Two weeks ago, in Sonoma County, California, at Circular Summit, we took all of the stories told about women entrepreneurs (“Only 2.2% of venture capital went to women.” “The average loan size for women is 31% below that of men.” “Women-owned businesses generate just 4.3% of total private sector revenue.”), crumpled them up, stomped on them, and caught glimpse of a new world where we tell the story of entrepreneurship just like it is: a personal battle of grit, access, and a healthy dose of luck. Of the 400+ women entrepreneurs in attendance, some had crossed the billion dollar valuation threshold; others were ideas incubating in someone’s mind, just starting to take shape. No matter where the stories started, stagnated, or catapulted, by Friday’s close, it seemed that we had all gained a newfound energy from our collective community. After four years of watching this community become more diverse, supportive, and inclusive, I wanted to share a few lessons we’ve learned, in hopes that this energy can be replicated elsewhere, and multiply:
Tell the whole truth.
There is not a human on this earth without insecurities, and this only intensifies for someone who has quit the traditional path in lieu of the unknown (i.e., entrepreneurs). When we check armor at the door, talk about the real things that keep us up at night (cash flow, anyone?), and open the door to those difficult, uncomfortable conversations, relationships get real, and fast. At Circular Summit, we do this by sharing our own journey in building HelloAlice, which, while different, is just as unpredictable as any other. We do this, because truth begets truth, and we all hate superficial small talk.
Bring the outside in…
Each year, we’ve increased the number of scholarships offered to guests. We know it’s expensive to get to a conference, and we want to ensure that financial privilege isn’t a prerequisite. We are able to do this because we ask our partners to support our mission of inclusion, and they respond, wholeheartedly. As I heard stories of how people made their way to Circular Summit, it was so clearly apparent that those scholarships didn’t just offer access to a conference; they offered access to a stronger community for all of us. To all who joined us via scholarship, and to all who made those scholarships possible, I have nothing but gratitude, and a promise that we’ll continue to do more.
…and bring the inside out.
For the first time, we took our community outdoors, with twelve unique adventure tracks, and they served their purpose in getting all of us out of our comfort zones, into our sneakers, and starting conversations with investors, mentors, and fellow entrepreneurs. From horseback riding to cheese making, we all gave our business-cluttered minds a moment of white space to build real relationships that ultimately led to investor meetings, media coverage, partner collaborations, and more. You river rafters get a special shout-out here, for proving that women entrepreneurs are unflappable.
The middle is a messy, messy place for all of us.
As we started to unravel the “messy middle” of entrepreneurship, everybody had a story to tell. From our friends in venture capital, to corporate leaders driving change, to entrepreneurs at every stage of the game, our entire ecosystem is aligned in trying to sort through change. The answers are rarely black and white, and there is no clear start and finish. We’re all learning as we go, and even if we share every secret of our paths, we’ll never end up in the same place. It’s why we’re able to collaborate, to support, and to cheer on even those we may be competing with.
Rules were meant to be broken.
There is no pipeline problem. That much was apparent with a single glance across the event, and it’s something I see in cities across the United States and beyond. We spoke with 400 brilliant minds challenging the status quo, solving real-world problems, and building scalable solutions that offer massive financial opportunities. But beyond the pipeline, and the outcomes, the journey is different with community by our sides. When you open the doors, spark real and authentic conversation, and invite all people to speak up, entrepreneurship starts to look a lot less lonely, a lot more diverse, and a hell of a lot more fun.