How I Launched A Multimillion-Dollar Startup For Creative Women

It's not easy out there for women entrepreneurs. Just look at the numbers: Only 3% of majority female-owned firms have revenues over $1 million, compared to 6% of majority male-owned businesses. And, only 6% of partners at venture capital firms are women. There is good news though. Women are starting new businesses at twice the rate of men, and the number of women-owned businesses with $1 million or more in revenue grew 2000% between 1977 and 2002.

But, how do we truly break into the big leagues? The National Women's Business Council wants us to start by setting bigger goals. It's also about seeking out mentors — namely the women killing it in the business world, who we can look to for inspiration and advice.

With that in mind, we're launching Origin Stories, a series that will profile some of the coolest, smartest female entrepreneurs making a difference in the world. The column will give them the chance to share the real stories behind their businesses, highs and lows, and that moment when they knew they made it.

First up, Brit Morin, founder of Brit + Co, an online community and e-commerce platform that inspires women and girls to be more creative:
Courtesy of Brit Morin.
You could say that I’ve always been into DIY. As a kid growing up in San Antonio, I loved to color and paint, and I was a Girl Scout (cookie seller of the year, no less). But, I never thought my childhood penchant for creativity — something I considered a hobby at best — would lead to an invitation to the White House.

Yet, last month, I found myself taking my second trip to the White House in two years, when I was asked to be part of the National Maker Faire. The day was a total career high point: I had the honor of sitting with Megan Smith, the Chief Technology Officer of the United States, and interviewing her in front of a thousand guests...a thousand! Seriously sweating under the hot lights, I was both nervous and excited, but also in total awe...I mean, it’s the White House. How did I, a girl from suburban San Antonio, who just four years ago was running a small business from her dining room in San Francisco, get here? Well, it wasn’t a straight route, that’s for sure.

How did I, a girl from suburban San Antonio, get to the White House?

A child of the ‘90s, I grew up with a computer — and I was doing a lot more than playing Oregon Trail. The internet was a huge ocean of amusement and wonder to me. My interest became more serious as a high school junior, when I first took a computer science class, and started plotting my path to Silicon Valley.

In college, I studied business and communications at The University of Texas at Austin, and my friends thought I was crazy for graduating early. Why did I want to skip one of the four so-called best years of my life to start my adulthood in the working world before I had to? But, I couldn’t think of anything more exciting than leaving Texas for California. The technology gold rush was happening, and I wanted to be a part of it.

My first job was at Apple, working on a campaign for Facebook, back when the social-media behemoth was still just “something college kids used.” From there, I moved onto Google, where I spent four years building audiences and creating new features for products like Google Maps, Google Search, and YouTube. It was an amazing place to work, but by age 25, I was itching to take a risk and start my own company. Sure, I was young, but I was also unencumbered by a mortgage or a family. There was nothing to lose.

I was young, but I was also unencumbered by a mortgage or a family. There was nothing to lose.

Before I launched a business, I decided to take some time off and recover after four crazy years at Google. That spring, a place called TechShop opened in San Francisco. It marketed itself as a “gym for making things.” You pay a monthly membership fee, and in exchange, you can come as often as you want to use all kinds of cool gadgets like laser cutters, 3D printers, and sewing machines.

I went nearly every day. I was obsessed.

I ended up DIY-ing basically everything for my wedding, including my own wedding website (a project that eventually became a company of its own). My girlfriends would tell me over and over that they “wished they were creative like me.” Which made me stop to wonder, why aren’t they creative? Weren’t we all little girls once who loved to play with crayons, Legos, and blocks?

Answering this question became my passion — so much so that I decided to build a company around it. We would fight to help women and girls overcome their artistic insecurities by inspiring and teaching them to channel their creativity.

I decided to call the company Brit + Co. “Brit” is obviously my name. The “Co” of “Brit + Co,” doesn’t stand for “Company” but for “Community.” We’ve entered an era where millions upon millions of people around the world have hobbies and expertise in niche crafts and trades. The one constant among all of us is the internet, which connects us no matter where we live. Why couldn’t my company be a place where all of those people could be highlighted and featured for their unique skills?

We would fight to help women and girls overcome their artistic insecurities by inspiring and teaching them to channel their creativity.

Today, our “Co” includes all kinds of makers — ranging from chefs, interior designers, jewelry makers, graphic designers, photographers, printmakers, seamstresses, coders/engineers, product inventors, and many more —and the community continues to grow month after month. They are constantly creating new DIY content, teaching online classes, or selling their goods through our site. We try to feature and promote them as much as we can.

I had the vision for all of this as I was starting the company alone in my apartment in late 2011. Some startups are founded in a garage, mine started in a dining room.

I wasn’t alone for long. In the past four years, Brit + Co has grown from a company of one to a multimillion-dollar business. The maker movement has exploded as well, so much so even the White House took notice. In 2014, the Obama administration hosted the first-ever Maker Faire, inviting 100 people (including me and Bill Nye!) to participate. And this summer, they expanded the celebration to a whole week and opened the Faire to the public, which involved nearly 20,000 attendees over three days.

It was an incredible weekend filled with fascinating speakers and incredible demos. The icing on the cake was my fireside chat with U.S. CTO Smith and FABLabs founder, Makeda Stephenson. The topic was near and dear to me: How do we get more women and girls involved in this DIY revolution?
Courtesy of Brit Morin.
Stephenson and Smith are such inspirational women. At just 21, Stephenson has cofounded two companies, studies biomedical engineering, and in her spare time (!) serves as an executive for the National Society of Black Engineers. She makes me feel like a slacker. Smith is a former Google VP and an all-around girl boss. It was an incredible experience to get the chance to talk with them. I seriously never wanted the day to end.

Of course it did, and I had to leave to the airport immediately after the talk concluded. After rushing through security and tripping over myself to make it to the plane on time, I finally had a minute to pause and reflect.

The trip to the White House was definitely a peak career moment for me. It took nearly four years and admittedly a little bit of luck to get there. I followed my dreams, found my mission, and worked like a mad woman alongside an amazing team to make not just a business, but an impact. My dream is to grow that influence — and my company — every single year. It’s cliché, sure, but I do think it’s possible to live what you love.

Brit + Co has been a wild ride, and not always in the best of ways. I’m constantly stressed out and admittedly addicted to my work, people tell me this all the time. But, I’m doing something I’m passionate about and helping the world become a more creative place in the process. At least, that’s the goal.

So, my lesson to you is this: Don’t reject that inner voice that is pushing you, almost taunting you to do something you care about. Coincidences are not coincidences — they can show you which way to go. Women from all walks of life can and SHOULD run billion-dollar businesses. Find something you believe in. Take that first big risk. Freak out a little bit, then recover. Go out and fix a problem in the world. Learn to believe in your own creativity. And, by all means, try to have some fun while you’re doing it.

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