On-Demand: Female Entrepreneurs & Investors
May 13, 2021
Our panelists offered their unique perspectives as founders and funders and how being a woman is an advantage.
Miri Forster:According to recent studies by American Express and the National Women's Business Council, there are nearly 13 million women-owned businesses in the US as of 2019 generating 1.9 trillion in revenue in the US economy and employing almost 9.4 million people. Between 2014 and 2019, the number of women-owned businesses increased by 21% compared to only 9% increase in all businesses. And the number of firms owned by women of color group doubled that by an impressive 43%. But according to a Kauffman Foundation study titled Access to Capital for Entrepreneurs, women-owned businesses only received 2.2% of total venture capital funding in 2017.
Despite that somewhat disappointing statistic on funding, we know that women are phenomenal business leaders. I'm excited for our panelist to share how they've approached funding, launched and grown their business, driven innovation, and navigated challenges along the way.
EisnerAmper believes in the power of bringing people together to collaborate and share perspectives. Moving Forward. Together. We understand that the VC community is looking for a superior service, networking opportunities, competitive pricing, and cultivating long-term relationships. We also champion areas that the community is passionate about such as environmental, social, and governance issues, women and minority-owned businesses, and emerging managers. We've developed a custom approach utilizing experts to provide a holistic one-stop resource for the VC community. We give this continuum of support to our emerging managers because we know how critical those options are, especially in the formative years of a launch. Please contact us if you'd like to learn more about our passionate support for the VC community.
Then finally, I'd like to highlight our next Women of EisnerAmper event on “Becoming a Financially Fearless Female”, which is scheduled for June 9th at 9:00 AM. Learn more about the program and register via the link in the related content widget on your screen. We hope that you can join us.
Thanks again to our participants, to our panelists, and to everyone behind the scenes who help to make this program a reality. I now pass it along to Allie Colman, our moderator, and to our tremendous group of female business leaders.
Allie Colman:Thank you so much, Miri, and thank you everyone for attending today's panel. Again, as Miri said, my name is Allie Colman. I am a senior tax manager in our large corporate group out of our Iselin office. I am honored to be here today with this amazing group of women. I would love to give each of them an opportunity to discuss a little bit about them and their background. Before I do that though, I just wanted to encourage anyone in the audience, if at any point you have a question, please use the Q&A widget to integrate those questions into our conversation today. If anything, we will try to touch on everything by the end. So with that being said, we'll start off with Mary Schroeder.
Mary Schroeder:Good morning, everyone. My name is Mary Schroeder. I'm an experienced investor. I spent most of those years in Asia. I've been a distressed and private equity investor in Asia for about 18 years. I've also run my own food company and expanded that business across Asia.
Allie Colman:I think we might be having a little bit of technical issues. So while we wait for Mary to get back, maybe Sarah you can give us a little bit of background on yourself and on your company.
Sarah Ribner:Sure. Hello, everyone, and thank so much for having me. My name is Sarah. I co-founded PiperWai. It's an e-commerce brand of natural deodorant made with activated charcoal. We also expanded into a full line of hygiene products. I have a couple of samples here that you can see. We are sold on piperwai.com, Amazon. We have a few retail partners such as GNC and The Detox Market. We've been in business since before natural deodorant was a thing. As of this year, we are fully sustainable, so we're manufactured in a B Corp certified facility in the United States, and we just switched our packaging to recycled ocean-bound plastic, PCR, and aluminum. Again, thank you for having me. I'm excited to be here.
Allie Colman:Thank you so much, Sarah. Sophia, if you could give us a little bit about you and Dress It Up.
Sophia Maroon:Sure. Good morning, everybody, and thank you for having me as part of this fascinating subject matter. I love talking about being an entrepreneur and being a female entrepreneur in particular. I am the founder of Dress It Up Dressing. Dress It Up Dressing is a line of salad dressings made to replicate homemade. Salad dressing is usually considered the least healthy part of your salad and we're doing our best to dispute that. It was never my intention to start a salad dressing company. It was a little bit of a family dare that my brother had been putting forward for a long time that our mother's salad dressing was so good that you could sell it.
We all dismissed that because we thought he was ridiculous. But in 2012, I was in the middle of a little bit of a life change. I was the mother of three children under the age of 10 and separating from my husband and was looking for something to do that would afford some flexibility. The salad dressing idea seemed about as sensible as any of the others I was floating at the time. But I started just giving it to friends and seeing what they thought and they started giving it to their friends and I began running a little black market salad dressing company out of my basement.
But somebody from Whole Foods found out about the dressing and tried it and said, "We don't sell anything like this and we should." So they put Dress It Up in one store in Washington, D.C. where I live. About three months later, we were in 14 stores and then all of the Mid-Atlantic region of Whole Foods, and I've been figuring out what I've been doing well doing it ever since.
Allie Colman:I think both of your stories are amazing and I think it's honestly so funny to say that your brother was like, "Who's going to buy mom's salad dressing? It's good. Other people must think it's good." Then yeah, you must have always had that entrepreneurial spirit burning inside of you. I know that we had the privilege of talking about getting your companies started and up and running. Sarah, for anyone who's listening today that attended Tech Day previously, you've heard a little bit about Sarah story, but Sarah was actually on Shark Tank. So, maybe Sarah if you could tell us a little bit about how you got PiperWai started. I know that it was in grad school and maybe touching upon the different milestones that have happened so far for your company.
Sarah Ribner:Sure. I started this company out of a personal need. Back in college actually, I was doing a senior thesis on community support agriculture, so I was interviewing organic farms all over the Tri-state area. Through that experience, I started to become very interested in organic food and healthy living and the idea of organic food but also local food and how to support local communities. That just sent me down this whole rabbit hole of, how can I be healthier in every part of my life? Because the more research I did, the more I realized that eating well, exercising, meditating, it just wasn't enough if toxins were coming into my body through different things like personal care and cleaning products and other daily products that we use every day.
So that whole process led me into this just lifestyle overhaul. Natural deodorant was the hardest thing to find because out of all the products that I had switched, everything in my food and my personal care and cleaning products, everything was working except for natural deodorant. So I started using a formula with a childhood friend, and through my own journey, I saw this huge white space in the market. I saw a lot of other people were complaining about the same issue. So all the green beauty bloggers and influencers that I was following at the time, even a couple companies that were launching, even including the honest company, they were all talking about the lack of good natural deodorant.
So it clicked, and I said, "This is the white space in the market and we have this product that we're using with friends and family. I think it should be a brand, I think it should be a company. We should bring it out to the masses and see if this is something that could potentially grow into something bigger." So the brand started with a $2,000 loan and basically no team, no investor funding, we did everything, bootstrapped from the ground up. Some of our earliest customers are actually those same influencers and bloggers that were originally talking about natural deodorant and had given me the idea that there was a need for this product. Those were our earliest customers and our earliest promotion actually.
They were promoting it to their followers in exchange for products and that was some of our earliest sales. In Shark Tank, yeah, that was after about a year and a half of severely bootstrapping the business. Also, I transitioned back to grad school at that point, so I was running the business and going to school. That was the opportunity. I applied actually after my mom sent a link for a casting call and that was the big opportunity to get the word out, but also to test whether this niche idea could be something mainstream and whether people knew that they needed natural deodorant and also to convince them that natural can work as well as non-natural products. So that was a few years ago, that was back in 2016. I've been full-time on the business since the Shark Tank appearance.
Allie Colman:It's amazing really what you can do with $2,000 and look where you are now. It's true, it's amazing. Mary, so happy that you're back. Just to backtrack a second, your introduction got a little cut short and I want to make sure that we are able to highlight you. Do you mind just giving us again a little bit of your background?
Mary Schroeder:Yeah, absolutely. I'm a long-term investor. Most of that experience, I was a distressed and private equity investor throughout Asia. I've also run my own food company in Asia. So it really expanded it into multiple countries and built up a team, gone through that typical from garage to office and warehouse and manufacturing facility trajectory. Currently, I'm running my own venture capital firm focusing on investing in consumer goods companies founded or run by, co-founded by women. And I do selectively mentor companies that are also mentor entrepreneurs that are also in those sectors.
Allie Colman:The low-hanging fruit question is you mentioned that you really try to invest in female-owned companies. In your opinion, what makes female owned companies so appealing to investors?
Mary Schroeder:Well, I think that it depends on how people really look at how they want to invest. I'm really looking to find companies that I believe are going to be profitable sooner rather than later. I would say that most of the companies that I've looked at here that are run by females tend to be much more intuned in to getting near term profitability to make sure that they're going to be able to have a sustainable business long-term. The other major factor for me is that the women have a very good sense of their customer and they tend to understand where people shop, how they shop, what convenience means for people, and they're a big percentage of the consumer.
Having that mindset is really important to me. So that's where I do tend to spend my time and I will continue to be deep focused on doing that. I mean, obviously it's a very under-invested part of the community, but I really, frankly, I've no problem with finding some incredible companies. There's quite a lot out there.
Allie Colman:Yeah, absolutely. It's interesting that you touched on females being so intune with their buyers and how people are shopping, especially when we're living in a world where what everyone thought they knew has now turned upside down. So we spent some time talking about COVID and I know that each of you have pivoted during COVID. Now that we're all seeing that New Jersey's opening up soon and I think a lot of places are starting to get back to somewhat of normalcy. So maybe Sophia if you want to touch on a little bit of the opportunities you see post-COVID, and maybe we could start off with how you were able to get through COVID a little bit.
Sophia Maroon:Sure. COVID presented some unique challenges because in February of last year, we launched a single-serving packet of salad dressing that was perfect for the active grab-and-go lifestyle and was going to be served on every salad bar in Whole Foods and they were also going to be served at corporate cafeterias and university cafeterias. We launched them on February 1st. We've made a huge investment in these new products and we've done a lot of research to find out that there was a need for a clean, healthy, clean label salad dressing in grab-and-go packets. So we were thrilled about launching this product.
For about two weeks, it was glorious that we were hitting beyond our numbers and we were looking forward to double, triple digit growth in 2020. Obviously, four weeks later, all the salad bars were closed, all of the universities were closed, all the corporate cafeterias were closed and we had about 100,000 packets in inventory that we hadn't yet paid for and that we're going to be paid for with those contracts. That was our "We're going to go out of business" moment. My company is B Corp and we've been a B Corp for about four or five years.
So that means that we've had a mission that is accompanied our core purpose for a long, long time, and that's healthy eating starts young. So we partner with schools and give salad dressing to schools. So we call them knowing that they were still going to be serving meals, especially here in D.C., where so many children rely on school lunches in order to get their nutritional needs met. So we started by just giving away salad dressing and then they were able to afford to buy it at a highly reduced price. That led to a partnership with Jose Andreas and World Central Kitchen which we funded with a Kickstarter.
We were able to find a way to make use of this product that had no market because my thought was that the market will return, but right now people just need to eat and they need to eat with dignity and eat well. So that was what we did and the result of that was it opened up opportunities that we never could have imagined. We won an award from PepsiCo for that pivot and that led to mentorship from Pepsi executives which gave us introductions to new companies, new buyers. COVID actually ended up really leveling the playing field in a lot of ways because the way that salad dressing and food products are typically sold is through trade shows.
My company can afford a trade show booth that's a table, and our competitors, which are huge multinationals, can afford a 20-foot spread with five people working every single person that walks by. But now all of those sales pitches are done by Zoom and I get 15 minutes and Primo gets 15 minutes and everybody gets 15 minutes. So, from the buying perspective, we were able to approach stores, retailers who fortunately were focused on female-founded companies and black-owned companies and they're looking for companies that are outside of the traditional mold of big multinational.
Well, at first, I was certain we were going to go out of business. In a way, it's provided opportunities that we never could have imagined. So, this year, we're seeing that triple digit growth that came about not through the packets, but through other means and probably will end up putting us in a much better position than we would have been otherwise.
Allie Colman:Yeah, it's incredible because you'd hear a lot of companies that did not have the same outcome that you did. But I think to Mary's point, understand that having a female-owned business, you're able to get a better understanding of your environment, you're watching buyers and you looked even deeper, not even looking at your profit at the bottom line, you were like, "I have this product and I need to find a way to use it." And that's really showing a great entrepreneurial spirit. Sarah, can you tell us about COVID and how that changed for PiperWai?
Sarah Ribner:Yeah. Your story, it really resonates because we had a very similar start to the year and it did end up becoming a blessing in disguise. But beginning of the year was just holding our breath not knowing if we were going to survive coming out of COVID. So there were two things happening. At the beginning of 2020, we had one of our retailers, we were in about 2,500 locations, and they had just placed a large order. We invested in the inventory and we were also testing for a new mass retail contract. Retail was about a third of our business at the beginning of the year and the new contract pulled out as of the time that the pandemic was official in March.
Then the retailer that we were already in, they shut down pretty much most of their locations and almost went out of business until they were acquired towards the end of the year. That really forced us to lean into our other sales channels, so all e-commerce, Amazon, and piperwai.com. We were also worried about, "Well, if people are stuck inside, are they going to care about how they smell?" So those were two very big things, no physical retail and then wondering where is this entire industry going to go throughout the year? It prevented, I should say presented a lot of opportunities in that because natural deodorant, before COVID, the idea of naturals, while it's an industry that is growing and picking up steam, there's still this misconception of - we see the terms hippy or ineffective or irritating.
That was always the misconception about natural products. Whereas in quarantine, everyone who was afraid maybe to try naturals because they didn't know if it would hold up in their daily lives, they have the opportunity to now test it out in a low-risk environment and they're also much more health conscious. That's the other thing about COVID, is that it's really accelerated this interest in naturals and anything that's helping with preventative wellness and helping really just with an overall holistic lifestyle that has really just accelerated since the pandemic. So the industry overall was actually heading in the right direction.
Conventional deodorant sales fell whereas natural deodorant continued to grow. Then we pivoted early on back in April before we knew whether or not deodorant was going to survive in general. We had a room spray that a couple of our customers said, "This has some alcohol content, can you make this into a hand sanitizer?" Before, it usually take six months to a year. We've never launched a product in three weeks. So we went back to our formulators, we said, "We have this base formula, and it's this." I said, "We have the original formula that was supposed to be a room spray, can we turn it into a hand sanitizer if we just boost the alcohol content and change some of the percentages and follow CDC guidelines and all of that?"
Within three weeks, we had a formula, launched it, and that ended up being our best-selling product for about two months and at the start of the pandemic. It's actually my favorite hand sanitizer, so we're going to keep it in the line up, very moisturizing. It also helped us to give back. We're based in Brooklyn, which is one of the hardest hit areas in the beginning of the pandemic, so we partnered with the food insecurity insecurity organization called TCAH. We partnered to donate a percentage of the profits from the hand sanitizer, but also we were donating hand sanitizers to families who are benefiting from their services.
Then we also were able to do care packages with hospitals who were sending out hand sanitizers, both sample sizes and full sizes. And because it has an essential oil content, a lot of the feedback from healthcare workers is that there are so many terrible smells in the ER or in their units and even though it's meant to be a hand sanitizer, it's also helping them to just get through the day and to help dissipate the smells around them. So that was really great. That story also is similar to Sophia. We had a lot of grand opportunities come out of that. We partnered with KKR, so they recognized us for a grant and mentorship opportunities.
And the story was picked up, we were on Rachael Ray just to talk about how we pivoted during the pandemic. Towards the end of the year, it was a wild year, but it definitely presented a lot of opportunities to show how we can think on our feet and how we can problem solve in the middle of something that is completely unprecedented. Like I said, the industry overall just for naturals and healthier, better for you products, better for the environment products, that is just continuing to accelerate.
Allie Colman:It's interesting that we just heard how from the entrepreneur's perspective, you guys pounded the pavement, right? You needed to do what you needed to do for your companies to survive. But Mary, I guess from the investor side of things, how is it for you? Do you want your portfolio companies, your entrepreneurs to come to you and let you know when they're struggling? How do you view yourself as helping them as an investor?
Mary Schroeder:Yeah. For me, it's very important to really talk on some of the worst days for the entrepreneur and really try to figure out what are the options in order to be able to think about new distribution channels, explore essentially, like with Sarah said, on the product development side, but to really have really good resources available to understand your cash flow and also think about what might be good fundraising options within the community, whether it's my community within the community that already exists with the company to really respond very quickly. And when there is a problem, having that dialogue through the bad times is I think more important than it is when things are going really well.
So I really do encourage not only the people that I work with to come to me when they're facing some of the scariest days of being an entrepreneur and running their business, but also to encourage other people to keep that dialogue. You're always in a process of building trust with your shareholder and advisor community and a good way to do that is to really talk through some of the harder issues you're facing, but also come to the table with some ideas about potential solutions and to just brainstorm through those things.
Allie Colman:Absolutely. Sarah, you briefly touched on this earlier, but I know when PiperWai first got started, it was you and your co-founder. Then obviously you can't do everything yourself, it's really about the team that you build around you. So can you talk to me a little bit about how you were able to, as a new entrepreneur, surround yourself with the right people and how that might have changed over PiperWai's life cycle?
Sarah Ribner:Yeah. The beginning was Shark Tank growing your company with media. It's very volatile, so you never know what the response is going to be. We were told that we would sell maybe 10,000 units and that it's a niche product and it's really not going to take off much after the show. We sold 10 times that amount, but we also weren't really able to keep up. We didn't have the infrastructure to keep up with the demand, so we were sold out for just consistently for six months after the show and then there was also the customer service component of that. So a lot of our early help was really just grabbing any help that we could to manage what was already happening around us instead of being a little bit more proactive and strategic about our future growth.
Once we were able to stabilize, the team is still really small, but now a lot of our hiring is through my network or through anyone on our team's network so that we know that this is something that they're passionate about as a lifestyle, they really believe in the products, they really believe in what the brand's mission is, and that there's also that trust within our network so we can always pull in help from whether it's a school that I've attended or an entrepreneurial organization or a woman's group. That's the first place we go for hiring. Also because the team is so small, everyone on the team is interviewing any new people that come in to make sure it's a good culture fit and that they really embody the values that we're looking for.
But yeah, it's a long process now, and it's a very strategic process, but I would say in the beginning it was like we just needed help. Yeah, it's a very different process now than what it was at the beginning.
Allie Colman:Yes, for sure. As the company grows, I know that your outlook in how you're hiring people and what you're looking for changes. Sophia, we touched a little bit on that when we prepared, so maybe you can share with everyone about how your hiring process has now pivoted.
Sophia Maroon:Sure. I worked just by myself for the first probably four years that I was in business, and that was by design because I couldn't afford payroll and I wasn't paying myself and I also was raising three children. So I was trying to do both things side-by-side. But then starting in I think about 2018, I had my first hire, swiftly followed by my second and third. We joked, we were three moms and a millennial, because the two of us were full-time and then the two moms that I hired were both incredibly skilled and really people that I wouldn't have been able to afford to hire full time, but they had competing priorities as well.
So they were able to work but also work around the schedules that they needed for their children and it was the best of both worlds. But what's interesting, what's happening now is that this is a big year of growth for Dress It Up. We started the year in about 500 stores and by June 1st we're going to be in about 1,500 stores. So we're tripling in size this year, it's great. At the same time, we have to hire to support that. So we'll soon have more new hires in my company than, we've been this tried and true team for many, many years now, and so we're going to be outnumbered by the new hires.
Making sure that we keep that corporate culture that we've established since day one is a challenge and so is learning how to onboard people remotely. But the benefit is that because of COVID and because we've proven that we can work remotely, we didn't have to open up our offer to just people who happen to be in the D.C. area, we hire people almost anywhere and so we ended up with this pool of applicants that was flattering that we would have choices like we did because we got these applicants from all over and it's been amazing and it's a big changing point. Ask me this question in a year, I'm so curious to see how it plays out, but so far, I'm thrilled by the results.
Allie Colman:Absolutely. I know that you work with Mary through her mentorship program. So just talking a little bit about the panel today, we said that we would touch on success and what that means to both the entrepreneur and the investor, and I think it's interesting that that answer might be different. Mary, from your side, when you're looking at the companies that you're mentoring and you're looking at your investments, what do you believe? When are you at a point where you're like, "I made a good decision, this is a good investment for me."?
Mary Schroeder:Well, that's always an evolving process, I would say. I tend to get an investment company after they have, it's a little bit, but at least a half a million dollars in sales. So it's typically when I get involved. But I would say what I'm really looking for is obviously significant sales growth, really looking for the ability of a company to hit lots of different distribution channels and continue to be able to expand on the demographic that's accepting the product, and that the company is able to continue to expand their skew line and that we're seeing a very good return on the marketing capital that's being done.
Then I think lastly it's really seen this entrepreneur being able to grow as a leader and not necessarily keeping their hand in every pocket of the business, but being able to accept skilled talent in areas where they're not skilled and integrate them into the team and that being a way to continue to build the trajectory of a company, the main signs of seeing things going very well with the company. Sales might lag, some of those things, but generally having those components means that at some point things will kick into gear.
Allie Colman:It's pretty amazing that, I mean, one of the things that you mentioned was being able to increase your skews and your product lines, and we've already talked about Sophia and her doing the single-serve salad dressing, and then Sarah doing her hand sanitizer. So, ladies, from a venture capitalist perspective, you guys are doing everything you're supposed to be doing. But Sarah, I guess for you, when was the aha success moment?
Sarah Ribner:Yeah, I would say it wasn't after Shark Tank contrary to popular belief. Although that did grow the company sales and it grew our awareness, it was really just the starting point, really just the tipping point. The tough part was actually building the infrastructure to catch up with what was already happening and making sure that it became sustainable as a company long-term. So I really felt that we had our stride actually during COVID because there was such a strain on all parts of the business, especially shipping and even just getting the supplies in to make our product and to be able to do it in a timely manner.
So the fact that we were able to pull in the right partners and strengthen the relationships with the partners that we were already working with throughout all of that and also continue to innovate and launch new products, that's where I felt like we really hit our stride. Even to Mary's point, to have all the components, even if it's not necessarily the same, crazy rapid growth or volatility that you would see after getting media exposure on Shark Tank, all the components were there to have a sustainable company and to have a brand that will have longevity.
Also, even just be able to continue to grow and to continue to innovate through something as challenging as COVID and 2020, I think that was a testament to like the foundation that we've been able to build in the brand. That's what I feel is success, and also just the responses, the organic responses too, looking at testimonials, looking at inbound customer messages, or even during when we're doing the hand sanitizer donations, just hearing about all the different uses and benefits of things that we were donating out. Really just connecting with the customer and understanding how has this product changed their lives or how has it made their lives better, improve them in some way, that also really contributes to the feeling of success.
Allie Colman:Sophia, from your perspective, I mean, for me, success might've been when you could go back to your brother and say, "I did it." But for you and Dress It Up, when did you feel that moment?
Sophia Maroon:I mean, I don't know that I felt that moment. I feel like success is a moving target and sometimes I'm like an actor, I'm as fragile as my last Amazon review. I'm not something that's going to rest on my laurels and say that I'm successful because the target is always moving. I mean, you can have really concrete measures of success, like sales numbers, how many doors are you in? Have you not been out of stock for a while? That to me is the happiest feeling in the world, is if we know we've got a full warehouse of inventory. Awards. Awards can make you feel successful.
But then I think there's this other squishier notion about, I've created a product and a company that embodies the traits that I hold dear and that feels really good too. But success is always being challenged because as we've seen this growth in the numbers of doors, we have to triple our production at the same time. I talked to the CEO of a $125 million tea company the other day. It was so gratifying because he has exactly the same issues I have, just with a lot more zeros on the back end of it. So success is elusive because with every new milestone, you have a new goal. I guess that's the way I'd answer.
It makes it a little bit of a never ending, you're just on the wheel and you keep on running. But that's okay, I think that's the entrepreneurial spirit, because most entrepreneurs will, even if they sell their company for $1 billion, they then start another one. So I think there's something to that elusively of success that keeps us all going.
Allie Colman:Absolutely. I know that Mary touched on it during her introduction, but we do have in our audience today a lot of investors, we have a lot of people representing the VC community. I think it would be interesting to hear from an entrepreneur's perspective, what are you looking for when you are looking for additional funding, when you're looking for that right partner? What qualities are you looking for from an investor? I guess we can start with Sophia.
Sophia Maroon:I think I've been really lucky with the investors that we've had to date. I started with an investment from seven friends, I call them the seven samurai, and they each invested $5,000 that enabled us to do our first round of production. Then when we got into more stores, I went back to them and said, "Who wants to re-up your 5,000 to 20,000?" And everybody but my brother did. I mean, we've had seed funding and that's been how we've grown. Now we probably have a group of, let's say 20 investors, some larger, some call them the kitchen cupboard investors that have just done little investments, but some bigger ones too.
To give you an example of why my investors are so great, is that just two weeks ago we were looking at cashflow, and you might not know this, but there's a huge global bottle shortage and you cannot get glass bottles currently without a lead time that's about three times what it used to be. Same with caps, that we found that we won't have the silver caps that we've had on our labels until 2022 because they are completely out of stock. What this means is that we need to stock pile bottles and caps, which left us with a shortfall. Announced to our investors at the last meeting that we were going to do a $500,000 raise that was going to just help us accommodate things like that that have changed and serve and accommodate this growth.
We need funding to support growth. It's the good kind of need. It's really that we're just facing a cashflow problem, it's not that the money's not going to be there. It's that it's just because you need to outlay couple of hundred thousand dollars just for bottles. So the response that we got from them was, "Send us the paperwork. Send us the paperwork right away." We went to them with our struggles, we're really open with them about what we need and why we need it. So investors that share our mission, that know we have not done meteoric growth, like I'm not Chobani and I'm never going to beat Chobani, but I have successfully grown every single year sometimes by 70%, sometimes by 200%.
This year, we just surpassed last year’s sales on Monday. So here it is May, whatever it was, and we just exceeded last year. So it's a good year already. But investors that know that that's how we're growing and watch us do that, that's the best kind of investor in the world.
Allie Colman:I know Sarah, with PiperWai, it's a little bit different because you guys are totally bootstrapped. So maybe you could tell me a little bit about the way that you are able to continually fund your company.
Sarah Ribner:Yeah. Part of our team, we do have advisors on board, and so I think similar to an investor relationship. What I've been really fortunate with our advisor relationships is that they're actively involved in anything that I need to come to them, whether it's something great, growth related or a new contract or if it's something challenging. What I really appreciate is that ability to even just tap into their time and to problem solve and to strategize and to know that they really have the best interest of the company at heart.
I've seen this with a lot of my entrepreneur friends or entrepreneurs in my network, the ones who have difficult investor relationships versus the more harmonious investor relationships. It's really like the investment of time and interest in the company. So for us, we would be looking for not just capital but also an investor that comes in with strategic introductions or that we can come to during really even difficult times and not feel ashamed to say something isn't going right and how do we brainstorm through it. I've been able to find that a little bit with, because we've had very creative funding. We've worked with a bank loan, and with the bank, there isn't really that relationship.
We touched on this in our pre-chat, but that a lot of banks haven't really caught up to the types of needs of small businesses. So some of them are now spending a lot more time and resources and whether it's the networking and that soft component of the relationship. But when we had just capital versus when we're looking at more creative types of capital, like some of these inventory financing companies, specifically for e-commerce brands, they're actually coming in with mentor relationships in addition to capital or they're building up whole new platforms. One of them even just offered us a portal where if we have any needs with our suppliers, we just send out an RFP and they have all the suppliers in their database to help us bring our costs down. Or if we have a question about digital marketing, they'll pull in an advisor and set up a meeting. So those are things that we would definitely be looking for if we are also to go the equity route. But yeah, there's so much creative capital out there, especially for e-commerce brands now since COVID and this just meteoric rise of e-commerce and the interest in e-commerce brands.
Allie Colman:I think that's interesting from my perspective. Mary touches on both sides through her mentorship program and then along with her being a venture capitalist herself. So, Mary, maybe you could touch on what are certain things that you're seeing a lot of your mentees coming to you for and looking to you for advice?
Mary Schroeder:Well, yeah, it's varied. I think there's issues a lot around how are we expanding their team and what is the right type of skillset that we should be advertising for and then evaluating those people that are coming through too. How do I grow my team? What is the overall plan perhaps over the next couple years in order to be able to execute our strategy? What are the humans look like in order to do that? What kind of skillset should I be doing? That tends to be a very consistent theme.
Obviously, another thing is really about how are we financing our business and what ae fair terms and also how much money do we need and how are we really telling the story to our current investors and how are we potentially telling the story to those that we want to target to be a part of our platform? Then I would say that there's a little bit more, this is a two-way discussion, so I definitely have things that are coming to me as specific questions, but I'm also pretty well entrenched in these companies. So I'm going to them and saying, "You've outgrown your 3PL, here are three other options in which you need to do it."
"You've outgrown the relationship with your bank," just like what Sarah was talking about. "They've only gone so far, they really have not caught up with your growth. Let's transition that relationship here, a couple of different options." Those are the ways in which we're really looking at some of the sourcing and also on the terms that are creating this working capital tightness and trying to explore how we might be able to work through that. Then there's always budgeting and working through, what are our big goals over the next five years? As opposed to just this daily grind of what things are being looked at.
But there's this balance of things that are really urgent questions that are coming in. Then I would say I'm typically going back to the companies I'm working with and saying, "Wait, let's just try to take a moment and look through where you're going and let's try to look at some of the relationships that you established and see if they're really keeping up with the business. Here are some more established people that might be more appropriate for the next five years."
Allie Colman:So, touching on that, at EisnerAmper, of course we are a client service firm, right? So we're one of those relationships that hopefully we are working and doing what our entrepreneurs need. But from your perspective, what is that? What could we be doing better? What are entrepreneurs looking for from a client service firm like us? I guess Mary I'm coming right back to you on that.
Mary Schroeder:Okay. Great. Yeah, I think the big thing is about really thinking about your rolodex of clients and thinking about what are banking relationships that you know are going to be fitting this size of company and perhaps this industry really well? What are manufacturing relationships, logistics, 3PL relationships, supplier relationships? What are different customers that you have, or as customers of you as a financial services firm, where the company is much bigger and you have a very experienced CEO that would be very interested in talking with younger or perhaps even just less experienced entrepreneurs about their journey and giving advice along the way?
Those relationships, just like with Sophia had talked about, for an entrepreneur to be able to talk to somebody who's grown their business to $150 million is a tremendous opportunity. I've set up a lot of those meetings, especially for those that I've invested in, and one, they're very well received. It's very rare to have a very established COC. I absolutely don't want to do that, I've never had that happen. And normally it's a very supportive discussion and a cool opportunity for the entrepreneur to be able to put a little bit more perspective or understand how somebody else solved the problem. They may not solve it in the same way, but it will inspire a part of that journey.
Allie Colman:I see in our comments here Donna somehow agrees, she says, "Rolodex and intros to potential clients." So I think that, yeah, you nailed that on the head. I know we just have less than 10 minutes and I think that it would be really interesting for everyone to hear from each of you, if looking back, if you could have dinner with your 25-year-old self, what would you tell her? I guess we'll start in my Brady Bunch box of order. So that would be Sarah, you want to get us started on this?
Sarah Ribner:Yeah, I think if I had dinner with my 25-year-old self, I would say that, first of all, starting the brand, having the great product, figuring out where the white space is in the market, that's the easy part. Those are the easy days, even though getting it off the ground, it definitely has its own set of challenges. But I would say the real challenges and the real test come later on. I think I would give myself that advice because sometimes it seems almost impossible to just get started. That seems like the hard part, but it really is scaling it and then learning a whole new set of skills, like people management and understanding supplier relationships, vendor relationships, negotiation.
It's just this whole new set of skills that at least in my experience I learned as I went. So I would say, "Just buckle up, prepare, don't think that you're going to have it easy just because you got it off the ground."
Allie Colman:This is just the beginning really.
Sarah Ribner:Just the beginning. Yeah.
Allie Colman:All right. Sophia, how about you?
Sophia Maroon:I love that answer because I think that it reminds me of this notion of riding the lion. I think an entrepreneur starts a business and then you're on Shark Tank and you win or you meet with some success and everybody's like, "Wow! Look at her, she's riding the lion. She's up there and she's doing so well." Meanwhile, you're on the lion and you're like, "Oh my God! I'm riding a lion. How do I get off? How do I get off without getting eaten?" I think that to your question about what would I tell my 25-year-old self, it's like, "Don't tell yourself no. Let the world tell you no. You'll hear no, but don't stop yourself before you start."
If you were to say at the end of the day you're going to be riding the line, you'd be like, "I'm not going to do it." But if you just put yourself in uncomfortable positions. And I've gotten way better at doing this and I'm always amazed at the results. It's like when I reached out to the guy with the $125 million company, it was like, "Hey, you want to talk to me?" And he said, "Yes, thank goodness!" I ask questions and I'm shocked that it's coming out of my mouth as it comes out of my mouth, because I'm like, "You're not going to ask that. You're not going to ask that. Oh my God! You just asked that. You just asked that guy to write you a check for $300,000," whatever it was.
But the results that you get are the results that are right. People say yes if it's a good idea, they're going to say no if it's a bad idea. So just don't tell yourself no in advance, let someone else tell you no. That's what I would tell my 25-year-old self. I would also tell her, "Mom's salad dressing, I would've done this sooner. I think that this would have been easier to do without three children."
Allie Colman:Hindsight 2020. Mary, how about you?
Mary Schroeder:Yeah. I think when you're 25, you're still building your confidence and building your community around you, right? And I think the big things at that stage really are learning how to play well with others. I guess one of the things I typically see now is people that can be a bit selective on personalities they want to surround them. And it's fine if it's your core team, but when you really get out there and you start working with different distributors and different retail partners and those sorts of things, you really need to find those in which you're going to build a good trust and you want to do business with, but you also need to be able to have a good diversity within that, within your tolerance for people.
And I think that's a very big lesson to learn at that stage. So it might seem a little bit self-serving, but I would say it is about getting the right mentors in your life, and just like Sophia talked about, is reaching out to people that that are just cold emailing, getting people a part of your community that you really admire, and keeping them as mentors, as a part of your journey is incredibly helpful and it really should be done well and I probably should have done it more within that stage in my own life. I think the last thing is very much about trusting your gut, but very much of trying to be a bit patient on what the outcome will be on your objectives.
Allie Colman:Yeah. Patience is key, Rome wasn't built in a day, all of those things, right? So we have about a minute and a half left and there are some questions about how everyone can get, Sophie and Sarah, how they can get your product. So, Sarah, maybe do you want to give us in a quick spiel where everyone can find PiperWai.
Sarah Ribner:Yeah. It's on piperwai.com. We do have a coupon code for followers, I don't have it on me, so I'll send it maybe in the chat later on. It's also on Amazon on our PiperWai page.
Allie Colman:And PiperWai is P-I-P-E-R-W-A-I for everyone listening.
Sarah Ribner:Yeah. PiperWai.
Allie Colman:Yes. Sophia, I know Whole Foods of course, but where else can we go to find Dress It Up?
Sophia Maroon:You can go to our website, which is dressitupdressing.com. And there we have a store locator if you'd rather go to a store. But you can also order directly from the website.
Allie Colman:Perfect. Well, thank you so much, ladies. This was such an interesting conversation for me and I know for everyone that was listening in. For anyone who is listening, there is a speaker widget that you should be able to see. It's links to everyone's email addresses. If you have anything that you want to reach out to any of these women, please feel free to do so. If you aren't able to find that you can reach out to myself or Lexi. With that being said, Lexi, I will pass it over to you. And thank you very much, ladies.
Transcribed by Rev.com