I am unbelievably good at living a mediocre life. I go to work, I pay my bills, I take my dog on walks, occasionally I read an exceptional book or binge watch a Netflix show. Since I was a little girl I dreamed of being an actress, but realized upon moving to LA being on a soap opera may not actually be in the cards for me.
And slowly, without realizing it, a new dream crept in. A dream where I could make an impact. A dream where I could empower women to be entrepreneurs, to believe they are more than what they were born into. A dream where I could teach women to be the difference, to not settle for the status quo or accept what has been, but rather to push for what could be.
As this dream began to form, I started working. Every free second was spent on building this idea, making this dream a reality. But even though I worked tirelessly on budgets and vision statements, on patterns and purchase orders, something felt distant. It felt like I was working in the dark, not quite sure if my efforts were for naught. But then something crazy happened. Other people started to believe in my dream. And Emily’s dream. People believed in By Grace. In what we were doing, in what we are capable of doing. And let me tell you… there’s nothing more frightening than having your dream come true.
As you’ve seen (because we’ve unashamedly plastered it all over our social media) we won the Regnier Venture Creation Challenge at the University of Missouri-Kansas City. Which is unbelievable. We’re both still pinching ourselves. But we shouldn’t be. If we would have seen our dreams as more attainable, as probable, even as inevitable from day 1, I think we’d be in a different place. But that’s what this crazy business world is all about—constant learning.
This competition taught me more than simply to believe in my dreams. I also learned that no dream is too big. In fact, if your dream is too small, the judges will ask you why you are thinking on such a minuscule scale. Direct quote: “Why do you say you’re raising $10,000 in fundraising by October? Shouldn’t you be trying for $100,000?” So yeah… dream big. Emily and I both realized that if what we were doing wasn’t revolutionary, we really had no reason to continue. So we asked one another—is this what we’re supposed to be doing? Is By Grace revolutionary? We have the chance to elevate women and their families out of generational poverty, while changing the mindset of the fashion industry by actually paying our employees and manufacturers livable wages. That’s pretty revolutionary. That is a dream worth pursuing.
I learned that trusting your business partner is absolutely terrifying but absolutely necessary. Emily and I operate under the whole separate but equal principle day in and day out. We don’t actually work alongside one another very often. We do many of the same tasks, and we do many different roles, but because Emily lives in Kansas City and I’m in LA, we don’t have a lot to opportunity to move as one. When we pitched together, there was a synchronicity and a timing that we could not have planned. We knew when to speak ourselves and when it was time to hold back and let our partner answer the question. For example, I know literally nothing about marketing. I cannot tell you the difference between PR and Paid Marketing. I only know that they were in separate categories on our powerpoint. Emily not only worked in marketing, but she’s passionate about it. When she speaks on the subject, she does so with authority. I worked in banking for a while, so I tend to handle the financial projections and money specifics.
However, there isn’t always a perfect flow and you can’t plan for everything. Especially when it comes to Q&As. There is a lot of trust that goes into letting your business partner field questions. There were several times that I wanted to interject when Emily was speaking, whether to rephrase what she had said or steer her answer in a different direction, but it would not have presented us as a unified unit had I interrupted her. It’s easier to criticize someone when you aren’t doing the talking yourself, because you are an outsider listening, not the one answering a difficult question on the spot. And I know Emily wanted to correct me a couple of times because in one presentation, I said we paid our employees ten times the average wage. We don’t. We pay them two times the going wage… But as we moved on, she knew it was better to let our powerpoint highlight my mistake, rather than her. Appearing as a unified team is evermore important than correcting your partner.
I also learned that mistakes only make you human, and exposing your humanity is beyond ok. No one wants to partner with robots; people invest in founders, they invest in heart. While pitching, I told an entire room of judges that we were planning on running a fundraising scheme. Yeah… a scheme. Not something that has a positive connotation in the least. I quickly corrected myself to say that we had planned “an aggressive fundraising plan.” The room of esteemed judges caught my mistake, but chuckled at my correction. Investors, donors, mentors, judges—they’re all people. And they were once fledgling entrepreneurs as well.
Which leads me to my biggest revelation of the competition—people want you to succeed. The most supportive people of By Grace, but also of Emily and me, were our fellow competitors. Whether it be a “you crushed that presentation,” or a “your expo booth is stunning,” people were complimentary and kind. There wasn’t that high school mentality of wanting to put others down to make themselves look better. I think this happened for a few reasons. One, there were amazing, good-hearted people at this conference. Two, successful people like to surround themselves with successful people. The more people you know, the greater your network, the more you can help one another. Three, people want the world to be a better place. And what we’re doing with By Grace will change the world. We are working to end generational poverty and that is no small feat.
So pretty soon we’ll stop talking about our first big win at a competition, but Emily and I will never forget what the experience taught us. #winning is so much more than a check and some accolades (although that is awesome), and we are better for what this competition taught us.
Until next time,