Women Bloggers Are A Force

By Maggie Cely

More than 3,500 content creators gathered at the Hilton New York for BlogHer 2015, a two-day conference convened to champion the next generation of women in the blogosphere. Women travelled across the country for the rare opportunity to connect with fellow blog aficionados, participate in insightful workshops, and amplify the voices of women. The keynote speakers were incredibly candid about their experiences, failures, shortcomings, and lack of direction when they began their careers – not unlike what founders must endure throughout their entrepreneurial ventures.

Black Lives Matter

Patrisse Cullors, Opal Tometi and Vanessa De Luca, co-founders of “Black Lives Matter” via BlogHer

During her keynote, CEO of Girl Scouts Anna Maria Chávez set the tone for the conference in a single quote: “A man asked me why he should care about girl scouts and empowering young girls. What’s it to him? I said, ‘it becomes an economic issue. Every day we’re keeping half of the population away from the table.’” This is identical to conversations we have here at Plum Alley, where we spend every day working to equalize the capital raising process for female entrepreneurs.

Chávez is well acquainted with this half of the population, given that she heads up an organization with over 3 million active members and 50 million alumni. The population of US women is just over 158 million.


Anna Maria Chavez

A girl scout and Anna Maria Chávez, CEO of Girls Scouts of America via BlogHer

Chávez chiefly spoke about issues young women are facing today, noting confidence as the most prohibitory to their development. She also discussed her misgivings with public policy notoriously limiting girls by keeping them “on the discount rack.” A live-tweeter’s dream speaker, she provided incredible, genuine advice throughout her keynote. Her talk echoed what we believe at Plum Alley – that unconscious bias is no longer a sufficient excuse, and we must become our own advocates to achieve the change we want.

Powerhouses from a host of industries took the opportunity to follow the theme of overcoming adversity, including Gwyneth Paltrow, Soledad O’Brien, and Ava DuVernay.

A personal highlight was Gwyneth Paltrow’s keynote, which doubled as an overhaul to traditional, monolithic “Q&A” style interviewing. Paltrow discussed the beginnings of Goop, a lifestyle blog she curated to help busy women make educated choices about health and wellness. She captivated the audience with her frankness and ability to laugh at herself as she spoke about building her company, maintaining her acting career, and being a parent.

Gwyneth Paltrow

Gwyneth Paltrow, founder of Goop via BlogHer

Oftentimes, event hosts and interviewees are compelled to portray unwavering self-assurance in front of an impressionable audience. I’ve recognized this phenomenon on entrepreneurial panels, especially female-specific ones. Some women feel that calling on moments of self-doubt would discourage the audience and make them look unsure of themselves. However, in the rare moments when panelists are forthcoming, audiences leave feeling inspired and activated knowing that their role models, too, had shortcomings. The audience on Saturday was visibly relieved to hear Paltrow admit “I look back and I think, ‘what was I thinking?’”

In conjunction with the keynotes were a series of educational workshops, ranging from effective social media strategy to creating intriguing “clickable” headlines. Media experts hosted the workshops in small, round-table settings, giving attendees the opportunity to connect more deeply and gain more targeted insights. I attended the “Better Headlines” workshop, and was given tangible advice that I could immediately apply to improve my headlines. Such media strategy is necessary for anyone who wants to succeed in the twenty-first century, including female founders and entrepreneurs.


via BlogHer

Overall, I found BlogHer to be incredibly insightful and informative. I was surrounded by strong, forward-thinking women, rallied together to magnify the voices of women in the blogosphere – a proverbial “sleeping tiger” community that is gaining traction very quickly.


Winning Women Investors

I first met Andrea Turner Moffitt, a former Wall Street executive, 3 years ago when she came to talk about her business vision to get women off the sidelines to become engaged and powerful investors. Andrea’s passion around this topic was striking. She went on to found her company Wealthrive, to advance women as investors and she undertook major research at the Center for Talent Innovation, the business think tank founded by Sylvia Ann Hewlett.

Andrea co-authored a major study last year with the Center, which involved interviews with female investors in the U.S., Hong Kong, China, the UK, India, and Singapore. The research was funded in part by many of the major powerhouse investment banking firms because they know they need better insight into women as investors. The research was the first time an independent, well qualified firm looked at this issue. Previously all the reports were from one firm and focused on selling their firm products or services rather than exploring broader insights into women investors.

Having spent over 20 years on Wall Street I knew that the world of investing is largely a man’s game with the exception of a small number of women. I also was aware that most of the advice, guidance and products were created by men for men. In many cases, financial products are not transparent even to the trained eye and there is often a conflict of interest with wealth advisors who are compensated to sell their own firm’s products. The subject of women and investing is a thorny and difficult problem because anything to do with money is often a charged subject and can cut into a person’s self worth. Advisors are often not respectful of a woman’s intelligence and accomplishments in family wealth discussions.

Andrea’s important research was made even more personal and intimate in her book, Harness the Power of the Purse-Winning Women Investors, that was just published this month.

andrea-book (1)

Many stories in the book describe how a potential wealth advisor deferred to a woman’s husband in meetings even though she was the wealth creator or owner. Other scenarios include wealth advisors delivering a strong sales pitch to clients when the woman wanted to voice their preferences and to be heard. They wanted their advisor to respect them and to recognize that their investments should make a return and be in line with their values.

To unlock the power of women’s financial assets worldwide, firms and managers must recognize the value-based and affective dimensions of female decision making. These traits make women serious investors and successful investors. Most women intuitively know the kind of investments they would like to make. Crafting an investment strategy consistent with a woman and her values is a winning strategy.

If you want to know the six behaviors that will help to better serve women clients, you will have to buy Turner Moffitt’s book.

Next week we will release an infographic which highlights some of the important findings from the book.

Andrea Turner Moffitt: Founder of Wealthrive and Senior Advisor to the Center for Talent Innovation. A Wall Street executive with investment banking and asset management positions at Citibank, the International Finance Corporation, Muirfield Capital Management and Robertson Stephens. MBA and MIA from Columbia University. 

Stone, Obama

Obama’s Version of ‘Lean In’

In April, Lisa Stone moderated a discussion with President Obama on how topics such as women, work, and money overlap and interplay.  Stone is one of the founders of BlogHer.  Audience members probed Obama on numerous subjects, ranging from small business loans to college interest rates.  One question – and Obama’s response – really seemed to stand out.

Towards the end of the discussion, a mother of two young daughters stood up and kindly, yet directly, asked Obama, “How would you suggest I best empower my daughters to work hard, study hard, and get a good education if they know from the outset they are going to be payed less than their male counterparts for the same skill set, with the same background?”  Although remarkably simple, this question demonstrates the real and day-to-day implications of gender pay inequality on families, mothers, and daughters.

There is no quick or easy answer to this question, so to an extent I sympathize with Obama and the position he was put in.  However, I found his response disappointing.  Rather than taking a moment to acknowledge the unfair task continually asked of this and other mothers- explaining to their daughters that they will never make as much as their male equivalents because they were born girls, not boys – Obama delved into an overused discussion on how the world isn’t an equitable place and change takes time.  He encouraged mothers to “remind your daughters that things aren’t always perfectly fair” and to remember that when his grandmother was growing up, things were even worse.  Obama concluded his response with an announcement to women and girls that the “world is wide open to you – you can remake this thing.”

Town Hall

I appreciate and recognize the magnitude of being told that the “world is mine” to use and change as I like and see fit.  It is an incredible sentiment that remains a cornerstone of this country.  However, we must acknowledge its limitations.  Yes, women can and have taken an active role in improving gender equality in this country.  As a result of our efforts, American women have many more opportunities than their female counterparts in other nations, and more rights and power than their mothers and grandmothers in previous decades.  But, things are still not equal.  Women in the United States still make 78 cents to every dollar made by men in the same positions.  Only 4.6% of fortune 500 companies are headed by women.  Less than 5% of top venture capital funds go to female founded companies.

Bearing the weight of making the world a more gender equitable place can’t continue to fall solely on female shoulders.  We have “remade this thing” countless times.  If we’re going to keep leaning in, the President and our government needs to lean in too.

Julia Maltby


New York City Leads The Way

The New York City government, under First Lady Chirlane McCray and with the Department of Small Business Services (SBS), is spearheading an initiative called Women Entrepreneurs NYC. This is the first major city in America that is rolling out such a comprehensive program. The initiative is a partnership with Citi, has received endorsement from numerous government officials, and is riding off of support from the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses organization.

New York City has decided to focus on women because their economic power is strong and undertapped. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, in 2014 women controlled more than half of all personal wealth, and 73% of total household spending. However, men owned 1.5 times as many business. By fostering the participation of women in the economy as entrepreneurs, the economic gaps will be bridged and disparities lessened.

We commend this initiative, as increasing access to business skills, training, and opportunity to women at all levels of society is important to everyone’s economic success. As Maria Torres-Spring, Commissioner of SBS, says: “Investing in women entrepreneurs is a powerful tool to combat inequality and uplift families and entire communities.”

In the past decade in New York City, women-owned firms grew by 43%, whereas men-owned businesses only grew 25%. “With a population of more than 8 million residents, comprised primarily of women, the City of New York is uniquely positioned to end the gender disparity in entrepreneurship,” said Council Member Laurie A. Cumbo in the WE NYC press release.

Both government and the private sector are needed to combat gender disparity and level the economic playing field. Initiatives like this are one part of women’s success.


Jenn Shaw of Bella Minds

The Value of Raising Money

Eighteen months ago, NYTechWomen Founder Jenn Shaw raised over $28,000 to launch Bella Minds in a Plum Alley campaign. The goal of Bella Minds was to create a women-only educational environment that bridges the digital divide and gives women the resources to succeed in the new economy.

Boasting 272 backers, and raising 14% more than her $25,000 goal, Shaw succeeded. She used the money to bring technological education to ten mid-career women in Nebraska. Since running her successful pilot program, Shaw’s plans have evolved. In true entrepreneurial fashion, Shaw is using this experience in creative ways to do more.

After her beta Bella Minds program in Alliance, NE, Shaw realized she needed more data on her customer and embarked upon field research in Kansas in order to better understand the needs and technology uses of the women she wanted to help. As with all early stage ventures, an entrepreneur needs to co-create their product with their ultimate user. As a direct result of her research, Shaw developed the Mastermind Program, with the intention to replicate it for mid-career women in all 50-states.


Mastermind classes are a “cross between a networking event and a class” that join women together under such themes as “Finish It Friday” and “Money Monday.” Twice a week for four weeks, eight women share their skills and experience over coffee to help each other out. It is too early to assess the impact of the sessions, but so far the feedback has been overwhelmingly positive.

Shaw believes the money she raised in her crowdfunding campaign on Plum Alley enabled her to more forward with her dream. Her successful campaign provided market validation of her idea, engagement with her customer, and real life experience in starting a venture.

Shaw is an exemplary entrepreneur: she affects real change and never stops dreaming. When a woman pursues her vision, and raises money to more forward, she inspires others. Jenn Shaw has certainly inspired us.

Bella Dream Big

Lucy Drummond

5 Tips for Entrepreneurs

Plum Alley’s Managing Director, Jan Mercer Dahms, recently attended Entrepreneur Magazine’s 7th Annual Growth Conference 2015 in Miami, an annual meeting of business experts, bestselling authors, and entrepreneurs to talk about startup life, mentorship, marketing, and funding via crowdfunding. Jan has summarized the five takeaways for startup founders from the conference. Here they are:

  1. Get others—your fans—to produce content about you. Objective 3rd party shout outs are the best referrals, especially if those 3rd parties have large social networks.
  2. When targeting media, be very specific. Answer who, what, when, where, and why. And stand out.
  3. Look for small publications to help you promote. Only pitch those media that have exactly the same demographic as you’re targeting.
  4. Look at your human assets. Know the people behind your company. An engaging personality attracts fans and users. You are the best marketing tool in the shed.
  5. Think about the culture of your company all the time. Truly care about your employees, guide them, inspire them, bring out the passion in them. This is how you build a great company.

You can also watch Jan’s video here to hear about why crowdfunding is a smart first step before raising future rounds of capital.

The 1% Venture Capital

Every year data is released to the public on the amount of capital flowing to start-ups. This year was no different. There are numerous articles on the level of VC funding thanks to CB insights and companies like Pitchbook and Mattermark.  

However, we need to put into perspective that venture capital funding is not the primary source of funding for early stage companies in the US.

According to the Gallup-Wells Fargo Small Business Index of March 2014, 356 of the 435 small business owners surveyed (82%) used personal savings to finance their companies. Other forms of funding included acquiring loans (38%), help from friends and family (30%), and credit cards (31%). While raising money through crowdfunding on a rewards basis grew by 524% CAGR in 2014,  only 3% of companies indicated this as a funding source.

Small Business Trends cites that only 1% of early stage companies raise money through venture capital. This means that all the other companies out there find other sources of capital. The use of personal savings and credit cards is another way entrepreneurs fund their companies. These two ways to raise money showed huge growth in the last several years. There are strong reasons entrepreneurs may or may not want to fund your company from your own resources. When raising capital, consider all the options. Decide if you want to give away equity and assess your chances of success based on the strength of your business model and revenues. Also, consider crowdfunding to test your product and to get those first orders. Entrepreneurs might have a much better chance at setting themselves up for success with a crowdfunding campaign than chasing after venture capital funding.