Kaity Cimo and Katharine ReQua of For Now: “Equal access to funding to support growth”

KC: Women are more likely to grow companies thoughtfully, which in turn, gives these companies a better chance of success in the long run. The hockey stick curve doesn’t make sense to a lot of women because, often, it doesn’t make sense. KR: It’s within our lifetime that women were confined to their roles “at home.” […]

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KC: Women are more likely to grow companies thoughtfully, which in turn, gives these companies a better chance of success in the long run. The hockey stick curve doesn’t make sense to a lot of women because, often, it doesn’t make sense.

KR: It’s within our lifetime that women were confined to their roles “at home.” It’s so inspiring to see female founders continue to pave their way as thought leaders and change makers through unchartered territory. It’s not for everyone, just like being a male founder isn’t for everyone — but it’s incredibly rewarding for those who choose it as their path.

As a part of our series about “Why We Need More Women Founders”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Kaity Cimo and Katharine ReQua.

Kaity Cimo and Katharine ReQua are co-founders of Boston-based retail incubator, For Now. They help and support up-and-coming entrepreneurs, many of which happen to be women, on their business journey. Recently, Kaity and Katharine hosted the inaugural Female Founders Summit, bringing together female founders and executives to share their experiences and stories.

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?

Kaity Cimo: My background is in marketing. I worked at a marketing firm and in marketing roles in my 20’s and then took a Marketing Director position at a local athleisure start-up — which introduced me not only to the world of apparel, but to Katharine. From there I grew an intense love for small business and everything that goes along with it: community, hard work and seeing your efforts making a difference.

Katharine ReQua: It’s been a series of unique opportunities strung together by my inner “yes girl.” I was never enamored by taking the traditional route and have said “yes” to almost every obscure offer. Retail has always piqued my interest — at first to subsidise my closet, but then as a hub for community and connection. That, coupled with a constant urge to be my own “boss” and my intro to Kaity — viola! Here we are.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?

KC: In the middle of my career, I took a major pause and detour. I thought I wanted to leave the advertising/marketing world, so I went back to school to get a MS in Nutrition. I was very interested in food, nutrition and the science behind it and thought I could make a difference in other people’s lives. I realized half-way through the program that what I was really searching for was how I could start my own business that I was really passionate about. In a combination of losing steam through a 4-year program and being offered the Marketing Director role mentioned above, I came back to the world of marketing, but in a much more fulfilling way. That job led me on the path to entrepreneurship and For Now.

KR: Probably the evolution of my personal character — I’m inherently risk averse, which as you might guess, doesn’t bode well for an entrepreneur. It’s been a gradual shift, but “risk” is starting to feel like a cozy sweater that I never want to take off.

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?

KC: So many mistakes, but it’s the only way to do it! Test, try, make mistakes, correct, refine. A learning moment — that ended up being funny — is when we made a mistake with an underwear brand we were working with. To make it up to them, we took a Risky Business-style video of Katharine in her skivvies and posted it on IG!

KR: When you’re building something from scratch you won’t always get it right, but it likely won’t be wrong unless you deem it such. In the beginning we tried and tested out a lot of different ideas until we ultimately landed with our retail concept — which was born out of a collective need. At the time, the biggest mistake we made was believing that our construction timeline was going to be accurate (rookie mistake — we merchandised the store the night before we opened).

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?

KC: My first boss, Jeff Winsper, is always someone who pops in my head as shaping my career early on. He was the owner of a small marketing firm and I was able to learn a lot from him as he operated the business and worked with our clients. Even though I was young at the time and inexperienced, he liked my hustle and willingness to dive in — and gave me a chance with more responsibility than I probably should have had!

KR: My aunt. Much to her parents’ dismay, she didn’t marry a politician and live the WASP-y life of their dreams. She paved her own path — a successful career with Gillette led her to start a high impact company with her husband. She was a total workaholic, but always demonstrated a contagious obsession for what she was building. During my first salary negotiation, she told me to lead with how my experience would drive impact and NOT to rant about my “living expenses” because everyone has them and frankly they don’t matter to the employer. Touche.

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?

KC: My favorite book is called Mustard Seeds & Water Lines and the author is one of my best friends, Karen Milioto. What this book gave me was seeing such a special person to me in a whole new light. When I first began reading the book, I have to be honest, my expectations weren’t all that high simply because this was her first book and I didn’t know what to expect. She blew me away and I’m grateful to experience her beauty and talent in such a raw way.

KR: I read To Kill a Mockingbird in 8th grade and remember feeling all consumed. I couldn’t stick to the syllabus on this one and read it in close to one sitting (disclaimer: I was definitely the obnoxious kid that totally dominated class discussion). “The only thing that doesn’t abide by majority rule is a person’s conscience” will forever have a placehold with me. My parents should actually thank Harper Lee because I’ve been a very conscious decision maker ever since! My mom gifted me an originally published copy (1960) for my 18th birthday — one of the greatest gifts I’ve ever been given.

Do you have a favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life or your work?

KC: *Googles life lesson quotes* — I actually don’t! But I do love a good motivational quote. Right now I’m really vibing on a quote from Robin Arzon: “To build endurance, we have to endure.” It’s so simple, but explains so much. It also resonates with me as a business owner who’s weathering the pandemic.

KR: Is “pass the wine” a life lesson quote? If not, it should be. Alt, my very first business card said “do want feels good.” So yea, do what feels good.

How have you used your success to make the world a better place?

KC: Our mission at For Now is to help emerging brands grow — and we really mean it. We love working closely with entrepreneurs to learn their struggles and figure out how we can help their business. It comes naturally to us, and we love it, so it means a lot when we get comments from founders/business owners that we have truly helped make their business more successful.

KR: In 2020 we started offering Free Business Consulting Sessions for Black female founders — we believe that access to business development should be equal. We’ve met some incredibly talented women during these sessions — women who have gone on to move & shake!

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?

KC: Women have a lot on their plate and are often thinking about everyone else in the room before themselves. We aren’t inherently good at saying, “no, I need to do this for me.” The faster we normalize that it’s okay for women to put themselves first, I think the more women will take the plunge to start a business. This is why we started our Female Founders Summit, so women can hear the stories from other women and be inspired to take action.

KR: It hasn’t been modeled for us. In most cases, we look up to our moms, and in most cases, our moms were home with us (thank you, by the way). Until we see it happening in our homes, or close to our homes, it won’t feel entirely possible.

Can you share with our readers what you are doing to help empower women to become founders?

KC: Similar to the answer above, we use our platform (storefront, social media, and now the Female Founders Summit) to show how women are starting, and growing, their businesses. In the Fall, we started a weekly series on IG TV called “Brand Backstory” where we interview the founders we work with and they tell the story of how they got started. For the people watching, hearing those stories first hand is really powerful and motivating.

KR: We are, first and foremost, leading by example — we also are creating a network of like minded women who can leverage each other to fuel and perpetuate their growth, together.

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?

KC: Women are more likely to grow companies thoughtfully, which in turn, gives these companies a better chance of success in the long run. The hockey stick curve doesn’t make sense to a lot of women because, often, it doesn’t make sense.

KR: It’s within our lifetime that women were confined to their roles “at home.” It’s so inspiring to see female founders continue to pave their way as thought leaders and change makers through unchartered territory. It’s not for everyone, just like being a male founder isn’t for everyone — but it’s incredibly rewarding for those who choose it as their path.

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.

KC: 1. More information on how to raise money. Women think that VC money is the only way to go, but that’s not true. And even if VC money is the best route, it’s hard to know where to start.

2. More business and finance education without needing to get an MBA. I’ve learned a lot about business finances “on the job”, where I think this should have been learned earlier.

3. Readily available networks of mentors and fellow business owners for advice and support.

4. More open conversations amongst one another about childcare.

5. For men to be more open that women have a good way of doing things, and that we don’t have to follow what “they would do.”

KR: 1. Accessible mentors to help guide and support decision making.

2. Equal access to funding to support growth.

3. Local and state funding to support the women who need it.

4. Affordable (read: free) access to adult education for women to broaden their knowledge base.

5. Mental health services — there is no playbook for starting a business, it’s important to have emotional support.

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.

KC: I love being a part of the movement to lift up other female founders. In particular, female founders of color. Our strategy sessions for Black female founders is something we are proud of and “has legs” to expand and help a lot more women. Something we are working on!

KR: Equal access to early education. Education is the foundation of our future(s) and essential to a thriving society.

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.

KC: My go-to answer for this is Mindy Kaling. I admire the success she’s created for herself and how she’s inspired girls, and particularly girls of color, that you can do anything you set your mind to. Not only that, she’s funny as hell!

KR: Erin Foster. I’ve actually low-key convinced myself that we’re already friends. She’s unapologetically herself and it actually cracks me up. I imagine we’d go for a hike in SoCal, I’d be out of breath sprinting to keep up with her — attempting to ask 20 questions, but likely only having enough breath for two or three. I’d then convince her to grab breakfast, which wouldn’t be private because #ErinFoster. But I’m confident the girl crush would be mutual by 11am and she’d call me twice a year to touch base.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

KC: You can follow us @itsfornow on Instagram and online

KR: What she said!

Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.

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