The Riveter’s Female Founders series recently welcomed Create & Cultivate’s Jaclyn Johnson on a rare rainy night at our West Los Angeles location. Hosted by Katie D’Amato from Alaska Airlines, the founder talked at length about bumbling her way through the early days of Create & Cultivate with the help of a lot of Googling—only to realize that what she was searching for wasn’t there. When she couldn’t find advice specific to millennial women starting new businesses, she decided to create that space herself.
That’s how Create & Cultivate was born. “I thought other women might need [a similar space],” she explained, “and so I emailed a few of my friends and said, ‘Hey, do you guys want to all get together and chat about running a company, and what we might need to kind of just vent about, but also swap secrets?’”
Those secrets are now a multi-million dollar business. Create & Cultivate hosts workshops, panels, and mentor series with talented, established women in their fields, including amazing women like Martha Stewart, Issa Rae, Chrissy Teigen, Rebecca Minkoff, and even Gloria Steinem. It has grown into exactly what Johnson had been looking for: a space where she and other women entrepreneurs can get and give advice, and offer support for one another.
Create & Cultivate hopes to offer both a healthy dose of inspiration and practical advice with their programming—and Johnson offered both during our Female Founders event. In particular, the entrepreneur had quite a bit to say about money: Johnson is no stranger to struggling with money in her career as a founder, and during our event, she shared some of the lessons she’s learned from her experience and from the women she works with every day. Her main takeaway? You don’t need to have it all figured out to move forward with your business.
Here are some of Johnson’s best insights on making and managing the green when owning your own business.
1. You have to love the numbers as much as you love the creative side of things.
“I was the creative at the beginning, and then I learned to become the businessperson along the way. And that was through experience and through research and education and all those different things of learning, like, what’s a P&L, what’s a KPI, what’s ROI, what are all these things we’re talking about? And just kind of Googling it and figuring it out. But one thing I will say: You have to know and understand the numbers. You have to fall in love with the numbers to be a businessperson, and whether or not you want to make a lot of money or break even or do whatever it is that you want to do, you have to in some capacity understand how your business works from a financial perspective.”
2. Money talks—and women need to talk about it.
“Women have to talk about money. We have to stop being nervous about it. We have to stop saying, ‘Oh, I don’t want to say that, I don’t want to do that.’ It’s the only way I knew how to grow my business. I remember for so long at my first company, I was charging $3,000 a month retainers, forever. I was just like, ‘This is it, this is great.’ And one of my friends, who also ran an agency out of New York said, ‘Our minimums are $10,000.’ And I was like, ‘What? We’re doing the same thing.’ She’s like, ‘Yeah girl, what are you doing?’”
3. You have to spend money to make money.
“We’ll work with brands who literally are like, here’s our setup for Create & Cultivate, and it’s a popup banner, a folding table, and I’m like, ‘Mmmm, I don’t think so.’ Not only because it doesn’t look good, but also because I’m like, this isn’t going to do well for you, this is a waste of your money, honestly. You want to engage with our audience? You have to show up. You have to put money into it, you have to spend money to make money. You’re already paying us, show up in a better way for our community and for your brand.”
4. Raising funds for the sake of funds isn’t always wise.
“We’re a completely self-funded company. Everyone was raising money, five million, ten million, and I was like, ‘Yes, absolutely, that’s what we’re going to go do.’ All these people offered to give us a lot of money, and we turned it down because at the end of the day we were profitable and we knew what we were doing. If you can’t say, I need money for X, Y, and Z, you should not be raising money. You need to know exactly what you’ll be inputting that money into, and for us, I couldn’t really figure it out.”
5. Women shouldn’t be shamed for making a paycheck.
“I think we have to stop shaming other women for making money. I think so often we see other women being successful, or building these big brands, or people talking about them making money, and we’re internally like, ‘Ugh, I wish that were me.’ More women making more money means that they can spend more money with other women.”
6. Pay it forward and give back to the community.
“We’re able to support other small business owners. I’m able to give back to that community in a way that I wouldn’t be able to if brands weren’t paying me. And I think sometimes we get people shaming us for partnering with certain brands, but [they’re] not seeing the big picture, and so I think that’s really, really important. Support your friends making money, support people who aren’t your friends making money. I think that’s how we’ll eventually see more women at the top, with more budget, making change.”
8. Be intentional about growing your business—it’s OK to be picky.
“Our first question is, how does this provide value to our community? So if the answer is, it doesn’t provide value, it doesn’t get to the next step. And then, if it gets to the next step, we ask, is this meaningful to our bottom line in the sense of money? So once we get through all those parameters we sort of ask these questions, then we’ll decide to say ‘yes’ to things. And I think we’ve been really lucky because we’re kind of snobby when it comes to our partners.”
9. Infrastructure is crucial, but it doesn’t have to be expensive.
“Bring in the experts. Even for me, I love the financial part of the business, I don’t want to do it. So I bring in the experts in that position when they’re available to you. I met this girl on my book tour who started an HR company for small business, because HR is the real last hire on your mind. So you can do that now, there are so many resources available for companies where you don’t have to be making millions of dollars to have infrastructure and the right people in place to get your company going.”
10. Communicate with your business partners about where you want your money to take you.
“If you have a co-founder in a company, have those conversations up front… ‘What do you want out of life? Do you want to be very rich?’ And people have very clear answers about that. I’m very much a businessperson, like, ‘Let’s do this. Let’s make money.’ And I love seeing other people making money as well. But, I think there are different ways to run companies. You can be very conservative fiscally. You can be very liberal with your money and your hires. And, you can not care about being profitable and really try to break even-like. Whatever it is, you have to have those really hard conversations upfront.”
11. Men can be allies to working women by being more transparent.
“I think first and foremost, if [men] have someone in your same title bracket, talk about how much you’re getting paid, so that they know that they’re getting paid equal. I think that’s the hardest and biggest challenge that they have. And, just saying, ‘Hey, look, I’m willing to share with you how much I’m getting made so we can have an honest conversation so that you make sure that you’re getting paid equally.’ And, then it’s on them to go for and ask for it. But, I think that you’ve done your part in that conversation.”
12. You have to start somewhere—and sometime.
“One of the things I run into all the time with people is they say: I have this idea, I built this site, I have this product, but it’s not ready yet, it’s not ready to launch. Just put it out there. I have pivoted so many times in my different companies, launched with taglines that I changed immediately, launched with tickets that didn’t make sense, crashed sites, you name it. You just have to get it out there. You have to start by starting, which is something I always say.”
Watch the Video
Maitri Mehta is a writer based in Phoenix who loves seltzer and “The Sopranos.”