Cover Story: Rachel Benyola, Founder and CEO of AnneeLondon
Aug 9, 2017
This month, we interviewed Rachel Benyola, founder of AnneeLondon. AnneeLondon is committed to empowering people to be active through stylish and convenient safety gear and accessories. According to recent studies, three out of four people do not wear a helmet when they should during active sports activities like cycling because they are "bulky, inconvenient and unattractive." AnneeLondon's flagship helmet, The London, is a stylish and modern game changer that easily folds up to the size of an iPad Mini-- while absorbing two times the amount of shock during a crash than traditional helmets.
Here's what she had to say:
Why did you found this company? A lot of things influenced me. When I was growing up, I had an alcoholic stepparent and my bike was my refuge, the way I got out of my house. To me, the bike represents mobility and freedom. Also, years ago, a good friend was in a bike crash and became permanently blind in one eye. Her doctors told her that if she had worn a helmet she would have been OK. Then while I was earning my MBA at LeBow College of Business, I noticed people in Philly not wearing helmets and I started talking to them, as well as people who did wear helmets. I learned that a lot of people think helmets are a pain in the butt, bulky and don’t look good on them. So The London solves these pain points.
What’s your core business philosophy? If there is a gap in the market, there is an opportunity for growth. Once you identify a gap, gathering the right team is critical to execution. Surround yourself with experts who know more than you do to strategize and execute effectively. Finally, trust your gut throughout the process. You will hear many opinions on what you should do and you must trust yourself as a leader to move the business forward.
How did you fund the company when you first started, and why? I bootstrapped it. I cleaned out my savings and charged up my credit cards. I worked as a consultant in fashion on the side. Winning two startup pitch competitions provided some capital to fund product development in the early days. Go as long as you can without bringing in outside investors.
How do you keep a competitive edge as your company grows? We consistently stay in touch with our end consumer, our customers, to make sure our brand is a brand they can trust and believe in. We are also building partnerships with organizations that share our vision of health, well-being and sustainable transportation.
How do you measure success? If you are learning something new and how to do something better in the future, you are successful. I also measure success by setting milestones for the company, such as pre-orders or bringing people onto the team. As long as we are growing, we are experiencing success.
What motivates you? Hearing from the thousands of happy customers who tell us how The London saved their lives. I also see us as strong and effective advocates for cycling and fitness, as well as infrastructure in our cities for people riding their bikes. Having that social impact is a dream that keeps me going.
What’s the most important lesson you’ve learned? There’s not one correct way to pursue entrepreneurship. Things never happen in the exact order you need them to; things don’t always line up and you have to improvise. You have to be comfortable with massive unpredictability and manage your expectations.
How has the AWE network impacted you and your business? Winning The AWE Pitch competition in November 2016 gave our company good exposure in Philadelphia. Some of the women I have met have been motivating and that is so meaningful to me. Their emotional support is tremendous. When they encourage me to keep going it is meaningful because they have been where I am now.
What’s the most influential book you’ve read in the last five years? The Heroine’s Journey by Maureen Murdock. It’s powerful and focuses on women who have succeeded in a patriarchal society or industry. They have made it to the top but are still unhappy because there is more to life than professional success. The book talks about valuing the amazing virtues that women have and seeing them as strengths. We can be even more powerful if we embrace those virtues. I also would suggest You Are A Badass by Jen Sincero, for women who have imposter syndrome and are dealing with self doubt.
If you weren’t involved with your current venture, you would be: If I never had the idea to found AnneeLondon, I would be inventing some other product or developing some other service and launching that company. At this point in life I am knee-deep in entrepreneurship.
The goal of the Cover Stories series is to profile female founders scaling companies to counterbalance the constant flow of cover stories that only focus on 20-year old men dressed in jeans and a hoodie. High-growth women founders exist, and their stories should take a leading role in shaping how we see entrepreneurship. If you know a female founder we should cover, please contact us.