Forget the big brands. She raised nearly $300 million to license and sell independent art and design.
In the years leading up to the recession, well before the advent of Pinterest and Instagram, Mariam Naficy had an idea: Why not build an e-commerce platform that crowdsources designs from independent artisans rather than relying on major (and expensive) labels? She launched Minted in 2007 as a retailer of stationery, ultimately expanding into categories including textiles, art, and home décor. “Our model is fundamentally successful because of meritocracy,” Naficy says, with designers entering Minted competitions and consumers voting for the designs they want to see for sale. “It ensures that irrelevant factors such as education, wealth, and connections do not stand in the way of the best artists finding their way to the market.” Today, more than 12 years later, Minted continues to grow. This summer it launched a licensing arm with partners including Method, which makes soap bottles based on Minted designs, and Samsung, which has a line of TVs that can display a gallery of art and photos. Minted now has more than 400 employees, 15,000 designers, and revenue in the low hundreds of millions. The company is profitable, too. Last year, Naficy raised a mind-bending $208 million in funding—the most in a single round by a female founder, ever. --Zoë Henry
She burst onto the acne market with a Korean-beauty-inspired product.
Early this year Ju Rhyu was thrilled when Target agreed to sell Hero Cosmetics’ Mighty Patch pus-absorbing acne bandages in 700 stores. In May, she was ecstatic, and somewhat daunted, when the retailer more than doubled its order so it could supply 1,524 stores—and not two months before Mighty Patch was due to hit its shelves. “We had to place a manufacturing order before we got the official purchase order, so there was some risk there,” says Rhyu. “But we did it.” The beauty sampler business Birchbox offered Hero’s hydrocolloid patches, which create a moist environment for healing, on its site last year; this year, it included them in a special assortment for some Walgreens stores. Mighty Patch is also for sale in retailers American Eagle, Free People, Urban Outfitters, Neiman Marcus, Goop, and Anthropologie—all less than two years after debuting on Amazon. Rhyu—who discovered the patch in her native Korea, where she was working for Samsung—is now prepping two new products. One, also a patch, attacks developing pimples with microneedles made of hyaluronic acid and an acne-fighting ingredient. The other restores the skin post-pimple, meaning Hero now addresses every stage of the pimple life cycle. --Leigh Buchanan
Getting her woman-first sex toys to market was worth fighting for.
After beating cancer, Polly Rodriguez found that a side effect of her radiation treatment was menopause at age 21. The experience caused her to rethink her body and to research lubricants and the world of sexual wellness--which led to the realization that most sex toys were made by men, and weren’t optimal for women. Rodriguez set out to make vibrators that don’t need to be hidden in the sock drawer: one looks like a beauty blender (it’s a teardrop sponge, gents); another is a chunky geometric metal ring. And she has found more than 250,000 customers while facing two massive hurdles: Her company is considered a “moral hazard,” like gambling, and most investment firms won’t touch it. (Despite that, she raised $3.7 million.) And makers of sex toys are prohibited from advertising on Facebook and other social media, the most obvious places to find their customers. Rodriguez has been vocal about the double standard in men’s and women’s health, and has partnered with Dame Products to launch a campaign called Approved, Not Approved to raise awareness of how that inequity plays out in sexual wellness advertising. “My most audacious goal is for Unbound to be a household brand name,” says Rodriguez, “and for vibrators and lubricants to be considered as mainstream as condoms and the little blue pill.” --Christine Lagorio-Chafkin
She reinvented the suitcase and then sold a million of them. Now her company is worth $1.4 billion.
After being told in college that she couldn’t get into marketing without an MBA, Jen Rubio struck out on her own, pioneering social-media strategies for a number of brands until she landed at Warby Parker, which disrupted the eyewear market. In 2015, she and fellow Warby alum Steph Korey did the same thing to the luggage industry by launching Away. Beautiful design and a focus on customer interaction gave Away’s luggage Instagram rocket fuel, and by 2019 the company was valued at $1.4 billion. Revenue in 2019 is projected at $300 million—but the big project is international expansion. The company is eyeing China, where travel is exploding, and plans to add 50 new stores to its existing seven by 2022. Away is also expanding product lines, with the goal being, as Rubio says, “to completely transform the entire travel experience.” --Christine Lagorio-Chafkin
She sold her personal care business. Now she invests in ventures of underrepresented entrepreneurs.
After selling her personal care business, Schmidt’s Naturals, to Unilever in 2017, Jaime Schmidt was besieged by aspiring founders seeking advice. She could only do so many coffee dates. So she and Chris Cantino, her husband and business partner, decided to spend some of their Unilever money helping undersupported entrepreneurs—women and people of color--along the trajectory to success. Their first venture, the investment fund Color, launched last year and has backed, among others, the nut butter company Wild Friends and Bubble, an online marketplace for healthy foods. Then, in June, came Supermaker, a media platform that publishes articles about emerging brands with diverse founders as well as workplace trends and advice for both entrepreneurs and employees. “A big part of our success at Schmidt’s was the storytelling we did for the brand,” she says. Color and Supermaker are also partnering on a program of quarterly grants to help female and nonbinary founders. “It wasn’t as sophisticated when I started in 2010,” says Schmidt. “Now people are really serious about turning their passions into profits.” --Leigh Buchanan