Note: This article is part of a series. Check out the full series: Part 1, Part 2, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, Part 7, Part 8, Part 9, Part 10, Part 11, Part 12, Part 13.

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.

Paige Arnof-Fenn

Founder - Mavens & Moguls

Paige Arnof-Fenn

Q: What inspired you to found Mavens & Moguls and what were the main challenges you faced?

I started a global branding and digital marketing firm 19 years ago in Cambridge, MA. I did not plan on starting a company. I always wanted to go work for a large multi-national business and be a Fortune 500 CEO. When I was a student I looked at leaders like Meg Whitman & Ursula Burns as  my role models. I started my career on Wall Street in the 80s and had a successful career in Corporate America at companies like Procter & Gamble and Coca-Cola and worked at 3 different startups as the head of marketing. I became an entrepreneur and took the leap right after 9/11 when the company I worked for cut their marketing. I had nothing to lose.

My biggest mistake was not realizing sooner that the people you start with are not always the ones who grow with you. The hardest lesson I learned when I started my company is not getting rid of weak people earlier than I did in the first few years of my business. I spent more time managing them than finding new customers.

I knew in my gut they were not up to snuff but out of loyalty to them I let them hang around much longer than they should have. It would have been better for everyone to let them go as soon as the signs were there. They became more insecure and threatened as we grew which was not productive for the team.  As soon as I let them go the culture got stronger and the bar higher. “A" team people like to be surrounded by other stars.  It is true that you should hire slowly and fire quickly. I did not make that mistake again later on so learned it well the first time.  I wish I had known it even earlier though but lesson learned for sure!  

I recommend NOT spending money on things like fancy brochures, letterhead, business cards, etc. Until you know your business is launched I would say to put your budget into things that help fill your pipeline with customers. Getting your URL and a website up and running is key.    I created online stationery for proposals and invoices, ordered my cards online and made downloadable materials as leave behinds for people looking for more information to help me find clients more quickly. I know other business owners who spent thousands of dollars on these things and found it was a waste of money. Your story will evolve as you find your market, you need to look professional and have a web site to be taken seriously but embossed paper with watermarks and heavy card stock is not going to accelerate your sales cycle. Find those reference customers quickly, use them to get testimonials and referrals. There is plenty of time later to dress things up!

I think it is a mistake to hide behind technology and CRM systems. My advice is to disconnect from technology sometimes and focus on cultivating human, face to face relationships when possible. Meeting for coffee or lunch even virtually can accomplish so much more than e-mail exchanges, social media posts, etc. and it is a great way to get to know donors, clients, and volunteers better, their interests, motivations and dreams.

I have found that building relationships is what drives my business and technology supports them once they are solidified. Technology helps advance the conversation but it will never replace the human interaction that builds trust over time. Before social distancing I planned lunch meetings ~3 days a week and invited clients to events I think they might enjoy attending to spend time together.

Q: Did you start the venture alone?

Yes I own the company 100%.

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

As a professional service firm we work on both a retainer and project basis. My clients mostly come by referral, word of mouth, networking or from articles I write and talks I give.  

Sarah Ohanesian

Founder - SO Productive

Sarah Ohanesian

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

The inspiration for SO Productive came from a few angles. One was my own personal experience as a busy Chief Marketing Officer fighting burnout. I say that I am a recovering "burnout-oholic". I knew what it was like to make key decisions all day, have everyone tugging for my attention and then have "what's for dinner?" put me over the edge. At the end of the day, I couldn't process one more thing or be fully present at home. Outwardly, I was on top of my career, running a multi-million dollar business, respected by my peers. Inside, my stress got out of control. I lived to work. I was exhausted. I felt weak. I missed family events. And, I was diagnosed with chronic insomnia. So, I created a simple system to get back control of my day and my life. It worked! I started accomplishing more, leaving the office during daylight and running a sustainable race toward success.

The other inspiration was seeing my friends and peers in the business community feeling the same way! We all wore "busy" like a badge of honor. We had to be "busy" to be important...right? But it's not sustainable. I wanted to help other busy professionals fight stress, overwhelm, and burnout.

One of the main challenges of being an entrepreneur is feeling like you have so much to learn and so much to do. Create a brand, build a website, create your services, set the business up legally, get clients...the list goes on and on. It was important that I just tackled one thing at a time and didn't let myself get too overwhelmed with all of it.    

Q: Did you start the venture alone?

Yes, I am a solopreneur. However, in no way do I feel like I started this alone. First, I'm grateful to have the love and encouragement from my husband who is also a business owner. He's been a huge help to bounce ideas off of and tell me "this will work". The support of the business community, my peers, and my friends have also been tremendous. Seriously, no way I could have done this completely alone. It's about asking for help when you need it and being open to learning every step of the way.

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

I set my business up to have multiple streams of revenue. Working with clients 1:1 through coaching, doing corporate training, speaking to groups, and creating a digital course. This way, I offer different options for people to work with me at different price points. I've grown quickly by listening to what people need right now and responding to that. This pandemic has changed the way we live and work and it's hard for people. I'm just trying to help them stay productive and sane. I'm growing my revenue by putting myself out there on social media and networking.

Alyssa Hoffman

Founder - Fearlyss Entertainment

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

I was working at a Fortune 500 job for over a decade climbing the traditional corporate ladder when I was introduced to Wayland, a nationally touring rock band. They had toured the country successfully for 300 days per year for over 8 years shaking the hand of every fan they made and running every aspect of the band for themselves from merchandising to touring, which is completely unheard of and equally impressive. 

After getting to know their story and listening to the challenges that the music industry offered, it was so obvious to me the massive gaps that were currently present in the industry. From ethics to inclusivity, gatekeeping, and beyond, each conversation was more and more interesting to me. 

The music industry is responsible for creating culture, and it was so obvious that the culture I was witnessing in the world was a direct reflection of the behavior I was witnessing behind the scenes. The world transitioned from “pop culture” to “cancel culture” and the only thing I wanted to cancel was that. 

I knew like I knew my own name that something major had to change, and I knew that I was the woman who would do it. I quit my Fortune 500 job, sold my possessions, and moved onto a tour bus. I worked out of a bunk and learned every aspect of the business first hand. 

The challenges that I was presented with were the same challenges I had originally set off to overcome. I was rejected and redirected being a woman, especially a woman who wasn’t native to the industry, in more meetings and phone calls than I could count. I lost certain opportunities because I was not directly connected to a gatekeeper, and was told that in direct language, even though myself and my client were more qualified. I watched other people directly steal pitches and marketing ideas for other clients after passing on mine. I was told things like age and other discriminatory factors were most definitely used against me. It was everything that I set off to change. 

Q: Did you start the venture alone?

I started this venture completely alone alongside the band as a one woman show. I sold and designed merchandise, I created, planned, and scheduled content, I wrote treatments for music videos and content strategies and set up single and album releases. It was all the band and I. 

I am so thankful that this was the situation that I was in because it was my relentless passion and fearlessness that made everything happen for us. I would be told by peers that I could never email “so and so” or call this agency without having a direct contact, and I completely ignored that advice. I went into it completely unaware of the “rules” and ready to break all of them. And I did. 

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

At Fearlyss Entertainment we are a music management firm. Our business model is streaming and accessibility that funnels into subscription services. 

We believe in inclusivity and accessibility, so we not only release new music constantly, but we have launched WaylandTV, our network streaming live on YouTube seven days a week. We offer a complete look into the life of both Wayland and Fearlyss Entertainment with a brand new show everyday sharing the journey of what the new music business actually looks like. 

To stay in integrity, we have three bottom lines: ourself, humanity- the fans, and the planet. “How can we serve all three”, is a question we ask ourselves in every meeting. Accessibility and inclusivity are at the heart of this.

With that being said, while utilizing the accessibility model, you’re in direct competition with the majority including the major labels, and so creativity and innovation are of utmost importance. 

We utilize a text line in addition to an email list, and everyone is guided into The Service, our all inclusive membership community. The Service offers over 40 unreleased songs and phone demos which is added to on a weekly basis as the band writes new music, first listens to new songs, never before seen photos and videos you can’t get anywhere else, a full lyrical database, and two full length performances you can’t stream anywhere else. For $9.99 a month, fans are able to connect intimately with the artist. 

Life, music, and business are all about relationships. “It’s not what you know it’s who you know” has a negative connotation because it’s been used so manipulatively in the past,especially in music. But, when we take back that phrase and change the meaning, we’re able to recognize that it does all come down to our relationships. We get to focus on our relationship with our business, our relationship with each other, and our relationship with the fans. If we are in service to all three of those relationships, we cannot fail, and revenues will continue to increase. 

The music is no longer the main source of revenue. The merchandise, the subscription, and the ticket sales are. So instead of focusing on what we think the fan wants or needs, we ask them directly. We focus on the relationship like laser beams, not light bulbs, and it illuminates the path directly ahead for Fearlyss Entertainment.

Lori Cheek

Founder and CEO of Cheekd

Q: What inspired you to found Cheek'd and what were the main challenges you faced?

In February of 2008, I was out to dinner with an architectural colleague. He’d spotted an attractive woman at a nearby table and scribbled, “Want to have dinner?” on the back of his business card and slipped it to her as we were leaving the restaurant. He left with a date. I left with an idea. After over two years of brainstorming how to remove the “business” out of the business card, I launched Cheekd-- a deck of ice-breaking dating cards with a unique code that lead the recipient to the privacy protected online dating profile of the mysterious stranger who slipped them the card where the two could start communicating online. It was like online dating but backwards. We’ve since pivoted Cheekd into a hyper-speed mobile dating app that gives users the ability to never miss a real-life potential “love connection” thanks to a cross-platform low energy Bluetooth technology, which sends users an immediate notification when someone (within their criteria) comes within a 30-foot radius of them. It’s real-time and works on a subway or a plane without any cellular connection.    

Challenges??? As a trained architect, I really had no idea what it took to build a business, but I’ve taken a crash course by building one. I couldn’t even begin to count the number of times I’ve failed building my business over the past few years.  I’ve learned to welcome the mistakes and even joke that I’ve learned so much from them that I’m going to keep making more of them on purpose.  I’ve taken a crash course in building a business and failing has probably been the greatest lesson of all.

Q: Did you start the venture alone?

I’d never started my own business and struggled with the actual “business” side of creating the company.  I found myself walking around in circles with this great idea for almost a year until I was introduced to a couple of gentleman who loved the idea and suggested we sit down the following Monday morning and bring the idea to life.  We met, as suggested, and by the end of the week had a Business Plan and started the process of incorporating, patenting, trademarking, sourcing vendors, building the site, etc.  They became my official partners and nearly one year after our initial meeting, we launched in May of 2010.

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

My business has taken on many iterations since that launch over a decade ago. Our current model is a freemium app therefore users pay nothing to download our app.

The growth of my startup has been solely dependent on PR and Marketing alone.

One of my first big hits was The New York Times and I got in by simply mailing a lone black Cheek'd card in a plain black envelope to one of the main editors at The Times. A few weeks later, we were featured on the cover of the Style Section and coined as "the next generation of online dating,” which lead to customers in almost every state in America and requests from all over the world to get in on the action. We immediately set up an international shopping cart and soon hit 28 countries.

Another one of my favorite stories to date would be when I slipped a Cheekd card into Hip Hop Mogul, Russell Simmons’s front jacket pocket (when he didn’t notice) and the next morning I woke up with a Google alert that we’d gotten all kinds of hits from the NY Observer and many national customers after the article dropped.

When we got covered in The Wall Street Journal, I’d gone to a Startups meet the Press Networking event. I’d scouted out all the name tags and stood in line behind the one person from The Journal I’d wanted to talk to… we were raring to launch a Wall Street version of our cards within the next week. I waited for nearly 45 minutes while all the men at the event had pitched her. She told me, when I finally made her presence, that she’d take the article if I gave her an exclusive. NO BRAINER.

I even did a terrifying TEDx talk a several years ago to keep spreading knowledge of my brand.

When I travel, I call the news channels to see if they’d like to feature me— I can’t remember a city I’ve ever been turned down in. I speak at Universities and mentor, pitch and/ or present at every single tech/ dating/ networking/ business event possible. Also, when I travel, I host events and then I get press around those events. I also look at HARO as a massive opportunity and respond to everything that could remotely represent my brand. I must have been in 5000 articles by now. There’s something about taking time, taking it seriously and never knowing who might be in that audience. One article I’d gotten covered in lead to very few hits on my site but the right person read it and I ended up on Fox Business within a couple of weeks.

My advice? Well, I’ve never done anything halfway. If you’re an entrepreneur wanting to get press— it’s hard work. It’s a lot of risk… It’s taken me a lot of cajones— like taking my business on The Shark Tank in September of 2013, which was one of the scariest things I’ve ever done in my life. "Don't just think outside the box; Get rid of the box!"  Be creative.  Think Guerrilla.  And if that doesn't work, sometimes it just doesn't hurt to "ask." I've ended up on the news many times by just calling up the news channels and asking them if they'd be interested in featuring my business. It's sometimes that simple.

Charlotte Zhao

CEO for an early stage startup AVID

Charlotte Zhao

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

The idea for AVID was born out of an attempt to solve our own problem & frustration as lifelong learners. The same demographics who fail to find time to finish an online course on average spends about 7 hours a week listening to podcasts. However, educational podcasts rarely feels in-depth enough. Then we also noticed that audio-first & mobile-first learning has been wildly popular in China, because it's a more suitable medium given the real life context of busy professionals. That's when we realized the opportunity for us to popularize audio courses in English speaking countries.

The initial challenge was to convince our investor the unique opportunity, why we are the best team to solve the challenge and why now.

Q: Did you start the venture alone?

My ex-cofounder and I met at Antler, a global startup incubator. We both felt passionate about adult education and loved audio. It was a natural match. However, due to personal circumstances, we decided to part ways. Now we have a team of devoted and talented minds who are invested in promoting audio learning.

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

We are still experimenting with our business model. For now, it's a freemium model. As a platform, we make it easy for people to share their knowledge and monetize through audio series, while they retain direct access to their audience.

Wendy Yates

CEO and Founder - Abigail-Elise Design Studio

Wendy Yates

Q: What inspired you to found Abigail-Elise and what were the main challenges you faced?

I realized fairly early on in my life that I didn’t enjoy working for others. I wanted to be an entrepreneur so that I could create a business that would enable me, and the people I choose to work with, the freedom to balance working with purpose and life. As a mother I wanted to be able to prioritize spending time with my daughter, while also being a positive role model so that she would know that she too can accomplish anything she sets her mind to. In fact, the name Abigail-Elise comes from the combination of my middle name and hers.

If I were to think of a main challenge in founding Abigail-Elise it would have to be that I started the company during a recession. When most people were struggling to maintain their jobs I thought it would be a great idea to create my own. My first three clients came from pure hustle. I borrowed a friend’s computer, ran through the rolodex, and cold called every connection of a connection that I thought may have a project I could help with. I had to be resourceful, so I offered brokers either a commission for their recommendations or a trade to help them stage properties pre-sale. “The House that Hustle Built” was a tagline I used for years since that is exactly what I did.

Q: Did you start the venture alone?

Yes, I am a sole founder.

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

My business has thrived from the ability to pivot when needed and add valuable team members that share in our overall vision. A more recent example is that we added 3D rendering to our list of services called Virtual Visuals during the heart of the covid pandemic. Virtual Visuals gives developers and real estate brokers the ability to see the planned interiors prior to purchasing. This on top of several other adaptations over the years has helped Abigail-Elise to maintain relevance within the market.

We grow our revenue by partnering with incredible people, and actively seeking out more opportunities to build productive and long lasting relationships. It was through a few great relationships with high end developers that I was able to first build my business and I know it’s through word of mouth that I’ll continue to grow in the future.

Robin McIntosh & Lisa McLaughin

Co-founders of Workit Health

Robin McIntosh & Lisa McLaughin

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

"My Co-Founder Robin and I are both in long-term addiction recovery ourselves. We saw our friends fall through the gaps in traditional systems of care that haven't changed much since the 1930's. We both worked in tech and wondered why substance use disorder treatment was being left behind. We wanted to build the type of experience we both wished we'd had when we got sober. There wasn't anything out there that was beautifully designed and really on the cutting edge of research." —Lisa

"One of the main challenges we faced right off the bat was the stigma surrounding addiction. People have preconceived notions about what getting sober looks like—they often think it has to be a punishment, something expensive and painful. There's an idea of "rock bottom," that some real suffering is required before you can recover from addiction. But substance use disorder is a medical disease, and we wanted to treat it like one. We wanted to follow the science to the least invasive and most promising treatment possible. That meant we also needed to change people's expectations for what addiction treatment looked like. We wanted something compassionate and supportive that helped people wherever they were in their journey to recovery." —Robin

Q: Did you start the venture alone?

"We started Workit Health as co-founders. We envisioned a company where each of us would be responsible for its success, with our unique strengths and perspectives coming together to build something new. From very early on, we've also encouraged our team to look at themselves as owners of Workit Health. This has helped us build a culture of personal responsibility as we grow. Our early team was made up of clinical experts to help us build the backbone of the program, and a developer to create our first version of the Workit Health program. Now, we have a team of over 150 people" —Lisa

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

"We originally offered Workit as an employee benefit (and still do), but we also saw so much demand from individuals seeking care that we realized we needed to make Workit Health available to the public. Today, the program is covered by Fortune 500 companies from coast to coast, large health plans like Aetna and Blue Cross Blue Shield in many states, and funded by state and local governments in places where evidence-based substance use disorder treatment is lacking. Our staff, revenue, and member population has grown exponentially since we founded in 2015, and we're excited to see what the future has in store." —Robin

Andrea Gonzalez Corleto

Founder - Silkkin

Andrea Gonzalez Corleto

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

I started Silkkin out of a personal need. I was breaking out from wearing a mask and was feeling self-conscious about it. Then I started reading online and turns out, I wasn't the only one! Lots of women have been suffering from "maskne." So I thought "there has to be a better way, there has to be a mask that doesn't make you break out and is good for your skin!" I did my research and found that Silk is much better for your skin - and that's when I decided to create Silkkin.

Q: Did you start the venture alone?

I started it alone, but it didn't take long until I realized I needed help - and fast! My partner joined me and has been a tremendous help in getting Silkkin off the ground and keeping up with demand.

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

We are an e-commerce business, so all our sales are online. We've been growing 2x month-over-month and recently introduced new products like Silk Pillowcases, Scrunchies, and Eye Masks - all we launched by popular demand from our customers. We've been very lucky to have great word of mouth and return customers, who have contributed to our overall growth.

Angela Engel

Founder -The Collective Book Studio

Angela Engel

Q: What inspired you to found The Collective Book Studio and what were the main challenges you faced?

Having my third child was a pivotal moment for me, and encouraged me to take the leap to start my own business. I began thinking about the Collective Book Studio in November of 2018: when I saw the way Amazon had affected publishing and firmly believed the industry needed to reinvent itself. I launched the Collective Book Studio, a comprehensive publishing company distributed by Independent Publishers Group (IPG), with the goal of creating an operation that would partner with authors and adhere to their creative visions every step of the way—from creative development and editorial, to project management and design and layout, to finished books, sales, and marketing.

The biggest challenge continues to be competing with the traditional publishing houses that have established large marketing budgets and working to ensure our company can break through this "old guard" to elevate our authors and our books.

Q: Did you start the venture alone?

I launched my business with the support of talented connections. My past experience working in publishing was a huge asset. My incredible team consists of 13 staffers with more than 100 years of collective industry experience, including industry veterans such as Elisabeth Saake, director of operations and acquisitions, and Dean Burrell, managing editorial director.

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

The Collective Book Studio’s unique approach to publishing is an adaptive business model. Our way of working is through partnership publishing, an innovative model where our clients invest money upfront to bring their book from concept to finished product. Partnership publishing offers a hybrid approach: a dynamic business model that welcomes new authors, yet brings quality and expertise and is responsive in a rapidly changing marketplace.

Raine Gaisford

Founder and CEO of LimeHub

Raine Gaisford

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

There were two main drivers that catalysed my decision to start LimeHub. Firstly, I’d spent my career working within the enterprise technology sector which is highly conservative and still burdened by gender inequality. There is a saying that I love that goes something like “Change happens when the pain of staying the same is greater than the pain of change” and for me that was a significant portion of my motivation to go out on my own and to demonstrate that success can be achieved through non-traditional business models. The second driver was that throughout my career as a B2B marketing expert, I had struggled to find a marketing agency that understood the difference of B2B and B2C marketing approaches and that was a subject-matter expert in the technology sector which presented an opportunity as there was a gap in the market.  

The greatest challenge so far has been entering a highly saturated market and amplifying a message of authenticity and differentiation.

Q: Did you start the venture alone?

While I started LimeHub on my own, I’ve been lucky to have a lot of support from very talented people on the way. Without them I couldn’t have been successful. No (wo)man is an island after all.

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

Our business model is simple:

i. Optimise everything for a seamless user experience – internally and externally.

ii. Innovate in every aspect of business to find efficiencies and to demonstrate creativity and innovation.

iii. Practise what we preach and use our own services. If our marketing services don’t work for us, we can’t in good conscience sell them to anyone else. We are our best case study and the first point of critical feedback.

We are a marketing-first organisation and believe that when we put our users first and our money where our mouths are that revenue and success naturally follow – and so far this has been proven true.

Note: This article is part of a series. Check out the full series: Part 1, Part 2, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, Part 7, Part 8, Part 9, Part 10, Part 11, Part 12, Part 13. Stay tuned for more articles!