Natalie Webb of Cafecita: Why We Need More Women Founders & Here Is What We Are Doing To Make That Happen
An Interview With Jerome Knyszewski
Studies show that when women earn an income, they invest 90% back into their communities. This is very true in coffee production, where research shows that when women are given leadership roles, the profit is used for the betterment of their families and their communities.
As a part of our series about “Why We Need More Women Founders,” I had the pleasure of interviewing Natalie Webb.
Natalie was born and raised in Los Angeles. At 18 she left home to live, work and travel abroad, which eventually drew her to international social justice work. After working as a human rights attorney for 10 years, and traveling to over 70 countries, she returned to her hometown to create a company that combines her love of coffee with her passion for social justice. The result is Cafecita, a coffee company focused on women’s empowerment.
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 spent ten years working as a human rights attorney before launching Cafecita. Specifically I had worked in gender-based violence, immigration, housing rights, criminal justice reform, and corporate accountability. I also had been living a pretty nomadic life — traveling to over 70 countries and living in 9 — before deciding to return to Los Angeles and launching Cafecita. I knew that I wanted to start a social enterprise that combined all of my global and social justice experiences but it took a while to decide exactly which form it would take. My last position as an attorney led me to spending six months in Oaxaca, Mexico. During that time I worked with a nonprofit that sustained itself through responsible tourism. It was very inspiring to see a self-sustaining organization, all the nonprofits I had worked for were always worried about grants and pleasing their funders. I decided I would start a business where the business side sustains the nonprofit side and because of my love of coffee, started researching the coffee industry as an option. It quickly became apparent how male-dominated and unequal the coffee industry is. Women’s empowerment immediately became incorporated into the business plan and I decided all of the beans would come from sustainable women-owned coffee farms and co-ops, and a percentage of every sale would go to supporting women’s nonprofits around the world, starting with the one that had inspired me so much in Oaxaca.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?
My career before Cafecita was as a lawyer and I don’t know if I would call it “interesting” but the amount of times I would walk into a courtroom and the clerk would assume I was a paralegal was profound. I worked as a lawyer mostly in New York and it was amazing to me that even there, where the majority of law school grads are women, there’s still such an underlying bias that women assist but don’t lead.
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’m such a perfectionist so when I make a mistake I have to laugh it off and remind myself that these things happen. When Cafecita launched we had all kinds of “learning experiences.” The biggest one was realizing we had misspelled the website on marketing materials after printing thousands of them. It was definitely a lesson in the importance of how to react to mistakes and move on.
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’m extremely grateful to Suzanne Lerner, the president of Michael Stars. I was very lucky to be connected to Suzanne soon after Cafecita launched and she’s been a source of encouragement and advice ever since. Mentorship and role models are so important for women founders. Unlike most of the men I spoke with when initially researching the business plan who dismissed the idea due to the emphasis on social impact, Suzanne fully embraced and encouraged it.
Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?
I mostly read novels so my favorite books wouldn’t offer much for entrepreneurial inspiration for your readers but I would say that studying politics and working as a nonprofit lawyer, and the books involved with both, had a significant impact on me. My favorite mainstream book along those lines is Guns, Germs, and Steel by Jared Diamond. I read it when I was first getting into politics and it really opened my eyes to why things developed the way they have on a global scale. I think it’s so important, especially when working in commodities, to remember how interconnected the world is and to understand the effect your actions will have. Favorite authors also include Arundhati Roy, Nadine Gordimer, Laura Esquivel, Barbara Kingsolver, and Louise Erdrich whose women characters I always find thought-provoking.
Do you have a favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life or your work?
“Let yourself be silently drawn by the strange pull of what you really love”. It’s a simple quote that I saw on a card one day while in a checkout line, bought it, and put it on my desk. It reinforces the feeling I have towards Cafecita. It’s hard to put into words why I’m so drawn to the work, it just feels right and I like to be reminded of how important that feeling is.
How have you used your success to make the world a better place?
Besides my ten years working as a nonprofit attorney, Cafecita’s mission is about uplifting communities and bringing people together. Our model supports women’s empowerment along the whole chain — all our beans come from sustainable women-owned coffee farms and co-ops, and a percentage of every sale goes to supporting women’s nonprofits around the world. We’re currently partnered with En Vía, an organization that provides no-interest loans to women artisans and entrepreneurs in the villages surrounding Oaxaca, Mexico. We hope to continue to expand our capacity in order to include more programs focused on women’s empowerment.
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?
When I started researching Cafecita’s business formation I reached out to people in the business field, who usually happened to be men. So many were dismissive or condescending about my idea. They said coffee is too competitive or I needed to focus on making money first and not the social impact side. It was very intimidating. It made such a difference when I would talk with someone supportive. I think mentorship is incredibly important for anyone, but especially for women starting out as a founder where 80% of founders are men. Building that community and feeling supported goes a very long way.
Can you share with our readers what you are doing to help empower women to become founders?
I feel very grateful to be part of a community of women business owners. It was only when I started Cafecita that I began connecting with all these wonderful women and that community has continued to grow. I try to encourage other women to start their own businesses and am always looking to collaborate with other women-owned brands. For me it made such a difference seeing and speaking with women founders so I try to do the same with other women who are thinking of starting a business.
This might be intuitive to you but I think it will be helpful to spell this out. Can you share a few reasons why more women should become founders?
A 2019 study from S&P Global Market Intelligence found that public companies with women in the CEO spot or serving as CFO were more profitable and had a stronger stock price performance, compared to companies with men in the top jobs. The study found that in the 24 months post-appointment, women CEOs saw a 20% increase in stock price momentum and women CFOs saw a 6% increase in profitability and 8% larger stock returns. Additionally a study by Boston Consulting Group found that women-founded startups generate 78% for every dollar invested, compared to 31% from men-founded companies. There are so many studies which all come to the same conclusion that it’s profitable for women to lead. Yet despite these findings, there are more large companies run by men named John than all the large companies run by women combined. That’s an astonishing figure, and one that should make everyone take a step back and question why.
Not only do these studies support the reason why it makes financial sense to put a woman in charge, there is also extreme inequality which can be addressed by encouraging women entrepreneurship. In the coffee industry, about 70% of manual labor on coffee farms is conducted by women. Yet the vast majority of coffee farms are owned by men. This inequality in leadership continues all the way up the coffee chain to the largest coffee brands, where it’s almost always men as the CEOs, CFOs, and on the corporate boards. Coffee is a multi-billion dollar industry, yet most of the profit stays at the top. So it’s the men who are seeing the profit and who are making all the decisions, despite not doing the manual work. Such inequality has a profound impact on society.
Furthermore, studies show that when women earn an income, they invest 90% back into their communities. This is very true in coffee production, where research shows that when women are given leadership roles, the profit is used for the betterment of their families and their communities. It’s the reasoning behind microloan nonprofits that provide loans exclusively to women — by providing women with the decision-making powers it helps not just the specific woman but her family and entire community as well.
Ok super. Here is the main question of our interview. Can you please share 5 things that can be done or should be done to help empower more women to become founders? If you can, please share an example or story for each.
- Mentorship. I can’t stress this enough, it makes a huge difference when women connect with people who encourage their ideas. Having a role model and mentor makes starting a business much less intimidating and provides important guidance for women who are entering a world that is extremely male dominated.
- Access to funding. In 2019, less than 3% of all VC investment went to women-led companies, and only one-fifth of U.S. VC went to startups with at least one woman on the founder team. The average deal size for women-founded or women co-founded companies is less than half that of only male-founded startups. A study by the Harvard Business Review found that investors often make investment decisions based on gender and ask women founders different questions than their male counterparts. There are countless stories of women not being taken seriously by male investors, and subsequently not being seen as a worthwhile investment. Due to this, either VCs need to start taking women founders seriously, or more realistically, we need more women as investors. Women VCs are not only more likely to invest in women-founded companies, but also those founded by Black entrepreneurs. This is likewise true for angel investing, where women angels are more likely to invest in women-founded companies. Luckily, this is slowly becoming a reality. Between 2004 and 2017, the number of women angels has increased five fold. Of angels who started investing within the last two years, 30% are women. This access to funding will allow new voices to emerge in business and will encourage and empower more women to start companies.
- Family flexibility. The pandemic really drove home the fact that on a societal scale women are the ones expected to care for the children in a household, even when both parents work. So many women dropped out of the workforce to watch and teach their children while their male partner continued working. It demonstrated how when it comes down to it, for a variety of reasons such as who gets paid more and who is expected to prioritize the children, women are the ones who will stop working if necessary. Additionally, even before the pandemic, research has shown that almost a third of women founders put in more than 50 hours per week of childcare on top of running their business. This compares to only 10% of founder fathers who spend 50 hours or more per week on childcare. Taking all this into consideration, there needs to be flexibility in work schedules that allow a woman to be able to be a mother and lead a company.
- Alternative Financing Models. We need alternative forms of financing that take women into consideration — the bias we face trying to get financed, as well as what best supports our goals and businesses. Studies show that women are generally not risk takers as much as men, which does not fit into the risk focused model of VCs. Instead, women generally run revenue-generating companies that get to profitability quickly. This is exactly the situation with Cafecita, which made back all the start-up costs within two months of launching our online shop. Since then I’ve continued to reinvest the profit to grow the company. This is very different than companies that go in big and rely on investors until they go public. I think because of this there need to be new achievement metrics that take different business models into consideration.
- Networking and Community. Not only is mentorship important for guidance and inspiration, so is building a community of women in the same position. Women have often been raised to view other women as competition and feel like they need to go it alone to succeed. That’s a terrible way to live. Instead, having a community of women that provides encouragement and support makes founding a company feel much more accessible. I think there needs to be more networking and community building opportunities for women so they know they’re not alone and feel supported.
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.
Gender equality. It affects everything, from the roles and stereotypes that men feel they must embody, to how men treat women, to how women feel about themselves, and how women treat other women. Gender equity must be respected in all fields, but with Cafecita we are trying to build a movement so women can fairly compete, feel empowered, and support themselves and their families through their work in the coffee industry.
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.
Vicki Saunders, the founder of SheEO. I love what she is doing and the message she is sending about radical generosity. Her reasoning completely resonates with me and I love that she encourages equity as a core value of business.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
Our website in www.cafecitacoffee.com and our social handle is @cafecitacoffee. The best way to follow all our news is signing up for our newsletters on the website.
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.