Founder & CEO of Ashley Chloe Inc, A Fashion Tech Startup Based in Silicon Valley.
I remember distinctly telling my boss that I was quitting my job to start a business. He said, “Are you really planning on starting your own business? Running a business is hard. I don’t believe women can handle business matters and challenges.” To hear him say that as an angel investor of over ten years was difficult. In his investment philosophy, he never invested in a woman-led startup. That is the kind of resistance women founders face. Nothing could make me give up on my idea, not even the opinion of a respected professional. I ended up bootstrapping Ashley Chloe and proving him wrong.
I was told no time and time again. But that just made me stronger. Every time I executed a goal, I proved that women founders can make things happen.
The key to sticking it out in an industry that’s intent on not letting women in, for me, has been building a powerful network of relationships, taking time to understand the technology field, and adding a fashion perspective. I founded Ashley Chloe to bridge the gap between fashion and function in wearable tech and improve people’s lives with products that solve universal problems and there was no amount of rejection that could have stopped me.
The challenges didn’t stop with being female. As a hardware startup, getting funding is hard. Silicon Valley loves technology and showers it with high valuations, but hardware is left to fend for itself. That’s why I decided to bootstrap the company. And while it certainly wasn’t easy, it’s helped me bring my idea to life without venture capital.
A vendor called us recently saying with surprise, “I looked up your LinkedIn and realized...wow..You are still alive!” He had decided to call my company and pitch for business partnership. Companies come and go in Silicon Valley. Some shut down completely after fundraising, even if they raised millions of capital from Series A. Thankfully, Ashley Chloe is alive bootstrapping itself and a lot of that is because I am a woman.
Studies have shown that companies run by women have a higher rate of success than those with only male leadership because we think differently. With determination, discipline, and team-based thinking, I’ve done that for my company. I’ve emphasized building a team of experts and enabling team members to work in their strengths. While the team is everything, it can also be very lonely being a founder. Sometimes, you don’t share bad news with the team. You are fully responsible for the happiness of your employees. Even when you share the good news, you alone know how much it took to get there.
When starting small, you face the challenge of building a business model and generating revenue. When the company gets bigger, you face the challenge of building things that you have never built before, like a cross-functional team. I feel proud that Ashley Chloe has come to today’s success - without raising any venture capital funding. I am proud of my team. We started with only a few people in the beginning, which is amazing because making a product often requires a 30-person team in a corporation.
In life, you always hear a word ‘no’. Either people love you so much they don’t want you to take the risk, or people are jealous of you and they don’t want you to get over them. Like Michelle Obama said, “They go low, we go high!” There is no word called ‘failure’. Failure is only for people who only talk without executing on their ideas. If people say no to you, ask them why they think you can’t. You are the one who takes charge of your destiny.