Last week, I joined forces with the women of MakerSights to start a conversation on being a woman in business in 2019. I had the privilege to join my peers in conversation with the smartest and most creative female leaders in New York City, featuring a kick-off conversation with Hayley Bay Barna. Hayley, Co-Founder of Birchbox and the first female General Partner at Venture Capital firm First Round Capital, has undeniably forged a path for women across multiple industries – tech, venture capital, retail. In our fireside chat, I learned a few lessons in leading. Here are four take-home moments.
1. Permission to Reimagine the “Disco Party”
Hayley’s entrepreneurial early beginnings were cultivated not far from her current office in NYC. Hayley began Birchbox with co-founder Katia Beauchamp out of an idea for a retail concept formed in Harvard Business School. Starting with the different needs she and Katia had as customers, Hayley was able to crystallize a unique delivery of experience by identifying what was missing around her. A tomboy at heart, Hayley understood a sense of grooming and beauty mattered in the professional world. Confused by the high drama and “disco party” feel of Sephora and overwhelmed by the intense department store layout, Hayley set out to create a discovery experience on par with the hype happening in beauty. Her founder’s tenacity is a reminder to me that the world is what you make of it – each of us are so lucky to have the unique ability to build the device of our dreams, be it a business, service, or box. Inspired by her roommate’s deep knowledge of customizable product as an Editor at Conde Nast, Hayley dreamt and built a product akin to having a “beauty editor best friend”. As a powerful dynamic female duo, Hayley and Katia literally created a demand for subscription beauty boxes – providing entry for so many future services to follow, even across industry lines.
2. Real Talk: Beauty is Fleeting.
Eventually realizing a stronger passion existed for innovative business models versus the beauty industry alone, Hayley transitioned to a life’s work of helping others via venture capital. Hayley has been in a role as a Generalist Investor for three years, where she has had the opportunity to share lessons, impart empathy for the founder experience and pass on the skills learned raising $70mm in funding for her own company. The payoff? Making investments on behalf of limited partners (think nonprofits like universities and hospitals), delivering up to 20x ROI! The significant return needed to make good on behalf of others requires saying “no” when necessary, to retain control. For me, this two-lettered word can be difficult to utter – as it goes against natural tendencies to back the greater team, take each opportunity and provide ultimate support. As a woman, I find more sensitivity in saying no than perhaps others. Hayley’s lesson in resisting is beyond important; each investment must prove valuation as it can make or break a full ride scholarship or medical research.
3. Not About the Product
For Hayley, creating meaning for others comes in creating strong communities in every dimension of her life. She believes in helping founders by connecting companies to each other – creating a safe environment to enjoy events, talk sales strategy, share culture and create transparency about mistakes made. As a former operator, Hayley identifies with it being difficult not to want to get involved but recognizes greater value in not meddling as this can be value detracting. In her personal life, Hayley creates a community for women around her to enjoy each other and get inspired. Her people first mentality also extends to her evaluation of new businesses. It starts with the team – investment in people before revenue and product. Next, she understands the market. While the product itself is bound to change with time and iterations, it must be defensible and scalable. Even more important than the product can be recognition that the founder has spent considerable time with the end user. As simple as Hayley boiled down the power in investing in people – it is all too easy to get caught up in the speed of business and forget about the people surrounding you. Focusing on people and humanity can be a mental shift – but I now see it’s a natural conductor of empathy and inclusivity.
4. Future is Female
Diversity is being invited to the party, inclusion is being asked to dance.
Posted on a wall in the room is a quote by Verna Myers: “Diversity is being invited to the party, inclusion is being asked to dance”. As a successful woman who finds delight in relating to others, it’s hard to imagine Hayley ever not fitting in. Yet, Hayley points to vignettes in her life to illustrate we have all felt left out at certain times. For Hayley, the realization we are not yet through a post-feminist society didn’t come quick but it did come sharp. Her culmination of experiences, including a Computer Science class at Harvard where she was one of the only girls, led to the knowledge that gender is a factor of whether you feel uncomfortable in a peer group and role models more than matter. Hayley urges that instilling community doesn’t come with writing a values book alone, but rather bringing values to life via peers who carry “torches of culture”. For both herself and the females surrounding her, Hayley works to strengthen gender parity fighting for ultimate 50/50.
As MakerSights women, we have a tremendous opportunity to harness Hayley’s example of grit and courage. As we set our own approach to diversity and inclusion within our start-up culture, let’s be inspired by Hayley’s entrepreneurial spirit.