This week Series W spoke to Victoria Song, HBS alum and founder and CEO of SoSheDid, a social enterprise focused on giving young women the tools they need to invest in themselves from the inside out. Song shared her views on starting SoSheDid, her role as a venture capitalist investing in technology companies, and how the HBS community was instrumental in crystallizing her ideas about life, career, and impact.
How did you develop the idea for SoSheDid? How did you make the decision to take the plunge and start your own organization?
December 17, 2013, was one of the most memorable days of my life. It was the first time an article was published about me: “Meet the 26 Year Old Woman Behind One of this Year’s Biggest Wins.” It was arguably as great of press as one can receive. It felt unreal. But just days before the article came out, a man I’d been dating (and whom I was really excited about) ended it out of nowhere. I was devastated. When my mother called me to congratulate me on the article, I burst out crying, asking her, “If I’m so great, then why can’t I find a man who loves me for me. What’s wrong with me?”
I looked around at my girlfriends at Harvard Business School and saw that my story was not unique. Here were the most ambitious, accomplished future leaders of our world, and they were having self-doubts, not feeling good enough, and often tying their self-worth to their relationship status. I thought how can this possibly be? Something is deeply wrong with our culture if this is how we are feeling about ourselves.
What is causing this problem? From a young age, we’re taught about the ‘happy ending’ that is supposed to come from “finding love”—achievable only by looking our prettiest. Our music is all about co-dependence. Just listen to Selena Gomez’s newest hit song: “I just want to look good for you… to make you never want to leave.” From Disney movies to romantic comedies, female protagonists are just trying to find love and be saved by a man (ideally a prince!). Our magazines echo this back to us by telling us how to do our hair, what shoes to buy, how to please our man. Fashion and makeup are fun to play with, but our self-esteem must not depend on them.
We must define our own measures of self-worth, in all domains of life. And we do this by investing in ourselves, from the inside out. This is why I decided, back in 2013, to stay put in my Cambridge apartment during our three-week long HBS break and, as winter bore down, start SoSheDid. My goal is to give women tools to be their best selves across career, life, and love, regardless of what the headlines say.
What have been the most exciting moments so far?
My favorite moments have been working with our passionate and creative campus ambassadors who are excited to brainstorm all the ways we can bring SoSheDid to life at their colleges. A great example is NYU, where we have a team of SoSheDid ambassadors from sorority DPhiE who are co-hosting a #ReclaimHalloween party with one of the largest NYU fraternities, Pike. They’re joining forces and inviting ladies to dress up #SoSheDid style as their favorite female heroes, celebrating women they admire not for how they look, but what they’ve done. It’s an incredibly powerful model of how men can join the movement and support women empowerment.
Tell us about #ReclaimHalloween, and how HBS women can get involved!
Halloween is a perfect opportunity to bring our mission and values to life in a fun, accessible way. This month, we’re inviting ladies everywhere to celebrate Halloween #SoSheDid style, dressing up as powerful women with their own version of sexy: women who live from the inside out.
Here’s your call to action: Who will you celebrate this Halloween? Join the movement, and share your photos using #ReclaimHalloween and #SoSheDid on social media.
What resources (HBS resources and beyond) have been most helpful to you in starting up?
During my second year at HBS, I continued to work on launching SoSheDid as part of an independent project advised by Professor Robin Ely, Senior Associate Dean for Culture and Community, who was tremendously helpful. In fact, her daughter Francesca was so excited about our work that she became our first intern that summer.
I also took Professor Anita Elberse’s course, Strategic Marketing in Creative Industries, where I met music manager and CEO of Atom Factory, Troy Carter, who became our first advisor and led our early white boarding sessions in his LA office.
I remember writing Troy a long email, alone in my apartment on New Year’s Eve, explaining my point of view on the media’s role in defining women’s measures of self-worth—and how it did not matter how many gender initiatives there were in the business world so long as these media messages were perpetuated. He responded simply, “We need to do a jam session over drinks to flesh this out. I love where you’re going!” It was the best start to 2014 that I could’ve imagined.
Another Professor, Tom Eisenmann, graciously connected me to Arianna Huffington of Huffington Post, who became one of our earliest supporters. I also used the principles of his “Launching Technology Ventures” course to come up with our Queen Chess Piece logo and the whole logo process was documented in one of my final projects for his class.
Had it not been for the introspective time and space business school provided me, the meaningful connections I made within its community, and the incredible support of Harvard professors and advisors alike, I would have never started SoSheDid—one of the most meaningful investments I will ever make my in my life.
In fact, my first job out of Yale college was writing case studies on entrepreneurship for HBS. That’s where I met Senior Lecturer Jeff Bussgang, who hired me to join his venture capital firm Flybridge at the age of 23. Now, five years later, I’m back with Bussgang and the best team I know leading our Consumer investment practice in New York City. So I can sincerely say that if not for HBS, I would not be where I am today.
How do you feel your career as a venture capitalist and your role as a social entrepreneur are connected? Where do you find fulfillment and meaning in both roles?
I feel incredibly grateful to have been able to enter the venture world at a young age, fortunate to have some early success, and honored to be given a path to grow and lead at Flybridge. I also feel a great sense of responsibility to make the most out of this opportunity to have a seat at the table, influencing decisions in the types of technologies that will shape our future in an industry where only 4% of partner-level venture capitalists are women. I think I can relate to young women and speak to their challenges because I am in the process of living through them myself, and figuring it out with them. Investing in yourself is a daily practice.
As a venture capitalist, I invest in companies for their potential to make a big impact in the world, and consequently return profits. With SoSheDid, I am investing in women’s self-esteem and empowerment, and—while those returns don’t show up on a balance sheet—this is the most important investment I can make.
If you could give an aspiring entrepreneur one piece of advice, what would it be?
Choose Must. I love how Elle Luna writes about the crossroads of should and must.
“There are two paths in life: Should and Must. We arrive at this crossroads over and over again. And each time, we get to choose,” says Luna. “’Should’ is how others want us to show up in the world — how we’re supposed to think, what we ought to say, what we should or shouldn’t do. Must is different. Must is who we are, what we believe, and what we do when we are alone with our truest, most authentic self.” The hard thing about Must? It’s a daily practice and a recurring choice. The good news? You arrive at these crossroads again and again, and you always get to choose.
This is exactly what we hope to help young women do—develop their internal compass, uncover their Must, choose it, and be able to distinguish it from the noise of external validation (the Should).
There was a moment when I knew that I Must start SoSheDid. A few weeks before we launched, I flew to California and experienced the worst turbulence I had ever felt. The first thought that came to mind was, “Good thing I put everything in Dropbox so my team can launch this without me.”
I encourage every woman reading this to find your inner voice and invest in yourself from the inside out. Check out SoSheDid.org for resources and exercises on how to do this.