253 Britt Stromberg: Starting Up All Over Again
Britt Stromberg is a creative marketer and entrepreneur with a 25-year background in advertising, brand development, market research, and content strategy for consumer retail and technology companies. CEO and founder of Underwire Media, which curates must-read information for female founders Britt talks about when legacy starts to matter and how to align with your true purpose. Listen today to learn how to start up again from scratch, overcome perfectionism, and scale into your mission.
Melinda Wittstock: Britt, welcome to Wings.
Britt Stromberg: Hi, Melinda. Thank you so much for having me.
Melinda Wittstock: I’m excited to talk to you because like me, you’re a serial entrepreneur and you have a new venture and it’s interesting to go back to the beginning again, isn’t it?
Britt Stromberg: It is. It’s a little painful.
Melinda Wittstock: Right. I know that. This is the fifth time for me so I know all about that. You achieve all of this amazing success and you think, “How hard can this be?” Then the next time, it is hard. It’s a different circumstance, different business, different timing, different things going on. So tell me, first of all, what led you to this new venture, underwire.works and what are some of the challenges that you’re finding as you start again?
Britt Stromberg: Oh boy. It’s a great question. It came really through great hardship. My third business, which was a brand agency, was imploding and this was also around the time of the 2016 election, presidential election in the United States. That just really was a wake up call for me that I needed to do something to help others. I needed to use my skills in life to have a greater impact. I really started to think about my legacy. What had happened professionally was I had had a business partner, I was growing a brand agency, we had a team, we were growing like crazy and I had wanted to scale that business to be a real competitor in the Seattle region and nationally, as well.
I was all in on that. I just found out something about my business partner that made me feel like we weren’t in alignment. I knew that I needed to leave. That was step one. Step two was the election of Donald Trump. Then there was really a third thing as well which was I was looking at the local media coverage of women in business and I wasn’t seeing the reflection of the women that I was helping and working with and who I also considered friends and colleagues. I started to get really pissed off because it’s just very male focused, it’s very tech focused, it all comes together and you decide, “Hot damn, I got to do this myself.”
I decided to start this newsletter. I spent a lot of time working with the newsletter format and had always been intrigued by it as a business unit. Those forces were all converging and you just jump in, you know? It’s not necessarily one thing but I do remember going and getting the domain name for underwire.works and okay, this is what I’m going to do and I’m going to start from the very beginning.
That’s a bit of the origin story. The challenges for me have been coming from success and moving to ground zero. Everything I have done and built up to at that point in my career had been revenue generating and I had a big team around me and I had budgets to work with. Sometimes larger than other times, both monetarily and from a team standpoint. When you go and you start something new and fresh, you have to figure everything out again and you have to do it in a really scrappy way which was such a huge challenge for me because I have really high standards and I come from the design world and I really want things to look a certain way and I believe that design is a differentiator.
To not have my team around me and not have those go to resources and have to really figure things out, was a huge eye opener. You do it. You always find a way. I’m about six months into Underwire and I just went through a second iteration on my website and I’ve been tweaking my email newsletter format on a weekly basis and I took a pause last week and I looked back at what I had done and I feel okay with everything. Even though it’s not moving as fast as I would like it to, I’m really proud of where it is and what I did with almost nothing. Haven’t really spent that much money, I’ve put my money into design. I’ve hired designers. Everything else, I’ve been calling in favors and I know that’s not sustainable and I want to pay people, but this has gotten me really far and I feel confident that it’s going to get me to the next step.
Melinda Wittstock: Gosh. Thank you for explaining that so clearly because everybody in the founding stages of any start up has to do that. That bootstrapping phase where you are kind of doing it all and you’re calling in favors. It’s like your success as an entrepreneur in the early stages is how persuasive are you at getting people to do stuff for you? It’s the chicken and egg. You don’t have resources to pay people a lot of money nor should you before something is really tested anyway in the marketplace.
Britt Stromberg: Right.
Melinda Wittstock: It’s just a tricky time. If you have come from having big teams, a corporate executive or something or you’ve built a really successful bigger company and you are used to your office and you are used to all these different things. It’s a big, big change. It’s kind of a thrilling too, you know, to go through all of that and having looked at Under- It’s beautiful.
Britt Stromberg: Thank you.
Melinda Wittstock: The design looks really lovely and just it’s welcoming and it’s great.
Britt Stromberg: That’s a really good point that I would like to bring up about the attributes that I wanted. Welcoming was definitely something that I when I was thinking about the brand, I come from the brand world so one of the very first things I did was think about what kind of experience am I trying to create? I came up my words and one of them was calm. I wanted to be an antidote to the world of entrepreneurialism, which is crazy. You often feel like your head is on fire. I wanted Underwire to be very calm. I wanted it to be structural as the name implies. It needs to be uplifting. I wanted it to be welcoming for all. Positive. Those kinds of things. You often lose sight of those as you get into the actual building of the business but I’m really glad that that came across as you were looking at the site.
Melinda Wittstock: Yeah, absolutely. You mentioned something else I think is really interesting for women, and especially coming from a design background. We already have a perfectionism gene, right?
Britt Stromberg: Totally.
Melinda Wittstock: Right? And I can just imagine that that’s even more amplified with a design sensibility. I don’t have a design background, but I love good design. And I really appreciate it. And I sort of can get lost in Canva doing stuff where I should not be doing that. It’s kind of like I just really enjoy it, and it sucks you in and you get obsessed. Seriously, it’s one of those things. It’s not even my job.
Britt Stromberg: It’s a creative tension when you have that background that as an entrepreneur you can’t go too much to the perfectionism side because you don’t have time and you don’t have resources. And as you get bigger and bigger, that becomes more obvious. I see that happen a lot with the women that I am talking to and trying to support where as you start to scale, you have to let go. And you can’t micromanage everything.
And I think that’s been a really big lesson in this early stage. There’s good enough. Just get it out there, do your best, test it, see if you have product market fit. And there will come a time when you can put more resources into perfecting the nuances.
Melinda Wittstock: Oh gosh, this is so true. Good enough is … That is the best thing. It’s kind of like the 80/20 rule: Like when you get to the point where you are able to hire people and start to train them, they’re not going to do it necessarily like you or even as good as you. But if they can do it 80 percent as good as you, that is awesome.
Britt Stromberg: That’s so true.
Melinda Wittstock: You really just have to get out of their way and suck it up.
Britt Stromberg: Yeah, yeah.
Melinda Wittstock: Because you’ll never grow otherwise. And moreover, here’s the other thing, is at the early stage you don’t even really know what your customers actually want until you’ve gotten out there in the rough and tumble of business. So just seeing how they react, what resonates, what doesn’t. It’s all a hypothesis until you’re at that stage.
Britt Stromberg: I’m a big believer in testing and in whatever form that takes. I do a lot of surveys. I talk to a lot of my customers. Constant feedback; I learned that when I was at the earlier startup. If I had a spare moment and I was looking around asking myself what do I do now, it would always be go to a customer. Email a customer, call a customer, talk to them, get some feedback. And that was such a huge lesson, because I have ideas about what I want Underwire to be, but ultimately I’m doing this for the community of entrepreneurial women. And I need them to tell me.
And so I really listen when somebody speaks up and send me an email. Or I just did a survey a couple weeks ago and had a phenomenal open rate on that, and completion rate. And I take that really seriously, because somebody has taken the time to tell me how I can do a better job. And I better pay attention to that, that’s my customer. Huge.
Melinda Wittstock: Oh gosh, you know, yes. I love that. I love the idea of co-creating with customers and what’s so interesting with your brand expertise and marketing expertise, this really curious combination between the intuitive and the creative, sort of that right brain kind of inspiration. That kind of like oh, I know this is the art, the kind of indefinable. And it’s a mash up with the data, like with the hardcore business numbers. Is it converting, yes or no? Are people locked in, are they buying? And how many, and what’s the month-on-month growth, all of that.
How is that … And I’m going to use this word for you because I know that you have a background in dance … How is that dance for you between the creative and the data, between the right brain and the left brain?
Britt Stromberg: Oh, I love that idea. That’s choreography.
Melinda Wittstock: It is choreography, isn’t it? It is.
Britt Stromberg: Think about what choreography is. And I’ve often thought about if I wasn’t doing what I’m doing, I would probably be a choreographer. And then the a-ha moment was well you are. You’re providing structure so that people can move around to the music or the experience. And that dance between instinct and data, one forms the other. I don’t take one or the other more seriously. They both are important, and I learned that at an e-commerce startup. When you have to acquire customers and you have to convert them, you learn very quickly what works and what doesn’t.
And if you have to hit those monthly, quarterly, annually goals then you do what you have to do. And taking that lesson and using brand, using voice to help you move the needle on your core metrics, it is such a blend of instinct and then what is the data telling me?
It’s kind of hard. I hope I don’t sound too vague, because there’s a little bit of an art to that. In trusting that the data’s telling me a story, but I also have instincts about this too. And how you blend those, I think that’s truly masterful brand marketing.
Melinda Wittstock: Oh yes, that’s true. I love this, though, about choreography because there’s something about the entrepreneurial visionary, the founder, who can see all the different … Yes, like all the different dancers, where they are on the stage. Or you can see where all the chess pieces are and where they’re going to move next. And see the connective tissue between them.
And that’s very much a systems-thinking brain. And I think when women go into business, we’re more likely to think in that way. And men tend to be a lot more linear, a lot more like okay A to B. So say when we’re going out and fund raising for our business model or how we’re describing our business, we can see all this connective tissue, we can see the relationship … Like how to connect the dots.
We talk like that. And then the guy says oh man, can you be more focused?
Britt Stromberg: Mm-hmm (affirmative)
Melinda Wittstock: And it’s like I am focused. It took me a long time to realize that our brains were not just, you know … And this is a generalization of course, because some men are systems thinkers, are kind of choreography brains. But more likely than not, the woman, if she has a business model like that, that’s all about connecting the dots, is going to be much harder to translate. When you’re out raising money or trying to do a deal or whatever.
Have you seen that too?
Britt Stromberg: Yeah, and I think that that highlights the imbalance in that more men control the money, and so they control the dialogue and they control it like it’s funded. And the more we get more women into venture capital and more women in these CEO and co-founder roles, those conversations are going to start to change. And I hope that we’ll see more eye to eye and we’ll see more funding come through for women.
Boy, that’s an area that can only improve, right?
Melinda Wittstock: That’s so, so true. So I’m curious, because we share a mission, really, in elevating and supporting other female founders, where do you see Underwire going? What’s your big dream for it? Assuming wild success, where are you and what are you doing?
Britt Stromberg: That question has been really hard for me, Melinda. Because I know we’re supposed to have a vision. And mine is fuzzy. And I’m going to be real about this. This is a question that trips me up. Because I just entered into this with the expectation that this is going to be a journey. And what I want to do is I want to feel a sense of freedom.
I want to feel a sense of deep connection with this community. And I want to create affluence. So I went into this with those core feelings, and I thought I can use Underwire and this newsletter format as a way to start. And then I can add on events. And maybe I can add on conferences. And maybe we travel to different cities and we convene groups of similar minds and business challenges.
So I think about it that way, as it’s a journey. And I don’t really know what the end point will be. Because I’m having so much fun and I’m enjoying it so much as it unfolds that I’ve decided that’s the way I’m going to talk about it. And it could change and I might need to pivot in six months, and it might look very different.
Maybe I’ll be doing how-to guides for how to get fundraising. But I don’t know. I’m just going to commit to feeling a little uneasy and that this is a process and a journey, and my larger goal is to move the needle on the numbers of women getting funding and women in leadership positions.
And I fully put my hands up in the air and say I’m going on this ride. I don’t know how that’s going to look, but I’m going to start here. And see what we can accomplish.
Melinda Wittstock: Okay, so this is so interesting. You’re giving me little kind of chills or like you know when the hairs stand up on the back of your neck. Because I was exactly there with Wings! With Wings was something that was this passion project for me that started with oh gosh, years ago, writing a book about female entrepreneurship. And I kept kind of working on the book but not really, and all my effort was in my other company Verifeed and I really believed that gosh, I had to build and scale that and get it sold. Get to exit, do all those things before I could write the book.
And I had put myself in this kind of limiting position without even really realizing that I was doing that, until my investors said hey, so like this other thing, Wings, you’re talking about sounds really, really good. Every time you talk about it, like your heart is like so … Like it’s just obvious that you’re in alignment and your eyes sparkle and whatever.
So I have great investors. So I’m blessed.
Britt Stromberg: Yes, you do.
Melinda Wittstock: But they sort of said you know, Verifeed’s okay. That’s fine, it’s okay for you to go and sort of start this book or whatever. And so I started this process of a little over a year ago just interviewing women for this book on entrepreneurship. Because, like you, the same sort of mission. Make it easier to get funded. Too many women are succeeding in silence.
What can we do about that? How can we lift women up? Why are only three percent of female founders getting to a million dollars or more in revenue? All these sorts of things, all these problems I want to go solve. And so somewhere in there someone said oh hey, why don’t you do a podcast because you need an audience for your book?
And so I had this kind of fuzzy thing, it was very general to being with, like yeah, this feels good, right? And I didn’t really know. And I didn’t sweat the how, I just was like you know, this is my why. I love this. I really want to do this. Five business in, I feel like I want to give forward in this way.
So I’m just going to do it and let’s see what happens. Okay, but here’s the thing. When you take a leap like that and you don’t know exactly where you’re going to land, you just know that you can’t not take the leap, there’s something really magical that happens. It’s kind of like a providence or something.
Britt Stromberg: Yes.
Melinda Wittstock: Right? It’s suddenly the right thing. People show up and things get easy. There’s flow, there’s stuff … And that’s what’s happened with this. And so when you said that it was so true for me too at the very beginning. I mean, I’d love to be able to say oh yeah, sure, I had it all figured out. No, I didn’t. Who does? I don’t think any- … If we’re being honest-
Britt Stromberg: Yeah, nobody does. I’m such a planner too, that this has been an even bigger leap for me, just to chase the ease. Because I’m tired, I’m in my mid-40’s and I don’t have the energy level that I did in my 20’s and 30’s. And so I want to feel a sense of ease, and I want this to be fun and I want it to be impactful.
That sense of providence is so true. I know what I’m doing is going in the right direction because people are showing up for this, and people are doing things for me that I never thought I could get people to do. And you just got to ride that, and just don’t overthink it. Just go for it.
Melinda Wittstock: Exactly. Well, it’s because you’re on a mission.
Britt Stromberg: Right.
Melinda Wittstock: And that mission becomes kind of clearer and clearer. And then the little kind of connect the dots become clearer. But it’s amazing how quickly, too. Like I think in this case, right, let’s start this podcast. Podcast takes off. I’ve got a lot of listeners. People like it. And it’s great, every time I do it I have these amazing conversations with amazing, inspiring women like you.
And I come away thinking god, what a great … And it was so much fun. I love it. I just love doing it. And then it kind of evolves into an online summit, and then bringing women together to teach, like with Wings of Success, and now all these epic events and things that are in the roadmap and really coming together.
So it’s amazing-
Britt Stromberg: It’s incredible.
Melinda Wittstock: -And how quickly that actually manifests itself.
Britt Stromberg: You’re on the right path, for sure.
Melinda Wittstock: Right, so when things happen quickly … So I don’t know if you’re like me, you’ve had businesses in the past … I’ve had businesses in the past that went really easily and got into flow because I was in alignment with mission. And I’ve had other ones that felt like pushing a boulder up a mountain.
Britt Stromberg: Yeah, totally.
Melinda Wittstock: They’re really hard.
Britt Stromberg: And maybe there’s a sign in that that if it’s that hard, you need to make a shift. And I know you can’t always do that.
Melinda Wittstock: But you do.
Britt Stromberg: When I was just a venture-funded startup, we had taken on the seed round and we were under intense pressure to hit our goals. And it was so hard, because consumer startups are hard enough to begin with. This was back in 2012 when e-commerce companies weren’t getting funding and it’s really expensive to acquire customers. And I just felt like I was beating my head against the wall. And it just took so much money and so much effort to get any traction.
And two years into that we ran out of money. And you can’t change … I couldn’t have suggested to pivot in that business because of the investors. So I understand that it’s hard for some women if they aren’t feeling the ease and they’ve taken money to make that transition.
So I guess my advice would be going in to something just make sure you’re setting yourself up so that change is possible should you need to make it.
Melinda Wittstock: Oh my goodness, that’s right. Well there’s nothing worse than being stuck in a business that you don’t like. Especially if you’ve put in money. For a long time in the startup community, success somehow became the equivalent of raising money. No, that’s not success. Success is having a profitable business that allows you joy and happiness. Whether it’s like the lifestyle you want, or a big impact on the world, hopefully both. But you know, you’re fulfilled. You love what you do.
You’re creating jobs for other people. All is well with the world. The only reason to raise money is for leverage, to grow, right? To get you there faster if you have to go seize a market. All it is is a lever and a tool; it’s not an end in and of itself. And so I think a lot of people get trapped there, because they think oh, I have to do it this way.
And for some businesses, technology companies and whatnot, it’s going to be awhile, the market … Or you have to build a massive kind of consumer base or whatever. Yes, you need capital. Absolutely. But if you raise capital it better be for something that you’re really in alignment with because my god, once it’s other people’s money it’s not even your company any more. You’ve sold-
Britt Stromberg: That’s such an important lesson.
Melinda Wittstock: You’ve sold a chunk of your company. And this is a funny one for me, what I sort of chuckle when I hear a lot of founders, men and women, say oh no, no, no, I’ll never exit. And they’re going for their A round or something. And it’s like but you are exiting when you go for your A round.
Britt Stromberg: Yeah.
Melinda Wittstock: You are selling your company. And by the way, the people that are the money are going to expect you to be selling, so you better be selling.
Britt Stromberg: More women need to know that. And men. That point doesn’t get talked about very often. So that’s so true, just know what you’re getting into. And there’s more and more resources, I think, to better understand the venture journey than even five years ago when I got into it. It was just kind of the cool thing to do then. And you know, the whole ‘brogrammer’ culture and the tech team, which is funding things that are maybe never going to make any money. That’s insanity.
Melinda Wittstock: Well, the VC model is that. They really don’t care.
Britt Stromberg: Right.
Melinda Wittstock: It is literally a model of one in ten, so they expect nine of the companies they fund to flame out. They really don’t care who flames out. It’s really not [crosstalk 00:38:25]. I mean, it’s not personal to them, right? They don’t care.
Britt Stromberg: Right.
Melinda Wittstock: It’s literally a numbers game. One of them is going to hit, and it doesn’t matter. Gosh, the investors that you take on, and when you take them on, it’s such a really big thing. It’s a big passion of mine to really help women get the capital they need, but it’s not just solving that percentage thing, that we only get two to three percent of VC money. It’s to change the model itself, right?
Britt Stromberg: Mm-hmm (affirmative), mm-hmm (affirmative).
Melinda Wittstock: So it actually supports us and help us. I think part of the issue is, as we have assets, as women have the wherewithal, and as we can train other women to become savvy investors and really invest in other female founded companies, then I think that’s really going to start to change the game.
Britt Stromberg: Yeah, I agree. I think the model, as it is right now, is really cynical.
Melinda Wittstock: Right?
Britt Stromberg: We don’t need more of that. We need more nurturing. If we could just shift it in a small way to a more nurturing model, and I think you’re starting to see that happen. There are some venture firms … I wouldn’t know that I’d call them venture firms, but there are some funding options that are more supportive than others. The cynicism and the rolling of the dice, I just don’t care for that, and that whole scene, which is mostly male, white male. Yeah, it’s yuck.
Melinda Wittstock: I know, exactly. Okay, so you and me are going to go … You know what’s really inspiring, though, for me right now is I see so many women … You know, you’re doing this, and a lot of others are stepping up to really be part of this growing ecosystem that kind of catalyzes catalysts, influencers that really want to help women to go do that.
I think what seems to be transpiring, that I’m optimistic about, is that more of us have an abundance mindset that we’re not just out thinking, “Oh God, if she succeeds, then I can’t,” or whatever. That scarcity way of fear based thinking that has held women back, and kept us divided and whatnot, for so long. When we actually are working together to lift each other up, miracles happen. I see more of that coming together, where I think and I hear about you doing your thing with Underwire, and I think, “Oh, that’s awesome. Okay, here’s another one that’s great.” You can help me. I can help you. I think of all the other women emerging in this ecosystem, and different groups, and all of that. There’s room for everybody. It’s exciting, I think.
Britt Stromberg: It is, yeah. I’ve always had the attitude that there’s always room for more, because if you can find what truly makes you unique, you’ll be different from the other options, and you will be providing even more choice to the marketplace. It’s all about find your difference, and find how you’re going to fit in and do something in a different way. Pay attention to what’s going on, but there’s plenty of room. We need everybody. We need everybody. We need women supporting each other.
I mean, I still fight with the … I don’t want to say fight, but they’re competitive. There are other women doing what we’re doing who have pushed back on me, at least in the Seattle area. It’s still there.
Melinda Wittstock: It is still there. It’s interesting, isn’t it? I think-
Britt Stromberg: It is.
Melinda Wittstock: That’s where I think there’s a lot of work to be done to bring women into that kind of awareness, because I think once we let go of a lot of those fears or limiting beliefs, most of them are unconscious, but as we learn and help other women to do that, this kind of change is …
I get that sometimes too, right? You’re just like, “Oh, okay, well, you know.” I just sort of put it out that I want to work with people who have this kind of more of an abundance sort of mindset, and amazingly, more and more, and higher proportions show up.
Britt Stromberg: Yeah, it’s really true. I’ll give you an interesting story that, it speaks to the fear, that there’s still a lot of fear.
Whenever I do a profile of a founder or CEO, I try to dig into that next layer that they, in their story, that they might not talk about with casual acquaintances, like for instance, I profiled Kristen Miller, who is the CEO of a company called Stylyze. It’s a machine learning for major retailers. She’s taken a seed round.
The interesting thing about Kristen is she’s a wonderful and inspiring leader, but she’s also having a baby. Before she got pregnant with this child, she miscarried. The baby that she’s going to have in 2019 is going to have Downs Syndrome. I knew this about Kristen when … I’d been in a leadership group with her. I looked at her, and I thought, “Oh my goodness. Women need to know you. They need to know, because so many of my friends have had miscarriages.”
To see a leader who is confronting the challenges of her new baby head on, and she’s going to stay in charge of her company. She just closed another 2 point million round. She’s amazing. I got her to open up on record about that, but the thing is, is for every Kristen, there are three women who are afraid to tell me those deeper story. They’ve got amazing stories. I’ve been really kind of shocked by the … They’ll go, they’ll have an interview. I will record them, and then they’ll come back a week later and say, “No, I’m not ready.”
Melinda Wittstock: Yeah.
Britt Stromberg: We’ve got a lot of work to do. That’s why I feel it’s so important that the Kristen Millers of the world come out, so to speak, and are there for other women to see, that the parts of life that are really hard and painful, we’re all going through that. We can still be successful businesspeople.
Melinda Wittstock: Those are the things that make us really good at what we do.
Britt Stromberg: I know.
Melinda Wittstock: Really good investors are really going to want to see that, because they know you’re … All you have to do is read Marc Andreessen’s book, The Hard Things About Hard Things. It’s hard, this. I mean, you know, right?
Britt Stromberg: Yeah.
Melinda Wittstock: Yeah, so I think that when we’re being authentic, and when we’re showing that when we have stuff thrown at us or difficulties, but then we’re resilient and we find a way around, through, over, whatever it is, that’s the thing that makes us good entrepreneurs.
Say if I’m looking at a founder, to invest in a founder, I want to know how they handle the stuff that happens, right, the stuff beyond your control, the stuff that’s really difficult, because that’s going to give me an indication of how that person is going to react when all kinds of stuff happens, right? Because it will in business. I mean there’s a way to tell it in a way that’s empowering rather than victimizing, first of all, right? I’d hate to use the word spin, because it really does to have to be authentic, but there is a way to contextualize that information. Like, okay, this happened to me, but this is what I did, and I took these steps, and as a result of that, the business is this and my life is that. That gives me confidence in a founder, to invest in them right?
Britt Stromberg: Mm-hmm (affirmative). There still is the double standard for women, though.
Melinda Wittstock: Yeah.
Britt Stromberg: The weakness. A lot of women feel that that is a weakness, and that they are afraid that it will make them appear weak to an investor or to their team. I think there’s a lot of that still.
Melinda Wittstock: Yes. Oh God, okay, so I agree with you, because man, I was there. I mean, I was exactly there. I hid so much stuff. I hid so much stuff that I was going through, just-
Britt Stromberg: Maybe that’s a lesson. As women who are mid-career, maybe we’re older and wiser, and we see that now, but that isn’t a strength, that you … This trend toward authenticity … We are being more open, and that’s a wonderful and welcome thing. We need more of it. It’s part of that ongoing struggle, I think, as feminists and women moving into power. You start bumping up into all kinds of power and control structure.
Melinda Wittstock: Yeah, no.
Britt Stromberg: It’s a complicated issue.
Melinda Wittstock: It’s a complicated one. I mean, one of the things that I really set out, as part of my mission, was to redefine this concept of what is authentic feminine power, that to be feminine and be powerful is not an oxymoron, right? That there’s a real strength in femininity or in the archetypal feminine, and how does that best exhibit. How can we leverage the masculine and the feminine within, because we all have that, right?
Britt Stromberg: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Melinda Wittstock: When we go and try and be overly masculine, I don’t think that works for us either. I think we end up long-term just completely burning out, not really being happy, not being … It just doesn’t really work. It’s not sustainable.
Britt Stromberg: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Melinda Wittstock: Right?
Britt Stromberg: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Melinda Wittstock: I don’t know. How to, I mean I see women who are at their, when they’re really grounded, really fully valuing and accepting themselves, and standing strong, and they’re who they are in their authentically, I see those women having no problem getting funding. I think part of it is this internal battle that we have within ourselves about valuing ourselves. Obviously it’s external too, because we’re operating in this system that wasn’t built for us.
Britt Stromberg: Mm-hmm (affirmative). It’s such a rich topic. I’m so glad that you’re doing this and approaching it in that way, because the way that you just described that sets up a much deeper conversation, and lets women’s stories unfold.
Melinda Wittstock: It is a deeper one.
Britt Stromberg: Thank you.
Melinda Wittstock: I’ve been thinking about this funding thing for so long, and it’s so complicated, because it’s not just saying, “Hey, VCs should give 50% of the money to women,” because that doesn’t solve it, because it depends on the business. It depends on the fact there’s so many different things, right? Then that model doesn’t even work for us anyway. What are different models that support [crosstalk 00:50:12], and how can more women invest in women? There are a lot of female run businesses where the men don’t even spot the opportunity, because it’s serving a market they don’t understand.
Britt Stromberg: Yeah, right.
Melinda Wittstock: Then there’s all the inner work that we have to do on ourselves just to get better at asking for what we need.
Britt Stromberg: Oh goodness. I know.
Melinda Wittstock: I think we like solving all these problems here in this conversation. It’s a big issue, and it’s great to just talk about it. The more we do, the more we demystify and de-stigmatize, and the more we can step up into it, I think.
Britt Stromberg: Yeah, amen.
Melinda Wittstock: Amen.
Britt Stromberg: Got to talk about it. Yup.
Melinda Wittstock: Britt, I want to go back a ways with you, because you started out, you’re a great branding expert. You’ve done so many things, had so many successes in your career. Did you know that you were an entrepreneur when you were little or a girl? Did you have the lemonade stand? Did you do all that stuff?
Britt Stromberg: Oh yeah. I didn’t realize it until recently, when I started to think about, “Where does this come from in me?” I realized that both of my parents were entrepreneurs. They never refer to themselves as entrepreneurs, but they both had businesses. My dad ran multiple mid to large size businesses. My mom always had something going on, whether it was an antique store, she was an interior designer. It was just part of life.
One of the very first memories of me earning money was, my mom had a an antique store next to a doughnut shop. When I was about seven or eight, I would go buy doughnuts from the doughnut shop, and I’d put them in my bicycle cart, and go around the neighborhood and sell them to the kids. They’d sell out lickity split.
Then I’d moved in and I started to focus more on dance, which in and of itself was, I treated it like a business. I was so hardcore. I was dancing every day, and wanted to be a professional dancer. The discipline that you have to have was great training for being an entrepreneur.
Then I did a stint in college and into my early career, where I worked in an ad agency. I just ate it up and did every possible job that I could do there, and then realized, “I could do this on my own.” I took clients and started my own consultancy.
It all kind of happened pretty naturally, but the larger theme running throughout it all is I have to be the boss. I’m not a very good employee. I never really thought of myself as an entrepreneur until the last couple of years, when that term has been used so much more, and I’ve definitely started to embrace it more. So yeah, I guess you could say it was there [crosstalk 00:53:17].
Melinda Wittstock: That is very funny, because you remind me of something I did when I was a little kid. I was almost six, and I went door to door demanding that people pay for my show. My show was all my ballet and doing these cartwheels and things through the sprinkler. God knows. It was set to music. It was choreographed. It was like this-
Britt Stromberg: Oh my goodness. You were an impresario.
Melinda Wittstock: I totally was. I got this whole thing. I got people to prepay. I sort of knew that people had to prepay. I came home, and I said to my dad, I said, “Where can we get 100 chairs?” He’s like, “What?”
Britt Stromberg: Oh my gosh, that is so wonderful.
Melinda Wittstock: But it was. My mom, because my mom was an Olympic figure skater, so she became a figure skating coach. This really dates me, but she had reel-to-reel tape, so she was making all the routines for her skaters, and so she was always splicing different classical music routines together. I had this whole thing about the music that I wanted. It’s like this whole soundtrack. That was like-
Britt Stromberg: Yeah. It goes back to the choreographer. You were orchestrating that experience from a very young age.
Melinda Wittstock: Yeah. It’s fascinating when you see that … You and I definitely have that in common. I think a lot of entrepreneurs have that, that choreographer or conductor kind of thing, right?
Britt Stromberg: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Melinda Wittstock: It can express in a lot of different ways, but one of the ways is definitely entrepreneurship, where you can see, “Okay, you be over here; You do this, and if you do this and you do this, and okay, and it all fits, and like yay.” It’s interesting, though, isn’t it? I look at my kids, and they’re both like that, like some sort of genetic thing. I don’t know. Funny.
Britt Stromberg: Yeah. It does present pretty early, I believe.
Melinda Wittstock: Oh my God, so okay. You and I have so much ridiculous stuff in common that we’ll have to continue this conversation beyond the podcast, I am absolutely certain. I love all the stuff you’re doing. As we wind up, I want to make sure that everybody knows how they can find you, work with you, support you, sign up for your newsletter, all that good stuff.
Britt Stromberg: Yes, absolutely. You can go to underwire.works, W-O-R-K-S. You can sign up for the weekly newsletter. You can contact me through Underwire. You can go to the contact page. If there’s a promotion you want to run, or an even you want help with, or some way that you think that we might be great partners, shoot me an email and let me know. I read every email.
You can also spread the word about Underwire. If you have friends, family, colleagues who are interested in female entrepreneurship, get them to sign up. That’s my big push for the rest of the year is just growing my readers. The more people I can get reading it, the better.
Melinda Wittstock: Wonderful. Well thank you so much, Britt, for putting on your wings and flying with us today.
Britt Stromberg: Thank you, Melinda. I really enjoyed it.