Over the past 20 years, women have started businesses at twice the rate of men, yet only 3% of female-run US businesses generate over $1 million in revenue. Celebrating the boom of female entrepreneurship is currently at an all-time high, yet there are a number of problems which prevent women from reaching success at the same rate as men. They are not getting funded at the same rate, and the marketplace is still very male-dominated, which means the female style of leadership and conducting business is still a fairly new phenomenon.
One woman who is in that hallowed aforementioned 3% is Julia Pimsleur, the founder of the Little Pim language educational program for children, and the author of a new book called ‘Million Dollar Women: The Essential Guide for Female Entrepreneurs Who Want To Go Big’. Aside from being an inspiration to many women in the industry, Julia is now sharing her success, failures, lessons and tips for those who want to take their business to the next level. We had an opportunity to chat with this business badass to get to know some of her biggest secrets that helped her earn her first $1 million in revenue, and her mission to help one million women do the same by 2020.
If you are an entrepreneur and want to learn from the best, you should keep reading. If you are a woman who feels as if the deck is stacked against you with money, opportunity, status and background, you should DEFINITELY keep reading because Julia’s story is the kind of journey that many more women should be experiencing.
Tell us, how did you first become an entrepreneur?
My first entrepreneurial adventure was a film production company I started in my twenties not long after graduating from college. We were five women producing social issue documentaries independently and selling them to television stations – but we didn’t call ourselves entrepreneurs, we were producers. I did this for five years. In retrospect, we were entrepreneurs, but in an industry that had a pretty upside down business model where it was hard to make any real money.
A few years later, I had transitioned into being a nonprofit fundraiser and had zero plans of ever running another business. But when my son Emmett was born, I wanted to teach him French, because I grew up bilingual in French and English and always thought that was one of the greatest gifts my parents gave me. I was really surprised when I found there weren’t any language teaching programs on the market for young children to learn a second language at home. So I decided to create one. Then boom, I had a business again!
Drawing on my background as a filmmaker, I produced my language teaching program for kids as a multi-media series called Little Pim with an animated panda bear as the main character/teacher. We started out with just three videos and a plush panda stuffed animal, and then started adding new products like another set of videos, flash cards, music CDs, teacher’s kits and apps. Now Little Pim is the leading system for kids 0-6 to become conversational in a second or third language and parents can pick from any of our 12 languages, including Spanish, Mandarin Chinese, French and Arabic.
How is it that women are out-pacing men in entrepreneurship, but when it comes to money and backing, it’s the opposite?
Over the last twenty years, women have started almost twice as many businesses as men have, but most of us are running small businesses with no employees and revenues of under $100,000. Only 3% of all women entrepreneurs make it to $1M in revenues, which is really just getting off go in the business world! I remember what one of my early investors (a man) said to me when I was expressing fear about meeting our revenue targets of $1.1M.
He said, “If you aren’t even going to make a million, why bother?” At first I was taken aback, but then I realized he was right and am on a mission to help more women scale up their businesses to reach that $1M dollar mark. I don’t think women not going big is a problem of competence, it’s a problem of confidence. Many of us don’t have the vision to take our businesses big, and if you can’t dream it, you can’t do it!
We don’t always have the right mindset to go big, or the right role models or access to capital, and we aren’t learning the “fundraising dance,” as I like to call it.
You are a living example of what happens when investors actually invest in women-led businesses, why do you think there is still so much reluctance to invest in female entrepreneurs?
In my own experience, investors actually really want to invest in female-led startups, but the founders pitching have to know how to pitch and how to dance the fundraising dance. I spent months learning how to pitch, how to have the right materials and how to be as powerful a presenter as any other entrepreneur pitching for dollars.
In the end I think knowing how the game is played (as well as a great product and story to tell) is a big part of why I got funded. I also decided somewhere after about 30 “no’s” that it wasn’t if I got funded, it was going to be when I got funded, and I think that determination also gave me the resiliency to keep going and the humility to figure out what I was doing wrong and try to fix it.
Going through this grueling fundraising process also inspired me to want to teach other women the fundraising “dance” because it’s not that hard, but the ins and outs of it are also not that easy to find and you can make a lot of expensive mistakes.
Tell us about Little Pim, where the idea came from and how it is now serving millions of people all over the world.
My father, Dr. Paul Pimsleur, created the Pimsleur Method of language teaching, which is an audio method that allows people get up and running quickly in a second language. I grew up speaking fluent French and we traveled a lot as a family because of my father was invited to teach his method all over the world, but I always thought of languages as one of my interests and passions, but nothing I would ever do anything with professionally.
Once my son Emmett was born I started wondering why there wasn’t a great program for little kids to learn a second language. I went around for about three months saying “Someone really needs to create that! Someone who understands languages, who gets media and can make a high quality program.”
I finally realized that someone was me! I didn’t quit my job, though, because I had a young baby at home and we needed the two incomes. And I was petrified. I didn’t go to business school and I don’t have a finance background. I created the Little Pim series and built and ran it while working full time for about a year and a half, and it was only after we made over $100k in our first year with just one part time person working one day a week that I thought “There might be a real business here.”
That’s when I decided to raise capital so I could go full time in order to find out. Fast forward to four years later, and Little Pim had distribution in top retail chains like Barnes and Noble and Toys R Us, we had nearly doubled our revenues every year, had a staff of four and had won over 15 awards. It was then I decided to go raise venture capital and take the business into the “big leagues.” To do that I needed a top team, a marketing budget, funds to convert all our product to digital, and the runway of cash to try some big things, like making commercials.
Today Little Pim has been operating for nine years and I am proud that we have 12 languages, it’s sold in 22 countries and our series has won 25 awards. I am delighted that millions of young children got their language learning start with Little Pim. And we recently brought in a new CEO to run the company so that I can work full time on my new mission with ‘Million Dollar Women’ of helping one million more women get to one million in revenue by 2020.
With all your experience as a successful businesswoman, you are now helping other women with your new book ‘Million Dollar Women: The Essential Guide For Female Entrepreneurs Who Want To Go Big’. What can readers expect to learn?
I wrote the book I wish I had been able to read when I was trying to scale up my business to $1M in revenues and beyond. I really craved hearing from other women who had built big, successful businesses, to find out how they had overcome limiting beliefs about whether they could do it, how they hired the right teams, how they scaled up operations, and how, if and when they raised capital.
There were very few women I could find who had done this. In the press I kept reading what felt like the same three stories about Sarah Blakely, Tory Burch and Arianna Huffington. While those women are incredibly impressive, they were so far from where I was that their stories didn’t actually help me.
I wanted to hear from women who were just ahead of where I was on the entrepreneurial climb, and could help me get there faster and with fewer bumps and face plants! A big part of why I wrote the book is to share the practical advice that can help women entrepreneurs who are coming up behind me and my peer set have a few more trail markers as they make their way up the mountain.
‘Million Dollar Women’ tells my story of building Little Pim from scratch into a multi-million dollar business, and features profiles of seven women entrepreneurs from across the country who built businesses making between $3M and $50M in revenues. They share their tips and secrets and we also give advice about the kind of resiliency and network it takes to go big.
We all agreed that you really just need to master three things: the right mindset, the right skill set, and the right network. It’s simple, but not easy, and we shared how we worked on those three big areas in order to take our businesses into the seven figures.
The book also has exercises you can apply to your own business and has a lot of cheerleading, personal stories, inspiration and the fantastic art work of artist Heather Willems whose successful company ImageThink is one of the Million Dollar Women businesses and that is rare in creative/services business but she is that good!
What are some of the most common barriers you see women facing in entrepreneurship?
After spending this past year speaking with women entrepreneurs on three continents who are trying to take their businesses big, one universal thing I heard is that we all struggle the most with mindset.
If you think you can run a multi-million dollar business, and I mean really believe in your bones that you can, then you will go get the skills and find the network to get you there. But too many women are riddled with self-doubt and unresolved “I’m not-enough” type feelings that get in our way.
As women, many of us are still socialized in a way that fosters these imposter-syndrome type feelings, but we can absolutely reverse that way of thinking and replace negative self-talk with more empowering narratives.
How can being part of a support network, or finding a business mentor, change the status quo for a female entrepreneur?
Joining an entrepreneurial community was a game changer for me, and I know it is for a lot of women (and men). It can be so grueling and lonely to be your own boss, and if you don’t have a business partner, bringing all your work anxieties home can be crushing to your relationship.
I am a huge believer in the quote “You can only grow your business as big as you grow yourself” and always tried to find people who could help me push past my own barriers. I thought it was one of my best investments to get professional development so I could work smarter, grow the business faster, be a better boss and mother, and enjoy my life more.
I hired a public speaking coach when I was getting ready to pitch for venture capital, and that made a huge difference. I felt much more confident, he helped me improve the way I was pitching and made sure I knew how to “own the room”.
Finally, a question we like to ask all our interviewees: What makes you a powerful woman?
In ‘Million Dollar Women’, the women I interviewed and I share our mantras that helped us get through the tough times and a couple of my personal favorites are “What Other People Think of You is None of Your Business” (critical if you are going to put yourself out there – not everyone is going to like you or your company or your products and services so this mantra will help you develop the thick skin you need!) and “Fortune Favors the Brave.”
The latter became my personal mantra when I went out to raise venture capital and had to pitch dozens of times, get countless no’s and keep driving forward until I got to the “yes” I needed. You can get pretty far on those two mantras and a good bar of dark chocolate. My wish for you? Stay brave and go big!
See www.juliapimsleur.com for the 10 mantras of Million Dollar Women (and make your own), blogs, free resources, coaching, online courses, funding tips and book recommendations.