Claire Wasserman wanted a strong network of professionally ambitious women who she could call on to help with the everyday struggles of climbing the career ladder, negotiating, and generally staying inspired and excelling at work.
When she couldn’t find that network, she decided to create it.
The result of her effort is a vibrant community called Ladies Get Paid, where over 30,000 women from around the world connect, network, and share knowledge through online workshops, live events, and an official conference in New York, called Get Money Get Paid (for which Fundbox is a proud 2018 sponsor).
In addition to running LGP, she’s a career coach for individuals and teams, a member of the Well + Good Council, and a writer and speaker. She’s moderated and spoken at events at companies like the New York Times, and was recently featured in the Sally Hansen global campaign, Shetopia.
In this conversation, Claire tells us all about her big-picture goals with Ladies Get Paid, her hopes for helping women business leaders find their power, and how entrepreneurs like herself can stave off burnout and truly thrive in their careers. She also opens up about the financial struggles she faced when starting her business, and what she sees as the keys to entrepreneurial success.
Fundbox: You’ve build a wonderful professional resource in Ladies Get Paid. In your personal mission statement, you say that you’re dedicated to helping women thrive at work. Can you talk a about that mission, how you arrived at it, and what that means to you?
Claire Wasserman: Yes. It’s hard to distill my mission into just a few words. I’m passionate about helping women in the workplace, through helping them make more money, get into positions of power and leadership, having freedom, independence. I want to help women create a life that feels good to them.
So what’s this through-line in all of those goals? It’s really rising up. The way that I define rising up is: thriving. We’re all just trying to survive, and that’s fine, but how do you take survival into thriving?
I know that can mean different things for different women, so I didn’t want to limit myself to only saying, “I want to help women make more money,” though that is part of it. I want to help women become leaders. I want women to define “rising up” in their own way.
I am curious how you arrived at that, because there are a lot of ways to help women thrive. What made you choose the financially-focused path that you did choose with Ladies Get Paid?
CW: I would say it’s not financially-focused, I would actually say, we’re freedom and power-focused, or self-worth-focused. I do think money is often the best way to express that. Money is a huge part of what we do, but there’s a lot of ways to approach giving women power, which means making sure they understand their worth, and that they can articulate their worth, so that they can have power and the agency in their lives.
Money is the most important thing in the world. Whether you love it or not, it’s the currency that allows people to be independent. Being independent means they can walk away from any bad situations they are in, like toxic work environments, bad managers, not getting paid enough. Ladies Get Paid helps them with that.
Have you always had an entrepreneurial streak?
CW: I’ve definitely always had an entrepreneurial streak. I never was one of those people who said, “I want to be a CEO” but when I look back, everything that I did was self-started. For example, I created a club to raise $10,000 to build an all-girls school in Afghanistan when I was in high school. In college, I started a magazine.
It’s only upon reflection now that I see I was entrepreneurial. I think it’s important to look back to your history for clues to who you are. If you study the patterns, it will hopefully provide an indication of how you can benefit the world.
What in your background do you think has best prepared you for taking risks like starting a business in the first place?
CW: Two mentors of mine do own their own businesses. They weren’t encouraging me to go down that route, but they were my example of how you could do something on your own and provide for others, and have the wonderful experience of being able to develop the skills of other people.
That’s a privilege I don’t take lightly. I’m a co-founder and I have a part-time employee, and I cannot wait to get full-time employees and get to be the person who gives them a wonderful experience.
Would you say that one of the best things about being a business owner or a founder is that kind of fulfillment of helping other people along with you?
CW: Yes—and because I haven’t had a full-time employee, this is me fantasizing about the future. But I can’t wait to get to build a company culture from scratch, after seeing so many of the women in our community end up either not being happy and leaving their jobs. It’s less about what they were doing at the company, more about the environment and how they were treated. After all the bad managers that I had, I now get an opportunity to do it right.
On the flip side, what about the hardest things about being a founder?
CW: So much to do with no time. I don’t want to burn myself out. I’ve done that before pretty much every job I’ve had. It’s really a matter of prioritizing.
The second part is money. For us, a huge way that we make money actually corporate training and workshops. Sometimes we work with companies where we come in-house and we teach. Those are steady paychecks and that’s wonderful as it allows us to not put pressure on our community.
That being said, it can take up to six months to make these deals. That’s six months of not knowing if it will work, and if it doesn’t, you may have to close your business. As every freelancer knows, until the contract is signed, you don’t have paycheck in hand.
You mentioned something important there: burnout. There’s been a lot written about the phenomenon of the “second shift,” and emotional labor, and how women in general do more of it than men do, and that labor is not necessarily paid, not necessarily promotable or noticed. Do you think these things are driving more burnout? Do you think burnout is getting worse for female business owners or perhaps for millennials or younger entrepreneurs?
CW: Totally. I do think so, for a number of reasons.
First of all, impostor syndrome. If you don’t know what impostor syndrome is, it’s basically the experience of feeling like you are a fraud. Or, when you sell yourself and you get an opportunity, worrying that you’re not going to be able to deliver and you will fail and you will be judged.
One of the consequences of [these fears] is we overwork, we over-compare. We do this because we don’t think we’re good enough unless we overwork. That leads to burnout.
The first step to tackling burnout is to really examine your impostor syndrome and take the steps to combat it. [At Ladies Get Paid,] we teach a class on how to do that. I think that’s at the core of a lot of the challenges that women face, whether it’s advocating for a promotion, negotiating your salary, pushing back, drawing the boundaries. So many of us don’t feel like we deserve it.
Then the other part is, and this is particularly aimed at millennials, we feel like we have to respond to our emails every second. You need to figure out a system, like putting up an away message that sets expectations. When we are constantly responding to people, it is taking time away from other priorities, away from us being productive.
Finally, make a conscious decision to not feel guilty, whether you’re at work and not at home with your kids, whether you are at home with your kids and not at work, whatever. You have to say, “This is my life, I am in the moment with this person or this thing.” Whether it’s through practicing yoga or meditation, [you must] build the muscle of being in the moment.
I think millennials, in particular, suffer from not being in the moment because we’re so distracted, and we have constant access to our phones. That’s a huge issue, and if you’re a business owner or freelancer it’s even more compounded, because we do have to be on duty a lot, because we are wearing so many hats. It’s all much easier said than done. I sound very wise but I’m also working on it and suffering from this.
I can believe it. There’s a huge amount of stress and pressure in being an owner, and it’s easy to feel like you can’t miss a single call.
Looking more specifically at when you were starting out with Ladies Get Paid, let’s talk about the nitty-gritty of how you got it started. How much money did you have? How did you get the money to get the organization off the ground?
CW: This is where Fundbox certainly comes in; I really wish knew about you when I started. Instead, I put it on a credit card. I didn’t think to get small business loan. I didn’t have knowledge of what that was. I used what I had readily accessible to me and what was familiar to me, and I put about $30,000 on my credit card.
Now, would I recommend that for people? Probably not.
I had a plan, I had goals for myself of what I wanted and by what time, the revenue I needed to be making. I was able to quickly see if I was going to make it and that I was going to make my credit card payments. I had prospects of getting freelance, and I had alternatives of things that could earn me money. Putting [my startup expenses] on the credit card was a gamble, but I didn’t do it with blinders on. I would not recommend for most people to do what I did.
In the end, I ended up paying it all off. If I had to do it over, I would put some amount on my credit card, certainly not the amount that I did before. My lesson in all of this has been that there are multiple ways to get funding. It doesn’t have to be venture capital, perhaps it could be angel investment, perhaps it could be Fundbox, small business loans, crowdfunding.
I am lucky in the sense that my business is diverse and not capital-intensive. It took a while and that’s where having payment plans with my vendors, particularly expensive ones, have helped me make those payments.
You can be very creative with how you make money. Two years later, some of our goals are going to be more capital-intensive and I am open to getting more funding, whether it is small business loan, a credit line from Fundbox, or angel investment.
Or a combination of all of that. It sounds like you’re advocating not just being creative about where you get working capital financing, but also thinking about the income streams you can have as a business owner.
CW: We do. That was something also very scary to me. It’s that we only had one revenue source, that was nerve wracking. Now, we have multiple and we’ve tested which ones bring us how much and how often. Revenue streams are important. It’s not one size fits all. Things change as your business changes—they should change.
When it comes to funding in your experience, where do most female entrepreneurs turn first and why?
CW: I’m very much learning that, too. I think crowdfunding is really popular among women. I’m generalizing, but I think we tend to be very cooperative and have large networks of other women who want to help. We value our friendships.
Crowdfunding also has a low barrier to entry. That said, it’s scary to publically put yourself out there and risk failure. I think those are two things that are hard for women, due to imposter syndrome and the way we’re socialized to not talk about money. [Crowdfunding is] the platform that is most easily accessible, but at the same time, we have a lot of anxiety about doing it.
We recently published a report that we wrote about the gender credit gap, called What If, where we looked at trends in how men and women access business credit. According to some studies, it looks like female entrepreneurs often turn to their communities and lean on family or friends for funding as opposed to a traditional bank loan, so you’re not off–base there.
In your opinion, what would most help new founders? What do you think they need the most? Is it education? Is it different types of funding options?
CW: First, it is education. The first step is starting to talk about things that are normally taboo, whether that is money or discrimination or not feeling good about yourself.
Like I said, when I started, I could really only think of credit cards. That’s where my mind stopped. Now I know there are companies like Fundbox. Now I know there’s a whole other option that doesn’t require me to walk into a bank and ask for a loan. With more education, you learn about new funding options.
What do you think is most lacking in most founders understanding, especially younger founders, when it comes to financial topics? Are there certain things that you’ve observed your members finding the most frustrating or confusing?
CW: One topic is revenue streams and building business models. For example, you have a great idea but you’re not quite sure how to monetize it.
Next, probably the funding aspect, which is why a lot of them don’t leave their day jobs. I’ve heard many people say that they may just keep [their idea] as a side hustle because they feel like they don’t have the capital to take the leap. Women are increasingly becoming the main breadwinners, so they are on the hook.
For this generation, it may feel like there’s more than ever to lose.
CW: Absolutely right. We’re also not building wealth at the rates our parents or grandparents were. We have a huge need to have savings in a way that, I think, our parents didn’t.
I have one last big question for you. What is it that you know now that you most wish you knew at the beginning when you were starting out with this business?
CW: It’s okay to ask for help. Something that I’m doing right now, so it took me literally almost three years to get to this place, is talk to people who could share their expertise and allow me to ask questions. I never did that before, I just started the business on my own. I rarely asked anyone for help and when I did need help I didn’t even know who to go to.
My ability to hustle and to do things on my own is great, but the downside of that is sometimes it actually makes things harder. Now I’ve gotten to a place where I know a lot of things and I also know what I don’t know in a really big way.
In the beginning I didn’t know what I didn’t know. Now I am looking at our community, Ladies Get Paid, and figuring out who can help me and who I can help. I feel so grateful that I built a resource that I can use.
That’s fantastic. That comment—that it’s okay for us to ask for help—is something that I’ve heard time and again from many different entrepreneurs. Why do you think entrepreneurs have such a hard time asking for help?
CW: I think again that comes down to stubbornness, the feeling that I can do it on my own, and also the fear that you’ll look like a failure if you show any weakness. I imagine men struggle with that as well.
Another issue that may be more frequent with women, is that I’m worried that I’m bothering someone that by asking for help. I worry that I’m burdening them.
That’s one thing I love about communities like Ladies Get Paid, is that I know if I put a question out there or reach out to somebody, there’s no pressure, everyone’s there to help, voluntarily.
CW: Yes. I think the more you give, the more you get.
Yes! Thank you Claire, for your great insights and advice.
In 2017, Claire Wasserman traveled across country, hosting town halls for thousands of women to talk about money, work, and self-worth. She is currently writing her first book about the experience. You can meet Claire in New York at the upcoming 2018 conference, Get Money Get Paid, or find out more about her at clairelovesyou.com.