If you've ever wondered how a thong could empower female entrepreneurship across the globe, this is the episode you've been waiting for! Renata Black is the co-founder of EBY and is redirecting the power of seduction to empower female entrepreneurship through micro-financing. Micro-financing is a foreign concept to us in the states because the dollars discussed with micro-financing are usually just a few hundred dollars, whereas we think of business funding in the hundreds of thousands, if not millions. This episode will give you a global perspective on the entrepreneurial journey.
This week's episode my guest this week is Renata Black, co-founder and thong slinger of EBY. I reached out to her as her entire founder story and the origin of EBY is based on micro-financing women businesses across the globe. So while the underwear might be super-hot and sexy, it was the fact that she was redirecting the power of seduction to empower female entrepreneurship. And that is what makes this story amazing.
So with that said, Renata’s story has a lot of interesting layers to it. Including partnerships with Sophia Vergara and Deepak Chopra. We even discuss her time studying under a Nobel Peace Prize winner, as well as organizing luxury lingerie shows. But despite the intrigue that those bullet points might arouse, Renata’s story has an origin like no other founder story we have ever told before.
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Renata Black: Hi, this is Renata Black. I am the cofounder and thong slinger of EBY, and this is MY startup story.
James McKinney: Hello everyone and welcome to another episode of The Startup Story. Before we jump into this week's episode I just want to remind you about our upcoming founder Q&A session with Matt Meeker, the cofounder of Meetup and BarkBox. Both of his startups have had massively successful exits, and make sure to visit live.grindology.com to secure your free spot to this event. It's absolutely free. And during this event we will be taking live audience Q&A so now is the chance to receive some incredible mentorship from a founder that continues to execute well. Again, visit live.grindology.com to register and to learn more. And of course we will include a link in the show notes for easy access. Now let's jump in to this week's episode.
My guest this week is Renata Black, cofounder and thong slinger of EBY. We've had 121 founder episodes on The Startup Story and this is the very first episode from a founder in the woman's intimate apparel category, aka ladies underwear. And let me just say I get hit up all the time by brands in this category and I know that once this episode is released I'm going to get hit up all the more by many, many, many more brands. But despite the outreach efforts of all the other brands, there just wasn't a compelling founder or brand story to their pitch. In fact, Renata didn't even pitch me about being on the show, I reached out to her.
The reason I reached out to her was because her entire founder story and the origin of EBY is based on microfinancing women's businesses across the globe. So while the underwear might be super hot and sexy, it was the fact that, to use her phrase, she was redirecting the power of seduction to empower female entrepreneurship. And that is what makes this an amazing story. So with that said, Renata's story has a lot of interesting layers to it, including partnerships with Sofia Vergara and Deepak Chopra. We even discuss her time studying under a Nobel Peace Prize winner, as well as organizing luxury lingerie shows. But despite the intrigue that those bullet points might arouse, Renata's story has an origin like no other founder story we have ever told before.
Renata Black: I was raised in a household where I was adopt by my aunt and my uncle, and the most certainly were not entrepreneurs because they basically left Columbia and everything in Columbia because they actually kidnapped me and brought me to the states. And so when they did that, they actually had a lot of money when they were living in Columbia. When they came… in Columbia you're either rich or you're poor. There's not like a middle class. They had to kind of start over. So they were not entrepreneurs, but they were hustlers. They did whatever they needed to do to make it work. So I think that upbringing of seeing my mom just work really, really hard was always really inspirational. But the word entrepreneur never… it wasn't even, I didn't even know the word entrepreneur existed maybe until my 20s.
James McKinney: Now I have to ask because after 122 episodes, that is an origin story that I have never heard before. And so I would… I can't help but ask, you mention kidnapping. Obviously coming from Columbia, things are just different there than they are in the States, and so can you unpack a little bit about that? Because that's very unique.
Renata Black: Yeah, well it wasn't like a drug story so it's not going to be as exciting as Narco Stars. Don't want to disappoint. But no, both of my parents, my mother and my father, had passed away in an airplane accident and I was left without parents. So I was, the patripotestal is the authoritative or parental guidance was left with my grandmother. She was like a raging alcoholic and I was sleeping in the bed with dogs. My father's sister was like we can't leave this child to this crazy lady, and they actually had to kidnap me from her. They came to the states. They never planned to come to the states. She had three other kids. They had border control knocking on the door and she'd have to hide me. But she did that because she wanted me to have a really great future.
If you ask me today if I would have changed my whole life, it's super admirable that she did that. When you see her, she has blonde hair and blue eyes, and she really doesn't look that much like me, but it's really interesting. There's this Darwin theory of nature versus nurture, and I walk like her, I talk like her, my attitude is like her. I'm very similar to her because she grew up being my mom. But yeah, that's kind of like the story which is I think just a crazy story. I don't know a lot of people that would actually just pick up their whole life and move, and start from nothing in the states. I think now in hindsight of course they were so thrilled now, all the kids are American and who wouldn't want to be American, right?
James McKinney: One of the things that I love about the many episodes, the many founders I've had on, are the immigrant stories. We've had probably 20 that are I would say of the 20 for sure, we've had at least 10 that were not born in the states that moved here as a kid so they've seen both sides of it. How old were you when you came to the states?
Renata Black: I was one.
James McKinney: you were one, so for most of what you know is the states other than learning from your parents, telling you what it was like back then and where it was. So you saw a lot of resiliency in your parents having to raise you and your siblings. When you think to your early years, again not having been raised by entrepreneurs, when you think the end of high school, it's a natural chapter in our life, what did you think you wanted to do?
Renata Black: Oh God, that's so funny. You're asking all the fun questions. When I was in high school, I had this weird identity crisis because I didn't know if I was American, I didn't know if I was Hispanic. When I would go to visit my cousins in Columbia they're like, "Oh, you're a gringa," and then when I was in school in high school, oh you're Latin. I was like well what am I? It was just such a weird thing. At 15 I really craved to find my roots. I was really confused. I just was a really bad kid. I was a really bad kid. I decided that I wanted to move back to Columbia at 15 and find my roots, and who I am. And I, at 15 years old, moved out of my house and I moved to Columbia. I actually had found my grandmother again just to kind of like who is this, and she actually was this crazy lady. I actually confirmed that fact. But I bought toothpaste when I was 15 for the first time. I had basically, I lived on my own starting at 15 years old, and living in Columbia when you're 15 years old it's crazy.
It was at that moment when I was in Columbia I took a bus, and I took it the wrong way, and it took me to this pueblo where it was all covered brown, brown, brown. I always wondered what it was because I could see this covered in brown, and I took the bus I was like oh, this is this brown mountain. I realized the whole mountain was covered in cardboard boxes. When it would rain, all the cardboard boxes would come down. I don't know if you know this, but Columbia is the second largest internally displaced population in the world because all the drug traffickers remove people so that they can obviously plant cocaine fields. So when I got there and I saw this, it hit me. I was like wow, I could have easily been one of these kids. That could have been me.
The minute that happened, I was like I've got to… it just changed my life. I was so grateful. I was like I'm American, and I can do something to change this. Two people died for me, and my life has to be… I thought to myself at that moment what is the best use of my life? Ever since then, I knew that I had to dedicate myself to doing something that was going to… the reason why I was here was going to make that situation different.
James McKinney: Wow. That is a remarkable story. There's so many layers, character shaping layers, from that experience. A lot of listeners right now maybe don't have that exact narrative, but they look back to some hardships and some childhood thread that's woven through their life that shapes who they are today. But again, knowing that you want to create an impact, that you want to change that dynamic, at 15 you're living on your own. My parents kicked me out when I website just about 16 and so for me, I knew I wanted to do college and the military was the only way I could get that done and paid for. We all have a way in which we think something has to get accomplished. So knowing what you wanted to do, knowing the impact you wanted to make, you were still only 15. How did you… what were those next steps for you? What did you do when you finished your education?
Renata Black: Yeah. At that point was really clear I had to go to school. I had to get a really good degree, and I basically just, I ended up working at an oil rig in Columbia. I was a translator for Texaco. I saved all my money and I came back to the states, and I studied really, really hard. I got a scholarship to University of North Carolina Chapel Hill, a free ride. I was just like when I committed myself to something, I was like I'm obsessive compulsive, right? I'm just like I'm going to do this and I'm going to crush it. So got into North Carolina. I was about to graduate from North Carolina and I was living with a ska band at the time. Also, it was really interesting but I was interviewing for all these jobs and I was being interviewed for a job with MTV, part of advertising and sales. It was like my dream job, and it was an alumni that was going to hire me, and I was like this is it.
I remember this last interview was with this woman, and I walked in and I just knew I wasn't going to get it. And I didn't get it. And I went back to North Carolina, was interviewing in New York, and I came back and I just started crying. I'm like my life is over, I'm 24, that's it. Crying in my bed for two weeks. One of these ska band members, they're like, "Hey, there's this really cool thing. You can buy a ticket on American Airlines to go around the world for $5,000," and I'm like you know what, screw it. I'm just going to travel for a year. I'm just going to travel and that's what I'm going to do for now. What I did was I traveled around the world but I would volunteer in different countries. In New Zealand, in Hong Kong, everywhere and it was the time of the tsunami. I was like well I should go volunteer there. So I go to India, I'm volunteering for this organization, and the interesting thing is I look like them. They think I'm Indian.
James McKinney: Really? Okay.
Renata Black: Yeah, well I fit in everywhere. When I go to Egypt, they think I'm Egyptian. I'm in Hong Kong, they think I'm Asian. I've got like a very… I guess I look like a lot of people. So when I was in Indian I was with this New Zealand organization and the part of India that I was in, they'd never seen white people. They'd never seen them. So when we would go to these villages to help these people, these kids would see a white person and freak out. They're like "ahh" and it was like they'd seen an alien, they'd never seen a white person. The organization decided to send me in. I was like the front line for everything because I looked like them, and I was able to connect with these people, obviously with the translator. And one day this woman said to me, she's like, "You know what, I hear that you're with these white people. I don't want anything for free." She's like, "You have money, you know how to make it. Why don't you just teach me how to make it? That would be great. If you could figure that out, then you come back to me. If you can't figure that out, I don't want your rice, I don't want anything."
James McKinney: Wow.
Renata Black: I was like oh my God, that was insane. She was right. She was completely right. What happened is that all this free supply that you think normally as a way to help, it was really disabling a very powerful group of people, and they were becoming beggars. I was like this is totally not what I signed up for. And it really stuck with me what she said. I was like well I mean, I said to her, "Listen lady, I'm super broke. I'm up to here in student loans. You think I know how to make money? I don't know how to make any money. I actually don't have any money. I have some but it's my credit cards are maxed right now." But it stuck. It stuck in my head.
I'd go to this dial up cafe. It's 2005 and I found this guy named Muhammad Yunus in Bangladesh that was doing this thing called microfinance. Basically what he was doing was taking a group of 15 women, teaching each one of them a skill. Like you sell saris in bulk, you sell rice in bulk, you sell spices, you tend to cows, you do school lunches, and everybody gets a loan, and in four months everyone has to pay their loan back. If you don't pay your loan back to buy more supplies then you won't get a bigger loan. So you have 15 women who are really, there's this camaraderie amongst these women.
So let's say in three months or four months, one of the women don't pay their loans back. She's like, "Look, my husband died. I can't sell my baskets," you have 14 women making these baskets and you better believe when you're at the square you're going to buy from these women. So that's why microfinance has a 98% repayment rate. The first thing a woman does is send her kids to school, because she's breaking the cycle of poverty for them. I fell in love with this. I was like this is awesome. This is it. My whole life changed with that one request.
I went to Bangladesh, I studied under Muhammad Yunus and his team for about three months. And I came back and I found this lady. I'm like I can do this. I can show you how to do this. And I've raised some money from the states. I did it as a fundraiser. She goes, "Great. Come to the square because I'm going to bring some friends." I'm like great. I'm feeling on top of the world, James. I am 24 years old, I am going to change the world. I've got my Wonder Woman cape on. I get to the square and this woman, I swear to you, has sat down 800 women at the square. The thing about India is they're very organized.
James McKinney: Oh my gosh.
Renata Black: They organize themselves. And I'm like oh my God no, I have no idea how to do this. This is not what I thought. These are not friends. I don't know if you know this, but weddings they invite like 7,000 people to their weddings. It's crazy. There's over a billion people so 800 was really like a dinner. So that was the beginning of my whole, I ended up living in India for two years and building this microfinance program for this 800 women.
James McKinney: So let's unpack this a bit. One of the things that drew me to your story, that drew me to the EBY brand, was because of where microfinance plays in all this. Because we talk a lot about social commerce and brands doing good. A lot of times it's like the Tom's model, the buy one/give one model. It's the idea where we give part of our product to something. But what I love about what you're doing, again it's entrepreneurship enabling more entrepreneurship. It's super meta and I love it, because it's everything that I love is just entrepreneurship.
In the US when we think of financing, we think of everything has to have a comma. Everything is in the thousands. When we think of venture capital, it's the millions. But we don't think of well what can the $500 investment do in certain places? Obviously not necessarily in the US. Maybe, but definitely in other countries. When you think back to that season when you were studying under that, and Muhammad went on to win the Nobel Peace Prize for microfinance, so we're talking someone who is an expert in this, when you think of your learnings specifically around microfinancing we can understand it operationally, but systemically what did you learn under him about the impact of microfinancing?
Renata Black: It's really just one phrase. It's a hand up and it's not a hand out. The other important thing was a lot of these women didn't have signatures. They've never had a bank account. We would sign with their finger print. They don't… imagine if you are a woman who lives in a village where you are trapping rats with a little piece of rice, not too much, that you can trap the rats and then you are hanging them and you eat them, and that's what you eat. That's what we're working with. You don't have walls in your house so even if you did make the money, this guy next door knows you're part of these female groups and he's going to come in and he's going to steal it from you, so where are you going to hide it? In the rice patty? So the level of… it's not a very complicated model.
The one thing that when you have nothing monetarily, the one thing you have is values. What people in poverty, your word is everything. Your family, your name, that is so important. So when these women are committing to each other that their future relies on each other, they take it really seriously. Because of that, that's why you have this 97-98% repayment rate. That was really my lesson from him was it was a brilliant concept. They always paid their loans back. It's not that it's interest free. There's always a small interest because it takes money for us to drive, go see the women and manage their books. It's not just me, it's an army of people that are supporting them in doing this. So the concept was brilliant but why it worked was because at the end of the day she has kids that she has to feed. It's not that men are bad. It's just that when a man is in a lot of pain, he's going to drink. He doesn't have that thing with the kids where women are the best investment because the first thing they're going to do is take care of their kids. So all of those natural human values really allow for microfinance to innately work.
James McKinney: That's remarkable. So after having this experience in the square where 800 women came, you were in India for two years like you said. Obviously, you're not in India while we record this now. So what was your first action item out of India? I know, and correct me if I'm wrong but I believe there's a nonprofit that enables all this microfinancing, and I think that is where EBY begins, Empowered by-
Renata Black: The Seven Bar Foundation.
James McKinney: The Seven Bar, I'm sorry, correct. Seven Bar Foundation. So was that your first step coming back and establishing that?
Renata Black: Definitely. The interesting thing that set me on the trajectory I'm on now, which I am forever now a thongslinger…
James McKinney: How is that for a place to break for an ad? Well, before Renata discusses her intro into slinging thongs, I need to ask you a question. How valuable would it be to have direct access to some of my past guests to learn exactly how they executed certain strategies to grow their business? I have to believe it would be extremely helpful to your entrepreneurial journey. As someone who has access to these founders, I can tell you first hand it is super helpful. And it is now available to you because that is the experience and the knowledge sharing that is delivered to you each quarter when you become a Grindology member.
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Renata Black: The interesting thing that send me on the trajectory that I'm on now, which I'm forever now a thong slinger, I didn't leave India with that concept at all.
James McKinney: You've got to make that your LinkedIn profile title, Thong Slinger. That's so dope. I love it.
Renata Black: I struggle between Head Jedi and Thong Slinger, but I need to put it somewhere. So when I was living in India this other major life changing event happened to me, which was these women would make me wear saris every day. I had to dress in the natural, the original garb. I was dressed like I was one of them. And it was really uncomfortable to wear this. It's 104 degrees, it's a ton of fabric. You're wrapped like a burrito. Your shower is a garbage can and you go walk two blocks for the pump, you get the water, and you're carrying this bucket and then you finally get in the shower, and you have to wrap yourself in this heat blanket. It's horrible. And you know I didn't really enjoy it. I'd have to swim in it. There's no bikinis. Forget about a bikini, and I hated wearing this thing every day.
I would say to them, I'm like, "This is really uncomfortable. I don't want to wear this anymore," and they're like, "But it must be horrible for you because you have to wear skirts and things that show your cleavage in the states." They would hold my hand and say, "How do you do it? It must be really hard for you to have to live like that." I was like are you kidding me right now? I'm Columbian. I like it short, I like it tight, dressed in leopard preferably. Like no, don't feel sorry for me because I'm… so it was like the weirdest. Just talk about this, they actually feel sorry for us, and we actually feel sorry for them. And it was the weirdest paradigm shift I had ever experienced. I was like you women are crazy, they thought I was crazy. But when I came back to the states after two years of doing this, I was watching the Victoria's Secret show and it really hit me. I was like maybe these women are right? What if we do use seduction to objectify women? And what if there's something about this? Maybe we can redirect the power of seduction to empower women, that it's something that empowers us.
I just really became obsessed. I got obsessed. I'm a person that gets obsessed with things. I'm an obsessive compulsive person, and I got obsessed with this idea of using intimates to redirect that power of seduction to the empowerment of women. What I started doing was I started hosting these amazing luxury lingerie shows all over the world. So when you talk about who originally started empowering women with intimates, I will tell you hard stop, period, it was me. I say that with all the humility because now it has become cool, but in 2009 I hosted a show with Agent Provocateur and Fifi Chachnil and Karen Gilson, the top luxury lingerie designers in Miami, hosted by Eva Longoria. Deepak Chopra came and spoke and it was all to raise awareness for microfinance and to raise funds for microfinance for the foundation. I did that in Miami, I did it London, and I did it in New York. That was really my entrance into the intimates world, and using this tool which ultimately was a tool to enable women to have an impact with the decision they made, which is ultimately the underwear they would wear.
James McKinney: So but you're leveraging luxury brands, and you're leveraging shows and events, to raise money for the Seven Bar Foundation, which was the nonprofit that you used to facilitate all the microfinancing across the world, obviously India but other places as well. But that was your business model. But that's not where we are today, because now you have your own intimate brand. But let's stay pre EBY for a second here. Let's stay before EBY. Let's stay in the Seven Bar Foundation world for a second. What was the mission of the Seven Bar Foundation when you started it?
Renata Black: So the foundation was two things. One, it was an awareness platform because I wanted people to become aware of the impact of microfinance, because microfinance is so transformative, that it's not about a hand out. That it's really if you want to make catalytic change, if you want to have real transformation, microfinance is the strongest poverty alleviation tool today. Hard stop. Period. And for me, I wanted to get people aware if they were going to give, if they wanted to have an impact, it was empowering through women, and it was through microfinance. My catalyst was these amazing intimates' shows because I felt that was really redirecting the power of seduction to the empowerment of women. It wasn't really a business model. It just started off as an idea, as a concept, as a way to raise awareness and to raise funds through these charity events.
What happened during that is I think, I don't know if I had mentioned this to you but in 2008 I was reading an article and it was an article… one of my biggest mentors in life, when I was 15 years old and I told you that I left Miami and my adopted mom was like, "Here's your one way ticket and here's a book." And she gave me one book, and she was just, "Read this book," and it was the Seven Spiritual Laws of Success by Deepak Chopra. It was the best book ever. It was the guide of my life at 15. Then when I was 28, fast forward in 2008, I was reading an article and it was an article with Deepak Chopra. They said to him, "What are you doing now?" And he said, "I'm supporting innovative solutions for poverty alleviation." And I'm like well I've got one.
And it was like I think email was just starting at that point, but it wasn't like major email thing. I basically wrote him a letter, like a kid with a dream. Dear Deepak, My name is Renata and this is my vision, this is what I'm doing. And I'm hosting a lingerie show in Miami and I would love for you to come and speak. And I'm like, my husband at the time was like, "Are you out of your freaking mind? You think that Deepak Chopra's going to come speak at some… at a thong show? Are you out of your mind?" I'm like, "No, but he's super…" and I'm like I really think this is going to work. I got a letter back and he responded, and he said to me if you can redirect the power of seduction to the empowerment of women, it will have a transformative impact and I want to support you. And he came and he spoke at my show.
James McKinney: That's awesome.
Renata Black: And he was like, "There's nothing more powerful energy wise than sensual energy. It is the strongest energy, and if you can actually redirect that it's transformative." I was like ha, knew it.
James McKinney: That's awesome. That is awesome.
Renata Black: Fast forward, Deepak has been a dear friend of mine till today. We work a ton together. We were having dinner one day, and this is a really funny story. We're having dinner and he goes, "Look, I've got something for you," and he shows me this transcript for one of his books called The Soul of Leadership. I'm like oh cool, I get to read it before everybody, that's amazing. He goes, "No, no, no. Go to chapter 9," and it was a whole chapter dedicated to me.
James McKinney: Wow.
Renata Black: Yeah. The funny part was that my name is, you know I have a lot of last names because I was adopted, so Renata Catalina Mutis, and then I got married and it became Renata Black. If you Google Renata Black she's the number one porn star in Czechoslovakia, you know? I'm like Deepak, you've got to put like Mutis in there or they're going to think I'm a porn star. I have lingerie shows. Oh my God, he was freaking out, he was like, "Oh no, this is terrible!" It's just a funny story but yeah, the chapter that he wrote about me really changed me entire… changed my life.
James McKinney: That's incredible. I'm going to ask, what was it about that chapter? Because you're doing amazing things already and Deepak is showing up at an event is all kinds of validation. What was it about that chapter? Obviously it's a very personal moment that you had, but what was it about you having that chapter dedicated that made that change for you?
Renata Black: So the crazy thing of this whole story is that the former CEO of Victoria's Secret had read that chapter. Her name is Grace Nichols, and Grace Nichols is friends with Deepak. She read this chapter and she's like, "Put me in touch with this girl." I get up and I was thinking I was going to get punked, right? I thought maybe Aston Kutcher was going to pop out and be calling that. Like this woman is going to call me? And she calls me and she's like, "Listen, I've really just focused, my whole life is really about creating intimates to benefit men, and apparently what you want to do is create intimates to empower women, and I'm going to support you." She basically got me into the factory and really taught me everything. A lot of what I know today is because of her. Once you have somebody like that really kicking off your career, it's a really big endorsement.
James McKinney: That's awesome. Let me ask this question. Here you are running the Seven Bar Foundation. You're making tremendous impact. Like Deepak said, you are redirecting the power of seduction to be empowering women. So you're doing incredible things. Why, or what was missing, and what was the catalyst for you to even begin to think that you needed to create your own intimate apparel line? What was it that said now I need to be creating a brand that I can funnel its profits into microfinancing?
Renata Black: it's very simple. The only way that you can have real impact is through a consistent revenue stream. There is not enough donor funds in the world to alleviate the problems of the world. There just isn't. you can't continue to… hope is not a strategy. And when you're doing charity events and when you have a nonprofit, you're really just, your business plan is based on hope and generosity, which I mentioned is definitely not a strategy. I didn't want to… I wanted to build something that was going to give consistent revenue streams to microfinance, that didn't depend on limited donor funds. If I was going to do that and I was already in the intimates world, then the most natural thing for me was to have my own brand, especially because I had the help from Grace to get me into the best factory, which by far right now.
And I can tell you for sure if you were to put my product next to any other seamless product, our product is hands down the best because of the technology that we use. That was because I was able to get into the line, because it was the contact. Otherwise I would have never had that. So that was the jump was to go from the nonprofit to a social enterprise which is a business that drives both profits and purpose. Now, if you have no margin, you have no mission. So you have to make sure that is going to be able to have an ROI on it as well.
James McKinney: So let's talk about that first moment. What was the moment where you said I'm going to create my own brand? What was that moment?
Renata Black: If I can only remember. I feel like it's just been a-
James McKinney: Well how long ago was this? How long ago did you start EBY?
Renata Black: In 2017 when I came, I actually went and looked in the factory for about three months. Grace said to me, she was like, "Look, if you're going to do this you're going to have to really understand production or else you're going to get ripped off. This is it. Really either get to know it or if not, you're going to get screwed. That's just the reality of working with overseas." So I lived in Sri Lanka for some time and really got to know this manufacturing facility, and all the different ways of how to make fabric, all of that. Came back, started in really small stores.
One of the things that Grace would tell me was you really need to go to the store and see how women shop. I would spend hours watching how women shopped. Two things made me feel like okay, this is not a brick and mortar product. This is a direct to consumer subscription business. And the two things that happened was when women shop, they go into the store, they buy a handful, and walk out. You're like well you didn't try it on, why did you go to the store? Oh, I don't want to try it on, it's gross. Then why are you going to the store to buy underwear? So that's number one. Number two was they're buying them in handfuls. So when I would talk to women like, "Hey, how often are you doing this? How often do you come into the store and buy handfuls?" "I don't know, maybe three or four times a year."
I'm like wow, so that means that this is a repeatable purchase. This is a purchase that women need, and replenish-able in cycle. So when I realized that, I'm like, and I would ask women why do you buy so much? Oh, it stains, it rips, I lose it. It's like I just go through underwear. And if you were to ever open a woman's underwear drawer, I don't know when the last time you did that, you would realize that she doesn't have two or three, she has around 30. And she has the sexy ones with the strings on it that she probably never wears and it's all the way in the back, and it's her most comfortable in the front. If you haven't done the exercise you should do it.
James McKinney: Noted. And for all my listeners, you heard the challenge. There you go.
Renata Black: Are you kidding? The amount of times I've been in my girlfriend's places and I'm counting their underwear, they're like what are you doing in my underwear drawer? I'm like I really need to know how many underwear you have right now.
James McKinney: That's awesome.
Renata Black: They're like get out of my underwear drawer, Renata.
James McKinney: That's awesome. So you have these real world data points that you're collecting everything together. But again, it's such a huge jump to start a D2C brand from running a nonprofit. It is such an enormous jump.
Renata Black: Such a jump.
James McKinney: Thus far, you've had a lot of people pouring into you. Various names obviously Grace, the CEO of Victoria's Secretes, tremendous support there. Deepak Chopra. Later on we'll get to how Sofia Vergara becomes part of this. But you have tremendous people pouring into you, but it's still such a leap to start a brand. When did you just decide yes, this is what I'm doing, I'm going all in?
Renata Black: I don't think you ever make the decision. I think there's little circumstances that ultimately add up to that event. You're just like oh, this should be online. Oh, it should be size inclusive because these women have to walk into the store. And I could see when walking in they're like, "Sorry, we don't sell your size," and it's a horrible experience for her. I have to solve for her. Oh, these women need it on repeat. That should be a subscription. And then just going to the drawing board and saying I'm going to do this. It's just having a lot of conviction in yourself ultimately that you'll get it done. It doesn't mean that there's not heartaches or endless amount of cries at night, and really a lot of fear that comes with that. And sometimes feeling not good enough, if you're ever going to actually pull it off but hey you're already… you're always like I'm so close, and then you're like but no I'm so close. Then you're always just so close, and you keep on going.
I think what really, when I went back to the drawing board and I was like this is not a brick and mortar company, this is really an online size inclusive women's empowerment brand and company, subscription based. And so when I was going back to the drawing board, that's when Sofia had gotten a hold of our product through a friend of ours, and she really fell in love with two things. She fell in love with the product and she said that she had tried every single underwear out there, and it was the best underwear she had ever worn. That she really loved microfinance, because she had made it through, and she really believes in business fueling business, and that she really loved that.
So we got together in her house in Beverly Hills and just really shared my vision with her about what we were doing, and why we were doing it. You know how big the intimate space was. It's a $13 billion industry, and Victoria's Secret just shut down 25% of its doors. And we're doing it for the right reasons, and we have the best product, right product, right mission, right time. And she was like, "Look, I really love this." She was incredible at really helping us launch the company, and just a real believer. What she had always said was at the end of the day, the product is the star. And if the product isn't amazing, it doesn't matter how I promote it or what I say, the product has to really stand for itself. Because she felt that innately the product did and the message did, that it was a natural fit for her.
James McKinney: Let me ask that question. I love that Sofia said that, because one of the questions that I was reserving in the back of my mind was how do you balance the mission with the product, because again you're creating the product to support the mission. For you, who is so passionate, and correct me if I'm wrong but if we were to have scales are you passionate about thongs, are you passionate about empowering women and microfinancing, my assumption is it would be heavily tilted towards the latter. So as she's saying it's got to be about the product, was there some tension internally about but it's the story, it's the mission, it's why we're doing this that really matters and is going to drive conversion? Was there any wrestling internally for you?
Renata Black: Oh no. I mean listen, if it wasn't for the cause she wouldn't have done this.
James McKinney: Of course.
Renata Black: Yeah, it was for her the product had to be amazing as a baseline, but if the cause wasn't there it wouldn't have been worth her time. The natural extension of who she innately is, and if you follow her you'll see that, she is a person who really cares and she wants what she does to actually really have an impact. And she knows that microfinance is the most impactful way to have a true impact on women's lives. The conversation between product and cause is you can't have one without the other in my mind. You have to add value beyond product in today's age.
Now more than ever, after people have been caged in their homes for the last year I think there's been a lot of "come to Jesus" moments. You're seeing a huge rise in demand for purpose driven brands because people know that they have choices. They know their choices matter, and they're voting with their dollars. I think it's an awakening. It's a consciousness that's happening. If you think about this, think about this crazy statistic. If you are a nurse or a teacher in the US, you fall within the 1% wage salary within the world. So that means that yeah, the rest of the 90% of the world lives on $2 a day. So if there's anyone that has the possibility to really have an impact with their choices, it's the people here in the states.
James McKinney: Yep, yep. Wow, it's incredible. We've had a few social commerce companies on the show thus far, and many of them have said it is a challenge because you are passionate about the mission, but at the same time people are buying because of the product and the mission is the extra gravy for them. It's like great, I love the product and I get to do something good with it. But for them as the founder, oftentimes they have to fight leading with the mission. Like this is why, before you even love our product, this is why we're so different and why it's so good that you transact with us. Do you find the same tension internally?
Renata Black: I think that it's not so much of the tension but I think you nailed it when it's like you have to constantly remind yourself of your "why", because you're so engrossed with your P&L, with your investors, with your team, with the development, with technology working, with product, with assortments, with styles, with new product launches that you… and like I said to you, if you have no margin you have no mission. So you have to make sure you have that margin so that you can have this mission. So you have to be obsessed over it. Sometimes, you can get distracted. And it detracts from your origin, and then you just become like any other brand.
So I think that it's just a constant reminder for yourself, for your team, and ultimately what you also end up seeing, we've been noticing is that people are not going to buy your product as a cause, so don't lead with that. But it will help tremendously with referrals, with retention, with repeat purchase. Let me tell you, when you get underwear and you open up that flap and it says, "Because of you we've impacted over 15,000 women out of poverty into business," it's like that's awesome. That's awesome. My life is going to shit, I haven't got laid, I lost my job, but you know what I'm doing this one thing, and that's awesome. That really helps in the retention, repeat purchase, referrals. And that's where mission needs to really have its ROI, and that's where we see it.
James McKinney: Oh my gosh, I love it. Absolutely love it. Now looking back, 2017 is what you consider the launch for EBY right?
Renata Black: We did our beta test in 2017 for three months, just really testing out friends and family. Sofia went on a road show which was really great. And then 2018 in January is really where we hit the ground running, yeah.
James McKinney: So 2018, hit the ground running.
Renata Black: Feels like so many years ago.
James McKinney: Now looking back though, looking back what were some of the hardest moments for you where you realized wow, this is so different than what I was doing with the Seven Bar Foundation?
Renata Black: Yeah, I think the biggest lesson is that you need to raise more money than you that ink you need. A properly funded company is incredibly important because D2C companies are very expensive to run. I feel like that was, the struggle was wow, yeah, this is probably going to be… I come from a scrappy foundation where people do things for free. It's all in good will. Don't get me wrong, I still get a ton of stuff for free, and that has helped me a ton. But if you're going to have an elevated brand, and we're competing against the best here in the city, and just within the D2C playing world. We are competing against the best, and in order to do that you definitely need money. I think that was a big a-ha moment coming from the nonprofit world into the for profit world. Not only that, but the amount of money that it personally takes for me because you're a founder, so you're doing Series C, you're doing Series A, and so it's taking a lot of the time that you originally would have liked to run and grow and scale the business, and see that vision happening because you're constantly managing raising the business to be run the most efficient, and to be properly funded, and to make sure that you have the best players that are properly compensated, and that they're super excited to be working there. I would have liked to be focusing on my marketing campaigns, on bringing the mission to life, on bringing on more influencers because that's really where I feel like I'm best served. But as a founder, you don't get to do everything you really want to do. You have to do what you need to do.
James McKinney: Let's talk about the areas you say you're best served, reaching the influencers, partners, bringing more people on. And again it started with Sofia, Sofia Vergara being one of your first partners. We talked about Deepak Chopra. Why are influencers part of what it is that you're doing and that you're building with EBY?
Renata Black: I think it's an innate desire for every human being is that they want to have a lasting impact in the world, and ultimately EBY is a conduit and a catalyst to that. We are a platform for them to be able to do that, so there's a lot of synergies. EBY is a natural extension of who Sofia is and the impact that she wants to have, so it's a natural synergy. EBY also is a natural extension of who Deepak is and what the impact that he wants to have. So when COVID happened, the one thing that we started doing was just talking to our members and talking to our purchasers, and just saying, "Hey guys, what kind of content do you need right now? We're a women's empowerment brand. How can we best be here for you? How can we be a true axis to real empowerment for you?" As opposed to being some fluffy term. What can we actually do?
And when we surveyed all the women that buy from EBY and we have a really strong relationship with them, three things came up: tough love, confidence, and fear. Nine times out of 10 they were the same things that came up during COVID, and I was like wow, we're really scared, losing a lot of confidence, and you're not really loving yourself because you're kind of hating yourself right now. So I went to Deepak and I'm like, "Hey, let's create an amazing mental health and wellbeing kit, and let's disseminate this content together. I have the audience, you have the content. Let's do this." And he's like, "Yeah." Deepak's mission in life is to reach a billion people to have a more just and joyful world. And so through EBY again, it was a natural extension of his belief and his values. So that's where you find the right synergies, and that's ultimately, that's one of my strengths is being able to find those alignments where it's a mutually beneficial relationship.
James McKinney: Oh my gosh, I love it. Are you still, I know EBY's participation in funding microfinance is through Seven Bar, but are other brands participating with Seven Bar as well? Or is really EBY the only one?
Renata Black: Yeah, so EBY is the only one right now. The foundation started as a very small family foundation, and so it's not properly resourced. We give 100% of all the proceeds to microfinance, despite all the filing fees or all the little minutia. But there's nobody really pitching other brands, bringing that on. Look, with EBY it's more than enough. It's more than enough if we keep on doing what we're doing. We'll be able to impact over a million women by 2027, just because women decided the type of underwear that they wanted to wear that morning, and I think that's powerful enough. I think I've come to my life now, I'll be 42 this year, that you can do anything, you just can't do everything so do one thing really, really, really well.
James McKinney: What is a success story from your microfinancing that you go back to that constantly… because there reaches moments, reaches times in entrepreneurship where we just kind of hit a wall. And last year for a lot of people, there were lots of walls. Just obstacle after obstacle.
Renata Black: Bulldozer.
James McKinney: Yeah right, there you go. What is the success story through the microfinancing that you go to in those times where you're just like do I want to keep doing it, and you remember this story? What is that? Or maybe there's a few of them, but can you share some of those moments with my audience so that they can see the impact of this.
Renata Black: Yeah, that's a great question James, thank you so much for asking that. Oh my God. It's been so great because I've been able to go, and we video them and interview them, and connect with them which has been so special. Oh my God, there's so many.
There's this woman in Columbia named Shirley, where as I mentioned to you in Columbia the gorilla will just take your land and you have to leave. So what ends up happening to these people who are displaced, they're just like well I have a pillow and my ID, where do I go? Imagine, somebody goes to your house with a gun to your head, they're like, "You better get out in five minutes or I'm going to kill you." So you're like oh shit, what am I going to do? So you grab what you can and then you're displaced, and now you're competing against other people in poverty. So there's a lot of land grab that happens. So we funded this group of women who land grab this piece of land, and she started a makeup stand. I'm like, "Shirley, why are you starting a makeup stand? What are you doing?" And she goes, "You know what, as hard as it is, Columbian women, we always want to be beautiful." It was like amazing. That's right. And she does incredibly well, because that just putting on red lipstick every morning will give you the grit that you need to fight another day. So I love that story. I think that one is awesome.
Another really great story is this woman in Nicaragua where she was really abused by her husband and he would always say to her, "You would amount to nothing without me. You are nothing." And one day she's like I'm something. She went, she got a loan, and she started making rocking chairs. The first ones came out really terrible. They wouldn't even rock. And what ultimately started happening is that her son, she left her husband, the son stayed with her to start making the rocking chairs, and she sent her two daughters to school. So here's a story where normally the daughters would stay home and the kid, the son would go to school, but it was a total role reversal. He sacrificed his life to work with his mom to let the daughters go to school. That's another one.
The last one I'll share with you is this woman in India, Gitavan, who she makes saris out of silk. She'll make one sari once a month, and she just hand does all of this silk. She's like the happiest woman that you've ever met. She's a widow and in India if you're a widow, you are regarded to be a disposable, because your life is nothing without a husband. So she's shunned by her community. She has a disabled son. And the woman, every time you sit with her, she has a smile from ear to ear, and she just smiles back at life. You think about yourself and you think about the problems you have, and despite what she's going through she still smiles back at life. I get so much from that. So much.
James McKinney: I love it. When you, again, one question I ask often is in five years where do you see whatever your brand is. I've asked this of many, many founders. But because of the significance of what it is you're trying to do and especially in microfinancing through EBY, funded by EBY, what is a metric that you look to saying this is success? What is that metric for you?
Renata Black: Well I mean right now I'm doing a Series A right now. That's the immediate right now. Series A for a founder is always a really big time, because you're always… Ultimately I think that you are defined by, you are your team. I have the best team. My team is freaking amazing. Their human capital was invested because the brand is a natural extension of who they are, and it's awesome to work with a group of professionals that genuinely see that their values and who they are is in the company, which is awesome.
So my I guess for me, success is obviously impact driven, how much impact we can have in the next five years. And there's so much marketing that I want to get done in a visual probing and provocative way that I've yet to do, that I'm really excited to really push the envelope with that nobody's done. That's what really gets me excited. Ultimately, I design every print. I'm ultimately a creative so I'm excited to be able to really unleash and position this women's empowerment brand in a powerful and provocative way that we have yet to do. That to me is really what I want to see, combined with the impact piece.
James McKinney: Oh my gosh, I love it. Your story started out where entrepreneurship was not part of your vocabulary, was not part of your upbringing, it's nothing that you saw. There is an impacting moment where things kind of changed for you. But yet still entrepreneurship was not part of it until your experience in India. You have a lot of perspective of what it means to be an entrepreneur. So for my audience listening, there's probably a population of people that I call wantrepreneurs. They have a book full of dreams and ideas, maybe some reason in the back of their mind as to why they can't move forward on that vision. Maybe it's because they're 50 and they think entrepreneurship is a young person's game and that ship has sailed for them. And maybe that's just partially because of what the media headlines propagate with what entrepreneurial success is or is made up of. So when you think of entrepreneurship as a philosophical level if you will, do you think anybody can be an entrepreneur? Or is there a certain makeup and person to it?
Renata Black: I have so many thoughts on this. A few things. So when I grew up, I feel like maybe you and I might be of similar age.
James McKinney: I'm 43.
Renata Black: Okay, so we're a similar age. So when we grew up-
James McKinney: You look significantly younger than I do, I'm just going to put that out there. I would not have guess you to be in my era. I thought maybe early thirties.
Renata Black: I'm Columbian at heart so I'm very vain, as you remember I had to put lip gloss on before starting this. But when we grew up, you weren't a skateboarder until you were skateboarding for seven years, and the best skateboarder came and said, "You're a skateboarder." Like you weren't a surfer until you were surfing and you were crushing it, and then you were allowed to call yourself a surfer. That's how we grew up, right?
James McKinney: Yeah. Yep.
Renata Black: Nowadays, you do one Tik Tok video and apparently you're a Tik Tok star. Like, it doesn't count, do you know what I mean? It's not like that. So I guess the question I think really is around when do you become an entrepreneur. I still have… I don't know, am I an entrepreneur? Okay, I guess. I don't know, am I? when did that happen? I'm not sure when that title officially… I was able to own that. I find that to be a privilege and an honor to be able to call myself one. I still don't even know if I could step into that to be honest, number one. Number two, I really don't think it's for everybody. Look, I'm going to be 42. My husband and I froze our embryos. They're frozen at NYU right now. I have put my life on hold and my entire life, from morning until night, is my work. It's not friends, it's not family, it's my husband because he works as hard as me, but it is my entire life. It is my soul, it is my purpose. Everything is in time loads. Everybody that says business and personal don't intertwine, it is a bunch of BS. It is the reason why exist is EBY. So I don't know if that's for everyone. And to do it well, I'm not sure if there's other ways of doing it to be honest. If someone has figured that, that's awesome. But I also feel there's a lot of power in extending the reach and impact of existing organizations. If there's something that somebody has already sunk in the startup cost, that has the knowhow, that learned how to fail, you can come in and really take that to another level. There's a ton of merit in that. Not everybody has to start something. I kind of, I know it's not the most popular answer but that's how I genuinely feel about that.
James McKinney: Oh, I love it. That was a fantastic answer. Thank you so much for sharing all of that. And that latter persona that you laid out, that's the intrapreneur. That's the one who has the ability to truly help elevate and scale inside of an existing company, and I love that individual as well.
Renata Black: That's right.
James McKinney: Absolutely love it.
Renata Black: Totally.
James McKinney: Another question that I ask all my founders as our time together comes to an end, it's about gratitude. And the reason I ask this question, the reason if I only had 20 minutes this is one question that would never be trimmed, is that there's this idea of entrepreneurship that it's just us in front of our laptops, and it's a Lone Ranger journey. That's it is just complete isolation. Again, a lot of this persona is media propagated because you have these success stories like Airbnb where they just sat on the couch and pounded away code, and put some air mattresses in the living room, put a Craigslist ad out there and see if they could rent it out. There's this idea that it's just in isolation, and that is one way to do it. That is one way to build a business. But it's not the only way. And so I want to ask you, when you reflect back on your entire life's journey to where you are today in this very moment, who are the people that you point to with such immense gratitude for their contribution to where you are today?
Renata Black: Oh God, I'd need the whole hour. I personally feel that the person that I am, the person that you are, is the culmination of all the people that you've ever met. You take a little bit from everyone that you really like, then you become who you are. I've been very fortunate to have unbelievable people around me. They really enjoy being around me, which is awesome. But yeah, I would say first and foremost I can't acknowledge enough the team. When you have a team that works as hard as my team, and they just crush it and they're always pushing themselves. They know they're only as good as their last game, and we're all so committed to our results. We know when we make mistakes and we just dust off, and we get back up. It's awesome. I would be nothing without my team. So I would say team.
I would say also obviously Sofia Vergara has been tremendous believing in me in a vision and a dream, obviously incredibly grateful. Deepak of course, Grace of course. I have an advisor called Melinda Barrens who she is the right hand over at Carbon 38, just been by me the entire time. Always believed in me and last but not least I have two people. One is my VC Andrea Draga. Just having a female VC that pushes and challenges you. When you're a founder, it's good to be challenged from somebody else. I'm always challenging everybody and I have somebody challenge me, so she's been ... she's tough but she's great. Then I have my longest standing investor, Peter Murano. He's the first investor I ever had and he's always had my back. We have a lot of interesting conversations, passionate ones. He's awesome, yeah. Those, just incredibly grateful.
James McKinney: I love that question because I think people need to hear that this is not something you do in a vacuum, that there are people that you have to lean on and go to for various things at various intervals as well. It's not something that you necessarily are on the phone with them getting guidance every single day, but they're people in your corner that you can go to and bounce these ideas off of.
Renata Black: Then you also have to remember that you have to show up for them too.
James McKinney: Absolutely.
Renata Black: It's not just a one way street that you're constantly checking in on them to see how they are doing, because it's about repetition and it's about consistency in relationship.
James McKinney: Absolutely.
Renata Black: I had my lawyer at my wedding, you know?
James McKinney: I love it, I love it.
Renata Black: My closest relationships are my business relationships, so yeah. The most important person, you're never going to believe this, but my husband and I are just… I mean like Bonnie and Clyde. My husband is just he's with me every single step of the way. All the emails that are really tough, we write them together. He's the best soundboard. We work together, we basically built this company together so I feel like we're one and the same. It's so cool that you get to go to dinner and just idealize and talk about strategies and challenge each other. It's not always pretty but it's like it's great. I can't imagine not having somebody that I work with, because we're working all the time. It's nice to find a partner that challenges you and inspires you.
James McKinney: I love it. So good. Our last question for our time together, I would love to afford my listeners a chance to sit with you one on one and just kind of pick your brain, and gain guidance and mentorship from you. But at this volume, it would be unreasonable. So what I like to do is afford a founder minute if you will, a mentoring minute where you just kind of place yourself at a coffee table in a cafe with one of my listeners. Maybe it's the listener who had a business and is just hanging on by a thread because of what 2020 did to their business, or maybe it's the entrepreneur who has been around for a long time and they're constantly fighting cash flow or revenue issues, or they just haven't found the right product market fit, or they're having cash flow challenges never the less. Or maybe it's the one who lost their business in 2020 and isn't sure they want to get back on the horse again. Whatever persona it is, these are entrepreneurs that are listening. What would you say at that coffee chat with that one founder?
Renata Black: I think my leading life question that defines everything I do is always going back to what is the best use of your life. I think ultimately the answers to that, you will end up showing up very powerfully to whatever you decide to do, because you only have one life. So you've got to decide what is the best use of this life. Once you answer that question, you're going to get there and anything that is worthwhile is going to be really difficult.
So you know how people are always saying envision how it's going to look like, envision…? No. Forget it. Yeah, you can do that and that's cute and all that, but really envision how you're going to show up when you're going to get the door shut on you for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. How are you going to show up then? Those are the type of visualizations that you have to really give yourself. Give yourself permission to feel… I have a potty mouth, but feel like shit. It's okay, it's not always going to work out. In fact, if you're doing something that's never been done before, or you're starting something, 9 times out of 10 it's going to be incredibly difficult, so you're not going to feel great all the time. Give yourself the time to not feel great, and that's okay. And then give yourself a limited time, make it 10 minutes, and then get out of it. And then move on. And then just focus on what you have at hand. Just be a little bit more compassionate with yourself.
That's one of the things I try to do with myself is I think we're all just really, really hard on ourselves. Obviously, social media doesn't help with all the comparing, but ultimately the only thing you have to compare yourself to is whoever you were yesterday, and make sure you're just better than that. Those are kind of the guiding principles that I really live by. When I find myself in a situation where I'm like okay, not sure how this is going to go, I just always say to myself what could be possible if I live outside of fear. What could be possible if I live outside of fear? And then I get there. And then I just keep on going.
Those are kind of like the little tidbits that are my little secret weapons as I move on in crushing this. Because ultimately our goal is to become a $100 million company, and I really will stop at nothing to get there. You have to be unwavering in this belief, because people love to follow people with passion and vision. So you're either following one or you are one. And either one is fine, but as long as you have passion and vision in your life I think that's going to be a life worth living.
James McKinney: Once you've had a few moments to process all the value Renata Black brought us in this week's episode, please hit me up on LinkedIn, Facebook, or Instagram and share with me your thoughts on this episode. In fact, I hope you will show up for Renata and the thousands of women all over the world who benefit from their microfinancing contributions. You can do so by visiting joineby.com and buy a pair for yourself or someone you know. And if you use the code "startupstory" at checkout you'll receive 20% off your order. This offer is also good for their entire subscription plan. So again, just visit joineby.com and use the code "startupstory" to receive 20% off of your order. And if you've been around The Startup Story for any length of time then you know how much emphasis I put on the idea that entrepreneurs support other entrepreneurs. So let's show up for Renata Black in a huge way by visiting joineby.com and supporting the microfinance efforts across the globe. In fact, if you're an overachiever then share the URL joineby.com on your social platforms. You know as well as I do that awareness is everything to a startup. And now for my personal ask.
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