Don’t think of your startup as your baby — try to look at it objectively and focus on the problem you’re solving for with an open mind. This will save you a lot of headaches and heartaches.
As part of my series about “individuals and organizations making an important social impact”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Jess Gaffney.
Jess Gaffney is the CEO & Executive Director of Beam, where she steers the organization’s mission to advance women entrepreneurs. As an advocate for all women, Jess brings her passion for inclusive and equitable entrepreneurial success to her role. She is an entrepreneur herself, having co-founded Pro Mama, a community and resource for mothers to help them find flexible work. She has over 15 years of experience in development and marketing in both the for-profit and non-profit sectors.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
The journey to my current career path has certainly not been a straight line. I used to feel embarrassed by that — almost shameful — that I tried so many paths and roles. I started in the fashion industry and then I moved into entertainment marketing and then into non-profit. Along the way, I started two companies and even studied for the LSAT. Now, I look back and I’m really proud that I didn’t settle. I kept on looking for a career that I found fulfilling and now I have with Beam. Entrepreneurship has always been a theme in my career and supporting women has also been equally important to me so it makes sense that I’m leading an organization that supports women founders. In a way, everything that I’ve done has led up to this particular role.
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?
I think the funniest mistake I made is thinking too small — outrageously small. When I launched my first startup, my co-founder and I used to talk about how amazing it would be if we sold the company for 100,000 dollars. That seems insane to me right now as we were capable of so much more than that. Why do women often think so small? I often think back to that time and feel grateful for how far I’ve come and how much more I believe in myself now. And now I have the privilege of spending a lot of my time encouraging women to aim high and scale their companies. The lesson here is to dream big and believe in yourself, for sure!
Can you describe how you or your organization is making a significant social impact?
Our mission at Beam is to advance women entrepreneurs striving to scale their companies When women grow their companies, it leads to more innovative, supportive and inclusive communities and societies. It also elevates other women and supports families. The impact essentially multiplies. We call this “the ripple effect”.
Right now, our focus is getting women founders funded with the launch of our newest program Beam Angel Network. We have already received over 1.1MM dollars in investment commitments for women founders based in Texas. For our first funding cycle, we received 102 applications and we currently have 8 deals in due diligence. We are hoping to fund over 20 companies in our first year and we know that funding will have a lasting impact. Currently, women only receive about 20% of angel investment dollars and less than 3% of venture capital funding. For women of color, the percentage is less than .1%. The data shows that there is a real problem here and it’s not because women don’t perform because when given the chance and funding, they do. Women-led private technology companies achieve a 35% higher return on investment, and, when venture-backed, bring in 12% higher revenue than tech companies owned by men. Also, “startups founded by at least one female founder take substantially less time to exit (6.4 years) than the broader market (7.4 years), a trend that has been rarely noted but indicates a key metric of success”. And it is worth noting that if women and men around the world participated equally as entrepreneurs, global GDP could rise by approximately 3% to 6%, boosting the global economy by 2.5 trillion dollars to 5 trillion dollars. Let’s get women founders funded and make real change!
Can you tell us a story about a particular individual who was impacted or helped by your cause?
One particular founder that comes to mind with this question is Bre Cruickshank, Founder of Radical Girl Gang. Bre is a super impressive and passionate women founder in Austin, TX. She has participated in a number of our programs including Fundraising Boot Camp (now Fundraising Essentials Series) which educates women founders on how to fundraise as well as our Office Hours with Purpose events which connect women founders with mentors. Bre also applied to our Beam Angel Network and she will be amongst the first group of founders getting funded! Before she applied to our Angel Network, she met her first angel investor at one of our events and her email to me afterward still gives me all the feels. This is an excerpt from that email from Bre that was sent right before she applied to our Angel Network.
“I wanted to personally let you know that we just secured our first angel investor!! I couldn’t be more excited that we *literally* met through Beam’s Office Hours. Whether you meant to or not, you’ve changed my life and helped make my vision a reality, and I truly could not thank you enough. I’m beyond thrilled that our first investor is a woman with our same disruptive mindset, from our own Austin community. I’m definitely applying to Beam Angel Network next week — and I will work my ass off to get in.”
– Bre Cruickshank, Founder of Radical Girl Gang
Are there three things the community/society/politicians can do to help you address the root of the problem you are trying to solve?
- Invest in women founders.
- Invest in women founders.
- Invest in women founders.
How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?
Who you are is how you lead. That’s how I think about leadership. My core values, such as honesty, empathy, and tenacity, are key factors in how I lead. I treat my team members as humans who have whole lives and while I have super high standards, I also understand that we all have many roles to play in our lives and employees are just one of them. I think everyone works their best and hardest when they feel supported and passionate about what they’re working on and who they are working for.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
- It’s okay if you don’t know your destination or end goal yet. Try all the things until something feels right — in your gut!
- Don’t think of your startup as your baby — try to look at it objectively and focus on the problem you’re solving for with an open mind. This will save you a lot of headaches and heartaches.
- Trying and failing is infinitely better than not trying at all.
- Travel A LOT before you have kids.
- The most important asset you have is your team so treat them well.
You are a person of enormous 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 don’t know if I would say I have an enormous amount of influence but if I could inspire a movement, it would be to have an equal (or more) number of women in congress, the White House and the Supreme Court. Women leaders in our government are essential to creating equal opportunities and forward-thinking legislation that benefits all. Also, it’s about time that 51% of our population has equal representation.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“Trust yourself. Create the kind of self that you will be happy to live with all your life.”
Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂
First Lady Michelle Obama. I really admire her. Her strength, grace and honesty is exactly the kind of leadership we need in this country.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success on your great work!