Female Founders: Brianna Edwards of Lineage Watch On The Five Things You Need To Thrive and Succeed as a Woman Founder

An Interview With Doug Noll

Doug Noll
Authority Magazine

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Trust Your Gut Feeling. I have had to learn this through trial and error, but as the founder and person running the business, you already have a vision of what your product or service should be and should never settle for anything less than that. Do not let other people or events alter what you trust in your gut to be the right thing for your business and be patient in getting it right the first time.

As a part of our series about Women Founders, we had the pleasure of interviewing Brianna Edwards.

Brianna Edwards is a California practicing attorney who founded Lineage Watch Co., a woman-, black-, and family-owned and operated watch company based in San Diego, California. As one of few woman-owned businesses in the male-dominated watch industry, Brianna is seeking to reinvigorate American craftsmanship by producing watches that are designed, engineered, tested, and assembled in the United States with U.S. movements.

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?

I am an attorney, so at the time I founded Lineage Watch Co., I was practicing in the corporate legal department of a large, multinational corporation, that has grown exponentially for such a young company (a little over 10 years). Working alongside the executives and departments, and on the various legal issues attendant to the corporate world, deepened my appreciation for and expanded my knowledge on the innerworkings of a company and motivated me to find my own business.

In terms of watches, I have always had a deep fascination with them — in the beginning as a fashionable accessory, but in the professional world, as a statement piece (to me, a nice suit or professional attire is only elevated with a lovely watch). Prior to starting this company, my brother and I had a long-standing tradition (since we were young teenagers) of gifting designer watches to each other on holidays and momentous occasions. From this tradition and motivation to have my own business one day, we decided to create our own company to not only make custom watches built here in the United States, but that was based on values (such as giving back) and reflected a story that is very important to us (our lineage and history).

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

Our company is young (having just launched on Juneteenth), but what has been the most interesting thing to happen to me since starting Lineage Watch Co. has been my self-growth. I have learned so much about my character and what I can accomplish if I put my mind to it. I have become more confident and realized that I am capable of much more than what I ever could have imagined.

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?

Certainly. In starting a business, there is so much to learn, especially when you are producing your own product. Trial and error is often the name of the game. Before we partnered with the tremendous American manufacturer we work with now, I remember arguing extensively with a vendor about measurements for a certain component for a watch and that my interpretation was correct. The vendor acquiesced and produced a quote based on what I adamantly argued for three days was the accurate measurement, and needless to say, the quote was astronomically high because I was in fact wrong on the type of measurement to be used. In short, I embarrassingly had to retract my words and profusely apologize to the vendor (who was correct) before requesting a revised quote based on their form of measurement.

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?

While I co-founded Lineage Watch Co. with my brother, who I respect and admire tremendously and am happy to work alongside with every day, he would agree that our parents have and continue to be enormously instrumental in getting us to where we are today. To me, they are, one entity that not only sacrificed much to offer us opportunities but were critical in instilling important qualities and characteristics necessary to be successful (and exemplified them every day so that we would learn from example), including hard work, determination, belief in oneself, commitment and dedication, passion for what you do, and compassion for others. As the only girl in my family, and as a woman of color, my parents encouraged me from a young age to follow my passions, cultivated an upbringing in which I could learn to be independent, and instilled in me a confidence to not let anyone stand in the way of me accomplishing my dreams (whatever those may be). Being raised in such a way carried me through many points in my life (college, D1 soccer, law school, law career) and continues to do so with me forming and running this business.

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 think there are certain institutional barriers that continue to prevent women from starting their own business, as well as expectations from society on what women “should” be doing that prevent many of us from pulling the trigger on our dreams of owning a company.

For example, it goes without saying that there is a lack of funding opportunities and resources for women-owned businesses, particularly in terms of venture capital funding. Although things are improving with respect to alternative sources of funding, they are not at the rate they should be and much still needs to be accomplished in the venture capital sphere, with men-owned businesses receiving funds overwhelmingly more than women-owned businesses. I also believe gender stereotyping and lack of representation in certain industries has and continues to prevent women from starting their own enterprise in these industries, even when they are well qualified. The lack of representation at executive levels and senior business positions in many industries also make it very difficult for women to not only access support and mentorship, but build critical connections. Furthermore, gender stereotypes, such as “these are only male fields” deter women from starting a business in an industry in which they will be overlooked because of their gender. For me personally, a woman in the watch industry is exceptionally rare, with only a few brands of the many thousands being run or owned by women in this male-dominated field. Also, I cannot say I know of any other watch brand in which the founder is a woman of color, so though I am an anomaly in the watch industry, I hope it encourages more women and women of color to become a part of this incredible and fascinating industry.

In terms of societal barriers, it goes without saying that work-life balance in terms of household dynamics and what is expected of many women outside the office (including motherhood) prevent us from pursuing our dreams of founding a company. There also remains stigma and discrimination for those who go outside of the norms and structures women are “expected” to follow.

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?

As individuals, we need to be open to change and supportive of one another, as this environment will provide a sense of confidence for women to step outside of societal norms to pursue their dreams. Additionally, your voice through voting is powerful — use your right to vote and to exercise free speech to push for initiatives that provide resources to women and women-owned businesses. For other women founders, we need to partner up and offer our time and mentorship to other women interested in breaking into our field (or starting any business) and create a positive, reinforcing environment in which women cheer on other women. And finally, support women founders by purchasing products and services from women-owned businesses.

As a society, we need to relax rigid structural norms that still exist and which place unrealistic expectations on women, while also working to eliminate bias and gender stereotyping that remains pervasive in many industries (for example, Big Tech).

The government has the power to incentivize certain industries to support women-owned businesses and to create further legislation that not only ensure more equal treatment in the workforce, but that could offer resources to women to allow them to pursue their dreams. For example, increasing access to childcare and making it more affordable for families will greatly impact women’s ability to create their own businesses.

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?

I think back on when I was growing up and how critical it was to see successful women and women of color shattering barriers. For me personally, that woman is Serena Williams. But, if more women are founders of companies, we are showing the next generation that it too is possible for them to accomplish the same thing (and to exceed our accomplishments).

I think it is also important that there are more women founders because of what we offer to the business world. We have different set of life experiences that men do and, amongst other things, offer different perspectives and approaches to situations that can benefit a business as a whole. Diversity in only fosters creativity and innovation, which is why so many prominent companies push for more diversity in their workforce.

Additionally, us women account for an overwhelming majority of consumer purchases and contribute trillions of dollars in consumer spending each year. Who is better suited to own and manage such businesses than women?

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

For me, I think the idea that you need to be an expert or know everything Day 1 is the biggest myth. While it is important to have certain fundamentals down and general competency before starting any business, you will always be learning (or you should always be learning) more and more about the industry in which you operate and your product/service. There are so many things I did not know (and am still learning) about watches and this industry when I started this business, but if I had waited to start my business before learning or knowing these things, I may not have had a business at all.

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?

Anyone can be a founder if they have the ambition and drive to do so. Founding a business takes quite a bit of courage as it will require sacrifice and hard work with nothing guaranteed. While having a passion for what you are doing is important, I believe that perseverance, confidence, discipline, humility, and self-awareness are essential traits for any successful founder.

  • Perseverance: You need to be willing to push through the uncomfortable times, the low points, and the struggles which no business is impervious to.
  • Confidence: You need to be confident in your vision and work towards implementing the various decisions made to accomplish this vision without second-guessing yourself. This is not to say you should not back-up plans, but you need to believe in yourself for your business to succeed.
  • Discipline: Your business will not succeed if you show-up for it some of the time. You need to follow through and exercise a degree of discipline to ensure continuity (especially with products/services), dependability, and efficiency. Do not procrastinate, stick with your schedule, and prepare ahead of time.
  • Humility: As founder, you need to be humble and open to suggestions, shortcomings, and differences of opinion. No one and no business is perfect and there is always room for improvement. You also need to realize those working for your business enable you to run your company and are your greatest assets. Share with them the victories and make yourself available to them.
  • Self-Awareness: No one knows you better than yourself. You understand what your strengths and weaknesses are, and you need to be aware of them in running your business. As I touched on earlier, if you ignore your shortcomings, do not ask for help, or fail to cultivate new skills, you place your business at a great disadvantage.

At the same time, there is nothing wrong with being an employee and part of the workforce. In fact, companies will not exist without our employees who are our greatest assets and critical to the success of any business. Rather, it is up to the person and whether they have a desire to start a business.

Ok super. Here is the main question of our interview. What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why?

1 . Trust Your Gut Feeling.

I have had to learn this through trial and error, but as the founder and person running the business, you already have a vision of what your product or service should be and should never settle for anything less than that. Do not let other people or events alter what you trust in your gut to be the right thing for your business and be patient in getting it right the first time.

Though it was a set back and delayed our goal, Lineage changed manufacturers because I had a gut feeling that what I wanted (i.e., an American built watch with an American movement) could be produced, and now that is what we have at Lineage Watch Co.

2 . Do Not Expect Everything to Go as Planned.

Embrace failure and shortcomings, and be prepared to adapt to news and circumstances. Early on, if something did not go the way I had planned or within the timeline I imagined, I was devastated. Over the course of the production of our watches and through the launch of our business, I have learned that setbacks are part of the day-to-day operations of any business and that you need to remain persistent, roll with the punches, and be flexible where you can in adapting to unfortunate news. In doing so, things usually work out how they were supposed to (and may in fact be better for your business). You also learn so much more from these experiences compared to the times when things are running smoothly.

3 . Do Not Be Afraid to Ask for Help.

As a founder, your company is your baby. However, there are only so many hours in a day and only so much you can do and learn at any event given moment. I personally am very stubborn and was reluctant to share in the many responsibilities attendant to starting any business, but learned that it is imperative to take on the things you know, accomplish what you can, and to ask for help when you do not know something or are overburdened. Thankfully, I have a business partner I trust and who is always dependable, but there are consultants and resources available to business owners to help you navigate the many different issues and struggles founders face is starting and running their company.

4 . Focus on What You’re Good At, but Cultivate New Skills.

Never deviate or lose what you excel in, especially if it is the heart of your business. However, a well-rounded founder who is able to step-in when needed if an employee or business partner is unavailable or who can understand a variety of topics involved in the various parts of a business will only make you a better owner. As a corporate attorney, my strengths were in business formation, governance, commercial contracts, trademarks, and various other legal aspects, but that experience in no way covers the knowledge or experience needed to run a successful watch business. For this reason, I began researching and educating myself about the innerworkings of various types of watches, business accounting standards, procurement and inventory, watch production and design, and numerous other aspects of the business I need to know to ensure it runs correctly. In short, rely on your talents, but take every opportunity you can to educate yourself and develop new skills.

5 . Small Adjustments Can Have Long-term Impacts.

Even the smallest of incremental improvements will yield great long-term impacts. This is especially true if you are able to make multiple small improvements in different areas of your business. There are various programs and resources available that can help you make your business more efficient and to measure how such changes impact your efficiency.

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

I strive to be a mentor or resource for any individual looking to pursue their dreams and look forward to the change Lineage Watch Co. will be making through our pledge to contribute percentages of all our sales to various initiatives benefitting American communities. For example, five percent (5%) of all of Lineage’s sales of its Legacy and Destiny watch collections go to No Kid Hungry, a US-based nonprofit organization that helps provide daily meals year-round for children to combat the food crisis millions of them face each year. We’re happy to support this organization and look forward to participating in their events in San Diego and beyond, as well as working with other non-profits on future collections.

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.

Hunger and homelessness are major concerns of mine and is why Lineage Watch Co. contributes portions of its sales to No Kid Hungry. With homelessness on the rise, particularly in California where we operate and live, a movement in which the most wealthy corporations and most prominent developers, partner with the state and local governments, as well with the communities, to create large-scale housing for the homeless in conjunction with other programs and resources (e.g., mental health, addiction, job search, etc.), would provide an immeasurable benefit to our people as a whole and those suffering from homelessness.

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.

Alex Morgan of the United States Women’s National Team and San Diego Wave. I have always admired her tenacity and use of her platform to advocate for women’s equality not only in the sports arena, but across the board including on topics such as Equal Pay.

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

About the Interviewer: Douglas E. Noll, JD, MA was born nearly blind, crippled with club feet, partially deaf, and left-handed. He overcame all of these obstacles to become a successful civil trial lawyer. In 2000, he abandoned his law practice to become a peacemaker. His calling is to serve humanity, and he executes his calling at many levels. He is an award-winning author, teacher, and trainer. He is a highly experienced mediator. Doug’s work carries him from international work to helping people resolve deep interpersonal and ideological conflicts. Doug teaches his innovative de-escalation skill that calms any angry person in 90 seconds or less. With Laurel Kaufer, Doug founded Prison of Peace in 2009. The Prison of Peace project trains life and long terms incarcerated people to be powerful peacemakers and mediators. He has been deeply moved by inmates who have learned and applied deep, empathic listening skills, leadership skills, and problem-solving skills to reduce violence in their prison communities. Their dedication to learning, improving, and serving their communities motivates him to expand the principles of Prison of Peace so that every human wanting to learn the skills of peace may do so. Doug’s awards include California Lawyer Magazine Lawyer of the Year, Best Lawyers in America Lawyer of the Year, Purpose Prize Fellow, International Academy of Mediators Syd Leezak Award of Excellence, National Academy of Distinguished Neutrals Neutral of the Year. His four books have won a number of awards and commendations. Doug’s podcast, Listen With Leaders, is now accepting guests. Click on this link to learn more and apply.

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Doug Noll
Authority Magazine

Award-winning author, teacher, trainer, and now podcaster.