A Female Founder’s Human-Centered Approach to Entrepreneurship
At 25 years old, Brit Morin left a promising job at Google to start her first business. Founded in 2011, Brit + Co grew into a digital media platform with a community of over 175 million people. She’s since co-founded venture capital firm Offline Ventures to support early stage founders. In 2020, she saw women leaving the workforce in droves as a result of the pandemic. So she started Selfmade, a 10-week course for budding female-identifying entrepreneurs. Through the course, she’s taught and mentored hundreds of women who are looking to launch new businesses and called on her network of founders, CEOs and leaders to share their knowledge. Suffice to say, she’s seen what it takes to start and grow a successful business.
In her conversation with IDEO U Founder Suzanne Gibbs Howard on the Creative Confidence Podcast, Brit shares stories from the early days of Selfmade, lessons on human-centered leadership, and ways women are uniquely suited to excel as entrepreneurs.
Here are seven qualities she says are often under-valued but closely tied to entrepreneurial success. While these are often referred to as soft skills, IDEO U likes to call them power skills. Applicable to every stage of career, power skills—like collaboration and communication—enable you to share your unique abilities with the world while helping others show up at their best.
Listen to the podcast for the full conversation with Brit.
Listen on Spotify or Apple Podcasts
Spotting opportunities in the market
When Covid came about, Brit saw millions of women leave the workforce, either to take care of family or because they lost jobs or got furloughed. As of mid-2021, close to 1.8 million women have left the labor force. With women’s participation in the workforce set back to levels we saw 30 years ago, she was inspired to take action. She knew that flexibility would be key for these women as they juggled their lives and careers during a pandemic, and many of them would be looking to start entrepreneurial ventures on their own schedules. They’d also need guidance from women who had succeeded as entrepreneurs to lower their risk. And they needed help now—she had to get a solution to market fast.
With a decade of experience as a founder and CEO and a vast network of female founders, developing an online course was the fastest way for Brit to transfer her knowledge to her target market. Selfmade was born in 2020 with mentors including recognizable names like Gwyneth Paltrow and Tyra Banks and female CEOs and leaders across industries. A scholarship program makes the course accessible to a broader range of women, focusing on women of color, women from underserved and underrepresented communities, and women in need of support to help them trail-blaze. By staying connected to the needs of her community, Brit saw an opportunity to add value to their lives in a moment when they were craving support.
Willingness to experiment
Brit considers herself more of a perfectionist, so she’s worked hard to let go of that tendency. With Selfmade, she wasn’t sure how she would structure the course, who would participate, or how much to charge. So she created a quick website with the big idea, made her best guess at a price, and got her business live within weeks. When people had something to react to, Brit was able to see what questions they had, if the value proposition made sense, how much money they thought it should cost, and more.
Over the next couple of months her team iterated the website and crafted a business model that resonated with her audience. She says the benefit to digital businesses is how fast you can make changes and see if they’re working.
“The key is to just start, and start anywhere,” she says of prototyping business ideas. “To start means to put something in front of somebody else. The only way you're going to understand if it's sticky and if people want it is if they can see it and understand it. Don't overthink it. Don't try to make it perfect and pretty. Just put it out there into the world.”
Building a team based on values and trust
An important moment in building a new business is growing your team. If you want a co-founder, Brit says to look for someone who shares your values and has skills that complement yours. She’s seen co-founders split responsibilities into business and creative or internal and external-facing. Think about the role you want to play and areas where you don’t have interest or strong skills.
If you don’t want a co-founder, your first few hires are even more important. “It's so critical that you treat them like family,” Brit says of respecting your team. Hire people smarter than you, and they will make it better than you. Trust them to do the things you can’t do.
Since the beginning of Brit + Co, she’s always shared the details of the company’s performance, both good and bad, with all employees. While the risk of that information getting out might feel scary, she never encountered that problem at Brit + Co. “When you trust your people, they trust you,” she says of the benefit of being transparent and vulnerable as a leader.
“The only way you're going to understand if it's sticky and if people want it is if they can see it and understand it.”
Calculated decision making
Brit has noticed that women and female entrepreneurs can often be perceived as risk averse. But really, she says it’s not that women shy away from risk, it’s that they like to take more time to make informed decisions—a quality that contributes to women’s effectiveness in leadership roles. She’d like to see more appreciation for the strength of calculated decision making: the balance between being nimble and gathering information.
Carving out time for creative work
A recent six-week sabbatical helped Brit see the value of unscheduled time. When she came back, she focused on shifting from a manager’s schedule to a maker’s schedule and taking only three hours of meetings per day. The other five hours she uses for deep work or ad hoc meetings. “That's where a lot of the magic of surprise, collaboration, and creative thinking happens.” Practice saying no and setting boundaries to make room for creativity.
“An entrepreneur is inherently creative because you're just approaching a problem or a task in a way that feels unique and different than what most people would typically do,” Brit says. And while “creativity touches everything,” it takes conscious effort to hold that space.
Finding meaning and purpose in work is one attribute of successful teams surfaced in Google’s Aristotle study. While it can be hard to let go of certain responsibilities, Brit’s found that giving her team greater autonomy and control over their work is critical in helping them connect with their role and organization in a meaningful way. And it helps her maintain the space she needs for deeper creative work.
Guide your team by asking how they might approach a challenge instead of offering solutions. Help them learn from their mistakes in a supportive way and feel like entrepreneurs within the company.
One of the qualities Brit would like to see more leaders practice is caring for their team’s emotional needs. Go beyond checking in on tasks and ask, how are you feeling? How can I be helpful to you? Do you need a personal day?
Google’s study found that another core attribute of high-performing teams was psychological safety, or the ability to share openly and take risks. Brit says leaders who focus on nurturing and addressing emotional needs help to build the psychological safety of their team.
“Creativity touches everything.”
Going from solo entrepreneur to the leader of a large team is a big transition. Give yourself room for growth and look for opportunities to push your edges. Honing your leadership capabilities will directly contribute to your company’s success.
Learn how to build and test new business ideas in IDEO U’s Designing a Business course. And unlock the creative potential of your team and organization in our Leading for Creativity course.
If you’re ready to make your business idea a reality, Brit’s Selfmade course will teach you how to create a new business or grow an existing one in 10 weeks.
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