On Monday evening, February 6th, UCI ANTrepreneur Center gathered a panel of female entrepreneurs together to share their startup experiences. Focusing on shared challenges among entrepreneurs, attendees learned what it takes to be a “Girl Boss.” Panelists included Amy Jo Pedone of Valenza Chocolatier, Cassandra Miller of See Jane Go, Esosa Agbonwaneten of Bulletin App, Josephine Lee of The Pointe Shoppe Inc., and Mamta Jain Valderrama, author of A Girl in Traffick. A common thread among the diverse panel was the urge to change their careers to pursue work that aligned with their passions.
The panel discussion began with each speaker recounting what led them to entrepreneurship. On the origins of Valenza Chocolatier, Pedone shared that after 15 successful years in the real estate industry, she felt a need to change her path after her cousin’s passing. Taking time to reflect, Pedone decided to channel her Sicilian heritage and combine her passion for baking and fine chocolate–launching Valenza Chocolatier. Pedone noted a sense of culture shock transitioning from corporate life to running her own business. She noted an environment of “constant sharing” as one of the core values she has observed as an entrepreneur. For three years now, Valenza Chocolatier has been recognized by the Orange County Register as the #1 pick for the “Best of” chocolatier category.
In terms of flexibility as it relates to entrepreneurship, Miller and Agbonwaneten shared the challenges they faced early on which required them to pivot. Miller’s startup, See Jane Go, dubbed as the “Uber for Women,” experienced some technical issues during their beta, resulting in multiple drivers fulfilling the same request from a customer. Understanding the need in the market for women to access the sharing economy with fellow women drivers, they identified the impediments and corrected course to meet their customer’s needs. Understanding the process of lean startup, they knew that iterating based on updated information was key to moving quickly and efficiently. Agbonwaneten shared that for Bulletin, an app to help simplify life for both students and instructors, she and her team also made numerous adjustments based on the information they gathered by way of surveys and one-on-one interviews with potential customers. Staying flexible allowed them to overcome challenges and progress with real-time input from their market.
Lee of the Pointe Shop, originally a dance retail studio which eventually turned into a traveling business for pointe shoe fittings, shared she graduated in 2010 amidst a weak job market and with substantial student loan debt. Running a studio for two years as the sole employee and two years removed from college, Lee realized in her third year running the business that customers traveled extensively just for their pointe shoe fittings–helping her identify the core need of her market. “Your business will grow when you listen because you are not the expert; your customers are the experts,” said Lee. She stated that for a business to be successful through multiple iterations that “ego has to be detached and you have to be resilient.”
On the topic of what makes women strong leaders in their opinion, panelists unanimously agreed that women leaders share an edge that sets them apart. Valderrama shared that as the only author on the panel that her path mirrored the challenges that entrepreneurs face when building a business. Likening the inherent risk and scariness of dedicating herself to writing her book to that of starting a business, Valderrama stated that she felt like she had no other choice but to pursue her dream. A core trait she has observed of women entrepreneurs is that they develop a “tribe, a network we build with each other. There’s just a different way to be confident and approachable as women.”
Panelists concluded the event before the Q&A with some encouraging words. Although there is a misconception that a founder must be an expert in the area they are launching a business, Lee reassured attendees that “when you start your business, you just need to get people to do what you can’t do well. The only skill you really need to know is how to [identify] [complementary] skills in other people [who make up your team].” Valderrama concluded by encouraging attendees to “be willing to try everything, put your ego aside, and fail fast.”