I Thought The Biggest Barrier Were The Men

Women own 48% of all businesses, but only receive 4% of all private equity to start and grow those businesses. As a result, only 3% of women-owned businesses have annual revenues of a million dollars or more. I’m on a mission to change that. Kim Lavine

I thought the biggest barrier holding women back was reluctance by male investors to invest in women-led businesses.

I Was Wrong.

Never in a million years would I have thought that putting together $200 million in investor commitments for THE NEXT BIG DREAM would have been the easiest piece of this epic journey.


Now I Needed Serious Money

In 2002, after my husband lost his job, I took my kitchen table idea, the Wuvit® – a designer spa therapy pillow you heat in the microwave – to $225,000 in sales in just 8 weeks.

In 2004 we rolled out to 250 Saks Inc stores in just 4 months, quickly followed by Macy’s, Gottschalks, Von Maur, Bed Bath & Beyond, Whole Foods, and Tabi, a 90-store chain in Canada.

In 2005, at Saks request, we launched a signature line of designer pajamas under the Green Daisy brand to record sell-throughs.

kim lavine retail highlights

I accomplished these feats of design, sales, manufacturing and distribution with little more than determination, the equity in my home and personal savings.

Now I needed serious money.

Master Of The Universe

My search for serious money took me to the Southwest Michigan Innovation Center, where the first Tuesday of every month three entrepreneurs pitched a panel of investors.

Everybody here, including Nobel laureates, was in a state of Code Red when it came to money.

There was blood in the water and sharks in the audience and the investor panel spared no egos as they tore apart business plans, technology, burn rates and especially, presenters’ attire. I was scared just sitting in the audience.

There were at least a hundred spectators in the crowded room, all focused on a panel before them made up of three investors, one of them the most buttoned-down, formidable-looking Master of the Universe I had ever seen in my life whom I called Smart Money.

The presentations were over and I dashed up to the front and made my pitch to Smart Money. It wouldn’t be long before we were talking regularly

He Tore Up My Business Plan & Threw it In My Face

I worked for three months to put together an initial meeting with The Grand Angels in Grand Rapids Michigan at the brand new Cook-DeVos Center for Health Sciences.

One of the investors at that meeting tore up my business plan and threw it in my face.

I closed the deal with that same group three months later.

I understood this was a big chess game with all kinds of players who needed to sense risk and imminent fear of losing in order to keep forward progress. Emotions were just the playing pieces, not the players. Suddenly I was pulling strings, applying pressure and threatening to walk, not meaning one word of it.

I could have never done it without the help of Smart Money.

The question was: would other women be able to do this? And who would teach them how?

The Most Fabulous Person In New York

I saw a segment on Oprah where she was interviewing moms who created million dollar businesses in their free time while homeschooling their children and thought it was a myth that would demoralize millions of women.

I wrote a segment pitch for her producers called the “Myth of the Mommy Millionaire.” My assistant thought it would be a great book. I emailed it to 6 agents that day and had 2 contracts on my desk by the end of the week.

I’ll never forget the day I got out of a cab on Broadway and looked up at the famous Flat Iron Building, star-struck. I didn’t know it then but I was about to go in and meet the most fabulous person in New York, who would change my life forever. She was one of the biggest franchise makers in publishing, and soon to be my Editor.

Everything begins with a dream, a search for something better, an idea, the courage to face a challenge, and the passion to get it done. You can do it. Believe in yourself. Change the rules. Join the revolution.” from MOMMY MILLIONAIRE

Martha Stewart Looked Me Up and Down

My first book tour appearance would be on the #1 morning news program, THE TODAY SHOW. I had a 5 minute segment with 4 remotes answering questions from 4 viewers around the country. I had to prepare 3 bullet point answers in advance for each question which would be displayed on TV’s, but not on my monitor, and I had to hit each one in order.

My publicist and I were standing just outside the studio entrance to the Today Show rehearsing as Martha Stewart walked out, having just finished her segment, looking me up and down.

We tried to find a seat in the tiny green room, but it was filled up by Paula Dean and her entourage of sons and family. I was so rehearsed I could hit the bullet points in my sleep; it was a good thing because when we went live with the interview, Anne Curry asked me the wrong question first, sending the producers into a panic behind her as I adlibbed, not remembering a word I said.

What City Is This?

My book tour was supposed to be three weeks, but it turned into three months. I was crisscrossing the country hitting every TV and radio station on the way promoting book store and speaking events. I was staying at the Conrad Hotel in downtown Indianapolis when I woke up one morning and had to call the front desk to remind me what city I was in.

Everywhere I went everybody wanted to know how to raise angel capital. Those who had already read my book said they were afraid to try. I couldn’t sugar-coat the process but I had to put it into sweet sound bites for the media.

Raising capital was the most important job any entrepreneur had and nobody was teaching anybody how to do it. The only way you could learn how to do it, was to do it; there were land mines and deal breakers every step of the way. The dramatic and honest description of how I did it made my book read like a page-turning novel, and turned it into a bestseller.

Lunch with The Power Elite

I thought I knew just how fabulous the most fabulous person in New York was, until she took me to Michaels, where we sat at her “own table

Michael himself ushered me to where she was seated, exclaiming, “Diane is your Editor? You’re so lucky, she’s the best Editor in the world.”

Around us were seated a star-studded cast of celebrities and media executives in a room coursing with power lunchers. Joan Rivers was at one table. Atoosa Rubenstein sat next to us wearing a bright green dress. It could have been my imagination, but they all seemed to be looking at Diane, who’s table commanded the center of the room.

She had invited me here to tell me that she and some partners were starting a new media company, including the former Creative Director of one of the world’s biggest ad agencies, and the former Editor at a major women’s magazine. These were some of the smartest people in the business.

“Was I interested?”

Was I dreaming?

A Cannonball Over My Bow

But I had investors and I was fighting a battle in the board room to control the direction of my company. Raising capital nearly killed me. I had no idea I had to continue the fight with the same kind of stamina and determination in the board room, and no idea what I was in for in the months ahead.

The first cannonball was launched over my bow over lunch at the Bryant Park Grill in NY.

Bryant Park Grill.jpg

My business was built on a vertical business model of design, manufacturing, sales and distribution into premiere retailers like Saks Inc, Bed Bath & Beyond, Gottschalks, Whole Foods and others, all of which I had brought on before bringing on investors

My CEO wanted to convert to a licensing model, and if anybody could do it, he could. It all looked good on paper, but I was the only one in the board room who worried if the vertical money would run out before the licensing revenues kicked in.

Davos Man

I was home with my kids when I caught an interview with John Micklethwait, Editor-In-Chief of THE ECONOMIST on C-SPAN. I was immediately captivated by his urbane yet modest demeanor and witty command of recondite economic theories.

I devoured THE ECONOMIST’S irreverent reports of the raucous exploits of ‘Davos Man.’ I read the reports by Nadereh Chamlou and wondered why no one had heard of her before

  • Closing the Gender Gap is estimated to boost US GDP by 9% Eurozone GDP by 13%, Japan GDP by 16%.*
  • Companies with a higher percentage of women in top management experienced 35% higher Return on Equity and 34% higher Total Return to shareholders.
  • Emerging Global Talent Crisis resulting in ‘Brain waste’ due to widespread gender gap caused by traditions, conservative attitudes and social norms.
  • Global economy will face demographic shock of a scale not yet observed.

” Nadereh Chamlou in a report to the World Bank