Episode 36

#36 Failure is Not Final: Christina Wallace, VP of Growth, Bionic

Can taking outside capital kill your startup? Christina Wallace, is the VP of Growth at Bionic, a company that brings startup and VC experience to enterprise.  Previously she was founding director of BridgeUp: STEM, an educational initiative to captivate, inspire, and propel girls and minorities into computer science. Erica Duignan Minnihan and Christina talk about lessons learned from a failed startup, fundraising, and finding the right cofounder.

Show Notes

Going Against the Flow: Christina Wallace, Founder of BridgeUp: STEM at AMNH by Charu Sharma, Huffington Post

BridgeUp: STEM

Helen Gurley Brown May Never Have Used a Computer. But Her Trust is Into Coding by Tate Williams, Inside Philanthropy

Let’s Get Real About Startups And Mental Health Christina Wallace, Medium

After 10 Months, A Boatload Of Press, And A CEO’s Departure, Apparel Startup Quincy Shuts Down by Alyson Shontell, Business Insider

My Father was an Abusive Sociopath and I was the Only One He Had Left by Christina Wallace, elle.com

Tranche Investing Will Kill Your Startup–Here’s Why by Tom Kriegistein, Forbes

The Moment I Lost Everything by Kathryn Minshew, Medium

Looking for Love in All The Wrong Places – How to Find a Co-founder First Round Review

Genius in Madness? 72% of Entrepreneurs Affected by Mental Health Conditions by Debra Carpenter, StartupGrind

Guest bios & transcripts are available on www.broadmic.com.

Bio

Christina Wallace is the VP, Growth at Bionic, a startup igniting growth revolutions inside Fortune 500 companies. Prior to joining Bionic Christina was the founder of BridgeUp: STEM, a tech and innovation initiative at the American Museum of Natural History funded by a $7.5M grant from the Helen Gurley Brown Trust. Previously Christina was the founding director of Startup Institute New York, the co-founder and CEO of venture-backed fashion company Quincy Apparel, a management consultant with the Boston Consulting Group, and an arts manager at the Metropolitan Opera. She holds undergraduate degrees in mathematics and theater from Emory University and an MBA from Harvard Business School. She is also a columnist for Forbes.com and is the co-host of The Limit Does Not Exist, a new podcast on the Forbes network. Mashable called Christina one of “44 Female Founders to Know” and Refinery29 named her one of the "Most Powerful Women in NYC Tech."

Transcript

Christina: Failure isn't fatal. It's not final, right? It's a piece of your story. It doesn't bother me in the least, because I don't feel like that is a reflection on my moral character, or my abilities in totality, it's just one project, and that project didn't work.

Woman 1: I am an entrepreneur.

Woman 2: Be inspired. We are incredibly powerful.

Woman 3: Color outside the line.

Woman 4: Open your mind.

Woman 5: Dream big.

Woman 6: Be bold.

Woman 7: Take action.

Woman 8: The narrative needs to change.

Woman 9: We can fix this, we can change this.

Woman 10: I know we can.

Man 1: Think broad.

Woman 11: Think like a broad.

Woman 12: Think broad.

Interviewer: Today, I'm in the studio with Christina Wallace, founding director of BridgeUp: STEM, a new educational initiative to captivate, inspire, and propel girls and minorities into computer science. Christina has been named to Mashable's list of "44 Female Founders to Know," and Refinery29's list of "The Most Powerful Women in New York City Tech." We will be discussing lessons from a failed startup, and how she managed to secure over seven and a half million dollars in funding, as well as the mentorship of seasoned executives. Christina, thank you so much for joining us on BroadMic today.

Christina: Thanks for having me.

Interviewer: So, we are so excited to learn a little bit more about your story. You have an amazing background, but what I'd love to do is start a little bit by talking about BridgeUp: STEM. So can you tell us about what BridgeUp: STEM does?

Christina: Sure. So BridgeUp: STEM is a new division of the education department at the American Museum of Natural History. It's a division I founded two years ago with money from the Helen Gurley Brown Foundation, focused on this question of computer science, and science, and how we diversify who gets access to that world, and who becomes part of the tech talent pipeline.

Interviewer: Yeah, now this is what I love about the way things can change. So, the Helen Gurley Brown Foundation, we all know Helen Gurley Brown was a very famous original editor of Cosmopolitan Magazine. So we're going from "how to land that man," to "how to code." So tell me, how do we get from there to here, and why is that a really important part of your mission?

Christina: Totally. So, one of the things that I loved about Helen, and I never got to meet her, but I certainly know of her legacy, as a long time reader of Cosmo, and now being part of the Foundation's extended family, she cared very much about the economic equality of women, and of opportunity and growth. She came up very poor in Arkansas, she moved to New York, and made something pretty amazing of herself...

Interviewer: Like pulls herself up by the bootstraps, right?

Christina: ...like pulls herself up by the bootstraps, yeah. When she went from being a secretary into a copywriter, all the way up to being editor in chief and visionary of what Cosmo is today. And she left behind these amazing resources, this money, or this legacy, and really wanted to see that mission extended. And so, Eve Burton, who's the head of the foundation, who was a very close friend of Helen's, and is also the general counsel of Hearst Magazines, Hearst Publishing, she helped Helen kind of craft what this vision would be before she passed in 2012. And there were a couple of things that she cared very much about, that she and David, her husband, both cared very much about. There was certainly access, and literacy, and addressing poverty, which they do with their $15 million grant to the New York City Public Library, called, that was the original BridgeUp. This grant that they gave to me and the museum to work for BridgeUp: STEM was really focused on girls and minorities in the computer science world. And then they gave money to Columbia University and Stanford, to look at the Brown Center for Media and Innovation, that's really about this question of the future of journalism and data and storytelling. And these are all things that are true about their work and about their legacy, translated to the 21st century. So the work that we've been doing at the museum for the last two years really started from a question of how do we get access for women and girls...

Interviewer: Well, I would love to know, so...

Christina: ...into tech.

Interviewer: So this is very cool. I think it sounds like such an amazing mission, and amazing initiative, and you seem like a great person to lead it. So how do you guys get more women, or girls, and minority children interested in computer science?

Christina: So the big question for me was not why they're not currently doing it, but what is it that they're interested in already that we can use as a hook? And there's this great study that the girls scouts put out in 2012, called "Generation STEM." And it had this amazing insight that I just have latched onto from the moment I read it, that says the big difference between high achieving girls who are interested in STEM and high achieving boys who are interested in STEM, the big difference, is that boys tend to have one or two interests that they really go deep on, like chess, or video games, or chemistry...

Interviewer: Pokemon Go.

Christina: ...Pokemon Go. But girls who are interested in STEM are much more likely to also be interested in the humanities, and sports, and music, and the arts...

Interviewer: We're multitaskers.

Christina: Exactly. And so for them, they don't want to have to pick one thing and dig down and identify as only that from 12 or 13 or 14 onward, they're looking for a multidisciplinary, interactive approach to learning these concepts, and they wanna know what they can do with it, right. They don't wanna just learn to code to code, they wanna do something with that code. So that was the big insight that really kind of connected computer science with science, and why the museum is a perfect fit for this program. The future of science is computational. You can't hand code a human genome, you can't study the stars using just a telescope in your backyard anymore. It comes with giant reams of data, and you need computational skills to make sense of that. So we're taking a natural curiosity about the world, which girls have in equal amounts to boys, and applying coding as a tool to allow that curiosity to blossom. And we have found an entire cohort of girls in New York City who are not necessarily attracted to coding video games or coding apps or websites, but are attracted to bioinformatics and astrophysics.

Interviewer: Well, I think that girls, at least I can definitely say for myself, girls love solving problems, right? So that makes a lot of sense to me. One of the things that you mentioned was this sort of multidisciplinary approach, and wanting to be able to do a lot of things, and I really saw that in your background. You've had an incredibly varied background, working not only in sort of the start-up world, but also as a management consultant, and even at the Metropolitan Opera. So can you tell me a little bit about how these experiences maybe prepared you to really do your own thing with Bridge?

Christina: Sure. So I have always been this multidisciplinary person. I was reading this Girl Scout report, and just nodding on every page. I'm like, "Yes. That's me." I say I speak three languages fluently, English, Math, and Music. I've been a classically trained pianist, cellist, and an opera singer since the age of four, and I've been a math nerd as far back as I can remember. I was captain of the math team, I was a math major in college, along with a theater major. So, I've always loved...

Interviewer: That's an unusual combination. That's very cool.

Christina: It is, it is. So I've always loved really kind of exercising both sides of my brain, and more interestingly to me, finding those intersections.

Interviewer: You're like a Danica Graham.

Christina: Exactly.

Interviewer: She was at UCLA.

Christina: So I came out of college, and I thought, "well, what do I do now?" I love physics, computer science, math, theater, music. What do I do? And thought about going the PhD in math path, and went and visited and interviewed in all these schools, and it was like you have to study one tiny little section of math, and really pick one problem, and focus on it for seven years, and I was like, "Oh. That's not gonna be a fit for me. Focus is not where my future lies." It's really more about breadth and intersection that gets me excited. So I moved to New York, and I needed a job, and I sent my resume everywhere, and I got one interview, and it was at the Metropolitan Opera, which worked out very well for me. So I've had what probably looks like a crazy career path, from opera, to consulting, to a fashion start-up, but in the tech world...

Interviewer: Yeah, I wanna know about that. Tell me about your fashion start-up. That sounds really cool. Well, we're always talking about how it's actually not that glamorous to be a tech founder, but I guess if you're in fashion, maybe it's slightly glamorous?

Christina: No, no. Even less glamorous. Imagine walking through, it's how it it is today in New York City. Imagine walking through the garment district...

Interviewer: It is steamy here in New York today.

Christina: ...with 20 yards of Egyptian wool over your shoulder, trying to get it from where you bought it at the fabric store to your factory 3 blocks away, because it's too big to hire a bike messenger to take, but it's not so far a distance that they're going to rent a truck for it, so you have to schlep it. And then after that, you have a meeting with an editor, and they're going to want to know why you look so...

Interviewer: Sweaty.

Christina: ...so sweaty and so awful, so yeah. And I don't glow, I sweat. So it's even less glamorous, I think, doing a fashion start-up. No, we started Quincy, my co-founder and I started Quincy because we are both tall women. I'm six feet tall, she's five nine, and we were at business school, we were trying to get ready for...

Interviewer: Where did you go to business school?

Christina: ...Harvard.

Interviewer: Okay, nice.

Christina: And we were trying to put together our professional wardrobes for interviews, for our post-MBA life, and we couldn't find clothes that fit us. And we're not...I know that six feet tall is not a normal height for women, I guess, but I'm not the only one who felt unserved or underserved by the fashion industry, that there were women with very large breasts that couldn't find a shirt that would close, or a blazer that would actually cover them. There were women who were short and curvy, and tall and not curvy, and every combination. And the more that we talked to our classmates and our friends, the more we felt like it was a very narrow segment of the population that actually was being served by the normal sizes out there. So we took this approach, we looked at Bonobos, which was a big inspiration for us, that do men's pants. And then we looked at men's suiting, and we said, "Why do they get sizes that are based on chest measurements...

Interviewer: Actual measurements.

Christina: ...height. Yeah, they get shirts based on neck measurement and sleeve length. Oh my goodness, if we could get that kind of granularity in our sizes. And we said, "How do we adapt that into a sizing structure that would allow us to sell clothes off the rack," so these are not custom made, they're returnable, but they actually have a chance of fitting. And so we created a sizing metric based on bra size and height, and founded a brand around it, called Quincy Apparel. We were up and running for two glorious years, we raised about a million dollars in venture capital, and we had a good run at it. We had really committed customers, and we were sort of kind of figuring it out on our third season there.

Interviewer: So can you tell me a little bit about sort of the process of raising money? What was your experience like, to raise this million dollar seed round?

Christina: It's awful. It's awful. I don't know anyone who likes the process of raising money. But I think particularly for first-time founders, who did not have experience in the industry we were looking to build in, and quite frankly, raising capital for a working capital intensive business...this isn't software, where there's a zero incremental margin on additional units. Every single thing that we wanted to sell, we had to first buy the materials for, and make, and store, in hopes that we would sell it later. So it was not a cheap business to build, and in retail, you're not going to see the same kind of margins, or frankly, return on investment that you're going to see in tech. So we positioned it as a tech startup. There was certainly a wave of e-commerce...

Interviewer: This was like your little trojan horse, right? That works sometimes.

Christina: Yeah, yeah. It was this, it was like a wave of e-commerce based brands that came out 2010, 2011, 2012, that we could sort of hook onto enough that investors were like, "Oh, yeah. We saw BaubleBar with jewelry, Warby Parker with glasses, Bonobos did this for men's pants. Okay, yeah, we'll take a meeting and talk to the Quincy girls." But we were raising for eight months trying to get this round to close, and we kept facing, there were two big problems. One, we started way too early, because there was interest, and we didn't realize just because they want to meet you doesn't mean you should meet them, yet. And so we got started, and then word got out that we'd been raising for so long, that we just sort of limped to the finish, you know, everyone...we were like the girl who couldn't get a date to prom for a while. And then the other problem, which is the one piece that was kind of really frustrating more than maybe it should have been, was that we were pitching mostly to guys who didn't have this problem finding clothes, and they didn't understand why women's clothes wouldn't solve for women's bodies, and why brands wouldn't be paying attention to this. And sometimes they would go ask their wives or girlfriends, and many of them, at least as they reported back to us, would say, "Oh, that's not a problem for me, St. John's fits me fine." And we're like, "Well that's great, but St. John's costs thousands of dollars, Banana Republic does not." Or, they would say, "You know, formal wear isn't really a thing anymore, it's all business casual." And we're like, "That also may be true for your career, but in a certain set of the world, for lawyers, and people on Wall Street, and people in consulting, and more traditional businesses in the middle of the country, the blazer and the button-down are still the currency, and there's a market there." So we had to really learn on the fly of how to actually explain the problem we were solving, in much more detail, than assume they understood the problem and jump to the solution, which is how we had first started out. So by the end, we kind of had the schpiel down cold, but it was a lot of 25 and $50,000 checks, and then like two big 150 and $400,000 checks, but...

Interviewer: Well that's good. So you did get there.

Christina: We did.

Interviewer: You finally, you just ground it out, right? I mean, sometimes, that's what it is, right, it's the grind. But you made it, you raised your money. It sounds like towards the end, you got some larger checks, so were there...was it institutionals, or was there any additional pressure from having some larger investors come in, where you felt you had to operate in a different way, or there were different demands or expectations put on you?

Christina: Yeah. So we had two big institutional checks, and one of them in particular, that we called them the lead, they were sort of the last check in, but they were the biggest one, so they got to decide, they wanted us to have a board, they wanted a seat on the board, so we gave them that, we did that. And the big problem that we had, we ended up having around that, in terms of pressures, as you were asking, they tranched the investment, which was something I knew existed, and had been warned against, but when you only have one check on the table...

Interviewer: What can you do?

Christina: ...what can you do? So they tranched the investment into three checks, and that set certain metrics for the second and the third check. And those metrics, in hindsight, were very clearly not the metrics that we should be chasing after at this stage of building a company. They were around sales, they were around repeat customers, but they weren't around costs or margins, or working capital, it really was around...

Interviewer: Things that would keep you alive.

Christina: Exactly. Exactly. And we had already saved that room for them in the round, so if we didn't end up getting those checks, that's not like we could go to someone else and say, "Hey, the people who know us the best don't wanna give us the money. Do you want to?" Like no one will touch you then. So we ended up chasing these metrics, and got there, and we got those checks, but by the time that third check came in, we were in such a financial state in terms of our working capital and our margins, that we had no chance of staying alive without getting another big infusion of cash. And we had finally, this was our third collection. We had finally really kind of reached a growth curve with our customers that we could see sustaining us, but the cost basis was so high. And in fashion, you have to invest in a season, and then you sell it over the next few months, that was the step function...

Interviewer: Perishable inventory...

Christina: Exactly.

Interviewer: ...it's a tough business.

Christina: Exactly. We had this step function need for cash, and we weren't yet at a place that we could raise at a higher valuation. So we needed additional support from existing investors, and they weren't interested. So it ended up putting us in this place where actually the business was maybe not the healthiest, but the opportunity, the brand, the team, like we were kind of on the upper trajectory, and ended up shutting down in the midst of all [inaudible 00:18:12]

Interviewer: Well, you know, I think this is a really great story, because I talk with founders who are raising capital for a living on a daily basis, and it's amazing how people don't realize all the different ways that sometimes taking capital can actually kill your business. And this is just one very unique one. And I warn people, they go, "Oh, this guy wants to give me five million dollars on a 20 million dollar valuation, and we just met last week, and I have not...I've just got an idea." And we say, "You know, there's a possibility your business could work, but if you put yourself in this position, there's a possibility your business will definitely be killed." So I really thing sharing that is so valuable, which is that it's not just getting the money, but it's who is investing, what are the terms surrounding of it, being really aware of that. So you and your co-founder met at Harvard Business School, correct? Right? So that's a common origin story. I went to Columbia Business School, so, you know...I did not do a startup out of there, but know a lot of people who formed teams. So can you tell us a little bit about from your experience, and I'm sure your co-founder's an absolute lovely person, but what were the positives and negatives of having a co-founder, probably somebody who you hadn't really known your whole life, and what things do you think are important to be aware of in building that relationship around complimentary skill sets, and sort of things to worry about?

Christina: Yeah, we actually talk about this a lot. My co-founder and I, we were best friends at business school, we had a little break in that friendship when the company shut down, and then we're actually great friends again.

Interviewer: That's great.

Christina: And Harvard Business School wrote a case study on our failure, that we go back and teach to all of the first year entrepreneurship students, and we talk about this explicitly, because we saw, in...we started business school in 2008, three weeks before Lehman Brothers fell, and there was this huge surge of entrepreneurship during our two years, because there were no other jobs. And there was, as you said, there was this trend of two co-founders who met at business school buckling up, and sort of when you've got a hammer, everything looks like a nail. So we looked amongst our friends and our colleagues, and said, "We think, compared to the rest of the pool, that our skills are opposite of each other." She was trained as a mechanical engineer, and had worked in consulting on the retail sector for I think three years before she came to business school, and then went back to BCG as well. And I said, "Really, you're an operations person, you get the engineering, you're very systems-based. I'm this creative artsy person, who worked in opera and theater, and I can tell a great story, which is a great skill for marketing. Look how different we are." But in reality, our overlapping Venn diagram was like huge, and the difference in our skills were very narrow. And between being trained not just in the same class, but in the same section at HBS, and then I went to BCG, and she was at BCG, so we were also trained in the same way of thinking there, when problems came up in our start-up, it was never actually clear which of us was responsible for them, or who was gonna take ownership of that, because there were so many things that we both could do, and there were so many things that neither of us could do. So when I talk to founders, and when I work with people now that are looking for advice on co-founders, it really is about finding some overlap in your Venn diagram, you have to have some kind of common relationship or vocabulary or experience that allows you to trust each other. But the least amount of overlap you can handle is probably the best, because when a problem comes up, you never wanna have to pause to say, "Is this my thing or your thing?" You just wanna know whose thing it is. And in terms of a working relationship, the more obviously that you can have that experience ahead of time, and, not a friendship, a working relationship, right, this is a professional marriage. So it's great if you like them, but do you communicate well, can you give critical feedback, can you guys have disagreements and resolve them professionally and be okay at the end of the day? And to the extent that you can practice that relationship, co-founder dating, by doing small projects, or mini consulting, or whatever that is, is going to serve you better than picking that friend you've known for 20 years and deciding to go into business with them.

Interviewer: Right, right. Well, I think that that's fantastic advice. You know, one of the things that you mentioned earlier that I think is so interesting and very relevant right now is going back to HBS, doing the case study of your failed business, and we talk a lot about today the fact that there's this culture of founders always saying, "I'm killin' it, it's great, everything's wonderful." And there's very little sharing of the challenges or the things that didn't work out. So, how is it for you to go back and teach that case study, and talk about, publicly, why your business... it obviously didn't work out, but what things worked, and what things didn't? And is that hard to do?

Christina: I don't find it hard at all. And maybe I'm a special snowflake, I don't know. But...

Interviewer: Well, obviously you are, for other reasons, but yeah.

Christina: ...but I showed up, the first time we taught this two years ago, I think the students were genuinely shocked that I would come back and stand in front of them and say very explicitly, "I failed. And I was in your place five years ago, and now I'm here, and that's okay." Right, like that failure isn't fatal. It's not final, right? It's a piece of your story. It doesn't bother me in the least, because I don't feel like that is a reflection on my moral character, or my abilities in totality, it's just one project, and that project didn't work. And for the most part, I know why it didn't work, and none of that is because I'm a bad person, or wasted people's money, or embezzled, or any of the things that I would be embarrassed to share. These were genuine learnings, some of which I probably should have seen, and some of which I couldn't have possibly seen ahead of time. And I think it's really important. I get frustrated when I see soft landings, the acqui-hires, when everyone knows that they were acqui-hires, and there's no shame in that, but everyone's sort of like, "Oh my god, congratulations on that acquisition," for an unnamed price that just means that you're gonna go work for this big company now. And we all pretend like that's a huge success, and it's not that I wanna shame people, but it just means that on the rare occasion that you have a flat-out failure, like Quincy, you feel like you're the only one in that boat, when we all know that 90% of start-ups don't work, so we can't be the only person in the boat. It's a little bit like the entire conversation around mental health, I think, right now, where we know a lot of people are feeling this, are struggling with this, but it's somehow not okay to say out loud, and so everyone feels like they're alone. And I actually wrote a piece a year ago on the relationship of mental health and start-ups, and this "crushing it" mentality, that continues to...

Interviewer: We can't all be crushing it.

Christina: ...exactly. It continues to be like my top read thing on Medium. And so many people say, "Oh, I just...I wish more people would say this out loud. That like, 'I'm struggling today. This has been a hard month. I feel overwhelmed and underwater, and I don't know what to do.'" And just be a little more honest. And I get it. It's hard when you feel like every person you talk to could be a potential customer, or partner, or investor, that you want them to see the best of you. But I think if we allow a little bit more authenticity, I actually trust those people way more than the people who only show the best, because that only makes me wonder what are you not showing me?

Interviewer: Right, right. Now I think that that's fantastic advice, and although I do get it that while you're out fundraising, you might not wanna lift the kimono to the whole world, I do think it's really important that more people share their stories and their challenges so that number one, we all know that a lot of women suffer from perfection syndrome. And so if all you hear is, "Everything was easy," and "So-and-so is killing it," people tend to think, "Well, I have to be perfect before I try, and I've never heard of anyone failing, so if it happened to me, I'm somehow marked." So I think sharing these stories is really important, because it makes people, I think, look at things a little bit more realistically, and look at the challenges of starting a business a little bit more realistically.

Christina: Well, the funny thing is, the number one question I get when I go back to HBS, from students, and they never ask it in front of the entire class, they always come up to me afterward, is, "How did you get your next job after Quincy failed? What was that conversation like? What was that interview like?" And when I went out, and finally dragged myself out of bed, I went to bed for about three weeks, watched all seven seasons of The West Wing, and ordered Seamless, and was just like...

Interviewer: Oh, nice. I've not seen that yet, so...

Christina: ...oh, it's the perfect, like, recovering from your life...

Interviewer: So if I ever need to, you know, I'll save that for...

Christina: Save it, save it.

Interviewer: ...like a rainy day, a rainy three weeks.

Christina: You know, you only really need to watch the first four seasons. Five, six, and seven [inaudible 00:27:36] not as good.

Interviewer: So now I have something to look forward to if my life completely collapses, I'm [inaudible 00:27:41] West Wing.

Christina: But when I dragged myself out of bed, and I said, "Okay, well first I have to figure out what I wanna be, at least next. Not when I grow up, but next. What do I wanna be next? What am I good at? What do I never wanna do again, like accounting?"a I did a lot of our accounting for most of Quincy, and I was like, "I never wanna do that again." And, "How do I translate that into my next job?" And I called up every single person that I'd basically done a favor for in the two years of building Quincy, and said, "Okay, I need a coffee chat. I need your help now. I'm calling in my favor." And I did 70 coffee chats in 30 days, and over the course of these conversations, really kind of identified what's that thing that I'm good at and I like doing, and it kind of came down to general management, like being a GM, or a product manager of a new unit, or a new product, or a new market. Or, brand marketing, storytelling, that I really liked, and that I seemed to peak at compared to my peers. And then I said, "Okay, well now I need a job, so now I know what I'm asking for. Do you know anyone who's looking? And I wanna stay in New York." I've built this great network. That is my secret sauce. And not one point in any of those 70 conversations, or any of the interviews I had with the opportunities that came out of those, that one point did anyone say, like, "So. Your start-up failed. What's the deal with that? Why should I hire you, when you can't even..."

Interviewer: You can't even start a billion dollar company, I mean, really.

Christina: "...found a multi-million dollar company?" Right, right. Right. No one asked that, and at no point did anyone...

Interviewer: And no one will ask, right?

Christina: ...and no one will, right? At no point did anyone infer that that failure would translate to why I would not be good at or qualify for the next job. And this is why I tell the story even more, because I'm like, "First of all, if you don't tell it, no one's ever gonna hear it, because no one seems to be asking," but secondly, it's not the fatal blow to your career. It's literally just one project, one thing. It didn't work, and I learned more from those two years than I learned at business school, and certainly it accelerated the pace of my career by easily five years, maybe more. Because I hired myself for a job that I wasn't actually qualified for, and no one else would hire me for, to be the CEO of a fashion tech company. And so I think if more women are willing to take that risk, understanding that failure is not fatal, I think they will be pleasantly surprised at whatever comes out of it, even if it's not the thing they originally shot for.

Interviewer: Right. I think that's really great advice, and I appreciate you sharing it with our listeners. But what I would love to do is to take a few minutes with you, number one, just to thank you so much for your time today, and to move on to what we call our pay it forward section, which is where we devote about 60 seconds, speed, lightning round, to making our listeners smarter. So, first question is what are your primary sources of information?

Christina: Twitter. All Twitter.

Interviewer: Twitter all day. Okay, wonderful. What book are you reading right now?

Christina: I just finished "When Breath Becomes Air," by Paul...I'm gonna say his name wrong...Paul Kalanithi. It's a magnificent book. It's gonna make you cry.

Interviewer: Okay, I'm gonna check it out. Do you have any rituals or habits that you swear by?

Christina: None. I change everything up about every two months.

Interviewer: Change everything every day, I love this. Okay. Who are three female entrepreneurs or leaders that you most admire?

Christina: Ooh. Shonda Rhimes.

Interviewer: Love her.

Christina: Kathryn Minshew, the CEO and founder of The Muse...

Interviewer: Oh yeah, I've met her. She's very sweet.

Christina: ...and she's very smart, too.

Interviewer: Yeah, a very nice person.

Christina: And probably Senator Gillibrand.

Interviewer: Okay. Interesting. Very cool. A fellow redhead, right? Yes. Ginger's in the house. Okay. So what is the best advice that you've ever received?

Christina: Probably...it's attributed to Albert Einstein, and I never believe anything on the internet, but the story or the quote that says something like "Even a fish is gonna feel stupid if he's trying to climb a tree." And realizing that context is so important, and if you're in the wrong environment, or the wrong context, you're probably gonna feel ineffective and stupid, but find where you fit, and everything changes.

Interviewer: I love that advice. That's a really good one.

Christina: Thank you.

Interviewer: Thank you for sharing that with me.

Christina: Sure.

Interviewer: Are there any particular myths that you'd like to dispel for our listeners?

Christina: You don't have to venture-backed to be a real startup.

Interviewer: I love that one, too. That's great. What words of advice would you give to listeners about taking risks, and especially closing the confidence gap?

Christina: I would say you've gotta brag about your own accomplishments and self-worth if you ever want someone to brag about them for you, and it can feel super awkward and super painful at the beginning, but if you practice it, it's...somehow, it kinda works.

Interviewer: That is really interesting. Yeah, that's one of the hardest things to do. So, to close, what does Think Broad mean to you?

Christina: Well, my grammar head says, "it's think broad-ly," but...

Interviewer: No, it's "Think Broad."

Christina: I think about it in terms of think multi-dimensionally, right? If the x-y plane of thinking doesn't work, go into the z-plane. Right, change your plane, change your perspective of your axis, and you just might find that diagonal solution.

Interviewer: Well, thank you so much, Christina.

Christina: You're welcome.

Interviewer: I know that our listeners had a really great time hearing your story today, and we appreciate it. And for those of you who are in the audience, thank you for listening to BroadMic. Subscribe now on iTunes, so you never miss an episode. Please review our podcasts on iTunes, which will help other listeners discover BroadMic. We want your feedback. BroadMic is produced by Christy Mirabal, with editing by John Marshall Media. Our executive producer is Sara Weinheimer. Think broad.

Listen to more episodes