These entrepreneurs prove that women mean business
Business is often seen as a male-dominated world, but women entrepreneurs have a unique advantage. Through personal experience, they have an insight into what women really want, and it’s paying off. Try this the next time you’re in a supermarket – check to see which member of the family decides what goes into the shopping trolley. In most cases, it’s the woman of the house. Women have the last word in up to 80% of global buying decisions and control $20 trillion dollars of global consumer spending. Strangely though, we hold only 24% of the senior roles in the companies whose products we’re buying.
While misconceptions about women in relation to money and leadership still shape the corporate world, we’re striking out on our own and succeeding as start-up entrepreneurs. And here’s the clincher – we’re succeeding because of our experiences as women. We’re using everyday insights and challenges and building them into companies that are the answer to half the world’s problems. Here are some of our favourite examples from around the world and closer to home.
Sara Blakely, Founder, Spanx
The year was 1998 and Sara Blakely was staring at herself in the mirror, wondering how she could smoothen out the contours of her white pants in time for a party. It’s a scene that plays out with billions of women, but Blakely didn’t just have a great fix for the problem. She had a whopper of a business idea. She cut out the feet of her stockings and wore them under the pants, and Spanx was born. She was mass-producing shapewear by 2000, and soon had Oprah, Gwyneth Paltrow and Hollywood’s leading ladies endorsing her revolutionary brand. In 2012, Forbes Magazine named her the youngest self-made billionaire and she was also one of TIME’s 100 Most Influential People in the same year.
Aditi Gupta, Founder, Menstrupedia
Periods are challenging enough without misogynistic social customs. It’s an experience that Indian women are familiar with, but Aditi Gupta decided to do something about the shame and secrecy that she encountered while growing up. Menstrupedia began in 2009, while Gupta was studying at National Institute of Design, with a comic book that focussed on menstrual health and hygiene. In 2012, she and husband Tuhin Paul, who was a part of Menstrupedia from the get-go quit their jobs and started the platform with their savings.
Today, its educational material is circulated by more than 6,000 schools and 120 NGOs, reaching 2,50,000 girls across India. It also provides content in multiple languages and a platform that has all the answers a young girl could ask for. It’s an important start, as Aditi herself explains in this TED Talk:
Hena Mehta, Founder and CEO, Basis
Money has always been considered a man’s domain, at that’s exactly why Hena Mehta founded Basis, a platform that powers personal finance exclusively for women. After a decade spent working in the finance industry, Hena felt that despite earning more than ever and having different financial needs from men, women were being underserved by financial companies. For example, women get paid less than men because of the pay gap, so will have to invest in avenues that help bridge it.
Her biggest motivation, however, was the empowerment that financial independence can bring women. And thus began Basis, which offers customised financial plans for women, an online community where we can discuss everything related to money, and curated content that helps us maximise our earnings. Soon, Basis will also facilitate investments via the app, helping us grow our money on our own terms.
Emily Weiss, Founder and CEO, Glossier
The beauty industry, with its photoshopped perfection and physical stereotypes, has a way of making us women feel uncomfortable in our skin. The marketing efforts of big beauty brands have always followed a trickle-down model, pushing consumers to buy whatever is on the shelf and then pout and preen till we vaguely resemble the models in the ad campaign.
Emily Weiss saw an opportunity in the industry’s belief that only the experts know how to make a woman look beautiful; she turned it on its head, believing that ‘beauty isn’t created in the boardroom’. With her beauty brand, Glossier, she involved consumers to create a ‘people-powered beauty ecosystem’ that makes products in collaboration with consumers and a highly engaged online community. By helping women feel beautiful sans the stereotypes, Weiss has made the beauty industry a little less superficial.
Sairee Chahal, Founder and CEO, SHEROES
When Sairee Chahal was running Fleximoms, which found employment opportunities for mothers who were rejoining the workforce, she looked beyond the challenges and saw the potential that was just waiting to be mined. Soon, she launched SHEROES, the only platform with an eco-system in which we women can seek out a career at any stage of our lives.
While it began as a job portal, SHEROES has expanded into a women-only social networking site where members form and join communities, sell goods, swap stories, access exclusive content, and chat privately with a professional counsellor. Though Chahal set out to empower women through work, she has created something much larger and more important – a safe space in which we can be ourselves. And she did it in a way that only a woman can.