Since 2010, Killer Infographics has had CEO and cofounder Amy Balliett at the helm. So, in honor of International Women’s Day — which takes place every year on March 8 — we decided to interview Killer’s female founder about the leaders and organizations she admires, and the unique challenges that female business founders face.
Under Amy’s leadership, Killer Infographics has gone from a self-funded startup to one of the fastest-growing private companies in the nation in just 8 years’ time. Amy has become a thought leader in the exponentially growing industry of visual communication: she has spoken at 175 conferences around the globe, including at SXSW, Adobe MAX, and SMX Advanced. She is also an instructor at Seattle’s School of Visual Concepts, a guest lecturer at the University of Washington, and a columnist for Inc.
Here’s what Amy told us about her experience as a woman and entrepreneur — and the advice she shared for other women leaders.
1. Who is one woman leader or business owner you find inspiring, and why?
Dani Cone. Dani is the owner of Fuel Coffee (launched in 2005), High 5 Pie (launched in 2008), and Cone & Steiner General (launched in 2014). I had the privilege of meeting Dani this year when I joined her as a finalist for the Nellie Cashman Award. Within minutes of meeting her, I immediately felt that she embodied the values of the award and was the one who deserved it most. And clearly, the panel of judges agreed, and rightly chose her for the honor!
In a world where brick and mortar continues to face the heavy competition of ecommerce, Dani hasn’t shied away from not only growing, but expanding her portfolio of unique food and drink experiences. Rather than playing it safe, she has taken on new challenges because she’s driven by a passion to delight her customers and provide people with great places to meet and connect. It’s inspirational to see her commitment and drive, and to know that all of it comes from a desire to make people happy.
When I moved to Seattle from Cleveland, I found myself spending hours a day at Fuel. It was a place I could work quietly, hunker down with a great book, or meet up with friends. It became one of the first places that felt like home in a new city — not because it was a common stomping ground for friends, but because the atmosphere was so inviting and values-driven. You could tell that it was run by a team of people who genuinely loved hospitality, and that’s what drives customer loyalty.
One of the most important jobs of any business owner is to create and maintain a positive culture. That’s hard enough to do in a single office, but Dani has done it across multiple storefronts and business entities … and that culture spreads to her customers. She’s extremely inspiring and I believe all business owners could learn a thing or two from her.
2. What are some of the unique challenges that female founders face? What advice would you give to other female founders about how to overcome these obstacles?
As a female founder, it’s more important than ever to exude confidence in all of your interactions. This means speaking with authority and being fully knowledgeable about your product, people, and processes. This also means coming to the table with a full understanding of every possible objection someone might have and being prepared with an educated response.
The majority of people don’t have any preconceived notions about men and women in leadership positions these days, but they simply don’t see a lot of women as CEOs. As a result, there is a subconscious expectation that the man in the room is likely the leader.
There have been a number of instances in meetings when my male employees were treated as having more authority than myself. Rather than letting that throw me, I’ve always taken advantage of the fact that my confidence is unexpected and therefore a powerful tool that I can wield.
Unfortunately, though, confidence can be a double-edged sword. People who are not used to or comfortable with a confident female leader can sometimes perceive her as too aggressive while her male counterpart, who may say or do the exact same things, gets labeled “a great strategic thinker.”
Don’t let this stop you. Some people need to be pushed out of their comfort zones; some just haven’t had an experience that made them question the status quo. And only a few people truly harbor biases that you won’t be able to change.
3. Are there any groups, conferences, or resources that you would recommend for women in business?
Definitely. I would highly recommend the Female Founders Alliance (FFA), which is dedicated to helping women start and grow their companies.
It’s not gender-focused group, but I would also highly recommend the Entrepreneur’s Organization (EO). I have learned more from EO than any other group, and the more women that join, the better.
EO, which is highly dedicated to growing its female membership, provides business owners with a lifetime of support and friendships from colleagues that experience the same challenges and successes. Through sharing knowledge, lessons, and experiences EO members grow their companies faster and smarter together.
4. How can business owners help create more gender-balanced world?
All leaders, entrepreneurs, CEOs, and managers should make it their goal to hire a diverse workforce. This not only supports a more gender-balanced world — it also makes for stronger, more agile companies. People with different experiences and perspectives from your own will bring ideas and innovations to the table that you never would have thought of yourself.