Paying customers and clients are always reliable. But if you’re not getting payments fast enough to grow your business — not just sustain it — then you can’t add on new bells and whistles quickly, easily, or affordably.
And that’s exactly what we wanted: A few bells and a shiny new whistle.
Getting a bank loan, I’d heard, would lead to horror stories. Finding and convincing angel investors that we were onto something was a chore, they said. Proving to venture capitalists that we were ready for their big checks was apparently a beast. Frankly, The Founding Moms wasn’t ready for any of those options. At least, not yet. I’ve been proud about the fact that we’ve bootstrapped our way from an idea to 10,000+ members in 62 cities and 12 countries. But who wants pride to get in the way of progress?
We began as a collective of offline meetups for mom entrepreneurs. Until 2015, we were meeting up in over 40 cities around the world — in 7 countries — and hearing from experts at each of our kid-friendly, monthly meetups about how to build a better business. One of the challenges that I found in growing this puppy was that we hosted Founding Moms’ Exchanges (our meetups) monthly. That’s just once a month. That’s one meeting full of education and inspiration with fellow entrepreneurs…followed by 29 long days until Founding Moms could experience that again. We needed a place to convene between our Exchanges. An Exchange, so to speak, where location, time and date did not matter. Where members from cities around the world could meet in one place. It would have to be online. And in theory, it would solve a lot of these problems. That’s how the idea for The Founding Moms Community was born.
But how to put it into practice? Enter Kiva. I’d known about the organization already. It’s an international nonprofit, founded in 2005 and based in San Francisco, with a mission to connect people through lending to alleviate poverty. They celebrate and support people looking to create better futures for themselves, their families and their communities. Ten years after they were founded, they launched a program called Kiva Zip (since renamed Kiva U.S.) that helps entrepreneurs get small business loans up to $10,000 with zero interest by way of crowdfunding. Too good to be true? At first, I thought so.
What did I tell Kiva? That the FMC would be robust. It would be full of education, support and camaraderie that made up our Founding Moms’ Exchanges. But there would be more. So much more. The game plan was as follows: We’d release a video course each month. The course would be comprised of four 10-minute segments because, after all, we are very busy women who need breaks to hop on phone calls or pick the kids up. The course would be taught by me or an expert that I thought was so good at what they did that they needed to share it with my members.
The course would be accompanied by a well-written and beautifully-designed workbook. We’d release a forum where members could talk to one another about the courses and also ask questions, leave comments or boast about their accomplishments. We’d release a directory so that members could find each other and, hopefully, hire each other.
I had so much in mind — early access to opportunities offered by brands that would sponsor us, media opportunities, and more — but kept the plans for our first version of the FMC simple. (I say “first version” because, as a seasoned entrepreneur, I’ve learned that nothing in the World of the Wide Web is static. It is ever-evolving and changes need to be made regularly.)
After connecting with someone at Kiva who walked me through the basics, I created a Kiva page for The Founding Moms. That’s where I told my story, laid out plans for what we intended to do, and hoped for the best.
“Hoped for the best” means that I sent out our link to every member of The Founding Moms asking her to contribute to our vision. I sent the link to every friend and family member I have ever known. I made sure they understood that unlike campaigns on GoFundMe, Kickstarter or IndieGogo, on Kiva their contribution was not a donation for which they would receive a reward. It was a business loan, plain and simple. Each month as The Founding Moms repaid the business loan they would receive a portion of their loan back. A win-win for all.
We asked for $5,000 business loan to make The FMC a reality. Many emails, posts to social media and reminder pleas later — in a surprisingly short amount of time — we were fully funded. By 118 lenders.
That’s one hundred eighteen people who understood that what we were doing was valuable. It sounds cliche, as many grateful folks so often do, but support from so many people was invaluable. It was literally more valuable to know that support for The FMC was out there than the actual funds that exchanged digital hands.
Two years later? WE HAVE REPAID THE BUSINESS LOAN!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
But for this entrepreneur? It’s a wildly different feeling from paying off a student loan or credit card debt. The joys of freedom are wonderful. Now add to that the confidence and self-assurance that eludes so many small business owners. I mean, here was this idea — a pile of thoughts caught inside of a brain — and it was turned into a real, living breathing thing that made real money. On top of that, it wasn’t one bank or one angel investor who determined that my idea was valuable. It was 118 people who believed in this thing. It was 118 people who believed in the future of mom entrepreneurs. It was an awful lot of hands and hearts holding us up and making sure that our dreams came true — in an effort to have us help thousands more turn their dreams into realities.
In paying off the Kiva loan, I feel truly accomplished. I’m very proud of our contributors, supporters and mom entrepreneurs who made The FMC happen. Our members love the FMC. We will continue to grow our online resources (along with our offline meetups) so that thousands more can build better businesses.
To everyone who believed in us and knew we could make the FMC a reality: Thank you.