Karen Cahn is disrupting how female entrepreneurs get funded with iFundWomen.com, a new crowdfunding platform that’s helping aspiring entrepreneurs turn their passion into profit.
How I'm Skirting the Rules
If you have a business idea and want to give it a test drive, Karen Cahn wants your number. That’s because the self-proclaimed feminist’s mission is to help as many female small business owners as possible become success stories. It was her motivation for starting a brand-new crowdfunding platform that offers female entrepreneurs the tools they need to create effective pitches while giving them their own online destination to be seen and get funded. Karen has been an online pioneer since starting out as one of Google’s earliest employees, where she worked for a decade. Her previous career hats include spearheading branded entertainment at YouTube (think: combining big brands with video content), and being general manager of AOL Original Video, where she led business strategy and strategic partnerships. Today she is the self-made entrepreneur behind the crowdfunding platform iFundWomen.com. Here Karen shares how she’s helping remove some of the biggest barriers to entry for women starting a business, with the end goal being to score the financial support needed to get your startup off the ground.
I’m Skirting the Rules by actually building the things I dream up in my head, and not being afraid to fail. Fear of failure just isn’t in my DNA. That’s not to say that I don’t care what people think about me. I care that I have the respect of my colleagues and my peers. I care that I’m doing quality work that I’m proud of. I care that people can count on me to be there when the chips are down, as well as to celebrate their wins. But if I have an idea for a product or a business and I’m passionate about it—whether it’s in a corporate environment or my own startup environment—I’m going to do it.
A time when I found the possible (a creative solution) within the impossible (against incredible odds) was when I gave birth to my son who was incredibly premature, and took a six-month maternity leave at Google. I had so much heartache at that time, but Google was such a supportive company and the people I worked with became some of my closest friends. I got through it by leaning on my relationships for support—in real life and not just online. When I came back to work, not only did I have my job, but I got promoted. What I call IRL (in real life) relationships are everything. Relationships are what makes the world go around. I try to teach this to my children.
An example of how listening to my intuition has helped me is when I started iFundWomen.com, and did it during the election. I just knew there was a hole in the market for funding women. I realized there weren’t these magical, mystical money fairies hanging out waiting to sprinkle money dust on your campaign. That’s now how traditional crowdfunding works. Crowdfunding is about going out to sell your project, and hustling just as you would if you were looking for any kind of investment backing—except that you don’t have to pay it back. However, on most crowdfunding sites, there is no coach there helping you get ready. Most of the big success stories on other crowdfunding sites are what I call “boys with their toys,” or men making tech gadgets. There really wasn’t a platform for women-led small businesses, so I built iFundWomen.com to provide female entrepreneurs the tools they need to be successful as well as to be an online platform to get their ideas out there into the world.
We launched a week before the election in November, believing there would be a female president. Everyone who was advising us was asking, “Are you sure you want to launch now?” because launching and trying to raise money during election and holiday season is like the kiss of death. But I felt it was our moment.
The election obviously didn’t work out the way we thought, but the upset actually helped us because it inspired people to act. We raised almost $250,000 in our first two months of the beta launch. That is a lot of money for an unknown website—we have only 2,000 followers on Facebook. It was the entrepreneurs who mobilized and said now is the time more than ever to support women’s financial independence. My intuition proved right.
My secret talent is that I can make a fabulous dinner with almost nothing in the cupboard, and I can go into anybody’s kitchen and throw together an amazing meal without a recipe. For instance, I could find bacon in the fridge, pasta in the pantry, a bag of frozen peas, and a block of parmesan cheese and I’d be able to put together something really delicious.
A woman is most powerful when she says “no.” I think women have a harder time saying no, and I’m among those women. We are bred to please, whether it’s in your social life, at work, or doing something sexually that we don’t want to do. There are so many ways we say yes when we should say no.
What I wish I had told myself when I was starting out is never, ever drink at office parties. I don’t love unsolicited advice, but I will tell young women just starting in a corporate environment to not drink at office parties with the bosses around, and to not date anyone at work.
My favorite skirt (a.k.a life hack or life rule) is to get stuff done in the morning. I started waking up around 5:45am. Nobody is up and the house is quiet, so I make my coffee and go right to work. I end up getting two hours of peaceful work done before I even drop the kids off at school, and I feel accomplished before the day has really started.