As a part of our series about “Why We Need More Women Founders”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Brittany Groshong of Valley Rose.
Brittany Groshong is the founder and designer behind Valley Rose, a responsibly made fine jewelry line based in Sonoma County California. Brittany has a background in studio art, brand development, and digital marketing specializing in start-up brands. Brittany is passionate about environmentally responsible design and building authentic companies with strong value systems.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?
Thank you for having me and for this opportunity! I have a background in studio art and thought that I was going to grow up to be a painter. I went to art school and started with a painting degree but quickly realized that I was wanting to branch out to other mediums at which point I switched my degree to New Genres which focused on conceptual art. Straight out of college I worked in-house as a graphic designer for luxury beauty brands which led me to specialize in digital marketing. It was a really exciting time to be doing brand development and I worked really closely with founders which allowed me to get a glimpse of how these companies were built.
Up until this point I thought I wanted to be a creative director but I soon realized that it was not as creatively fulfilling as I thought it would be. That is when my focus shifted to wanting to start my own company. Working alongside founders and executives gave me the perfect experience and foundation for when I set out on my own. Through these positions I was able to experiment with some innovative marketing ideas and learn how to create a unique selling proposition. One year I was freelancing and doing some consultant work and the timing felt right to start working on my own project. I actually didn’t even know what I was going to sell at that point but I knew it would be in the sustainability and fashion area. Randomly one day I decided to try my hand at making jewelry and I instantly fell in love. I immediately started on my business plan and within 6 months or so I started my initial concept for Valley Rose. Since I bootstrapped the entire project and was developing it on the fly, my real launch as a fully operational business didn’t come until about two years later.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
For the longest time, I was very against using lab-grown gemstones in my collection. Anything lab-grown sounded synthetic and fake and I thought it was not in line with my branding. It wasn’t until earlier this year I had read an article about the first sustainably rated diamond accreditation (SCS-007 Standard) with SCS global services and all my hang ups about lab diamonds disappeared. I was so impressed with how this accreditation addressed all my concerns about diamonds and how the team had developed a really comprehensive system for environmental responsibility. I remember that I immediately picked up the phone and introduced myself to the team over at WD Lab Grown Diamonds as they would be the first producer to be awarded the innovative accreditation. I was so quick to call them that the program hadn’t even been finalized yet. Luckily I got my foot in the door early and as of a few weeks ago Valley Rose is one of the first companies accredited to carry the first sustainably rated diamond! If you would have told me this time last year that I would be making one of the first sustainably rated bridal jewelry collections I would have not believed you. I am so glad that I made that call and followed my instinct.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
One holiday season I was doing a big direct mail campaign. About a week after I finalized the mailer and sent it out, I got a notice from my post office that my PO box was full. I came to find out that the direct mail pieces had a glitch and didn’t get any postage. So my PO box was overflowing with returned postcards. We decided to just resend the mailer again this time making sure the mailer company checked for postage without giving it much thought. A few weeks later I got a distressed email from one of my customers who ended up getting the mailer twice.
Apparently, some did get postage but we had no way of knowing which ones. The reason he was so upset was because he had purchased a surprise engagement ring from us for his soon to be fiancé but had not yet proposed. Now the secret was blown because she saw two of the mailer pieces and began asking questions. I was mortified and felt terrible for ruining the surprise (twice!) as we take our customer experience very seriously. We are definitely a lot more careful now and get creative with concealing our branding on mailings to protect our customers’ privacy. It is counterintuitive to what I have learned in marketing as I have been trained to put as much branding on packaging as possible. But now I have learned that each brand has their own nuances and exceptions to every rule and it is important to think things through more.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
I’ve definitely found that to be true, and I owe a lot of my success to my best friend and my therapist. Starting a brand can be so isolating, especially when you don’t necessarily have a lot of connections in the industry. Certain parts of my business are new or new to the industry even, so there wasn’t really a precedent or frame of reference to help guide me.
Having support to try and troubleshoot certain things, pursue different avenues, or just confide in about the many ups and downs was super helpful and much appreciated. I value both of their opinions and experiences and they’ve helped me to realize that it’s important not to second guess yourself, and know that mistakes will be made but that’s just a part of it, and just to not to be too hard on yourself.
Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the primary focus of our interview. According to this EY report, only about 20 percent of funded companies have women founders. This reflects great historical progress, but it also shows that more work still has to be done to empower women to create companies. In your opinion and experience what is currently holding back women from founding companies?
I think the single biggest issue holding back women from founding companies is the lack of options in terms of childcare and maternity support. It’s easy to compare the levels of paid maternity leave or the price of childcare with other countries and see that this isn’t something that can’t be fixed, so there is hope there. I feel like a lot of women are made to choose between having a family or having a career, and I don’t see why that should be the standard. There is an intense level of sacrifice that you have to make to found a successful company, and that’s not necessarily conducive to raising a family or having kids. There is so much to be gained from having women founders that it behooves us as a society to try to make some of those systemic changes, in order to foster an environment that allows and encourages career and family at the same time. I think that is super important.
Can you help articulate a few things that can be done as individuals, as a society, or by the government, to help overcome those obstacles?
As individuals, it is important to foster community and to take care of each other. If everyone could come together and be creative and supportive around the trials of having and raising a family, it would help tremendously. I know that’s not possible for everyone, but every little bit helps, because the situation right now just falls on women to bear the burden, and it really doesn’t have to be that way. Postpartum care, maternity leave, childcare support, and other programs need to be much more available and accessible to women. Until that is done, these obstacles will still be in place, so there’s a lot of work to do but I think it’s achievable.
This might be intuitive to you as a woman founder but I think it will be helpful to spell this out. Can you share a few reasons why more women should become founders?
Sure, I think there need to be more women founders in business because women bring to the table a lot of qualities that most men don’t have. Having different ways of viewing or thinking about things really opens up opportunities for businesses to flourish and for new ideas to develop. When you’re mainly hearing the ideas and strategies from just 50% of the population, I think it’s really to the detriment of everyone. That’s why when you have more women represented and in positions as founders, and running businesses, it creates a much more holistic and sustainable society in the long run.
What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about being a founder? Can you explain what you mean?
As far as myths go, I think it’s easy for people to think that founding your dream business is going to be glamorous and fun all of the time, but it takes more grit and stamina and heartache than people know. I mean, running my business is sometimes harder than caring for my toddler. The financial aspect is hard, and it depends on the level of support you have, but it takes so much sacrifice to be successful. It’s true that bigger risks bring bigger rewards, but those risks can be crippling and those rewards can take a lot longer than you want or expect.
It’s not all doom and gloom. I wouldn’t trade the experience for anything, but it’s important to have a more realistic view. Founders aren’t superheroes, we’re human, and it takes help and support to get your ideas off the ground. I think that a lot of the misrepresentation is from seeing these Instagram-curated, picture-perfect images that everything is rosy and easy, but behind the scenes and outside of those vignettes, I guarantee that there’s a different, more human story.
Is everyone cut out to be a founder? In your opinion, which specific traits increase the likelihood that a person will be a successful founder, and what type of person should perhaps seek a “regular job” as an employee? Can you explain what you mean?
Founding your own business definitely isn’t for everyone. In my case, I really crave that constant problem-solving stimulation that’s being thrown at you from all different directions. It keeps me on my toes and makes me feel alive. The flip-side to that is that nothing is ever certain when it’s your own, and you can’t take anything for granted, so it’s not ideal for those that prefer reliability and regimen. Founding your own business is an endurance sport, and there are growing pains at every step of the way. Every “success” milestone is short-lived because it is quickly followed by a new problem resulting from hitting the next benchmark. If you do decide to start off on your own, good questions to ask yourself are: are you comfortable with failure, not collecting a paycheck, and sacrificing all your free time? If the answer is no to any of these then it will probably not be a good fit for you.
Ok super. Here is the main question of our interview. Based on your opinion and experience, What are the “Five Things You Need To Thrive and Succeed as a Woman Founder?” (Please share a story or example for each.)
Founding a business is a very humbling experience. You will make mistakes over and over and be put in many uncomfortable, even potentially awkward situations, but you have to be able to just take it in stride and look at the big picture. An example where I have learned humility is when I was first designing jewelry I thought that all my friends and family would want to buy my work and come to me for anything jewelry-related. In my close circle many engagements, weddings, and big jewelry purchases were not and still aren’t from Valley Rose. At first it hurt, but I have grown to love and appreciate that my brand is not for everyone. My reward for sticking with it is consistently getting rave reviews from my customers that do put their trust in me. I love and appreciate the positive feedback so much more than if I had been coddled.
Every female founder needs discipline, determination, courage and resilience. As a founder you have big dreams and goals, and the reality is when those dreams come true you will need to rely on a lot of inner strength to get you through it. As a founder I am constantly challenging myself and testing the limits of my comfort zone and overcoming a lot of anxieties from putting myself out there. For the longest time I avoided putting myself in front of the camera, reaching out to press, or pursuing wholesale accounts. My inner saboteur would get in the way of my success because I was avoiding having to feel that uncomfortable feeling of rejection. I had a breakthrough when I stopped caring about the hundreds of “no’s” because it meant that I was closer to finding the perfect “yes.”
Running your own business requires so much creativity. Product development, fixing failures, and staying fresh and relevant in the eyes of your customers all need creative solutions. Successful founders need to keep an open mind, never settle for the status quo, and try to innovate whenever possible. . Starting a company for the majority of us isn’t something that can be followed with a step-by-step manual (ugh, I wish!), it requires your own inventiveness to navigate your individual path to success. When I was first starting out I thought that copying what others were doing would be a short-cut to success but I eventually learned that my own ideas turned out to be the most successful.
Given social and environmental issues we face today every founder needs to approach their niche with conscientiousness and a strong value system. From your marketing systems, to brand positioning, to your product, to your office culture, every aspect needs to follow strong moral guidelines. I have experienced many toxic work environments and have also come in contact with brands that make erroneous claims about sustainability. When I set out to create my company I knew that it needed to contribute to positive change and promised myself that I would create a healthy foundation that fosters a sustainable business model. I started out small, like forging relationships with vendors that shared my same principles, to making bigger moves like fully committing to certified Fairmined gold for all of my collection as opposed to a select premium offering as was the common practice.
As a founder you need to cultivate a lot of gratitude — give it and get it wherever you can. Gratitude will be your reservoir to get you through all the hard moments. For me it was first showing up for myself by creating a routine that incorporated meditation, nature and eating healthy. Then outwardly it was showing my appreciation for everyone that helped me along my journey and never taking anything for granted. Gratitude allows us to get clarity on who we are as a person and become a better leader.
How have you used your success to make the world a better place?
Social and environmental advocacy has been part of my brand DNA from day one. When I founded this company, the only way it would work for me was to create a holistic brand that addressed and improved upon the issues in my niche. For jewelry one of the biggest obstacles is the traceability and reliability of your materials. Those at the bottom of the supply chain extracting the materials are the most vulnerable and as you move up the supply chain you are met with many bad actors at every turn fueled by negligence and greed. Starting as an outsider in this industry the situation was incredibly opaque with no clear path on how to make a difference. After doing my due diligence and following the work of other respected activists in my niche I have learned so much about the nuances of sourcing. I have become an expert on how to properly unpack the highly curated marketing information being fed to us at the end of the line. I am proud to say that I am one of the few brands to offer a fully certified fairmined gold collection, and am among the first to be accredited to carry the world’s first sustainably rated 100% climate neutral diamond. In line with these pioneering accreditations I will continue to use my purchasing power at every threshold of success to invest in meaningful sourcing that I know will contribute to actively improving the lives and communities of those most vulnerable in my industry.