We’re into our third week of our Founder Feature series to meet each of the founders of the 5th Cohort of The Mentor Network. In this series, we explore with our founders to learn more about them as individuals, as well as their entrepreneurial journeys. They have some great wisdom and experience to share with the rest of the community!
This week, we have a two-for-one with Emily Moon and Kelsey Carlstedt, Cofounders of By Grace! By Grace is a 501(c)(3) non-profit that teaches women in impoverished communities a trade skill (specifically tailoring), then employs these artisans to craft a signature line of clothing and accessories. These ladies were part of UMKC’s E-Scholars program and in May of 2017, they won the Regnier Venture Creation Challenge. Let’s learn a bit more about these women and their mission-driven startup!
What did you do before you were the Founder of your startup?
Being the founder of a startup requires that you do a little bit of everything, and that you are willing to constantly learn. Our backgrounds in the business, fashion, and marketing sectors prepared us to run our company.
Emily grew up in the 10/40 window of Ghana, West Africa, which is an area of the world with the least access to resources on the planet. Experiencing this state of extreme poverty at such a young age had a huge impact on her worldview. She is currently working in business development for a national law firm. Emily’s background is in fashion and advertising, as she worked in advertising agencies for four years as an account executive on both national and regional clients. A graduate of the University of Missouri with a degree in strategic communications and textile & apparel management, Emily previously worked in New York at both a fashion PR firm and at the Ad Council to gain experience in the nonprofit advertising and textile industries.
Kelsey Carlstedt graduated from the University of Evansville, and went on to work in business development at Growthink and Blue Ocean Partners. She worked in the M&A division before discovering that investor relations was more her style. She worked with startups to raise both their seed and Series A rounds, and matched investors with small businesses that they believed in and with whom they could truly partner. After leaving business development, Kelsey has been employed as a Fit Consultant for Forever 21, Costa Blanca, Dear John Denim and Just Fab. She has also worked as a professional actress and model which has led to countless relationships in the fashion and entertainment industries.
Why this startup? A.k.a. what is your ‘why’?
Ghanian entrepreneur Herman Chinery-Hesse said, “You are stuck in a hole in a village with all your skills and all your talents, and that’s just unfortunately the way it is…the people here are not stupid, they’re just disconnected from global trade.” Brilliance and beauty is absolutely equally distributed across the globe – access to capital and resources is not. By Grace was founded on the idea that aid, not enterprise is the answer to conquering global poverty. Find the beauty in a culture and a people group – and invest in that.
What was your first milestone/win that let you know that you were on the right track to build this business?
In most businesses, you measure success when you sell through your first set of inventory or you find investors to fund your Series A. For us, we were delighted when we increased our sales and when we won the Regnier Venture Creation Challenge at UMKC in May of 2017.
Our first big win, however, came with one woman. We interview our seamstresses throughout their apprenticeships and their employment with By Grace. As neither of us can be on the ground daily in Ghana or India, we rely on these interviews to guide our decisions and to gauge our level of impact. Is what we’re doing making a difference? What can we be doing better? Is By Grace the vessel for change that we so dearly want it to be?
In an interview with Gifty Daniels, one of our seamstresses working out of a workshop in Ghana, we asked her how her life is different since coming to work for us. Her response: I was hopeless before By Grace. There, right there. That’s when we knew we were not only on the right track, but that we could never look back, that we could never stop helping more people. We also asked Gifty what her favorite proverb was. “Small drops of water make a mighty ocean,” was her response. The synchronicity was serendipitous. We know that no one person or company can change the world. But change starts with one woman. We made a difference in Gifty’s life. Those are small drops, but we know we are contributing to a mighty ocean.
Why did The Mentor Network stand out to you as a positive program to be involved with?
It was recommended by a friend!
What have your big wins been so far within The Mentor Network?
We’ve had great meetings and connections with and through our mentor.
How do you maintain sanity in this crazy, insane startup world?
Lots of coffee. And working out! It’s important to take care of yourself. There’s a line in “If” –
If you can dream—and not make dreams your master. – Rudyard Kipling
It’s important to be passionate and work hard – but also keep everything in perspective. You’ll never feel that you’ve arrived, so, don’t place immense pressure on yourself. Take that workout class, have a lazy Saturday. Life needs to be enjoyed.
KC has so many resources and people to help entrepreneurs. What are we still missing? What gaps do you think we need to fill?
I’d probably say accounting and finances is the most difficult part of being an entrepreneur (without a finance background) – a basic, completely practical course on that would be incredibly beneficial.
Regarding the KC startup ecosystem, what has been your favorite service/resource that you would like to share with other founders to take advantage of?
The UMKC E-scholars program is incredible – they are a link to so many valuable resources and relationships.
If you could go back to the day you started this journey and give yourself one piece of advice what would it be?
Keep moving forward and don’t get lost in the little decisions. Yes, you need to love the name of your company and your logo. Yes, you need a darn good accountant and attorney. Yes, you need an esteemed and reliable board. But your first round of product or your first beta launch? You’re going to make mistakes, you will need hundreds of adjustments and redirections. So, instead of arguing or stressing over every detail, it is best to simply make a decision and carry on. Don’t wait to launch when you are 100% sure of everything, because you will never see yourself as ready. If you feel like what you are offering is 75-80% the best you can do at that moment in time, put it out into the world. Get feedback. Readjust. Redo. And relaunch. Over and over and over. Move forward. Do not allow yourself to be stagnant. The only way to fail is to give up.
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Also published on Medium.