Ladies Who Launch Toronto - Thank you for bringing passion and energy to the event!

What a night! Thank you Toronto for bringing passion and energy to the event

Here’s just a flavor of the feedback we’ve received so far.

" ...I find I spend a lot of time alone trying to run and move forward with my business so it was invigorating to share ideas with like minded women"

“This is the best event in Toronto I have been to" 

“Such a great evening in Toronto. Amazing, accomplished business leaders and change-makers with heart, smarts and generous souls who do good in the world. Thank you."

“Inspiring. Strong. Kickass! Excellent event! #lwltoronto

" It’s rare that every speaker at an event is engaging & informative, but I can easily say I learned more from listening than speaking last night" Erin Bury CO-Founder & CEO WillfulWills

" Great inspiration content at Ladies Who Launch, learning from and and being inspired by amazing women" Eva Wong Co-Founder/COO Borrowell

As part of saying thank you to everyone who gave so graciously to our continued movement, we like to write a short wrap up that gives us a moment to reflect and feel the energy of the evening again.  Each new location visited highlights new relationships started, new communities built, new learnings given, and of course new inspiration felt!  

If you want to follow along and join us on our Ladies Who Launch journey, check out our website for more information on upcoming events - next up Denver. We’re also actively building out content with the hopes that we can be a small part of helping to get women across the globe launching successfully! 

So back to Wednesday evening, and I’ll start with a huge thank you to Shopify and RBC Ventures for sponsoring. We are finding allies and partners in so many cities that we’ve been wanting to target for a while now.  A great sign for the momentum and success of Ladies Who Launch.  For anyone who needs a refresher, the bios of all of the amazing women mentioned below can be found here

I’m going to start at the end… the closing conversation between Zahra Al-Harazi and Sarah Katyal and the official launch of  Sarah actually said it best in her tweet “When life comes full-circle! I met my co-founder @zahrasays @LWLGlobal 3 years ago, and today we get to share our story about @MySkillit with a sold-out group of 500 amazing women. Thank you for the opportunity”.  What an inspirational way to go into our networking time together and the attendees certainly responded. They meant business, asking tough questions, finding meaningful connections, and as we all know from our research, disproportionately benefiting from that beautiful outcome - peer mentorship. It’s amazing what can come from a single first conversation.

Back to the beginning, kicking off with Shahrzad Rafati - Founder & CEO Broadband TV.  Again another serendipitous LWL introduction from one of these wrap ups.  Marc Benioff responded on reading about San Francisco last year and introduced us to an entrepreneur who has let nothing stand in her way.  Starting small, suitcase in hand and freshly landed from Tehran, Shahrzad epitomizes the tenacity of female entrepreneurs. Today her company boasts 575 million unique viewers each month. To put that into perspective, BBTV content is now viewed by more individuals on a monthly basis than the population of the United States, Mexico, and Canada combined. Beyond the advice she gave the room she also sent a call to action out to every leader - building a quadruple bottom line business.  This is an organization that measures success not just based on financial performance but also employee, social, and environmental KPIs. For her company, pay disparity across male and female employees is 0%, 43% of her BBTV employees are female, and 46% of managers are female. “Equal is equal.”  We thoroughly agree!

Word of the night - going with “action”.  It is clear that Toronto and Canada at large is already making strong moves to embrace diversity and inclusion.  From the country’s macro level stance on immigration through the support I saw all week, including at the Elevate Tech Festival, for strong female leadership and entrepreneurship.  It’s always interesting to see and feel the vibe of the night. In events from just the past year, our words speak volumes: Stockholm we decided on need, St Louis honed in on authenticity while Dublin talked about advocacy. San Francisco, finding purpose, Belfast you are enough.  

For the Building and Nurturing your Brand panel, we brought together Moderator: Despina Zanganas, Arati Sharma from Shopify, Hayley Mullins Founder of Sleepbelt and Joeyband, and Mackenzie Yeates co-founder of KOTN. In almost all cases, a big and often very personal mission was the starting point. In Hayley’s case, who could forget the story of accidentally dropping her weeks old baby while sleep deprived and trying to do it all. For Mackenzie, a belief in a more sustainable and quality product. And for Arati, now birthing thousands of business via Shopify, but also her own personal investing as an angel in female lead start-ups. 

Hayley reminded us that nothing ever moves as fast as you would like.  Although we all feel the impatience and urgency to get everything done yesterday. Arati recognized how many female entrepreneurs don’t have access to the same resources as everyone else.  We agree. And Mackenzie noted there are no silver bullets in brand building but in her case she has built a brand on doing good for the community and not just her company. Specifically, KOTN’s has invested in a better life for the people who help source their raw materials - Egyptian Cotton Farmers. Also choosing to become a B Corporation.  In a weird twist of fate I met an Aspen Fellow working on B-Labs later in the week. A powerful way to bring together social good with your company’s business and financial vision. 

The New Breed of Financing panel was feisty and thought provoking.  We loved hearing the range of perspectives from taking VC funding to doing everything you can to protect equity by bootstrapping. Moderator Shadi McIsaac (Founder, Ownr, Partner at RBC) did an amazing job balancing the perspectives of Erin Bury (Willful), Amie Rotherham (Clearbanc) and Eva Wong  (Borrowell).

Clearbanc was a find in Canada and we hope to further partner with them at other events.  How great to know that when data and facts are the business case for financing, women disproportionately benefit - 8x more female businesses funded than male.  Erin talked about her mistake in being “too Oprah” like with equity in the beginning - it’s not just about giving away real value it also adds to a complexity when you are doing things in the future with a large cap table that has to be brought along. Eva underscored that in a business like Borrowell there’s no choice except to institutionally fundraise because they need capital to lend, not just to grow the company. All spoke to being careful to take money from people who’s values align to you and your company’s. Wise words in today’s environment!  They also raised good questions for the women in the room: How fast do you need to or want to grow? Can you take more time or well-funded competitors already at your heels? They also flagged many sources of money but also mentorship including SheEO and Techstars, and for Tips and Tricks a few podcasts - How I Built This and Reid Hoffman’s Masters of Scale.   Does that make us Mistresses of Scale?  One final place for mentorship that came up in our networking was Dovetail Summit.

Our closing keynote was Joanna Griffiths, from Knix. We loved that Joanna started out by calling out all the men she’d pitched to who just never got what “reinventing intimates for real life” meant. Since launching the company in 2013, Joanna has built Knix into a global leader in the intimates’ category while building a community of women who are passionately taking on life by breaking down the taboos and boundaries that get in their way. Such a courageous brand and leader! A Knix item is now sold every 7 seconds, and the company has shipped over half a million orders in the last twelve months alone.

I’m going to pause and interject her most recent project Life After Birth - I’d highly recommend going to visit it live if it pops up in your city. 

“Do I like my postpartum body? Not particularly, but I am so proud of it,” wrote Lori Yerri in the caption of her postpartum photo. “I have been able to continuously nourish two humans with this stretched, saggy and scarred body of mine, since conception. And for that, I love my postpartum body.”

“My stomach is covered in loose saggy skin and stretch marks. I call them my hope wounds and they tell a story that brought me my children, 3 absolute miracles,” wrote Desiree Fortin of her postpartum body. “It's a daily effort to change my perspective and find the beauty that is right before my eyes because it is there.”

One of the superpowers of LWL is helping women see that they are not alone in their entrepreneurial journey. We seek to provide a safe and authentic space to share ideas, failures, future hopes, and tough lessons.  Business challenges are rarely novel, and the power of mentors is that they have usually walked in your shoes. So while they may not have the answer, they can at least provide perspective. 

Thank you all – especially those who volunteered their time and made it all seem so seamless and simple.  A big shout out to the women, and the men, from Nextdoor and Square who in the midst of a country launch, embraced another community and volunteered night of.  Onwards to Denver and then Belfast next. Still top of mind is our own scaling and ways to create more ongoing and long lasting conversations between all of the amazing women we’ve met along the way - we’re still hunting for that perfect CEO too. 

Sarah, Kelly, and Nuala

Nuala Murphy