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Female Founders: Dionna and Danyelle Gray of Womanish On The Five Things You Need To Thrive and Succeed as a Woman Founder

An Interview With Candice Georgiadis

Be okay with rejection: You’re going to be rejected by businesses, consumers, people, etc., throughout your entrepreneurial journey. However, you have to be able to keep pushing despite the “no’s” and “no thank you’s”.

As a part of our series about “Why We Need More Women Founders”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Dionna and Danyelle Gray.

Sisters Dionna and Danyelle Gray are the Black female founders of Womanish, a national, playful, and thought-provoking art exhibition and interactive experience curated by womxn for womxn bringing awareness to important womxn issues such as the pink tax, mental health, and the gender pay gap. After its successful launch in their hometown of Chicago amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Womanish opened its doors this summer in Miami. Through Womanish, the Gray sisters hope to cultivate a culturally inclusive, safe space that provokes imagination, conversation, and change around breaking single-definition stereotypes, and celebrate and uplift women.

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?

Before Womanish, we were working on an app called Baby, it’s Our World. The app was supposed to be a place to connect women online and create a safe space for them to feel empowered. We worked on that app for six years, and it never went anywhere! We decided to give up the idea, and we’re like, okay, we need to re-group! We then decided to continue our vision but switch it from an online app to a physical location. That’s how Womanish was born! We thought it would be even more powerful to create a physical space that embodied the same mission as our app: a place for women to connect and feel celebrated in a place imagined and designed for them.

Danyelle — I went to college for events, so the transition to experiential was pretty much up my alley.

Dionna — I went to college for communications, so this was also not too far off of my career path.

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

I think the most interesting reoccurrence that happens to us is when people come into the space and sometimes ask to see the “man in charge.” They are always very surprised to see two young African American women who are the head of Womanish. We love to see people’s faces when they see who is behind it :)

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?

We are eternally grateful for our parents. They were the first people to invest in us. As black female founders, we had two things going against us, being a woman and a person of color. It was very hard to secure funding for our business. We are so thankful our parents believed in us, spoke success over us, and invested in us! Without them, we would not be where we are today.

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?

We touched on it a little in our previous question, but definitely funding. It is statistically more challenging for women to get funding than men. In many cases, you need funding to start your business. We believe that this is a huge reason that is holding back women from founding companies.

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?

Creating more opportunities/access to funding for women. Making it easily accessible for women to get the funding they need to start their 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?

Financial freedom and independence is the biggest reason we think more women should become founders. We need to teach women the importance of being financially free as it can be life-changing, especially for working moms, etc. It is such a wonderful feeling to have the opportunity to set your own schedule and do things on your own terms. Money doesn’t buy happiness, but it does afford some luxuries such as freedom and independence.

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

“It’s fun and easy to be an entrepreneur!” It seems like they push this narrative that being a founder is easy and carefree, but that is not true. Being a founder is incredibly hard, can be incredibly lonely and difficult. The path to being a successful founder is usually not short and easy. However, the positives like financial freedom and independence do make all of those hard times worth it.

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?

We believe everyone could be if they put their mind to it. However, it’s not easy! Also, it’s simply not everyone’s calling. We need powerful women in their own companies and also in corporate America! Traits that increase the likelihood of a person being a successful founder are a go-getter, a self-starter, independent, and strong-minded.

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. Be okay with rejection: You’re going to be rejected by businesses, consumers, people, etc., throughout your entrepreneurial journey. However, you have to be able to keep pushing despite the “no’s” and “no thank you’s”
  2. Have a sounding board: It’s important to have someone to bounce ideas off of. Entrepreneurship can be lonely; make sure you have someone to discuss ideas, frustrations, issues, successes, and more.
  3. A positive mindset is key: There will be hard days, but it is important to keep a positive outlook. Positivity goes a long way in business and your personal life!
  4. Have tough skin: As a woman founder, there will be looks, comments, and more that people make as you lead your business. Do not be discouraged or internalize other people’s doubts or beliefs about you and your business.
  5. Believe in yourself no matter what: No one is going to believe or understand your vision as much as you are. If people don’t get it, so what. Keep pushing and striving until you achieve your goals! It’s so important to always believe in yourself and your vision.

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

Absolutely. In May, we gave away $20,000 with Cresco labs to black and brown female founders. We can’t wait to do more of this. It’s so important for us to give back to the community. We understand the struggles of entrepreneurship and want to help make it a little easier for others if we can!

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?

We believe in our movement to connect, empower, and create safe spaces for women. We have a tagline that says all are welcome, but women are celebrated. We want to continue with that movement as we expand and take Womanish to new heights.

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?

We’d love to have a private breakfast or lunch with Mark Cuban. We absolutely love watching Shark Tank, and Mark is our favorite! He has built some powerful businesses and always has excellent advice. It would be a dream to have him as a mentor!

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

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