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Ambika Singh: Boss lady beats startup bias
Ambika Singh is the co-founder and CEO of the Seattle startup Armoire, a women’s rental clothing service. She has gained wide praise for her startup succeeding in a world where women and minorities in the U.S. receive only about 3% of venture capital for startups. This is a Q & A between Ambika and Advance Social Innovation. ASI will launch a Startup Inclusion Program in early 2019 for women and minorities who have ideas and the initiative to build their own startups. This program will focus on getting women and minorities assistance building their dreams including mentoring and investor advice.
What about your life prepared you to be a startup entrepreneur?
I’ve never been one to take a back seat. I can thank my parents for trusting me with decision making early on, like when I insisted on planning our annual Christmas trip to Nicaragua — which involved a long flight, a cab to a bus stop, a very long bus ride complete with braying goats … and finally a remote hotel.
Were you confident every step of the way?
I don’t think anyone’s confident every step of the way, but my parents always made me feel like I was smart, and that gave me confidence. If you have self belief, you are able to take risks, and you are not defeated by failure.
Ambika Singh CEO of Armoire
Why did you take a clothing company as a startup?
The idea emerged when I was at MIT getting my MBA. The need for Armoire is driven from my own personal experience with sharing clothes, something I’ve been doing since I was very young. When I wore my cousin’s chic clothes sent from cross-country as a little girl, I gained the feeling like I could take on the world. Armoire was created to emulate that feeling for all women.
Did you know when you had the idea of a startup that only 2% of venture capital investment went to women, and only 1% went to minorities? Or were you determined to beat the numbers?
The numbers surrounding funding that goes to female founders are dismal. But only looking at statistics masks the incredible community of women who have helped me. So many women have come to bat for me, lifted me up, and made me successful by their own sheer will. I can proudly say that 4 of our 6 co-founders are women. With tireless pitching, we have managed to raise $4.7 million from investors.
How did you ask for investment? Were you intimidated at first or were you tenacious in making your startup dream come true?
Many male investors gave me blank stares — so I went with two main tactics. First, impress the traditional investors with the cold, hard numbers of the business, and get the women in their lives on her side. If the investors’ wives or daughters tried Armoire and liked it, I had an in. It worked occasionally. I remember taking a second meeting with an angel investor, and this time his wife came along, now an Armoire customer. She and I sat at the same side of the table.
How did you convince often investment-shy women to invest in your dream?
When I was having little luck with established investors — I used a different tactic. I found a group of about 10 female investors, who started as customers, who had never before backed a company. I’m very upfront about the stats that show more than 70% of startups fail nationally. I’m very protective of them.
Referrals are one of our main acquisition drivers — our members genuinely love our service, and they’re our biggest cheerleaders in spreading the word.
Has the publicity added investors?
What is your social or environmental impact to your community?
As a community in Seattle we care a lot about sustainability and traditional apparel — the second most polluting industry on earth — is at odds with this. Seattle women have embraced the opportunity to share clothing — even sometimes referencing the ability to ‘pay forward’ a powerful blazer or dress — to service the next amazing member.
What’s the other goals do you have to expand on your entrepreneurship?
At the moment, I’m very focused on growing Armoire!
Do you see yourself helping other women and minorities in finding VC funding?
100%. I wouldn’t be where I am today without the support of other women.