held at Seattle's Broadcast Coffee in October, Cooper-Scruggs sold more than 120 cupcakes and gathered a ton of local support. "People weren't there just to buy cupcakes," she says. "They were also there to have a conversation about my business, and they were excited to see a local black-owned business do so well."