Entrepreneur Cheryl Sutherland On Overcoming Race & Gender Barriers To Launch A Successful Company

If you just watched the video above and it got you thinking, “what IS my hustle?”, then you will want to get to know entrepreneur Cheryl Sutherland. She is the founder of a company called PleaseNotes, which creates and sells the kind of products you NEED to have on hand in your office. Filled with inspirational quotes and affirmations within pages of journals and on sticky notes (just to name a few of the PleaseNotes product range), Cheryl’s personal story in making the leap from a 9-5 to launching an empowering company for women of color helps you understand the mission behind what she creates today.

For those of you who are on your own journey to entrepreneurship, hustling every day to start a company, an idea, an innovation from the ground up, just know there are many who have walked down this path and who want to help others reach their goal.

Cheryl left her day job after feeling restless and overwhelmed. She spent months coaching, journaling, and reigniting her inner creativity, before launching PleaseNotes, which is a for-purpose company of affirmation-filled products that inspires women of color to step into their own power – in love, life and the boardroom – by building confidence, clarity, and creativity.

Today her customers have expanded to reach across the globe, including Spain, UK, Canada and the Philippines just to name a few. Her products have been endorsed by Les Brown and Monique Coleman. She has been featured in InStyle, Fast Company, Huffington Post, Thrive Global, and more. But she is also very open about the barriers she faced, both systemic and personal, along the way to getting where she is today.

Because of this, Cheryl is adamant about creating a new stereotype of success, breaking down the “typical” idea of what an entrepreneur, innovator and inspirational figure looks like. We had the opportunity to pick her brain, learn about her process, and hear her advice on what it means to be an entrepreneur with a purpose in today’s world.

Tell us what became the catalyst in your life for starting PleaseNotes and how you transitioned away from a 9-5 to become an entrepreneur?

I had hit a wall and knew that it was time for me to take a leap of faith to figure it out. I quit my job and did something I had never done before: take time for me. After 1400 hours reading, working with affirmations, and journaling, I realized that the personal development space was my passion. One day I thought, “I wish there was a way I could have affirmations everywhere,” and that’s how the first product was born. We offer sticky notes with affirmations for any time of your day.

Were you intimidated at the thought of starting your own business? If so, how did you get over this to create it anyway?

I was motivated by service. I want to create a space for women to step into their power with confidence, clarity, and creativity. At the end of the day, my business is not about me. It’s about the people I am here to serve, and that definitely keeps me motivated.

You started with just one product, the sticky notes, and now have a range of products to inspire your customers, who are primarily women of color. Can you tell us why you chose to focus on this community?

After a year in business, I noticed that my items really struck a chord with women. There are no resources for women of color (especially when it came to self awareness and entrepreneurship). So, I created tools that I wish I had when I was figuring what my true passions where.

You have put your own money into PleaseNotes and also ran a successful Kickstarter campaign, but still had difficulty securing additional funding beyond that, which is something we hear a lot from female entrepreneurs, especially WOC. What made you determined not to give up despite the frustrations?

After all the things I had been through in my life up to that point, I knew that I was always being taken care of. Whether it was navigating and escaping an abusive relationship, moving to another country, or handling my father’s passing, everything always works out. I feel like my knowledge of that and the drive I have for this project make quitting never a real option.

Data shows that women of color, and black women in particular, are the fastest group of small business owners right now in America, yet the majority of VC’s and investors still mostly invest in male-driven ideas. How do you think this broken system is going to change?

I think there are a couple really important ways. If more of these VC firms focused on inclusion and diversity on their boards, that they would actually make more money, and bring more interesting projects to market. In addition, women of color need to know about these resources and be willing to jump into the ring. The more people see the increasing trend of really great ideas and strong leadership coming from people of color, the easier it will be to start lending to us.

Can you share some advice on knowing your worth as an individual and as a founder when going in to pitch meetings?

Practice, practice, practice. Be very clear on what you want, what your value is and why your idea is important. The clearer you are on that, the more confidence the people you are pitching to have that you know what you are doing. People will not be able to invest in you if you don’t believe in yourself.

You’ve previously spoken of pitch experiences where you were the only woman of color in the room. What was that experience like and how has it shaped your identity as an entrepreneur?

I always feel like there is something to gain from every experience. Experiences like that helped me see there is a real need for diversity and inclusion in funding spaces, and different organizations who focus on different industries. This made me learn that I would love to start my own investment company in the future that supports more non-traditional businesses in growing on a financial and holistic basis.

You told Fast Company “Certain cultures found the key to wealth, but we haven’t had that opportunity”, speaking about why you are passionate about targeting black women and making products to inspire them to step into their power. Can you explain a little more about this quote?

When you think of wealthy families, you think of “legacy” families like The Goldman’s, The Hearst’s and The Koch’s. On the Forbes list of the top 25 wealthiest American families and the top 50 wealthiest individuals, there is not one person of color present. Based on America’s tumultuous history, opportunities to practice and hone the ability to create and keep wealth haven’t been a real option for people of color.

We are building businesses at amazing rates, however, if we had additional tools to help us quicker, faster and easier, what would the economic landscape look like? As a woman of color, I’ve experienced so much first and by working other peoples’ businesses in addition to my own, so it felt the most authentic creating something for I could relate to.

During one pitch event you spoke about PleaseNotes to a funder panel with only one woman, who ended up being the hardest on you. Do you think there might be a trend of women shutting the doors on other women as part of the female funding pipeline problem in general?

I think that other women (especially those in a male dominated space) sometimes have the thought process of, “I had to work really hard to get here, so you have to too.” According to Fortune Magazine, statistics show in 2017 the percentage of money invested into all-female lead companies from VC’s was only 2.19%, and was only 4.4% of total deals. Compounding that, the amount of actual female VC’s can be pointed to as an issue.

According to TechCrunch, only about 8% of partners at top VC firms are women. I believe that with more women creating their own wealth, we will have an increase in more funding models that match today’s entrepreneur. I am involved with some really great female led funding companies that put more emphasis on the entrepreneur’s holistic goal and providing them with mentorship and functional skills instead of focusing on ROI, and I know that’s going make a huge difference in the success and growth of small business.

What do you hope customers will receive when they buy a PleaseNotes product?

I know people who use the products will experience a positive shift. Depending on what they discover to be truly important to them, the changes will help move them towards the direction of what they really want. I think my goods will allow people to move from thinking about an idea or something they want, hoping for it, knowing they can do it, to creating it for themselves. That’s the ultimate freedom.

Who are some of the lesser-known inspiring black people whose quotes you have included in the Wondrous Things journal?

I highlighted Les Brown, Dr. Michael Bernard Beckwith, and Lisa Nichols, to name a few. Everyone featured there has attained success in different fields. There are also quotes from Canadian para-athlete Terry Fox, Brazilian novelist Paulo Coelho, the person who brought yoga to the west, Paramahansa Yogananda and so many more.

A question we like to ask our interviewees – What makes you a powerful woman?

The knowledge of how capable I truly am.

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You can learn more about Cheryl and purchase some of her badass inspirational products on the Please Notes website.

 

 

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