The Present Is Female: Learn How 4 Entrepreneurs Started Their Companies

Sarah Kerens
If you're considering launching your own company, you should begin by finding out how fellow entrepreneurs got their start. Ahead we talk to Lauren Bush Lauren, CEO of FEED, designer Rebecca Minkoff, and Jordana Kier and Alexandra Friedman, founders of the organic feminine care brand LOLA, about their experiences as female entrepreneurs.
Also, in honor of International Women’s Day on March 8, we’re teaming up with the ladies' brands on a girl-powered giveaway. You’ll win a FEED x Rebecca Minkoff Whipstitch Tote, a $250 gift card to LOLA, and $1,000 in cash — so you can spend it however you damn well please.
Celebrate yourself! Enter to win now and read on to find out how to start your own female-fueled business!
NO PURCHASE NECESSARY. Open to legal residents of the 48 contiguous United States (excluding Rhode Island), 18 years or older and over the age of majority in jurisdiction of residence at time of entry. Ends 3/10/17 at 11:59 p.m. ET. For Official Rules, click here. Void where prohibited.
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How did FEED and Rebecca Minkoff come together to create a collection around International Women's Day?

LBL: "Rebecca and I have been friends for a while and have always talked about how cool it would be to do a collaboration together. It just felt like the right year to come together with our two lady-powered brands and create something meaningful that celebrates the power of women. Everything from the fabric — which is handwoven by artisans in India — to the vibrant color scheme feels so right for this project."

RM: "I had always been such a fan of Lauren and what she was doing with FEED, so it felt very organic. In our initial discussions about the collaboration and launch, International Women's Day was the perfect day to plan around. It was important that the bag be meaningful and that everything come full circle. This wasn’t a collaboration for collaboration’s sake. It meant a lot to us both."
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Pheobe Chuason
How and why did you become an entrepreneur? Was it something you always intended for yourself?

Lauren Bush Lauren: "I had this incredible opportunity to travel as a student ambassador with the UN World Food Programme while I was in college. It’s one thing to read statistics about child hunger, but another to see kids who are unable to live up to their full potential because of something as basic as a lack of food. This experience changed my life and made me want to do something to motivate my peers to help. When I started FEED 10 years ago, I honestly had never even heard of the term 'social business.' The first FEED bag — which featured the number one stenciled on the back to represent the one child the bag would feed for an entire year — started the company's course as a mission-driven brand."

Rebecca Minkoff: "Well, officially, I think the brand’s inception started with the creation of the first bag — the M.A.B. I don’t think becoming an entrepreneur was ever something I made a hard and fast decision about growing up. However, in looking back at my upbringing, my parents made me earn everything. And while this method was sometimes hard as a kid, it was the only way I knew how to operate. I even had to learn how to sew so I could make a dress for my bat mitzvah! Lessons like this are definitely what helped make me an entrepreneur."

Jordana Kier: "I grew up surrounded by business people. My grandfather, Ralph Kier, came to the U.S. from Cuba with his wife and four kids when he was 34. He slowly built a small textile factory into a large company that my dad ended up running. Through them, I grew up hearing stories about building something out of nothing. When I got to Columbia Business School, I got swept away by the excitement of the New York tech community and spent my entire second year interning at Rent the Runway. Experiencing the fast-paced, real-time challenges of acquiring customers, building a brand, and proving a business model helped confirm my desire to build something for myself."

Alexandra Friedman: "Starting a business wasn’t always in the cards for me. I graduated from college in 2004 and went to work at a small consulting firm where I advised private equity investors. After consulting for a while, I decided to move on to the other side of the table and work as an investor, then I attended business school, went back to consulting, and finally found myself at an ad-tech startup called Flurry. I was managing operations, growth, and strategy for its app-analytics product when Jordana and I first met. LOLA was born when we realized all of the other women in our lives wanted — and deserved — a better feminine-care brand and service."
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Lauren Perlstein
Tell us about your biggest failure.

LBL: "It’s kind of a funny story. I started FEED without some of the structure, funding, and operational resources that would be a prerequisite for most entrepreneurs. In our first year, we made a big mistake in shipping a huge amount of backpacks to Africa. The shipping cost was so high that UPS sent someone to our office. The UPS representative was so helpful that we offered her a job at FEED the following week. She accepted and is now one of our VPs of operations as well as a very dear friend. In addition to giving FEED a talented operations guru, this mistake taught me that everything happens for a reason."

RM: "Before I started my own company, I worked for an amazing woman who actually ended up firing me. At the time, it felt terrible. It was really hard on my spirit and confidence, but she encouraged me to go out and start my own thing. Looking back it was one of the best things that could have happened."

JK + AF: "We heard the word 'no' over and over again while we were pitching LOLA for fundraising, which of course is part of the process, but can sometimes feel like failure. The investor community is made up of mostly men so, initially, our biggest (and most crucial) challenge was educating investors about periods and our product. We found that having tampons on us and dipping them in water to simulate how the product would work in a woman's body was often eye-opening for men and extremely helpful (as well as hilarious)! We learned a great lesson in how to cater our vision to different audiences and find some common ground."
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Rockie Nolan
What's your biggest piece of advice for female entrepreneurs?

LBL: "Be fearless. I’m so thankful for the questions I didn’t ask when I set out to start FEED. If I had known then what I know today about what it takes to start and grow a business, I would've been much more hesitant to take that first step. All the research in the world isn’t going to get you anywhere if you don't take some risks."

RM: "More than anything you need to learn how to trust your instincts. You’re going to have to make what feels like a hundred decisions a day and, whether it’s right or wrong, you won’t get anywhere if you’re constantly anxious about making one. Surround yourself with mentors and people who understand your business and want it to succeed and learn the ins and outs of every aspect of your operation. Be as hands on as possible, because that's how you grow. When you have a solid understanding of the business from its inception, it will benefit both you and the brand in the future."

JK: "Develop a network of mentors and people you can rely on for honest feedback and advice. We’ve been very lucky to have cultivated a group of individuals who are very supportive, but who also provide tough love and aren’t just saying 'great job' all the time."

AF: "Get comfortable with learning as you go. The learning curve stays steep, and you’re always building while operating. Proactively manage your time and energy to ensure you are able to multitask, move quickly, and think strategically. It’s better to make mistakes while trying something new than to not try anything at all."
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Ashley Batz
What three tools (apps, books, podcasts, etc.) would you recommend to anyone trying to start her own business?

LBL: "First, I would recommend Amy Cuddy's famous Ted Talk about the power of body language to transform outward and inward perception. Second, the classic business book Good to Great by Jim Collins is full of all the must-dos for anyone looking to start her own business. And finally, I suggest trying the Headspace app, which trains you to take time every day to remember your reasons for doing what you do."

RM: "(I recommend) consuming anything that inspires and educates you. Farnoosh Torabi’s podcast So Money,, Inc., and theSkimm are all great resources. Read anything that will teach you about the details of your business’ finances, how to be a positive and empowering leader, and how to build a company culture."

JK + AF: "First, we suggest checking out the How I Built This podcast. We love hearing stories from other founders about how they grew their businesses and the challenges they faced along the way. Next, get the Trello app. We're both obsessive about keeping our workloads organized and Trello helps us make lists, prioritize what we're working on, and check things off as we go. Another app to get is Pocket. We find articles all the time that we want to read, but we're on the go a lot and don't always have time in the moment. So we save them all on Pocket and read them while commuting."