Meet Dana Donofree, Founder and CEO of Ana Ono

Oct 7, 2019

Meet Dana Donofree, Founder and CEO of Ana Ono. AnaOno makes functional yet feminine bras for breast cancer survivors. That includes survivors who have had reconstructive surgery, mastectomy or are living with other conditions that make wearing traditional bras uncomfortable. The company also harnesses social media to explore topics of interest to customers, such as how to support a friend with cancer, mastectomy tattoos, and sex and intimacy after surgery.

Here's what she shared when we talked to her:

Why did you found this company? I founded AnaOno after my bout with breast cancer when I was 27. After I underwent reconstructive surgery all I could wear was a sports bra. It altered my outward perception of myself because I couldn’t dress myself the way I wanted, in the fashions that truly reflect me. I realized that my bra was the root of my problem and I had to fix it. As a fashion designer, I shopped all over the world and never found the perfect bra. So I had to make it myself.

What’s your core business philosophy? Our mission is to help women feel supported. A cancer diagnosis is mind-altering and body-altering. We can have those intimate conversations with our customers because we truly understand them.

How did you fund the company when you first started, and why? This phrase “bootstrap” should just be called “go broke.” I had a very successful career in fashion, so I was able to kickstart my business with my own money. That was a good thing because when I started the business, potential investors thought the opportunity was too soft, that the market wasn’t big enough for a successful business in our niche.

How do you keep a competitive edge as your company grows? We have a unique combination of someone who has had breast cancer and lived her whole life in fashion. We are always bringing in new styles and new solutions for our customers.

How do you measure success? When I get a phone call, an email, a text message from a customer who tells me that our bras changed her life, that she has confidence, that she is happier and feels better about herself.

What motivates you? I am a problem solver and I like a challenge. When you are an entrepreneur, every day is a challenge. Working until midnight and getting up at 6 a.m. is worth it if I am able to empower another woman.

What’s the most important lesson you’ve learned? The fashion industry is one of the few where women didn’t have a glass ceiling over their heads. Think of these powerful women: Coco Chanel, Diane Von Furstenberg, Donna Karan. Then I started a business and was thrust into the world of finance, which is run by men who have built a very thick glass ceiling. I’ve learned that women entrepreneurs have to stick together in order to get over these barriers.

How has the AWE network impacted you and your business? I pitched at the AWE competition in 2015. I stood in the room and told 100 women my story, and the doors that had been shut in my face suddenly opened for me. I was connected to investors. AWE’s network means I can call on an entrepreneur who is much further along the road than I am and ask for advice. It has been a game changer for me.

What’s the most influential book you’ve read in the last five years? I run a business. Who has time to read a book? But when I am on planes, trains and automobiles, I read The Nordstrom Way, about the third generation in fashion retail. They always put the customer first and so do I. My customer is my North Star.

If you weren’t involved with your current venture, you would be: Fashion is my passion. But if fashion was totally off my plate, I would be a judge on So You Think You Can Dance because I when I was younger I was a dancer who wanted to be a choreographer.

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 hoodies. High-growth women founders exist, and their stories should take a leading role in shaping how we see entrepreneurship so we empower the next generation of female founders to reach even higher.