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When I started my business, one that addresses a major social and cultural issue — gender equity — my friends and family joined in my excitement. My community knows me so well and knew that my business truly is my passion and immediately committed to support me and help me fight the good fight. They vowed to follow me on social media, be my best customers and tell all of their friends about the great work I am doing.
There are companies launching every day to address all of the major, pressing issues of our world: global warming and environmental impacts, police reform, racial and gender inequities. I co-founded my company, an ecommerce-shopping platform for women-owned businesses, as a direct result of the enormous economic toll that the pandemic was having on women. Covid-19 was driving women out of the workforce and onto online-shopping platforms. I knew that creating an online-shopping platform that supported women-owned businesses was the ideal solution.
I got excited about the idea and started sharing it with my friends and family. Within a few weeks, I had a co-founder and a small team of passionate and committed women who shared the mission and vision. We launched the site for shopping within five months and off we went.
Starting a company — any company — is hard
This is the third time I have done it, so I know! But this one is different. It is not about selling a product, piece of technology or even a concept to make money. This company is tapping into a big social issue: gender equality. Gender inequity has been around for thousands of years, and thanks to #MeToo and #BlackLivesMatter, has gained renewed attention over the past few years. The world — and my community — was abuzz about social injustice and all of the ways they could contribute to big, positive changes.
I was energized and, honestly, more than a little obsessed with my new business. I couldn’t tear myself away from watching the business indicators for traffic on the site: how many people were completing a purchase (conversion rates), how many vendors we were attracting to sell on the site, how much to invest in marketing and salaries. The list goes on.
As I started looking closer at who was buying, following and supporting, I discovered that my immediate community was absent. They were not becoming customers or social supporters or recommending my businesses in any visible way. At social occasions, some would ask about how things were going and seemed interested and still very supportive of the concept of improving gender equity by shopping women-owned. But their actions didn’t follow. It seems that entrenched habits and convenience won out over truly making a shift in behavior — even if it meant supporting a friend and community member.
This resistance to change has surfaced in a variety of ways. Some of my closest friends and family members have expressed hesitation to shop on my site because it is “new.” Some have said they really count on the convenience of shopping where they always have — and using that so-called “free shipping” that costs them over $100 per year. Others have suggested ways in which I can change my business so that they could better support me and the mission on their terms and in ways that are more convenient for them. And some have simply said it doesn’t cross their mind to support my site when shopping, “but it is nothing personal.”
A mission-driven business is absolutely personal
Entrepreneurship is hard. Having the support of those around you can make those stressful days (and nights!) a lot easier. But addressing social change, by definition, is never easy. And some days, the challenges of starting a business, in combination with the mission, feels absolutely overwhelming. And when I am met with the seeming lack of tangible support from my immediate community, it feels even harder.
A year into my new business, this is the hardest lesson yet — that I am not able to change and galvanize many people in my immediate circle. But this does not stop me from getting up every day, energized and committed to making social change. Because I am still working to grow my business and create a platform to improve women’s economic health and equality. I am not in this business to change a few minds. I am in this business to change culture and make a true impact on the lives of the women who have and will join our mission: the businesses that sell on our platform.
When I talk to customers and sellers about the difference we are making in their lives through our vision and my team’s relentless commitment and boundless energy, I know how important this work is. It is bigger than me. It is bigger than my immediate network. It is bigger than my neighborhood or even my city. It is about the opportunity. It is about equality. It is about changing the world and making it a better place for women to thrive. It is about the need to focus on the big picture.