Crowdfunding: The Grit Before the Glory

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The badass witches from The Coven raised more than $300,000 for a business idea they hatched over brunch. In less than a year, four women with a shared passion for diversity and inclusion brought their idea to life, and on International Women’s Day, The Coven, a co-working and community space in Minneapolis, officially opened its doors. Talk about #goals.  

We sat down with this incredible team - Alex Steinman, Bethany Iverson, Liz Giel and Erinn Farrell - to get the scoop on what drove them to become co-founders, how they crushed their crowdfunding goals, and where The Coven goes from here.

iFundWomen: How do you all know each other?

Erinn: We all met while working in the advertising industry in Minneapolis. We were part of an organization called MPLS MadWomen, which Alex is now the president of. The aim of MPLS MadWomen is to create content and spaces for women within our industry to connect.

It’s funny, now, being in this position that The Coven is a real thing. You look backwards and you can see all of the seeds that were planted along the way that you didn’t realize you were planting all along. For us, we were really passionate about the mission of MPLS MadWomen and we were committed to tearing down the walls between the different agencies and making meaningful connections for women at all different levels.

One of the things we find often here, in Minneapolis, is we don’t have an awareness problem. We have an action problem. The four of us came together to try and drive that change and help to organize it. Within that, again, there are all these seeds for The Coven that, looking back on, it’s so obvious that this happens to be the next thing. So that’s how we all know each other and now we’re all in a four person hetero-life partner situation.

iFW: A crowdfunding campaign is another full-time job. This team raised more than $315,000 for a business that hadn’t even opened. Tell us about the planning, the execution, and the delivery. What made this campaign work?

Alex: One benefit of working at an agency is two of us had done crowdfunding campaigns before. My agency had a whole crowdfunding arm, so I had worked on projects like a 3D printer that raised $3 million dollars. It was kind of amazing because we had this knowledge of, at least, how to do it and we had both been on the creative side of it before. We knew what needed to go into a crowdfunding video. We knew the types of rewards that we needed to offer.

But because of all of that experience, I was the person who said, ‘We are not doing a crowdfunding campaign.’ I had done six campaigns before and they are a TON of work. If you have never done one before, you feel like, ‘Oh wow, they’re just so turnkey. You just put your campaign on a website and then it sells.’ Nothing could be further from the truth. There is a lot of work that goes into it.

Erinn: The merchandise game was something we were really scared of at the time. Early in our planning process, we had an idea but we didn’t know the value of it yet. There was that element of ‘Oh, we’ll give them pens and then we’ll give them notebooks!’ and Alex was like “We’re not getting in the merch game. I refuse to do that.”

Bethany: Here’s where we kind of turned a corner on the crowdfunding campaign. Our organization is totally a mission-driven organization, but it’s also business. Once we allowed ourselves to say the thing that we’re building is big enough that people will find an altruistic angle, [we agreed] we don’t need merchandise.

[Our community] believes in the idea and they think that there is a need for this in our city. We had a hunch. And we did the work to verify it. We talked to hundreds of women the summer before our campaign ever went live. We concluded there is a group of women who are both affluent enough and who will see the value of something like this, and they will fund it. And maybe dudes will fund it. Maybe dudes will fund it at like $100 because they believe that women deserve something like this. We then spent our time putting together packages that would allow us to give parts of The Coven experience without having to manufacture tchotchkes to send to people in the suburbs of Minneapolis.

Alex: Those focus groups became our pool of women that we built our email lists from. They became our ambassadors. There were women who were saying “Yes, this makes sense.” There were people in there who were like, “I wouldn’t use a space like this, but I can appreciate what you’re doing so I will send this to three of my friends.” We knew by July that we were going to do a crowdfunding campaign.

We had started collecting those emails. We launched our social channels in September. We soft launched in October for two weeks - pumping messages to those folks that we had talked to over the summer, which is kind of like crowdfunding 101. Getting the word out early and often to your closest community to establish momentum and demonstrate traction. We were so grateful that there was a soft launch option on iFundWomen. We raised $20,000 before we officially launched and then when we opened the gates within four weeks we raised $100,000.

iFW: Because your campaign was for a physical space that did not exist yet, how did you make people feel that The Coven is real?

Alex: We were intentional about who we reached out to early on. When we did our initial focus groups, we would invite five or six women that we knew, and we asked them to bring a friend that we didn’t know so that our network got extended. Behind every great woman are seven other amazing women.

We’ve been very intentional about growing our diverse population, so doing specific outreach to women of color, women from the LGBTQ community, women who are differently abled to really bring them into our space because they’re not just going to show up at our things. Actually, the last event that we had was extremely diverse and it’s because we built relationships with each and every one of them. And then each person of color then turned around and brought another person of color. Our spaces are becoming really diverse, but they didn’t start that way. Unfortunately, that’s typically where people stop.

Bethany: For our business, we don’t need a million people to buy into The Coven. We need 390 women by the end of year one to be members of The Coven in order for us to be a financial success. You can network your way to 390 women. It’s not an impossible number. When women are like, ‘How are you going to build a diverse audience or a diverse member base,’ we’re just literally going out and meeting them and emailing them and reaching out to them one-on-one. An investor would probably be like ‘this is horribly inefficient’, but for us we’re building a community and communities are built on relationships. I don’t know how else we could possibly do it other than the one-to-one.

iFW: Were there any surprises during the campaign?

Alex: The biggest surprises have come in how we communicate with people. First, it was just teaching people that it’s okay to invest in yourself. It’s okay to buy something for yourself. The second was probably that you don’t have to be a founding member to contribute to this. That was a huge thing for men in particular. Teaching men that this is how you can contribute to the community. Give at a lower level or gift a membership to somebody. You don’t have to buy it for yourself. It’s been just those education pieces that we wouldn’t have known starting.

iFW: What was your most successful reward?

Bethany: 95% of our money has come from founding members - we offered a discounted Founding Membership for $1,800 and let people know that after the campaign the cost would increase to $2,200. There was no way that we could take $50 or $25 donations and get to the amount of money that we needed to open The Coven. If we had only needed $20,000, we would’ve felt very differently, but we obviously are trying to raise six figures so you have to go high value with your rewards.

iFW: Now that you’ve exceeded your stretch goals, can you kick back? Where do you go from here?

Erinn: There’s definitely an element of, yes, we’ve had tremendous success but it’s still scary. We purposefully are not in an entrepreneurial mindset of ‘We got a ton of funding upfront.’ We’re incrementally building this thing. One of the things we learned really unintentionally, byways of our values and our qualitative figuring out between each other, is that we have less of an entrepreneurial mindset and more of a small business mindset. And that was a huge shift for us.

We want to change the lives of the women in this community. We’re building a legacy for the city. For the women of Minneapolis and St. Paul. There’s still a lot of fear and scarcity in our future and it is an incremental build, but it just feels so much more true to who we are.  

 iFW: What are some pieces of advice you have for female entrepreneurs considering raising a round through iFundWomen?

Erinn: There’s definitely a lot of ‘stick-to-it ness’ and working with three other co-founders helps ensure that. It’s funny, when we first started, and especially when we were talking to potential investors, everyone’s like “Oh, four people. Oh gosh, That’s gotta be tough.” The reality is we never would've made so much progress in such a short period of time.

We had this idea when we were at brunch in April of 2017. That was the first time we ever talked about building something like this in the real world. The fact that it’s moved this fast is because there are four of us. We can go in so many directions. Not that I would suggest that everyone who’s launching on iFundWomen have four co-founders. What I do think you need, is to build your community before you put it out there. Especially if you think of crowdfunding as community funding. Those relationships have to already be there. Then, when you go and make this ask, it’s not a surprise. Crowdfunding should feel like the next natural step. I’ve already bought into this because I have this relationship or connection with this person. I’m invested in their vision and I already feel a part of it.

Alex: Be open to pivoting and changing your idea. Yes, stick to your guns to what the true mission of your business is, but your members, your funders or audience are going to tell you what they want. Crowdfunding is as much about gathering product and market research as it is about raising money.

Erinn: And we should also say, we’ve had all of this success without press. Press is not something that has driven the emotional connection and the investment to what we are creating.

Alex: Honestly, a lot of the business press is like ‘Cool, prove it when you’re open.’

iFW: How did you find out about iFundWomen?

Alex: Our other founder, Liz, found you guys when I was like we’re not doing crowdfunding. She had done a ton of research. She came back with a deck and was like “This is why we’re going to use iFundWomen.”

Erinn: We went with you guys because of the alignment on values. At the end of the day, we are making choices. Every choice we are making is an intentional choice to further our vision and the values that we are trying to share with our members and iFundWomen was the [platform] that fell within that. For us, iFundWomen felt like the obvious choice.

 

It's All About Demand and Supply, Kid

 Source:  Sat Nam Babe.  

Source: Sat Nam Babe. 

One of the first concepts you learn in economics is supply and demand. For entrepreneurs, investing in the right amount of supply is imperative or you could find yourself drowning in product that you can’t sell. But how can you efficiently suss out if there is a market for your product without having the actual supply?

This is the genius of crowdfunding that nobody tells you about. Crowdfunding allows you, the entrepreneur, to assess demand before you invest years of your life, tons of your own money, or worse, take out a loan and go into debt, investing in supply that may or may not sell.

Crowdfunding turns traditional business economics on its head. It is an extremely efficient, low-risk opportunity for entrepreneurs to step outside of their comfort zone, test out their ideas, and best of all - generate demand before investing in supply while raising capital for your business.

Many of the startups on iFundWomen, our crowdfunding platform, are in the very early stages and their campaign is one of the first times they’re putting their idea out there to be judged. As we embark on year two of helping women-led businesses get funded, we’ve seen creative and compelling strategies from entrepreneurs, working to iron out their proof of concept, which can easily be applied to getting your idea off the ground.

  1. Build passionate customers by involving them in the product development process.

Deborah Owens, a financial services expert and wealth coach, is crowdfunding to develop an app called WealthyU. WealthyU is the Weight Watchers for paying down debt, saving and investing. It provides users with the tools and education they currently lack to take control of their finances. Not only has Owens raised almost $30,000 to-date, but she has also accumulated a community of beta testers that she can rely on for feedback once her prototype is ready. Tapping into her customer base to gather feedback ensures she is building a product that meets her customers' needs, and involving them in the product development process gives her consumers a deeper connection to her brand.

      2. Generate demand for your initial product with limited quantities

Sat Nam Babe is a socially conscious line of play and yoga clothing for kids - infants to age five. Founder Jennifer Coulombe set out on a mission to raise $10,500 to produce Sat Nam Babe’s first line and build the company’s e-commerce site. Coulombe built excitement for her brand by messaging her intent to launch through crowdfunding in the months leading up to her campaign. The focus on limited quantities created a feeling of exclusivity and curiosity around her brand. Her reward strategy smartly included letting backers be the first to get their hands on her products. Those early customers helped fund the launch of this sustainable clothing line and they’ll be her company’s first brand ambassadors.  

      3. Prototype a new production model with the funds from your campaign

Reid Miller Apparel wants to create a production model for U.S.A. custom-made womenswear and she’s using her crowdfunding campaign to test the process. Miller was tired of being unable to find clothing that fit, so she raised $15,000 to test the new model on five beta clients. Once the production model is perfected, she’s ready to custom make 100 riding jackets for customers. The genius behind Miller’s idea is that all of the data she’s been able to obtain from her campaign can be used to show potential investors that women truly want better fitting clothing.

The reality is almost half of startups fail due to a lack of product-market fit. Crowdfunding gives you the opportunity to fail fast and fail cheap. Learning quickly that nobody wants your product may be a difficult pill to swallow, but knowing when to pivot is a necessary skill for successful entrepreneurs.

2018 Women's March Posters!

2018 Women's March on NYC

Welcome fellow Women's Marchers! We are so excited to march in solidarity with you on Saturday, January 20th in New York City! Be sure to sign up here if you want to march with our feminist crew of all ages and genders. 

Here are some downloadable posters for your marching enjoyment. These are easily (and cheaply) printed at your local Staples!

RIGHT CLICK on the image below and save to your desktop. 


POSTER #1

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POSTER #2

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Why iFundWomen Offers Free Crowdfunding Coaching Now

 Karen Cahn, Founder & CEO of iFundWomen. Refers to herself as "Head Coach". Secret passion: getting women entrepreneurs to execute on one idea at a time.

Karen Cahn, Founder & CEO of iFundWomen. Refers to herself as "Head Coach". Secret passion: getting women entrepreneurs to execute on one idea at a time.

Why iFundWomen Offers Free Crowdfunding Coaching Now

Author: Karen Cahn, Founder & CEO, iFundWomen

2017 was a wild year for women, one which reaffirmed that everyone must work harder, must do better, to help women get ahead financially. As Ruth Ann Harnisch, investor, activist, and founder of  The Harnisch Foundation brilliantly put it, “The final frontier of feminism is finance."

The final frontier of feminism is finance
— Ruth Ann Harnisch

Women now make up 40% of new entrepreneurs in the United States, the largest percentage since 1996. Every woman I talk to has at least two or three business ideas that she’s keeping to herself. Many of these ideas are pragmatic, necessary products and services that people actually need.  Access to capital remains the number one issue that female entrepreneurs face in bringing their products to market.  That’s why my team and I started iFundWomen, a crowdfunding platform for female entrepreneurs - giving women a space to bring these dynamic innovations to life. 365 days later, we’ve helped hundreds of budding businesses raise startup capital and we’ve learned many lessons along the way.

Ok, so what are the top 3 things that we learned:

1. You must prove there is demand for your product or service before you invest in building out your offering

We started iFundWomen specifically to create a platform designed to turn traditional business economics on its head. Instead of supply and demand, iFundWomen gives entrepreneurs the opportunity to generate demand before they invest in supply. It’s a smarter approach to starting a business. Crowdfunding offers an extremely efficient, low risk opportunity for women to step outside of their comfort zone, and test out their ideas.

Instead of supply and demand, iFundWomen gives entrepreneurs the opportunity to generate demand before they invest in supply.
— Karen Cahn

 

2. Crowdfunding coaching and a well-prepared marketing plan are essential to a successful campaign

Crowdfunding is like skydiving (but with a much lower risk of physical injury) - if you’ve never done it before, you really have no idea what you’re in for.  The emotional rollercoaster that you will inevitably ride will likely make you want to vomit at times, but at the end of a successful campaign, you feel like you can do anything. And you can.

My team and I experienced the crowdfunding free fall first-hand before building our product, and we have identified the key factors that are essential to a successful campaign.  Most importantly, we know that coaching works. When comparing campaigns that have succeeded versus those that have struggled to reach their goals, the results show that entrepreneurs on our platform who invested in coaching raised 4.5 times more money than the ones who did not.  Data like this is why we’ve changed our product offerings to include free coaching for everyone who launches a campaign. We have built a toolkit and a peer-to-peer coaching system that has reduced the time to market for our entrepreneurs dramatically, while increasing the success of their campaigns.

Entrepreneurs on our platform who invested in coaching raised 4.5 times more money than the ones who did not. Data like this is why we’re offering FREE coaching for everyone who launches a campaign.
— Concetta Rand

3. You need to be legit to win

This is so basic, but it needs to be said. The support of your network is dependent on how you present your business through your campaign.  Your potential backers are going to expect you to have the fundamental markers of a legitimate business.  This means that you must have 1) a website that clearly states what your business or passion project is about, and 2) a professional video that tells the story of your company and efficiently explains what your campaign is all about.

There are very straightforward ways for you to successfully crowdfund and it starts with having a great idea, but ultimately you can’t just talk about it, you have to be about it. Prove that you’re serious about your project with a website, a video, your social handles on point, and a built-up audience of people who believe in you. You are what you do, not what you say.

You are what you do, not what you say.
— -Anonymous Wise Person

To wrap it up, after a year in the game, we feel more confident than ever that crowdfunding, coaching, and connections are the answer to getting women-led businesses off the ground.  So whether you are ready to grow your existing business or you are germinating on a great idea that’s ready to blossom, crowdfunding on iFundWomen is the lowest risk, highest potential opportunity to make your entrepreneurial dreams a reality. No more waiting. Do it!

Mastering the Art of the Brag

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By Concetta Rand, Chief Revenue Officer, iFundWomen

You hate to brag. We feel you. Every day we talk to entrepreneurs who tell us they would rather work on their business than focus on selling. So they avoid putting their accomplishments out into the world their and that holds their businesses back. 

Research shows that whether it's touting our own performance or estimating our abilities, women lag far behind men.  We also know that women who are overtly confident pay a price. But if you don’t promote what you’re doing no one else will.  There's no question it’s a tricky tightrope to walk.

When women step up to solve problems, we add a critical perspective. When our businesses are constrained by a lack of funding, everyone loses. Our silence has a real financial cost - from delayed promotions to smaller salary increases to lower fundraising amounts.

When women step up to solve problems, we add critical perspective. When our growth is constrained by a lack of funding, everyone loses.

When it comes to raising money for your business, bragging is table stakes. So what’s the secret to mastering the art of the brag?  How do those who may be more introverted get comfortable with touting your accomplishments and claiming your seat at the table?

1)  GET YOUR HEAD IN THE GAME

Mindset matters. Instead of ‘bragging’, think of it as a means to an end, and that “end” is growing your business.  Recognize that if you don’t start talking, no one else will. And you owe it to yourself and your business to get the word out about what you’re doing.

2)  OWN YOUR STORY

Your pitch is critical. You need to love it and own it in order to sell it.  Write out your pitch using our script template and practice constantly - with friends, in front of a mirror, to strangers, and to your phone while recording yourself.  Flexing your brag muscle like this will inevitably increase your confidence and your ability to share your successes with others.

3)   ASSEMBLE YOUR CHEERLEADING SQUAD

It can be daunting to put your accomplishments out in the world. If a post hits social media and no one likes, did it even happen? Take a page from some of the women who served in Obama's White House and enlist a friend – or 5! – to amplify your accomplishments. Take an advertising approach to your news – frequency matters. The more people who talk up your campaign and goals, the more likely they are to break through the clutter.

4)   DO THE WORK UPFRONT

Crowdfunding requires you to put yourself out there over and over again. Do that in whatever way is most authentic and organic to you, but be sure to prepare ahead of your campaign launch.  Your campaign is not a one-and-done sort of thing. It's not something you set and forget. It’s a marathon – not a sprint – and you need to keep your all-out media plan going all the way to the finish line. Be thoughtful in planning what channels you’re going to use and how you’re going to make them work for you.

It comes down to this: it’s not bragging if you’re really invested in what you’re doing. And if you’re not willing to invest in your business, why would anyone else be?

3 Things Every Female Founder Should Know

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This week's blog post is brought to you by DeLisa Alexander, Executive Vice President & Chief People Officer at Red Hat.  As an advisor and board member for several organizations advancing the entrepreneurial community in Raleigh, North Carolina, and the founder of the Women's Leadership Community at Red Hat, DeLisa understands the barriers faced by female entrepreneurs and she has rounded up her top three tips for women navigating the startup world.

Innovation and entrepreneurship are critical—to our community, to our country, and to the world. Entrepreneurs are a key part of a robust business ecosystem, because they generate new ideas, challenge the status quo, and help us solve the big problems that our world is facing.

But it’s hard to solve these problems when you’re missing part of the population. While research shows us that women make great entrepreneurs, they’re half as likely as men to start a business.

Entrepreneurs...help us solve the big problems that our world is facing. But it’s hard to solve these problems when you’re missing part of the population.

I’ve seen this play out many times throughout my career, particularly as I’ve worked with organizations like Soar Triangle, the Council for Entrepreneurial Development (CED), and other groups that support our local entrepreneurial community in Raleigh.

While the barriers women face in starting a business may be steep, it’s worth the climb. We know that diversity of many types (gender, ethnicity, age) creates greater diversity of thought. For the startup community, that means a better representation of customers, more innovative ideas, and better risk management.

I’ve observed some common traits among women who have been successful in creating and sustaining their own businesses. Here are three tips for those aspiring to be founders or leaders in the startup world:

1. Be aware of the odds and be ready to beat them

Women face additional barriers to entrepreneurship, including bias, greater responsibilities for family and life, and a lack of mentors. Being aware of these obstacles is the first step to overcoming them. For example, finding a mentor in your community might be a challenge. In addition to applying for programs that are open to everyone, take advantage of the resources offered by organizations like iFundWomen. They’re not only connecting women-led startups with mentors, investors, and resources, but also celebrating the successes of startups that are making an impact.

2. Be willing to bootstrap in order to stick to your vision

Entrepreneurs are innovators, and to innovate ahead of your time, you have to stick to your vision. The research tells us that women are resourceful, and they start companies with nearly half as much capital. So as you’re building prototypes and getting started, do what you need to do to bring your ideas to market. If your startup is addressing a problem that the market isn’t ready for yet, you may also need to be willing to make adjustments or find creative, cost-effective ways to communicate your vision. Striking a balance and being flexible on this journey doesn’t mean you’re giving up on your idea. If you’re open to new perspectives, they may improve or shift your idea and make it more fundable. This approach will prepare you to push forward when the market is ready.

3. Be resilient and open to feedback

Starting a new business is a risky undertaking, and there are times when you will get it wrong. It’s important to continue to iterate and build resilience as you approach roadblocks along the way. If you fail, what do you learn from it? How do you quickly iterate and shift your focus to better address the needs of the market? As entrepreneurs and innovators, you're often extending yourself to play many roles, climbing out onto skinny branches to bring your ideas to life. It's easy to want to seek perfection and avoid failures. I’ve learned that while critical feedback can be hard to hear when it’s something you’re deeply passionate about, it will help you avoid the big failures. At Red Hat and in open source communities, we call this “failing faster” -- constantly putting your early ideas out there, accepting input of all kinds, making those ideas better, and abandoning the ones that don’t pan out. This approach means you’re setting yourself up for continuous improvement, and laying the groundwork for the long-term success of your business.

There's no denying the obstacles that female entrepreneurs will face on their way to success, but preparing for these barriers ahead of time might just be the key to your success.

Red Hat is the world's leading provider of open source software solutions designed to provide customers with scalable & flexible technologies that meet their needs. iFundWomen is honored to have Red Hat as a sponsor of iFundWomen Raleigh, the region's dedicated crowdfunding platform. 

A Hidden Figure Crowdfunds on iFundWomen

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This week's guest post is brought to you by Dr. Sandra K. Johnson - An engineer and entrepreneur who is crowdfunding on iFundWomen for the resources to build geeRemit, her blockchain app for reduced-cost global money transfers.  Dr. JOHNSON is an actual Hidden Figure, one of the first African-American women to receive her Ph.D. in electrical engineering, and the first African-American woman to reach a technical leadership position at IBM. We are so inspired by her journey and the opportunity to be a part of it. 

I waited with great anticipation to see the movie, Hidden Figures. I was so inspired when I saw it. I learned that many of my experiences were also those of these three fabulous women. The way young Katherine Johnson explained the mathematical equations in one of the opening scenes felt right at home. FORTRAN was the first programming language I learned, and I ran them on a massive IBM computer. I left the movie excited, inspired, and also knowing that their story is my story.
 
However, I did not expect the sense of connection and history I experienced when I read the book. That’s when I learned the story of Dr. Christine Darden, the fourth woman profiled in the book. She worked as a supersonic aircraft designer at NASA. It turns out that I used some of her groundbreaking work in computational fluid dynamics (CFD) in my Ph.D. thesis research. It was then that I knew I stood on her shoulders and we have a historical connection. I immediately felt as though I had to meet her and began to look for ways to make this happen.
 
Several weeks later I learned that Dr. Darden was coming to the area for “STEM Resilience: Dinner and Conversation with Dr. Christine Darden”, an event at a local restaurant. I was so excited and immediately purchased a ticket. I reached out to the host, asking her to allow me to spend just a few minutes with Dr. Darden one-on-one. Well, she actually had me sit next to her for the evening. We spent 90 minutes together, getting to know each other, sharing our experiences, and conversing and sharing words of wisdom with three young ladies at the table with us.

 Dr. Sandra K. Johnson with Dr. Christine Darden, and host of the evening Dr. Christine Grant

Dr. Sandra K. Johnson with Dr. Christine Darden, and host of the evening Dr. Christine Grant

Dr. Darden is a very warm, soft-spoken and affable individual. She is also wise as a serpent, but soft as a dove. We talked about her professional experiences as well as her beloved family. (She knew quite a bit about my background, as someone had shared my vita with her before she arrived). I was very interested in her NASA career, including how she navigated and overcame her challenging environment to make her impact. She was very competent in her work and asked the right questions at the right time. For example, when she noticed that her male colleagues who started at NASA with similar credentials began to advance, she asked her manager about her advancement. When she did not get an acceptable answer, she went straight to the director and asked him. His response was that no one had ever asked him that question. Within a few weeks, she was promoted to engineer, from her position as a human computer. Dr. Darden mentioned to us that she only learned that the women in the NASA diversity office championed her cause by reading the book. She did not know prior to that.
 
I asked her how she developed her work on CFD algorithms.  It turns out her boss more or less left her alone to think and work, and that’s how she was able to do her work. In fact, she was the sole author on a paper describing her groundbreaking work. She spoke very fondly of her boss, and stayed in contact him for many years after he retired.
 
We also compared notes about our time in graduate school. Our experiences were similar. When she walked into a classroom, she was the only woman and her classmates were all Caucasian men. My classes were primarily Caucasian and Asian men and maybe two or three women, including me. The difference was that her classmates were willing to work with her, to be part of working groups. For me, no one but the foreign students would work with me. Of course they turned out to be the smartest students in class so I was always in good groups.
 

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I told her about my experiences where students and faculty said unpleasant things to me, such as “I believe you’re in the wrong place” or “I don’t think you’re going to make it here, but we’ll take your fellowship money”. She was appalled at this and asked me how I coped. I told her that I knew the truth, and they would eventually learn the truth. I did belong there and I eventually made believers out of them! She mentioned that for some, that would have been a discouragement. Not so with me.  What is enlightening to me is she did not have such experiences in school.
 
I thoroughly enjoyed my time with Dr. Darden, getting to know her, learning about her career and her family. I will always cherish the personal time I had with her!

Dr. Sandra K. Johnson is continuing to make history through her crowdfunding campaign. Support her project on iFundWomen.

5 Healthy Habits Every Entrepreneur Should Cultivate

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While there are countless ways to better yourself, developing good habits is often relegated to quickly cast-off New Year’s resolutions. Enter, Self-Improvement Month, also known as: September.

The iFundWomen Coaching Staff hear all manner of healthy habits that the amazing women in our network have mastered - or are working on themselves. Growing a business can be all-consuming. In the midst your business-building brilliance, we also recognize it’s critically important to take time out for yourself and the things you care about.

So, in honor of Self Improvement Month, we humbly present to you, 5 Healthy Habits Every Entrepreneur Should Cultivate:

1 .  Ask for Help

Running your own business is hard work. The most successful entrepreneurs know what to tackle themselves and when we to ask for help.  What matters is that things get done - not that you did it all yourself. You don’t have to be the expert in everything, but it can be uncomfortable to put yourself out there and admit you don’t know it all. Or to make the decision to invest in yourself and your development financially.  Whether it’s hiring a coach to help with your crowdfunding and business strategy, asking your network to invest in your campaign, or outsourcing your social media strategy to an expert, asking for help is the surest sign of strength.

What matters is that things get done - not that you did them yourself.

2.  Build Community & Seek Out Mentors

If we could offer one piece of advice to every person out there, it would be this: Build Community and Cultivate Mentors. Yes, you’re extremely busy. Yes, there are a million more urgent things in front of you. But building community and seeking out mentors are two of the best things you can do for yourself and your business. Whether it’s broadening your network in real life through organizations like the Six Degrees Society or GirlSpace Co-Working & Day Care  or connecting with like-minded women online at Covey Club, forming new and different relationships exposes you to different perspectives and approaches to solving problems. And if you’re looking for role models to aspire to become, SWAAY Media is a great place to follow and be inspired by groundbreaking women.

3.  Avoid Context Switching

For some people, this is the hardest habit to commit to. Whether it’s endless notifications on your phone, incessant email checking, or a co-worker popping by in-person (or on your screen) to ask about an urgent issue, staying focused on just one task seems almost impossible these days. But every day we hear more about the downside to all our multitasking - it turns out that 98% of us are in fact terrible at it.  For all we’re doing, we’re accomplishing far less: studies say multitasking cuts our productivity as much as 40%.  So how do we get back to single-tasking? Some of our favorite personal productivity techniques include batching similar tasks together and setting limits, which all starts with organizing and scheduling your time. Tools like the Pie Life Planner can transform how you manage your time. Instead of checking email all day long, pick 2 or 3 times to power through messages - and then close your browser or better yet, sign out of your account. Turning off all non-urgent desktop and phone notifications can be life-changing in terms of keeping you focused on the task at hand. And using apps like Tide can help you block off dedicated periods of time to focus your energies on that truly mission critical task.

4.  Exercise your Mind and Body

Still with us? Fantastic! Now let’s get honest about some serious self-care. As an entrepreneur, it can feel like the world will crumble if you take even a second for yourself. But we all know the opposite is true. Healthy living is all about making time to nourish your mind and body so that you can come back refreshed and ready to conquer the world. And the entrepreneurs on iFundWomen make it easy to take care of yourself from head to toe.

Thanks to Francine Steadman Krulak and some incredible rewards from Buddha Booth, you don’t have to look far to find a quiet space in the midst of all of life’s noisy places. Maybe you prefer to burn off all that stress with a killer run. The Brass Betty team has you covered with some amazingly stylish (and functional) sports bras.

And if you’re like some of iFundWomen team, you just want to treat yourself to some mood boosting scents from Adoratherapy or an at-home spa experience with luxury skincare products from Gilly’s Organics.

5.  Unplug: Shut it Down

Whether it’s an hour, a day, or a week - disconnecting is an absolute must. While we sense there are negative consequences to being ‘always on’, few of us take steps to truly disconnect. But when we take the time to step back, research and experience show us incredible things happen - our stress levels go down and our brain gets a much-needed respite from all that hard work.  Recognizing those opportunities for cerebral siestas allows you to access different parts of your brain and that will benefit you greatly when waking up on the refreshed side of the bed - you’ll be more likely to turn problems into challenges and make better decisions throughout your day.  The point is - whether it’s a trip to an off-the-grid bar like Drunken Money in Bocas del Toro, Panama, finally sitting down to get through a few pages in a great book, or enjoying the great outdoors with your four-legged friend, courtesy of Waggin’ Trails Dog Park - taking time offline to reconnect with family, friends, and yourself is the healthiest habit of all.

As entrepreneurs, our personal mind & body health tends to take a backseat to more pressing matters, like keeping our businesses alive.  The truth is that nothing should get in the way of carving out relatively small amounts of time to unplug, relieve stress and step outside of the hustle bubble in order to reset and refresh.