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7 Female Founders Share How They First Started Their Business

With International Women’s Day approaching, we wanted to feature some inspiring businesswomen and hear their stories on how they got their start – from failures to dreaming big and making it happen, here are seven female founders on how they began their business.


“Growing up everyone always told me what I ‘should’ be doing and I did all of those things because I thought that’s what would make me look successful to people and they would be proud of me. One day I decided to stop doing all the shoulds, hired a life coach and quit my job teaching to start living an unconventional lifestyle of entrepreneurship. I felt so restricted and miserable working as a teacher and knew that I had to make things happen for myself if I wanted my life to change.

That’s why I hired a life coach in the first place. Doing so made me realize I didn’t have to be a teacher forever. I became a life coach and started making more money in my first year coaching than I did as a teacher. Things just kept growing and eventually, Katie invited me to partner with her and grow IGC.
 
Two years into business, I discovered that my partner had been cheating on me with multiple women and I was forced to suddenly move my two sons, two dogs and myself into a new home and learn to single parent while running a full-time business.
 
The experience was absolutely heartbreaking, but it ended up making me stronger. I realized I didn’t need to rely on a man to be financially successful. I had Inner Glow Circle, which was more than providing for me and my two sons. It was one of the toughest seasons of my life, but I made it through and I’m glowing more than ever. If I wasn’t resilient during that time, I wouldn’t be here now.” –Liv Chapman, Co-Founder of Inner Glow Circle
 
Cathryn Lavery, co-founder & CEO of BestSelf Co.
 
“My journey into personal development started in 2012 when I started my first business and began devouring personal development books on my commute to and from my architecture job in NYC. When I started applying what I learned and experimenting, I started to get more accomplished, felt happier and everything in my life got an upgrade. Then I realized what was missing from the traditional education system and wished more people could experience this change earlier in life. That was why I decided to start BestSelf Co. It started not as a business but as a passion project on the side of other businesses. Our first product, the SELF Journal came from scratching our own itch and wanting a journal goal system to exist for ourselves. When our Kickstarter was funded in only 28 hours and went on to raise over $322,000, I knew we were onto something and that’s when I really started to focus on it as a business. Since starting it we’ve helped hundreds of thousands of people reach their goals, get back their time and lead better lives. Continuing this trend is what keeps myself and the BestSelf team pushing forward and improving everyday.
 
We launched our first product, the Self Journal on Kickstarter. I had some prior experience with Kickstarter from a previous business so I knew a lot about launching a successful campaign – although with BestSelf it would be my most successful yet. You can find the details of how we did this here. The money raised from our crowdfunding campaign allowed us to fulfill our orders and launch our online store on January 1st 2016. Since then we have grown from a 2 person to a 10 person team, all working remotely across the US, Canada and Europe. In 2016, we won the Shopify Build a Business award which was an annual competition for brand new businesses. Then less than a year later we had scaled almost 4X in revenue and won the Shopify Build a BIGGER Business award in partnership with Tony Robbins. Meeting mentors like Tim Ferris, Marie Forleo, Daymond John and Tony Robbins was an incredible experience. Since then we have placed #318 on the Inc 5000 in 2019 and are continuing to grow. Over the past five years, I have had to learn many new skills to get the business to the next level, it has been at times tough, challenging but definitely worth it.It’s great to be setting an example for other women who want to start their own business or trailblaze their own path. As a child, I never knew this was a career path. In fact, I didn’t know anyone – man or women who ran their own business growing up, my parents and everyone I knew had “regular” jobs. Never give up on learning new skills and focusing on where you want to be. Never settle for less than you deserve or you’ll always be thinking what if. Time is our most valuable asset and we can convert it into anything we want, more money, more experiences, more skills — we just have to ensure we’re intentional with it.” – Cathryn Lavery, co-founder & CEO of BestSelf Co.
 
Ashley Mason, Founder of Dash Of Social
 
“I actually started my business because my mom was diagnosed with Glioblastoma – Grade IV brain cancer – the day after my 19th birthday. I always knew that I wanted to start a business, but I felt like I HAD to graduate from college and have a successful 20+ year career before transitioning into my own venture. However, her diagnosis made me realize that life is short, and the best time to follow your dreams is now – so I did.
 
A few things I learned in the beginning: 1) If a project doesn’t excite you or feel like a good fit, follow your gut! These projects always turn into headaches, and the stress is not worth the money. 2) Other people’s opinions do not define your capabilities. I faced a lot of ageism being only 19 when I started, but these people acted as my motivators to keep going and prove them wrong. 3) Always surround yourself with people who are smarter than you. It’s how you learn and grow.” – Ashley Mason, Founder of Dash Of Social
 
Sara Schaer, co-founder & CEO of Kango

“Like many good business ideas, the inspiration for Kango came from my personal life. As a busy tech executive and parent, I often found myself challenged without an extra set of hands to get my children to and from school. So many mornings were spent rushing to get my children to preschool on time before heading to the office. I knew there had to be a better solution to the carpool chaos. I launched Kango in 2012 as a peer-to-peer carpool service that helped moms and dads find and coordinate carpool rides with one another. As the platform grew, we saw that parents didn’t just need another parent to lean on – they need a trusted, reliable childcare provider on wheels to get the job done. In 2015, we began making Kango the service it is today, the award-winning childcare on wheels service that’s helping families across the country do more.

When my co-founder and CTO Kaliyuga Sivakumar and I launched Kango, the success of a ride-sharing service for kids was far from guaranteed. We were confident that it filled a crucial need, but we didn’t know what the adoption rate would be. Now, it’s evident that the marketplace has been validated as parents rely more and more on Kango’s service, and it’s exciting to see the demand coming from cities across the country. Kango is committed to continuing to be the most reliable, trusted, safest ride-share service and we’re looking forward to continuing to grow and care for even more busy families.

I’d advise other women entrepreneurs to work on an idea that you’re passionate about and willing to devote all of your energy to. Good ideas don’t become good businesses without passion and an unending commitment to seeing your idea come to fruition. I fully believe in Kango’s mission to empower busy families to do more, and even throughout the tough days, this strongly-held belief kept me motivated.” – Sara Schaer, co-founder & CEO of Kango

Tonya Dalton, Founder of inkWELL Press Productivity Co.

“It started with a phone call. My husband John was somewhere in the world on one of his marathon business trips. With an MBA in marketing, he was constantly traveling the globe working with Fortune 500 companies. I was describing what happened with the kids that day when he said three words that nearly broke my heart: ‘I’m missing everything.’

At that moment, something in me shifted. I knew the little side business I had started with only $50 was going to change the lives of my family. I set a big goal for myself, standing there in the middle of my kitchen. I decided that I was going to grow my business so my husband could leave corporate America behind for good and come work with me.

It wasn’t a simple process, but I am a stubborn woman (I always have been) and I knew I could do it… so I pulled out a planner and I laid out my plans right there at my kitchen table while the evening light streamed in and my kids played at my feet. I wrote out milestones, I designed streamlined systems and I organized…stopping only for a short time to bathe the kids and tuck them into bed. I kissed them hurriedly that night with no extra bedtime stories because I was already itching to get back downstairs to the skeleton of a business plan I was creating. I had an idea formulating in my head and I couldn’t rest until I sketched it out on paper.

Now, I’ve always loved organizing, so that part was easy, but I realized that I had to push my productivity to an all-time high because I was still a full-time stay at home mom raising 2 small kids with a husband who traveled for weeks on end at times. But I did it… by 2009, I had grown my business to the point that my husband was able to permanently leave the corporate world behind forever and come and work with me at the business I had created.

As my business grew and grew and grew, I had people consult with me about growing their own companies… and I found that the places they were struggling most was with their organizational systems and productivity (two of my most favorite things to talk about!). So when the fall of 2013 hit and I found I had lost some of that fire and passion for my business, I knew I had to get it back. I did some serious soul searching, and I found that I really wanted to help others achieve their dreams through productivity – just as I did mine. I shut down my business and I shifted gears once again and opened inkWELL Press.

One of the biggest challenges in closing down my jewelry business and opening inkWELL Press was figuring out how to budget my family’s finances and survive six months without income. But because my husband and I knew we were chasing our big dream, we found saying no to the little splurges in life was actually easy when looking at the big picture.

Because of the rapid growth of inkWELL Press, I had to make a lot of sacrifices personally during the first year of business. There were times that I wasn’t able to be the hands-on mom that I really like to be to my kids—time I cannot get back. I wish I had told myself to outsource a bit more. Instead of designing and coding the website myself, I should have hired out… things like that. Sometimes it can be scary turning things (especially important things!) over to others, but I really should have looked at my plate with a more realistic eye. I believe though, that every struggle is a learning experience, so I am working hard to not make this mistake again.”  Tonya Dalton, Founder of inkWELL Press Productivity Co.

Katie DePaola, Co-founder of Inner Glow Circle
 
“I started my first business at the age of 24 and it was an organic spray tanning company called Whole Glow.

You know how they say hairstylists have all the secrets in the world? Well, I think spray tan artists have even more secrets, because we get clients totally stripped down… literally, and as it turns out, figuratively too. 

My clients would share everything with me — family issues, breakups, fertility challenges — you name it. It was then that I discovered my true passion and gift: having people open up to me and helping them through challenging times. 

Since my clients were being so open, I knew I needed some sort of professional training to be able to support them. I set my vision on life coaching and was able to build Whole Glow into a double business venture: “outer glow” services with the spray tanning and “inner glow” with the life coaching. You may find those two things to be an odd pairing, but because I had such a loyal customer base who trusted me, it took off. People loved the mix between the inner and outer glow! 

As my path with life coaching evolved, I decided to launch Inner Glow Circle, a coaching and training company for women entrepreneurs that offered support from many coaches and experts, not just me! I started to realize it was my calling to help people build successful lives and businesses, and with that came a sense of tremendous pride. It felt like a rebirth, like there was so much on the horizon to look forward to.

100 days into the launch of Inner Glow Circle, I received a phone call that my brother Bo passed away from an overdose. His death turned my world upside down. I started to question everything. 

But just in case the grief wasn’t enough to take on, I was also battling Lyme disease. After ten years of misdiagnosis, I lost feeling in half of my body. I kept working through the pain, but it took a toll. The Lyme was getting worse, and I started to really worry that I didn’t have much time left. Even though I was in treatment, I lived in fear the paralysis would return, and I’d have to spend the rest of my life in a wheelchair.

Between meetings, I cried, punched my pillow and made deals with God. I knew giving up wasn’t an option. Even on the hardest days, I still had somewhere to be. I had created something in my life that was worth showing up for. I knew I needed to work quickly and efficiently to build a business that I could feel supported by no matter where I was physically, mentally or emotionally.

In dealing with these personal hardships, I had to learn how to ask for help, delegate and hire the right people fast. I decided to hire Liv to help me scale the business, which was the best decision I ever made. I am really good at creative things and the overall vision for the company and Liv’s background as a school teacher means she’s really good at creating curriculum. Liv was able to design our Coach Training curriculum while I could keep working on the bigger vision for the company.” Katie DePaola, Co-founder of Inner Glow Circle

 

Erika De La Cruz, Best Selling Author & Founder of Passion to Paycheck

“When I first began conceptualizing ideas for my business, I was doing it all alone. It was really easy to get taken out or discouraged because I was subscribing to all the negative thoughts as if it was real. Putting yourself in the public eye is extremely difficult. Not everyone is going to love you or what you’re serving. You might face a lot of rejection and it is an uphill battle. One of the most important things I learned early on is the value of surrounding yourself with peers and business partners who you align with both spiritually and professionally. People that allowed me to see my vision in a real way and believed in my worth. One of my most successful endeavors was completing the now Amazon best-selling book, Passionistas: Tips, Tales and Tweetables From Women Pursuing Their Dreams. That would not have happened if I didn’t have people around me holding me accountable for my worth and my dreams. It is so easy to get lost or drown in your own thoughts, especially in this day and age. To find a support system that reminds you of your worth and keep you grounded is invaluable.

My favorite quote I remind myself of is 4 SWs: some will, some won’t, so what and someone’s waiting. That tip was shared with me because I was making the efforts.  I was putting myself out there. I was networking and showing up for events and for myself and that is what brought me to where I am today; launching the Passion to Paycheck VIP Membership. I want to show up for people and remind them of what they are worth.” –Erika De La Cruz, Best Selling Author & Founder of Passion to Paycheck