This International Women’s Day, organizers are encouraging participants to #PressForProgress, noting that gender parity is 200 years away. The day is an important moment to stop and recognize the achievements of women everywhere, how far we’ve come when it comes to gender equality, and how far we have to go. The Xero community is full of amazing women doing incredible things. We talked to some of them about the challenges they’ve faced and what International Women’s Day means to them. Mimi Hanley is co-founder of Powder, a purveyor of Taiwanese-style shaved snow in San Francisco, California.
Mimi Hanley describes her journey to finding her passion as a series of realizations. She started her career at a large bank in New York after college. After a couple of years, she decided she didn’t want to work in finance long-term. She went back to school to study business and after that, joined a tech company in San Francisco. After two years, she concluded that software wasn’t her passion, plus, her mind was elsewhere.
“I think everyone has those daydreams about wanting to own your own coffee shop or small business,” Mimi remembers. “I’d always wanted to open a neighborhood bar and I kept coming back to this idea.”
She began exploring opportunities in food and beverage in a corporate capacity. It was at this time that she started talking to her friend David Chung about her dream of opening a bar. He asked her if she’d ever heard of shaved snow. A popular Taiwanese dessert, shaved snow is the intersection where ice cream and shaved ice meets. The flavors are frozen into cylindrical blocks and, upon order, shaved into paper-thin ribbons on machines shipped in from Taiwan. It is a traditional and rare delicacy, but after some research, including the all-important taste test, Mimi was sold very quickly. Not long after, Mimi and David founded Powder.
“We were super motivated to make a dessert this great more accessible,” Mimi explains. “Our goal is to grow the awareness of shaved snow as a dessert category. A lot of folks come to us thinking we are an ice cream store, and leave with an understanding of and love for shaved snow! We take a global approach to our menu, so that we have something for everyone.”
International Women’s Day means something different to everyone
Mimi describes herself as a nose-to-the-grindstone type. As a female entrepreneur, International Women’s Day isn’t a huge landmark for her personally. This in itself, she says, could actually indicate progress.
“The vast majority of my staff are women, it’s probably about an 80/20 split,” Mimi says. “Inequality isn’t something I think about at work, and maybe that’s a great thing – gender issues are not prevalent in our workplace.”
However, since starting her business, she has noticed her personality evolve. Particularly some of her traits that most would consider feminine.
“I can’t say with any authority that this is universally unique to women, but generally there exists an attitude of ‘let’s make this work, let’s be trusting, let’s not be difficult’,” Mimi says. “In an entrepreneurial environment that sentiment can be detrimental.”
“I have certainly developed a thick skin when it comes to not taking things personally – I don’t let ‘being difficult’ stop me from standing up for myself, and really my business. But this is something I constantly need to work at. When you start a company you sometimes need to act in a way that feels ‘unnatural’ to make sure you achieve your goals.”
Everyone needs a good support network
Mimi’s advice for women, or anyone for that matter, looking to start a business? Have a support network. Be that a business partner, a spouse or family – the bigger the better!
“Whatever your support network is, it needs to be ready,” Mimi says. “There are lots of highs and lows in starting a business. It’s such an emotional and physical rollercoaster, so you need those people you can count on to keep you grounded and sane!
“The support network is important. Starting a business is lonely – it’s not like a corporate environment where there’s water cooler talk or lots of peers. You spend loads of time theorizing, building, modeling and planning in your own head, and so having a partner of some sort to support you is critical!”.