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How Founders Win With One Key Asset: Courage

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Aug. 17 2022, Published 8:00 a.m. ET

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Since founding Victress Capital with Suzanne Norris in 2016, we have had the privilege of working with a diverse group of consumer startups and their founders. Over the past five years, we’ve observed something unique about the success stories of these often underrepresented leaders.

Courage.

Not just any kind of courage, but the kind of courage that comes from founders who dare to reimagine the way the world looks and who lead with passion, authenticity, and, at times, vulnerability.

One way we accelerate the growth of our portfolio companies is by working alongside our founders and equipping them with the tools and processes they need. Through our collaboration, we’ve identified four ways the most courageous founders are setting themselves apart:

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See consumers’ needs, not their demographics.

Innovative startups are not afraid to move away from the limiting, monolithic consumer categories such as race, class, and gender. Everyone is a consumer and successful audience strategies should focus more on what is driving your consumer than their demographics. Who is your company for? What do your consumers care about? Maybe it’s affordable mental health services or supplements that fuel you at a price everyone can afford. Focus on the need or desire instead of general assumptions about age, race, or other binding characteristics. Consumers identify with mission-driven companies that align with their own values; that notion of identifying with a company’s mission creates an essential sense of belonging and ultimately, brand loyalty.

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Focus on offering consumers greater equity and access.

Founders who are willing to change paradigms around equity and access are the ones who will successfully disrupt the market. Think about how you can better serve more people. Are there certain markets or communities that have been historically left out of a product/service category? For example, there’s been a rise in fintech products to democratize wealth planning and AR/VR tools to provide career coaching for underserved communities. Break the mold with pay-as-you-go models, or other ways to create equal access and opportunity.

Lead with your values.

Consumers want to identify with the companies they purchase from. Those who are courageous and willing to lead change will not just win the business, but they will also earn organic, even viral, referrals. Bold statements and actions, underpinned by a disarming level of transparency, will engender you to a bold new consumer. Dan Price, CEO of Gravity Payments, slashed his own salary to be able to raise the wages of everyone at the company. It’s not only about what you do, but how you do it. STAND FOR SOMETHING!

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Listen and leverage your lived experience.

The surge of women and minority-owned businesses has illuminated the power of founders who are solving problems that they intimately understand, rather than relying on inferences from market research. This consumer-first approach is enabling entrepreneurs to seize untapped opportunities in underserved markets. They care about better understanding what people are looking for, who is being underserved and where there is unmet opportunity. Listening is not just about hearing about people’s problems; it’s about connecting with them, building community and understanding them so you can authentically create products and services that will help them achieve their goals without friction.

We are living in an incredible time for women entrepreneurs who are willing to be bold, insist on equity, and be radically inclusive. Founders are willing to allow their values to inform their business models and they beckon their customers to join a movement, not just purchase a product. And while change will take time, the boldest founders will lead us to a new tomorrow where there is a range of inclusive consumer products and services for all.

This article was written by Lori Cashman and originally appeared on Switch.

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