“Build a community and reach out ”

Build a community and reach out — entrepreneurs have the opportunity to build innovative products and respond quickly to evolving market needs. If you are a woman founder or a mompreneur then this is the time for you! Today’s community is full of women who want to support each other and make connections. We’re passionate about helping each other succeed.

As a part of our series about “Why We Need More Women Founders”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Dee Diwan.

Dee Diwan is the founder and the heart brain behind Makemake Organics. Based in Tampa, Florida, Dee is the mother of a 5-year old and enjoys designing products that reflect her mom-run design company’s philosophy: items with a sense of fun and practicality that are made from sustainable fabrics, responsibly produced, and beautiful enough to be treasured.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?

You’ve heard the story: woman gets super creative, does something out of the box and succeeds despite everyone thinking she’s making a big mistake; we’ve heard it all before. But this is my story, and I can promise you it doesn’t go like that. My goal wasn’t to be an entrepreneur when I was in school. In fact, I had no goals in mind other than getting a job when I graduated from NC State with a major in Public Relations. Then somehow in the mayhem of all the college angst, I stumbled upon this thing called entrepreneurship. And funnily enough, it would prove to be the most valuable thing I learned in college.

After college I started a women’s clothing business which just did not take off. I worked a few jobs in an office environment, and my story goes from, working both full time and dabbling with my own startups part time for a few years, to all the way to where I am today. The common theme through all those jobs and businesses was sustainability and the grit to keep trying.

When I was pregnant with my first child, I wanted to find products that would help keep our growing baby healthy. The harder I looked, the more I realized that the majority of products were synthetic, unsafe for babies, and just not trustworthy! Out of our desire to create safer products for our youngest family members, we started making our own organic baby products. They were so soft and gentle and we found that like us, many other parents wanted a safer alternative. I went live and started to sell small but the demand just kept increasing and I kept expanding. You’ve seen it before. Things don’t always go as planned. But it’s a good story — and a good reminder that anyone can have setbacks for a while but they don’t last forever.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?

We’re a company with a strong organic identity, a social purpose, and a lot of ambition to deliver very high-quality products. Everything we do is built upon authenticity and transparency, and we’ve always tried to make decisions that will make the world a better place, not just ourselves. In order to scale this business while staying true to our organic roots and sustainable purpose, I knew that finding the right textile experts was super important to us.

I had a family friend who knew some suppliers in South India so I packed up my bags and took a flight to India. After 3 planes and 5 hours on the road, I was able to have an hour long meeting with the factory owner where we could not agree about their minimum order quantities as we were just starting out. Some would have called the trip a complete disaster. I had no plans, no contacts, and I was in a city where I knew nobody. It looked like my chance to start this business would never happen. So I had to improvise…I spent an entire day calling every factory in that area to book meetings and spent the next few days meeting them. After much research, I finally located a vendor who shared our values and were experts at weaving using organic cotton yarns, delivering the superior level of product that customers had come to expect from our great quality babywear.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

When I started the process of making our clothes, I knew this was going to take more than just me. I needed design experts to help us create the best possible product. I didn’t know where to look for these experts. Like most businesses, hiring people can be hard…so you need all the help you can get.

I was planning on having some meetings over coffee with job applicants, but I miscalculated how long each of our conversations would last, which meant I ran late for the next meeting…to the point where I had four candidates waiting at the cafe for the interview. When I realized my mistake, I was so embarrassed, but all the candidates were very understanding.

I now know better, as the founder of my company, I’ve learned that meetings are an important part of business. That’s why I make sure that my meetings are always planned well ahead and I leave extra time to get to my meetings. I am there early and often meet with the participants ahead of time. This has helped me better manage my overall work schedule.

Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the primary focus of our interview. According to this EY report, only about 20 percent of funded companies have women founders. This reflects great historical progress, but it also shows that more work still has to be done to empower women to create companies. In your opinion and experience what is currently holding back women from founding companies?

There are multiple overlapping problems, but the most obvious reason is that entrepreneurship is still represented and considered as a male occupation. The number of female entrepreneurs is growing, but that doesn’t mean the playing field is level. In many ways, starting a company as a woman can be an uphill battle. Women face challenges and biases that men don’t encounter, and we’re faced with challenges and biases as well. Most of the time, you’re walking into a male dominated arena and going against the grain of what society thinks women should do.

We need to have a dialogue and instill more confidence in women specifically to benefit them with a successful career while raising a family with pride and determination. Parents tell their sons that they’re smart and talented before they’ve done anything in particular; meanwhile girls often don’t hear those words until after they’ve demonstrated their achievements. Boys get more opportunities because people believe in them; girls get fewer because they’re expected to be perfect and prove themselves first.

As a result, young women often wind up minimizing their abilities or simply believing that entrepreneurship is not for them. But when we limit opportunities for women who might otherwise become entrepreneurs, we all lose out on new ideas and innovations.

Can you help articulate a few things that can be done as individuals, as a society, or by the government, to help overcome those obstacles?

It’s time to address the elephant in the room. As women, we’ve all heard it before: “You can do anything you want!” The problem is, it’s easier said than done. Marketing yourself as a female entrepreneur can be a challenge. It’s clear that society should encourage women entrepreneurs. The benefits to the economy and society are enormous, and this shift in thinking will benefit both sexes. There’s no doubt that women face many challenges when it comes to becoming entrepreneurs, especially when they have children. But a lot of those challenges can be addressed with a little creativity and a strong community.

As individuals, women will likely encounter stereotypes and biases, but we need to find ways to overcome them and build a successful business. The first step is to be confident in your abilities as an entrepreneur, regardless of gender. Realize that people will make assumptions about your business because you are a woman. If you know this, you can prepare for it and move forward with confidence.

The traditional model of entrepreneurship is changing, and there are more opportunities for people who want to work from home or start a business on the side while keeping their day job. The internet allows people to reach audiences all over the world without having to be in a physical location. That means that even if you’re a stay-at-home mom, you can have an international audience for your products or services. It takes strength and confidence to say, yes I can do both, and there are real benefits to having a successful career while raising a family.

This might be intuitive to you as a woman founder but I think it will be helpful to spell this out. Can you share a few reasons why more women should become founders?

It’s time to stop questioning women in the business world. They are smart, motivated, and they have an intuitive sense of people, which is essential in business. The majority of women have a quality that is often ignored in business: the ability to engage with others. These qualities should be celebrated and harnessed because they are sorely needed in business. The most successful companies are turning away from the toxic narrative of success through hard work — and are increasingly putting their focus on the soft skills of collaboration, communication, and building relationships. As a woman entrepreneur, you have a distinct power of persuasion. It takes a special brand of toughness to balance a hectic career and family life, but with so many rewards it’s worth the effort.

What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about being a founder? Can you explain what you mean?

“You’re the boss. You call the shots. You’re the one who ultimately gets things done”. Every business is a team effort. There are so many different elements that must be kept in balance for it to succeed. If you were to try to manage it by yourself, you’d very quickly discover how difficult it would be to get everything done. That’s why most businesses require more than one person if they wish to get anything done. It only takes one person to start a business, but it takes at least one other person to make the business successful. The roles of the people involved in the business will differ depending on the type of business you’re running and its size. As a leader, you’ll need to find your strengths and weaknesses as you adapt to your new role. You will have to work as a team with the people around you as this is a great way to overcome obstacles and reach your goals.

Is everyone cut out to be a founder? In your opinion, which specific traits increase the likelihood that a person will be a successful founder and what type of person should perhaps seek a “regular job” as an employee? Can you explain what you mean?

Nothing about entrepreneurship is easy. It has exciting ups but incredibly frustrating downs. I think it is crucial to share this perspective with those who are thinking of starting their own business or who do not appreciate the sacrifices that must be made. Being an entrepreneur is the most exciting, rewarding, and frustrating thing. The highs are high — you get to call the shots, make decisions that affect your life and the lives of others, and feel like you’re in control of your life. Coming up with a new product or service that people love is incredibly rewarding. Nothing can compare to feeling like you’ve created something unique that makes the world a little better for its existence. However, there are also some incredibly frustrating times when it seems like everything is against you. It’s easy to lose perspective in those tough times.

When you’re a small business owner, the excitement of a new idea or a profitable product can be nearly matched by the frustration that comes from dealing with taxes, legal issues and other aspects of running a company. Then there are extreme but real issues like running out of cash. No one can run a business without cash. Entrepreneurs may try to keep their expenses low, but sometimes that isn’t enough. Running out of cash can happen at any stage of your business, and it can quickly lead to failure if you don’t act quickly. So if these are things that you do not feel you wish to tackle on a daily basis, a regular job is an amazing option. Whatever you do, you just have to remind yourself that even though things might seem hard right now, it will get better, and you will learn from each experience.

Ok super. Here is the main question of our interview. Based on your opinion and experience, What are the “Five Things You Need To Thrive and Succeed as a Woman Founder?” (Please share a story or example for each.)

  1. Starting a business is challenging, and the first most important thing is perseverance. If you can make it through the first few years, however, the payoff is huge. You need to be willing to work hard and hustle in order to succeed in business. You need to be persistent and not give up.
  2. Passion — I’m one of the examples, like many, who decided to build a career out of my passion. I reassure you that if you believe in yourself and follow your passion, nothing will stop you.
  3. Setting goals — Setting goals for yourself is important because it helps you establish what kind of life you want to live. You also need goals so that you know where you are going with your life and business. If you don’t set goals for yourself, you will never reach them; if you don’t have any goals, there is no motivation for you to work towards anything. Setting goals allows you to see where you are going with your business and how far along the path of success you are currently at.
  4. Delegate — If you want to get customers, delegate everything possible so you can focus on sales and marketing. It’s important to be involved in everything your business does, but if you’re doing everything there’s no time left for marketing and sales.
  5. Build a community and reach out — entrepreneurs have the opportunity to build innovative products and respond quickly to evolving market needs. If you are a woman founder or a mompreneur then this is the time for you! Today’s community is full of women who want to support each other and make connections. We’re passionate about helping each other succeed.

How have you used your success to make the world a better place?

I was born in India and have been back there many times, so I have seen this for myself; the girls are kept at home mostly, because their parents see no need for education. In fact, going to school is often a dangerous option, as the girls are being raped or kidnapped on their way to or from school.

For many years, I have been donating to a non-profit organization in India that helps educate young girls. The institution I support helps by providing a safe environment for the girls and to give them a chance to learn a profession so they can earn a living later on in life. This way they don’t have to rely on someone else to take care of them forever. They can be self-sufficient and support themselves and their family. What you might not know is that women who get an education earn twice as much money as those who don’t. It also makes the whole family stronger and more capable of getting out of poverty. So I hope I can make a difference by helping these girls get an education and become empowered women who can change their own situation and make their own future.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the greatest number of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.

We should strive to accept people for who they are because there is beauty in diversity. Everyone has something to offer, and you should be able to find common ground with your fellow humans no matter what.

If I could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to people, it would be the acceptance movement — a movement that would advocate for gender equality, ethnic diversity, female leadership, respecting everyone’s opinions and thoughts and more balance between men and women. A world where we don’t judge people based on their race or gender is the future. More than half of the population are females. Let’s accept that females are just as or more capable of doing any job that males can do. Your mindset is the one thing that you have control over to change.

We are very blessed that some very prominent names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them.

I admire Indra Nooyi and would love to have lunch with her. I think we would have so many stories that we would be able to share. She is a strong and powerful woman not because of what she did at PepsiCo, but she was the first woman of color to lead an American corporation. The fact that it took this long means we still have a long way to go to make sure women and people of color feel equally welcome in American business.

Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.

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