When we were putting together the new IAB 250 Direct Brands to Watch list, we knew that more than a few companies with female founders would make the cut. What we did not anticipate was that a full 25% of the companies on our list would have women founders and CEOs. To give you some perspective, that figure is around 5% for the Fortune 500 Company list. When we announced this finding at our Annual Leadership Meeting, the audience of over 1,500 attendees — both men and women — broke out in applause.
Direct Brands Are The True Equal Opportunity Employers
The direct brand economy has created an unprecedented opportunity for women to start companies and to do what they could only have previously dreamed of doing before. More women are becoming entrepreneurs, more women are building companies and more women are becoming successful with their own direct brands.
The fact that it is so much easier now to start a company and find an audience is certainly helping. But there is more to the story than that. This direct brand economy is all about creating connections and having an authentic dialogue with people, something that women are good at doing. This new way of conducting business through direct communications and building two way engagements is something that women like doing and do well, so it is a natural fit.
I think this is a turning point, and a clear indicator of where the business world is heading. It is a huge opportunity for women, and frankly, for everyone who has been underserved by the previous economy. Having more women and more minorities in leadership roles is breaking down barriers, creating a more diverse point of view for companies, and leading more growth in a stagnant retail environment.
Women Are Remaking Products By Making Them Better
Women are creating a lot of new (and improved) products for themselves. The products created for women by men were often times missing the crucial input from women that would have made them better. There is no better example of this than ThirdLove, the direct bra company co-founded by a woman. Heidi Zak did not like the fit (or the marketing) of the bras that were available, so she built her brand on a more inclusive model that made better fitting, more comfortable bras in a much broader range of sizes. This revolutionized the bra business and even caught the attention of Victoria’s Secret, whose attempt to dismiss the brand backfired in a very public way.
It is not just the brands that need improvement, it is also brand voices. Jessy Dover, the co-founder and Creative Director of handbag company Dagne Dover, talked at our Annual Leadership Meeting about how natural it was to bring the voices of the three female co-founders to their content. They approach their marketing as having an extended conversation with friends. People respond to the language they use because all of them are essentially their own customers.
As you can imagine, having products created for women by women, and communicated to them by women, is a key selling point. It is also a great place for women to begin thinking about all of the other products they use regularly that are ripe for improvement. Look around your home, think about what you use that could use some improvement, and let your imagination go.
Where do you begin your entrepreneurial journey? With a conversation. I encourage you to think about, explore and talk about your ambitions with other women. Justine Lassoff, the co-founder of healthy cosmetics company Love Goodly is also the cofounder of Tuesdaynights.org, a Los Angeles-based networking group that brings together entrepreneurial women, female investors and senior executives. You can create the same thing where you live.
I also encourage you to use the resources we have for you here. Our Knowledge Center contains the collected thinking from a wide variety of thought leaders. Our in-depth crash courses like Introduction to Direct Brands can quickly deepen your understanding of this growing economy, and the blog series you are reading right now contains some of the latest thinking from IAB members and associates for you to learn from and be inspired by.
Give Yourself Permission
In the past, women needed permission to climb the corporate ladder. With the barrier to entry all but gone, and the cost to start a company minimal, women have a chance now to be entrepreneurs in a way that has never has been possible before. Not only will more women become founders of companies, but I am confident that many of them will go on to become the next CEOs of Fortune 500 companies. This ripple effect will be felt well beyond the direct brand ecosystem for this generation of leaders, and many generations to come.