I’m not supposed to be here. I’m not what I was told a founder looks like. I’m not who’s supposed to be in the c-suite. My CV lacks the preferred pedigrees of elite (expensive) universities and “top tier” consulting firms. I have visible tattoos and a small child instead of a tech accelerator class year. And I’m sans a Y chromosome, that magic qualifier for all the spoils of our patriarchal world.¹
Because I am a founder — the co-founder and the chief brand officer of OwnTrail, which launched in beta today. And that lie about what a founder/executive/leader/success should look like? Disproving and dismantling it is at the heart of what we’re building…and why I’m taking the leap to do it. My trail to this point isn’t a single line. None of ours are. But my journey to this moment of launching my company for the first time(!!) can be mapped back specifically to where my path intersected with three women blazing their own trails in wildly different ways.
The simple truth is that the only way tell the story of how I arrived at who I am, where I am, right now, than through the impact these women had on my own trail.
OwnTrail’s origins begin with a book — my co-founder Rebekah Bastian’s book, which sparked this whole journey for her as well. I came into the story a few months later, when we got together over an Americano I drank far too quickly and an idea of hers just brimming with purpose. We’d met at a Chairman Mom event, and after a few days, I asked Rebekah to coffee because I wanted her to be my friend. The thought of starting a company or leaving a company I adore wasn’t even in my brain. But the brief time we’d spent together talking about her book, the overlap of her work at Zillow Group with mine at Seed&Spark and our shared penchant for diving into anything that spurs our curiosity² had resonated with her as well.
It was over this coffee date that Rebekah shared her idea for a platform that acknowledged the pressures and fallacies of the narrative of “the right path” women face. A space that demonstrated success in all its infinite different manifestations and the strength in the obstacles we’ve encountered. A platform that treated women as full beings, without compartmentalizing our personal and professional. I was in. I came on board as an advisor, and then shortly — like, a few weeks later —as co-founder. We were in this together.
Let’s rewind 3.5 years to another fork in my road, because that milestone marks where working for a female CEO led me to ultimately resign. In fall 2016, I joined team Seed&Spark. And it’s totally Emily Best’s fault that I know now how possible, how important and how hard it is to be a founder who’s also a woman. I witnessed her give everything she had and then some to her business, her team, her life’s work, her community and her family. Her radical transparency and the unmatched skills she brings to the table as a “non-traditional” founder opened my eyes to just how wrong the stories we’re told about who should or even can lead are utter bullshit.
We‘ve been together for some of Seed&Spark’s biggest moments, and we’ve cried together during some of the hardest ones. The trail she’s blazed from producing her first feature film to years of managing restaurants to raising money as a first-time female founder to now — running a 7-year-old company with the world’s highest crowdfunding success rate while proving that you can build a business while changing the world and being a good person—is the kind of trail more people need to know. And being in the passenger seat for many years of it has been an invaluable set of lessons no formal mentorship or internal coaching program could ever provide.
All roads lead to Rome, right? So it’s obvious and natural that my road to starting a company leads to and from my mother (who is not Italian nor have we traveled to Rome together, but it’s late and I’m launching a company tomorrow so cut me some slack for the idiom, alright?). As she’s blazed her trail, she openly questioned her choices and the options available to a woman at that time/age/location. She’s managed multimillion-dollar dental practices, started her own at-home-daycare, been a professional consultant and side hustled with stenciling (the 80s, man). I, for one, can’t wait to see where her trail goes from here. Mom, you showed me that it’s more than okay to worry about where we are and where we’re going — it’s a normal, necessary part of the journey. You blazed a trail that taught me the beauty of branches and unexpected roadblocks and that there’s no such thing as a dead end.
Which brings us back to this new beginning: the start of OwnTrail. None of these three women set out to shape me into a co-founder. Yet the fact that I am one, despite all the systems telling me I shouldn’t be, is a direct result of them and the trails they blazed. It’s a path that I was told, both implicitly and explicitly (that’s a post for another day), that was not mine to take but is real and mine and true nonetheless.
That’s why I’m building OwnTrail. To highlight the multitude of paths and their influence for the purpose of inspiration, guidance and mentorship at scale. Because the story I shared is the impact of just three of the trails women are blazing out of billions. Imagine that at scale. The team at OwnTrail is.
And we’d love for you to share the road with us.
 This is not to say I’m without privilege. I’m a white, straight, able-bodied college-educated woman. And despite all those inequitable advantages, what we’re told a founder looks like isn’t someone like me. (Let’s take a second to acknowledge the message that sends to someone from multiple marginalized communities.
 Let the record show that Rebekah is an artist, aerialist, mechanical engineer, crafter, karaoke dynamo and probably 4,972 other things I’ve yet to discover, while I’ve dabbled in knife throwing, building furniture, writing a pop culture column, and dental assisting and possibly 726 other things. We’re quite the pair.