Tips for Female Entrepreneurs from Dough, Square Cafe, and Squash the Beef
Updated: Aug 10, 2021
We had the opportunity to hear from three accomplished female entrepreneurs this March as part of our Women’s Entrepreneurship Panel. The conversation ranged from the challenges women face when starting a business, the benefits of crowdfunding as a female entrepreneur, and how to support women-owned businesses.
Two of our panelists, Sherree Goldstein and Candace Maiden, are Honeycomb alumni.
Sherree is the owner of My Goodness and Square Cafe in Pittsburgh, and ran campaigns for both of them, raising a total of $285,000! She’s been an entrepreneur since 2003 and is known for both creating a great restaurant and workplace environment for her staff and supporting her community through work with nonprofits.
Candace is the owner of Squash the Beef, a vegan catering company in Cleveland. Her Honeycomb campaign raised $30,000 to purchase a food trailer so that she could make her food more accessible to the community throughout the coronavirus pandemic and beyond.
Vanessa Bruce, our third panelist, is CEO and co-founder of Dough, an online marketplace for women-owned businesses. Vanessa and her co-founder, Anna, wanted to provide more opportunities for consumers to buy from women-owned businesses and to close the gender investment gap.
Why are women-owned businesses so good at crowdfunding?
There are many studies out there saying women-owned businesses typically do very well when it comes to crowdfunding, compared to the 2.5% of venture capital funding they receive. Since two of our panelists have experience with crowdfunding, we asked them why they think this is.
“One of the benefits was the connection we had to our community and to our customers,” says Candace. “I loved crowdfunding because we were selling our business and connecting with people to get them to invest in our business. We had people coming up to us saying, ‘We invested in YOU all and your company, so not only am I going to invest in you but I’ll also patronize you because I want to see you become successful.’”
For Sherree, the connection between community and crowdfunding was also a major part of her campaign’s success.
“It was definitely scary [to crowdfund], but we got to talk about ourselves over social media and emails daily and engage people locally and also not as local,” says Sherree. “We just wanted people to know who we were and what we were doing because we’re such a big part of the community and we want to continue to support it. And at this point, we needed support from the community. It’s nerve-wracking, it’s scary, and it’s fun.”
Sherree and co-owner of My Goodness Jeanne Herbert
Candace also sees the hustle that women have to have in order to run a business as important to crowdfunding: “I think there’s a hustle with women because things aren’t always given to us, it’s not always easy. Sometimes we work harder because we’re sacrificing so much. It’s all or nothing, I don’t have anything to fall back on.”
“There’s so much that I have had to overcome, so that pushes me to be more resilient and not give up because I know it’ll be hard and people are supporting me, watching me,” she continues. “We’re more aggressive when asking for support, I was out there meeting people, sending emails, it was a nonstop grind.”
How have you supported other women in business and vice-versa?
For our panelists, one common factor between women-owned businesses is the fact that they are open to collaboration and working together.
Vanessa says, “I think there’s something to say about being a woman-owned business and not being afraid of the collaboration, over-competition aspect of it all, and that there’s space for us all to succeed together. A lot of us probably have similar audiences so I see the most success when businesses come together and support each other and aren’t afraid to dedicate some space on their small slice of the internet to other small businesses.”
For Sherree, it’s about how she operates her businesses and the values she puts into everything from hiring on.
“I hire lots of women and lots of what people would call marginalized employees, so it’s not just about women for me, it’s about giving people a chance,” says Sherree. “A lot of people haven’t had good chances in their lives, they’ve been set up so poorly,” and Square Cafe gives people a shot at a better life by offering a more than livable wage and benefits.
Candace sees giving opportunities to other women- and minority-owned businesses as well as mentorship as a way of creating bonds and uplifting members of the entrepreneurial community.
Candace and her co-owner Kurtis Williams
“We always offer mentorship to people who come through our kitchen. Women-owned businesses just getting started with their catering or bakery business have questions about how to do things, how to figure out all the nuances with licensing, and stuff like that. We try to help them and support them like that. We also try to buy local, if someone’s cooking something we want to use in our products, that’s who we go to first instead of a big box store.”
“That’s another way, and if it’s a minority-owned business, a woman-owned business, they have the priority. We try to keep that cycle going, and we’ve seen so much success from that.”
For Vanessa, having someone to believe in her was a way that she overcame imposter syndrome and built confidence as a CEO. “A lot of my success has come from my co-founder, who’s gone on to become a full-time investor, she really believed in me, she was one of my freelance clients who I was designing emails for, and we kept in touch and met over coffee about starting Dough,” she says. “The fact that she had so much trust and faith in me that she even felt comfortable moving on and giving me that CEO title, that sponsorship, and mentorship was everything.”
“I mentor here in Boston through a program called HackDiversity, which is all about getting Black and Latinx students into the STEM field, into software engineering, product design, really starting to build up that generational wealth,” says Vanessa.
“That’s something I’m really passionate about, as someone who started in tech and was the first woman in a company. Like, I walked in and no one knew where the women’s restroom was, they had to go find it with me. So, I want to be able to send that forward to other underrepresented communities that you belong in here, you belong in tech, you belong in VC, you can be here.”
Where can everyday people find out about and support women-owned businesses?
There are many different ways you can support women-owned businesses and many ways you can find them. Supporting women-owned businesses can go beyond just buying stuff from them. Even just dropping a positive review or sharing their social media can make a difference.
Candace says, “By supporting women-owned businesses it allows us to have this sort of visibility, it allows us to create the space so the girls after us don’t have to go through the hard stuff we did. Social media is a great platform for finding more women-owned businesses. I also tell people word of mouth goes a long way - write that review on Google or Yelp.”
“Most of the people who try our food do so because someone told them about it. People are more likely to support you because they hear about you from their friends than they would by reading a random review,” she says.
Supporting a women-owned business doesn’t even need to be a drastic change in your routine.
“It doesn’t have to be huge changes - you can swap out little things, the deodorant you use, the snacks you eat, for women-owned businesses,” says Vanessa.
“It’s also all about transparency, a lot of big box stores, like, do you know these products are from women-owned businesses? Did you know that the companies that are in these stores are discounting their products by 50% just to get on the shelves? So, buy direct, it can be as little as $20 a month. If everyone in the US spent $20 a month on women-owned businesses, we’d drive $5 million dollars monthly to women-owned businesses.”
You can find all sorts of products from women-owned businesses on Dough