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The power of risk taking
Many feel uncomfortable taking any type of risks, trying to avoid them altogether. But taking a chance can lead to great things. Rebecca Minkoff put that theory to the test in 2020 by shifting the offerings of her entire product line. As co-founder and creative director of her namesake global company, she took several major risks not only for her brand and her business, but to encourage other women to do the same. “I choose to look at taking risks as always positive,” she said.
In a fireside chat during JPMorgan Chase & Co.’s sixth annual Women on the Move (WOTM) Leadership Day, Rebecca spoke with J.P. Morgan Managing Director and Senior Relationship Executive Leyonna Barba about the dynamics of taking risks as a woman business owner during the pandemic, and how she plans to inspire more women entrepreneurs moving forward.
Feeling comfortable with being uncomfortable
Rebecca believes taking risks can be a win-win: You either succeed in something you didn’t think was possible, or you fail and learn from those mistakes. "The word 'risk' can be really scary, especially to a lot of women telling themselves, 'If I take this risk and I fail, it's a reflection on me and I am a failure,’” she said.
When you’re ready to take a risk, the keys are building self-confidence, ignoring feelings of self-doubt and fighting through imposter syndrome—and knowing that a certain amount of discomfort comes with the territory. “Because if you look at our history as women… people had to stick their neck outs and be placed in uncomfortable scenarios [for change to happen],” she said. “So, we can get comfortable with being uncomfortable.”
To push past that uncertainty, Rebecca suggests taking risks in small, manageable steps. For example, practice different scenarios with friends, family or others you trust. “Practice asking your boss for a raise or, ‘Here's how I'm going to ask to take on a project that no one thought I should take on.’” Getting over that initial fear will help make sticking your neck out a bit start to feel natural.
Pushing for more women entrepreneurship
Rebecca has been a long-time supporter of women entrepreneurship—she co-founded the Female Founder Collective, a non-profit designed to support, develop and elevate women-owned and women-led businesses. But learning how to be successful in entrepreneurship isn’t just about risk taking.
In addition to helping women get the funding they need to build successful businesses, Rebecca also wants to make sure they feel supported. Access to formal business-focused education is the biggest missing piece for new women entrepreneurs, she explained. "I say there's no shortcuts, but there are good resources and networks." And it’s not just about knowledge—women entrepreneurs need access and real opportunities to connect with others and to put their work into action.
To help serve that need, Rebecca’s group, the Female Founder Collective, began partnering with WOTM’s Curated Coaching for Entrepreneurs program in 2021. The program has already served hundreds of women small business owners—part of WOTM’s goal to provide advice and coaching services to 5,000 participants over the next five years.
Growing in the middle of uncertainty
March 16, 2020, was a life-changing day for millions as the rise in COVID-19 cases resulted in shut-downs around the world. For Rebecca, it was the day her offices went fully remote—and the moment her retailers began to cancel their orders for the remainder of the year. Having the ability to pivot and adapt in uncertainty is crucial: offering a consistent and exceptional experience amidst ambiguity ensures success in a time where many are in “sink or swim” mode. Rebecca decided to take the challenge head on, starting with a complete overhaul of her product line from 300 pieces to 100.
Keeping the brand fresh by balancing art and business was a hit: Customers loved the smaller collection. “So, some of the silver lining from the pandemic is we've gotten more focused,” she said. And because of this risk-taking victory, Rebecca is now planning bigger projects for the future, including a luggage line, a second fragrance and a new home-and-lounge product line.
Preparing for the future
There’s no perfect time to start a business, but the pandemic provided more opportunities for women to take risks by being ready, Rebecca said. “I think that sometimes we wait for something to happen to us,” she said. “And I like to tell women, the cavalry is not coming for us.”
And taking risks doesn’t have to be scary. "Fear is an emotion that is hard-wired into us to keep us safe from bears, zombies, killers in the woods," Rebecca said. “We take that emotion and let that same feeling stop us from asking for more at work or in our personal lives.”
But, she said, the fear of failure should only stop you if you feel you can’t do your best. Be your own advocate, push through and, win or lose, you’ve bettered yourself. “If you are fearless, you fear less."