I started my career in radio: selling advertising, being an on-air voice, and doing an on-air sports show. Then I changed course and started working for the Convention and Visitors Bureau in Eugene, where I wound up as CEO for my last eight years there.
Out of the blue, I got recruited to Portland to be the GM of a women’s PRO basketball team in a new league. It was a pure start-up. I worked about 100 hours a week, initially with no office, no staff, nothing. But I loved it. I had to quickly find and hire team members who knew how to do the things I didn’t, and immediately start establishing partnerships and sponsorships. Just over 90 days later, on opening night, we were playing in front of 9000 fans. Although our team in Portland was successful, unfortunately, the league, which was underfunded, was not. It ultimately failed after being in operation for two and half years.
Big lesson I learned? Don’t be afraid to take that leap of faith. Sometimes you just have to say “what the hell.” I also learned that even when you do everything that you can to make the business successful, if other people aren’t doing the same, the business will fail. That was a valuable lesson for me to learn.
After the league folded, I took the position of CEO at Oregon Entrepreneurs Network (OEN). By that point I had a really odd skill set: 15 years of non-profit management experience, but also hands-on experience at a start-up. That odd skill set made me the perfect match for OEN.
Coming into OEN, I really understood at a deep level what entrepreneurs go through. You’ve got to be 100% committed, no matter what. Sometimes you go without pay. My most vivid memory as GM of the basketball team was putting $10,000 of The Oregonian advertising on my personal credit card for the team, with no guarantee that I’d be reimbursed by the League office. That’s what it means to be “all in.”
I’ve always been relationship-oriented. The bigger the network of connections, the more likely you can recruit the folks you need. If you’re running a start-up, or any business for that matter, you need to be able to recruit mentors, investors, and leaders to help you get ahead.
After 17 years at the helm of OEN, I’m proud of what we’ve accomplished. We really took a leadership role and helped entrepreneurs all over the state. We also laid the groundwork for investor organizations, including Angel Oregon, other angel conferences in the state, and the Oregon Angel Fund, that have catalyzed opportunities for access to capital in the state. Previously, access to capital for entrepreneurs in Oregon was much more limited.
Getting capital is so critical for a business – not just for financial reason, but also for the mentoring, coaching, and other kinds of help it brings and the doors it opens. The beauty of it is that when you help an entrepreneur realize their dreams, all sorts of good things will result: jobs are created, the tax base improves, people are supporting families, and many other positives. There are so many ripples in that pond.
I really treasure the time that I spent at OEN. Before joining, I didn’t really understand the difference between venture and angel capital. I’ve learned so much about what it takes to build a successful company and how to spot the holes. To me, these are the critical benchmarks: Passion – are the founders of a company all in? Expertise – do the founders really know how to do what they want to do – can they execute? Validation – will the market support what they’re hoping to do? Coach-ability – are the founders willing to learn? That last one has been a big stumbling block for so many companies.
I’m excited about launching my own consultancy. I’m looking forward to having more control over my life and, hallelujah, my schedule. I plan to focus on what I enjoy most: helping start-ups and non-profits with board and governance issues, with managing people, with fundraising, and with the host of other challenges that inevitably will crop up. I’ll work hand-in-hand with founders and executive directors to help them put together their business model and land on a strategy that will position them for success. As a life-long believer in the power of networks, I’m always looking for ways to connect my clients with folks who can help them.
My advice to other women business owners: Don’t be afraid to take that leap of faith. Go for it. Minimize risk, but go for it. And once you get there, be sure to give back and lend a helping hand to other women business owners around you. That makes us all stronger!