March 31, 2023 Founders Note 010

010: Staying Up Late Reading YA Fiction

As an adult, it’s been nearly impossible to lose myself in a book of fiction – until a few Saturdays ago, when I downloaded what had been my favorite young adult series in middle school. Lying on my couch, I read two books from the “Song of the Lioness” series back to back, late into the evening. 

The series, by Tamora Pierce, tells the story of Alanna – a girl living in medieval times who masquerades as a boy so she can train to become a knight. After she passes the ordeal of knighthood, she’s revealed for who she truly is – to the shock of the court. Thanks to her excellent swordsmanship, she wins the duel that allows her to become the first “lady knight” – and to live out her days as protector of the realm. The rest of the series follows Alanna as she navigates the challenges and adventures of fully embodying the complexity of her many roles – knight, lover, companion, sister, mentor, and role model among them. 

I returned to Alanna because I found myself searching for examples of a woman moving through struggles and victories – without losing herself in the process. As a founder, one of my struggles is fundraising. To put it bluntly, fundraising has tested the strength of my soul. A month ago, I wrote a LinkedIn post about the frustrations and challenges I’ve faced “fundraising while female” that went viral. Dozens of women wrote to me privately with stories of their own struggles – with fundraising, with men in positions of financial power, with “patriarchy” and patriarchal women, or of having tried and failed at being founders themselves. 

I stayed up late for quite a few nights reading and replying to the DMs where I could, but I eventually had to stop. The emotions were overwhelming. I had a front row seat to the collective choke of an invisible hand we women could not name, could not crack, and could not slay – but a strangle that all of us had felt, intimately.

I’d written the post from a sapped place myself, and I didn’t have anything left to give. I’d felt bolstered (protected, somewhat) by the power of strangers’ reassurance en masse, but nothing about my experience had changed: I was still in the same vulnerable bind, and I still had money to raise. 

As I put on my own armor – so I could get back to work and not feel the heaviness of the response coming my way – I wondered: How do I stay open to feeling it all without feeling like a victim?

Hence, revisiting Alanna. 

Over the years, I’ve learned that my penchant for authentic self-expression is my secret power. It’s what enables me to keep my spirit resiliently and buoyantly afloat. I don’t see myself as courageous in voicing what’s vulnerable: I see it as a refusal to accept a posture of victimhood. I have the right to keep my light on. And I have a right to belong.

I want to build successful businesses without sacrificing my humanity, and in so doing, show that it can be done. This desire is at the root of what entrepreneurs call a “double-bottom line.” We use that expression to refer to the literal bottom line of a P&L (net income) and the fuzzy end goal of enabling some kind of social change that impacts humanity positively.

Here’s the thing: In the world of venture-backed businesses, choosing a double-bottom line is optional.

Funding female founders, in and of itself, has become an impact goal for many who want to enable positive social change. Many on the investment side also want to prioritize humanity and use their craft in service of a moral goal. All of this is admirable. I want more of it. But here’s the twist: When we (women) know the disparity of where venture dollars do and don’t go, we become susceptible to a risky subconscious belief: I should get funded because it is not right that so few of me get funded, and it’s time to change the tide. 

In those moments when fundraising is difficult – when I truly feel like my desire to show up as myself is THE thing putting the funding at risk – I’m in a really precarious mental place. 

The awareness of that inequity is dangerous for me to pause and feel. Because then I begin to view myself as part of the story: Maybe I am that losing statistic. I begin to find shelter in the position of a victim. When I believe myself to be battling against a stacked deck, I will take defensive postures more often because they give me leverage, I will swing harder, I will be justified in my feeling of otherness, I will stay up later into the night – and, ultimately, I will deplete my energy sooner than I would have otherwise.

But ignorance is bliss. And there is power in not caring.

If we believe ourselves weaker-than, we are not ultimately doing the work necessary to change reality. In the quest of becoming social heroes, we expend the precious energy we could use to service one bottom line and then…disengage. Go for a walk! Eat a nice dinner! Go to sleep on time! And build up our strength. 

Many of us choose to take on two battles no one ever asked us to fight because we refuse to lose our humanity.

When I only focus on the collective good my company will create, I miss an opportunity to highlight the money it will make. It’s in those moments – when I lean entirely on the social good and the benefit of our mission – that I risk asking for capital as if it is a hand-out. I put myself in a vulnerable position when I don’t take ownership of the system of capitalism that I choose to work within. When I pitch for investment, I’m offering a golden opportunity – not just for doing well on our mission, but also for returning real, hard capital. The more I live in the imaginative land of victimhood, the less my body is able to stand straight – unapologetic in the posture and calm confidence of a leader. 

When we lie on our backs on Saturday nights, imagining a world rich with humanity that has not yet been built, it’s important to remember that we are doing double time. We are not just building businesses. We are building ourselves into new models of leadership the world hasn’t seen yet. And that is a whole separate creative project. It’s one we take on for ourselves. It’s a gift we give to ourselves. As much as I wish the world were equitable, it’s not. Until that utopian day, the work we must do is internal. We must start with our own beliefs. And we must not forget the fundamental belief behind it all: I am building a great business. To change a system, we must work within it – one foot in, one foot out.

For those of us who choose a double mission, I encourage us to use our energy carefully. If fighting gives you energy, fight. But what I really think we should do is keep the work nine to five and use the remainder of our energy to repair and rest up. After all, our existence and resilience itself is the revolution.

Cristina Poindexter Co-Founder