Being a founder isn’t easy, but being a female founder can come with its own unique set of challenges.

A group of female entrepreneurs who graduated from Columbia Business School discussed how they overcame challenges — and achieved success — during a panel event hosted by The Lang Center and co-sponsored by the Columbia Business School Women’s Circle.

The panel was moderated by Inger Dewey Golob ’95, an investor in female-founded companies and the creator of PhotoBall, a quick-print, quick-ship sports memorabilia company.

Below are some of the key insights from the panelists on how to build resilience while also building your business:

On reinventing your business to overcome challenges: Jennifer Maanavi ’00 shared that she had to take “drastic action” for her business to survive — and thrive — through the COVID-19 pandemic. Maanavi began her career in the finance industry before founding Physique 57, a boutique fitness program with studios in the U.S. and abroad.

When the pandemic struck New York in March 2020, the city mandated that in-person fitness studios cease operations, causing Maanavi to lose 90% of her company’s revenue in a single day. So, she took swift action, permanently closing nearly all of her studios and terminating a majority of her staff in order to secure their access to unemployment benefits. By doing so, she was able to keep her business afloat.

Maanavi credits an “as if” mindset to successfully navigating her business through the pandemic. Despite the widespread belief at the time that the pandemic would prove to be a short disruption, Maanavi prepared her business for the long-haul, preparing her remote team for a 90-day closure, which eventually turned into a year-long closure. 

Maanavi also credits Physique 57’s well-established online fitness program with helping the business survive the pandemic. Maanavi and her team were able to triple subscriptions on the platform throughout the pandemic, create new content, and find new digital content partners across the world.

“The key from 2020 to now has been adaptability and foresight—swift decisions, closing studios early, and leveraging our online platform rescued us from financial ruin and solidified our resilience. The journey through the pandemic has transformed me into a more resolute and resilient leader,” she added.

Panelists (from left): Gabby Slome '15, Demetra Mallios ’22, Jennifer Maanavi ’00, and moderator Inger Dewey Golob ’95.
Panelists (from left): Gabby Slome '15, Demetra Mallios ’22, Jennifer Maanavi ’00, and moderator Inger Dewey Golob ’95.

On moving from startup to scaling and potentially exiting a business: When Gabby Slome '15 co-founded Ollie, a fresh and healthy human-grade dog food company, she quickly learned that she needed to become a logistician in order to grow her business.

“I had to discover all these new areas of development very quickly,” said Slome, who is also the co-founder and CEO of Cooper, a live and interactive parent coaching platform.

Slome noted that she very quickly had to figure out how to be both an executor and a manager, while constantly rewriting her job description to match the next stage of her business.

In a Q&A last year, Slome recommended that female founders never stop asking questions, and to always check their biases in business and life.

“Don’t rest on your laurels, even if things are going well. There’s always going to be the next mountain to climb,” she said.

On the importance of finding a mentor: Demetra Mallios ’22 says that having a mentor who is supportive, while also being able to offer constructive criticism, is a huge help.

Mallios also said that by building relationships, female founders can overcome the obstacles faced in the male-dominated venture capital industry.

“I do think it's still hard for women to be leading companies when so, so, so little funding is going to female-founded companies,” said Mallios, who is the founder and CEO of Puberry, an EdTech puberty health startup.
 “Even with more money going towards women, people investing tend to still be men,” she added.


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