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Female Founders: Elizabeth Voelker & Kristina Barnes of ReadyFestive On The Five Things You Need To Thrive and Succeed as a Woman Founder

An Interview With Candice Georgiadis

Pay attention to the signs and to your gut. Good and bad. For us, we’ve had a few — what we call “God Winks” — along the way that have inspired us to keep going and/or pivot what we were doing. We’ve also had strong gut feelings about certain situations where we knew we needed to cut ties with someone, and so we did. You can waste a lot of time and energy trying to make something work when it’s not meant to.

As a part of our series about “Why We Need More Women Founders”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Elizabeth Voelker & Kristina Barnes of ReadyFestive.

Elizabeth Voelker and Kristina Barnes are a team of (two!) women who created ReadyFestive out of their shared desire to be more festive, more joyful, and to celebrate more.

As with many new ideas and businesses, their idea began with a problem: with each new season or holiday, they found themselves in the same boat — stressing the prep vs. feeling the festive. They wanted to spend more time checking off their holiday bucket lists — instead of checking the aisles of multiple stores for festive essentials.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?

Ha! Well, truthfully, there was nothing “planned” about this career path for us (being entrepreneurs) … we are both Moms with three kids each who had taken a step back from our corporate careers. We started ReadyFestive for one reason: because we needed it in our *own* lives!

Shopping for holiday/seasonal home decor involves a lot of time and effort, but the feeling that a “festive home” provides is priceless. We wondered… why can’t a box magically appear on our doorstep with decor for our favorite holidays/seasons, picked out for us and our style? There are countless services that curate and deliver products in a box to your doorstep for other categories… from pet food to diapers to clothing to food. We kept waiting for someone else to create ReadyFestive and disrupt this huge market ($30B in the U.S. alone). And then finally we thought: why not us? It has become our mission to help make holiday/seasonal decorating convenient, easy and fun!

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?

This won’t be a surprise, but COVID definitely threw a wrench in our business plan. We launched ReadyFestive in October 2019 and by early 2020, we added “homeschool teacher” to our plate of responsibilities overnight and that was a unique challenge that we’re sure many other parents can relate to. But COVID was also surprisingly good for business. We saw a huge surge in sign-ups due to the lockdowns and the fact that people couldn’t go out and shop for festive home decor. What we’re seeing now is that our customers don’t want to go back to spending hours driving to multiple stores to search multiple aisles for cute, quality products. Instead, let ReadyFestive be your personal shopper. Save the time, save the hassle–just unbox the holiday and spend more time enjoying it. That was the silver lining of COVID: people were “forced” to give our service a try!

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

It’s a great time to start a business because the world truly is “flat” meaning you can get on WhatsApp and talk to someone in China about making a product for you. We thought we hit the jackpot when we placed a large purchase order for a decor piece at a great margin… but let’s just say that a lot can get lost in translation. It showed up in completely the wrong size and color and we had to toss it and pivot. We thought we were being so savvy and “DIY” and we paid for it! It wasn’t funny at the time but the lesson was learned; we now have someone who helps us with product development in other countries.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

We were introduced to our advisor, Robert, a few years ago, and he has helped guide us through some of the most critical junctures in our journey. We started our business in the garage and were still there when we met Robert. Being an operational expert, he saw our growth trajectory and advised us to (quickly) move out of the garage and into our current 3PL (third party logistics center), so that we could spend our time growing the business instead of packing the boxes. This was probably the single most important decision we’ve made in our business to date. In addition to his business advice, it is his unwavering positive energy and friendship that has been the most valuable to us along the way. He has helped pick us up when we’ve been down. We call him our fairy godfather. All founders need a “Robert” with them on their journey!

Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the primary focus of our interview. According to this EY report, only about 20 percent of funded companies have women founders. This reflects great historical progress, but it also shows that more work still has to be done to empower women to create companies. In your opinion and experience what is currently holding back women from founding companies?

Let’s start with just people. What’s holding “everyday” people back from creating companies or becoming founders? There’s a general fear factor around starting a business of… *I’m not qualified* — that we need to have a certain background, education or work experience to found a company. On top of that, perhaps we don’t have the support system in place to navigate through the unknown and the trials and tribulations of starting a company. But successful companies are born every day, not because of what a founder’s “pedigree” is or isn’t, but because they’ve created something that helps make someone else’s life easier, better, or simply, just more joyful through their creativity and hard work. The stigma definitely needs to be broken of what a “typical” founder(s) background *should* look like.

And now onto women. This statistic is disappointing and not surprising. We’ve faced harsh feedback along the way that we will never be seen as anything other than “housewives with a hobby” from investors who don’t understand the need or the “why” of the customer. We’ve also been asked, as Moms with three kids each — how will we balance it all? We have been inspired by many other female leaders who respond with: “would you ask a man that same question?”

Women in particular need more support to feel empowered to create companies…. and that starts in the home. We’ve personally experienced the empowerment we feel from having supportive partners at (shoutout to our husbands!) It really does start there. And then it needs to make its way to the board room and the venture capital world. 20% is progress from where we were 20 years ago. But we have to collectively keep supporting women and investing in women to see this statistic grow.

Can you help articulate a few things that can be done as individuals, as a society, or by the government, to help overcome those obstacles?

This is a great question, some of which we touched on in the last question — women need more support to feel empowered to create companies. But before we become women, we’re girls. This feeling of “I’m not enough” starts at a very young age for girls because society constantly tells us we are “less than” (like knowing we will make $.85 to a man’s $1.00 for the same work.) Both of us have young daughters, and we’ve been so inspired by the U.S. Women’s National Soccer team and their landmark negotiation/settlement for equal pay. One thing we’d love to see in our lifetime: equal pay for women. To feel like we are really all on a level playing field… we want our girls to see that, so that *they* grow up knowing that opportunities for success are not bound by gender. Inspiring our daughters to have a dream or set a goal and achieve it through hard work alone has been one of the most fulfilling parts of our journey.

What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about being a founder? Can you explain what you mean?

One of the reasons we think women make great founders is because we are the ultimate multi-taskers. As a founder you have to wear *all* the hats — customer service rep, buyer, social media manager, bookkeeper — you hold at any given moment in time various roles within the business, from employee to CEO. You do not have the luxury of focusing on one thing, and as women, this already comes naturally to us.

We think women are also naturally a bit more conservative which ultimately just means — more accurate. We’re *calculated* risk takers. When we pitched for funding we were told to inflate our numbers to be more like men. But we resisted; it didn’t feel right. We’re confident in the numbers we’re projecting and putting out there. Our goal is to have 100% sell through rate for each holiday/season. Overprojecting won’t help us achieve that– it could put us out of business.

There’s a quote about how in business, we are hosting a party and the guests are our customers. It’s our job to make and improve their experience. Women are innately great “hosts,” we are caring, compassionate, empathetic, and for us personally, this has translated into being a truly customer-centric company — which ultimately creates a longer customer lifetime value.

Is everyone cut out to be a founder? In your opinion, which specific traits increase the likelihood that a person will be a successful founder and what type of person should perhaps seek a “regular job” as an employee? Can you explain what you mean?

That’s a tough question. There are great ideas inside of everyone! But no, we do not think that everyone is cut out to be a founder.

Employees have stable income, sick days, vacation days, they check off their to do list each day and leave it at the office. Founders do not have such luxuries!

Being a founder takes grit, perseverance, creativity, the ability to problem solve, be resourceful, quite simply… get up and work really hard every day for no other reason other than you believe in the “why” your business exists, and you believe in yourself (and your partner) to make it happen. You really have to be OK with delayed gratification. There is, most likely, not going to be a financial reward for a period of time. There are no pats on the back. No promotions. You have to be a self-starter *AND* a self-celebrator.

Ok super. Here is the main question of our interview. What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)

  1. You have to just start. Don’t let fear or perfectionism get in the way of putting your product/service out there. It’s not going to be 100% right the day you launch. We were once told that starting a business is only 30,000 simple steps: so just start by taking the first step and put one foot in front of the other.
  2. This is not a fairytale, and it’s going to be harder than you think. There will be no one to rescue you, wave magic dust on you, or press an easy button for you. There are no shortcuts. You are the you, or in our case as a partnership, we are the we. You have to live and work with that conviction every day.
  3. Having a co-founder is like being in a marriage. Choosing the person you go into business with/co-found a company with is possibly the single most important decision you will make (just like who you choose to marry). Make sure your vision and values are aligned. Choose someone with strengths/weaknesses to compliment yours. You’ll have to put in the “work” to keep the “spark” alive. And you both have to be committed to self-growth to bring out the best in each other (and in the business.)
  4. Pay attention to the signs and to your gut. Good and bad. For us, we’ve had a few — what we call “God Winks” — along the way that have inspired us to keep going and/or pivot what we were doing. We’ve also had strong gut feelings about certain situations where we knew we needed to cut ties with someone, and so we did. You can waste a lot of time and energy trying to make something work when it’s not meant to.
  5. Change or die… is really the key to everything. And that’s a challenge when we are all creatures of habit. Change is hard and uncomfortable which is why most people resist it. But in business if you don’t change, pivot, automate, calibrate… you will fail.

How have you used your success to make the world a better place?

The home is at the heart of our mission– making it (home) a better, more joyful place. We have been fortunate enough to give back to our community in a way that is tied to the home through several cause marketing campaigns. Our beneficiaries have included the victims of the fires in Northern California, as well as a local non-profit called Grateful Gatherings that helps provide temporary housing for displaced families.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the greatest number of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.

We sound like a broken record but the home is at the heart of our mission– making it (home) a better, more peaceful, joyful, happy place. If there is peace and joy in the home, there is peace and joy in the world. We hope to inspire people to spend more time *celebrating* life more with family/friends to then spread love and joy to others.

And also, we are not superhuman. Whoever and wherever you are reading this article… you too can start a company. Just take that first step. If we can do, it you can do it!

We are very blessed that some very prominent names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them.

Our icon is Sara Blakeley — we would just die to have breakfast with her! We are so inspired by her and her life/entrepreneurial journey. She is the ultimate *non-typical* or non-prototype founder. She proudly shares that she failed the LSATs before taking a job at Disney. Then, she had a personal problem that she set out ot solve, knowing she would be helping other women too. She was rejected by many male makers. She persisted, and she has created a billion dollar brand by being unabashedly herself. She has done it entirely her own way. She encourages us to cast our fears aside, be ourselves, and create and follow our *own* playbook. HEY, Sara! 🙂

Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.

Female Founders: Elizabeth Voelker & Kristina Barnes of ReadyFestive On The Five Things You Need To… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.