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The challenges of asking for money as a woman in business, and how to overcome them

IMAGE VIA POPPY LISSIMAN
WORDS BY GENEVIEVE PHELAN

How to flip that narrative.

Asking for money is one of the most awkward things to do. It’s hard. But then it somehow increases in difficulty tenfold when you’re doing it as a young female business-owner, or in the case of this piece, as two young female business-owners

As the founders of Melbourne-based revelatory lube brand Figr, Eloise O’Sullivan and Eloise McCullough know all too well the distressing pit-of-stomach angst that comes with declaring your worth – monetarily speaking, that is. 


For more career-related advice, head to our Life section.


On their mission to normalise lube, prospective investors and partners have stuck like honey to the business model, prompting great debate around financial moves and money-bound alliances. Unfortunately, the creative side of the brand and its ethos is one thing, but the ‘hard’ conversations must also be had to keep things viable. Girls have got to live etc.

The balancing act

As two twenty-somethings working jobs and running a small business, the Eloises have completely self-funded Figr. That’s no mean feat. They essentially emptied their pockets and savings accounts to embark on this joint venture, making the financial side of things inextricably linked to their personal lives. But “it’s made the highs really, really rewarding,” says Eloise O. 

“Running a small business is expensive. Every time we find money in our account it very quickly disappears to operating expenses and into all the future plans we have for Figr.”

Eloise M explains the duo still hold part-time roles outside of Figr to sustain things like rent and have a solid stipend in place. When I asked the girls about the actual mechanics around cash flow and their Figr income, I was shocked (and impressed) to hear they haven’t actually paid themselves anything yet due to the youth of the brand.

“It’s this uncomfortable stage where we need more time in the day to put into Figr so it can become what we know it’s capable of but also need some income coming in to keep the lights on,” says Eloise M.

But she knows they won’t be here for long, with Figr growing exponentially and gaining widespread attention from potential stakeholders. They’ve even been grappling with the thought of shifting to a full-time Figr future.

One particular sentiment that’s buoyed them and guided this patient approach is a saying that goes “Why don’t you make like a tree and grow slowly, helping everyone else up around you”.  Isn’t that a nice thought?

Auditing your investors

As a small business, how do you deal with people approaching you with the interest to invest? That seems like a pretty daunting tango. Trying to read someone’s mind and evaluate your own worth, while doing the best by the business and not feeling like a giant, demanding jerk would be enough to send me into a tailspin.

The Eloises told me they’ve had a few investors come forward, “but none have sat quite right just yet”. There are definitely parallels to be drawn between the art of investor vetoing and dating. It all comes down to valuing yourself first. 

“We love what we’ve created, and we know the potential of Figr. We have big plans in the future, so it’s really important to us that anybody coming on board as an investor can see this potential and share our values,” says Eloise O.

“We’re inclusive, we’re female-owned and operated. We’re Australian and we’re doing our best to be sustainable and undo unhelpful sexual stigmas. We would love to work with investors that really ‘get’ that.”

The mechanics of investment 

It’s a pretty elusive concept to anyone who hasn’t learned about it via baptism by fire. And the Eloises are still figuring it all out. Apparently, there are copious investing options available, but the kind they’ve found to be most desirable for the Figr startup model are “angel investors who provide capital usually in exchange for convertible debt or ownership equity”.

Putting a price on your business baby

A swarm of supporters has gathered around Figr, and the Eloises are pinching themselves accordingly. Radiant customer feedback is one thing, but it’s another quite daunting concept to put a price on the community you’ve forged. They sum up asking for money spectacularly in one word: “weird”. 

“It’s challenging for anyone to get funding for a startup, but as a woman in a male-dominated industry, there’s an added degree of difficulty. This is not just our side ‘hobby’ or a ‘little business’ before we squeeze out children – this is a huge and meaningful undertaking,” explains Eloise O.

Mentorship and financial literacy

The first thing the Eloises would recommend is finding a mentor – aka an entrepreneurial oracle. Eloise M advocates for really listening to (and leaning on) someone “who has experienced similar things first hand”.

“If you do find yourself seeking investment, look around first and sift through all options. Do you want to hold 100 per cent of your equity in your business? Then it might be a better idea to get a loan. If you want to bring someone on board with skills and assets, then an investor might be the best choice for you.”

It seems the overarching theme in this chat with the Figr founders is that timing is everything. Patience is paramount. The girls confess to knowing a lot of people who “rush to get ahead of the pack” and that’s when the “cracks will form”.

Their last pieces of advice are salient: “Slow and sustained growth seems to be the way to go, and being very on top of your finances, of course. Even if you don’t feel confident with numbers (we certainly didn’t), educate yourself.

“The knowledge of where the money is flowing in and out of is invaluable. That’s how you work out what to spend on growth and development! Xero (not sponsored) has been instrumental in finding out key insights, which are for tracking growth, which investors want to see.”

Genevieve Phelan is Fashion Journal’s Lifestyle & Careers Columnist. Her writing fuses introspection with investigation, calling on her own personal anecdotes and the advice of admired experts in the realms of intimacy, money, friendship, careers and love. You can find her here and here.

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