More female VCs in the fundraising landscape would empower more female founders. We were often pitching to investors and speaking to people who we could not relate to and it led us in the wrong direction. If we spoke with others who could tell a story closer to ours, we may have been able to have a more positive experience.
As a part of our series about “Why We Need More Women Founders”, I had the pleasure of interviewing April and Nikki Dominguez.
April is a graduate of The University of Texas, El Paso where she received a full ride scholarship on behalf of the Daniels Fund for being a highly motivated minority individual with high potential. She spent six years as Vice President at an investment startup that raised and invested over 130M dollars during her time there. She’s committed her life to community enhancement, is an avid philanthropist, and has led multiple fundraisers and teams across the finish line of the NYC Marathon and Dam that Cancer. Her mission is to motivate people to reach their truest potential, to act as a voice for and create highly impactful cultural and economic change for under-represented communities.
Nikki brings over a decade of experience in the beauty and salon industry. She’s built two beauty academies and one school licensed by the state of Colorado, management training strategies and corporate office structure while growing a team of 70 to a team of over 150 stylists. She spent six years building beauty and educator systems in New York City. Prior to joining the salon industry, Nikki studied Psychology at the University of Northern Colorado. Nikki’s life’s work has been to challenge the norms in an archaic industry, so that beauty professionals feel empowered, inspired, and have the tools to chase the careers of their wildest dreams.
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?
Nikki: Our stories are nearly opposite. I began my career as a hairstylist and eventually started expanding. She built academies and helped other businesses grow, and went on to consulting and education including tools for people in the industry to thrive in their careers. Even as her career progressed it came with a stigma — that beauty pros are a second choice career. Most of the people she worked with were female and minorities. Her resources were limited, and when she was seeking help or looking to advertise the popular options were CraigsList and Instagram.
April: My story looks completely different. I began in the white male-lead oil and gas investment startup, building the company from 5 employees up to over 50. I often found myself to be the only female or minority in the room. resources for growing and support systems included major ones such as Upwork, LinkedIn, Dribble and RigUp.
We had a very large difference in our experiences and wanted to create a mobile app that is a resource for underrepresented populations by amplifying the underdog and giving them the space where they can uplevel in their careers.
Can you share a story about a mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
April: Becoming a founder involves a lot of mistakes and lessons along the way, especially when you don’t have access to the right resources. We realized our biggest mistake was taking advice from the wrong people. Ones who have a rolodex of a network and plenty of funds. On one end receiving guidance is valuable, but with the wrong context it was leading us in the wrong direction. These sources didn’t share our experiences and communities, and ended up not being helpful.
We learned that during investor meetings we could push back and challenge what we were being told. We have our own story and were able to make decisions based on what we were seeing with our own eyes.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
April: Nick Moran, General Partner at New Stack Ventures was a potential investor really early on. Although he ultimately did not end up investing, this relationship was instrumental in us understanding what a quality supportive investor partner should look like . He provided valuable resources and instilled in me that nobody will know my business and product as much as me and that I should trust my own instincts. I felt empowered to make decisions based on what was provided to me, rather than just doing what I’m told to do. I think the message here is: even if someone isn’t along for the whole ride, you can learn a whole lot from them.
Nikki: Miliana Snow, Founder at Wellness Official, is a mixed race female founder in the wellness industry — and one of my closest friends. She has experienced many people telling her “no” but continues to go out there and do great things. She instilled in me the confidence that nobody will ever know what I know, I am the one who lived my truth, and if I stick to it everything will fall into place. There may be a lot of ‘no’s” but keep going.
Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?
April: “The Perennial Seller” by Ryan Holiday was a great reminder that being aggressive in fundraising is actually a good thing. Often we felt as though we were being annoying and pushy, like we needed to sit back down and remain polite. For men it was acceptable to be assertive, but women have other expectations. This book encouraged us to have an emotional standpoint behind what we were doing. We’re here to sell, this is our job and it’s ok to be aggressive and give it our all.
Do you have a favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life or your work?
Nikki: “You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards.” — Steve Jobs
This quote has changed my perspective by showing me that often things only make sense once you are able to look back upon them, and you can apply those lessons moving forward. Whether it is a business or life decision, you need to let it unroll and happen, the lessons will show up along the way.
April: “Imagine, a world where people give of themselves simply because they want to. Not out of a sense of debt. Or because they want something in return. No ulterior motives. No guilt feelings. Just the desire to give for the sake of giving. Now, instead of imagining this kind of world, do our part in making it happen. Make a charitable donation. Volunteer your time to improve your community. Give back to the world that gives so much to you. And if it happens to make you feel good to give, that’s all right. Feeling good is the one ulterior motive that’s acceptable.” — Bill Daniels (Founder of the Daniels Fund, where April received a scholarship.) This has been pivotal for me since receiving that scholarship. I find that my only ulterior motive is to give back, and help people by reaching back and pulling people along the way with me.
How have you used your success to make the world a better place?
April: One big step for us claiming the title of“female founder”. At first, there was a lot of imposter syndrome and it was hard to say, but by claiming our position we are empowering others to take ownership, do what they dream of and start their own businesses. In our success we are not only serving the beauty industry, but also serving female founders and minorities. There is data, for instance, on Latinx being underrepresented but other groups are so underrepresented they don’t even have data, such as people who share our background, Native Americans. We use our successes to bring attention to these facts and empower other women and minorities in the workplace.
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?
Nikki: We’ve mentioned how the fundraising process looks different for females and the stigmas that hold women back from founding companies. A recent study from DocSend, a secure document sharing platform that gathers fundraising insights from pitch decks, proved this. In 2020 all-female teams raised 70% less than the amount raised by all-male teams, which is actually an increase in difference from what we saw in 2019. So even with the wins we are experiencing, society is taking one step forward two steps back. The fundraising issue itself is systematic and a huge factor holding women back.
Can you share with our readers what you are doing to help empower women to become founders?
April: In order to break the cycle women need to be incorporated into key roles. We use our voice to encourage that and show women that they can get out there and start a successful business.
This might be intuitive to you but I think it will be helpful to spell this out. Can you share a few reasons why more women should become founders?
April: Unless there are more female founders the world will continue to be male-centric and dominated by the patriarchy. The change needs to start from the top with founders weaving their ideals into their vision, all the way to employees and operations. People in higher positions now determine the future of the entire world and its economy. We need female perspectives to bridge the gap for an equal society.
Ok super. Here is the main question of our interview. Can you please share 5 things that can be done or should be done to help empower more women to become founders? If you can, please share an example or story for each.
- More female VCs in the fundraising landscape would empower more female founders. We were often pitching to investors and speaking to people who we could not relate to and it led us in the wrong direction. If we spoke with others who could tell a story closer to ours, we may have been able to have a more positive experience.
- When you are a female in a founder or VC position, and you have a platform, invite more women in so you can share your knowledge. Make them feel comfortable and like they belong. Moj Mahdara, CEO of Beautycon, is a prime example of someone who does this with much intention.
- Put other women in decision-making positions and give them the opportunity to make space, come in and show up.
- Create opportunities in your organization for women to step up into a higher role.
- Make sure your team has women join in the strategic conversations.
You are both people 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.
April: The greatest movement that would help the most people would be supporting underserved women in leadership and business positions so that they can live authentically. Being your true self is your greatest asset and you shouldn’t have to compromise yourself to be successful. Whether that means having dyed hair, tattoos or piercings, success does not have to look like a white collared button up. People in leadership positions should encourage their teams to be themselves, and we have always made sure to do so.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.