Ability to overcome fear- Entrepreneurship is terrifying. Going from a salaried job or something with a steady paycheck to the possibility of zero income, asking people you admire for a loan and dealing with the disasters that are inevitable are all alot to stomach. I had no idea how many sleepless nights I would have feeling wrecked over potential failures and cash flow. I’ve learned that you have to keep believing in yourself and your idea because as high the highs can be, the lows are far lower.
As a part of our series about “Why We Need More Women Founders”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Jenna Owens.
Jenna Owens, the founder of Fitish, has been making a name for herself in the beauty and wellness industry since 2017. She originally gained popularity as the co-host of the nationally-syndicated The Kidd Kraddick Morning Show. After 12 years on the radio, Owens decided to try something different and launched Fitish. As the athleisure trend continues to gain momentum and consumers seek beauty and wellness products that support their fitness goals, Fitish offers activewear, petcare and skincare that utilizes the buzzworthy self-care ingredient CBD.
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?
I’ve never been one of those people that knew exactly what they wanted to do from a young age. I’ve been quite envious of that, actually. For me, life has been more about finding out what you don’t like and then also aligning yourself with what you’re good at and what you gravitate towards simply by trying new things all of the time. I was always a decent writer and speaker, which led me to a radio career for the first chapter of my adult life. I started to explore the idea of starting a business of my own around the age of 30. I knew I wanted to find a way to capitalize on this very genuine platform I had built from hosting a radio show every morning. I sat with the idea of something in beauty for a few years; I kept it on my mind through everything I did, waiting on a lightbulb moment. One day, it hit me while at a boot camp class. Women were wearing chic workout outfits, freshening up their makeup in the bathroom, and I realized there was something missing. Athletic beauty. Where were the products that helped get us from workout to boardroom and beyond?
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
There are oh so many! The one that stands out the most because it caused the most damage at the time was letting an intern approve a production sample of a bottle. The lid was incorrect, and then I had 10 thousand lids that now no longer fit into the boxes we had made. A mentor of mine told me before I launched into a business that mistakes were going to happen at every level, and it was just about learning to handle them with grace and put checks and balances into place to try to best avoid them going forward. Being lean, as most startups are, you have no choice sometimes but to let employees have more responsibility than you might be comfortable with, and that was really hard for me to grasp at first.
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?
There are those elders who, of course, encouraged and helped advise on decision-making, like my current CFO. However, I am, on a daily basis, most grateful for our customers. The single driving factor behind my business has been the customer testimonials about their experience with CBD skincare. I will never forget a series of photos I received from a woman whose mother was undergoing treatment for breast cancer and had the most severe burns from radiation I’ve ever seen. Her chest, breast and shoulder were burned and scabbed, and her daughter thought to try our Tone Down spray. Within days she was healed, and that moment for me was defining. I realized this wasn’t just a side hustle business as I first started out; this was about healing people. It gave me a greater sense of purpose and motivation, as well as the confidence to ultimately make the leap from my full-time radio gig to exclusively being an entrepreneur.
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?
Fortunately, I didn’t feel held back because I had created a platform for myself to do this. The biggest challenge I encountered and still do from time to time, was being taken seriously. For whatever reason, women don’t seem to be taken as seriously as their male counterparts even if more experienced or educated. I don’t know why that is, but I definitely feel there has been a vast improvement here especially with so many successful e-commerce businesses. You can start a store from your house and let it grow with minimal overhead and for me that was key. I would have had a much harder time pitching my idea about athletic beauty to strangers in a boardroom with my creative and zero business background. I haven’t had to do that yet for fundraising YET:) In general the financial strain is what is so hard. Women are paid less in general and when you have to toggle a job to start a business it can be impossible. I worked for years with two jobs just so I could live and make enough to pay rent while not taking money from the business. If women were paid more equally, there would likely be more options and opportunities.
Can you help articulate a few things that can be done as individuals, as a society, or by the government, to help overcome those obstacles?
Personally, I think there’s a real lack of education in general around how to start and run a business. I never particularly understood why school curriculums are what they are. Sure, some courses are vital, but as a journalism major who minored in psychology, I always thought how important it would be to have younger kids learn more about psychology- especially mental health. Also, if there had been classes in high school or younger on how to start and run a business, even a lemonade stand, I would have gravitated towards that. I had zero knowledge of financials or how to start and scale a business and have learned MORE in the past two years of life than perhaps all of my undergraduate education.
This might be intuitive to you as a woman founder, but I think it will be helpful to spell this out. Can you share a few reasons why more women should become founders?
Financial freedom has always been so important to me. I never thought I would have the structure to be an entrepreneur. I’m a creative at heart and very nonlinear so there are many elements of running a business that were incredibly scary to me at first. I cannot express the liberation you feel at being able to wake up every day and set your own schedule. Sure, it’s terrifying to not have a set paycheck each month, but the payoff is far greater that feeling stuck in something unfulfilling. Also, being a founder has allowed me to live my life so differently. I am expecting my first child at the age of 37 and finally feel like I’m in a place where I can successfully manage this. I can bring him to work, which would not have been possible at my last job. Finally, I love the thought of inspiring even just one more woman to grow up and have the confidence to start her own business. I wouldn’t have done it without other women before me sharing their stories about taking risks and I hope to do that for others as well.
What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about being a founder? Can you explain what you mean?
I never had the wool over my eyes about this, fortunately. I suppose I did think I would suddenly feel free from the daily grind, but this is such a different level of stress. I wake up constantly in the middle of the night and stress about cash flow OR scaling and new product delays. The other challenge for me has been managing people. I don’t think most founders are great at that. We are driven but at the same time used to starting and doing it all ourselves so learning to delegate, hire, fire and manage others is a tremendous responsibility and quite the learning curve for me at least.
Is everyone cut out to be a founder? In your opinion, which specific traits increase the likelihood that a person will be a successful founder, and what type of person should perhaps seek a “regular job” as an employee? Can you explain what you mean?
Unequivocally not. In my opinion, those who live more fear-based lives will not be able to handle a founding role. The want has to outweigh the fear, and it takes a certain level of self-confidence to truck through the mud of it all. I would say intense motivation, passionate belief in what you’re doing, and an ability to stomach the fear and nerves are all crucial traits.
Ok super. Here is the main question of our interview. Based on your opinion and experience, what are the “Five Things You Need To Thrive and Succeed as a Woman Founder?” (Please share a story or example for each.)
- Ambition — For me this equates simply to work ethic. No amount of money or skill is going to offset a reticence to work hard. Alot of people want to start a business and have success. The number who are willing to put in the hours is far fewer. For years I worked a radio morning show job from 4 am until lunchtime and then would work on Fitish until midnight. I don’t doubt for a second that it was my effort that led me to this place.
- Ability to overcome fear- Entrepreneurship is terrifying. Going from a salaried job or something with a steady paycheck to the possibility of zero income, asking people you admire for a loan and dealing with the disasters that are inevitable are all alot to stomach. I had no idea how many sleepless nights I would have feeling wrecked over potential failures and cash flow. I’ve learned that you have to keep believing in yourself and your idea because as high the highs can be, the lows are far lower.
- Leadership. This was the hardest for me. I still don’t feel like a good leader sometimes. When you start a business alone, it can be challenging to hire, fire and delegate duties. I learned the hard way that the only way to grow a business is to do just that. You have to learn that no one will care about your business as much as you and that’s ok. You have to accept that you will ultimately need to relinquish alot of day to day responsibilities to those you hire so you can continue to grow the business. I have read alot of books on this subject and it’s still a process for me to figure out what kind of leader I am going to be.
- Humility- Asking for help can be harder as a woman. When you already feel at a disadvantage or like people aren’t taking you seriously enough, it can feel impossible to have to seek counsel or ask for money. Starting a business into my 30’s rather than my know-it-all 20’s was crucial to allow me to acquire this skill. I have no shame asking for advice or admitting I needed help understanding a balance sheet. I have tried to learn as much as I can just to be familiar, but at the same time I recognize what my strengths are (sales and creative) while immediately outsourcing the other vital elements that I sucked at doing (accounting, inventory management). The tendency can be to do it all forever, but you will never scale successfully.
- Expert mentality- You never want to be caught off guard not knowing every angle of your business, products, or mission. Take the time to be an expert in your space. Study competitors and really understand the niche that you’re in. I never gravitated towards science and I am by no means a chemist, but I have a very thorough understanding of cannabis and the plant’s benefits. This has come in handy on more that one occasion whether from a customer on the street OR in a retail pitch environment.
How have you used your success to make the world a better place?
Though there is so much more I want to accomplish, I am proud of our annual Fitish Wishes. Having a platform to sell direct to consumer is such a blessing because we can speak directly to our customers and learn what they want and need and sometimes it’s not about the business or products at all. Gearing up for the holiday season, we ask for nominations for friends or relatives of customers that have been going through a hard time, and we surprise winners with money, gifts for kids, product, meal cards. It has been a very successful giveback campaign and our audience enjoys those feel-good moments and being able to contribute to other people in need. I’ve always wanted to use the platform for more than just selling goods, so to be able actually to help people on a deeper level is ultimately more fulfilling.
You are a person 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.
I am far too unqualified to accomplish a moment, haha. However, seeing the resistance and legal issues in the cannabis space is frustrating considering how deeply I believe this plant to be more healing than violence-inducing. CBD is far safer than alcohol and tobacco, yet there is still this stigma around it as a gateway drug. I would love to have more influence within the industry. The testimonials we have received from customers about how CBD has made an impact in their lives are jaw-dropping. For now, I try to serve as a vessel to educate consumers and the public on exactly what CBD is, how it works and why it’s nothing to be scared of.
We are very blessed that some very prominent names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them.
Someone once told me you don’t have to know your mentor. It can be a public figure that you admire and are able to learn about through their writing, interviews and work. I’ve always loved Sarah Blakely and her story about Spanx. As a female founder, I gravitate towards women who took huge risks and very easily could have lost it all, but believed so profoundly in their product they overcame the fear to continue. Now, despite her massive success, she remains relatable and continues to inspire women like me. I love following along with her social media and seeing how she manages to parent a herd of children while maintaining a successful career. Being pregnant with my first child and running a business I am filled with a new sense of fear about my abilities to do both well, but seeing a woman like her makes me more confident.
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.