One of the top reasons people don’t pursue their entrepreneurial dreams is the lack of funding. This is true especially for women and people from minority communities. This was a struggle for my mom nearly 40 years ago when she started her first business back in Sri Lanka and it was a struggle for me when I launched Kalaia back in 2018. Most people don’t qualify for funding through traditional methods, especially if they don’t have any assets to put down as a collateral or a significant income to be able to cover the monthly payments.
According to the Harvard Business Review, women-led startups received just 2.3% of venture capitalist funding in 2020, which was a decrease from all time high of 2.8% in 2019.
Does this mean women should give up on their entrepreneurial dreams? Absolutely not! If we want to see a change, we need to lead the change. So here are few tips based on my personal experience as a female entrepreneur. No question, you need initial capital to start a business but often we can start with less than what we think we need. That was one of the biggest eye openers for me when I made the decision to fund Kalaia on my own. So, my approach to start-up funding is about sticking a balance between how to find the money and how to get started with what you have.
Tip #1: Don’t be too quick to give up your 9-5 job.
I didn’t have the luxury of building my business while working full-time due to legal and ethical reasons but if your business doesn’t conflict with your 9-5 job, keep that income coming as long as you can and build your business in the evenings and weekends. Businesses rarely go according to the plan so not having the stress of paying yourself a salary right away will make this journey so much more enjoyable. If you are not expecting a salary until your business start generating revenue, it will also drastically reduce the initial capital needed to get started.
Tip #2: Identify absolute necessities to get started vs nice to have things.
I wrote a 40-page business plan that outlined why I needed a half a million dollars initial investment. But when I decided to fund the company on my own, I had to drastically cut down my budget without compromising the launch. I went through line item by line item and asked myself the hard question, “Can I launch the company without this expense?”. For example, I went from wanting to launch Kalaia with 6 products to launching with only 3 because that’s all I could afford. Instead of paying rent for an office space, I decided to turn my unused basement into my home-office. It was also a great tax deduction.
Tip #3: Learn new skills.
Initially there were lot of things I was going to have someone else to do because I didn’t have the knowledge nor the skillset to do them myself. But when I had to reduce my investment, I was forced to learn new skills to save money. One of those areas was developing a compensation plan. I would have spent a minimum of $15-20K just to have someone design my plan. I had a friend who told me “You got this, do it yourself”. He was right, I saved that money by developing the plan myself. When I had to part ways with my Marketing Director soon after the launch, I had to learn some of the design and photography skills to get by. Web development was another area where I learned the basic skills to make ends meet when necessary. So be brave and have faith in your ability to learn new skills.
Tip #4: There are ways to find cheaper talent.
I know learning every skill isn’t practical when you are trying to get your business up and running. But that also doesn’t mean finding talent has to break the bank. There are lot of young, talented people who are just getting started or still in college. I’ve hired many college students for marketing, photography, video production, etc. They are hungry and looking for experience. You may have to vet them out and provide them more direction, but they can bring a lot the table for a fraction of the cost. Personally, I love giving opportunities to young professionals who are just getting started. I remember the difference it made in my life when people believed in me back then and it’s a great way for me to pay it forward.
Tip #5 – Keep it lean and flexible.
In areas where you need to hire professional help with extensive experience, use freelancers or agencies instead of hiring a team in house and incurring all that fixed cost. It gives your business the expertise you need with the flexibility to scale up or down. You can always build your internal team when you start making money. For example, at Kalaia we outsource many business functions including accounting and finance, manufacturing, IT, operations, and product development in order to keep it lean and to maintain flexibility. I have access to an incredible CFO and an accounting and finance team without the multiple six-figure overhead. Kalaia’s agility is one of the reasons we were able to expand internationally within the second year and survived the pandemic as a young company.
Tip #6 – Crowd funding and micro loans.
Whether it is kickstarter, indiegogo, or Kiva, there are many platforms to either receive crowdfunding or micro loans for your business. Most of these options are low interest or no interest at all. They don’t require a high credit score, collateral, experience, etc. traditional financial institutions and investors look for. They truly provide entrepreneurs innovative ways to connect with investors.
This is why Kalaia Cares exclusively partners with Kiva.org to reach the loan recipients and to manage the funding process. These platforms make it easy for entrepreneurs to find the funding they otherwise wouldn’t have access to through traditional methods.
Tip #7: Share your vision and ask for help.
Passionately share your vision with the people around you. You will be surprised to see how many will offer their time, support, and expertise to help you get off the ground. I had friends who did some initial work without compensation or deferred compensation. I had vendors who gave discounts on their rates. Of course, there’s a limit to make sure you don’t overdraw on their generosity, but every little bit helps when you are just getting started.
This is also true when it comes to your family. Often entrepreneurs, especially women, hesitate to involve their spouses and children in building their business. Share your vision and ask them to pitch in. What an invaluable experience it will be for your children to build a business with their parents. Maya, my daughter, and my parents have spent countless hours helping me with Kalaia, work I would have had to pay a lot of money for had I hired outside help.
Tip #8: Think outside the box.
This is a tricky one as everyone’s situation is different and I’m no way asking you to take unnecessary financial risks. But ask yourself, can I temporarily cut down on certain household expenses/luxuries to invest in my business? Can I do a yard sale and get rid of unnecessary household items? Are there grants, small business loans, etc. that I could qualify for? One of the most inspiring storied I’ve ever heard is a woman who bought glow stick packs at a dollar store and sold individual sticks for $5 each at local events to raise money to buy the initial raw materials she needed for her business. Today she is the owner of a successful multi-million-dollar business. If there’s a will there’s a way!
When an investor asked me to secure their investment with all assets I had (house, car, 401K, savings, etc.) is when I changed my mind on raising capital. With the support of my husband, I used most of our savings and took out a line of credit on our house to fund Kalaia. It was a huge risk, not only for myself but for my entire family. I risked all of our future with my decision. I wouldn’t recommend you doing it unless you are 1,000% committed to your business and have a plan to pay off that debt within a reasonable timeline. When I look back, I know I made the right decision for many reasons, above all I own a company that’s debt free and growing.
I will leave you with this, if are dreaming of being an entrepreneur, don’t let the lack of funding be the reason to not pursue it. It won’t be easy, but it will be worth it. Remember, never take no for an answer. There’s always a way! Reach out with questions and leave a comment below. I want to hear your business ideas and cheer you on as you work to make your dreams come true.
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