Robust ThemeDec 09, 2019 2020-04-08 7:40
Five-Minute Founder Talks with Blaise McCann
This week our Entrepreneur in Residence, Priyanka Ashraf, chats with the formidable Blaise McCann, Founder of Hear Us Roar, Alumni and current Mentor at Tech Ready Women.
Apart from playing a key role to grow numerous startups, Blaise founded a startup that didn’t just sell a product or service - it started a broader movement to redefine body positivity in Australia and internationally. Talk about problem-solving.
What’s more - Blaise managed to have Hear Us Roar acquired in the middle of a global pandemic.
We talk about Blaise’s ‘aha’ moment, the challenges she faced along the way as well as how she played to her strengths in feminine leadership in successfully taking Hear Us Roar from idea to launch to acquisition.
1) Tell us about how the idea for Hear Us Roar came about.
I started Hear Us Roar after a day modelling for a major Australian brand. I was walking a runway and the straight sized models were wearing brands like Alex Perry and Camilla. Whilst all the plus size women were in three-quarter white capri pants. And moo-moo's.
I felt very frustrated that I wasn't able to access that kind of fashion.
It permeated every part of my life, it was so hard to shop at shopping centres because I was always the largest size, so if it didn't fit I would leave feeling terrible about myself.
That runway show made me snap and I knew that I was going to have to do something about it.
Hence, the idea for Hear Us Roar - an online marketplace for fashion for curvy women.
2) What impact did the Tech Ready Women program have on you and Hear Us Roar’s journey?
I remember very clearly the day that I knew I needed help. I was trying to Google my way through everything, but I didn't know what to Google.
Every time I learnt there was something I needed to know I fell into endless rabbit holes searching for the right information.
No one in my immediate circle was able to assist me, no one knew how to start an online business. I felt so alone - until I started at Tech Ready Women.
It was like I was handed a ready-made troupe of humans to help me get my business off the ground. There are people who helped in that journey who still help me today.
3) What was the key moment when you knew Hear Us Roar was onto something? How did you feel?
After a few months online I knew I needed to get out there and meet my customers face to face. So I set up a pop-up in Parramatta Westfield. It was here that I learnt the value of customer feedback and the difference between who I thought my customer was and who my customer actually was.
The pop-up ignited my soul, I knew that my customers were desperate for a solution like this. They would often walk into my pop-up and leave crying for having found a place where they were finally able to access fashion that fit and looked good. They also spent up BIG.
4) What’s your biggest lessons from the 5-year journey as a Founder of Hear Us Roar?
I learnt what I was capable of.
I think until that moment, I was only as good as the voices around me told me. Starting my own business allowed me to step into my female power.
I look back at photos of me on panels, speaking at events, winning pitch competitions, rooms full of people listening to me and wanting to understand my story.
I was so much more capable than I thought.
It also gave me so many skills - there was a stage where I told one of my mentors that I wanted to do an MBA and he laughed and said - you're already doing an MBA. It gave me confidence I didn't even know I had.
One of the most important lessons for me was learning to do business as a woman - not to play the man's game but to excel at building business leveraging feminine leadership skills.
I chose to collaborate over compete and I think it's the reason that Hear Us Roar did as well as it did do.
5) Looking back, is there anything you’d change about the journey?
I think I would have given little chunks of the business off for money - it needed to keep that momentum going at the early stages.
I wish that we had hired someone to help us get investment, being two female founders and with no prior business knowledge we weren't a pretty sight!
However, the business had legs and it was sound, so I wish that we might have given ourselves a little more time to find investment.
I also wish that I hadn't spent the first year or so living 'bro culture' where the hustle or die attitude led to my eventual burnout.
I don't know why I thought I needed speed in order to be successful, I wish I had accepted that it was going to take time instead - those first few years would have looked very different I think.
6) From mentee to mentor. What’s the best piece of advice you would give to our participants of the 2021 Female Founders Startup program?
Listen to advice but take what works. Treat advice like a buffet, there is plenty of it, but sometimes you need to listen to your gut. That's not just an old wives tale - there is a stack of research coming out that tells us that the brain and gut communicate way more than we think.
So listen to that - business isn't linear, especially in the tech world - it's cyclical.
It's a constant learning curve and I think more often than not we do things that don't make sense for us - so listen to your gut, take the advice that feels right and go for it!
7) From idea back in 2016 to exit 5 years after. How did you know it was time to sell Hear Us Roar?
I knew that I was starting to lose steam - that passion alone couldn't sustain the business and that Hear Us Roar and its incredible customers deserved to live on.
Selling Hear Us Roar felt like giving over a baby - it was exciting but also super difficult. It's in good hands now, with a big team behind it and the experience to take it to the next level.
8) Tell us a bit of your future projects and what’s next for you.
Something about this question irks me - I think it feels a little bro-culture. It feels like we aren't taking the time to celebrate our wins and sit in our success.
We are only successful if we are striving forward, and it's a very intense and aggressive way of examining life.
I am working full-time with Australian Red Cross in their National Mobilisation and Social Change team as a Community Builder (I certainly learnt that skill running Hear Us Roar).
I can't say that I want to do anything right now - I'm giving myself a chance to let my creative juices flow again and to think about my next phase of life. I'm reading - it's been so long since I've had the time and energy to read.
But I think I'll leave you all with one little phrase that I think speaks volumes about me - the only time I am not moving forward is when I am not taking aim.