See Jane Invest

Those of you who have been around APW for awhile know that one of my driving passions is women and business ownership. We live in a world where our work culture is fundamentally designed to serve a patriarchal system. Women “opt out,” not because it’s their first choice, but because it often seems to be their only choice. I want to live in a world where women create more, and where creating a family does not rule out other forms of creation—and I think small business ownership is one solution to that problem. In July, I was lucky enough to get to speak at Alt SF about entrepreneurship, and after my talk I met Kelly Keenan Trumpbour, the founder of See Jane Invest. She’s working on exactly this problem: how do we get women access to the funding, skills, and networks they need to start their own businesses? I asked her to write an essay for Risk Month on female entrepreneurship, and what she wrote has echoes of my thoughts at the beginning of this month, on creation from decay.


by Kelly Keenan Trumpbour, CEO, See Jane Invest

So I Started A Business.

I went to college in Detroit and lived two miles closer to downtown than Eminem’s 8 Mile. The 1968 civil rights riots lingered in the shells of burnt-out houses just blocks from my campus. The city had its own subtle swagger that the rest of the country sampled during Chrysler’s “Imported from Detroit” Superbowl ad campaign. I had the privilege of living and working among people who saw the city’s problems for what they were, but would never let anyone give up on them.

In a neighborhood where prairie grass shot up through concrete, what had once been manicured front lawns had become fields. With the skyscrapers of downtown visible on the horizon, I came upon a collective of beekeepers and jam makers. Mostly made up of women from the community, their staff was local elementary school children. They used the hives and small gardens to teach nature appreciation, cooking, and basic sales distribution. The revenue from honey and jam went toward buying much needed school supplies. They seemed very content in their little operation, not existing because they lived on a crumbling block, but in spite of it.

Years later, when my husband and I started trying for a family, I decided to take a break from my career because a rare reaction to fertility drugs known as OHS (Ovarian Hyperstimulation Syndrome) hit hard. Six months later, on the day before I was scheduled to transfer two remaining embryos, I fell and broke my arm so badly my elbow was locked, clutched at my side at a thirty-three degree angle. Two surgeries and eighteen months of physical therapy later, I thankfully regained full motion. A negative pregnancy test confirmed that frozen embryos come with no guarantee. Giving it one more go, I again was hit with OHS despite being placed on the safest treatment possible. I found myself in a hospital completely ill, numb, and at a dangerously high risk of blood clots. It was hard not to feel like I had gambled away two years of my life, and lost badly.

So I started a business.

Sometimes, the people who know about my fertility experience see what I’m doing and they equate it with a kind of substitution. I can see their logic since both a baby and a business are born from creative acts. We present them to the world hopeful they represent our best selves. We sleep less with them around and we can’t stop fearing for their well-being. Sometimes we are tempted to skip the experience entirely knowing that in its absence, we can spare ourselves the agony of watching them struggle and very likely fail. I see all that, but there’s a crucial distinction that makes me think I’m not trading one parenting experience for another.

What If I Don’t Have The Chops?

Let me tell you about the risks I’m not taking as an entrepreneur. A start-up is unlikely to land me in the hospital. With a fair amount of certainty, I can promise myself that my business will never make me pray for the basic existence and good health of my children, even the ones I have yet to meet. Is there a chance that my husband and I might squabble over how much time and money can go into my business? Sure. But I’m fairly certain that our disagreements about my company will never hinge on who we invite into the intimate details and frequency of our sex life. Yes, I am putting my name and reputation on the line, but I can’t imagine one false move as a CEO will cost me the use of an entire limb. Risk is relative.

The women I meet who are hesitant to start a business usually reference the very real risks of investing scarce time and even scarcer money into something that might not succeed. It’s a fair point, except I find that the “might not succeed” bit has more teeth than time or money. What if I don’t have the chops to make it? What if my idea is lousy? What if I can do it, but I’m not willing to kill myself to make it a reality? What if I’m the thing that prevents my business from succeeding?

I asked myself the same questions before I jumped. After what I had been through, I bypassed my fears faster than I might have at other times in my life. Good health brought an awareness of what I had at my disposal, things like solid experience, a fantastic education, and a gut-level passion. You don’t have to walk through fire to come to the same conclusion. I’m not alone in having nothing to lose.

I spend a lot of time working with women so they can see that they are qualified and more than ready to make the asks that go into launching. Many of these women are mothers, and they would be the first to prop me up if I shared my fertility experience. They would tell me things about how your child teaches you to become a mother, that you already know more than you think, that all the fear is nothing compared to what you get in return. No matter the hurdles, if it’s what I want, they would tell me to keep going until I found my way to motherhood.

Basically, I have the same advice for them. It’s worth it. It’s worth it if you feel like something within you is dormant and shouldn’t be.

Have you ever had the sensation that you parked a Jaguar somewhere in your soul and a desperate itch makes you want to find the keys and take it out for a test drive? The engine that drove you to become Honor Society President, the gears that shifted like silk to land that job, that guy, that whatever, the suspension that made you turn on a dime taking advantage of opportunities no one else saw—when was the last time that beautiful machine had a chance to floor it for its own sake? That’s what got me to start my business.

There is more to life than waiting for everything to fall into place. As women, I often think it is our greatest asset and greatest liability that we can so deftly work with what is handed to us. Life’s turns can keep a girl very busy, to the point of losing track of what we created for ourselves versus what we are required to manage by association. If entrepreneurship could sneak up like an unplanned plus or minus on a pregnancy test, I believe that there would be no shortage of Fortune 500 female executives.

I’m not going to tell anyone that becoming an entrepreneur is the answer to life’s problems. I can’t guarantee that it will bring wealth or any noticeable status bump. I can’t even promise that just because you have a good idea, it will make a good business. But viewed under a certain light, risk is a necessary ingredient to any game and entrepreneurship has that kind of risk. More than showing up to play, it’s a chance to redesign the game.

Disrupt The Game. See Jane Invest.

For the women who bring a serious game to entrepreneurship, I believe there should be more access to financial resources and supportive networks. I’m working on that. The business I started is about helping women become entrepreneurs and investors. I’m working with new tools like equity crowdfunding to understand how it can help women move forward after they have refined their business plans. I also want women to have the best shot at navigating all types of investing including angel and venture capital funding.

I care about other women’s businesses because more often than not, the women I meet aren’t simply pitching me the world’s next best widget. I am amazed at how often the women I meet marry a fantastic concept with solving a significant problem. They have waited and watched, studied and measured, scraped together whatever resources they can find and recruited anyone who can help them. After all of that, their elevator speeches come down to how their products make life better for others. Not superficially better—more like clean drinking water in third world countries better. Selling honey in the middle of decay to buy schoolbooks better.

Let me be clear, there is absolutely nothing wrong with starting with the expectation that you should make money from a great idea. If you succeed, you will give back in so many other ways. The women who grow a thriving business will have modeled financial independence and executive decision-making. Their communities will benefit from their tax dollars which will increase property values, support school systems, and fund art institutions.

As their companies expand, how these women choose to pair work with family has the potential to set a new norm. For instance, who decided that eighty hours of bleary-eyed work in a cubicle is better than something more rational, focused, and inclusive of family? Maybe the reason there are so few women CEOs in major corporations today is that women aren’t shying away from hard work, but we don’t like the way the game is played. The women who start companies have the chance to disrupt that game.

It goes beyond business. If these women become big success stories, they will become very influential leaders. The workplace standards they design can impact health care, maternity leave, and minimum wage laws. The wealth they create can be reinvested, not just in the next generation of women CEOs, but in the next generation of women political candidates. The sway of women who make a name for themselves in business will matter to presidential candidates who need donors, voters, and advisers.

I haven’t ruled out motherhood. If I ever have a daughter, I would like her to see what happens when a woman allows herself to take the floor for her own sake. You can help me set the stage.

Photo: Adaptation of Creative Commons Image “Detroit – Architecture” by Dave Sizer

Kelly Keenan Trumpbour founded See Jane Invest to help women gain the confidence and funding they need to turn their ideas into start-ups. She believes entering the marketplace as entrepreneurs and investors enables women to express their values, give back to their communities, and model smart risk taking. See Jane Invest is focused on helping women understand and use the advantages of equity crowdfunding once SEC regulations complete the 2012 JOBS Act. Kelly draws on her experience in Washington, DC lobbying on behalf of women’s business groups, recruiting young professional women to enter politics, and helping them link the personal stories behind their passions with the conviction of leadership. A published author and professional speaker, Kelly holds an MBA from Johns Hopkins and a law degree from the University of Maryland. She and her husband live outside of Baltimore.

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  • “The engine that drove you to become Honor Society President, the gears that shifted like silk to land that job, that guy, that whatever, the suspension that made you turn on a dime taking advantage of opportunities no one else saw—when was the last time that beautiful machine had a chance to floor it for its own sake?”

    This hit me so hard! My experience with the first years of starting a business is a mix of euphoria with extreme fear and doubt, and not knowing which will strike when, or the feeling that anything good I’ve achieved is somehow a result of luck rather than working my ass off.


    • Hintzy

      That same section, it hit me like a Ton. of. Bricks.

      This plan of a “day job” to support my “passion” just isn’t working. I needed to read this today, thanks!

      • I spent my whole twenties working in that model or a dull day job I didn’t care for to fund doing the work I loved as a hobby.

        I’m trying now to switch that around and build the hobby into a business so I can leave this job I don’t care about!

      • Have you ever read AndKathleen? Kathleen Shannon blogs about her life and her business, especially the overlap of the two. Check out her “Freelance Matters” series. She’s constantly writing about how to make her business work for her life.

        • Ooooo, never heard of it! Thank you !

      • That section hit me hard too – although for the opposite reason I think. Because I was the kid that did NOT have the drive to become the Honors Society President, who was afraid. And yet… I also find that the plan of having a day job to support my passion just isn’t working at all. I find that I am losing passion instead of fostering it, and this post energizes my need to marry work and passion again. But I really am scared I don’t have the chops. I’m so glad Kathleen addressed that, even if part of what she said made me more nervous. At the same time, there is something in me that’s dormant that shouldn’t be so…

      • Hintzy

        and wow timing… just found out my job will not exist in a few weeks… guess I’m taking that leap aren’t I?

  • Sara

    Ideas for start-ups are not on my list of talents, and I will not be starting my own business any time soon (maybe never), but this article is one of the best things I’ve read on APW in months. Strong work, Meg and Kelly.

    • meg

      I totally want to start (help Kelly start, whatever) a conversation about how we can support women small business owners if we have no desire to start our own businesses.

      • I’m in. We should definitely talk.

      • Right on. I’m the world’s greatest second banana but I’m not remotely interested in starting my own business. Maybe that’s why I help my sister run hers. I love helping other people get their ideas off the ground.

        • “World’s Greatest Second Banana” needs to be on a mug. And then I’m going to buy the shit out of it.

          • meg

            Maddie will fight you for it. She likes to say she’s the worlds greatest follower, and that it takes just as much guts (if not more guts) to be the first follower, as does to be the leader. Now I’m going to make her talk about it, because it’s totally fascinating.

          • Maddie

            I will, indeed, totally fight you for it. :) I was actually going to jump in and say the same thing. Have you seen this video? It’s amazing.


            “The first follower transforms a lone nut into a leader.”

            I feel like that’s the line that nails it for me. It’s interesting, because I lead a double life as both a small business owner and a second banana, and I feel like both take totally different skills and talents, but second banana is a position that gets a lot less love, yet is still completely vital. It takes a certain kind of guts to be the person to start something, for sure. But you can’t really get things off the ground without that first follower, without the person who will stand up and be an evangelist for your cause, without the person who will turn your lone nuttiness into leadership.

            One of the most important things I’ve learned from working with Meg at APW is that it’s important to surround yourself with people who have skills that are different from yours, and that are in some ways better than you at things, because that’s the only way you can grow your business. I’ve applied it to my own business and it’s made a world of difference.

            So in short, everyone needs second bananas. And second bananas should value the importance of their position. And everyone should watch the video I posted above.

      • mimi

        I’m a business attorney, so I can help with the technical aspects.

      • Is there a Ladies Who Launch chapter near you? I don’t think it’s technically a national org, but I know there are multiple local groups that operate under the same name, with the common focus of supporting women in start-ups. Could be a place to start!

  • May

    So I’m a management consultant, and as such I’ve spent years giving advice to CEOs and GMs on how to run their businesses effectively. I can get up in front of a board and talk about operational turnaround or EBIT improvement because I know my stuff. I don’t know much about life but business is my thang. Problem is, in those situations, all the risk is borne by someone else. The moment I’m faced with a financial risk of my own, I turn into a confused babbling mess. I would LOVE to run my own business. But every time I spot an opportunity, I suddenly become utterly incapable of assessing costs versus benefits dispassionately. Every risk is magnified times a billion and I talk myself out of it, telling myself that I’m better off sticking to my current path.

    I want to do it. I have the skills to do it. I even have the money to do it. But I lack the balls, which makes me think that despite everything else, I’m fundamentally not cut out for entrepreneurship.

    • Anonymous

      Ok, unsolicited advice and I apologize upfront if I’m taking liberties. It sounds like this might be something you are rational and honest about recognizing within yourself, but maybe want to change or find another way to fill some hole inside? Why not volunteer for Kelly or an organization like hers, using your know how to help other women follow their dreams of opening their own business? Maybe this would fulfill you in a creative way that regular work may not. Maybe seeing others with so much more to lose still taking risks will encourage you to take some yourself. Maybe just being a part of something great, will help you realize that not everyone can or should have the huge dreams. But those who spend their lives and talents helping others attain the huge dreams, are just as important and their contribution is priceless.

      • meg

        I love this comment.

      • I’m working in Baltimore to bring more investors and entrepreneurs together, often through educational events. If you think you have a particular insight into business, look around for opportunities to work with nonprofits or incubators. One way to help that would be particularly useful for the next generation is to tap your network and find the middle school, high school and college teachers. Ask them if they ever look for outside speakers (who won’t pitch a product) to talk about business related subjects.

    • Celina

      Not to take away from your comment but I’m actually looking into getting into management consulting. Do you mind if I contact you via email to learn about your experience?

    • May,

      Thanks for reading the piece and giving this really great perspective. I don’t think you are alone in feeling that you are the boss in one highly technical financial arena but also feeling less than secure when it all comes down to you making a business fly. One of the things that I think most women do extraordinarily well is that they can assess all the parts, all the mechanisms and all the complexities before the machine exists. They also assess (correctly) that they will be the primary fuel to make that engine run. Which leads to one big freak out when your brain tries to make sense of how one human being (you) will sketch out, design, build, assemble, test, and maintain said engine. We also tend to jump to the conclusion that it is absolutely necessary for our businesses to exist in their ideal form tomorrow. More freak outs ensue as we hold our feet to the fire and try to figure out how we will become a top notch expert with a top notch product relying on a top notch implementation system, tomorrow.

      In some ways, I think your situation must make it even harder to consider a business. As a management consultant, your education and experience has been about working with established companies. Key phrase: established companies. These are entirely different animals than a start-up, but they have been your norm. My guess is that your sense of paralysis has to come in part from holding yourself to the standards of the companies you work with. They are bigger, they have been around longer, they have adapted and survived market swings and they know when to prepare for change (which is why they hire you in the first place). The difference between you and them isn’t smarts or ingenuity, it’s being on the planet longer as a company and paying attention to years of mistakes and successes.

      See what happens if you take some of the pressure off. Put the idea of you running your own business on a back burner and keep it there. Maybe it will happen, maybe it won’t – that’s not really a concern right now. Your not leaving your job tomorrow (I’m guessing) so someone else is responsible for cutting you a paycheck. What makes you “LOVE” the idea of running your own business? Do you know what kind of thing you would be doing in your own business? Is it the kind of thing you know so well you find yourself doing it for free or in your spare time because it’s that much of a second nature to you? If you know those answers, then take a smaller bite and flesh it out a little more (but just a little more – no spreadsheets just yet). Then sit with and see what bubbles up.

      • meg

        I think what Kelly is staying is right. You don’t start running a marathon. You start by taking a step.

        I’ve done my time in the financial ranks, and I know what EBIT is. That said, I never look at EBIT in my own business, because my finances are just not that complex. My job is to bring in enough money to make expenses, get cash flow to work, set aside resources to invest in my business, and make sure I have a cash cushion. In that way it’s a lot more like running our household budget (something I stopped doing when I started running my business full time, because I only have brain space for one) than looking at a financial model.

        But also, I started my business as a very very very part time gig. I ramped up, went full time after a few years, and have slowly brought on part time staffers. It wasn’t zero to sixty, because to scale that fast, you’ve got to be taking investment money and committing to a kind of growth that just wasn’t what I was trying to build.

        Short answer: after all that, I don’t consider running a business to be one of the things that I do that’s risky or scary. It’s much less risky than being at a job where I could be laid off at any second. Of the two of us in this household: business owner and lawyer at a firm, we consider me to have the far less risky gig. Plus, I’m building skills, so if I had to go get a job, I’d be very hirable. Having a kid? That takes some… lady parts. Slowly building a business? That’s no scarier than any of a million things, and less risky than working in finance ever was.

        • H

          Can I just say that I really really like your use of lady-parts in that context?

      • May

        You are totally right, my benchmark is listed companies and I have little (ok fine, zero) experience with SMEs. After reading all these comments and in particular the one about getting investors and entrepreneurs together, it’s become quite clear to me that my best path forward might actually be as an investor/advisor. Whether it’s seed money or helping an SME with cash flow management, that’s a space that I’m comfortable operating in and can add value. Great advice, great article.

  • An inspiring and timely post for me to read, bleary-eyed before coffee, on a Wednesday morning. Feeling energized. Thank you, Kelly!

  • mimi

    Great post and great concept! I’m a business attorney in Detroit and I was hoping you were still in the area, but it looks like you’re not.

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  • Courtney

    Oh, Kelly, you are a hero! Great post and even better idea!

  • “Maybe the reason there are so few women CEOs in major corporations today is that women aren’t shying away from hard work, but we don’t like the way the game is played. The women who start companies have the chance to disrupt that game.”

    This. So much. Thank you for this post! As someone who is tired of the game, I really needed to hear this.

  • Re-energizing me to work on my business!

    My wedding was this past Sunday and it’s been about a week of not being able to get anything other than wedding stuff done! Finally time to get back to working on my books and my publishing company!

  • Not sure I can distill my thoughts about this, but I’m definitely sharing this essay on FB with my local chapter of Ladies Who Launch.

    Thank you :-)

  • Lubna

    Such an inspiring post! I am a young, powerful woman, and I would have never thought myself of that if it was not for Running Start and motivational blog posts such as yours. Your blog posts reassure women that they can do it. You give me and many other women the confidence to build ourselves up, and not give into the role that society often places us in. Keep inspiring, I am working on becoming the best woman I can be, and inspiring the woman around me that they can do the same! Thank you for sharing a piece of yourself. I will be re-posting your blog post on facebook. I love this line and everything about it- “Disrupt the game, see Jane Invest.” Lastly, would you by any chance have some type of tool kit as to how women, such as myself, can get into the mentality of investing or opening up a business? I am not exactly sure how to start.

    • Hi Lubna! How are you? I remember working with you at one of the Running Start Young Women’s Political Leadership retreats! Thank you so much for sharing the post! Yes, there will be more resources available on my website very soon. Sometime next week there will be a whole new site and I plan on having more tools available. Keep going!!

  • I’m really enjoying reading all of these fantastic comments. I love that the post is resonating with so many of you. I’m know this is a community of amazing women, and your perspective really matters.


    Thank you SO much for this article Kelly. I’ve been reading APW for almost 2 years now and this article spoke to me in a way that no other has. Even from when I was little, I have always felt that I will start a business some day. Kids are still a big question mark for me. Thank you for such an inspiring post – good luck in all your endeavors!

    • Cass

      I completely agree! I feel like I’m in the same boat as you. What a great pithy and inspiring article.

  • Thank you so much for this article. I’ve been dreaming, researching, planning, regrouping, rationalizing, and simply exhausting my brain the past couple of months trying to figure out how to make my dream business happen. I’ve spent the last two days intensely talking with my husband, sister, and best friend to really figure out how to make it a reality. This was the right kick in the pants at the right time, so it’s time to make the jump.

    Seriously. Thank you Kelly for the great article, and thank you Meg for being such an honest, motivating example!

  • How did I not know about “See Jane Invest”?? So excited to learn more about this great site and woman (Kelly, you rock). I launched my own event planning company almost a year ago in the DC area, and found this post ridiculously inspiring on many levels. APW was the reason I took the jump and launched my own thing, and now you continue to inspire (and provide awesome resources and support). yay yay yay!

  • Amy

    Thank you so much for sharing, I am in the trenches of business planning and sometimes it feels so overwhelming. I am so excited and scared to take this adventure to the next level. I am motivated, driven, creative and capable, thanks for reminding me and all of us what we have to offer.

  • Natalie

    This post is awesome and very inspiring! Well timed too. I have a full time job (that I love), but I’ve recently decided to start making and selling jewelry part time with the sea glass I’ve picked up on the beach. Except I want to have all of the proceeds go to sponsoring children and mission trips in 3rd world countries. :)

    • Rosie

      This is a great idea! I hope it goes well :)

  • Jan

    ” If entrepreneurship could sneak up like an unplanned plus or minus on a pregnancy test, I believe that there would be no shortage of Fortune 500 female executives.”

    Agreed. You make me smile, Kelly Keenan Trumpbour.

  • Sara

    This article is really empowering and speaks to so many of my fears. My dream job is owning my own coffee shop/used book store – but the ubiquity of chain coffee places like Starbucks, Caribou, Seattle’s Best, etc scares me to no end. It makes me not want to jump. I have always been someone who lets their fears get the better of them, and I wish it didn’t.

    The sad thing is, I’ve seen it work. I worked in independent shops all through college and loved all the details; the customers, the coffee, the muffins…There was even another indy coffee place down the street. I’m going to print this article and reread it for inspiration. Maybe I’ll take a step forward with a class or something.

  • Heather

    I wonder if you have any suggestions for turning a “craft” business into something stable and profitable while maintaining your dignity as a maker? To me it requires a different set of guidelines than service startups. For every inspiring feature you read on a site like Etsy, there are lots of us in a craft business (jewelry in my case) who are struggling to lure in customers because web and print advertising is hella expensive, and if you want to provide an ethical product there’s a huge disparity in cost of labour and materials between you and your commercial competitors. We opt for social media “advertising” and a bit of fairy dust to get a customer base established. I find my biggest hurdle is competing against the vast amount of resources (materials and access) my competitors in commercial jewelry already possess. It’s tough, and the fact that a lot of made-in-a-sweat-shop jewelry is starting to mimic the style of indie “handmade” jewelry is alarming to me. How will people know the difference and will they care if the price is right? I make everything myself by hand, in my very own workshop and I charge as little mark up as possible but I’m still struggling for business.
    What I would have LOVED when I first started out was the ability to be featured FOR FREE on a site like APW or other sane, ethical blogs to get a bit of street cred. Would anyone here consider doing a sort of spotlight on a startup that was less established? It doesn’t have to be me (though I think I would run into a wall out of excitement if that happened) but it would be so nice to give someone with a good product but limited audience a chance. It could be juried by readers even.

  • amigacara

    “There is more to life than waiting for everything to fall into place. As women, I often think it is our greatest asset and greatest liability that we can so deftly work with what is handed to us. Life’s turns can keep a girl very busy, to the point of losing track of what we created for ourselves versus what we are required to manage by association. If entrepreneurship could sneak up like an unplanned plus or minus on a pregnancy test, I believe that there would be no shortage of Fortune 500 female executives.”

    The writing on this whole post KICKS A$$! Seriously! Love the Jaguar part.

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