7 Women Who Built Businesses by Solving Problems

#WOCinTech Chat

When it comes to having “a big idea” for a brand or a business, we often make the mistake of thinking it has to be something radical; something different; something brand-spanking new. Seldom do we think about problems businesses can solve. We get so caught up trying to invent the most unique new thing, that we often forget one of the most important attributes of any quality brand: authenticity.

The Real Deal

A brand is authentic not only when the idea is good, but when it is born from something real, when it arrives to the world as an answer to a problem. So many of the most amazing (and successful!) brands arose from someone’s feeling: of not belonging, of being less than, of being discriminated against, of being ignored.

When these gloomy sentiments bubble up in us, we don’t necessarily want to investigate them; after all, they may cause us pain. But take it from Nely Galán, author and founder of SELF MADE: “in your pain is your brand.”

Problems as Power

Your pain hurts, we know. That’s the nature of pain—to hurt, to sting, to ache. But just like in the human body itself, in which pain shows up as a signal for something deeper going on, so too, does the pain in your life emerge as a signal flagging something crucial. And, as we see it, that something is often the kernel of your brand.

To really illustrate the point, have a look at the following list of badass women, who each in her own way, built a brand by solving a problem.

1. Alexandra Chemla

As an art gallery assistant, 23-year old Alexandra Chemla was responsible for overseeing the detailed—albeit cumbersome—three-ring binders that contained all the information of the gallery’s exhibited artwork. “There was an obvious need for a digital alternative to what I believed was a very antiquated process,” Chema told Refinery 29. Which is exactly how her five-year old app, Artbinder, was born and used today by hundreds of galleries across 60 countries. “Working at a gallery opened up doors in a lot of ways,” Chemla notes. She would cold-call people at other galleries and talk to them as a colleague, as an equal, as someone who was experiencing the same pain points. “A lot of the relationships started from there. By the time we had a prototype of the app in beta, I had been in conversation with galleries for five to 10 months.” Or as we like to call it, problem-turned-profit.

2. Miki Agrawal

When it comes to talking candidly about “that time of the month” Miki Agrawal believes it’s that time of the century. “I want to change the culture around women’s most normal time of month—and not while wearing grandma panties or pads that feel like a diaper,” she says, according to Fortune. Which is how Agrawal came up with the idea for Thinkx, or what she calls, “period underwear.” The panties, Fortune says, come in three lace-trimmed designs, and feature patented antimicrobial, leak-resistant fibers in the crotch that promise to absorb as much menstrual blood as up to two tampons or a pad. Bloody smart, if you ask us.

3. Chloe St. Cyr

Chloe St-Cyr cut her chops working at the highest profile restaurants in Quebec, cooking in the company of several five-starred Michelin chefs in Dubai. She won the 2015 Taste New Zealand competition, placed third in Emirates Salon Culinaire’s Young Chef of the Year 2015 competition, and still found herself, according to Fast Company, “always bumping up against the systemic sexist behavior so prevalent in the culinary industry.” So what did she do? She turned her frustration into a company, MiumMium, a community marketplace for hiring on-demand private chefs. Through her platform, consumers can hire chefs to cook in their homes or event venues for private dinners or special occasions. Chefs are not asked to state whether they are male or female upon registration for the marketplace.

4. Denise Hewett

After a slew of incredible job experiences in New York and LA, Denise had a vision for a new kind of marketplace for screenwriters, one that might render the middle-man obsolete. Instead of wallowing in the “how?” she took the bull by the horns, was willing to walk away from her day-job, and joined forces with experts to create her startup, Scriptd, which she now runs from LA.

5. Amber Gordon

As Amber Gordon worked at Tumblr, she felt plagued by the question: shouldn’t it be possible to harness the community-building power of the internet as a force for good? This quandary compelled her to quit her job and start Femsplain, a community determined to foster a safe, creative place for women to interact with each other online. The community she’s built over the last year or so speaks for itself, explains Brooklyn Magazine. “Women needed this, and need each other. Gordon’s just the one who made them feel safe enough to admit that.”

6. Yasmin Davidds

Imagine the trauma of being shot at with a gun—by your own father. Would you ever be the same again? Yasmin Davidds not only recovered, but actually used the very pain of this experience to propel her forward as an inspired survivor, educator, businesswoman and author. It was by no means an easy road for her, one that came with bouts of low self-esteem and a crushing drug addiction. But with lion-like strength, perseverance, and a little help from the universe, Yasmin pulled through and soared into her own. Today Yasmin Davidds is Dr. Yasmin Davidds, with a brand built on helping women exist in a safe space to share their truths, and a business that allows her to live and thrive in the world on her terms.

7. Jovanka Ciares

As a high-profile music exec, Jovanka worked crazy hours on high-stakes, celeb-driven projects. She worked so hard that her health started to fail her. She sought the help of doctors, none of whom could figure out how to properly treat her, so Jovanka decided to take matters into her own hands. She worked up the nerve to leave her glamorous job, and started what she refers to as the Wellness Smackdown, a lifestyle program focused on total health, and today she’s an author, TV personality and wellness coach.
So as you can see, problems don’t just show up in your life to annoy you or cause you strife. Here at SELF MADE, we say: if you got 99 problems—your future brand is one!