Focus — You wear a LOT of hats as a founder, and as a result, you get pulled in a lot of directions. Focus and the ability to prioritize are keys to keeping you on the right path.
As a part of our series about “Why We Need More Women Founders”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Elizabeth Arnold.
Elizabeth Arnold is the CEO and founder of FLIP, an app that empowers athletes at every level and every age in their local communities. She connects people and communities through athletics and believes that everyone deserves to be active and enjoy their passion. FLIP app is being released to select users in fall 2021.
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 always been independent. A single moment didn’t spark my entrepreneurial path, but rather, a multitude of things over time. When I was 6 or 7 years old, my mom started her own preschool in our community because she saw a gap in quality education for younger children. At the time, I didn’t view my mom as an entrepreneur, CEO (or in this case principal), but over time, I started to reflect on her experience which shaped my worldview and helped me better understand the entrepreneurial space.
In college, I was granted the opportunity to work with a group to come up with a business idea. This was my first pitch to investors, and real money was on the line. We won the competition, which meant my classmates and I spent the rest of our time at school starting a business. That was my first real taste of what it can be like to start something from an idea and grow it.
After that I had dabbled with a few other side-hustles and eventually ended up in Costa Rica where I was given a very unique opportunity to build something of my own. I spent 4 years building and growing a successful yoga and surf retreat lodge in a semi-remote part of the southern pacific coast.
This series of opportunities and choices I’ve said “yes” to have led me to where I am today. I’ve come to learn that I thrive as a founder and creator, which is why it felt like second nature to go all in on my FLIP app.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
Yes. I was attending a founders’ social for an accelerator program I had applied to at the time, and the second I entered the room I was immediately swept up by other female entrepreneurs who were there. They were the most welcoming and supportive people who asked questions like, “what are you working on” immediately followed by “what do you need?” which translated to “how can I help you”. In just a few hours, I made some of the best connections which have led to collaborative conversations about how we can support each other, the sharing of contacts and resources, and partnership possibilities. After being surrounded by many males in this space at the beginning of my journey, this was the first opening into the female entrepreneur world that also lives here, and it was very clear that we want to support other females coming into this space. It warms my heart when I think about that evening and how many great things are continuing to happen because we all showed up.
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?
When I was starting out, I was applying to every accelerator, incubator or grant program I could find. While many accelerators said “no” or simply didn’t look in my direction, others invited me into their programs, which was a fortunate and humbling experience that I’m grateful for. Without knowing my status across the board, I quickly accepted the first offer on the table. The next day I received notice that I was accepted into another program, which left me with a decision to make. Not wanting to take a spot from someone else, I reached back out to the first program and asked for more time. The experience taught me to never accept the first offer right away, and, if you’re under pressure and have a big decision to make for your company, don’t hesitate to ask for more time. If you are valuable to them, they will grant you this, and you deserve to take the time to make the right decision for you and your business.
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?
Oh, absolutely! There are so many people who have been in my court during this process and continue to be there to help support me. My business coach, Tracy Bullock, who has supported me from the start, my Mother who takes both my joyous and tear-filled calls, and my significant other who has so patiently listened to me talk about, and often repeat, of my problems and questions. The people who have been some of my biggest advocates are Owen Taylor of Owen-Dunn Insurance and his wife Rene Taylor. I don’t think that I was truly convinced my own idea was actually attainable until they told me that they believed that I could do it. Having that kind of support from people I look up to and want to emulate as an entrepreneur is what motivated me to go all-in. Owen gave me guidance, contacts and support that in this world, can be hard to come by naturally. Every step of the way, he has reminded me that success and growth are possible. Every lucky entrepreneur starts with an “Owen and Rene” in their life and I’m very grateful to have found mine. I don’t think this business would be here at all if it wasn’t for their belief in me as a leader, my idea, and of course, our common love of wake surfing and wine.
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?
Women right now are on this great path of being able to finally prove ourselves and claim our space in this world. And with this journey we are on, there is also a lot of pressure to do well. With this pressure comes fears of failing and intimidation.
In the entrepreneurial world, there is a lot of failure. Failure is not bad, it’s part of the process and part of what makes what we do so special. However, we don’t often hear stories about women struggling to make it as an entrepreneur and it’s those stories that can help other women founders feel heard, connected and encouraged to not give up.
Recently, I was at a founders’ social in Sacramento, and the ratio of men to women was still about 3 or 4:1. It can be intimidating to enter the startup world as a woman, but by having more women founders step in and take up space it’s going to be a lot easier for others moving forward. I’m really excited for the day when I attend an event and that ratio is flipped. I can’t wait.
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?
We are still seeing more headlines and articles written about male CEOs, founders, and billionaires than we do about women in those positions. We need to start highlighting the journeys of women founders and entrepreneurs, as you are doing here, and continue this as a trend throughout society.
How we raise our girls in the home is also very important. They should be empowered to own their confidence and know they are capable.
Women should support women, but men should also support women. Men who offer support, share their journeys and connect women founders to others are making a huge difference. They are helping women to enter this space securely, safely, and with the same rights and opportunities for success. I personally have seen this on my journey for FLIP, and it has undoubtedly leveled up my ability to network and connect with others.
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?
Women deserve to be founders, entrepreneurs, and CEOs just as much as any other sex. Women have been witness to, victims of, and are now working to dismantle historical leadership structures that support gender discrimination in the workforce. We are correcting past mistakes and creating change. Women are natural problem solvers and multi-taskers. They can, just as anyone, take on whatever they set their minds to. My gender doesn’t define me or my ability to make and lead a company, team, or household, and I hope that other women and genders all feel that they have the capacity to do what they believe in regardless of their gender identity.
What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about being a founder? Can you explain what you mean?
It’s a myth that you have to give up everything else in your life to make starting a company work. You have to make sacrifices and the work can feel difficult and endless, but you don’t have to stop your entire life just because you want to start a business. The good thing about being a founder is that you can adjust your schedule to achieve balance and avoid burnout on your path to success.
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?
I don’t believe that everyone wants to be a founder, and therefore not everyone is cut out to be a founder.
A founder must have passion. They should truly believe in the business they are building and be willing to risk a lot (money, time, sleep) to get there.
A founder has to be resourceful. Unless you have a lot of funding, a founder needs to be able to find creative solutions to problems that will arise.
Founders need to be able to receive criticism without letting it dampen their dreams. You will receive a lot of feedback and hard questions will be asked. You’ll need to really look at what you’re doing, remember why you’re doing it, and let determination push you toward your goal. People will try to knock you down, and you can’t let this get in the way of what you are working toward.
A founder has to be a risk-taker, too. If you have the passion for an idea, then you have to be able and willing to put in the work to make it a reality, with the understanding that it might not actually pan out. Don’t be scared of the unknown, believe in yourself and the rest will come with hard work, determination, resilience, and the right people around you.
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.)
1) Resilience — there will be many times where you will feel down, lonely, overwhelmed, doubtful, and frustrated. Being able to recognize when you’re feeling these things and taking the time to step away to re-group so you can continue to push forward is necessary to succeeding. Someone once told me that feeling doubtful was the result of a problem which still needed to be solved. Being resilient in the face of doubt and fear, will help you to uncover the problem at hand and find resourceful solutions to continue to propel you forward.
2) Resourceful — There will be times when you’ll need to bootstrap solutions so you can continue to grow. Unless you have a lot of funding, you’ll need to find answers to problems without the help of money and that will take creativity and resourcefulness.
3) Passion — a founder must be passionate about what they are doing. There has to be a reason that you are doing what you are doing, and you have to truly believe in it. It has to be what you want, because that passion will be your driving force when it feels like you’ll never succeed. This passion for your business is what you’ll need to tap into to help get you through the hard times.
4) Focus — You wear a LOT of hats as a founder, and as a result, you get pulled in a lot of directions. Focus and the ability to prioritize is key to keeping you on the right path.
5) Support — no successful business was built without help, and support from your mentors, friends, family, coaches and team members will help to keep you going. When creating your business, there is nothing more valuable than creating it alongside a team that will support and encourage you along the way.
How have you used your success to make the world a better place?
I absolutely hope so! And I plan to do much more as I continue to grow. I am always open to mentoring others and partnering with businesses to help us all succeed. I also truly believe in the ability for everyone to be active and healthy at any level and age, and I’m excited that FLIP app is helping people get there.
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 have so many! But at the top of my list at the moment is plastic usage. I would love to see a movement where companies of every size are stopping their plastic usage and moving to other environmentally friendly alternatives, thus reducing our collective toll on the environment moving the planet in a positive direction.
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.
There are many amazing leaders and individuals that I would be thrilled to connect with. Top of mind for me right now is Whitney Wolfe of Bumble. She has been such an inspiration to me, having begun to pave the way for women founders in tech and peer-to-peer, and at such a young age. She has been through a lot and what she has done is truly remarkable. I can’t wait to see what else she accomplishes on her journey.
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.