When #METOO Becomes #USTOO

It seems like the stories behind the Me Too Movement are never-ending.  So here it goes... Me Too.

My story starts back in 2013 when I had the idea of developing an app that would take care of laundry & dry cleaning.  It took just over a year of developing different prototypes, creating business models, and drafting business plans. 

taken on Oct. 23, 2013   This is me holding up the Steve Jobs biography.  I read it 3 times, always imagining that he was my mentor.  You can see initial screenshots of the first version of the app behind me. 

taken on Oct. 23, 2013
This is me holding up the Steve Jobs biography.  I read it 3 times, always imagining that he was my mentor.  You can see initial screenshots of the first version of the app behind me. 

It wasn't until September 2014 that I had a working version that I could go to market with, also known as a minimum viable product.  I launched a pilot service in 3 buildings in Murray Hill.  It was an immediate success!  From Sept 2014 to Dec 2014 I grew my sales from $300 to $1,700.  Small potatoes, but that's 467% growth!  Clearly customers liked what I had to offer.  

I was feeling happy & positive.  I had a proven model, a working business, and cash flow.  I was ready to grow my business with an investment.  Right?.... WRONG!  

There are so many things that go into fundraising.  This is why it's a dedicated profession for so many people.  It's also why it's very common for companies to have more than 1 founder.  Typically, one founder focuses on the company and the growth, while the other founder focuses on operations and investments.  One person handles all the direction & creative, while the other crunches the numbers. 

VC's and Angels break you down.  It's their job.  They want to understand not only your business, but also you.  Having a sound business model is only half the battle.  You still have to prove to the investor that you possess the intellect and creativity to successfully execute. 

I don't have a co-founder.  I don't have a COO, a CTO, a CFO.  I don't even have an intern.  I only have me.  Needless to say, I struggled juggling a new business with fundraising.  Every night I was in the laundromat doing laundry.  I had 1 employee at the time.  She and I would walk around the neighborhood picking up laundry, washing & folding it, then returned it again.  I promised laundry would be delivered before 6AM.  The quick turnaround time was what helped attract the initial customer base.   

I worked at night.  Every single night.  I worked in the laundromat 7 days straight for the first two years. 

I worked at night.  Every single night.  I worked in the laundromat 7 days straight for the first two years. 

 I was torn.  I was tired.  I knew I had what it takes to build a successful company, but my pitches and investor meetings were falling flat.  I just couldn't do it.  I couldn't run the business at night and be sharp for meetings during the day.  I started to break down.

Fundraising is difficult enough on its own.  Now add sexual harassment to the list. 

 

Before the Harvey Weinstein fiasco, Newsweek released an article back in Jan 2015 entitled "What Silicon Valley Thinks of Women".  Here's an excerpt:

When I arrived at the restaurant, I found it a bit awkward to be seated at a table for four yet to be in two seats right next to each other, but it was a French restaurant and that seemed to be the style, so down I sat. Wine was brought and toasts were made to our great future together. About halfway through the dinner, he told me he had also brought me a present, but it was under the table, and would I please give him my hand so he could give it to me. I gave him my hand, and he placed it in his unzipped pants.
 

That was when I had my MeToo Moment. 

Nothing physically traumatic ever happened to me.  It was always verbal.


Rechelle at least you’re pretty. Use it. If all I had to do was suck a dick for $50,000 I’d do it.
— male colleague, finance

You don’t have to do anything you don’t want to do. These are good guys. You might even end up liking them in the end
— potential investor

The second comment was the most painful.  It was 2016 at the time and I had been bootstrapping my business.  It takes money to make money.  And it takes A LOT of money to build a business - money that I didn't have.  

I was hungry.  I was desperate.  So I said "Yes".

As soon as I said yes, I immediately regretted it.  I broke down into tears and cried for hours. I asked myself, "Is this how the world works?  Is this what I have to do to get ahead?  Is this what other women do?"  I was lost.

I didn't know it at the time, but I started entering depression. 

I only had a few dollars in my bank account.  And my fridge was empty.

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I often look back to these photos to remind me...

My mother worried about me.  But I just couldn't give up.  I refused to give up. I refused to back down.  

I never went on those dates.  I just never called back, never followed up.  I think investors can smell desperation.  And they knew I was desperate. 

So instead of selling out, I lived on Saltines.  And then eventually, I had to move back in with my mother.  But throughout it all, I never stopped the service.  Juliette continued to operate regardless of where I was mentally, emotionally, or financially. 

I continued to pick up laundry & dry cleaning, cleaning it, and returning it.  Even if I was the only one doing it.  Even if it was only for a handful of customers.  My friends thought I was crazy.  They tried to convince me to stop the service.  It didn't make sense to stay in business for just a few people.  

I don't have the words for it.  I don't know how to describe it.  I just know that I couldn't quit.

And then I really hit rock bottom.  It was February 2017 and the factory where I was doing all of the cleaning kicked me out.  I had no where to clean clothes.  This could've easily been the end of Juliette. 

But I persisted.  I called around looking for a new factory to clean clothes.  Then a miracle happened.  A family friend opened his doors to me and said I could run my business out of his store.  This was the break I've been waiting for. 

After a few months of negotiations.  The owner sold his store to me in April 2017.  There were no investors involved.  No large sums, no large capital.  He and his wife were good friends with my mother and truly wanted to help me.  They had also been running their business for over 30 years and wanted to retire. 

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It's been my biggest blessing to date. It took 4 long years to call a place my own; but I always believed.  I never stopped believing in my vision.  I never stopped believing in myself.  And while cash is important to start a company.  It's persistence, perseverance, and patience that will sustain a company.

Now we're almost midway through 2018.  And my life is very different.  My company is growing at a healthy rate.  I no longer work crazy hours and for the first time, I'm experiencing stability.  I have a wonderful staff that supports me and the company.  Its a wonderful feeling.  I now have enough clarity that I can focus on building towards the future instead of living day to day.  

It's been a slow, long, and arduous process.  But it's kept the most valuable pieces in place: my dignity; my self-respect; truth to my vision; truth to myself. 

Thanks for reading.

Check out my story on Asian American Life on how Asian American women are joining the Me Too Movement.

In honor of Asian American Heritage Month, Asian American Life celebrates the achievements of remarkable women who helped change America.

rechelle balanzat