Women Entrepreneurs: Going Gaga

Stephen DeAngelis

October 03, 2011

Kristyn Wilson, Media Relations Director for Resource Interactive, told me, “The number of woman owned businesses in the U.S. is growing, but only five percent of the estimated $36 billion invested by venture capitalists goes to women.” Her company hopes to do its part to change that statistic. Resource Interactive creates “consumer-driven digital strategies” for companies, including Fortune 500 companies. It was also founded by a woman, Nancy Kramer, and has a female Chief Executive Officer, Kelly Mooney. Kramer and Mooney want to see more successful female entrepreneurs and they are making a great offer to help one lucky woman. Before discussing Kramer’s and Mooney’s exciting offer, I want to discuss a few female entrepreneurs that have made the plunge despite the odds against them.

Perhaps the most successful recent female entrepreneur is Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta. Last year she generated revenue estimated at $62 million. Never heard of Germanotta? Probably not by that name; but you’ve undoubtedly heard of her stage name: Lady Gaga. Sarah E. Needleman reports that Lady Gaga is the “seventh highest-paid musician in the world.” Not bad for a 25 year-old. [“What Aspiring Entrepreneurs Can Learn From Lady Gaga,” Wall Street Journal, 2 June 2011] Needleman continues:

“She boasts a range of products, including camera sunglasses for Polaroid and headphones for Dr. Dre, and she’s developed lucrative partnerships with companies like Amazon and Zynga. Suffice to say, Lady Gaga has demonstrated in just a handful of years the kind of business growth that few entrepreneurs have been able to claim over a lifetime.”

Few entrepreneurs (regardless of their economic sector) can boast of the kind of success that Lady Gaga has achieved, but Needleman claims that there are three lessons to be learned from Lady Gaga’s “rise to stardom”:

1. It doesn’t take a silver spoon to succeed at a young age. Like many a first-time entrepreneur, Lady Gaga … worked her way into the public mainstream from humble beginnings. She wasn’t born into a wealthy family, nor did she have connections to the professional music world. She rose to stardom the old-fashioned way — studying music and dance, performing at small venues and battling rejection. (She was dropped from a record deal with Def Jam Records.) For more, please read ‘Lady Gaga Inc.‘”

Obviously, Lady Gaga set out on her journey with destination firmly in mind. She was determined to succeed in the entertainment industry. Other entrepreneurs, like the next one I’ll discuss, stumble into their opportunities. Either way, success requires hard work and taking risks. Needleman’s next “Lady Gaga tip” is about creating buzz without spending money.

2. You don’t have to spend money to promote yourself online. Lady Gaga has amassed an army of fans on Facebook and Twitter, even more than President Obama – all without paying a dime. They also didn’t arrive over night. The ‘Fame Monster’ initially posted videos to YouTube, becoming the first artist to score more than one billion views on the video-sharing site. While the average entrepreneur may not generate as much buzz with an online song and dance routine, it is possible to build a following with a creative video and without spending much.”

Needleman goes on to discuss another company that managed to create online buzz — “Orabrush Inc., a two-year-old Provo, Utah, company.” To read more about Orabrush’s fascinating story, read my post entitled Orabrush, Laughter, and the Wal-Mart Supply Chain. Needleman’s final tip is that you can create buzz by supporting social causes.

3. Supporting a popular cause can make you popular, too. Lady Gaga has forged deep ties with the gay community by openly protesting the government’s ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ policy banning gays from the U.S. military. For example, last year she began campaigning with the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network to repeal the law with a YouTube video plea and postings on her website. Though it’s unclear how such acts of advocacy might drive sales, experts in cause marketing say even if consumers aren’t big fans of your product or service, they may be inclined to buy from your business if it’s aligned with a cause that’s meaningful to them. In fact, 80% of 1,057 U.S. adults surveyed last July said they’d favor a brand that’s associated with a good cause over another that’s similar in price and quality, according to Cone LLC, a strategy and communications agency in Boston.”

The next female entrepreneur I’d like to discuss, Maia Josebachvili, is also under 30. Unlike Lady Gaga, she didn’t set out on a determined journey with a destination in mind. By chance she followed a course that led to a business in the tourist industry. “After graduating college in 2005, Maia Josebachvili missed the outdoor activities of her undergraduate years at Dartmouth College. So the then-21-year-old started organizing weekend trips with friends by email to go whitewater rafting, hiking or camping. Soon, hundreds of friends-of-friends-of-friends were attending the trips she planned.” [“Creating a Company,” by Rachel Louise Ensign, Wall Street Journal, 12 June 2011]

“In 2008, Ms. Josebachvili decided to turn her weekend hobby into a full-time gig by launching her own company, Urban Escapes, which plans outdoor trips for young professionals. Last year, it was acquired by online coupon site LivingSocial. Starting a business is an enticing idea for many young professionals. After all, you’ll be able to work at something you’re passionate about, exercise your creativity and be your own boss. And your twenties are a good time to take career risks since younger workers typically don’t have commitments like a family or a mortgage.”

Ensign warns, as I have in the past, that success doesn’t come easy (see my post entitled Entrepreneurship Not for the Faint of Heart). She writes:

“It’s often a hard climb, and many small businesses fail — especially if a young entrepreneur lacks a business plan that suits his or her limited expertise and isn’t willing to sacrifice time and money. With limited business expertise and knowledge, twentysomething entrepreneurs should capitalize on what they do know. For instance, you could turn a hobby into a business, like Ms. Josebachvili, or invent something you’ve seen a need for. … Since younger entrepreneurs typically don’t have a family to care and provide for, they can devote more time to getting a business off the ground and are often more willing to take a salary cut than older entrepreneurs. Ms. Josebachvili estimates she made 2% of her former salary and was working three times as many hours when launching Urban Escapes.”

Those last few comments provide a good segue into the next two articles I’d to discuss. They involve older female entrepreneurs and women with families. Not all female entrepreneurs are young. Carol Mintz, for example, started a company so that her two unemployed daughters would have jobs. [“At Family Business, Mom’s In Charge,” by Angus Loten, Wall Street Journal, 19 April 2011] Loten writes:

“Carol Mintz never thought she’d own a business let alone share the responsibilities of running one with her family. At 64, after a 30-year career in media marketing and advertising, she was ready for a comfortable retirement, spending more time in her garden. But then the recession struck, and though Mintz was left unscathed, her twin daughters weren’t. Laid off and looking for work, her daughters discovered a local boutique that sold second-hand children’s clothing. ‘They kept telling me about this great store that had so much potential but needed a little TLC,’ says Mintz. By early 2010, the Mintz women were in business.”

Interestingly, Loten reports that “an estimated 90% of businesses in the U.S. are family-owned or -controlled” and “a growing number of the businesses … are being led by a matriarch.” He continues:

“According to MassMutual’s latest American Family Business Survey, the number of female CEOs or presidents at family-run firms more than doubled between 2002 and 2008, to about one quarter of all family businesses. ‘We’ve seen a lot more women leaving the corporate world to go into business for themselves and many of them are parents,’ says Isisara Bey, vice president of programming and education at Count Me In, a New York-based non-profit group that provides coaching to women business owners.”

If a female entrepreneur has a family, the challenges she faces increase substantially. Sharon Smith calls these courageous women “mumtrepreneurs.” [“Ask the experts: becoming a mumtrepreneur,” Financial Times, 26 September 2011] She writes:

“‘Mumtrepreneurs’ who have built up global companies include the late Dame Anita Roddick, of ethical soaps business Body Shop, Michelle Mone, the founder of MJM, the lingerie company, and Natalie Ellis of Prestige Pet Products. For all mumtrepreneurs, the work-home balance is a key issue. Making a decision early on about childcare is essential, according to Cara Sayer, creator of the SnoozeShade. … Ellis agrees. ‘The biggest struggle was knowing where to draw the line between time spent nurturing my business and time spent nurturing my daughter,’ she says. ‘If you get the mix right, being a mumtrepreneur has huge rewards. We are around more for our children and we have a bright future with a business that will one day be a saleable asset. I would recommend it to any one who has a business idea they are passionate about, and are willing to invest the time and not become distracted with the day to day tasks around the home – or in my case, the contents of the fridge.'”

Smith confirms what Wilson told me: getting financing is difficult for female entrepreneurs. Smith writes:

“One difficulty is trying to raise funding and establishing yourself and your new ideas, according to Lynda Harding, the founder of Easidream, a baby sleeping aids company. ‘There can be a clear disadvantage to being a mum in business, as there’s still a small minority of the business world who don’t take you seriously and just think that you’re playing at it,’ she says. ‘Having established three successful businesses, this can be incredibly patronising – but you have to develop a thick skin to overcome it.'”

Overcoming challenges is exactly what the the exciting offer from Nancy Kramer and Kelly Mooney is all about. As Kristyn Wilson told me:

“They just launched RI:30 – a chance for one woman-owned business to work together with Resource Interactive for free for one year. This opportunity is worth hundreds of thousands of dollars and the winner will work together with the same digital strategists who launched the digital presence for many Fortune 500 companies. This opportunity will have a huge impact on one woman’s business. This is Resource’s way of paying it forward for 30 great years in business. That may not seem like a ripe old age for most businesses, but for a women-owned digital marketing agency, it’s rare. Nancy started the business before the digital revolution in Silicon Valley went mainstream, and being a woman in business, she struggled to find the support she needed – even though Apple was her first client. Despite her hardships, she was able to build a multi-million dollar business that has launched the digital presence of some of the world’s biggest brands (Victoria’s Secret, P&G, HP).”

Wilson concluded, “Women need to help other women in business, and that’s what RI:30 does. It’s an opportunity unlike any other.” In order to get a chance to win this opportunity, “a female business owner will ‘Like’ Resource Interactive on Facebook, complete a form and questionnaire, and submit a video featuring her company. The deadline to enter RI:30 is November 23rd, 2011, with the winner being announced in January 2012.” I wish all of you potential winners good luck — and may the best woman win.