Julia Pimsleur is the author of Million Dollar Women, a book that was written to help more women entrepreneurs learn the “fundraising dance” and get their businesses to over $1M in revenues. In her book, Julia notes that over the past twenty years, women in the United States have started nearly twice as many businesses as men, but only 3 percent of all women business owners make revenues of one million dollars or more. Most are running “kitchen table businesses” and just getting by, or in many cases, running out of cash. Julia Pimsleur aims to help change that with Million Dollar Women, a guide to taking your business to that million-dollar mark and beyond.
Julia is also the CEO of Little Pim language teaching for kids, and offered to share with Nav her experience as a female leader of a growing company. Continue on to learn what hurdles, mistakes, and successes to expect while growing a company, and find insights on how to take your company to the next level.
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Experience as a leader of a growing company
1. Through your experience starting Little Pim, what were some of the emotional hurdles you had to overcome to take the business from small to a multimillion dollar operation?
I think my greatest challenge was moving from being a DO-er to being a Manager of people I was helping to DO their best work. Many of us start our businesses because we are good at working hard and accomplishing things, but to go big you need to learn how to be a good manager, and attract and retain top talent. I also had to overcome limiting beliefs I had about my own abilities as a CEO and whether I could run a multi-million dollar company. I had a big chip on my shoulder because I don’t have a finance background and didn’t go to business school. A key turning point for me was when I decided to put all those limiting beliefs into Mini-Storage so I could go after my dreams. Once I put a stop to that negative self talk, I started to value more highly what I brought to Little Pim and was able to go get the skills I needed to take my business big.
2. In your experience, what are some of the best qualities women can project to assert themselves as good leaders of a company?
I think we need to know ourselves really well in order to be better leaders. If I know I am someone who doesn’t like process or have a lot of patience, so I need to hire people who have those skills. I am always seeking to bolster my leadership skills and work on my personal and professional Achilles heels. When you know yourself well, you can do a better job at finding what I like to call my “flying buttresses” (a reference to Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris which is a beautiful monument that is nonetheless held up by 28 flying buttresses). These are the coaches, advisors, mentors and staff who will help you take your business big!
3. Can you describe any specific instances in your life where you felt it was tougher to be a woman (rather than a man) in a leadership position, and how you dealt with that?
When I set out to raise Venture Capital in 2011 I learned that only 4% of all venture capital dollars get invested into women run companies. Once I started looking at the web sites of the VCs I’d be pitching to I noticed that the partners were almost all men only about 2% of all VC decision makers are women). Once I realized the odds were not in my favor, I became determined to be one of the 4% and spent about 9 months preparing to raise capital. Raising VC was the hardest thing I ever did, next to giving birth to my two boys! I did raise $2.1M for Little Pim and we are one of the few women-led venture backed companies in the US. It was definitely harder to be a woman when pitching to rooms of men. My language-teaching products are made for parents of young children, and we know that 85% of decisions about kids education in the home are made by mothers. So the men I was pitching to had to ask their wives if this seemed like a good product, or they just passed. Many women face this issue when pitching to men about companies that are providing goods and services where the demographic is women. This doesn’t make it impossible to get the funding, but it does make it much harder!
4. What’s one of the smartest moves you made while taking your company into the big leagues?
Joining a professional organization was hands down the best decision I made when I decided to take my company big. I joined the Entrepreneur’s Organization in New York. When I first found EO I didn’t make their $1M in revenues criteria, so I joined their EO Accelerator program, which helps businesses get to $1M in revenues faster. For me, it worked. I got access to an accountability group, entrepreneur peers who were ahead of where I was, mentors, coaches and top-rated speakers. I am still a member today and have so many dear friends who are also entrepreneurs where we truly have each others’ back. I have also served on the board for the last three years. Now I am the chair of the EO Accelerator Program so that I can pay it forward and am helping 36 ambitious and awesome New York City-based entrepreneurs fast track their growth.
5. What’s a mistake or something you wish you did differently while growing your company?
When I was in the first two years of my business and trying to save money on legal fees I signed an agreement with a distributor who turned out to be a lemon. He kept $120,000 of our money and declared Chapter 11. I don’t know if having the lawyer vet the two-page agreement would have changed anything, but I really wish I had run it by him once that Chapter 11 notice showed up. The lesson there was ask for help if something is outside of your expertise, and while you don’t have to assume the worst about all your partners, good contracts do make good friends.
Experience raising capital
6. What are some stigmas women face when raising capital for their business?
Fundraising is hard for everyone, men and women! But as women, we face some additional obstacles. We often don’t have the same kinds of networks men do. If you take two graduates from a top college in the US who both launched a business, the guy will have a few friends in banking, private equity or hedge funds he can call to get advice about fundraising (and they might even write a check) where fewer women have these contacts. Traditionally men have also been more comfortable calling up their friends and colleagues and saying “I’m starting a business, will you put in $25k?” where women sometimes find it more difficult to make that call. These are some of the “elephants in the room” for women entrepreneurs which I address in Million Dollar Women because in this decade we women need to catch up in fundraising for our businesses. According to studies, men are starting their businesses with six times more capital than women, are and making about four times more in revenues.
7. What advice can you offer to women looking to raise capital to grow their business into a larger operation?
If you are looking to raise capital, a great first step is to write up how your business will be different in one year, three years and five years if you raise money. This will become the beginning of your pitch, which you’ll ultimately turn into a “pitch deck” with images, financials and expected returns. The more clear and specific you can be about what you will do with the extra fuel (the capital), the the better. If you have a reliable way that you are generating revenues in your company (i.e. subscriptions, downloads or sales) then create a spreadsheet that shows how the monies you raise will allow you to increase your revenue exponentially. Keep in mind that investors are looking for more like a 5x return than a 2x return, so you’ll want to be sure you can show how the funds will turbo charge your growth before you go speak with a potential investor. On my web site you can take a free assessment that helps you answer some of these questions (www.juliapimsleur.com) and there are pages of exercises at the end of Million Dollar Women that are made for someone starting out on the fundraising path.
8. Any additional wise words to share with our readers?
If I can do it, you can do it! I was a creative person who had a business idea and taught myself how to be a business person running a business with a creative idea at the center of it. Anyone can run a multi-million dollar business if they are willing to go outside of their comfort zone, find their flying buttresses, and ask the right questions. Stay brave!
Julia Pimsleur is the author of Million Dollar Women: The Essential Guide for Female Entrepreneurs Who Want to Go Big (Simon & Schuster, October 2015). She is also CEO and Founder of Little Pim, the leading system for introducing young children to a second language. Little Pim has won 25 awards and features the proprietary Entertainment Immersion Method. She has raised over $6M in Angel and Venture funding and $20M in philanthropic dollars and blogs for Forbes.com about entrepreneurship.