In our Conqueror Series, we are asking the most badass female founders we know how they got started. From idea to fruition, what challenges they faced along the way and what advice they can offer other women on their path forward.
Here we have Courtney Boyd Myers, a woman creating some major noise for the future of food and defining an all-new hustle within the tech space.
myWorth: Give us the rundown on your company. What do you guys do?
Courtney (AKUA): AKUA creates seaweed-based snacks made from one of the most sustainable food sources on the planet: ocean-farmed kelp. Our first product is Kelp Jerky, a high-protein, high-fiber, low-sugar snack created to help people eat less meat!
myWorth: What inspired/motivated you to start the company?
Courtney: I visited my first kelp farm in New Haven, CT with the nonprofit GreenWave in 2016.
I learned all about the amazing environmental benefits of growing kelp.
and no dry land while also removing carbon and nitrogen from the sea, which helps to reverse ocean acidification and fight climate change!
I also learned the economic benefits of growing kelp, creates new jobs for fishermen, and of course, the health benefits of eating kelp. It's packed with vitamins, minerals, omegas, and antioxidants).
So I thought, wow, I've got to start making food products out of this amazing superfood from the sea!
myWorth: What inspired you to become an entrepreneur? What was your path to lead you here?
Courtney: One of my first jobs out of school was as a reporter for The Next Web, where I covered the rise of startups like WeWork and Instagram.
I met so many inspiring founders who were working tirelessly to bring something to life that didn't exist before. That kind of passion is really contagious.
A few years after The Next Web, I became the Global Community Director at Summit, where I met thousands of entrepreneurs from all over the world. And many of those connections supported me to start the business I have today.
myWorth: What is the biggest challenge you've encountered while building your company?
Courtney: There have been so many challenges! But, most recently is that after launching Kelp Jerky three months ago, we have decided to reformulate the recipe based on early feedback.
We put out a really healthy product which consisted of 10g of fiber, 10g of protein, and 2g of sugar and thought everyone would be super excited to eat kelp. But that wasn't exactly the case. That said, we have some more work to do to make more mainstream flavors.
For example, while people love our Sesame + Nori Sea Salt and our Rosemary + Maple Barbecue, it turns out our Spicy Thai + Spirulina flavor, with turmeric was a bit out there.
So, we’re taking that feedback and going a bit more mainstream with flavors like Avocado & Chili Lime and Sweet Teriyaki.
myWorth: What is the biggest challenge (if any) you've encountered as a female founder?
Courtney: The men in my life started talking about money and therefore making money together a lot sooner than the women in my life did.
When my now-husband and I met when I was in my late-20s. I remember he would know things about my girlfriends' businesses (Run rate, Margins, Fundraising details, etc.) that I had no idea about. And it was because he felt more comfortable asking them those types of questions while I felt more comfortable talking to them about boys, beauty, or spirituality.
From then on, I started becoming a lot more open with my girlfriends about finances and business strategies. And together, we've been able to help each other out much more as a result.
myWorth: Why do you feel women are less likely to discuss finances with their friends?
Courtney: This is likely a result of role models or lack thereof. So not being brought up by women or being around women who talked about money with their friends.
Our parents' generation was in many ways, the breakout generation where we first saw women launching careers alongside their husbands. But in many cases (like mine) we grew up with stay-at-home moms, sometimes with part-time jobs.
Contrast this to the men in our generation who grew up with fathers who often talked about money and career choices with their friends in front of their children.
myWorth: How do you think we change this habit? How can we make women more comfortable with finances/make this the norm?
Courtney: I think it's happening now! While I don't have the stats, I feel it's safe to say that there's a massive potential of women in our generation, who have launched careers equal to or that is surpassing their husband's. And therefore surround themselves with women who feel comfortable talking about finances more openly.
I'm excited for my daughter to grow up with a badass CEO Mom who talks about fundraising and fighting for equity and sees that as a clear and viable life path.
myWorth: What are some benefits of being a female founder?
Courtney: There's an incredible amount of support right now for female founders. I've been invited to countless founder dinners, interviewed for numerous publications, and been asked to speak dozens of times mostly because I am a woman. If I had been a man in the same job, I'm not sure the invites would have been extended.
myWorth: What are some financial challenges (if any) that you have met as a founder? Have any of them explicitly been because you're a woman?
Courtney: We're in the very early days of building AKUA, so money is tight and managing limited budgets is challenging. In terms of being a woman, I'm not sure that anything has explicitly been an issue because of my gender.
myWorth: Have you felt it's harder or easier to raise capital as a female founder?
Courtney: We've raised more money from women than men to date! And I think much of that is because I'm a female founder. However, it did take a long time. And if we had not wanted a gender-balanced cap table, it probably would've been a faster process.
myWorth: Was there a point where you wanted to give up? Can you describe it? And what gave you the strength/confidence to keep going?
Courtney: There have been a few nights after a few glasses of wine where I've wanted to give up. Mostly because, other incredible job opportunities presented themselves, which provided more financial stability during a time when AKUA was struggling to launch Kelp Jerky. Or days when we received poor product feedback. I've kept going because I know that AKUA needs to exist! And I don't think there's another hustler on the planet who is as obsessed with seaweed as me.
myWorth: How do you keep employees motivated?
Courtney: Flexible working hours, lots of freedom to create, tons of support, an incredibly inspiring mission, and avocado toast.
myWorth: Where do you fall on giving employees equity? Do you think it is important?
Courtney: Yes! Once we have raised our first equity priced round, we will release an options pool for current and future employees.
I think it's crucial that those who are putting in backbreaking hours and work, especially in the early days, are rewarded with the upside if they see that work through till the end.
myWorth: What is one thing you think many entrepreneurs get wrong? Or maybe one thing people get wrong when they think about entrepreneurship?
Courtney: I think people have the idea that with entrepreneurship you're working for yourself and only yourself. When in reality, you're always working for someone or with someone. Whether it a co-founder, your investors, or your employees, you're always working with or for someone.
While there are some aspects of creative freedom in the early days, entrepreneurship does not mean total professional freedom. In fact, many times, it's impossible ever to escape the work that you've created, so it's quite the opposite feeling.
myWorth: Who are some other female founders that inspire you?
Courtney: Some of my female founder inspirations are:
Jen Rubio (AWAY),
Nina Faulhaber (ADAY),
Billie Whitehouse (Wearable X)
Emily Brooke (Beryl)
and Liz Stone (OK COOL).
myWorth: Biggest lesson you have learned as a founder?
Courtney: Your co-founder is literally going to be your work wife or work husband. That said, choose that person just as wisely as you'd choose your romantic life partner.
myWorth: The most significant financial lesson you have learned as a founder?
Courtney: If you're going after your first fundraise, go for a SAFE note. It's a very founder-friendly way to raise capital in the early days. For some reason, our lawyer told us to use a convertible debt note, and this complicated things for us a bit more than it should've.
Dallas Thompson is a digital marketing professional with over five years of professional experience. She graduated from Boston University with a degree in communications and international relations. She currently manages the marketing for an innovative financial technology company, where she can be found writing about the markets and complaining about how she didn't buy $SNAP at $8 a share.