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How to make it in a difficult and challenging industry
Rebecca Alvarez Story dishes on raising an angel round, overcoming impostor syndrome, and what it's like to be a Latina entrepeneur.
Welcome to The Leap, where women and nonbinary entrepreneurs open up about what it took to get to where they are now. In 2018, women founders received just 2.2% of the $130 billion in venture money invested in the United States. Given these odds, it’s time to get real about what it’s really like to be a woman founder. From raising capital to imposter syndrome, we explore what it takes for women to enter the world of entrepreneurship.
Today, we chat with Rebecca Alvarez Story, founder and CEO of Bloomi, the leading marketplace for clean period, hygiene, and sex products.
So, what’s Bloomi all about?
Bloomi is a marketplace that focuses on clean intimate care products, hygiene, period products, and sexual health products. Everything in our marketplace is screened before we sell it on the marketplace to make sure it’s safe for intimate areas of the body.
Did you go to college? If so, what did you study?
I went to UC Berkeley I have a BA in women’s health and sexuality, which is a major that I created with a few professors. I also have a master’s in sexuality studies—so I’m a sexologist.
Where did you first get the idea for the Bloomi?
I have always been interested in intimate care products, whether that’s feminine washes or vibrators. I would work at different startups doing market research and developing the products with research and development. But for Bloomi, it was a combination of multiple things happening at the same time.
My mom got breast cancer and my aunt passed away from breast cancer within a two month time period. That made me want to shift our lifestyles to be as clean and simple as possible and get rid of toxic ingredients.
When did you *know* you wanted to leave your previous career path behind?
I was working a corporate job and felt undervalued; it was a very frustrating feeling for me. I decided I needed to do research in the space because I couldn’t find clean products, which spoke to me because I realized that if I couldn’t find them as someone who was well-versed in this space, other people probably couldn’t either.
I left my 9 to 5 and started consulting which gave me more time to work on a minimum viable product (MVP) and start what it was going to take to build the idea out. After six months of simplifying and downsizing, my husband and I were able to save. It was around that time that I realized I had something meaningful with Bloomi, so I made the leap. I definitely didn’t realize all the work that went into early stage, day one startups. I’d been part of startups before but usually with teams of 10 to 40 people. Starting a company from ground zero was kind of a shock to my system, but I was so passionate and it's a muscle that you develop as an entrepreneur—the figure it out muscle.
Letting go of a steady paycheck is terrifying for most people, how did you deal with the uncertainty? And did you have a safety net?
Leaving a stable or comfortable job to take a risk on an idea you have is extremely terrifying. At the time, I was engaged to my now husband but had been a single mom for seven years. That pressure of motherhood and that weight of taking care of a little one adds a lot of pressure. I had a layer of fear that I could put both of us in a bad situation if things didn’t work out. That fear kept me stuck for many years.
What I realized was that if I didn’t take that leap and figure out a plan to get out of that situation, she was going to see that I didn’t pursue my passion. At the same time, I felt like I was running out of time to hit the market. Something clicked for me and I realized that I could just figure it out; if I ran out of savings or didn’t have the capital I needed yet, I could take out a loan. There are options as long as you have a strong proof of concept and a plan to become profitable.
What was your transition process like? How long did it take you to adjust to your new work life?
It’s taken me about two years to adjust to being an entrepreneur. In the beginning there is a lot of fear and a lot of uncertainty about how to do things; when you should call yourself an entrepreneur or share your business ideas. I also had to learn the ins and outs of business since my background is in sexual health. I had to teach myself and it was very humbling.
That said, it gets easier and you become more confident in being a business owner and a founder as people start to learn about your business and get excited with you. But I had very tough days where I questioned whether I was doing the right thing.
What’s been your plan to profitability—how have you approached raising capital?
I used my savings and personal funds for about six months, and then after I had enough MVP, I did a small angel round that was some friends and family and other angels. That was really to get me through a one-year runway to build out a lean team and accelerate growth, with me still not taking a salary. So everything I made was going back into the business. Now, I have some traction and this summer I am raising my official pre-seed round and that round is so that I can build out the team and continue to build the traction we already have.
What’s it been like being a Latina entrepreneur?
Everything that we hear in the media in terms of how difficult and challenging this space is is true. I experienced a lot of barriers to raising funds. One, I’m a woman. Two, I’m a woman of color. Three, I’m a solo founder of my first business. So there’s a lot of risk for investors when I don’t fit the norm of someone they’d usually invest in. On top of that, a lot of people like to invest in traditional types of businesses, whether that’s fintech or software. It takes a very progressive investor to want to expand out and invest in femtech and sextech.
It’s been challenging and the reason I’ve needed two angel rounds. Despite doing an accelerator, I never saw someone who looked like me in the room. I pitched to as many progressive people as I could, but there were no Latina investors that I met. And there were a couple of women of color, but they were the only one at the firm and so it was hard to find time to meet with them. I have had some investors say some pretty derogatory things to me and questioning why I was raising funds. I was also pregnant and raising funds, so questioning that, too. People didn’t understand what I was trying to build and that’s because we have different lived experiences.
What has been your biggest challenge so far?
Besides raising capital, it’s tough to grow a team. Most people don’t have the luxury of only working for equity. That’s really tough when you have very limited funds and are such a new business. You need to be creative with the way you build your initial team. For me, that was hiring consultants when I really needed to and it meant I was doing 90% of the work and wearing the hat of every department.
What does your self-care routine look like?
I really enjoy taking mornings to myself. I try to not check email until 9 or 10 a.m. or stress about getting to my desk too early. I like to make sure I have that slower morning routine with my baby girl or my daughter and enjoy breakfast with them. That’s sacred time for me.
In the evening I like to spend time with my family, whether it’s grocery shopping or cooking dinner, and am not online at all. That’s really important to me. Also, exercising has always been really important. I’m two months postpartum and taking a walk or a hike in the middle of the day is such a nice breath of fresh air. I’ve learned on this journey that I have to be nice to myself. And that 80% is sometimes good enough. There are moments when you have really shitty meetings or bad days, and sometimes self care just means taking a break. Some days it’s just taking that walk.
Do you ever suffer from imposter syndrome? How do you deal?
I think I had imposter syndrome up until I fundraised. Leading up to that point I always questioned: am I doing this the right way? Am I raising money the right way? Is this how other people do it? I was always trying to figure out if this was how I ‘should’ do it. But I realized I shouldn’t be following anyone’s model.
Now, moving forward with investors my approach is completely different. I’m realizing there won’t be people who look like me, but I am a valuable asset to their portfolio, whereas before I would feel that imposter syndrome or feel like a token person. Now the value is different for me and I want to bring on investors who bring value to us, also. It’s a two-way street.
What are some resources that have helped you on your journey?
I love reading books—my favorite right now is Leap Frog by Natalia Molina Niño. She’s an incredible entrepreneur and her hacks speak to me. She wrote her book for people of color and people who are underrepresented and that was the first time I read a book like that. I also love the Super Soul podcast from Oprah, they’re so good! I listen to them all the time because they talk about happiness, and love, and nature—they speak to me.
What’s your advice to someone who is considering taking “the leap”?
Until you figure out that one thing that’s needed in the market, I would be practical and smart and get ready for being an entrepreneur. For me, that means saving as much as possible, and living as simply as possible. Also, start building connections now, it never hurts to be connected to other founders or investors or other people who are experts in the space you want to be in. Go to networking events—they spark ideas and relationships and you never know when somebody may be the perfect fit for what you need in the future.