Gender Rights and Twitter Fights: An Interview with Julie Fredrickson, Co-founder and CEO of Stowaway Cosmetics
Recently, I was lucky enough to do an interview with Julie Fredrickson, co-founder and CEO of Stowaway Cosmetics. On the list of topics, we discussed sexism and gender equality in tech and business, passion, social media, and creating value for others before asking for it. Truly one of the most intriguing and forthright interviews I’ve done in a long time.
Adam Marx: What is a question you wish more people asked and why?
JulieFredrickson: Actually it is [more of] a question I’d rather NOT people ask. I’m very weary of men asking, “Tell me what can I do to help more women or people of color get into tech and STAY in it,” or, “How do we encourage more women to become founders?”
Women and minorities have somehow become shouldered with solving a problem (of which they are the victims) that is not of their own creation. We are not obligated to help you solve your subconscious bias or latent sexism (yes, we know it isn’t malice, #NotAllMen). Just because I’m saddled with the “wrong” genitalia doesn’t mean I’m [any] better equipped to solve the issues plaguing our industry than my male compatriots. If anything, I’m worse equipped to help men solve this because not only do I have to fight against systemic biases every day, but then I have to explain to your dumb ass what to do about it? Google that shit.
“We are not obliged to help you solve your subconscious bias or latent sexism…”
Add to the fact that men are taken more seriously and they can do more to advocate for diversity than any woman or person of color. When we raise the issues we are labeled as angry, bitter, or other worse terms. When men do it they are called progressive heroes. So use that to your advantage and help us.
AM: What do you think is the most productive thing you do when you feel like you’re procrastinating?
JF: I am actually not a procrastinator. My fiancé says I physically cannot be uncomfortable (and procrastination is a form of small-form discomfort) so I actually always tackle things head-on without delay. I do “triage” the work I have and generally have a daily burn-down (managed through Trello and then shared via Google Docs for the rest of my team) that tackles the most urgent issue on down.
AM: If you were to describe the concept of “passion” to a younger you, what do you think are the most important things you would want yourself take away?
JF: I think passion is dangerous because framed incorrectly, it teaches us that we should only do things we love and are passionate about. But most of life is a series of tasks requiring a lot of shit-work and tenacity. To succeed we simply have to just do the work.
“…passion can sustain you…”
That said, I was educated in the Waldorf system that is very “whole to parts” focused as a pedagogical system. That allows you to develop excitement and enthusiasm for a topic. Invariably as you learn the details and the ins-and-outs of a discipline, it gets harder and requires more grit to master. But if you develop the awe and love of it by seeing the bigger picture first, you can work to master even the most challenging material because the passion can sustain you.
AM: You’ve articulated that your cosmetics brand Stowaway is “centered around the woman’s life, and not the other way around.” What does this statement mean to you?
JF: Our north-star as a brand is making women’s lives easier. Many men may not realize this, but women start their day at a cognitive deficit to men because we simply have to make more decisions. Yes, even women you might not think give substantial thought to these issues have more grooming than men. Hair, clothes, and makeup are more complex and have more moving parts for women than men.
This all adds up to women suffering from decision fatigue more than men. And don’t even get me started on women in positions of power who also manage a household and children. Our goal is to help simplify makeup so you can save yourself a little time and mental space. If we save her just two minutes a day, think of how that adds up into a giant social good. Imagine what they can do with that!
“Our north-star as a brand is making women’s live easier.”
I dislike that we undervalue “women’s products” or “women’s verticals” or what have you. It suggests that products that serve men have more value, which: 1) is not financially accurate (just look at how the revenue multiples of cosmetics vs. SaaS companies and get back to me), and 2) suggests that we are still subconsciously treated as the second sex. I shouldn’t have to apologize for my routines, my interests, or what I purchase.
As a consumer I should have the option to patronize businesses that prioritize me. We felt that cosmetics wasn’t doing that for women due to outdated business practices that made cosmetics complicated, expensive, and cumbersome. We wanted to make it simple, accessible and portable.
AM: If you were to start a new venture today, what three traits or skills would you want your first co-founder/employee to have?
JF: I’m extremely lucky that my co-founder Chelsa (Crowley) and I have zero skill-overlap. I think it’s really important to recognize your own liabilities and weaknesses and partner with someone that has them as strengths. But then equally has empathy and compassion for your failings, because you will also need to have empathy for their shortcomings as well.
AM: You’re very active in social communities like Twitter and now Anchor. How do you find that you tailor your social interaction to get the most out of each type of app?
JF: As you probably noticed I’m very real-talk. I don’t hide my personal politics, the social agendas that I pursue, or the areas in which I think we as a culture and an industry are failing. Be honest with people. Then you will find those who will treat you with respect and who you can trust and respect in turn. I do genuinely believe in the goodness of people and our desire to help and accept help from other.
That said, sometimes people are just not in the same place as you, and that’s ok. I love a quote from the brilliant business woman Kat Cole about self-selection: “Their screen door don’t let in my kind of fly.” It’s just a perfect phrasing for saying that sometimes you don’t want to be let into certain kinds of clubs because it isn’t worth the hassle.
“…[M]en also need to recognize it isn’t my job to teach them about how women are suffering. My job is to make my customers happy and create shareholder value.”
If my transparency bothers or upsets you then you’re free to ignore me, but I’d posit that not being concerned about diversity puts you on the wrong side of history. And I’m always happy to talk about it if one is polite.
However, men also need to recognize it isn’t my job to teach them about how women are suffering. My job is to make my customers happy and create shareholder value. It just happens to be that my job is a little harder because of the systemic issues related to subconscious bias and who we think of as leaders. Thankfully I’m the kind of hardass that is willing to work twice as hard to get the same result as someone you subconsciously perceive to be a startup founder (say, young white men) or a leader (old white men)
But I think as our mothers likely taught us, honesty is the best policy. Be true to who you are, know that sometimes you will be judged for it and find the people that like you for who you are. You are never going to be any good at being anyone else.
“Show me what you’re made of and do something that proves your worth.”
I also try to follow a policy of “give before I ask” when it comes to connecting with people on social media. We live in an unprecedented age of access. People do want to help but they are all busy, so finding ways to help people first before making big requests really is a great way to simply show you are serious and respectful. I can’t tell you how many emails I get from young founders asking me to introduce them to this “insert famous investor” or that “well known founder” and I have to tell them that I have no reason or incentive to do that.
“…[T]hen recognize it costs me social capital I’ve spent years building to recommend someone.”
Show me what you’re made of and do something that proves your worth. Then I can go to those investors or founders and say, “this kid really has hustle and showed me some great thinking.” It is worth connecting. And then recognize it costs me social capital I’ve spent years building to recommend someone. And I need that cost to be worth it, and [I’ll] hopefully add to my social capital with that person.
Recognize that most people are doing the best they can. But sometimes you have to love them from afar. Forgive them and don’t engage. This is pretty rich coming from me as I LOVE a good Twitter fight.