Skip to content

Female Founders: Jane Mosbacher Morris of TO THE MARKET On The Five Things You Need To Thrive and Succeed as a Woman Founder

An Interview With Candice Georgiadis

Getting Comfortable with “Failing Forward” — Failure is inevitable — it’s how you handle it that makes all the difference. Take shame or regret out of the equation, and instead focus on what you can learn from your stumbles. What can you do better next time? What did this failure teach you about yourself or your company’s capabilities? I share this with my team as well. When mistakes happen, we focus on learning together what lessons we can take from the experience.

As a part of our series about “Why We Need More Women Founders”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Jane Mosbacher Morris.

Jane Mosbacher Morris is the founder and CEO of TO THE MARKET, a company powering the ethical supply chain. Jane previously worked in the US Department of State and as the Director of Humanitarian Action at the McCain Institute for International Leadership. She is a member of VF Corporation’s Advisory Council on Responsible Sourcing, a term member at the Council on Foreign Relations, and the author of Buy the Change You Want to See: Use Your Purchasing Power to Make the World a Better Place.

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?

I started my career at the US Department of State, where I worked in the Bureau of Counterterrorism and the Secretary’s Office of Global Women’s Issues. Then, I became Director of Humanitarian Action at the McCain Institute for International Leadership before going on to launch TO THE MARKET. I grew up in a household where kindness and service were majorly emphasized, and I always knew I wanted to use my skill set to improve the world around me. When I honed in on the idea for TTM, all the pieces just fit together and built on what I’d learned in my previous roles. I love that the work we do helps change lives around the world.

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

Every day brings a new adventure, so it’s hard to choose just one experience, but something that sticks out in my mind is TTM’s shift to producing PPE at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. When the virus hit, we shifted from our usual focus on retail and home goods to begin supplying PPE (personal protective equipment) for frontline workers.

Because TTM has a syndicated supply chain, we were in a unique position to help. We had the ideal production expertise for this situation, but had never worked with healthcare before, so we learned as we went. Our amazing suppliers hit the ground running, transforming their factories around the world into PPE production facilities to create masks, gowns, and other vital equipment. Over the course of 2020, we delivered over 11 million units of PPE in the US alone.

What’s so interesting to me about that experience is that we’d spent TO THE MARKET’s entire lifespan sharpening our skills and building our supply chain into a position where we could be helpful in just such a crisis — but we didn’t realize it until the moment arrived. You never know when unexpected opportunities to make a difference will cross your path.

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?

When I first launched the company, I had no idea how to price products! Normally, you’d want to make sure you multiply the cost of a product’s goods by 2.7, but at first, I just added $1 per product. People would ask me what the MSRP was for a product — a super basic question in the world of retail — and I didn’t know what they were talking about! Obviously, things got clearer over time as I gained experience and learned more tools of the trade. The lesson I took from this is that it’s okay to not know everything! This is especially true in the beginning of a new endeavor — don’t let fear of what you don’t know hold you back from pursuing a dream project. You’ll figure things out as you go, and that’s perfectly okay.

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?

My husband is also an entrepreneur. He founded his own company, Rubicon, so he’s given me lots of insight on running a startup. He’s my biggest cheerleader when I’m discouraged, and my go-to sounding board. He offers a great perspective on how to grow a company sustainably.

I’m also incredibly grateful for the work ethic my parents instilled in my siblings and I while I was growing up. Their rule when it came to school was that no matter what the end result was, we had to give our fullest effort. Getting a perfect grade wasn’t as important as the idea that we did the best we could do. In school and in life, it’s all about showing up for the task and giving it your all. That lesson has served me so much in entrepreneurship.

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?

When I started TO THE MARKET, it became clear pretty quickly that in the garment industry, most of the people in charge of the industry — the ones who stand to profit the most and the ones who have the power to make decisions that could change lives — are men. Meanwhile, a large percentage of the makers and factory workers actually putting those garments together are women. And that stat you just shared is just one more reminder of how widespread gender imbalances are across industries.

There are many systemic barriers for women in business. In 2018, American women on average earned 82% of what men earned, and the gap was especially wide for women of color, with Black women earning just 62% of what men took home. The same types of systemic issues that might prevent women from building personal wealth or gaining financial independence can carry over into entrepreneurship. For example, in many parts of the world, women do not have the right to inherit their family’s or spouse’s capital if they pass away, or in some cases to even open a bank account. Creating societal structures where women are treated as financial equals can pave the way for more women to build businesses — and gain independence along the way.

Another factor is that, quite simply, there isn’t a lot of representation. “You can’t be what you can’t see” holds a lot of truth. Many female entrepreneurs feel they need to work harder than men to establish credibility and may worry that they won’t be welcome in fields that are typically male dominated. The more women in business we all have to look up to, the less intimidating it will seem.

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?

On a personal level, share other women’s voices and experiences. Give platforms to your fellow female entrepreneurs. Share the stage with women from marginalized communities who deserve to be heard in their own words. Swap resources and join forces with women in your industry to work on projects together. The more we look out for one another, the faster and higher we all rise.

When it comes to making a difference in industry at large, I always suggest that people vote with their dollar. (And of course, when elections roll around, vote with your ballot too!) Show the world your values by opting to purchase products from women-owned companies and from brands that operate safe, fairly paid factories. As everyday consumers, we all have more power than we think.

This might be intuitive to you as a woman founder but I think it will be helpful to spell this out. Can you share a few reasons why more women should become founders?

The phrase “be the change you want to see in the world” is used so often for a reason: if we want a world with more female founders, we can create that world by becoming those founders ourselves. This fuels a ripple effect for future generations of young women who then see themselves represented in industry and realize those dreams can come true for them too.

Research has shown that companies with more female leadership perform better. When as many walks of life as possible are represented in leadership positions, industries get closer to reflecting the wider range of needs, ideas, and insights in our greater world. And that makes life better for everyone.

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

A huge myth is the notion that people always should know what they’re doing right away when they launch a business. You can learn as you go! No matter what your imposter syndrome may try to tell you, nobody steps into a new role with one hundred percent expert knowledge and confidence. Don’t rob yourself of your dreams by spending years convincing yourself that you’re not qualified. You know more than you think, and in a career like this, you never stop learning, so there’s no better time to just start.

Another myth I often see is the idea of overnight success. Ninety-nine percent of the time, that superstar entrepreneur who seemingly appeared out of nowhere has been working behind the scenes for years. Even the most successful companies and leaders have moments of failure, doubt, and hurdles. That part of the process is totally normal. All your hard work is getting you closer to your goals, even in moments when it doesn’t feel that way.

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?

Life as a founder means you’ll experience a lot of roller coaster moments. One of the biggest factors is being comfortable with failure and knowing how to learn and improve from your mistakes. You will fail along the way, and that’s okay. But you need to be able to channel that failure into something bigger and better that doesn’t involve quitting or beating yourself up over it.

Another key is unwavering belief in your vision. At first, you’ll probably be the only person who believes in your idea. You need to be comfortable telling others why your idea is great and why it will make the world a better place. Lots of women are hesitant to feel openly proud of their work because they worry they’ll seem like they’re bragging. I’m here to tell you: it’s okay to brag! You are your company’s biggest cheerleader. Let the world know about it!

Ok super. Here is the main question of our interview. Based on your opinion and experience, what are the “Five Things You Need To Thrive and Succeed as a Woman Founder?” (Please share a story or example for each.)

Emotional Resilience

Entrepreneurship doesn’t just come with logistical challenges. It can also be a very emotionally tough experience. You can feel like you’re on top of the world and like you’re in front of an epic hurdle within the same day. It’s important to build emotional resilience, both for your own wellbeing and because when you’re brainstorming from a positive place, you come up with solutions you wouldn’t have thought up otherwise. When the Covid-19 pandemic hit and lockdowns rolled out around the world, many of our operations were put on hold overnight. But because the team and I had learned from experience not to panic in hard times, we were able to think on our feet and quickly pivot to sourcing PPE.

Time Management in a World of 24/7 Demands

As a CEO, there are a lot of demands for your time. Your team understandably has questions in the day to day, and as the face of the company, there are also time demands from outside forces. So, figuring out a version of time management that works for you makes a world of difference. For me, that means carving out uninterrupted time for deep focused work, grouping meetings into batches whenever possible, entrusting my amazing assistant to take the reins on lots of scheduling decisions. This also means trusting my team to thrive at the things they do best while I focus on my tasks, providing them guidance and feedback but knowing they’re able to shine on their own.

Laser Focus on the Tasks That Mean the Most

On any given day in a start-up, the to-do list is never ending. This can make it tempting to chip away at a less important task that feels productive but doesn’t actually move the company forward, while game-changing tasks linger at the bottom of the list. To help avoid this, I try to start my day thinking about what I’d like to have accomplished by the evening, or how I’d like the company to move forward by the end of the week. This helps me work backwards to decide which tasks are actually worth focusing on. I try to think about the ROI of the time, money, and energy that goes into each task. As a team, we practice this together by sharing our weekly priorities each Monday. This helps us focus more sharply on what really matters.

Asking for Help

Spend your career (especially your early career) building strong relationships and growing your network. And down the line, if things get tough or you need help, don’t be afraid to reach out to that network for what you need. In the early days of TO THE MARKET, so many of our first breaks came from reaching out far and wide within my network, seeking out anyone I could who might be able to benefit from TTM’s expertise. Years later, when we pivoted from apparel to PPE in 2020, TTM’s network stepped up in a whole new way, providing funding that enabled us to get new orders for healthcare workers underway as quickly as possible.

Getting Comfortable with “Failing Forward”

Failure is inevitable — it’s how you handle it that makes all the difference. Take shame or regret out of the equation, and instead focus on what you can learn from your stumbles. What can you do better next time? What did this failure teach you about yourself or your company’s capabilities? I share this with my team as well. When mistakes happen, we focus on learning together what lessons we can take from the experience.

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

One of the most tangible ways TO THE MARKET has been able to make a difference is through our response to the COVID-19 pandemic, when we switched from supplying apparel, accessories, and home goods to supplying PPE to frontline healthcare workers, nuns, farmers, and other essential workers. We supplied millions of units of PPE in the United States, and we were also able to commission some of our makers to supply and distribute masks within their local communities in Kenya and Ghana.

In a larger sense, my hope for TO THE MARKET is that everything we do makes the world a better place. I founded the company with the goal of creating a world with more safe, sustainable, fairly paid jobs, and we’ve been fortunate to work with makers all over the world doing exactly that. Along the way, I hope to continue showing consumers just how simple it is to make a difference with our everyday purchases. Each one of us has more power than we think — it’s all about where we direct our dollars!

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.

Helping people, especially women in marginalized communities, find meaningful employment. Everyone, no matter their walk of life, deserves safe, fairly paid work that enables them to make decisions about the direction of their lives. I’m passionate about enabling the dignity of work.

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.

There have been so many people that have influenced my life and my career in different ways, it’s hard to choose any one person! Family immediately comes to mind because they’re so important to keep close. I’d love to share a meal with my mother and grandmother, as they’ve been the most influential women in my life.

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

Female Founders: Jane Mosbacher Morris of TO THE MARKET On The Five Things You Need To Thrive and… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.