Female Founders: Stephanie Biegel On The Five Things You Need To Thrive and Succeed as a Woman Founder
An Interview With Candice Georgiadis
Founders are lone rangers — Some founders build alone, but the reality is building takes an army. The humans you surround yourself with as a founder are essential on the ride.
As a part of our series about “Why We Need More Women Founders”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Stephanie Biegel.
Stephanie is an accomplished & seasoned professional who spent more than 10 years leading and growing multi-million dollar advertising businesses spanning global markets and emerging technologies. She has generated more than $200M in strategic advertising revenue, driven by her expertise in digital business transformation and aptitude for fast-paced markets. Stephanie began her professional career at United Talent Agency and Platinum Rye in Los Angeles, and now serves as Chief Strategy Officer & Co-Founder at Key, leveraging all of her past experiences within ad tech, marketing, & talent.
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?
My journey has been anything but a straight line, but that’s what makes it entirely rewarding (not to mention challenging and fulfilling!). My career started working at United Talent Agency and Platinum Rye, with a focus on talent management and celebrity endorsements. I always had a desire to work in the entertainment industry and I truly believe this foundation led me to exactly where I am today. With that said, my career pivoted when I fell head first into the world of ad technology/digital sales. I spent over a decade within this sector driving digital business and marketing strategy in both the digital and mobile spheres. This is where I leaned into data, brand strategy & digital marketing which all play a role in my current venture. My business partner, Evan Wayne, and I always had a desire to build together, and when our idea for Key came about, we saw an opportunity to leverage our past experience and bring it to a new sector…the world of Talent! Key is the convergence of all of my vignettes along the way.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
I wish I had one story, but the journey of building a business from the ground up = FULL of interesting stories. With that being said, I would say the fact that we started building Key amidst a global pandemic is wildly interesting. Challenges are the name of the game when starting from scratch, but take into account a pandemic that affects the entire world…there were no boring days. We got to re-imagine, re-invent, build, create, and innovate daily. I will never forget what that was like!
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?
I honestly can’t remember the beginning months, they all blend together! I think the start was a series of funny mistakes, but I was so in it, that the mistakes were just part of the growth and experience! I always say…there are no mistakes in building. Just stepping stones along the way on your journey.
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?
This may sound cliché and even a bit cheesy, but my business partner and great friend has been my Sherpa on this ride. Evan had successfully built a company in the past, so his experience was invaluable. He also has a network of entrepreneurs who truly were the crux of our ability to build, innovate and scale this business. I never knew how important it was to lean on your people, and to ask for help and advice. While we all may be building different businesses, the foundational experiences & challenges are wildly similar! I think about the beginning days: everything from payroll, to brand identity, marketing plans, to hiring,…there is no reason not to tap into your resources to understand their experiences and then make them your own!
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?
There are many factors, but at its core, I think it’s limiting beliefs. In my opinion, many women are thinking too small and are paralyzed by their own self-doubt & insecurities. I know the statistics show the (alarmingly) low number of female founders, but from my viewpoint, I am inspired DAILY by the emergence of more and more women owned businesses. Women need to step into their power and harness the confidence to build/create. Ridding of this notion that females often aim lower than men. Ridding of the notion that they cannot raise money, don’t have the technical prowess, are not set up with the right network to succeed. When you are constantly told you are at a disadvantage, you start to believe it. It’s on all of us to empower those around us to just get started! We hold the power in each of us to break-down that self-doubt and self-imposed barriers. No one claims it’s easy, but I think the traditional constructs are melting away making room for female founders to step in and thrive.
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 absolutely love the prevalence of female founders funds, the VC’s that specifically invest in female founded businesses. On a macro-government level, continuing to support and drive funding towards these opportunities is essential. On an individual level, it’s celebrating and empowering the women in our lives to chase their dreams. To remind them that they are entirely capable of whatever they want to achieve. There is power in numbers and the network effect is real. Continuing to build communities and collectives of women who have made the jump and BUILT, so we can all see anything is possible. It doesn’t have to always be the big things, the little things make a difference too. If you are or have been on the female founder journey, find ways to pay it forward. Inspire those around you and support them in the littlest of ways.
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 cannot name ANY reason why more women shouldn’t be! Women are capable, thoughtful, strategic, powerful, innovative, creative, and brave. They should harness their super powers, and start building.
What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about being a founder? Can you explain what you mean?
1) Prior experience is essential — if you have grit, grind, drive, and passion, anything is possible. Desire to learn is everything!
2) Great founders have built before — prior success doesn’t hurt, but every founder was a first-time founder at some point.
3) Owning your own business is easy — The amount of times I have heard people talk about the ease/freedom/flexibility about building a business. Being a founder is one of the most challenging and rewarding journeys you will ever take. But easy is not the word I would use to describe the journey.
4) Founders are lone rangers — Some founders build alone, but the reality is building takes an army. The humans you surround yourself with as a founder are essential on the ride.
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 think everyone has a fire in them, but not everyone yearns to be a founder. Being a founder OR an employee are equally powerful in my opinion. The important piece is self-awareness and being connected to self enough that you know what fire burns inside of YOU! Some traits I think are often exhibited in founders include but are not limited to: risk tolerance, self-motivation, leadership, decisiveness, willingness to fail, strong work ethic, strong moral ethic, innovator, visionary flexibility, passion, learners, listeners, fearlessness…should I keep going?
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.)
- Confidence — The person often standing in the way is you. It’s imperative to believe in yourself and believe in your vision. Confidence is the foundation needed to build, innovate, learn, take on challenges and succeed.
- Strong Community — No successful founder finds success on their own. Surround yourself with people that empower you, that lift you up, that support you, that can share their experiences and insights. Your network is one of your super powers, don’t go at it alone!
- Support Other Women — I believe in the shine theory. I shine when we all shine. There is nothing more inspiring than women supporting women. Do so on your journey!
- Self Care — I am a big believer in wellness and to be able to have the mental stamina to show up, and to show up well as a female founder…you cannot forget to invest time in you. Figure out what you need and make sure you continue to prioritize it. Business will always be busy, your to do-list never ends, but time-blocking time for YOU is essential to success.
- Take Calculated Risks — Failing as a founder is the best way to learn. They are the building blocks. Embrace the challenges, embrace the failures and take calculated risks. If you lead with thoughtfulness, purpose & intent…risk taking feels way less ominous.
How have you used your success to make the world a better place?
I am so grateful for everyone I have met along the way on this journey, and I would say I don’t look at myself as achieving success. It’s a constant journey, with success and failures along the way. But I always try to pay it forward, lend help to whomever I can on their journey!
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 think success is most rewarding when you share it with others. I would love to see more companies donate proceeds to those in need and charities they feel passionate about.
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.
The list is long, but today…I would love to have brunch with Whitney Wolfe Herd, the Co-Founder and CEO of Bumble. She is a boss babe, and builds with vision/passion/intent & gives back along the way.
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.