Joline Godfrey is devoted to helping young women under the age of 20 support themselves financially. Though many women at that age are supported by generous parents or by part-time jobs, Godfrey encourages them to do more. Through her Web site and various programs like Camp Start Up — which teaches women how to turn their hobbies and passions into real income and stability — Godfrey is getting the entrepreneurs of tomorrow launched today.
Why is it important for girls to have an income of their own?
So they don’t grow up to be poor women. And I actually don’t mean to be flip about it. 90 percent of all women will have to take care of themselves economically at some point in their lives. 40 percent of women over 65 are poor, [while only] 13 percent of men over 65 are poor. So I don’t really care if women actually have their own business or not, but certainly the nature of our economy is such that whether they work for themselves or somebody else to be more entrepreneurial is literally a lifesaving tool. So I guess to save your life is one answer. And then, of course, the other is on a more ethereal plane — it’s to make your dreams come true, to do things you really care about.
Tell me a little bit about your programs. Camp Start Up sounds very interesting.
[It’s] the last two weeks in July. It’s a wonderful thing to watch. Girls come and they’re immediately put into groups of five or six, and for the next two weeks their task is to come up with a business idea, create a business plan, and, as part of their graduation, present that plan for an audience of parents, local friends, press, and people who can put money into it, potentially. What I’m most excited about, of course, is that the earlier they start something, the sooner they can fail and the more they will learn, which is different from starting something and failing in your 30s, 40s, and 50s.
Why is failing so important?
Because, in fact, almost anybody who’s in business knows that first time out of the box you almost always screw something up, and entrepreneurs rarely talk about anything that has failed. We were just learning. And I think that’s a really extraordinary process, and instead of putting pressure on kids to make their first million before they’re 18, what I want them to know is these are their learning years. Certainly we hope they’ll succeed, but it’s not the end of the world if they don’t. So what we say is, this is a wonderful time to start something. If you don’t make a gazillion dollars on this first business, then you will have learned a great deal and be even more ready to do the next one.
Do you think of yourself as a pioneer in business?
It turns out in this field I was. As a woman entrepreneur, in fact, I’d say I was not. One of the things I’ve learned is that we think, in 1972, only 5 percent of all businesses were females. Today it’s about 40 percent. That’s a huge jump in 25 years. I would say I was sort of mid-stream there in 1985, halfway along. Other women had certainly done other things. We didn’t know one another. We were all pretty invisible, so it was hard to kind of have other women as role modes, because we were scattered all over the place. But it turns out, that even in the late 1800s and the 1900s, women were running businesses and again, they were invisible.
What do you think the greatest barrier is to success, still facing women entrepreneurs today?
Actually, I think one of the biggest is the scale of their vision. I keep being reminded of this, both among the girls we work with and the adult women I talk to. Women have a hard time saying, “I’m going to start a company and it’s going to be global. It’s going to be a chain, and we’re going to do a billion dollars a year in revenue.” It’s just hard?
I’m not worthy?
Yeah, I’m not worthy. If you’re looking for capital, people don’t want to talk to you if you’re not talking about at least ten million bucks.
What do you think are some of the most valuable resources women entrepreneurs can share?
Certainly capital and phone numbers are the two biggies. The other thing actually is, figuring out how to do strategic relationships better and leveraging one another’s resources. I think coming from maybe a sense of scarce resources, I think it’s harder for them to put together strategic relationships. There’s a little bit too much turf protection. But I think once they begin sharing and can leverage resources, that will be a powerful step forward. I also think it’s a matter of picking up the phone and saying, “I thought of you the other day, and had a meeting with so and so, and thought, this might be helpful to you.” So it’s not just waiting for people to come to them, but reaching out to other people.
Why are women biased against investing in other women’s groups?
I don’t know that they’re so much biased against, as it’s just not a leap that they’ve been willing to make yet. It’s fascinating to me, even with women with great wealth, often before making an investment, they will defer to some man they’ll check in with, for the man to give them permission, rather than making their own decision. Partly it’s that we haven’t had practice. Partly, it’s because women were not brought up to take other women seriously or that they could make some money. So it really has to do with having some success and seeing it pay off. I actually am very lucky. I have had some terrific women invest in my company. But all of the appointments on my calendar right now are with men.
Is there anything else we haven’t covered that relates to you and the roles of a women entrepreneur?
We do this exercise at one of the programs, and at the end of it, they have interviewed a number of women business owners and I say, “So, what surprised you most about them?” and what they come up with each time is, they had no idea what they were going to be when they were little. I think that that’s an interesting piece about a lot of entrepreneurs, but certainly among women. This wasn’t something we planned. And yet, now that I’m here, doing this, I can’t imagine doing anything but starting businesses and making them grow.
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