WHAT DO I DO WHEN I'M STRESSED: jump on the soul cycle bike. SOMETHING THAT MAKES ME GO "AWW": literally every face that my dog makes. WHEN I WAS A KID, I HAD WANTED TO BE THIS WHEN I GREW UP: a CEO (it’s true, my grandma can confirm).
Busting brick walls with persistence
STAYING THE COURSE. If there’s one thing that any entrepreneur will need, says Melanie Travis, CEO of swimwear brand Andie, it’s dogged perseverance. She describes her experience of starting her own company with no production or fashion experience as running into brick walls constantly, but these walls provide good learning opportunities. “There’s a lot of throwing spaghetti against the wall until something sticks, but eventually throw enough of it and the wall will come down,” she laughs.
While Melanie might be the sole founder of Andie, she acknowledges all the help she received along the way from advisors, mentors and friends. At the end of 2016, when she was still a director at her previous job Bark & Co., a subscription service for dog products, her CEO encouraged her to embark on Andie and let her keep her desk at the company.
Starting a company without any experience can be daunting. “It’s such a buddy network when it comes to creating your company, and going far falls a lot on who you know,” Melanie says. The issue with pitching Andie to investors was often, male investors do not easily understand the value of her idea.
Her takeaway? Find the common ground for conversation, and even if it might be unrelated, it creates a zone of comfort for investors to be open to your ideas. Eventually, investors appreciated her resolve. “I just kept knocking down their door, and some of them saw that I was not just going to give up and that was enough for them to write me a check,” she chuckles.
FIELDING A DIVERSE TEAM. As Melanie had spent most of her time in New York and San Francisco, Melanie hasn’t particularly felt like being lesbian hampered her entrepreneurial efforts. “Additionally, I have a fairly traditional female presentation, and many people probably have no idea I’m married to a woman,” she says. Things might be more difficult for nontraditional-presenting queer folk, especially when pitching to conservative investors, she notes.
But being queer is an advantage in business, it makes one more embracing of diversity. “Your market is diverse, whether you like it or not, and having diverse voices on your team makes it more likely to hit on ideas that a homogeneous group would be unable to think of,” Melanie explains. This happens all the time at Andie, be it from making sales decisions, to advertising direction. “Listening to feedback from diverse source ultimately became one of our key differentiators for competitors, and customers were telling us ‘Finally, a company that gets it.’”
It is also important to be confident about your own identity, Melanie says. “An entrepreneur’s business should be close to their identity. If your investor is uncomfortable with your identity and you’re selling a piece of your business to them, you don’t want someone like that close to you,” she notes.
That confidence will serve well, and Melanie notes that has been her truth from the minute since she was young. When people don’t have to worry about having to hide their identity, that frees them up to pursue their passions. There are tons of resources for LGBT entrepreneurs out there, and the more LGBT entrepreneurs that exist, the easier it is to imagine that success is possible for people who are not just straight, white men, Melanie says.