Tag Archives: Confidence

Feeling like a #girlboss

Just like I didn’t appreciate how American I was until I spent time living abroad, and just like I didn’t realize how Midwestern I was until I moved to the east coast, I didn’t realize how female I was until I started my own business in a male-dominated field. I became acutely aware of this while listening to the 5th episode of the Pancake Town podcast from Chicago business owners Emily and Michelle about their distaste for the word “girlboss” in particular and for women-focused business support groups in general because those things are, or at least represent, a lifeline for me.

I didn’t always feel like I needed to be a part of women’s groups. Industrial design is a male dominated profession (although that’s certainly changing) and I always liked working with the guys. In my mid-twenties, I was the Chair of the Chicago Chapter of the Industrial Designer Society of America (IDSA). At the annual meeting, where the Chapter Chairs from across the country got together, I got chummy with a woman of a similar age who ran the Atlanta Chapter. At one point during the meeting, a woman in her 60’s got up to speak about her Women in Industrial Design initiative. My new friend rolled her eyes and muttered to me, “I hate stuff like this. It makes it seem like women designers need special help or attention. We’re beyond that now.” I agreed with her. Even if women made up just 20% of the profession, in my personal experience, I felt respected and my input valued. I recall feeling a touch of embarrassment that this woman was talking about how women needed additional support. Why do we have to be women designers? Why can’t we just be designers?

Going from woman designer at a design agency to woman entrepreneur in the bike industry was a big adjustment because never before had I felt so acutely that I was living in a man’s world. I came from a place where women were the minority but welcomed, even if only because women do most of the shopping and as a woman designer you were expected to intuitively know what women would buy more than a man would. Then I went to the bike world where women were either a) ignored, or b) objectified. Definitely not respected.*

Interbike

Photo from some dude’s blog post about his trip to Interbike in 2009, also my first time there.

I recall walking through my first Interbike trade show, stunned that women were more likely to be wearing bikinis and handing out samples of energy bars than they were to be conducting business. Stunned at how many dick jokes and lewd comments about women’s bodies I overheard. Mind you, these comments were not made in hushed tones and they weren’t glancing around to make sure they weren’t being caught by someone like me, like guys normally do at bars or whatever. No, these comments were made in public, in normal conversation voice, and accompanied by pointing and/or gestures. Probably did not help that the show took place in Vegas, but also probably explained why it was there. Needless to say, it was rather shocking.

Yet rather than send me screaming, it only reaffirmed to me how important the idea of Po Campo was. How could we count on these dudes to design things for me and people like me? They clearly had no interest in what I needed or cared about, which is the very first thing you usually (and ought to) think about when designing products for someone. I felt like I had a calling, to build a company creating things for women who love to use their bike to get around.

And you better believe that I go to women business groups for support in doing that.

Why I love women’s business groups

First, it helps to be around women who understand what you’re trying to make and encourage you to keep doing it. Because it can be discouraging to continually hear that your market is too small and that you should design things for men instead.

Second, it’s nice to talk about building companies that do more than just make millions. Men, whether they’re actually this superficial or not, tend to talk about success as a fleet of expensive cars and a big paycheck, proudly sharing tales of whom they stepped on or over to get there. I’m interested in building a company that supports its employees, honors work/life balance, and uses its success to help others by partnering with organizations like World Bicycle Relief. Say this kind of stuff to a man in chest-beating entrepreneur-mode and they sneer at you like you’re clueless to how the world really works.

Third, women’s groups typically offer an environment where you can be honest about your insecurities. Sometimes you need help navigating the periods when your confidence falters without being looked down upon. Men, especially in entrepreneur-mode, see this as a sign of weakness and look at you like chum in the water if you publicly confess that your sales are below forecast, or if you have doubts about whether you should continue. Women tend to treat it as a naturally occurring phenomenon and help you work past it.

In the podcast, Emily wondered why men weren’t welcome in these groups. I agree that some men are great and could, in theory, be a wonderful addition to a group’s conversation. But, honestly, most men wouldn’t be. Something about the topic of business, and growing a business, seems to turn on the testosterone valve with guys. They suck the air out of the room, dominating the conversation and talking over people. No thanks.

Why I’m okay with being a #girlboss

I read Sophia Amaruso’s book #Girlboss back in 2014 and even wrote a book review of it. I don’t like the term “girlboss” because of the “girl” part, which, as a 40-year old woman, doesn’t feel like it applies to me. But, as I wrote in my review, this isn’t a business book for people like me. It’s a book for younger women and girls who need a role model of a successful female entrepreneur who built a business on her own terms.

When I had the idea for Po Campo, I just jumped in. I didn’t ask for much advice because the challenge of figuring it out for myself really appealed to me. It wasn’t until I had several (costly) setbacks that I realized that the learning curve was awfully steep and that I could benefit from learning from someone else’s experience. It took awhile of sifting through business books and attending networking groups to find the right people who would help me build my business on my own terms. Because the established mental-model of entrepreneur success, with the 70+ hour work weeks and fancy cars and sleek offices is not my aspiration.

If nothing else, to me the term #girlboss gives young women the permission to be bold and start her business on her terms. To determine what her own success criteria is and abide by it. And that’s why I give some of my @po_campo Instagram photos the #girlboss hashtag – because I’m proud of myself when I’m doing just that.

*For all my bike industry friends reading this who are thinking, “It’s bad, but it’s not THAT bad,” let me say that I agree that there has been some improvement over the last eight years. There is now a lot more attention placed on the inequities and sexism in the bike industry and concrete moves to fix it. But, stuff like this keeps happening:

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What a Difference a Good Manufacturer Makes

I’m hot of the heels of a trip to China to visit my factory and suppliers and sourcing agents. This is the second time I’ve gone, and this year was as good as the first (see recap of first visit here).

china-manufacturing-brainstorm

Working side-by-side with our Chinese sample room. This is one of my Top 5 Po Campo activities. It’s soo fun!

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The Entrepreneurial Journey as a Hero’s Journey

One nice thing about being a small, founder-led business is that telling your “story” isn’t that hard. It’s by nature authentic, because it happened to you and you’re telling it, and it’s probably going to be at least somewhat interesting because you started your business to solve some sort of problem that nobody had thought to solve yet. (If you’re still struggling with whole to get your “story” down to a 3 minute spiel, I highly recommend taking General Assembly’s “Storytelling for Entrepreneurs” class).

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Book Review: “The Dip” by Seth Godin

What helped me rise out of my downward spiral in 2012 was reading the E-Myth Revisited by Michael Gerber. It felt like it was written just for me, and it gave me specific tools for how to move forward. Another book found its way to me this year, and is acting as my guide for the next stage of my entrepreneurial journey. Well not really a book so much as an author: Seth Godin.

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Is “Taking the Plunge” Worth It?

A couple weeks ago, a friend asked me to lunch, saying she was weighing an important decision and wanted my input. The important decision turned out to be whether she should quit her high paying job that was fine enough but not fulfilling for a very low paying job working for a nonprofit that she really believed in. She knew I had quit a high paying job to work on Po Campo, which pays me very little, and did I think it was worth it?

Of course I gave her the enthusiastic “yes!” that I give to everyone who asks me this question. I offered up the usual reasons of why quitting a good paying job or leaving a career is actually not as scary as it may seem: you can always go back to the old career later, you have savings to help you transition to a lower pay, you don’t actually need that much money anyway, and what’s the worst thing that could happen anyway? It’s not like it will kill you.

She ended up turning down the new job and staying put, saying that it just “made more sense”. I don’t blame her for that. It did make more sense. Yet, I had to admit to myself that I was disappointed to hear her decision. Why?

At first I thought it was because misery loves company. We romanticize the thrill of “taking the plunge” but in all actuality, it sucks most of the time. Well, starting a bootstrapped business does, anyway. It’s stressful. It’s tiring. It’s thankless. It apparently never gets easier. I treasure my relationships with my fellow bootstrapped entrepreneurs because they are the only ones who can sympathize with my struggles and whose encouragement to keep going matters most.

But why would I want my friend to share my misery? And am I really miserable?

No, of course I’m not miserable. I would even describe myself as happy.

When I started Po Campo, I made a pitch to a colleague to join me in my venture. The first slide had the Gandhi quote “Be the change you wish to see in the world”. Despite all the hardships I’ve faced since quitting my good job and taking the plunge, overcoming the challenges with starting and growing a business have definitely made me stronger and more confident. I know the future will be similarly tough, but I feel ready for it. I feel more in control of my destiny and I believe in my ability to change the world, at least my little corner of it. Before Po Campo, I had hoped that I could be a positive influence on the world someday. Now I know that I can. And therein lies my happiness.

So, maybe I was disappointed with my friend’s decision because I thought she was going to miss out on experiencing this source of happiness. But honestly I don’t think so. I think I was disappointed simply because I thought it would be another thing we could share, just like our love of recycling and our love of foreign travel. I’m glad she chose what was right for her.

I’ll close this post with a quote from Henry David Thoreau from Walden:

“I learned this, at least, by my experiment: that if one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours.”


The inspiration for this post came from a lovely interview with designer/artist Elle Luna on The Great Discontent. I recommend reading it.

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I’m a cobbler and my children have no shoes

My background is in design research and design/brand strategy. I believe in the importance and power of these disciplines. Yet, for my own business, I rarely do either. What the heck?!!?

Since acknowledging that the adage about the cobbler’s children without any shoes applies to me, I googled the expression to find out how I turned out like this.

A couple of theories of why this happens:

  1. Externally Motivated. Is my drive to please others stronger than my drive to just do high quality work? It’s a possible explanation as to why I conducted proper research for my clients and just do minimal internet research for myself. With the former, I would have an audience gathered around a big conference room table to listen to my every word and congratulate me on what a good job I did. With the latter, I have to wait months to see if my conclusions from the research were correct and, even if they are, there is still no one to pat me on the back. I never knew that praise was important to me, but it is.
  2. Limited Resources. Whether money, time or talent, you’ve only got so much of each. Whenever someone would suggest that I do research, I would say, “But I don’t have time!” even though I knew that research doesn’t have to take a lot of time or money. So, while this may be true for others, for me it was just an excuse.
  3. Lack of Confidence. I never received proper training or education for design research and strategy. I developed my methods myself based largely on intuition and what seemed to work in the field. Interestingly, I felt like that sufficed when working with clients but fills me with doubt when working on my own business. The stakes certainly seem higher now, so maybe just going with my gut doesn’t give me enough confidence?

Obviously, these are all rather lame excuses for not doing something that is incredibly important. Doing my first bit of consumer research this past week, albeit a very small bit, was a good confidence re-builder. It forced me to acknowledge that there are things about my consumer that I do not know and that I can use my old research methods to start to figure them out. I’m looking forward to doing more in the future.

Any other examples from other entrepreneurs out there that found themselves neglecting their specialty in running their own business?

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