The Challengers: The Game Changers Behind Foodstirs, Away, and the Players’ Tribune
These entrepreneurs on Inc.’s Female Founders 100 are shaking up established industries–and spawning entirely new ones.
PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images
Female Founders 100: Agitators Some of these founders are charging headfirst onto the turf of the incumbents in their industries, while others are carving out altogether new categories. Either way, they're challenging our assumptions about products and business models.
If Haney is going to unseat everyone from Nike to Lululemon, she needs focus. That's why, in part, she relocated her entire staff from New York City to Austin last year. "We get to put blinders on. Not in a naive way, but we create the rules to our own game," says Haney, who is anything but naive when it comes to building a technical-wear apparel brand in the age of Instagram. Her four-year-old company--with its signature color-blocked leggings--raised $57 million, with an assist from J.Crew's Mickey Drexler, who joined her board as chairman. "My focus has been to make products that are 10 times better than what's out there, and a digital engine to get us more customers, faster," says Haney. --Christine Lagorio-Chafkin
"If you'd said I was gonna be CEO of something, I would have laughed in your face," says Gelman. She was a hyper-connected publicist when she dreamed up the concept of a place women could stop into in the middle of the day's hustle, spruce up, and network. Three years later, the Wing is a fast-growing, venture-backed, women-only co-working space with West Coast and international expansion on the horizon. Gelman envisions the Wing not as a real estate company, but rather as an omnichannel business, including, among other things, "women doing whatever the fuck they want in 2018." --C.L.C.
Warby Parker vets Korey and Jen Rubio continue reinventing what a luggage brand can be--no small feat in a category in which at least two upstart competitors have already folded. The even bigger triumph for the three-year-old company: reaching profitability in year two, unheard of for a venture-backed direct-to-consumer e-commerce startup. Says Korey: "We joke that we're not going to be done until we have Away Airlines and it's always on time." --C.L.C.
The founder of this New York City-based career platform toiled through such a hellishly busy winter that her usual course of 12-hour workdays now feels like a summer vacation. "I now refer to January and February as 'the hole,'" Minshew says. Her 120-person startup--a sort of younger, hipper sister to LinkedIn--was rolling out a service that let clients embed the sleek features from the Muse's website on their own recruiting websites, as well as on social media platforms. Meanwhile, she "had two executive searches under way and my co-founder was on maternity leave." Minshew, a former management consultant who also spent time introducing vaccines in Rwanda and Malawi for the Clinton Health Access Initiative, envisions a not too distant future in which the Muse gives HR departments the ability to run their recruiting efforts with the same levels of targeting, technical sophistication, and rich content as are available with traditional digital advertising. In the process, she says, "I'll try to get seven hours of sleep most nights, too." --Burt Helm
Stony Creek Colors
Bellos wants to take the toxins out of your blue jeans. Synthetic indigo dye, used in the vast majority of denim, "is made with chemicals like cyanide, formaldehyde, and benzene," says Bellos, who launched the Springville, Tennessee-based Stony Creek Colors in 2012. "We thought, how many railroad cars full of these chemicals can we pull out of the supply chain?" A lot, as it turns out. Today, Bellos's plant-based dyes, which are cultivated on plots of land formerly reserved for growing tobacco--are used in jeans sold by Patagonia, Lucky Brand, and Wrangler. This year, the company is contracting with 12 farmers and has 115 acres under cultivation. It expects to be at 350 acres next year. What's next? More colors. Bellos, who majored in agriculture at Cornell, is also partnering with several mills to perfect the extraction process for plants like madder (red) and black walnut (brown). "We are targeting the rest of the rainbow," she says. --Leigh Buchanan
Since launching TR Designs over 20 years ago, fashion designer Reese has continued to extend her reach--from mass market to the Obama White House--and her vision. Her line, Plenty, sells in Anthropologie and Lord & Taylor, and she's shepherded extensions into home goods and footwear. But her fiercest fashion statements have come of late: Recently, the Detroit native became a more vocal force at the intersection of fashion and politics. She partnered with artist Mel Chin to make clothing out of the water bottles in Flint amid the lead-tainted-water crisis. She has also called for black investors to get into the fashion game, and spoke out about fast fashion's ecological impact. In September, Reese announced she was moving her company's design operation to Detroit, part of a larger program to transform the struggling city into a fashion hub. --Kate Rockwood
Around the time Warby Parker launched in 2011, Jain and her co-founder Daniella Yacobovsky were cooking up a similar premise--except, instead of glasses, they had their eye on trend-based fashion jewelry. But the former investment bankers-turned-Harvard Business School MBAs had the foresight to realize that high-turnover accessories--like $35 tassel earrings--had a bigger and more lucrative opportunity than just direct to consumer: BaubleBar could produce private label products for retailers, too. Seven years later, the profitable company is raking in some 50 percent of its revenue from those other retail channels, which include chains like Target. --Emily Canal
The Players' Tribune
Messler worked her way up from being an assistant in the fast-talking, male-dominated world of sports management to becoming the secret weapon behind Derek Jeter's media platform, the Players' Tribune. After she'd spent 12 years at Excel Sports Management--where she and the Yankees star, a client, found each other--the two teamed up to hatch the platform, which is dedicated to publishing first-person stories by athletes. Says Jeter of his partner: "A lot of people said starting a new media company was a crazy idea, and many thought we would fail. Jaymee is a true entrepreneur. She is someone who believes strongly in her vision and has pursued it fearlessly." Since the Tribune's founding in 2014, Messler has raised $58 million for the New York City-based upstart, and she is expanding into podcasts, TV, and feature films. --Yasmin Gagn
Laibow loved the technology-free experience of baking with her two kids, but couldn't find a product that was easy, sustainable, and organic. "It was a stale category," says Laibow. "All you'd see is bread boxes and legacy brands full of chemicals." Together with actress Sarah Michelle Gellar, Laibow launched the Santa Monica, California-based baking kit company Foodstirs in 2014. Today, the colorfully Instagrammable products can be found in 7,500 retailers, including Target, Whole Foods, and Kroger, as well as 8,000 Starbucks stores across the country. --Brittany Morse