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A few of our favorite female founders in direct sales

Article by: Jana Bangerter
February 11, 2019

Today we want to celebrate powerful female entrepreneurs in the direct sales space. Women who beat the odds to get to where they are today.

Now, maybe you’re thinking, “Wait a minute! Women dominate the MLM world.” You’re right! Women make up the majority of people involved in direct sales—and they always have. But there hasn’t always been space for them back at headquarters. In that sense, direct sales companies have—historically—been a lot closer to mainstream companies.

It shouldn’t surprise you to learn that female-founded companies are the minority. But here are some numbers to illustrate the situation:

  • “Female-led businesses only make up 30 percent of companies around the world” (Entrepreneur).

When you zero in on big business, the numbers get worse:

  • “Of the 134 VC-backed US-based companies valued at $1 billion or more… just 16 have a woman co-founder” (PitchBook).

In other words, women own less than 12% of billion-dollar companies in the US. And what about the capital those women are raising from VCs?

  • “Female-founded startups… raised just 2.2 percent of venture capital investment” in the first 10 months of 2018 (Tech Crunch).

That’s tiny, right? Wrong! It’s record breaking. Female founders have never had a better year.

The same holds true in MLM. Women are launching more startups than ever before. Some of the most exciting MLM companies today are woman-owned. We find all of these women inspiring and we hope that in honoring them we’re doing our part to encourage the female founders of tomorrow!

Katherine Lucey

Founder of Solar Sister

 

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Before getting involved in direct sales, Katherine Lucey spent over 20 years as an investment banker on Wall Street working in the energy sector. In 2009, Katherine founded Solar Sister, a direct selling company that distributes clean energy technologies in rural Africa.

She saw that the people in these communities were using harmful, fume-producing fuels—fuels that cause respiratory problems and premature deaths.

She also saw that solar technology was shrinking down to hand-held sizes, increasing in durability, and decreasing in cost. In other words, the technology had advanced enough to be useful to the poorest people in the world, living in the middle of nowhere. It just hadn’t reached them yet.

So, she decided to do something about it.

Katherine gave a talk at TEDxBerlin in 2011 that’s still powerful today.

Last year, on our podcast she explained her reasoning: “I knew that on an infrastructure level, at the country level, no country comes into the modern era if they don’t have access to electricity. It’s the first and most fundamental aspect of development.”

From SolarSister.org: “Children in particular benefit from reliable, bright lighting to study by at night. Over 90% of parents reported improvement in their children’s academic performance thanks to solar light.”

The Solar Sister website is full of data and insights derived from their work. As an example, these are the numbers of total people they’ve reached by year:

2015: 363,445

2016: 688,555

2017: 1,031,500

2018: 1,413,800

 

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We are so impressed with Katherine’s mission and with her gumption to get incredible tools into the hands of some of the least fortunate people in the world. And we happen to know from working with her on our podcast that she’s genuinely nice, and courteous.

Gretchen Huijskens, Holly Wehde, Chelsie Antos, Elisabeth Huijskens

Founders of Trades of Hope

 

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These four women founded Trades of Hope in 2010 in an effort to go above and beyond the charity work they were already involved in. Trades of Hope microfinances women’s artisan collectives in impoverished parts of the world. In other words, they create jobs for people who had no opportunities.

The data shows that charity work just doesn’t have the long-term impact that micro-financing and job creation do. Trades of Hope give fair-pay jobs to women in 16 countries. There’s more to say about how amazing that is than we have room for here.

Trades of Hope artisans create jewelry, accessories, and décor items which US-based distributors sell using a party plan model.

As of 2018 Trades of Hope employ 13,000 artisans around the world and they have 6,000 American distributors—called compassionate entrepreneurs.

 

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We are so romanced by Trades of Hope. Their business model is incredible. Two years ago, two of their founders joined us on our podcast to talk about their work. Here is a little bit about each of these four amazing women:

Gretchen co-founded an orphanage, school, and medical clinic in Haiti before starting Trades of Hope. She uses her passion for job creation and her talent for innovating to grow and lead the company.

Chelsie was 17 years old when Trades of Hope launched. Over the years, her focus has been on the operational side of the company—helping to create processes essential to healthy growth.

Elisabeth was only 15 years old when the company began. Her early first-hand helping others in developing countries created a passion for social justice. She has used that passion to build Trades of Hope’s socially conscious brand.

Holly has a background in both business and ministry. She loves to see people become all they were created to be. That passion shaped the team environment and culture that is Trades of Hope today.

We reached out to Trades of Hope to ask them about their leadership ideology. They gave us a list of the seven core values they live by:

  • We honor God and others.
  • We value scrappy determination and a can-do attitude.
  • We value each other’s differences.
  • We strive to always get better.
  • We value collaboration.
  • We believe the best.
  • We celebrate people.

They went on to say “These seven values add up to our main mission—people first. Sustainable, people-first business truly changes things for everyone.”

Nicki Keohohou

CEO, Founder of Direct Selling World Alliance

 

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In 1992, Nicki and her daughter Grace Keohohou founded the Direct Selling World Alliance (DSWA). The DSWA teaches coaching skills and other skills to direct sellers around the globe. Toward that end, they run coaching schools and offer DSWA coaching certifications.

What’s the difference between coaching and the usual training direct sellers give their downlines? Why is coaching so important?

It can be a bit tricky to understand the difference without seeing it first-hand. We were fortunate enough to attend one of Nicki’s coaching schools a few years back and to witness first-hand the powerful work that she’s doing with distributors. One stand-out notion that she teaches:

This is one of the unique strengths of the direct selling industry—it creates the opportunity for individuals to grow as people and as leaders. This isn’t widely available in the mainstream business world, and its absence disproportionately affects women. We believe that the training, personal development, and coaching that go on in direct selling impact people far beyond the bonus check. We believe that Nicki and DSWA provide a critical service that is more and more meaningful as time goes by.

Nicki has worked with hundreds of direct sellers and with many powerful direct selling companies such as Avon, Mary Kay Cosmetics, USANA, Ignite, Thermomix, Juice Plus, Intimo, Norwex and Tupperware.

You can find some of her powerful insights about the industry here on MLM.com—she’s one of our favorite contributors.

Or you can go straight to the source by attending any of the DSWA’s courses.

Recently DSWA brought forth a tax kit and webinar series to help direct sellers. They are coming out with social media and business management courses in 2019. And they’ve recently updated their Elite Leadership program which has been running for 15 years.

Jesse Reese McKinney, Genie Reese, & Amanda Moore

Founders of Red Aspen

 

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Jesse MicKinney, Genie Reese, and Amanda Moore launched Red Aspen in October of 2017. When they opened their doors, they had one product line: premium false lashes. Their lashes are cruelty free and can be worn up to ten times with proper care.

On the decision to launch a lash company, Reese said she “had seen tons of growth… I was wearing them. My friends were wearing them.” They weren’t the only ones predicting that false lashes would boom. And they weren’t wrong.

Red Aspen’s revenue hit $1 million in their first 5 months in business. In their full first year, Red Aspen nearly reached $3 million in revenue.

 

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This meteoric rise is remarkable. Even 2018 Miss America, Nia Franklin, wore Red Aspen lashes the night she was crowned. These clever entrepreneurs have caught hold of a wave of interest and are working away to spin that stroke of product placement genius into something even greater.

They now have a more extensive line of makeup products.

In their own words, they’ve spelled out their four core values on the Red Aspen blog:

Playful: We believe in showcasing enthusiasm in our work by creating cheerful communication, building imaginative products, and causing just a little bit of mischief.

Courageous: You are cordially invited to be the hero of your Red Aspen adventure (white knight not included). We experiment with new ideas, try and try again, learn from failure, celebrate success, and seek to become the best versions of ourselves.

Curious:  Opportunity rarely comes knocking on your doorstep, so let’s go out and find it! Ask yourself “why?” instead of “why not?” Be flexible in your assumptions. Be smart. Be inquisitive. Be nimble. Never forget to share the rewards of learning and success with others.

Fulfilled: Seek an authentic life and fill it with what matters most. Create more time to dream, to live, to grow. Design the life you’ve always dreamed of!

Dr. Traci Lynn Burton

Founder Traci Lynn Fashion Jewelry

 

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The first iteration of Traci Lynn Fashion Jewelry launched in the 1980s. Lynn… “earned her first million in 1989. She was 26. But she walked away from the business world, too young to understand the nuances of a startup company” (Delaware Today).

She relaunched Traci Lynn Fashion Jewelry in 2008. In her own words: “I started the company in Delaware with a small investment of $200 and it has grown organically into a multi-million-dollar enterprise with nearly 35,000 independent sales consultants nationwide.”

“If I couldn’t drive to a location, then we couldn’t open up that market for recruiting. I used to go to every business opportunity meeting, every training. I wanted to know the field. I needed to build relationships” (DSN).

Her commitment to slow growth and to that personal connection to her field is inspiring. We see some companies that hit periods of hypergrowth that they weren’t prepared for, get swept up in the excitement, start cutting corners to meet demand, and totally lose the faith of their distributors. It’s a terrible thing to watch unfold. But it wasn’t the Traci Lynn way.

We applaud Traci for holding strong against this vicious cycle to protect not only herself and her company, but the businesses of her distributors and the livelihoods of her employees.

 

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“My goal is to motivate people to step out of their comfort zones, inspire them to achieve greatness, and change their lives” (Female Entrepreneurs).

In 2016, Traci Lynn was appointed second Vice Chairman of the Board of Directors for the Direct Selling Association—the national trade association for direct sales companies. Today Traci serves as Vice Chairman of the Board.

Dr. Katie Rodan and Dr. Kathy Fields

Founders of Rodan + Fields (and Creators of Proactiv)

 

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Doctors Rodan and Fields are dermatologists turned entrepreneurs. They saw the need for science-backed products in the beauty world all the way back in 1995—a need that’s just as real today as it was then as evidenced by their huge sales numbers.

Their first foray into the business world, Proactive, is a household name in the US. The acne-fighting product line still sells around $1 billion in products a year. In 2017, their second skin-care line, Rodan + Fields, hit $1.5 billion in sales.

The skincare industry is full of snake oil—products that don’t even come close to delivering on their promises plus products that make your skin worse because they’re full of irritants. These entrepreneurs realized that beauty consumers were hungry not only for products that work but for products that are easily identified as efficacious because they’re endorsed by legitimate skin care authorities. So, what’s their story? How did they get to where they are today?

They launched the Rodan + Fields line in 2002. Sold to Estee Lauder, as a traditional retail line, in 2003. But they bought the company back from Estee Lauder in 2007. It’s an unusual thing to see, but their reasoning was sound and the gamble paid off.  Why did they do it?

They realized that word of mouth (not Estee Lauder’s marketing) was the critical factor moving their product (Bloomberg Businessweek). They knew that they could get better sales if they started incentivizing that word our mouth marketing with an MLM model.

“We were witnessing this whole decline of retail and the rise of social media… During the recession was when entrepreneurs were born. People were hungry for different opportunities,” said Rodan.

Ten years later, the payoff for that unusual decision is still growing.

 

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As of this writing, Doctors Katie Rodan and Kathy Fields are tied for 13th place on Forbes’ list of America’s Richest Self-Made Women. According to that list they are both worth $1.5 billion today.

These two women have some incredible insights into business and personal development. For example, “you have one reputation, which you’ve probably spent your whole life cultivating. Even one instance of failing to practice the golden rule of “do unto others as you would have done unto you” can destroy that reputation, so be mindful of your actions!” You can read more about their path and their practices here.

These are just a few of the incredible female founders in the direct sales space. Did we mention your favorites? Let us know in the comments who your industry heros are! And keep an eye out for our next list honoring powerful female field leaders.

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All Articles, How to Run a Direct Sales Company, How to Start a Direct Sales Company, Women in Direct Sales

Jana Bangerter

Jana Bangerter | Managing Editor

Born in Detroit, Jana spent her childhood in Michigan, Mexico, and Southern California developing an early...

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