Being an entrepreneur can provide a tremendous amount of personal and professional freedom, but jumping into and navigating the startup world comes with its own obstacles. As women-owned businesses are growing in size, companies with female founders earned only 2.2 percent of the $130 billion venture capital investments awarded in 2018. The statistics are even more grim for female founders of color.
Alexé Weymouth, Global Women’s Business Resource Group lead at Booz Allen, sat down with B.J. Wiley Williams, founder and CEO of SoHookd, and Michelle Brown, founder and CEO of CommonLit to discuss how they built their startups from the ground up, approach risk taking, and stay empowered in traditionally male-dominated spaces. Here are their top takeaways for taking a professional leap:
Tip No. 1: When in doubt, follow your passion and curiosity
Navigating your career can sometimes feel overwhelming—especially when jumping from a stable corporate life to the more volatile entrepreneurial world. When she became unsure about what to do next, B.J. said, “I used passion and intuition as my compass.” Both B.J. and Michelle went through a series of jobs and academic degrees to figure out what they wanted––and didn’t want––to pursue.
In B.J.’s case, her love for the wellness industry led her to want to learn more and start her own wellness-focused company. To fully immerse herself, she left her corporate consulting job to work as a store manager for an athleisure brand. Working on the sales floor, interacting with customers every day gave her the opportunity to better understand the market. While she left what might have been seen as a more stable and safe job, following her passion and curiosity led B.J. to gain knowledge that ultimately equipped her to found her own company.
For Michelle, learning in grad school about how slowly educational policy moves ignited her fervor to find a solution. After expressing her frustration, Michelle’s academic advisor suggested she develop a business plan to fill the gaps she saw in the system. That business plan became the foundation of CommonLit.
B.J. and Michelle’s companies didn’t come together overnight; however, they made the most out of each opportunity by enjoying and learning from what the present moment had to offer.