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Female Founders: Ashley Piszek of MISS SWISS On The Five Things You Need To Thrive and Succeed as a Woman Founder

An Interview With Candice Georgiadis

Don’t be afraid to ask for help- In my opinion, this is the most important advice I can share. So many women, myself included, don’t ask for help often enough. They don’t ask for help either because they don’t want to inconvenience someone or because they don’t want to be considered weak. I believe asking for help when you need it shows strength and intelligence. Entrepreneurs need to wear many hats because they are responsible for the entire business. If you learn to ask for help when you need it, it will help you save time and potentially prevent you from making costly mistakes.

As a part of our series about “Why We Need More Women Founders”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Ashley Piszek.

Ashley Piszek is a 24-year-old entrepreneur best known for inventing MISS SWISS®, a revolutionary makeup case that solved a significant problem in the makeup industry. After makeup destroyed her purse at a concert, Piszek developed a patented travel size makeup case resembling the utility of a Swiss Army Knife® with custom holders that prevent friction between commonly used makeup products. Piszek was diagnosed with dyslexia in 2013 and pulls inspiration from Kevin O’Leary, Barbara Corcoran, and Daymond John — all renowned entrepreneurs who also overcame the same diagnosis.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?

Ever since I was five years old, I have had a passion for business. Starting with my first lemonade stand, building doll furniture, flipping a house in college, and now MISS SWISS I have always been inspired to create, market, and sell products I love.

The concept for my Glamour on the Go makeup case literally fell into my lap. I was at a concert and had a “purse catastrophe.” The friction between my eyeliner lid and the other contents of my purse caused the lid of the eyeliner to come off which not only ruined the eyeliner but also destroyed my purse. The purse was a gift from my boyfriend, now husband, who saved up to get me this beautiful purse. When I reluctantly told him what happened, he told me he couldn’t afford to replace the bag and that I needed to make sure this didn’t happen again. When I told my friends and family what happened they said that they had similar problems with other makeup products that have pop on lids like lipstick and that this spillage also occurred in their makeup cases as well. That is when I researched other makeup cases and found they were too bulky and heavy to carry in a purse or did not allow for proper spacing to prevent spillage, they only contained the spills. After I conducted focus groups on issues makeup wearers have, two additional issues surfaced. Makeup gets lost easily and makeup wearers also struggle with applying their makeup on the go. After a year of prototyping, the MISS SWISS Glamour on the Go makeup case was created.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?

The most interesting story has to be my experience with my first retail buyer. I was sitting on my couch one night working on an ad campaign when I received a message request on my Instagram account. When I opened it, I didn’t believe it was real. The message said that she was a buyer for Urban Outfitters and she was interested in trying my makeup cases and brush holder to see if they would be a good fit. I launched my Glamour on the Go Makeup Cases in late December 2020 and my Bush Holders in February 2021 so I never expected a major retailer buyer to have seen my products much less be interested in potentially placing an order for them within the first few months of my business startup. This experience was more than I could have imagined, especially for a company that only had product for two months. This led to a purchase order from Urban Outfitters was amazing for many reasons. It provided MISS SWISS with validation, it gave me confidence that my invention was relatable, and led to other businesses placing orders.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

When I launched MISS SWISS I knew I wanted to launch an influencer campaign. There are so many celebrities and influencers that have inspired me to launch my own business and I was ready to share my invention with the world. I started searching for influences and gathered a list of over a hundred and fifty that I wanted to reach out to and started reaching out either by email or DMs. One thing that I typically don’t mention is that I was diagnosed with dyslexia when I was 15. This makes catching spelling errors and other small mistakes really difficult for me to catch. When I wrote to the different influencers and celebrities, I made all of the messages individually and included how they have inspired me or why I wanted to send them my products. There is one specific influencer who is pretty well known in the Philadelphia area and whom I have looked up to for years. While I was typing the message my finger accidentally slipped and I ended up prematurely sending her an unedited and half written message. I quickly googled to see if I could unsend my DM and I was so excited that I could unsend it. As I went to unsend the message, I saw that the message was already read by the influencer. I quickly sent her another message and told her how embarrassed I was that she saw the incomplete message. I was extremely lucky that she thought it was funny and she has been an amazing supporter ever since.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

I could not have gotten where I am today without my family. My husband Ryan, mom, dad, and brother, Andrew, have been instrumental in launching MISS SWISS. No matter what needs to get done, like picking up thousands of makeup cases from our manufacturer, staying up late to package orders, or brainstorming new product ideas, they are always there for me.

This year especially, my brother, Andrew, has helped me share MISS SWISS with the world. Without him, I wouldn’t have an amazing website, ad campaigns, and a MISS SWISS Amazon shop. People who know us always say that together we make the perfect business owner. I am the creative mind who comes up with the new ideas and ways to market MISS SWISS and Andrew is the one that takes those ideas and turns them into a reality. No matter how large and difficult my ideas are, he has always figured out how to technically bring them to life and is a major reason MISS SWISS has grown so quickly.

Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the primary focus of our interview. According to this EY report, only about 20 percent of funded companies have women founders. This reflects great historical progress, but it also shows that more work still has to be done to empower women to create companies. In your opinion and experience what is currently holding back women from founding companies?

I believe the biggest hurdle women founders face is not being able to easily identify clear channels for funding their business. I was able to fund my startup through profits from flipping a house and through private funding from family (and friends). I actually read A Harvard Business Review’s article that said, “as figures from 2020 have been tallied: a substantial drop in venture capital funding for women-led startups” I believe this is a major factor in why there aren’t as many female entrepreneurs. How are they supposed to start a business with enough funding to purchase inventory, advertise their products, and “In 2019, 2.8% of funding went to women-led startups; in 2020, that fell to 2.3%, Crunchbase figures show.

Additionally, “businesses run by women are less likely to be approved for a small business loan than those run by men, according to the Federal Reserve.” was reported in the Nerdwallet article, 6 Best Small Business Loans for Women of August 2021. There are some amazing opportunities for female entrepreneurs like the Sephora Accelerate program and small Amber Grants, but there is currently only a limited amount of programs and grants to specifically level the opportunities for female entrepreneurs.

Sources: https://www.google.com/amp/s/hbr.org/amp/2021/02/women-led-startups-received-just-2-3-of-vc-funding-in-2020

https://www.nerdwallet.com/best/small-business/small-business-loans-for-women

Can you help articulate a few things that can be done as individuals, as a society, or by the government, to help overcome those obstacles?

I believe giving opportunities to women entrepreneurs starting at a young age would really help inspire more women to become entrepreneurs. I lived in the same town my whole life and went to the same school starting in prekindergarten. During my sophomore year of high school I felt like I needed to step out of my comfort zone and decided to study abroad in England for six months. When I arrived in England, I was put into the international baccalaureate program which allowed me to take classes I didn’t have the opportunity to take back home at my high school in Pennsylvania. These classes included philosophy, religious studies, and my favorite class, introduction to business. Walking into the business class on my first day of class I noticed that I was not only the only American in the class but I was also the only girl. During my time in England, I fell deeper in love with business and knew it was what I wanted to do for my career. If I hadn’t had this opportunity, I am not sure I would have launched MISS SWISS. This is why I believe passionately about educating children and young adults about businesses and entrepreneurship. Even one class can inspire many to follow their entrepreneurial dreams they never even knew they had.

This might be intuitive to you as a woman founder but I think it will be helpful to spell this out. Can you share a few reasons why more women should become founders?

Women have so much to offer. I am fortunate enough to have met many amazing women entrepreneurs and I am always impressed with their businesses. Characteristics of women I have watched become successful founders include their unwavering focus, commitment to their dream, and amazing problem solving abilities.

Being an entrepreneur can be both difficult and frightening but if you go all in, the potential rewards will outweigh any disadvantages. I enjoy being in control of my destiny as I am able to see the results of all of my efforts in MISS SWISS sales.

I find it personally interesting that products we commonly use are created by women but are not promoted as such. There is not a day that goes by where I don’t use something that has been created by a successful woman entrepreneur/inventor. Caller ID, windshield wipers, coffee filters, home security systems, and the electric refrigerator are a few of the remarkable things that women have created to make our lives better.

What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about being a founder? Can you explain what you mean?

A myth that I would like to dispel about being a founder is that all you need to have a successful business is a good idea. I had someone tell me once that I was “lucky” that I came up with my Glamour on the Go Makeup Case. This statement really confused me because there have been many steps, strategies, and a great deal of problem solving that have gone into creating my brand. The truth was shared with me early on, even if you have the best invention that everyone needs, it won’t sell unless you market the product successfully. This is a very important myth to dispel as it misleads creators and could set founders up for failure.

Is everyone cut out to be a founder? In your opinion, which specific traits increase the likelihood that a person will be a successful founder and what type of person should perhaps seek a “regular job” as an employee? Can you explain what you mean?

I don’t believe everyone is cut out to be a founder. Starting a business requires a fierce commitment to your business and requires you to be a problem solver. This commitment may require the founder to work round the clock as the business is being built. It may require not taking a salary from the business for a period of time. It requires the founder to be courageous when things are tough and to not give up. A founder needs to make a business plan but also be flexible and adjust the plan when necessary. Founding a business is like a roller coaster. One day everything is going smoothly, and then the next it isn’t. A founder needs to be confident but realistic, a leader but a good listener, hardworking but allows others to help. I think founding a business is the most exciting thing I have done, but it hasn’t been without challenges.

The type of person who may be better suited for a “regular job” as an employee would be someone who is risk averse. A person who has a good work ethic, works hard, but doesn’t want the headaches associated with owning the business and carrying those problems home with them each night.

Ok super. Here is the main question of our interview. Based on your opinion and experience, what are the “Five Things You Need To Thrive and Succeed as a Woman Founder?” (Please share a story or example for each.)

1. Don’t be afraid to ask for help- In my opinion, this is the most important advice I can share. So many women, myself included, don’t ask for help often enough. They don’t ask for help either because they don’t want to inconvenience someone or because they don’t want to be considered weak. I believe asking for help when you need it shows strength and intelligence. Entrepreneurs need to wear many hats because they are responsible for the entire business. If you learn to ask for help when you need it, it will help you save time and potentially prevent you from making costly mistakes.

2. Set long- and short-term goals- I find goals to be very helpful. They keep me motivated and on task. I make sure that my short-term goals are attainable so I can stay motivated by actually reaching those specific goals. My long-term goals remain broad so that I can adjust as I get closer to obtaining them, but they are still possible.

3. Stay Focused- It is so important to stay focused. When you run your own business there are many aspects of your business that require your attention. There can be a multitude of distractions, make daily lists and work through them. I find written lists helpful as I concentrate on accomplishing them and physically cross tasks off upon completion.

4. You need a thick skin- Not everyone will love your product or understand your story. I learned this lesson when the first article written about me was published. I had never experienced anything like this before but thankfully someone close to me quoted Taylor Swift and said, “People throw rocks at things that shine”. Don’t let haters or doubters have power over how you feel about yourself or your business.

5. Consistency is key- You can’t build a business or a brand in a day. As much as we all love instant gratification, becoming successful takes time and consistency. Personally, the best way I have found to be consistent is to batch content on specific days. One day I will spend hours writing the email copy for the next month or two and automate the posting. This makes sure no matter how hectic life or your business becomes, or if you aren’t seeing immediate results, you still keep moving your business forward.

How have you used your success to make the world a better place?

I have taken a lot of my personal experiences and brought them into my business. A major part of my life is giving back and I wanted to bring that passion to MISS SWISS. Both of my parents have always been very involved with amazing nonprofit organizations and because of this I was exposed to charitable giving throughout my life. I was able to translate this philanthropic passion into my business with both my influencer campaign and with nonprofit partnerships. Every birthday or Christmas I give my parents the same gift. I make a donation to their favorite charities in their name. This tradition has been very special to me and my family so I decided I should share that with influencers. So many PR packages come with excess packaging which ultimately ends up in landfills. Instead of filling my PR packages with excess packaging or freebies, I asked influencers what their favorite charities were and took the money I would have spent on the freebies and donated that to their favorite charity. MISS SWISS has also partnered with amazing nonprofit organizations like Gyrl Wonder who help women of color find career opportunities and mentorships. I am excited to continue growing relationships with other great organizations so that we may continue to help the next generation of entrepreneurs.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the greatest number of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.

I would love to inspire a movement to give children and young adults the information and framework to start their own businesses and fuel their entrepreneurial spirit. When I started MISS SWISS I had so many questions of which I wasn’t always able to find the answers. With social media and Google, information is a lot easier to find, but deciphering what is helpful versus extraneous can be confusing. Also, sourcing business tips that are relevant and tools to teach prospective and potential entrepreneurs can be challenging. When I first started MISS SWISS, I remember getting an email asking me to send over my line sheet as soon as possible. My first thought was “What even is a line sheet?” and my second question was, “What do I need to put on my line sheet?” I did what most people would do, Google it. When I was searching, I noticed there were many opinions that sometimes contradicted each other, and some people were charging entrepreneurs for answers to their questions. This made it even more confusing. Being an entrepreneur is difficult enough, I think making important relevant information available to aspiring entrepreneurs for free would allow them to invest in their dreams. I’m in the beginning stages of this movement now. I have been writing down my tips and tricks that have helped me on my journey and will start sharing them with entrepreneurs with questions.

We are very blessed that some very prominent names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them.

I have admired Mindy Kaling for years. She has been a huge inspiration for both her successful career and philanthropic nature and has inspired me to always be myself. Embracing that I don’t need to alter who I am to be successful. As I launched MISS SWISS, I feel like she has only grown even more inspirational to me. Entrepreneurs have to run multiple aspects of their businesses for it to be successful. Mindy inspires me as she is successful in all facets of her career. I would love to have the opportunity to pick her brain and ask her how she is able to juggle being an amazing actress, comedian, producer, director, and a writer at the same time.

Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.

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