How the cofounder of Fyli unlocks female empowerment and gets it done
Jaclynn Brennan shares her female-first holistic approach to entrepreneurial success
Saturday 12 March 2022 By Lola Adesioye Photography by Cristina Fisher
Female entrepreneurship is on the rise. There are 114% more woman business owners today in the US alone than there were 20 years ago. At the same time, women-specific challenges, such as pay disparities, unequal access to capital as well as other factors including gender stereotypes, are still prevalent.
When Jaclynn Brennan and Summer YL came across these issues on their own journeys, they realised they’d have to do something different if they were going to help themselves and other women founders reach their full entrepreneurial potential.
Brennan had a successful track record as a creative director for various fashion brands – she designed Serena Williams’ first jewellery line under UNLEASHED profits for purpose company – and considered herself an ‘intrapreneur’, being entrepreneurial within corporate organisations. However, when she left that world to start her own SaaS B2B tech company – a virtual fitting room for online shopping – she soon found herself confronting inequalities faced by businesswomen when she was one of only two women at a 250-strong group of founders at a well known tech accelerator.
In addition, she explains candidly, ‘I had a really hard time raising capital, understanding vesting schedules and contract negotiations with my male counterpart partners. I always felt like I didn’t fit in, like I had imposter syndrome; I never felt heard or understood or had my ideas listened to. I just felt really defeated.’
After giving up her vesting shares and leaving the company, Brennan decided it was time to find her own tribe of like-minded women.
Along the way, she met Summer YL – owner of a content marketing company bridging the gap between the US and China. Together, they came up with the idea for Fyli (meaning ‘tribe’ in Greek) – a global ecosystem that provides support, accountability, mentorship, access to investors, education, masterclasses and other resources for female founders. They leaned into the famous 1920s success thinker Napoleon Hill’s concept of ‘mastermind’, the idea that many people working together for a common cause can move mountains.
Brennan and YL’s research showed that barriers to entry for pre-existing masterminds in the US were high: fees for the mostly male-dominated groups were in the $50,000 to $75,000 per annum range, and tended to have other restrictions pertaining to revenue and employee requirements. Other female masterminds focused more on corporate executives rather than founders, the group that Brennan and YL were most passionate about.
With nearly 13 million female founders in the US alone, they saw a gap in the market to create their own community. Starting only three years ago with a beta pilot programme of 475 women, Fyli has grown rapidly to 10,000 women today.
Fyli members are hand-selected, based on a unique interview process in which they’re asked about core values, goals, ambitions, skill set and potential, as well as their past track record and achievements so far. Unlike other groups, membership is not based on education or revenue, which allows for a greater amount of diversity.
For those unable to afford the $8,000 membership fee – which Brennan says members have been making back within approximately a quarter of joining – there are lower tiers of membership that still offer access to the educational aspects of the ecosystem.
Brennan and YL realised that the best way to support women entrepreneurs was to take a 360 degree holistic approach, looking at all aspects of lifestyle. ‘We are mothers, we are wives, we are partners… we go through different experiences to men,’ Brennan explains. ‘When you’re a female founder and also a mother, you need a totally different level of support. We must think about longevity, being a conscious leader, the notion of balance, preventing burnout, conquering imposter syndrome… we need programming that supports all areas of our life, not just business.’
In addition to providing education, undoing some of the more limiting mindset programming pertaining to women is also a large part of Fyli’s mission. ‘As women we are conditioned our whole life not to ask for things, no matter what culture you’re from.’ It’s clear that this mindset training is working: to date, Fyli has helped its members raise more than $1.7m from its own investor network.
‘As women we are conditioned our whole life not to ask for things, no matter what culture you’re from.’
Both YL and Brennan have noticed a substantial generational difference in terms of how women lead today. ‘I believe that back in the day when our mothers were growing up, they felt like they had to behave like men – be tough and fight their way to the top. When we look at female leaders today, they’re able to lead with compassion, grace and femininity; to show up and use their feminine power.’
Although Fyli has seen much success, Brennan and YL still grapple with some of the same issues, such as their members raising capital. Their eventual aim is to have their own woman-led venture capital fund in order to help solve this issue.
No matter the challenges, they have no doubt that women supporting women is critical to the future of female entrepreneurship and leadership. ‘[Women] can handle so many experiences; we can do it with compassion and grace. We can be strong, we can be resilient. Women are multifaceted. I just really believe women are fantastic leaders,’ says Brennan.