This week’s guest on the 21st Century Creative podcast is Vicki Saunders, an entrepreneur, mentor, author and a leading advocate for entrepreneurship as a means of positive transformation in the world.
Vicki has co-founded and run ventures in Europe, Toronto and Silicon Valley and taken a company public on the Toronto Stock Exchange.
She is the Founder of SheEO – a global initiative to transform how we support, finance, and celebrate female entrepreneurs.
Faced with a male-dominated startup culture in which only 4% of venture capital financing goes to women, Vicki decided to do something about it. SheEO is an entire ecosystem designed to change the game for female entrepreneurs.
Every year, SheEO assembles a cohort of 500 women (called Activators), who contribute $1,100 each as an act of Radical Generosity, creating a perpetual investment fund for female entrepreneurs.
All the funded ventures are for-profit companies, but SheEO is not just about the money: to be eligible for a loan, a venture has to demonstrate that it is helping to create a better world through its business model and/or their product or service.
And SheEO supports its entrepreneurs with more than money – the 500 Activators in each cohort also help with their expertise and advice, their professional networks, and their buying power as early customers.
If you’re a female entrepreneur looking for funding and support, SheEO will blow your mind in terms of the opportunities it can unlock.
If you’re a woman who is passionate about empowering female entrepreneurs, Vicki will introduce you to a radical and exciting new way to invest, support and collaborate with other women.
If you’re curious about the potential of creativity to come up with radically new and exciting solutions to entrenched problems, you’ll find this a mind boggling interview.
And whatever your gender, I think you’ll be inspired by Vicki’s vision of a world where everyone benefits from having more women at the table, when it comes to tackling the big challenges we all face.
Two SheEO-funded ventures Vicki discusses in the interview are Abeego and The Alinker – visit their websites to learn more, and scroll down to see photos of their products in the interview transcript.
Vicki Saunders interview transcript
MARK: Vicki, what was it that drew you to entrepreneurship in the first place?
VICKI: I actually grew up in a fairly entrepreneurial family. We had a family farm, that was a pretty unique place. And so, I was always around this concept of dreaming at the dinner table, coming up with new ideas. But I never really thought of being an entrepreneur until I was in Europe, right after the wall fell down.
And I remember standing in the square with hundreds of thousands of people in Prague as the tanks roll out one day, and the next day, everyone was celebrating freedom. And it was absolutely intoxicating. Every single conversation around me was, ‘Now that I’m free, I’m going to do this! Now that I’m free, I’m going to do that!’
And I was like, ‘Oh my God, I’m free too! What am I going to do?’ And it’s just… I became an entrepreneur over there. It’s just kind of a strange thing, but it was my first experience of recognizing how important the environment that you’re in impacts what you do. It would just change me completely.
MARK: That’s quite a contrast. I think a lot of us in the West take capitalism for granted. It’s like the weather.
MARK: But if you were up against seeing the contrast with a very different system, and what it meant to people to suddenly have that opened up, what did that tell you specifically? Okay, there’s freedom in general of lots of things. What specifically did you get from that about the value of entrepreneurship?
VICKI: Well, for me, it was the concept of freedom just really hit me at a DNA level. By the time I was in my twenties, I had all these layers of expectations from other people on top of me. These are the kinds of jobs to get, these are the kinds of schools to go to, these are the people you hang out with. This is how much you should be paid. And entrepreneurship wasn’t really cool back then. And then all of a sudden, I was in this place where people were reinventing themselves at all stages.
60-year-olds who had been shovelling coal were now doing the thing that they had wanted to do. And 20-year-olds and the students were part of that whole change. And so, this concept of what is it that you want to create in the world, being able to reinvent yourself on the spot.
And this is the mindset shift that is core to what I think helps you be more entrepreneurial is, if anything was possible, if you were surrounded by the right conditions, what might you do if it was possible? If you can get yourself into that space, that’s the place where I think entrepreneurship gets born from.
MARK: And if we can stay with your own journey for a little bit, because I know one thing we want to come on to is SheEO, and the big picture of women and entrepreneurship. But I’m guessing that what a lot of us experience as statistics or headlines is something that you experienced firsthand. What did you discover – maybe good, the positive in entrepreneurship, but also the challenges particularly for a woman as an entrepreneur?
VICKI: I think I would just go more general overall, I think being a woman, period, in society is super challenging. And I noticed that at a very early age. I grew up in a family full of boys, I didn’t think I was being treated any differently. I went out to university, I took this course called Women in Literature, which of course, was taught by a man and every single part of the book, or the books, that we were reading, they were deconstructing how women were taught or how we portray women in society, etc.
And by the end of that course I was like, ‘Oh my God, I’m oppressed. Why didn’t anyone tell me?’ And I came home and I started pointing out everything and then very quickly, whenever I pointed out how I was being treated differently, I was sort of sidebarred like, ‘Oh, come on, take it down or relax. That’s not really what I meant. It’s not really different.’
And so, this concept of having your reality and what you experienced denied around you was a super confusing thing. And all I knew is I want to be really successful and do something. So, I just put my head down and like, ‘Okay, well no one else seems to be complaining about this, maybe I’ll just ignore it.’ And as I went through various companies I started, initiatives I was part of, I kept seeing those things, but pointing them out did not help me advance what I was trying to do. So, I just kind of buried it until I hit 50, and then I lost my mind.
When I got to the stage where I just realized this is actually happening, this is holding us back. It’s part of the design of the system we’re in, we need to create a new system. I just don’t want to live in a world where only 50% of the population reach their potential. And so, there’s a bunch of stories along the way that were painful for me that woke me up even more each time, but it’s only right now that we’re able to kind of talk about all this stuff. For the last couple of decades it wasn’t something that was in the water supply.
MARK: To help us all get the context here, in one of your articles, you say that women are chronically underfinanced, undersupported, and undercelebrated in the business world. And I think a lot of us can intuitively agree with this.
For you, what are some of the most important facts and implications?
VICKI: 4% of venture capital goes to women, less than 1% of corporate procurement. So, when companies buy products and services from other companies to keep their business going, that’s procurement. Less than 1% of the companies that they buy from are women owned. It’s just insane. And FYI, we are not a niche market women, we are 50% of the population. So, this is super crazy. What are we doing here?
I think it’s partly because the world that we’re living in, and the structures that we’re living in, and the systems that we’re living in, women weren’t at the table to design those. So, a small, small example which has huge implications is, how can we possibly still not have childcare sorted out? That is just crazy. 50% of the population is out there working and there’s no access to childcare. It just gets layered on top of your job. If women were at the table, we would have sorted these things out so that everybody could be equally working, and performing, and reaching their potential.
MARK: What are the implications for creativity, even outside of business?
VICKI: First of all, I think that we’ve learned a lot from the latest neuroscience research and looking at different learning styles over the past few years, that women tend to see things holistically. We look at the full picture, the whole process. And men see things a little bit more myopically, like they’re more focused in on something. Two of those things together can create a whole, I think it’s really important. If you have both women and men at the table with their unique ways of looking at things, I think we get a more whole design that can work to include everyone in society. So, that part is huge.
We see the data is that when you have women on your board, in your senior management positions, you outperform companies that don’t. There’s just so much data proving this. And the thing that’s really stopping this from happening, despite having the data, is that we have unconscious bias all of us in the way that we’re brought up and we’re not used to seeing women in power. And when you don’t see women in senior positions, you don’t necessarily think you can be one of those people. And so, this whole cycle perpetuates.
But right now, we’re at this deep moment of disruption and we need a new way; everything that’s around us we made up and it’s not working, so let’s make up a new way. I want to do that with men and women at the table.
MARK: I think this is a really important point because it’s not just a women’s issue.
VICKI: It’s everyone. Absolutely.
MARK: It’s not just about advancement of women. Yes, that’s right, that’s important, but even if you’re going to be completely self-centered about it, men benefit too.
VICKI: I think we’re living in a world that’s not working for anybody. We’re all working ourselves to death. Such long hours, super stressed out, it’s not working for men or women. Men want to come home and see their kids too. And so, the workday is just getting completely insane. And on top of this we have a mindset which I think is really limiting us. Which is like the dominant mindset of the world right now is winner takes all. It’s bet it all in red for the one to win.
And that has now led us to a world where five people have the same wealth as three and a half billion people. This is just a massive challenge. The inequality is off the charts and getting worse because of this mindset of winner takes all and all of our capital in the marketplace is out chasing a unicorn, Uber, to go win the whole market. And then the 17 people that invested in that will be the ones who fill up their pockets and the rest won’t.
This mindset is really blocking us and I think if we step back and said, ‘How can we define success much more broadly?’ It’s not just about one winner, but what if there’s all various forms of success? And so, that’s I think one of the big challenges that we’re facing. The other is you have to work 24/7 to be successful. That’s a narrative that no longer needs to hold true. Let’s change that. I really am thinking at the mindset level of what are those big things we need to change, and rethink, and challenge our assumptions.
MARK: There’s a quote in your book that I love, ‘Everything is broken. What a great time to be alive.’
VICKI: This is the entrepreneurial mindset.
MARK: I love the positivity in that because you can say, okay, ‘Everything’s broken.’ And people say, ‘Well, you’re just pointing out problems.’
Tell us why that means it’s great to be alive at this point in history.
VICKI: I’m an opportunistic kind of thinker. I’m super hopeful and excited about the future, and so when I see all these structures falling apart, all of this redesign that’s needed, that for me screams opportunity. If you’re a creator, or a maker, or an entrepreneur, this is your Nirvana, right this moment. I couldn’t walk a block without finding 25 things that I want to redesign.
To me, it’s just like this huge, huge opportunity. You can stay on the negative side and just go, ‘Oh my God, it’s so bad. Inequality is a nightmare.’ But that just gives you a huge opportunity. Okay, great. Let’s go change it because it’s not working for anyone. And the person who comes up the middle with an interesting new idea can really make a dent in the universe. I think it’s just super exciting when things are falling apart. I know I’m a bit strange, but it’s a great time.
MARK: Can you give us an example either from your own experience or another business that you’ve observed, where an entrepreneur’s really said, ‘Okay, this is broken. Let’s have fun with it. Let’s make it better.’
VICKI: One of our mentors Barbara Alink has rethought the walker and the wheelchair. She was walking through a park with her mom, her mom’s in her 80s, and her mother looked at somebody who was sort of hunched over on a walker and said, ‘Over my dead body will I ever use one of those.’ And Barbara is a designer, and she’s like, ‘Oh, that’s really interesting. So why is it designed that way?’
She started to dig into it. And then she found that 50% of people who are using wheelchairs can still move their legs, but they are put into these devices. It’s really the only device if you’re not stable, if you’ve had a stroke, if you have Parkinson’s or MS. You get put into this and then you deteriorate and have a downward spiral even more because you’re not moving.
And then 80% of people who are in wheelchairs are using walkers are depressed because all of a sudden they went from this healthy individual to losing some ability and everybody looks down at them, literally. Like you look down a level on someone in a wheelchair. So, she stepped back and said, ‘How could I redesign that for dignity, and also how could it be the coolest thing that everybody would want?’ What a great designer.
She created what looks like a giant adult tricycle, the seat basically keeps you at eye level, so you’re still at eye level with people so they’re not looking down at you and you move it with your feet, so there’s no pedals. So, think giant, bright yellow adult tricycle where you stay at eye height and you move it with your feet. People who are now using this, so someone who has Parkinson’s is always shaking, they have a really hard time with mobility devices. Now, they sit on this, it stabilizes their core, they can move their legs and build up their muscle, and they’re walking down the street with you. Amazing.
That’s an example of somebody just rethinking this and this can have massive implications all over the world. It needs to be used in every market with an ageing population.
MARK: Let’s make sure that we get a picture or video so people can actually see Barbara’s walker in action.
VICKI: Yes, so it’s thealinker.com.
MARK: Okay, great. And I’ll make sure we add that link in the show notes as well.
MARK: That’s a beautiful example. Just walking along and seeing a problem. I’m a writer, if I’m reading a text, and there’s a spelling or punctuation mistake, or something isn’t quite phrased very well, I just want to fix it. I get irritated. I get that itch. I think being an entrepreneur is a bit like that, except your book is the whole world.
MARK: You walk around, you can see things, that could be better, that could be fixed.
VICKI: Absolutely. And for most people, it’s not the whole world because I believe there’s something that each of us are here to do. There’s a mastery that we have, there’s a certain lens that we look through, we don’t all see the same world. I can walk down the street and see something completely different than my husband. The opportunity is when you see something that makes you crazy, that’s yours, that’s yours to fix or to get involved in, or deal with.
And so for me, there’s lots and lots of things outside the spectrum that I see that are not mine. They’re not my pure passion, but this whole thing of women, and women being funded, and how to support a different way forward in the world is something I’ve been obsessed with my whole life. But I spent literally two decades avoiding doing anything women only because I saw what happened every time I pointed it out. I was sidebarred, I was reduced. And so, I just didn’t mention it until I kind of had this sort of epiphany moment where I couldn’t stand it any longer. And so, I started SheEO.
MARK: Tell us about the epiphany moment.
VICKI: I’m a mentor. As soon as I learn something I want to share it. I’ve mentored over 1,000 entrepreneurs in the last couple of decades. I was working with this phenomenal young woman who had a bit of a rocket ship of a company. It was just totally taking off, she was doing really well and then I started to see all of the sharks start to surround her and go, ‘Okay, this is gonna be a big deal.’ They started poking at her.
The same thing had happened to me. I had a company that grew very rapidly and went public. So there was like, ‘You know, in the next round, you’re probably not going to be the CEO. We’ll bring in a guy who knows what he’s doing, who has domain expertise,’ because this was her first time entrepreneuring.
And just all these little things, and I thought, ‘Oh, my God, this is exactly what happened to me 20 years ago.’ I went home furious, and I was talking to my husband and I’m like, ‘I just can’t do this. We cannot have another generation go through the same thing that I had to go through. Not on my watch.’ Then I stepped back and thought if I was going to try and solve this challenge, how would I do it? And it’s a holistic, massive culture change problem, which is we’re not going to fund more women innovators, unless women start writing checks because we’ve had women innovators out there coming to male investors and that hasn’t worked in the past.
We fund things that we have experience with that looks like us. We’ve just seen the data on that. And so, we need women to invest in, so how do you get women to start investing? And it just became this huge circular design challenge that I have worked on for many years.
MARK: I love the fact that you’re framing it as a design challenge because a lot of us look at these big monolithic issues or they look monolithic and think, ‘Well, what can little old me do?’ And yet what you’ve done with SheEO is actually really hard for me to describe it because it’s a very new kind of organization. I don’t think we’ve got a category yet that we can assign it to.
Maybe you could explain what SheEO is and how it works.
VICKI: Sure. Why don’t I just walk you through a little bit of the pieces that got put together? So, one thing was with this winner takes all mindset and bet it all on red at capital is, I think very inefficiently used. We’ll put billions and billions of dollars into a company and if it fails we’ve wasted so much money, and if it ‘wins,’ then somebody makes a lot of money. And so, is there a more efficient use of capital? That’s one thing.
And then this new model of crowdfunding came in, in the last few years. And that broke open the dam for me to understand how to deal with this. We have this model of 500 women come together in each region, they contribute $1,100 each. It’s a small amount of money, so you dip your toe in to get engaged; that money is aggregated together in a pool. And then the 500 women go online and they vote for the companies that they’re most passionate about that have applied, they’re women-owned, and women-lead, and revenue generating, they’re not early, early startup and they can all answer how they’re creating a better world.
The 500 women go online look at these applications say, ‘I love this, I’d buy it or I’d recommend it to my friends. I think it’s going to change the world and I think it’s going to export and has ability to scale.’ And then those companies get a 0% interest loan and then they get 500 women on their team to help them.
It’s literally leveraging all these resources, it’s super crazy, right? If you’re one of these entrepreneurs who gets picked you go from like total scarcity to having 500 women asking what do you need? Ask us and we’ll help you. You’re one step removed from pretty much everything you need to grow your business. And so, we create this very safe environment, we call it radical generosity. Imagine if you were surrounded by radically generous women, how would it change you?
And that serves to embolden these entrepreneurs and to move them from scarcity to abundance and to realize that they have what they need. And it’s kind of overwhelming to be selected by 500 women. You’re toiling away doing what you’re doing. You’ve had a lot of people sort of tell you, it’s not going to work, or you don’t have the right skills, or you’re not good enough. All that stuff that happens as an entrepreneur, lots of nos and all of a sudden you just get this giant ‘yes’ tunnel around you. It’s pretty cool.
MARK: It’s quite a vote of confidence!
VICKI: Yeah, and it lifts you up. If you think, oh, I just designed this, like a lot of us do, we don’t really realize what we have. And then when 500 people go, ‘You, you’re the one,’ and they stand up, standing ovation, they clap when you walk on stage, it changes things.
MARK: I’m thinking purely in terms of the frame and the feeling I’m getting from this. Do you know the TV program – here in the UK, it’s called Dragon’s Den, I think in the States, it’s Shark Tank. Dragons and sharks bearing down on you!
I know it’s entertainment, popular culture. But it’s actually quite an apt metaphor for the kind of cutthroat world of entrepreneurship. And this has got such a different feeling, right?
VICKI: It’s completely the opposite of Dragons Den. It’s called Dragon’s Den in Canada as well. Even if you just think of that metaphor, a den for dragons or a tank which is like literally you’re a caged animal performing for the investor. Think like that person sitting with their arms crossed on stage saying, ‘Prove to me that you can get me a huge return on my money.’ And I think, flip that around.
We need innovators desperately, so much more than those people sitting on stage with their money. What’s the use of capital to create a better world? And so we flip that around, and we go, ‘Oh, my God, we love what you’re doing. Can we help you?’ As opposed to you prove to me how you can do this on your own. It’s just a completely different frame.
Mark: And did you say that part of the application process when the entrepreneurs are going into SheEO, is that they need to say how their company is going to make it a better world?
Vicki: Yes. I don’t really use the word social, a social component to it. But that’s really what it is. ‘How does your business, your products or services, or how you run your business create a better world?’ You need to be able to articulate that. All of the ventures that get selected have a very strong social impact, as well as financial impact.
MARK: Again, and this is against a lot of the assumptions that we have about entrepreneurship and capitalism, that it’s all about money, it’s all about winning. It’s not about the bigger picture.
VICKI: We need to redefine winning. It’s a super broken old model. Again, go to the design challenge and the creativity piece of this. From a very, very early age, I was obsessed with how do I do good and make money at the same time? When I was growing up, 40 years ago when I was just getting started and sitting in high school that was considered crazy thinking, right? Go make money and then give it away.
I’m like, well, I’m going to do both at the same time because like I’m not obsessed with making as much money as possible. I’m obsessed with having a huge impact, deep meaning, getting up every day feeling like I’m making a difference and I’d like to pay my mortgage. Thank you very much. I think the next generation that’s coming along really lives in that space too. We’re at a more of a blended model now and not an either/or. It’s both/and.
MARK: Picking up on the SheEO story, so an entrepreneur gets picked, gets these 500 votes of confidence, gets the interest free loan.
What happens next? How does 500 advisors not become a cacophony?
VICKI: I was worried about that, too. But all of these women are really busy, and they’re not all excited about everything that you’re doing. And they only put their hands up when they have something that they can really contribute. So, what happens is the entrepreneurs come together, they divide up the money. We have a unique process to do that. They come together for a weekend, they meet their coaches, they have these world class coaches that help them throughout the course of the year.
They meet each other for the first time, they go deep, they understand each other’s negotiating styles. And then on the final day of our retreat, we say to them, ‘There’s $500,000 on the table to divide up, over to you to do that. We’re gonna leave the room in a minute, you have two rules. One is you can’t give it all to one so no winner takes all, and you can’t divide it up evenly because that’s too easy.’
And so, they have to figure out what to do. And it is so awesome. It’s so awesome to witness. They literally leverage that money and they make it go so much farther than you can imagine. And they help each other like, ‘Oh, you don’t really need that, I’ve got that I can help you with that.’ Or ‘I know someone who does that cheaper,’ or whatever. And they figure out how to maximize the impact of that money individually and collectively because we expect 100% pay back rate. And so, we do that first, which is always really fascinating to observe or to hear how it ends up.
And then they get into two coaching calls a month and a regular ask every month of the women in the network. At any given time, I’m looking for someone to help me with rebranding my company. Does anyone have any experience in that? The activator is the women who contribute capital in our network respond in real time, within 24 hours, the ventures get what they need, when they do these asks. It goes into their inbox, they reach out. We don’t do the matching which is all just the technology and people hands up organic, they find each other.
MARK: While respecting people’s confidentiality, can you say anything about the kind of asks and the kind of responses that you typically get?
VICKI: There’s literally everything from I’m going to raise a follow on round, I need some help with my financials. Is someone good at that? Can someone help me with framing? One of our ventures did go on Dragon’s Den from a marketing perspective. Because she wanted to get the word out about it, because it’s a great place to do marketing, right? One of the women in our network is a TV producer. And she said, ‘This is all about TV. This isn’t about getting the money. This is about making your commercial.’
So, she coached her on how to do that and it was brilliant. And she said, it really changed and it massively increased her sales. So, having expertise from all different areas and being able to reach out to that and have someone come in who’s passionate about your business, wants to help, and has experience in the space is amazing.
MARK: The process sounds absolutely mind-blowing.
VICKI: It’s really different. Yeah, very trust based.
MARK: Can you give us an example or two of what people have achieved as a result of the program?
VICKI: One of our ventures has breathable food wrap. All of our food wrap is plastic and toxic and if you wrap food it starts to die immediately. So, if you wrap an avocado, it turns brown in plastic wrap. When you wrap an avocado with a with Abeego, it stays green for four days. A lemon lasts for 10 days when it’s cut in half. It’s literally like putting the rind back on the food and she had this unique insight.
First of all, when we rolled out in California, all I had to do is say ‘Avocado stays longer,’ and everyone’s like, ‘What? Where do I get it?’ From her going and trying to find traditional financing and people looking at her going, ‘What? You’re gonna take on Saran wrap? Good luck with that, lady.’ To every woman going, ‘Oh my God, where do I buy it? It lasts 18 months, it’s washable, reusable, whoa.’ And it keeps my food fresh. She’s gone to market and exported to new countries and new regions because the women in our markets around the world are taking her there. They’re talking about it, they tell their local suppliers, and they get her into stores.
The idea with this model is that we get to a million women globally as soon as possible from all different regions around the world. If you are in the U.K. and you get selected, and you want to go to market in Singapore, or Mumbai, or Auckland, New Zealand, or New York, you plug into the women in those markets, the radically generous women to help you go to market. It’s a very quick way of spreading your idea around the world.
MARK: Just the multi-dimensional thing you were talking about earlier on, being able to see things holistically.
Obviously, the money part of it is pretty amazing, but there’s so many other dimensions to this.
VICKI: My personal experience, having been an entrepreneur over and over my whole life, money is always a challenge. I have experienced that. But really the larger issue is access to markets, access to customers and networks. That is really super tough. And especially as a female entrepreneur getting started. How do you find that person who knows the six people at the top of every company you want to find, right? How do you do that when you’re at the early stage of your career? And so, to plug into a network that can get you there sooner in a relationship-based way.
One of our ventures was just getting started, she had a cool tech company and she was trying to get into some of these corporations, and several women in our network are completely connected and these are their friends that are senior execs at all these companies. They call them up and go, ‘Hey, one of our SheEOs has this wicked idea. Will you meet with her?’ And they’re like, ‘Of course.’ Because they’re friends with this person and she walks in and she nails every meeting. So again, how do you get that access? The network piece of it and the early customer piece of it to me is actually way more important than the money.
MARK: It’s huge, and that reminds me of another one of my previous guests on the podcast, Patricia van den Akker, who runs The Design Trust in London, because she said, ‘Whatever your field, there are 50 people, and if they knew your name, your success would be on another level.’ She said her challenge was to say to people work out who those 50 people are, and start making sure they know your name.
This sounds like a fantastic way of accelerating that process.
VICKI: Absolutely. One of the things that we found – we’ve got six cohorts now around the world, just at a pretty early stage of this model. But when you get selected by these 500 women, and you are on stage and recognized for that you start to get recognized all over the place. The community and the marketplace considers that you’ve been validated.
Our ventures have gone on to win startup entrepreneur of the year and different awards because it gives them profile very quickly at a very early stage of their career. And that’s really exciting, if we can start to showcase some of these innovations that we think have game-changing potential. That’s a huge success moment for us.
MARK: Continuing the cycle with SheEO; you give people a loan, they repay it. What happens to the money at that point?
VICKI: As the money is repaid, which is 20% per year, because when you get your loan, so imagine you’re getting $100,000 loan, you pay it back in 20 equal installments of $5,000. Once a quarter, $5,000 is coming back. At the end of the year, 20% of that money is paid back, we loan that out again. In Canada, for example, we’ve done three rounds of this, and we just announced on Monday, seven new ventures with 500 women being their contributors. We had an extra $200,000 because money was paid back from the first year and the second year cohort so that added two companies.
With this, we have this concept of a perpetual fund. It’s a little bit of a different idea, so with each year, this money just gets loaned out, paid back and loaned out again. We keep it in flow. This idea of having a perpetual fund where the money just keeps rolling forward, you make your commitment of $1,100 dollars as an activator. But that money just keeps going forward forever and ever for your daughters, granddaughters, your great granddaughters, your nieces.
MARK: That’s the radical part of radical generosity.
MARK: It’s not just the fact that it’s this person making a gift, it’s how far that gift can go.
VICKI: It just keeps going forward. And it’s not a grant to the entrepreneurs. It’s a loan. And so, this also brings in a pretty interesting other design element from indigenous culture that I learned, which is when, just a quick story, when the white man came over to Turtle Island, which we now call North America, what the indigenous people did was they gave us a gift because that’s how they create relationships.
They give you this gift and then that creates a tie between us. And what we did with the gifts is we held on to them. And they were confused by this. Because gifts are meant to be held on to for a while and then passed on to others because then you keep the relationship going and you extend the relationship.
So, there’s actually an ongoing benefit of this relationship. We all get in relationship together. But we held on to those gifts, and so, the indigenous people came back and asked for it back, which is where this crazy derogatory term of Indian giver came from. Giving a gift and then asking for it back.
This accumulation culture that we have in North America, which is spread around the world has led to this world where only five people have the same wealth as three and a half billion. And so, we took that and said, ‘Well, what if money stayed in flow?’ Because money is currency, its energy, it’s meant to be in flow, not held in the hands of five people around the world. And so, this is totally designed with the wisdom from our indigenous cultures to keep money in flow and it benefits all.
MARK: And again, just to underline, it’s completely different to the typical model, which is venture capital, which is basically the Hollywood model. You fund 10 and maybe one will be a hit. And if you’re wasting money on the others well, so what? You made your money.
MARK: You wasted millions of dollars.
VICKI: It is so insane to me, it’s always felt insane to me. To me, this is like just to use a very basic metaphor. It’s like picking one of your children. Bet it on Susie, let’s bet it on her, forget the rest of them. They’re losers. They’re not going to make it. And so, we don’t do that. We have multiple definitions of success in relationship-based world, and so, not everyone is going to perform to the same.
Even in our ventures, in our last cohort, the range of capital was between $30,000 and $200,000. Some people didn’t need money as much. They needed the network. Others really needed it and the bang for the buck they were going to get was so much higher, and so, they divided the money up to reflect that. That’s a really interesting way of thinking about things. It’s different than what we do right now.
MARK: Another theme that I’m picking up from you, and I want to stress, I think this is a positive theme is anger. That you experienced anger when you realized what was happening to you as a woman, and just as a woman, per se, also an entrepreneur. And then the straw that broke the camel’s back was when you saw it happening to your protégés. Yet you had a tremendously creative response to it.
I always remember when I was a psychotherapist doing my training, I was told, ‘We think of anger as being a negative emotion, but actually, it’s about justice.’ And if you come up with a creative response to that you don’t have to start yelling, or attacking, or losing your temper.
If you come up with a creative response, anger can be a real force for good.
VICKI: Oh, absolutely. I never personally change unless I have to hit my head against the wall. I have to be in a lot of pain before I’ll change anything for myself. And this has been a series of aha moments over the last 25 years, like learning about different pieces to make this thing work. And it was really a crowdfunding piece and crowd selection, like there’s so many different elements to this that needed to click in. It’s like a jigsaw puzzle in a way to get me there.
But, you know, anger wasn’t an option for me, I’m not the kind of person who’s going to sit and stew in a circle. But I did have to go through a lot of those elements to figure out how to get to the solution. And, again, one of the things that we noticed about entrepreneurs is persistence and if nothing else I’m a deeply persistent person. I will not give up on things.
MARK: And also as a counterbalance to that, one other lovely quote like from your book was, ‘It doesn’t have to be hard.’ Can you say something about that?
VICKI: People don’t get this very often. What do you mean it doesn’t have to be hard? It’s so hard. Well, so what I find, anyway, is when your solution that you come up with is complex, difficult, challenging, it’s probably not the right solution. I remember sitting down with a group of entrepreneurs at my dinner table, and their business had just failed and they were trying to think up a new thing.
And someone said, ‘Let’s find something really hard to solve.’ And I said, ‘Why?’ And they looked at me, they’re like, ‘What do you mean, why?’ And I said, ‘Why don’t you find something really easy that’s easy for you to solve?’ And they looked at me like, ‘Whoa, that’s such a crazy thing to say.’ But it’s that reframing piece; with SheEO, I kept thinking all the way through.
Whenever something felt like it was going to be hard to do I was like, okay, not there yet. Because my experience has been when it’s right, it happens with flow and ease, and when it’s not, it is super painful. For example, last year, we had a really tough year with core funding. Every sponsor we went out to everyone said ‘no’. It was just like a giant year of no, in every way. I struggled through that a lot. And I’m like, ‘Okay, I guess it’s not the right time,’ but wow, it’s really hard when it’s not the right time.
And then they just started off and everything was a yes. And it just happened with ease. I’ve learned over the years, that timing is everything. Sometimes it’s just not the right moment. It may be a great idea, but it’s not the right time. And so, paying attention to the energy that gets attached to whatever you’re doing is something that I follow the energy, that’s one of my terms. If it’s block, block, block, then you have to find flow around that like rocks in a stream, water going around it. If you react to the blocks, it really slows you down and it’s not the right design.
MARK: I’m listening to you. I could be listening to a poet with that description because I think, I’m a writer and I work with a lot of artists and creatives, and it’s very, very similar. The points where we’re creating the most value are those times that we’re in flow. There’s an effortless quality to it. It’s just not always easy to get to that point.
But that’s the part that you enjoy where you feel the ease, effortlessness that’s nearly always a sign that, okay, we’re breaking through into something good here.
VICKI: Absolutely. And I mean, we are all energy, right? So, tuning into that, being surrounded by that. I consider myself to be a creative thinker and I feel like a bit of a business artist. Like this is pure creativity, figuring out solutions to major challenges we’re facing, that’s not happening sitting, crunching numbers. We’re not going to solve the world’s problems by crunching numbers.
It requires a much more deep and connection into our humanity and understanding people’s intentions, and understanding behaviors, and understanding what unlocks people’s souls and connection to each other. The empathy component will be the heart of all major change in the world. It’s not going to be happening in an MBA class sitting with your spreadsheet open, from my perspective.
MARK: And maybe one last thing, you also say that in the book, ‘It’s a post-hero world’. Tell us about the post-hero world.
VICKI: I think we’re so stuck on this one person changes everything, which is so not true. Behind whoever creates something there is an army of people, a parade of amazing supporters with all kinds of different skill sets that made that happen. But we’re so obsessed with the one and that’s a very competitive lens. One person steps over everybody to get to the top. And that’s a very old hierarchical model.
We’re moving much more to a distributed networked world with multiple pods of people connecting together and it’s all about collaboration. The biggest human challenge that we have is how do we live together? How do we collaborate together? And that is, I think, a much more feminine. I’m not saying a woman-only quality, we all have masculine traits, but the feminine of understanding how to collaborate.
The first cohort went through the dividing up of the capital, one of the women said, she really got that. She’d only been in a competitive atmosphere and she’s like collaboration is the new competition. This how do we work together and come together to elevate all, that’s a great challenge.
MARK: And speaking of challenges, this is the point in the interview where I like to ask my guest to set the listener a challenge, something that they can go away and do or start doing in the next seven days that relates to the themes that we’ve been talking about.
VICKI: The thing that I think is really a game changer is to go home and clean your closets. You’re not literal closets, but your closets of people who bring you down. I think it’s extremely challenging to reach your potential when you’re surrounded by people who are telling you to stay the way that you are. I have enough voices in my head trying to stop me from doing things, I don’t need anyone else. Thank you very much. Goodbye.
MARK: I’ve got that covered.
VICKI: Exactly. See you later. And so, being precious about who you surround yourself with. This concept that we have at SheEO is imagine being surrounded by radically generous women. And then imagine being radically generous to yourself. It’s very easy to be hard on yourself, but the voices that are negative in your head are not for you. It’s the voices that are positive, and loving, and lifting you up. That’s what you need to be listening to. And so, for me, it’s pay attention to who you’re surrounded by, and how you speak to yourself, and how they speak to you. Because that will really determine who you’ll be in the world.
MARK: Thank you. That’s a great challenge.
Last but not least, where can people go to find out more about you and SheEO, and the rest of your work?
VICKI: Our website is S-H-E-E-O, sheeo.world. And we’re on all social channels as well as sheeo.world.
MARK: Great and obviously, I’ll make sure that’s included in the show notes again. Vicki, thank you so much for your radical generosity this morning.
VICKI: My pleasure.
MARK: And I’m sure people found it as inspiring to listen to as I did.
VICKI: Thank you very much.
About The 21st Century Creative podcast
Each episode of The 21st Century Creative podcast features an interview with an outstanding creator in the arts or creative industries.
At the end of the interview, I ask my guest to set you a Creative Challenge that will help you put the ideas from the interview in to practice in your own work.
Make sure you receive every episode of The 21st Century Creative by subscribing to the show in iTunes.