Sarah Sommers is the Co-Founder & VP of Brand Strategy & Partnerships at an incredible company, IFundWomen, that helps women kick-start and grow their businesses. They close the funding gap for women-owned businesses, by providing them access to debt-free capital. It’s crazy to believe that less than 3% of all venture capital raised last year went to female-founded companies.
Sarah and I unpacked the unexpected challenges she faced when growing IFundWomen, the importance of the customer discovery process, one of the greatest gifts you can have as a founder, and how profound networking can be to your overall success.
Sometimes you have to build a scrappy MVP.
IFundWomen have set themselves apart in the marketplace compared to traditional funding options for startups that are more equity-based, where you’re “giving up a piece of the pie.” They believe strongly in the power of debt-free capital and surrounding themselves with partners who can help supercharge small businesses within their network.
It’s beautiful to think about building a business from the ground up and strengthening your abilities as a founder while you map out your marketing strategy, your pitch, and different audience segments. And raising money through crowdfunding gathers many different people around your mission, laddering up to a very specific goal amount that you’ve set.
As Sarah looked back on the early days at IFundWomen, there was a lot of testing, iterating, and learning. You throw stuff at the wall and see what sticks. Alongside her other partners Karen and Kate, they built their first website on SquareSpace and one by one, called 20 of their closest entrepreneur friends, asking them to be beta testers. They had no intuitive resources of their own to raise capital and quickly realized they needed to have their boots on the ground.
When you’re just getting started, you’ll operate both tactically and strategically.
If you’re a new entrepreneur or are in the early stages of forming your business, Sarah shared so many gems throughout our conversation about how to learn and grow.
First? Consider joining thousands of other women entrepreneurs in IFundWomen’s network and dive into some of their free resources. The value in joining a community of like-minded women that are also knee-deep in the hustle with you is invaluable. And you’ll not only meet some who are just getting started, but there are others in the space who have 5, 10, or more years of experience.
IFundWomen also regularly hosts webinars, and there’s even an e-course on crowdfunding that will teach you how to raise the most money possible.
When you’re growing a business, you wear a lot of hats, and there’s often this juggle of operating both tactically and strategically, as Sarah shared. There is so much to do and execute on, it can feel like you’re constantly checking things off a to-do list. While balance can be elusive, give yourself space to experience every moment, and one of the biggest gifts you can have as a founder is the ability to hire a great team and empower others to take ownership of different facets of your business.
Create a network that feels like a safe space.
Sarah reminded us that when we find ourselves at a networking event feeling awkward, trying to present the perfect version of ourselves, we forget how easy it would be to have a normal conversation and reap the benefits of that.
As a rule of thumb, see how you can strategically form symbiotic relationships as you’re building your network. Does someone in your network have expertise in an area that you don’t? Are there opportunities where you can support someone else? Own your own expertise, too and feel confident in that. Your experiences are valid and have value.
The most fulfilling feeling in the world is knowing that you’re bringing something meaningful to the table that will powerfully impact the other person.
As you throw your heart into your business going forward, Sarah left us with a valuable piece of advice: don’t do anything for the money. Stay true to yourself and do what is going to bring you the most joy.
“Preparing and running a rewards-based crowdfunding campaign strengthens your abilities as a founder. You’re forced to execute on the basic building blocks of a business.”