By Emelyn Northway WG’13 and Dorie Golkin WG’13, co-founders of Of Mercer
We are women entrepreneurs. As such, we’re part of a small (but growing!) group. We’re members of the Wharton MBA class of 2013, a class with not only the highest percentage of women (45%) in Wharton history, but also the highest number of students pursuing their own startups (7.4%). Clearly, change is happening, and we’re proud to be part of it. Our startup, Of Mercer, makes affordable, stylish workwear for women. We like to think we’re helping other women succeed in business through great style.
Stereotypes about women, and women entrepreneurs, abound. We often pride ourselves on breaking out of them. But today, we’re going to embrace them, and show you why women may just make the best entrepreneurs:
Stereotype #1: Women Don’t Take Risks
We are risk averse. So how did two people who don’t take risks start a business? We did enough testing and research to get to a point where the decision to start Of Mercer no longer felt risky. Months before our November launch, we introduced a beta line of dresses to test fit, style, color, etc. Had we produced a full-line based on our initial designs (which at the time we thought were stellar), we would be sitting on a lot of unsold inventory. By taking our time, testing our products, and analyzing our data, we better understood the preferences of our customers.
Stereotype #2: Women Take Things Personally
When a dress that we worked so hard to perfect doesn’t work out for somebody, we take it to heart. It would be easy to try to keep our egos intact by assuming the problem was with the customer, not the dress. But that’s not going to make our product better, and it’s definitely not good customer service. Instead we accept the feedback because it enables us to constantly improve our product, and better serve our customers.
Stereotype #3: Women Stop To Ask For Directions
You can get where you’re going a whole lot faster if you stop and ask for directions. Before starting Of Mercer, neither of us had experience in fashion or retail (besides being avid consumers). So we talked to everyone we possibly could, admitting we were novices. Doing so gave us free reign to ask all the questions that we wanted, without judgment, and as a result, to get up to speed on the industry as fast as possible. And the sooner you can get those “stupid” questions out of the way, the less likely you are to actually look stupid later on when someone is judging you.
Stereotype #4: Women Love To Talk
As entrepreneurs navigating a new industry, networking is our best friend, and it’s a lot easier when you like to talk. Being willing to talk to anyone about our business (or about theirs), opens up unexpected business and learning opportunities. Being honest and up front about what we need help with, not only gives others the opportunity to help out (thank you very much, Adam Grant’s Give & Take), but also opens up communication channels to create deeper, more involved relationships.
Stereotype #5: Women Are Obsessed With Relationships
Many women report being more satisfied with their jobs when they have strong relationships with coworkers and feel liked and supported. While this applies to co-workers, it also applies to vendors, developers, and anyone else with whom you work. We tend to view those relationships as long-term, not just as transactional. Seeing them as people who don’t just work “for you” because you are paying them, but as part of your team, helps develop trusting working relationships.
Okay, so we’re kidding around when we say that women make “the best” entrepreneurs. But while the percentage of Venture Capital funding going to women-led businesses has plenty of room for improvement (it was 13% in 2013), it is growing (up 20% over 2012). With the huge success of a number of recent female-founded startups—think Rent the Runway, Spanx, Birchbox—we expect this number to continue to grow, and for good reason. According to research cited in this Forbes article, VC firms that invest in women-led businesses performed better than all men-led businesses. Further, women-led private technology companies are more capital-efficient, achieving 35% higher return on investment.
We hope to see more and more women choosing to become entrepreneurs in the near future. And if you need some fabulous yet businesslike clothes for that VC meeting, we encourage you to check out Of Mercer.
Bio: Dorie Golkin and Emelyn Northway, both WG’13, co-founded Of Mercer, a direct-to-consumer brand of stylish, affordable women’s workwear. Dorie graduated from Princeton University with a degree in Civil Engineering. Prior to Wharton she was a strategy consultant at Deloitte.
Emelyn graduated from Cornell University with degrees in Economics and Psychology. Prior to Wharton she worked as an analyst at Bank of America and later as an associate at Liberty Partners. They both love residing in New York but miss their go-to restaurants in Philadelphia.