According to Shopify, there are more than 11.6 million female founders in the United States alone, kicking ass and taking names. Their businesses employ more than 9 million people and have contributed a massive $1.7 trillion in revenue to the economy (you’re welcome, world).
So this International Women’s Day, we’re taking this opportunity to celebrate the achievements of female founders (some of whom work for Privy by day and are growing their own ecommerce stores on the side). We want to amplify their voices and share their sage advice, in hopes that it inspires the next generation of female ecommerce entrepreneurs to think bigger and grow faster.
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1. Rachel Lambo, Co-Founder of Sade Baron:
Rachel built Sade Baron along with her beloved mom, Sade, to offer healthy, clean, vegan body care products.
It all started with a product they believed in: they made 900 bars of soap. And in 3 days, they had sold 832 of them. Is your mind blown yet?
From there, their brand has been lovingly crafted through a journey of research and experimentation. You can hear more about their journey here:
It’s a classic story:
Our start was a need that was just not met. And we kept looking for it at stores, but we couldn’t find it. It was an experience we wanted to create beyond just the regular drug store options. We had our own personal skin issues and it was something that we wanted to nurture. Almost 5 years later, we’re still here.
My advice? think outside the box...or ditch the box altogether:
Be flexible and be able to pivot when needed. I think sometimes we are so fixed on what we see that we miss out on what could have been. Listening to your customers takes a lot of courage and being able to understand their needs has helped us a lot as a business.
Ask for help and be creative with the limited resources you have. Never give up and just keep going, even when it becomes extremely difficult. Sometimes we hope that family and friends will help, but not everyone sees your vision. So do not let that deter you from achieving your goals and greatness.
My simple marketing success strategy:
Our introductory offer and email flows have helped us start the conversation with our customers. I think our pop-ups with Privy definitely made things a lot better once we started implementing and showing based on a specific action or behavior. Absolute game changer!
My inspiration and listening list:
My mother Sade is so smart, funny, strong and persistent in everything she does. After my mom I would say Oprah, Martha Stewart and everyday women heroes I meet along the way. It's definitely hard being a woman at times but there are so many positives.
2. Amanda Muñoz, Founder of Arbor & Flora (and Sr. Software Engineer at Privy):
Shortly after joining Privy in 2020, Amanda started Arbor & Flora to share her love of plants with the world. And she really loves plants. I mean, look at her WFH setup:
Amanda carefully selects plants for Arbor & Flora that are low-maintenance in an indoor, northeastern environment. And I can show receipts, because even I, a notorious plant murderer, have kept one of her plants alive throughout the Boston winter. I’ll wait for your applause.
How I turned my passion into my side hustle:
Starting a business was the culmination of a lot of different things for me. Having recently started working at Privy, I was inspired by all of the small businesses we work with. I’d had an itch to start a business for a while, and getting exposure to the ecommerce space demystified some of it. Like many people during the pandemic, I found solace in one of my hobbies - growing, tending to, and collecting houseplants. The combination of this drive and a niche that I love and am knowledgeable about led to the creation of Arbor & Flora. I also have anxiety and ADHD, and getting on a good medication regime and working with an executive function coach has also played a huge role in helping me manage my energy levels.
Don’t be afraid to start:
One thing that surprised me was how simple it was to register a business with the federal and state governments. It lowered the barrier to entry.
Another lesson has been to figure out what works for me and my schedule, considering I work full-time at Privy. I'm lucky in that the houseplant niche right now is booming. People so often emphasize the hard and risky parts of starting a business, and I was surprised at how well my business has been received. There's currently more demand than I can supply with the time I dedicate to my business, which has forced me to be extra mindful of what I work on when I devote time to Arbor & Flora.
In a lot of ways, it's easier than ever to start an online business. My number one piece of advice is to not be afraid to start. Not everything needs to be 100% perfect for you to launch, start building a brand, and attract customers.
Try, try, and try again:
Not being afraid to experiment and try things out. As a software engineer who subscribes to lean product methodologies, I optimize for getting things out quickly to real customers as opposed to tons of planning.
I started my business partly because I love plants and want to share that love (and all the benefits that plants provide) with other people, and also for the sake of starting a business and all the lessons that come with it. When I first started, I didn't have a big plan. I built out a Shopify store and listed some succulent arrangements that I made. After having shared my shop with my neighborhood Facebook group, I immediately sold out. This taught me that there was excitement and support in what I was doing, and helped motivate me to keep going and start to build a customer base.
My inspiration and listening list:
Shannon McLay, Founder of The Financial Gym, which is a financial services company that helps clients make their finances work for them. Shannon's idea, her belief and execution of her idea (to pair clients with humans to help them holistically manage their finances) in the age of technology inspires me to pursue ideas even if they go against the current status quo.
She hosts a podcast called Martinis and your Money, which has many episodes focused on finance for entrepreneurs and founders.
3. Gaite Adolphe, Founder of A’Micille (and Account Executive at Privy):
Since joining Privy’s Sales team in 2019 (and helping thousands of brands grow with Privy ever since), Gaite recently started a brand of her own, inspired by her grandmother’s name and her love of gold jewelry.
A’Micille’s line of gold-plated, trendy, and affordable jewelry ranges from iconic lettered rings to gorgeous multilayered chains and statement hoops.
And if Gaite sells jewelry as well as she slings ecommerce marketing software, I’d say she’s going places.
How it started:
To be honest, boredom 😛. I randomly got inspired one night and just ran with it. Within hours, I had a Shopify store up and merchandise on the way.
My a-ha moment:
I’m learning new things every day, but so far I’ve learned to not overthink social media. I’ve always assumed that if you posted daily and were super active, that buyers would come. That’s not necessarily true. Don’t get me wrong, it definitely helps. However, there are lots of other ways to gain interest in your store.
I recently attended a Facebook Ads webinar and it honestly blew my mind. I wasn’t a fan of paid ads because I looked at them as a black hole. I assumed if you didn’t have thousands of dollars to spend, you could forget about it. I learned that the ways I was implementing paid ads prior to this webinar were the worst ways you could possibly implement them. In the coming weeks, I plan to test what I’ve learned and I’m excited to see the results.
The small change I’ve made that’s scored big bucks:
I’ve found that posting inventory levels on Instagram accelerates my sales. 9 times out of 10 the product I post will sell out within 48 hours.
Who inspires me:
Courtney Adeleye is definitely an inspiration. I’ve been following her journey for almost a decade now. What I love the most about her is her work ethic and generosity. For years, she’s been paying the bills, tuition, and vacations of her followers out of the kindness of her heart. She’s started multiple businesses, takes time out of her day to provide business advice on her social media, and I’m obsessed with her products. Her conditioner is honestly magical.
4. LaLa Romero, Co-Founder of Bella Doña:
BFF co-founders LaLa and Natalia rooted their growing brand in Chicano and LA culture, with a dash of nostalgia from their childhoods: long acrylic nails, giant gold hoops, and winged eyeliners. They love the City of Angels, long hot summer days, and looking fly as hell.
LaLa is unapologetic about the things that she loves and uses her voice and her business to express a point of view-- no matter what. And that edge seeps into Bella Doña’s marketing, resulting in one of my all-time favorite welcome displays:
How it started:
Before becoming an entrepreneur, I was a singer/songwriter. And as an indie artist, I built a large grassroots following on social media, just by word of mouth to promote my music. I also styled my own music videos, making a lot of original clothing pieces for my looks and girls would always ask me about them. Realizing the potential and seeing a huge space in the market to tell my story through streetwear fashion is how Bella Doña came to be! We've recently expanded that story with our new beauty brand, Sweet Street Cosmetics. Both brands are heavily inspired by and deeply rooted in our love of music and West Coast culture.
Trust your instincts:
The most important thing I have learned through every iteration of my career is to trust my instincts. I trust my gut over data, over what my mentors may recommend, over everything. No one understands our customers like we do, because we are our customers!
The best advice I can give female founders starting out is to build your own team. We've worn and continue to wear so many hats over the years to make it all happen, but the most important thing I have done for my business is find and hire the right people to help us grow. You want people who are aligned with your vision and values who bring an expertise to make the business more successful.
Staying true to your brand = success:
Really laying out our brand values and always sticking to them has been key in our growth. We have grown a very large customer base and social media following from staying true to those values. Sisterhood & Neighborhood are at the root of everything we do and our customers know they can count on that.
My inspiration, and why TikTok is a must for ecommerce brands:
My grandma who raised me is my biggest inspo. Growing up without much, watching her make everything out of nothing was really magical. She taught me resilience and discipline, but more importantly, she taught me to always be proud of where I come from and to represent it to the fullest! There are a lot of struggles that come with growing up poor, but there is also beauty to be found in those struggles. That sentence is basically the thesis of all my life’s work and Bella Doña’s brand identity. Everything FLY starts in the neighborhood.
If you’re not already on TikTok, do it. TikTok has loads of small business information that's really accessible for women (or anyone) who is just starting out. Lots of entrepreneurs and marketing experts sharing stories, tips, resources and advice. I think it's a great community to tap into for anyone who is just starting out and the perfect space to get their story and business seen and shared by a supportive community.
5. Evelyn Hartz, Founder of tasteas (and Product Manager at Privy)
How it started:
A few years ago I quit my job to do a 6-month trip around the world. I always wanted to see Mount Everest so that brought me to Nepal.
During my month-long stay, I volunteered at a non-profit. Every day around 2pm the small office of 15 people would stop to take a 20-minute tea break. I came to really enjoy that shared experience of taking a break and catching up with friends or co-workers over a warm beverage.
When I returned to the US, I searched everywhere for Nepali tea and luckily enough found one of the world’s best Nepali tea suppliers in Boston where I live. At the time, I was working at Privy. I was interested in ecommerce and super inspired by our customers who run online stores. So, I figured why not give it a shot?
My advice? Go easy on yourself.
When I told Ben (Privy’s CEO) that I was planning to launch an online store as a side project, I told him I’d be up and running in a couple months. It’s taken me a year 😂 .
So, I’d say go easy on yourself if you don’t meet initial deadlines you set for yourself. Having worked in startups for most of my career, I feel like it’s been drilled into me to “launch early and often.” But, sometimes things take time and that’s okay too. You do you.
Grow your email list before you’ve even launched:
Start growing your email list from day one. Actually, scratch that. Day zero.
You don’t even need to have a product yet. A couple weeks ago I put up a pre-launch page (just using Shopify’s out-of-the-box coming soon page), and already have seen a few strangers (and co-workers) sign up.
It’s always easier to launch when you have someone to launch to. And you don’t need to spend a ton of money on paid advertising to get started.
My inspiration and listening list:
I recently met Mary Imevbore who is launching Waeve. We have entirely different products, but I love her approach to marketing. (For inspo, take a look at her Instagram account. It’s a case study in community-building.)
My product is in the beverage space so I’ve also been really inspired by Helena Price Hambrecht, Co-Founder of Haus. This podcast episode is an oldie, but goodie where she talks about how to acquire new customers from your existing ones, make your packaging stand out, and a host of other great topics.
6. Amy Gabriel, Founder & CEO of LippyClip:
Like thousands who came before her, Amy started her own Etsy shop to earn some extra cash. And when her lip balm holder keychains took off, LippyClip became her full-time gig.
Now she leads a 100% women owned and operated business (debt-free!), which is pretty much the coolest thing you can do.
How it started:
I started LippyClip in 2012 when I was working as a pediatric nurse and was the sole breadwinner for our family (my husband and two young kids). My career took a nosedive turn in a short time, and I needed a way to support my family while my husband finished graduate school. Growing up, my mother and grandmothers taught me to sew, and it was something I always loved. I began sewing small giftable items, and listing them on Etsy. The LippyClip quickly emerged as a top seller. Slowly, my business gained momentum online and built a loyal following.
Learn by doing:
When I first started my business, I did everything on my own. I'm so grateful for those early days of learning one skill at a time. I had to learn everything — how to ship, photography, Facebook ads, inventory management— all of it. Today, I have a team of 16 women who work for Team LippyClip, and they help carry the business forward each day. Every one of them does a job that I did at one time, and I'm so thankful that we started small so I could learn along the way.
My business has always been debt free. I'm a huge fan of the debt-free lifestyle and think it's the best way to grow a business. It may not be the fastest, but it's certainly the safest. You'll never regret staying debt free as a business owner.
My most critical strategy:
I'm committed to running a business that treats people well, with extraordinary care and compassion, the way I'd want to be treated, too. I believe that running a business is a big deal, and I should do it honestly, with the highest degree of integrity, and filled with grace. Ultimately, my strategy is to treat people with kindness, care, and love — whether that's team members, mail carriers, service providers, customers, or followers. How I treat people is way more important than making a sale, closing the deal, or hitting a financial goal.
My reading list:
I'm a huge fan of Lara Casey of Cultivate What Matters. Her PowerSheets and Making Things Happen conference have been revolutionary for my personal life and business.
Rebecca Smith of Better Life Bags is a forerunner in my industry and her book was life-changing for me. I also enjoy watching what brands bigger than I are doing, and cheering on real-life and internet friends who are making waves in our industry.
7. Maire Murphy, Founder of Capabunga:
Tired of your wine getting skunked and your cheese getting moldy before you have the chance to enjoy them? These are the kinds of annoying everyday problems Capabunga is valiantly solving for the world.
Máire and her husband, Walt invented a cap to reseal an open bottle, proving not all heroes wear capes.
So what did they do after trying it out with their own wine brand? They went all in. They peddled their new creation to the New York Gift Show, and it was a tremendous success. The rest, they say, is history.
How it started:
We used to be in the wine business. We made a Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon and my husband invented a cap to reseal that wine and as a way to offer permanent branding to wineries after the wine was gone. Once I saw how well it worked I realized all wine drinkers needed at least one. I sold them to wineries first and then after creating some fun slogans we launched them to the gift world and haven’t looked back.
Why my mistakes were all worth it:
I always like to say I’ve learnt more from my mistakes than my successes. Mistakes are definitely a necessary evil but you grow more from experiencing them and it helps you avoid the same ones next time- but they also help you hone in ideas for the future. When I think we can invent a product or close a sale, we usually can; I just have to keep the vision in sight and remember that cynicism is obedience to the status quo.
If you’re doing something unique, people will often try to knock you off course. One of the best pieces of advice I got was to insist on division of labor as the business grew. You can overlap jobs in your biz but it’s better to have each person stick with their strengths. It’s been very true for me and people perform better when they’re happy doing what they know they’re good at instead of pretending to be good at everything.
Your fans will do the work for you:
We’re trying really hard to connect with our customers as fans instead of just seeing them as customers. We’re adopting more of a nurture mindset. They’re spreading the word for us with their friends and family– they’re our biggest advocates so we want to keep them close. Privy has been really helpful for us in cultivating those relationships regularly.
Other good additions have been cross-sell popups when finalizing the cart as well as adding reviews to our site. One helps before the sale the other when it’s nearly completed:
My inspiration and listening list:
So many, but ultimately my Mum was my biggest business inspiration. She ran a business in Belfast, Northern Ireland in an all-male industry in the middle of the Troubles and did it with panache and chutzpah. She was incredibly tenacious – in fact our corporation name is named for her (WWRD – What would Rosaleen do?).
Also, a couple of podcast recs to inspire you- How I Built This for enlightenment and encouragement, and Business Made Simple to keep me on track with staying true to our storybrand concept– both frequently have female guests!
There’s no single right way to start and grow a business. Start with an idea, and fire off some simple strategies that will leave a big impact. Ultimately, just experiment, learn, and enjoy the journey— you’ll find what works best for you and your store.