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Three female CEOs on what makes them tick

This week, fashion label Theory hosted a women’s leadership event in New York City for Women’s History Month as part of its “Be Heard” series. Droves of attendees flooded the Fast Retailing Innovation Center in Manhattan’s Meatpacking District.

The panel featured Shan-Lyn Ma, CEO and Founder of wedding company Zola, and Susan Lyne, President and Founding Partner of early stage fund BBG Ventures. The founder of Premiere Magazine, Lyne has also served as the President of Entertainment at ABC, the head of AOL’s Brand Group, CEO of Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia, and CEO and Chair of Gilt.com.

Amanda Hesser, CEO and co-founder of cooking and kitchen goods company Food52 was also one of the three panelists present. Moderated by Dee Poku, CEO and Founder of the Women Inspiration & Enterprise Network, the discussion was a lively mix of the women’s career journeys and their views on entrepreneurship, leadership and being a woman in business today.

Hesser on how she keeps coming up with new ideas

Answering Poku’s question on this topic, Hesser talked generally about she and Food52 Co-Founder and President Merrill Stubbs do this, saying in part, “we’re always in touch with our community.” But later in her response, she touched on what works for her.

“Personally, I find New York an inspiring place to live. … Walking is one of the things that I do,” Hesser said.

“For so many years we were like, tied to the office, we sort of forced ourselves to travel more,” Hesser added. “For us, when we travel, you know, eating in different places — and not necessarily fancy places — gives us a lot of ideas for content, and you know, seeing what other stores are selling is a great inspiration for what you know, we’ll do next.”

Lyne on what to do when you are still hitting a wall

In answering Poku’s question, Lyne said, “I think you have to be really honest with yourself. If you’ve gotten you know, 30 ‘no‘s, to really look at what it is you’re out there pitching, and I see a lot of companies and a lot of pitches that are great small businesses, that are going to make this woman, and maybe her family and 20 employees, very successful. You know, personally wealthy.

“But they’re not venture-backable companies because they don’t have those elements that would allow this to grow into something really giant. And it’s a hard thing to say to someone, that you don’t think they should be out there raising venture capital, but I do say that,” she added.

Lyne continued: “And I urge them to think about getting a different kind of investment, because it’s also no fun to have gotten venture capital and have your investors behind you saying, ‘run this bigger, run this bigger, run this bigger,’ when that might not be the right thing for the business.

“You know, there are lots of different kinds of successful companies — not all of them have to be Facebook. Particularly in the brand area, you can build a fantastic brand and have a phenomenal life, a creative life building a great product. It doesn’t need to have venture capital, and that allows you to be a whole lot more authentic about what it is you’re building.”

Ma on how she got over imposter syndrome

While answering an attendee’s question about mentors, Ma spoke about how when she was working at Gilt.com (where Lyne was CEO and Chair before starting BBG Ventures), she was “was getting promoted to a big new role” where she was “by far the youngest person on the executive team.”

Ma said that “at the time, I was feeling very intense impostor syndrome.” While she said that she wasn’t verbalizing her thoughts about it, she said, “I think, Susan was giving me advice on how to think about the new role, and essentially, her message was, ‘You just need to get over it, suck it up.’

“Basically, I think, she put it in a much nicer way. She was like, ‘Figure out what they all know that you don’t know, and then just go and learn it, and then you’ll be like them.’ ”

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