What the Tory Burch Foundation Means to me

If women entrepreneurs are to grow successful businesses at the same rate as men, we need to be honest about the challenges we face.

Tory Burch

The truth is... this shit is hard.

So you can imagine my excitement once I learned that I had been seleted as a 2019 Tory Burch Fellow.

2019 Tory Burch Fellow, Rechelle Balanzat
2019 Tory Burch Fellow, Rechelle Balanzat

What's a Tory Burch Fellow?

The Tory Burch Foundation designed The Fellows Program for women entrepreneurs to provide them with a community of support to help, connect, learn, and grow their businesses. Each year, of the thousands of applicants, the Tory Burch Foundation selects 50 female entrepreneurs from across the country to partipate in the fellowship. The program kicks off with 4 days of workshops and networking with the most innovative founders and business experts at the Tory Burch Offices. We also each receive a $5,000 grant to advance our business education. This year, our adventure started on June 2nd, when 50 fierce femme fatales from across the country converged at the Westin Hotel in Jersey City NJ.

I grew up in Jersey City; and I currently live in New York City. I knew that getting to the Westin was a short train ride away for me. No biggie. But the Foundation really went out of their way to splurge us and make us feel special. Instead of commuting over, the Foundation arranged for car service to pick me up from my home and drop me off at the hotel. They did this for all the other fellows as well! Each fellows' travel and accommodations was fully paid for!

Thank You!

From the beginning, this sets the tone. As a female founder, how often do we take time to treat ourselves? Let alone, let someone else treat us without feeling guilty? And boy did I feel special! For our registration and welcome on Sunday evening we each received a Tory Burch handbag filled with goodies!

Monday June 3rd

was our first official day of workshops. Our schedule was rigorous. Each day started promptly at 9AM and ended around 8PM or 9PM depending on how long each fellow decided to say on after dinner.

Oh yes, we enjoyed delectable dinners each night, from Pondicheri to a sunset cruise around Manhattan. It was a mind blowing experience. I mean literally. It took me about 6 weeks to decompress all of the information I learned.

So I decided to break it down into 3 parts for you.

Part 1: My Most Memorable Moments

Part 2: Key Learnings & Takeaways From Movers & Shakers

Part 3: What Does It All Mean?

DISCLAIMER: This could be a long read, so feel free to jump ahead to parts that are more helpful for you. I tried to highlight important information with headers, bullets, and heavy text. This is also a story of my experience from my unique point of view. This blog post is no way indicative of other fellows' experiences.

Without further adieu... here it goes:

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Part 1: My Most Memorable Moments

Memorable Moment #1: Lunch with Tory Burch

Ok, I'll admit. I kind of made a fool of myself here - hence me giggling in the photo with Tory Burch behind me. It was our 2nd day of workshops and our lunch involved an intimate Q&A with Tory Burch. Afterwards she made her rounds at each table to spend sufficient time with each entrepreneur. When she got to my table, she sat down next to me. **OH MY GOSH!**

I froze. I smiled like an idiot the whole time and didn't contribute a single meaningful thing to our conversation except give her the bare bones introduction to my company. *womp womp*

BIG EYE ROLL!

But you know what. I learned something valuable in that moment. After sharing my experience with Denmark West, a mentor and advisor; he taught me that I could better prepare myself for situations like these by actually creating a script beforehand. It sounds so simple, but is actually very powerful.

How To Prepare For A Great Conversation:
Tip #1: Role play with Q&A
Tip #2: Practice a few opening statements
Tip #3: Share thoughtful opinions

For most people, like me - I'm not exactly having though provoking, memorable conversations with celebrities on the daily. And it's not everyday I lunch with Tory. The best conversationalists are intentful and have enough respect for their audience's time that they do ample research before each meeting to keep the spark alive and the energy flowing.

So I missed my chance with Tory Burch. C'est la vie. The best thing that came out of that situation? I will now do everything I can to never be in that situation again. Lesson learned.

Memorable Moment #2: Dinner with Deborah Roberts

Ok sometimes I have complete brain farts. We're human! Who doesn't?! But Deborah Roberts is really special, and here's why.

After our first day of workshops, a few Foundation Board Members and previous alumnae hosted dinner for us at Pondicheri. We were broken into tables and each table had a special guest. Deborah Roberts sat at my table. But I didn't realize it was Deborah Roberts until much later - that was my brain fart!

To be honest, I wasn't expecting any special treatment or special guests to join us for dinner. I was just so happy and thankful to be at a nice restaurant with other kick ass women. So when it was time to take our seats and enjoy the meal, Deborah was there enjoying the meal with us. She didn't have any airs about her. She didn't act as if she's more important than us. She participated in the table conversations and was all ears when any of us spoke. She was kind. She was humble. She was relatable. Which is why I never for a minute realized who she was until I glanced at her table setting and saw her name.

And then I laughed to myself.

Memorable Moment #3: Crying to Gabrielle Raymond McGee

Ok, this moment took me by complete surprise. Why oh why, of all the moments, did I suddenly break down into tears after meeting Gabrielle Raymond McGee?  Here’s why:

It was the end of Day 2 and we were treated to cocktails and dinner on a sunset cruise around Manhattan.  Mentally, I was exhausted from the workshops that day.  

  • We had learned about team building from Keisha Smith-Jeremie, Chief People Officer at Tory Burch.
  • We received strategic and tactical PR tips from Frances Pennington, SVP, Global Public Relations and Brand Communications for Tory Burch.
  • We had our intimate Q&A with Tory Burch led by Laurie Fabiano, President of Tory Burch Foundation.
  • We learned about strategies behind modern marketing from Seth Godin.

It was a lot.

learning marketing from Seth Godin

So once I got on the boat, the first place I went to was the bar.  I needed a drink to just settle my thoughts.  As I was sitting there, Gabrielle came over to introduce herself.  Gabrielle is the COO of the Tory Burch Foundation.  She was warm, friendly, and easy to talk to.  I immediately felt comfortable around her.  She asked how my experience was going and if I had any feedback.  I shared some thoughts and ideas with her and then capped it off by saying, “honestly, I am just thankful to be here”.

HUMILITY

Humility  was the overriding feeling and emotion I felt throughout my entire experience with the Tory Burch Foundation.  This has nothing to do with status.  This has nothing to do with feeling inferior.  This has nothing to do with not feeling worthy.  

This has everything to do with validation.  This has everything to do with recognition.

If you know me; you that I am confident.  I am passionate.  I am energetic.  I have a strict work ethic.  And I am exuberant.  

But not everyone knows that.  The reality is that entrepreneurs are probably one of the hardest working people.  We’re first in and last out.  We make sacrifices that are hard to fathom - all in pursuit of a vision that is difficult for anyone outside our brain to completely understand - probably because it’s half cooked, and we deal with that insecurity on a daily basis.

We walk a fine line between keeping it together and slowly breaking under the tiniest pressures that compound after each emergency, after each unsatisfied client; after each disgruntled employee; after each negative review; after each cash flow shortage.  The list goes on.  

Most of the time, we carry these burdens alone.  We try our best to:

keep our confidence
remain cool
problem solve
INSPIRE
motivate
LEAD

It is rare to have an opportunity to share our vulnerabilities and insecurities.  It is even more rare to be recognized for our daily efforts of keeping it together.

And that’s why my eyes welled up with big fat tears while speaking to Gabrielle.  It was the simple acknowledgement from her saying, “Look I get it.  And not only do I get it, but I want to help you”.

And that’s exactly what she did.  A few days later Gabrielle introduced me to Michael Balaoing, a Strategic Communication Expert who is now coaching me on telling my story.

Thank you Gabrielle.

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Part 2: Key Learnings and Takeaways from Movers & Shakers

Knowledge is the gift that keeps on giving. So here's my gift to you - insights from some of the brightest minds in bite size form!

On mindfulness:
Time and attention is our most prized commodity. Our greatest technology is our humanity.

- Carmen Morcos, Human Capital Coach at Impact Visionary

On pitching:
Come up with your 6 word pitch. This is inspired by the greatest pitch Spike Lee ever heard. Jordan Peele called him and said, "black man infiltrates KKK".

- Kelly Hoey, Author & Speaker

On public relations:
Always be honest. If you burn your reputation with the media, you burn yourself.

- Dustee Jenkins, Head of Global Communications & PR at Spotify

Here are some great tips on team building and attracting top talent on limited resources from Keisha Smith Jeremie, Chief People Officer at Tory Burch.

  • Consider hiring talent on a per project basis for a specified amount of time. Think of it as a mini consulting project.
  • Give up some equity.
  • Ask them, "What's your desired compensation?" Then think of how you can get there together in 12 months.
  • Be open to customizing. Keep an open mind and ask yourself and any prospective candidates, "What's it going to take to make this work?"
This is not a science. Its an art. You need to consider timing, relationships, culture, the environment.

- Keisha Smith Jeremie, Chief People Officer at Tory Burch

On fundraising:
When trying to evaluate a potential investor, talk to entrepreneurs who have been funded by the same investor for insight.

- Jennie Ripps, Founder & CEO at Owl's Brew

On entrepreneurship:
Entrepreneurship is the relentless pursuit of opportunity without regards to resource

- Tony Tjan, Managing Partner at Cue Ball

On fundraising as a woman:
When fundraising, investors tend to fund women based on their performance while men are funded based on their potential.

- Kathryn Minshew, CoFounder & CEO at The Muse

Part 3: What Does It All Mean?

So after 4 days of intense workshops, what does it all mean?  How has the Tory Burch Foundation helped me?  How has this experience helped me and my company grow?

Well I can most definitely tell you that I am not suddenly best friends with Kathryn Minshew; Tony Tjan is not sending me a term sheet, and I’m not handling all of Oprah’s dry cleaning.

I’ve learned a lot over the years.  What has consistently carried me through is

PATIENCE
PERSISTENCE
PERSEVERANCE

There are no shortcuts.

Having the title “Tory Burch Fellow” does not suddenly translate to quick wins.

Give a man a fish, feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, feed him for a lifetime.

-Lao Tzu

Tory Burch took 50 promising female entrepreneurs perfectly poised for success and surrounded them with some of the brightest minds.  

We learned a lot.  We met interesting people.  But it is still up to us to apply all those tips, tricks, advice and learnings and translate it into success.

This is just the beginning.

Here are the top 3 things I’m taking away from my Tory Burch experience:

  1. CONFIDENCE
  2. CAMARADERIE
  3. RESOURCEFULNESS

How Tory Burch Gave Me Confidence

You will stand out just by standing up.

- Denmark West, Chief Investment Officer at Connectivity Ventures

... great leaders are superior communicators who can make the complex clear. They have internalized their ideas. They know who they are, why they do what they do; and where they're going. Having internalized their purpose, they are able to speak in simple, relatable terms.

- Tony Tjan, Partner at Cue Ball

Let’s be real.  Standing up and speaking to a crowd is no easy task.  But I did it.  I was scared.  I was nervous.  I was anxious.  I was happy.  I was excited.  You can probably see all those mixed emotions in this photo:

But it was my favorite part out of the entire workshop.  Of the 50 fellows, 12 were invited to pitch on the last day.  This was a defining moment for me because it was my first time pitching.  The only other pitch I’ve done was an academic exercise during my Goldman Sachs education program.  This was different.  This time I was speaking to an experienced audience of investors and thought leaders.

Our 3 min pitch was followed by a 5 min Q&A from:

  • Tory Burch
  • Pierre-Yves Roussel, CEO at Tory Burch LLC
  • Tony Tjan, Managing Partner at The Cue Ball Group
  • Carolyn Fikke, Managing Director at Golden Seeds
  • Julia Pimsleur, Founder at Million Dollar Women
  • Jesse Draper, Founding Partner at Halogen Ventures
  • Adam Glassman, Creative Dirctor at O, The Oprah Magazine

This list of names is not intimidating at all.  Not premium people at all. To help prepare for my pitch and calm my nerves, I took some advice from my dear friend Liz Casasola, a broadway singer, actor, and producer.  

TIPS FOR PREPARING BEFORE SPEAKING:
  • Pray (or meditate)
  • Put a penny in my shoe to feel grounded
  • Get in the space before everyone else arrives and feel the space.

So here I am taking it all in moments before my pitch.  I was literally breathing in and feeling the room.

So how does this help me and my company?

Well, now that I’ve done it once - I can do it again.  And I can do it better.  Which is why I will be pitching again on August 8 at the FundingPost Annual Summer VC Event where 20 companies will pitch VC’s, Angels, and Investors.

Come watch me!

HOW TORY BURCH SHOWED ME CAMARADERIE

A moment I will always treasure is holding hands with Caitlin Murphy, CEO & Founder of Global Gateway Logistics.  During the pitch presentations, Caitlin and I were seated next to each other.  Each time a fellow finished her pitch, Caitlin and I would squeeze each other’s hands in nervous excitement.  

I don’t think I will be holding hands with other entrepreneurs when I pitch again on August 8.  Or for any other future pitches, come to think of it.

That was the difference at the Tory Burch Foundation.  There was so much support & respect between the fellows.  It truly felt like we were all in it together.  We all felt like we were part of a larger mission to advance women’s entrepreneurship.  We know we can’t do it alone.  We know we need each other.  We need Tory Burch just as much as she needs each one of us to succeed.

We only truly win, if we help each other win.  

The night before our pitches a handful of us practiced together in the hotel lobby.  We helped refine each other’s pitches.  We timed each other.  We cheered each other on.  This kind of support supersedes sexes.  Regardless if you’re a man or a woman; entrepreneurship can get lonely.  Having someone else there who understands the difficulties and continue to cheer you on is empowering.  We empowered each other.

So how does this help me and my company?

We continue to lean on each other for support and favors.  Whether it’s a social media follow or share; an email subscription; a kickstarter support; or an introduction - we send a group email out asking for favors.

When I attended Masters of Scale with Reid Hoffman & Tory Burch, I crashed with Fellow Lisa Mullan, CEO & Founder of Uwila Warrior so I didn’t have to spend $500 on a hotel.

Caitlin Ritt, CEO & Founder of The Lotus Method - we have a spreadsheet where we share notes on our fundraising efforts and who we have spoken to.

How Tory Burch Taught Me Resourcefulness

Failure and vulnerability can serve as an almost spiritual source, an inner inspiration, a mysterious energy that leads us down creative paths we could never have imagined.

- Tony Tjan, Managing Partner at Cue Ball

Women receive just 2.5% of venture capital funding.  Of that, about 0.2% are women of color.  For someone like me, a female, minority, immigrant - I have to get really creative on how I’m going to build, fund, grow, and scale my company.  Since I launched my company back in 2014, I’ve developed a knack for knowing who will say “NO” to me.  I’ve heard “NO” so many times, I can now hear it before it comes out of someone’s mouth.  

HEARING “NO” IS VERY POWERFUL
  • It forced me to develop a different set of survival skills that sharpened me and made me perform better.
  • It taught me to know the difference between which leads are promising, and which are a waste of time.  
  • It taught me to know the difference between which ideas are worth pursuing, and which are a waste of time.
  • But most importantly, it has helped develop another part of my brain that is keenly aware and attuned to who might be interested in listening to me.

in a world where the math works against me - Knowing that difference… makes all the difference.

The workshops at Tory Burch shared tactics with us on where to look for those silver bullets.

For example, women are more successful at raising money than men when it comes to crowdfunding.  So we learned:

Crowdfunding: Debunking Myths & Opportunities from

  • Cheryl Campos, Principal at Republic
  • Zeina Muna, Director of Business Development at iFundWomen

There are so many opportunities out there. Keeping a flexible and open mind allows for resourcefulness and creativity to lead the way.  While carrying out your vision; it is equally important to

BE LIKEABLE
BE COACHABLE
BE APPROACHABLE
BE A GREAT COMMUNICATOR!

Whatever your talents are, be resourceful!  Use all of them!  

In the words of Kelly Hoey, “Be Nice.  Don’t be an asshole.”


Everyday, I tell my team, “People will help you, if they like you.  People will do business with you, if they like you.”  So simple, yet so powerful.

This is how I was able to get free furniture for my second store.  It’s how I got Italian marble for the price of quartz.  It’s how I was able to afford brand new floors.

Just to be clear.  This is not trickery.  

This is about believing in my dreams and believing in my ability to turn those dreams into reality.  All while being open and honest enough with those around me about my vulnerabilities and where I need help.

For example:

Me: “I cannot afford this service.  But this is how it’s going to help me achieve X.  Can you help me?”

Answer: Pay me what you can, when you can. (This was an actual reply from someone that I’ve mentioned in this blog post).

LESSON:

You cannot expect or ask someone to invest in you, if you do not invest in yourself first.  And that starts with believing in yourself. There is enough kindness and generosity to go around.  People will help you.  I certainly wouldn’t be where I am today if others did not help me. I hope this blog post has been helpful for you and all your endeavors.

The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams.

- Eleanor Roosevelt

So are you excited? Because it all starts with you.

Special thanks to:

Desiree Younge for being an anchor of truth for me since Day 1.

Ariel Schneider & Kate Anthony for flawless execution, coordination, and organization during our time with the Tory Burch Foundation.

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