We must default to seeing women as leaders. While capabilities of men are often assumed, women often have to work harder to prove their competencies. This starts in our own board rooms and personal circles.
Aspart of my series about “the five things we need to do to close the VC gender gap”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Jaime Schmidt.
Jaime Schmidt is an entrepreneur and the founder of Schmidt’s Naturals, a brand of natural personal care products that she started in her kitchen in Portland, Oregon in 2010. Jaime is known for modernizing natural personal care products, including the customer-favorite deodorant, and bringing them to the mainstream market. Under her leadership, Schmidt’s grew into a household name lining the shelves of retailers including Target, Costco, Whole Foods, Walmart and CVS across 30 countries. In 2017, Schmidt’s partnered with CPG giant Unilever, with Jaime continuing as the brand’s founder and spokesperson.
Today, Jaime is focusing her efforts on helping emerging entrepreneurs pursue their own dreams. In June 2019, Jaime launched Supermaker, an editorial-driven platform that celebrates diverse, independent brands and creators, and hosts conversations that empower progressive values in the workplace. She has also authored the book Supermaker: Crafting Business on Your Own Terms, releasing September 2020 in partnership with Chronicle Books.
Additionally, Jaime is the co-founder of Color, an investment portfolio that supports diverse and underrepresented founders.
She is regularly profiled in prominent business media including Inc., Entrepreneur, Forbes and Fast Company. Jaime is an inaugural member of the Inc. Founders Project and has also been recognized as 100 Most Intriguing Entrepreneurs (Goldman Sachs, 2017 & 2018), PNW Entrepreneur of the Year (Ernst & Young, 2017), Inc.’s Female Founders 100, and the Create & Cultivate 100.
Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us the “backstory” that brought you to this career path?
In2010, I founded the personal care brand Schmidt’s Naturals, and over 7 years grew it from my kitchen to an acquisition by Unilever. Following the sale, I was flooded with interest from founders and entrepreneurs looking for advice on all aspects of business. It was clear that I had a wealth of operational wisdom that could be helpful to others, and I was eager to provide the support.
This drove me to write and publish my first book Supermaker: Crafting Business on Your Own Terms. Supermaker tells my story of scaling Schmidt’s, offering takeaway lessons I learned from overcoming the challenges of entrepreneurship firsthand.
Seeing too that I could do my part in helping level the playing field for underestimated founders, I also started the platform Supermaker and the investment fund Color with my husband and business partner, Chris Cantino.
Can you share a story of your most successful Angel or VC investment? In your opinion, what was its main lesson?
The investments I see as having the greatest likelihood for high returns are those in brands with a strong distinction and opportunity in their industry. There needs to be a clear presentation of the value proposition, and a comprehension of where they fit within the competitive landscape. A couple of my most recent investments that are beautiful examples of this are Haus and Judy.
Can you share a story of an Angel or VC funding “failure” of yours? Is there a lesson or take away that you took out of that that our readers can learn from?
Having a plan to diversity your channel strategy and expand your customer demographic early is important. I’ve seen direct-to-consumer brands with limited sources of revenue in the face of increasing customer acquisition cost and competition.
Supply chain and capacity issues are also challenges I’ve seen in scaling. Brands must have a clear understanding of their limitations and a well-prepared plan for overcoming them.
Was there a company that you turned down, but now regret? Can you share the story? What lesson did you learn from that?
Many of the businesses I pass on for investment I end up staying close to through mentorship, making connections to suppliers or brokers, and other forms of support. It’s always rewarding to see a business succeed knowing I had a small hand in making that happen, even if it doesn’t involve a monetary benefit to me.
Ok let’s jump to the main focus of our interview. According to this article in Fortune, only 2.2% of VC dollars went to women in 2018. Can you share with our readers what your firm is doing to help close the VC gender gap?
When creating our fund Color, it was important for us to have impact in a way that could address systemic change as part of the fund’s mission. We’re known in the investment circle for this initiative, and we always have our eye out for opportunities to support underrepresented communities in ways beyond monetary investment. Today, 83% of the businesses in our portfolio have a founder that is a woman or person of color.
Can you recommend 5 things that need to be done on a broader societal level to close the VC gender gap. Please share a story or example for each.
- Investors must rethink their investment strategies to be more inclusive and to actively look for opportunities within underrepresented communities. By expanding their social networks and industry sources, they can discover new brands and founders.
- It’s also strategic for investors to get friendly with funds like Color who can share deal flow, or join syndicates who have diversity at the forefront of their mission.
- Media needs to focus storytelling on women-led brands and founders. While some progress has been made here in recent years, there is more to be done. We’re still seeing lists of “top CEO’s” and “most innovative leaders” that include only very small percentages of women.
- Venture capital firms should hire more women fund managers. Having a diverse team at the forefront of vetting investment opportunities will enable firms to recognize opportunities that otherwise might be missed.
- We must default to seeing women as leaders. While capabilities of men are often assumed, women often have to work harder to prove their competencies. This starts in our own board rooms and personal circles.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
I want others to understand that the path to entrepreneurship is within reach. I didn’t start my business until I was 31 years old and never gave up on my search for fulfillment in my work before getting there. This meant several career changes and exploration of different hobbies and side hustles. I’m hopeful my book Supermaker will inspire many entrepreneurial pursuits.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“Be open. Don’t settle. Pay attention to what lights you up, and follow it. Be willing to change course. Surround yourself with a proper support system, and support others in return. Trust your intuition, and always stand by your values.”
These are the closing words to my book.