Fearless Foundry founder and CEO Madeline Reeves runs a “creative consultancy that supports ambitious humans in building branding” and “marketing strategies.”
Likewise, Madeline Reeves helps clients build “business development strategies that allow them to make a meaningful impact in the world.”
As a leader, Madeline Reeves is “an outspoken force for promoting equity, collaboration, and community in business.” She “spends her time working with clients, creating content, and growing her team.”
It’s also very important for Madeline Reeves “that my success has a ripple effect and is able to encourage, support, and inspire other women along the path of entrepreneurship.”
Madeline Reeves makes sure that she “only says yes to opportunities, clients, collaborations, projects, and people that allow” the ripple to “grow bigger.”
Also, Madeline Reeves makes sure to “give back wherever I can in a meaningful way.” She mentors “young women in tech, speaking and teaching on topics like pricing or negotiation.”
Madeline Reeves also sponsors events, creates communities for women founders, and offers pro-bono consulting work.
With all these efforts, Madeline Reeves always supports “other women entrepreneurs because I know that with that support they will be able to help the other women that follow in their footsteps.”
I grew up knowing deep in my bones that I didn’t belong in any sort of the boxes that society had deemed were acceptable for girls and women. Madeline Reeves, Fearless Foundry
Jerome Knyszewski: 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?
Madeline Reeves: Of all people I am most grateful for in my career, I would have to point to the second in command at my company, Aljolynn Sperber, who is the VP of Strategy at Fearless Foundry.
I met Aljolynn right when I was teetering on the verge of whether or not to build a team and truly scale my company.
When I first hired her, it was as a contractor to help me bring my marketing vision for the business to life.
However, as soon as we started to collaborate, I knew I had found a dear friend, and ultimately an incredible support system.
She is the kind of person that will never let you speak self-deprecatingly in her presence, and it has dramatically changed the way I and our team talk about their abilities.
I will never forget being on a call with her and saying “I’m sorry my brain isn’t working right now”, and having her stop me in my tracks and say “Can you rephrase that, please? Your brain is beautiful and capable.”
Having someone who encourages you to always speak, think, and act in a loving way towards yourself has a major ripple effect on how we perceive our own worth and the worth of others, and she has always helped me to elevate and believe in myself and my abilities.
Jerome Knyszewski: Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?
Madeline Reeves: I might be the ten-thousandth woman to say so, but reading Glennon Doyle’s book Untamed this past year had a profound impact on my life and on my business.
I grew up knowing deep in my bones that I didn’t belong in any sort of the boxes that society had deemed were acceptable for girls and women.
Doyle’s words are an anthem for any woman that is ready to break free from stereotypes and recreate a life that is true to themselves, and I am forever grateful for the guidance her work has given me and countless others.
Jerome Knyszewski: How have you used your success to make the world a better place?
Madeline Reeves: It is incredibly important to me that my success has a ripple effect and is able to encourage, support, and inspire other women along the path of entrepreneurship.
In action, this has involved making sure that in everything I do, I think about that ripple, and only say yes to opportunities, clients, collaborations, projects, and people that allow for it to grow bigger than it would be if I was operating on my own.
It also means that I make a point to give back wherever I can in a meaningful way.
Whether it is mentoring young women in tech, speaking and teaching on topics like pricing or negotiation, sponsoring events and creating communities for women founders, or offering pro-bono consulting work, I am always striving to support other women entrepreneurs because I know that with that support they will be able to help the other women that follow in their footsteps.
It is incredibly important to me that my success has a ripple effect and is able to encourage, support, and inspire other women along the path of entrepreneurship.
Jerome Knyszewski: 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?
Madeline Reeves: The biggest barrier holding women back from founding companies is structural support, and quite frankly, money.
Starting a company involves taking big risks, particularly on the financial front, and because of the gender pay gap, women do not have the same cushion to catch them if they misstep getting an idea off the ground.
When I decided to start my own business, the only reason I felt able to do so was because I had money in the bank and could afford to take the leap.
I had risen the ranks in the tech world and had managed to save up around $20,000 to tide my family over until revenue was coming through the door.
But taking the risk was still terrifying, as I had been the primary income earner up until that point, and that cushion was barely enough to replace 2 months of the old salary my family was used to having show up in our bank account each month.
Simply put, I couldn’t afford to fail. I gave myself three months, dove in headfirst, and started earning consulting revenue by my second month in business.
But having that $20,000? It made all the difference, and it gave me the ability to take the risk of starting my own thing.
Without it, we wouldn’t have been able to afford for me to start my own business and I’d still be working in tech.
I was extremely privileged to have worked in a field that allowed me to put that money away, and few women have that opportunity.
What women need more than anything to be able to start and scale companies is the financial backing to do so.
Research shows that women-run companies achieve 35% higher return on investment than their male counterparts, and yet women still make up less than 15% of venture capital investments, and women of color receive less than 1% of that number.
Structurally, we need to see major shifts and investments in women, be it through venture capital, angel investing, small business loans, grants, or microfinance opportunities to set women up to be able to take on the financial costs and risks that come with founding a company.
Jerome Knyszewski: Can you share with our readers what you are doing to help empower women to become founders?
Madeline Reeves: Even before starting my own company, I saw it as a critical step to nurture the next generation of women leaders through hiring and mentoring young women in tech.
When I left that world to start my own company, I maintained my mentees and still offer regular support to them as they’ve branched out into new career paths and starting companies of their own.
I also host a podcast called Finding Fearless, which I originally launched to hold space to share the stories of women leaders and entrepreneurs.
When I was first thinking about founding my own company, I couldn’t seem to find any podcasts that were highlighting the stories of women on the path and everyday founders, rather than highlighting women who had built multi-million or billion-dollar brands.
Don’t get me wrong, I love celebrating successful women, but I wanted to hear stories of women like me who were in the earlier stages of the entrepreneurial journey, so I started the podcast to share those stories.
Today, our podcast has featured over 50 women from all walks of life and served as a platform to share their stories in hopes that they might inspire others along the path of entrepreneurship.
Lastly, in my day-to-day work, I coach, teach, speak to, and mentor women that are starting or scaling their businesses and offer them support with marketing, branding, and business development.
My belief is that through this work my team and I are giving tools and confidence to female founders that supports their growth and success and that in turn each woman we work with will be able to inspire others to follow in her footsteps.
Jerome Knyszewski: This might be intuitive to you but I think it will be helpful to spell this out. Can you share a few reasons why more women should become founders?
Madeline Reeves: One primary reason why we need more women founders is because we live in a world desperately needing innovation. There are a lot of major challenges, inequities, and inefficiencies in our society, and so much of the way we live and inhabit the earth is ripe for reinvention.
However, we’re not going to truly be able to tap in to the full breadth of potential solutions with only a portion of the population invited to the conversation.
We need a diverse array of perspectives and experiences at the table in order for the best innovations to bubble to the surface.
In my experience working women across a variety of industries, I know that we take a much more holistic approach to the companies we create and the product and services we offer.
That kind of sustainable and collaborative thinking is critical in the next era of industry.
We need to ensure that businesses think critically about their people, and the impact their products and services have, just as much, if not more than their profits if we are going to ensure that the Earth is habitable for future generations.
Women bring this collective and systemic perspective to business, and we need more of this approach to right side our current extractive relationship with our planet.
Most importantly though, we need more women founders because we need to reinvent the way that we work.
If this pandemic taught us anything, it is that the traditional working world doesn’t work well for women, or families for that matter.
As schools and workplaces have been shuttered, we’ve seen firsthand the impact it has had as women exit the workforce because it doesn’t offer the flexibility or support they need.
In order for this dynamic to truly shift, women need to change the workplace by working for themselves.
Rather than waiting for corporate environments or governmental policies to catch up with the times, we can create our own companies to pave a path for a workplace that actually works for women.
Most importantly though, we need more women founders because we need to reinvent the way that we work. Madeline Reeves
Jerome Knyszewski: 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.
Madeline Reeves: I believe deeply in the power of entrepreneurship as a path to equity.
There are so many systems that need rebuilding and so many big problems that need solving in our world, and I believe that great innovation sparks when someone cares enough to start a company to tackle the issues at hand.
Building a business is no small feat, but when you persist and pioneer along the path of entrepreneurship, you not only create an asset for yourself, you create the potential to make the world a more equitable place.
My greatest wish is to spark a movement that inspires anyone that doesn’t see a place for themselves in the systems and companies that exist today, to forge their own way in the world by starting their own business.
If we persist as entrepreneurs and create companies that allow for those that work for us to have access to the opportunities, income, flexibility, and other values that we were denied in traditional working environments, we can shift the working world for the better and shape a more equitable society for all.
Jerome Knyszewski: How can our readers further follow your work online?
Madeline Reeves: Readers that want to connect and follow with my work can find me on the Fearless Foundry website, LinkedIn, or on social media (Twitter, Instagram & Clubhouse) by my handle @itsmaddyreeves.
Jerome Knyszewski: Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.