Lisa Delorme and Kristy Wieber had been looking for financing to grow their company, a Toronto-based dress rental service called Rent Frock Repeat. After making the rounds to numerous investors, however, they came up empty-handed. For the most part, they pitched to men, and none of them saw the need for such a business. But Coralie Lalonde did.
Lalonde, a veteran angel investor and founder of Katsura Investments in Ottawa, helped raise $1.15 million for Rent Frock Repeat within months of first learning about the company. An unheard-of 50% of the investors were women. Half of them were making the first angel investment of their lives.
Three years later, Rent Frock Repeat has shops in Toronto and Ottawa, and will expand to Calgary later this year. It’s got a board, chaired by Lalonde, where three out of four members are women. They’re part of a rising tide of women entrepreneurs growing businesses under the wings of female angel investors, making their way into a world that’s long been the realm of men.
Lalonde spoke with Canadian Business about why she backed the company and the odd circumstance of wanting to find more male board members:
How did you come across Rent Frock Repeat?
I’m the perfect target audience for them. I hate fashion. I hate shopping. I go to a million galas a year. I have a closet full of dresses, and I can only wear them twice because Ottawa is a small town. I heard about it last year at the FurBall. So I booked an appointment. I almost cancelled it three times on my way there, because trying on dresses for an hour is just horrifying to me. Then they were just handing me dresses, and every single one fit. Things I would never, ever dream of taking off the rack were put in front of me and were beautiful. After two hours, I was thirsty and getting kind of dizzy. So I asked for a glass of water and sat down on the couch. Of course, I asked Lisa about her business. She was looking for investment. I said, “I’m an investor—let me introduce you around town.”
What was it about the business that appealed to you?
I was sold right there. It was based on not so much the concept—which I think is brilliant—but the conversation I had with Lisa. She’s an exceptional entrepreneur. When I met Kristy, her co-founder, I realized we had a perfect combination going on. Here I had the strategic, outgoing person and the detailed, operational person together.
What sort of role does gender play in an investment like this?
Normally, I’m the only woman in the room. This deal had the most female investors I’ve ever seen. This was the first time I saw women who had never invested before back a company. They loved the concept and probably hate shopping themselves. The men who invested asked their wives or girlfriends what they thought and brought them to the investor meetings, which I’ve never seen before.
In your experience, does the gender of investment teams influence which entrepreneurs get backing?
Let me qualify this by saying I don’t feel that my gender is important in what I do. I don’t feel discriminated against and never have. However, I do think it’s a male-dominated field, and there are still not enough women entrepreneurs. Like any male-dominated field, you want to get some women in there. You want them to be successful, then you want to show their success. It’s not so much forcing it; it’s setting the example and showing the opportunity.
Is diversity on investment teams important?
Having diverse investors is awesome, because you’ve got that diversity of experience and skills to lean on. We don’t necessarily look for colour and gender; we look more for what you can bring to the table. We’re recruiting our fifth board member right now for Rent Frock Repeat. In this case, I would like to see another male on the board. It’s not that I would go out and actively recruit a man, but I think it makes sense to have a different perspective. Can you imagine? “Maybe we should get some more men on our board!”
Rent Frock Repeat founders Lisa Delorme and Kristy Wieber will be speaking at the Chatelaine/PROFIT W100 Idea Exchange, our annual summit for Canada’s top female entrepreneurs. Join us in Toronto on June 5 for a day of networking, ideas and inspiration.
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