Female Founders: Sarah Potter of YouCanTrade On The Five Things You Need To Thrive and Succeed as a Woman Founder
An Interview With Candice Georgiadis
As a child, I sold firewood to neighbors after two trees in my family home fell after a big storm. As all the wood was being cut up, my dad and I talked about how to get rid of all it. I put a wagon full of wood together and pulled it around my neighborhood selling one wagon full of wood from house to house. Each time I sold a wagon full of wood, I walked home, filled up the wagon and kept going. Thinking outside the box and offering different solutions will help woman founders.
As a part of our series about “Why We Need More Women Founders”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Sarah Potter.
Sarah is the founder of YouCanTrade, which is an online investment education media service and community designed to help new traders and active investors. She’s a self-taught trader who began trading for things she wanted (like a nice bottle of wine), but as new mom at the time, she wanted to break free of the 9–5 and began trading for a living. She soon realized there weren’t many resources for people to learn about trading in a simple and approachable way, so she created YouCanTrade to fill the void. Sarah began speaking at conferences and in the media, which lead to the acquisition by TradeStation Group, a pioneer in the online trading industry.
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 I started YouCanTrade, I was working as an educational consultant and before that a teacher. My childhood friend had just died of cancer, and this experience led me to a pivotal moment of questioning what I was doing and my purpose in life. When I was in kindergarten, the teacher went around the room and asked each of the kids what they wanted to do when they grew up, as each child answered with typically “firefighter, teacher, etc.” my answer was different. When the teacher asked me, I responded with, “I want to make a difference.” The teacher laughed, and I believe the teacher told my parents about what I had said because she hadn’t heard a four-year-old say something like that.
All of my life I knew I wanted to do something different than a traditional job, I just wasn’t sure what that was at the time, but I knew I wanted to do something meaningful. When my friend passed away in hear 30s, I knew the traditional path I was on, wasn’t going to fulfill me and that time was precious, so I needed to get working on going out on my own rather than working for someone else. This was my pivotal moment where I decided I wasn’t going to wait any longer. I wanted to do something other than the 9–5 working for someone else. Hence, I began learning to trade for myself. I had always watched CNBC with fascination but never understood it. I also observed that most experts on television were me. I could do this too- if they can, I can. So, I set out to learn to trade. This path was much harder than I had anticipated however and was met with many ups and downs. Through the process I identified a real gap between the financial literacy that was available, and the skill sets I had. This was where I became motivated to share my own learning journey. I had been working on my Master of Education at the time, and I decided to take what I was learning about how adults learn best and apply that to trading. As I began to write what was a blog at the time, I also posted fun trading comic strips with lessons about trading. From there the blog grew, and I realized people wanted to see real trades and hear real experiences, so the company began. At the time of publishing my book, How You Can Trade Like a Pro, I also had my first child. Many nights I would be awake with my baby, so I really started changing my trading strategy from futures to options. I needed to find a trading solution that would fit around my schedule, and, while futures active trading was available 24 hours per day, I couldn’t always sit in front of my screen all day waiting for the set up with a young newborn. My trading shifted and so did the launch of a trading service that shared real trades, with real money with a goal of making money for the extras in life. From there the business began creating content and education for other brokers. I began speaking at conferences and in the media, and that lead to the acquisition by TradeStation Group to continue YouCanTrade’s journey of offering real trading to real people that fits your lifestyle.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
Launching a business has many ups and downs. It’s hard to think of just one interesting story.
As a founder, my business is my life, and I spend many hours during the day trying to solve problems, or think of products to increase revenue, or innovative ideas. I have a personal connection to the success story of the business, one that I am so emotionally invested in it, that others who aren’t founders, might not every know how deeply connected you become to your business. I may love the business and the mission too much as I spend most of my personal time listening to podcasts, bouncing ideas off of people, or listening. I have some amazing ladies I run with, and one asked me only once “Sarah, do you ever think about anything else?” and my answer was, “I love what I do and I love what the company is doing to help others, so why would I want to think of something else.” I have a great network of people in my life, and I think they all just know or come to appreciate that a conversation with Sarah about new revenue models, or ways to increase a funnel is just what my default conversation is. Thinking about business growth is my default conversation with others, love me or hate me, that’s how my brain works.
This personal mentality and being okay with who I am has been a long journey of self-acceptance, though sometimes a lonely one. While I am listening to every podcast about other entrepreneurs and listening to how they grew their businesses, other people may not do the same, and our differences are okay. I used to really struggle with finding other women who were like me, and I often felt like a fish out of water because finding other women who can relate to being a founder isn’t as frequent as finding men who started businesses. Especially when I was joining mom groups when my kids were babies, I struggled to fit in. I was worried about talking about business strategy with others who didn’t run businesses because they might not want to hear it, or I might come off as different. Don’t get me wrong, talking about being a mom is fine too, but I was missing connection with others who would want to have conversations about solving a problem.
Through the growth of my company, the acquisition, and now running the company in a bigger ecosystem, I was often the only woman. When I began speaking for other companies and was on panels of speakers (and often the only woman on the panel), I would listen to the other speakers and realized that I had self-doubted that I had to offer for way too long. Some of the other speakers had less experience and they were considering themselves an expert when I was nervous to call myself one. I had an “aha moment” being up there in the public view when I realized I had just as much to share as the others on the speaking board. Women need to be confident in their stories and their expertise.
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?
Yes, every story is rarely done on its own. In the beginning of establishing my company, I went to visit another competitor and was discussing working for him rather than building my own business. This opportunity to work for someone else was actually the catalyst for me to realize I could do what he was doing on my own. I’m grateful for his invitation to meet him and that he listened to my ideas. Even though I hadn’t been thinking of growing out a business on my own, his willingness to be open, hear my thoughts which validated my own self-worth to grow my own business. That conversation is something I’m grateful for.
When I first arrived at his office, I was ready to pitch him ideas about working for him and growing his business, but as I left, I realized I was just as capable to build my own business. That was a pivotal moment in my life and I’m grateful for that experience. It was a moment when I realized that I did have the strengths to do this too, that it was just hard work and dedication. He gave me an opportunity to be self-reflective and believe in myself. While I don’t think he actually knows how pivotal that experience was for me, it laid the groundwork for my own self confidence to build out something meaningful in the financial literacy space.
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?
Confidence and risk taking. We need to help others to feel they are expert enough to come out and speak, come out to ask, and come out to pitch ideas. Often women are afraid they are not good enough. But at the end of the day, risk taking is only about hearing the words yes or no, and yes and no are words that don’t bite you. You can learn from every no, but don’t be afraid to stand back up and ask again, work for your strengths and own your growth.
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?
Specific to women, we need areas to help each other, and it begins in the classroom. Girls need to be encouraged to share their opinions, to be articulate, all kids need to understand their strengths and weakness, and leverage our strengths rather that focus on the things we can’t do. Empowering others is always a win.
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 are just as capable, are usually excellent multi taskers, and have brilliant ideas; don’t be afraid to share those ideas with others and connect to other people who will help you. Remember along the way that you may get thing wrong, but any opportunity is a growth opportunity to learn, grow, and try again leveraging your new strengths.
What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about being a founder? Can you explain what you mean?
I’d like to paint a rosy picture, but I have always wanted to share openly and honestly, so I must tell you that it isn’t easy. But just because something is hard doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do it. If your passion is out of the box, you have a solution to a problem, or a different way to support the world, you deserve to be heard. To be a successful founder, I also think you need to have more than one idea, or at least alternatives to one idea. A founder doesn’t just have one shot at success, a founder keeps going until they have found a balance of an idea to build a business from. You will have some business ideas that just don’t work. When you have an idea that didn’t work, it’s your opportunity to learn more and tweak things until it gets to be a product that works for the business and the consumer. Founders never have the secret sauce. The sauce is made by adding and subtracting many ingredients and balancing it out with time to work on getting it right. Founders have ideas that work and ideas that don’t, but what you always need to have is the ability to learn from your mistakes, listen for feedback, and then try again. Even when you get it right, listen for feedback and keep improving what you are working on.
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?
When I hear from young women, I often hear students in high school or university stressed out because they don’t know “what they want to be when they grow up.” We need to change the conversation so that people understand you can be more than one thing in your life, you can change. The greatest determinant of a successful founder is that they are always willing to work on improvement. You don’t have to be one thing all your life, and being a founder gives you permission to try at a few things. You can be both, you can also act in many ways as a founder in a “regular job,” you can solve problems, you can offer out of the box thinking, you can help others etc. I would encourage all young women to stop putting themselves in a box of only one category entrepreneur or regular job. The reality is that our lives change in the various stages of our life priorities. You never know when you will get that idea, that spark, but it’s up to you to decide whether there is a business there and if you have the grit to do it. Even if there is a glimmer of a spark to try something new, that’s enough to get going. It doesn’t have to be all laid out to start, you just need some glowing coals to re start a fire at any time.
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.)
- Solutions other people may not see. As a child, I sold firewood to neighbors after two trees in my family home fell after a big storm. As all the wood was being cut up, my dad and I talked about how to get rid of all it. I put a wagon full of wood together and pulled it around my neighborhood selling one wagon full of wood from house to house. Each time I sold a wagon full of wood, I walked home, filled up the wagon and kept going. Thinking outside the box and offering different solutions will help woman founders.
- Leading with collaboration. As a founder, you might have started the company by being the one and only employee. You many have worn all of the hats or performed many of the tasks of the business and so you have a deep connection or processes that have been formed to get everything done that needs to get done. As the business grows you need to keep your spot at the table but there will be others with opinions or ideas at the same table that need to be included too. Working with your team is important to help them feel the same passion that you have, and to let them come into your business as it grows so that they have valued voices too. Your ability to allow others to connect with your ideas, and to let other people’s strengths continue to grow the business is important too.
-I can’t say that I am an expert at this yet. I try to be collaborative, but I have moments where I’m frustrated, or I wonder why it’s taking so long for someone else to do something I could do in half of the time. As a founder, you may have more experience doing a task that you have maximized the efficiency, while another person is still growing in that role or task. Lead your business but be aware of your team, of their strengths, and make sure their ideas are heard too.
- The ability to recognize your successes. Founding a company can be a grind, a lot of late nights. As a founder you are probably driven to want to see your business succeed, and as you begin to have successes, the bar can just keep getting bigger and bigger. You need to stop at some points and evaluate your success along the way. Make measurable goals for your company and for yourself, then work backwards to pause (maybe its monthly or quarterly) to reflect on how well your business is growing, or how well you are doing. Don’t get overwhelmed with enormous goals that take years to achieve, break down big goals into achievable bite sized goals that will create a roadmap of success. Stop at many points along the way and give yourself credit to be proud of your improvements, to take a breath, and then get back to work on changing the world!
- Leverage your strengths. Don’t get hung up on things that didn’t go well. I get it, those days are hard, but it’s all in how you look at it. Don’t get defeated if something didn’t work out, or you didn’t get to say what you wanted at a specific time, there is always another day to try again, and any opportunity that didn’t work is just an opportunity to figure out how to make it better next time. Believe in your ability to improve, don’t get stuck in your weaknesses. There are two children’s books that I read to my girls often, but this book has such powerful messages for all women. The book is “When You Are Brave;” it has a beautiful ending about how you have what you need inside of you, and that when you are brave you can be anything. The other book is called “Worry Says What.” This book ends with a strong saying: “Worry says what? Worry says nothing.” I often chant that in my mind when I’m about to do something that scares me, or speak at a meeting, or pitch an idea. Don’t let worry make decisions for you. This is absolutely a great reminder that a founder will take risks and to take those risks you need to be brave.
- Perseverance- because some days will be easy, many will be hard, but you should always feel passionate about what you are doing. If everything is going well, then something is wrong. You need to understand that being a founder means you are solving something or thinking about something differently. Your company will run differently from when it’s just you starting out to when the company scales. Your team will grow, your expectations will change, and your work will change along with it. This means there will be many iterations of leadership, or product design, or delivery that will work, and others that will fail. Your good and bad days are part of being a founder, but your willingness to persevere, to see it through, to adjust will make all of the difference.
How have you used your success to make the world a better place?
I get up every day to do what I do because I want to make the world a better place. I believe I am making a difference in the financial literacy space to help other traders and investors understand that they can trade too. Sharing my story open and honestly has helped my business grow and helped the world be a better place. I believe that everyone has a right to learn about financial literacy and specifically what you can do with your money when you want to take some of it and do something different than just save it. There is sense of empowerment when you can take some of you money using your own skills to try to make more of it. The lack of financial literacy in schools means that many people are unsure about money, or savings, or investments. Often this skill is handed off to a banker and we just hope that the banker knows what they are doing with your money. But we need to know good questions to ask our advisors, or set some money aside to learn to manage some investments, or to think about different ways to diversify your risk when it comes to money. The more everyone understands the choices they have with money, the more powerful we all become. The power and change I am helping lead in the world isn’t just about making more money, its about a sense of empowerment of knowledge in the financial literacy space and helping others believer in themselves.
One thing that I am working on currently that I am very excited about is starting a women’s leadership group within TradeStation Group. A quarterly session where women can attend to learn different ways of investing, some trading basics, and to have conversations about financial literacy to empower them. This is cued up to begin in October. I want to be a champion to empower others about financial literacy but also helping encouraging women to use their voices at the table, to share their points of view, to speak openly and to be able to connect with all levels of people in an organization. Often you hear about needing women mentors, with the focus on helping the women below them, but I also think as an executive, that I can learn equally in a mentor relationship. The mutual relationship of helping others helps the helper and the helped. I encourage women who may just be working their way up the ladder to help them have a voice, to encourage them to take risks, to learn from their experiences, and to always be willing to voice to share a business idea.
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.
Talk about investing and the markets to kids at an early age. Are you going to take your kids to McDonalds for lunch? Then tell them the stock symbol is MCD. My kids know Chipotle as CMG, the stock symbol rather than the name chipotle. With your kids, look at stock patterns together, and talk about whether you think a stock is going up, sideways or down. Things can be very basic as looking for direction in a trend on a chart, but even this type of conversation is so important because it starts to bring financial skills into the everyday lives of children. Looking for natural connections to life skill sets and then comparing them in investing tools will begin to develop skill sets. If you trade yourself, share some ideas with your kids. Or, if you want to learn more, just start pulling up a chart of a stock and talk about a trend. Let’s normalize financial language for everyone so that it becomes less scary. Also, lets encourage children to start out mini businesses at an early age, lets refine the lemonade stand, ask them about what they think others need, what is an opportunity? How could they influence change? Selling firewood to neighbors one wagon at a time was about finding an opportunity to sell something that others weren’t. Encourage children to raise their voice.
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.