Note: This article is part of a series. Check out the full series: Part 2, Part 3.

Launching a new business is not easy, never mind bringing to market an entirely new product or service.

In this series of articles, we gathered 100+ successful female entrepreneurs to share their stories and tips on building a business from scratch.

Dr. Erin Wheeler

Founder of Be Preppy College Coaching

Q: What inspired you to found Be Preppy and what were the main challenges you faced?

My passion for diversity and equity in education inspired Be Preppy. As a first-generation, low-come, minority college student, the odds were stack against me to succeed. I had a limited network of people who could give me quality advice. I managed to succeed, but I wanted better for those coming behind me.  I through my doctoral research I realized that one of the differences in the success of students who come from families with wealth and means was that they had access to and could afford private college counseling. I wanted to bring that same service to upper-low and middle class families, especially those who are from minority backgrounds. One of the main challenges I faced was that private college counseling was virtually unknown to my target population. I've been spending a lot of years creating FOMO and informing others of the benefits. The other challenge is finding away to make it affordable. The average private college counselor is nearly $100/hr.

Q: Did you start the venture alone?

I initially started it alone. However, my friend made a small investment and became a silent partner.

Q: What's your business model, and how have you grown your revenue?

My science background has helped me to have resilience and lack fear in failure and testing. I've tested several models and revenue streams including partnerships with schools and individual coaching session packages. Our current model that we are testing is a subscription model which helps to spread the cost over small monthly payments. I've also created a product line aimed at College Graduates as way to give back to underserved families, bring in additional revenue and keep our subscriptions prices low. I've grown revenue to a point where we are breaking even. I've been intentional with being lean to minimize loss but continue growing. We aren't generating profits yet, but I am optimistic that we will in the near future once I scale accordingly.

Dhara Singh

Founder of LifeResume LLC Coaching

Dhara Singh

Q: What inspired you to found Tell Her LifeResume and what were the main challenges you faced?

I was inspired to start LifeResume LLC when I sensed an enterprising spirit was brewing in me. I remember it was March of this year and since we weren't back in the office, I was thinking of ways I could help people or extend a hand at this time. I realized last year I had done a bit of freelance coaching helping people transition to new yet quite unconventional careers. Through these experiences I realized societal conditions has made people forget their most important value adds. In an effort to "fit in" our day careers, many of us have forgotten all the others facets of our personality. A woman I worked with forgot she used to create dolls from scratch as a child and gain feedback from her friends as a child. We realized that could be value add when she pitched herself as a UX designer (creating products, giving feedback.) LifeResume LLC in short is me using my lens of a journalist to investigate these forgotten events in people's lives that really point to what they're authentic calling is.

Q: Did you start the venture alone?

The venture is 100% a one person team. It's just me at this moment. In a few years I really see us building a solid crew of people who are both certified coaches (as myself) and gifted storytellers.

Q: What's your business model, and how have you grown your revenue?

Our business model in this early stage has been clients on a referral process. We've been on online directories such as Noomi and have built a free facebook community online. Payments are on a single-session basis. A couple of our clients were members in this blossoming Facebook Group where we bring in outside guest speakers (career changers, biz coaches, entrepreneurs), share tips on the subconscious mind/NLP and build relationships. The more value you give, the more value you receive.

Adria Gross

Founder of MedWise Insurance Advocacy

Adria Gross

Q: What inspired you to found MedWise and what were the main challenges you faced?

After denying claims for two insurance companies and owning a medical billing business, I decided I wanted to make a difference in people's lives and keep them from going into bankruptcy.  Medical bills are the major reason for impoverishment in the US.  

Q: Did you start the venture alone?

Yes -  I used $18,000 from my personal accounts when opening MedWise Billing, Inc. which led to opening a new division, MedWise Insurance Advocacy.

Q: What's your business model, and how have you grown your revenue?

I keep thinking about how I can help others after being ill for so many years and at one point, 14 months, before and after I experienced a left temporal lobectomy, I was on food stamps.  I know and understand what it is like to be ill and having financial difficulties.  That is my business model.  

The growth of my business continues since everyday I am lecturing, educating and advising others on what to do when they are dealing with denied health insurance claims, denied medical claims, letters of appeal, understanding explanation of benefits, assisting attorneys with medical liens and much more.

Kristin Marquet Chester

Owner - Marquet Media

Founder - FemFounder.co

Kristin Marquet Chester

Q. What inspired you to found Marquet Media and what were the main challenges you faced?

I started Marquet Media, LLC (a full-service branding and PR firm based in New York City) out of necessity due to losing my corporate consulting job during the Financial Crisis. It wasn't an easy decision (with my friends telling me I was crazy to start a business during a recession) but I decided to take the plunge into entrepreneurship in 2009. The early days were not easy as I worked more than 80 hours a week to get the business off the ground. After a few months, I scaled the business to a dozen clients (through search engine optimization and publicity) and was able to bring on my first assistant to help with client work, so I could focus on the money making activities. Delegating was the best move I made so I could focus on scaling the business.

Then in 2017, I started the media company, FemFounder.co as a way to help aspiring and new female entrepreneurs plan, launch, and scale their businesses. Generating traffic and building an email list were the two biggest challenges I encountered in the early days. But then I learned how to use Pinterest and it helped increase our traffic by more than 50 percent within the first three months of launching. Pinterest is still one of the biggest drivers of website traffic today. It's been a huge help to growing the business.

Q. Did you start the venture alone?

Yes, I started both ventures alone. I've had mentors along the way but I am the sole owner of both brands. I don't plan to bring on partners in the future.  

Q. What's your business model, and how have you grown your revenue?

The Marquet Media business model offers services in website design, branding, public relations, and digital marketing. Marquet Media's revenue is solely generated through services offered to clients in the fashion, beauty, wellness, and lifestyle industries. The agency gets its clients from digital marketing, including content marketing and publicity.

The FemFounder.co brand sells and generates revenue through digital products such as e-books, online courses, and templates.

Slisha Kankariya

Co-Founder, CMO - With Clarity

Slisha Kankariya

Q: What inspired you to found With Clarity and what were the main challenges you faced?

With Clarity was founded out of a desire to disrupt the process of traditional engagement ring shopping and bring it into the modern age. We wanted to alleviate the stresses we saw our peers experiencing as they shopped in stores or online for a highly valuable and high emotionally charged product. We combined the best of online and offline and eliminated the pain points and friction that we saw in both to ensure that customers get not only a high quality and fairly priced diamond engagement ring but also the enjoyed the experience of shopping for it.

Q: Did you start the venture alone?

I started this company with my husband and fiance at the time 7 years ago. We took the company from a shared desk and mockups on paper of what our site would look like to now a company that has made thousands of engagement rings for couples across the country and a team of 15 people in NYC.

Q: What's your business model, and how have you grown your revenue?

We are deliberately different and strive to have an engagement ring for everyone. In the last three years we have grown our revenue from $2 million to over $20 million. We've scaled rapidly but stayed true to our core of alleviating customer pain points, and being transparent to the customer in every way possible.

Michelle Diamond

CEO and Founder of Elevate Diamond Strategy

Michelle Diamond

Q: What inspired you to found Elevate Diamond Strategy and what were the main challenges you faced?

Some of the main challenges I faced included being young and female in a male-dominated profession that typically includes those in their 50s and 60s. I was in my late 20s when I started. I also was an unknown in a tight knit business community and had to both be strong and confident, as well as creative in gaining the credibility and trust I needed to launch a successful consulting and advisory practice.

I decided to start Elevate Diamond Strategy because I wanted to offer growth strategy and execution advisory and consulting services to small and midsize companies who I knew did not typically use these services, because a lot of them did not know it exists (mostly larger companies use these types of advisory and consulting services).

Also, on a personal level, I wanted to have more control over when I decided to travel for business.

Q: Did you start the venture alone?

Yes.

Q: What's your business model, and how have you grown your revenue?

I have grown my revenue by working with companies at all growth stages and sizes in multiple industries. My firm is based on expertise that works across all industry verticals and segments. My business has also grown through direct referrals and strategic alliances with complementary firms who serve the same clients, but in a different capacity.

TL Robinson

Founder and CEO THE U.P.

Q: What inspired you to found THE U.P. and what were the main challenges you faced?

I'm a rape survivor; I, along with approx. 1.4 billion sexual assault survivors around the globe, don't have all of the necessary tools and resources needed to improve the chances of survivorship and healing.

Sexual assault survivors get a lot of statistics thrown at us; societal norms/assumptions about what sexual assault is and who gets assaulted; and, sad looks. But, we don't always get the same support and resources that (let's say) a cancer survivor receives. And, because this topic is so taboo, a lot of needed information isn't readily available. So, I created THE U.P. as a safe space for sexual assault survivors, survivor supporters and advocates to connect in order to connect and both support and educate each other. I've found that the best advice and sense of community comes from people who've experienced what I have experienced. We've launched the MVP version of the app and are working on providing additional services to the community.

The main challenges come from changing the belief that we shouldn't discuss sexual crimes and the struggles of survivorship in open spaces. Survivors face retaliation, job loss, homelessness/housing instability, or backlash with accusations of either lying or seeking attention when coming forward. This has created a barrier that makes receiving partnership opportunities/support that much more difficult. I believe that if people realized the far-reaching effects of victimization (decreased corporate revenue; judicial system costs; # of abortions; STI and HIV rates; subsidies for unemployment, etc.) then they would be more willing to have discussions and make needed social changes.

Q: Did you start the venture alone?

Yes, I started the venture alone. I didn't set out to create a digital product. My original goal was to find a way to handle all of the inner turmoil and despair that I felt, and still feel. What started as an anonymous IG page has grown to a large, beautiful community across several social media platforms because of the user feedback that I was receiving. I now have a couple of investors who helped with the MVP funding.

Q: What's your business model, and how have you grown your revenue?

The current business model is two-pronged: 1. free to anonymously connect with community members and 2. (in development 1Q20201 release) subscription fee to access valuable information to improve the daily survivorship journey of sexual assault survivors, survivor supporters and advocates.

Meredith Gradle

Founder and CEO of Iris Works

Meredith Gradle

Q: What inspired you to found Iris Works and what were the main challenges you faced?

In 2014, I was struggling to find a solution to manage my photography business. As a family photographer, I had anywhere between 10-20 shoots a month - all of which needed contracts, reminders, invoices - and that's just the paperwork side of things. I couldn't find a system to make my life easier - everything that I found was so complex and not user friendly. I thought to myself - it shouldn't be this hard!

So I took pen to paper and started brainstorming. After a lot of research, planning and designing - I launched Iris Works in March of 2015. I created a simple and intuitive program, aiming to help photographers with the business side of things. So many photographers I knew were closing up shop, not because they weren't talented, but because they neglected to focus on the logistics of running a photography business. With Iris, photographers can continue to focus on their artistic growth and still thrive in business. The mundane tasks and legalities are streamlined and taken care of for them.

We've faced many challenges over the past 5 years - and are still facing many challenges today. Initially, the biggest hurdle I faced was prioritizing features. The excitement of so many photographers signing up in the early months was amazing, but along with that came so many suggestions and ideas for how to enhance the platform. I had to learn very quickly not to jump at every suggestion and idea that came my way. Had I not learned this lesson early on, we would no longer be a simple and intuitive system. We would have become what I hated about the other solutions - a clunky and feature heavy system that nobody can figure out. I have to continually remind myself of this lesson. We continue to receive amazing suggestions and ideas for Iris, and every one has to be given the same amount of thought and planning before we commit to building it.

Q: Did you start the venture alone?

After raising a very small amount of friends and family money, I hired a small firm in Indianapolis to build the platform. As a non-technical founder, I really didn't know what I was getting myself info; but I knew what I wanted to build and how I wanted it to work. I was lucky that the team I hired to do the development understood that.

It was a pretty lonely time; and looking back I probably should have had a technical co-founder to help with some of the development and infrastructure decisions. But I don't regret going it alone, because I learned more than I ever could have imagined. I still surprise myself and my team at times with the technical knowledge I have.

Q: What's your business model, and how have you grown your revenue?

We're a subscription service, and offer both monthly and annual subscriptions. We offer two tiers as well - basic and premium - with our premium plan including a full online booking platform, streamlining the entire booking and follow up process for both photographers and their clients.

The first year of business, we grew organically. We were fortunate to partner with some photographers early on who helped get the word out about our platform. In year two, we tried every trade show we could attend - hoping to find one that provided a good return. It was an expensive year and unfortunately, we didn't get a good return on any of those investments.  In our third year, we really dove into social media advertising. Social media - both paid and organic - have proven to be the best avenues for our continued growth. We've also been fortunate enough to have incredibly talented photographers and business owners adopt our platform and share about us organically. We truly couldn't continue our growth without these two avenues.

Julie Austin

Founder - Swiggies

Julie Austin

Q: What inspired you to found Swiggies and what were the main challenges you faced?

I passed out while running in the heat and ended up in the hospital with dehydration. So, I looked around for a way to carry water hands-free and nothing existed. I came up with the idea to put a water bottle on your wrist and started the patent process. Once I got the patent, I made a prototype and found a company to license it. But the deal fell through and the company filed for bankruptcy. I never wanted to run a company and become a manufacturer, but I didn't want to waste any more time and I now have manufacturing set up in 3 countries with distributors in 25. The biggest challenge has always been money. I never had enough and worked 2-3 jobs to get it off the ground. I also had no experience in manufacturing or running a business, so I had to learn everything from the ground up on my own.

Q: Did you start the venture alone?

Yes, I had no investors or mentors. I've been running the business by myself for years now, but after securing some even better intellectual property I'm now looking to license again or sell the business.

Q: What's your business model, and how have you grown your revenue?

The business model is selling in the promotional products industry and retail. Now it's mostly selling online. The promotional products industry has been the best way to grow revenue. I've also expanded into the alcohol industry, where people put alcohol in the bottles instead of water. They sell at Marti Gras and music festivals.

Natasha Ingram

Founder - BIA Skin

Natasha Ingram

Q: What inspired you to found BIA Skin and what were the main challenges you faced?

I have been a skincare fanatic since I was a teenager, I would spend my whole pay check on a new cream or lotion and have always have a fascination with the different formulas and how they work. In 2014 I started my marketing company, Transparency Digital, one of my clients was a large skincare lab, they make products for many of the industry's favourite brands. Over the years working together I gained a lot of knowledge about the skincare industry and also developed a close relationship with the founders. I always dreamed of launching a skincare company but I felt it was so oversaturated and a lot of brands are doing it well, I wasn’t sure that I had anything to add in that space, but I do not feel the same about body care. With body care usually the focus of the product is the experience, smelling good and having the right lather, but the products aren't problem solvers. They don’t treat the conditions that so many of us are struggling with. I felt like there’s a gap in the market for body care that actually contains active ingredients. By having this really good pre-existing relationship with my lab I felt like the universe had placed this opportunity in my lap and I would be a fool to not just go for it. Without my lab I couldn’t have made this happen, they are honestly just the best kind of people and I couldn’t trust anyone more to make quality products with such integrity and expertise.

By far the biggest challenges I’ve faced is with logistics. For packaging there’s a lot to consider, especially with skincare when you need to be able to maintain the integrity of the product. I’ve learned you have to be really selective with your packaging manufacturers, and I had to go through a couple duds before finding my right partners. It’s also a long turnaround time from doing your R&D, getting your designs to manufacturing packaging and having products filled, timing our inventory levels has been tricky and a real learning curve.

Q: Did you start the venture alone?

I did start the venture alone. I was able to fund this company with revenues from my other company Transparency Digital. To this point the company hasn’t had to take on any debt or outside financing. I wanted to have the final say in every decision and execute 100% according to my own vision. As we expand I may look to strategic investors, but I think we’re still too early for that and I don’t want our efforts to be undervalued.

Q: What's your business model, and how have you grown your revenue?

Our business model is 95% e-commerce and we sell majorly through our website. I’m experienced in digital marketing and creating online sales funnels so we’ve been able to acquire our customers mainly through Facebook and Instagram. The best thing about this model is that we’re able to scale our ad spend. However we don’t want to be reliant on just these platforms so we also focus on our email marketing and list building. Recently we’ve been leaning into PR and partnering with influencers. It can be hard to find and vet the right influencers but a good review and referral is really powerful, so they’ve really helped us gain attention online.

Note: This article is part of a series. Check out the full series: Part 2, Part 3. Stay tuned for more articles!