(Photo courtesy Circular Board)
Founder and CEO, Circular Board
Carolyn Rodz has formed three businesses from scratch, leading each one to enormous heights. Now, she’s trying to pass her knowledge and lessons on to other aspiring female entrepreneurs. Rodz is founder and CEO of Circular Board, a collaborative accelerator for high growth-oriented female entrepreneurs. She will be the keynote speaker at Business Report’s annual Influential Women in Business luncheon on May 17 at Crowne Plaza. Rodz, who was recognized by Inc. as one of “17 Women to Watch in 2017,” recently chatted with Business Report about the upcoming event—at which this year’s nine Influential Women in Business honorees will be celebrated—and the message she will deliver. For tickets to the luncheon, click here.
How important is it to recognize the women who make a significant impact in the business world?
When we take the time to recognize the women who achieved great milestones in their careers, I think it provides a great example for others who are coming up. I’m really appreciative of events like yours that take the time to recognize these women.
Can you give us a sneak peek of your speech?
A lot of things I’ll be sharing are the importance of building the right team around you. Women have this incredible ability to collaborate to achieve success, but early on, I think there’s a great need to leverage that strength more, to support each other more, to reach out for the things we need and ask for help to each other more.
You’re a three-time entrepreneur. As a woman, how difficult is it to do that in a male-dominated business world?
I don’t know that it’s more difficult necessarily; I think it’s very different. The difficulty arises because we are taught a lot of the best practices, and things that people talk about tend to be based on the companies that have done it and most of those companies are run by men and invested in by men, so I think when we start to try to follow that path as women, sometimes we run up against obstacles.
What makes you so passionate about helping other women entrepreneurs?
I’ve been through it all. I’ve built companies that have succeeded, I’ve built companies that have failed and I see so many women running up against the same obstacles that I did. To be able to help others avoid the stumbling blocks and avoid those mistakes, I just view it as a personal responsibility.
What’s the biggest obstacle women face in trying to become entrepreneurs?
It’s 50% environment, 50% themselves. Women are very empathetic creatures, and that is our greatest strength and it is also our biggest weakness. I often say I think it’s probably often the hardest thing to overcome in the early stages of building a business because we’re constantly second-guessing ourselves and wondering what the person across the table is thinking instead of just moving forward, taking these consistent steps forward.
“I’ve been through it all. I’ve built companies that have succeeded, I’ve built companies that have failed and I see so many women running up against the same obstacles that I did. To be able to help others avoid the stumbling blocks and avoid those mistakes, I just view it as a personal responsibility.”
How long did it take you to stop second guessing yourself and move forward?
It took me a failed company to realize what I was doing to sabotage myself. I took a long time to take a step back to study why certain companies were succeeding: what were they doing, what characteristics did their founders have, what infrastructure were they building around their teams, how were they deploying capital and really tactically what steps they were taking.
Circular Board is an online-based accelerator. Would this kind of accelerator even be possible without technology and the internet?
You know, we could do it by phone, but it would be a whole lot harder (laughter). When we start to see technology as a replacement, we lose a lot of the value in human-to-human interaction. When we see technology as a means of access, to me it becomes an incredibly valuable tool. With all of the companies that we work with, particularly those that are heavily relying on technology, I always encourage them to really focus on the human elements of it.
How does Circular Board’s accelerator program work?
We cover a range of topics, from building a brand to raising capital to legal and financial considerations, hiring a team, etc. The program culminates in a virtual demo day where the founders are able to present those companies to a group of investors.
How much of a reach does Circular Board have in Louisiana.
We have founders as far as Mongolia and El Salvador. We’re across the United States. Colleen Waguespack of Fig and Dove has been a part of the accelerator.
You’re also passionate about closing the gender pay gap. What can be done to address this issue?
There is evidence that the gender pay gap exists for entrepreneurs, and so a lot of it is women resetting the expectation for themselves. If we really want to see change, we have to own the change, we have to be the drivers of it, we have to own the conversation, we have to ask for the things we need as women. Women CEOs of their own companies are paid less, women are waiting longer to pay themselves in their own companies and I think that to me captures a lot of the root of the problem.
Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards tried unsuccessfully last year to pass a measure here to address the pay gap. How do we get measures like this passed?
When we lay out the problems and we lay out the solutions, then the conversation starts. I think when you start to look at big problems like this, it isn’t as always clear cut as we had hoped, but when we get the ball rolling in terms of having those conversations, we can get the right voices to the table who can implement sustainable change.
Interview edited for space and clarity.