Today’s female entrepreneurs are a culturally diverse group of business owners that play an increasingly crucial role in the U.S. economy.
The 2019 State of Women-Owned Business Report shows that over the past five years, the number of women-owned businesses in the U.S. has increased by 21%, and firms owned by women of color grew by 43%. There are now nearly 13 million women-owned firms in the country, accounting for $1.8 trillion in revenue last year. From local businesses to billion-dollar tech unicorns, women-owned firms contribute 9.4 million jobs to the U.S. economy.
But you can bet their success didn’t come about overnight. The female entrepreneurs below worked their way to becoming leaders in their fields, taking great ideas and building them into large, thriving businesses step by step.
Their stories and quotes will both support those already on their business journey and inspire the next generation of women entrepreneurs.
“I’ve spent my entire life relying on light bulb moments and jumping in full-force.”—Emily Weiss of Into The Gloss and Glossier
Emily Weiss is the founder and CEO of Glossier, a women’s beauty brand valued at over $1.2 billion. Before launching Glossier, Weiss started the beauty blog Into The Gloss, which provides inspiration and information to women. Weiss began Into the Gloss as a side project while working at Vogue. To pursue her big idea, she would get up at 5 a.m. to write blog posts before going into work.
“We believe it’s important to create spaces for those of us who are made to feel as though we don’t belong or that we’re not good enough — because the truth is, we do, and we are.”—Morgan DeBaun of Blavity
Morgan DeBaun is the founder and CEO of Blavity, a media company focused on black millennials and Generation Z with over 30 million monthly visitors. Before Blavity, DeBaun attended Washington University in St. Louis, then headed to Silicon Valley to learn from leaders in product management and design. Additionally, she founded the skincare line M. Roze Essentials.
“Diversity is ideal when solving hard problems because people who are different look at problems in different ways, whether it’s their gender, where they’re from or other characteristics.”—Michelle Zatlyn of Cloudflare
Michelle Zatlyn is the co-founder and COO of Cloudflare, a web performance and security company. She met her Cloudflare co-founders Matthew Prince and Lee Holloway while attending Harvard for her MBA. Convinced that a business focused on tracking and stopping internet threats would be successful, Zatlyn and her co-founders started working on Cloudflare as students, eventually winning their university’s Business Plan Contest.
“Balance the workforce: Hire one man for every woman, and balance it across positions of management. The only way to really drive change is to have diversity represented.”—Anne Wojcicki of 23andMe
Anne Wojcicki is the co-founder and CEO of 23andMe, a human genome research company that analyzes human genes to provide information on ancestry and health. After graduating from Yale with a degree in molecular biology, Wojcicki worked as a healthcare consultant and investment analyst for prominent firms in San Francisco. Her experience at the intersection of Wall Street and the healthcare industry inspired her to start 23andMe.
“Being courageous is doing things despite the fear. You build your courage muscle by continuing to face your fear.”—Sarah Blakely of Spanx
Sarah Blakely is the founder and CEO of Spanx, the undergarment brand famous for creating footless, body-shaping pantyhose. Before founding Spanx, Blakely honed her sales and marketing skills selling fax machines door-to-door, a job she said helped her get a thick skin. Without any experience in the fashion or apparel industries, Blakely relied on courage to build her billion-dollar brand.
“It’s our differences that make us incredibly exceptional. We should never want to blend into each other.”—Payal Kadakia of ClassPass
Payal Kadakia is the co-founder and executive chairman of ClassPass, a subscription service that gives customers access to fitness classes such as yoga, cycling, strength training and boxing. Before founding ClassPass, Kadakia worked as a consultant at Bain & Company and Warner Music Group. She is also the founder and artistic director of the Sa Dance Company, an Indian dance troupe that performs at events and dance festivals around the world.
“Find the smartest people you can find … and work with them.”—Shan-Lyn Mao of Zola
Shan-Lyn Mao is the co-founder and CEO of Zola, an online wedding registry, wedding planner and retailer. Mao received her master’s degree at Stanford and worked stints at Yahoo and Gilt Groupe before founding Zola. Her platform has served more than half a million soon-to-be-wed couples and was most recently valued at $650 million.
“Building a company is fun for the first year or two, but it will go through difficult times. … Always think about that mission, and make sure you’re 100% committed.”—Yunha Kim of Simple Habit
Yunha Kim is the CEO and founder of Simple Habit, a mental wellness platform that offers meditations and audio therapy to reduce daily stress. Kim developed the idea for Simple Habit after she turned to meditation to cope with stress while building her first startup, a separate mobile app. Now, at her second startup, Kim understands the relationship between perseverance and believing in your company’s mission.
“I wanted to create something that was different and authentic to what women actually needed.”—Michelle Cordeiro Grant of Lively
Michelle Cordeiro Grant is the founder and CEO of Lively, which makes bras and underwear that combine the aesthetic value of lingerie, activewear and swimwear. Cordeiro Grant learned the ropes of retail and the nuances of the lingerie industry while working at Victoria’s Secret. She started Lively after observing an unmet need in the undergarment market.
“The confidence to be vulnerable is one of the best qualities of an entrepreneur.”—Tina Sharkey of Brandless
Tina Sharkey is CEO and co-founder of Brandless, a company that sells food, beauty and personal care products at “fair and straightforward prices.” Brandless reduces costs by eliminating what Sharkey calls the “BrandTax.” Instead of selling items like toothpaste through a distributor, Brandless buys them from manufacturers and passes them straight on to the consumer via its online shop. And, as the quote above reveals, Sharkey leads with the same transparency that her brand does.