Ruta is a young, ambitious woman full of energy who believes in diversity. She has worked with corporate branding in several countries before she decided to dive into the world of Startups in London, UK. She has launched her own startup in 2016 with another empowering woman Viktorija Agne Mackeviciute.
Please introduce yourself and tell us about your company!
I am Ruta one of the two co-founders at Praba750. I have worked with branding in Germany, Denmark and in the United Kingdom before I decided to venture out into the startup ecosystem. Praba750 is reimagining one of the world’s oldest industries to set a strong example of the founders’ vision to reform the future. Praba750 is fine jewelry at an honest price. We have built an entire in-house supply chain manufacturing fine jewelry. We are the designers, we are the manufacturers and we bring it directly to consumers with the smallest markup possible.
What do you do? What was the motivation? Where did the idea come from?
Praba750 has two co-founders – Ruta Eva Cepulyte and Viktorija Agne Mackeviciute, we were brought together through our shared values of purpose, sustainability, and discovery. Viktorija and I met at university in Denmark in 2008. We instantly became friends and started to brainstorm accessories ideas but never really committed to work together. Later we met again at university in London, while pursuing our master’s at the same time. Somehow chatting about our pain point in regard to jewelry shopping, we decided to create a brand that we were not able to find on the market ourselves. Articles started popping up on how online jewelry sales are going to increase by 100 percent within the next three years and how minimal affordable jewelry is going to become one of the key trends in fashion in 2016. We thought that as a consumer you shouldn’t have to choose between high quality, fair pricing and doing good in the world. So, we focused on what matters: timeless design, upcycled precious materials, transparent pricing and sustainable production. We launched our first jewelry collection at the end of 2016 with a clear mission statement. Every piece we sell is made from recycled gold to achieve our aim to be both sustainable and affordable. Praba750’s bywords are ‘minimal, elegant and enduring’. We are a direct manufacturer to consumer, upcycled fine jewelry brand and create our pieces from recycled precious materials. Gold has the peculiar and extraordinary quality of metal memory, even if gold has circulated for 5000 years it can return back to its pure, original state whenever it is melted. Our sustainable approach lets customers be responsible while satisfying their desires.
You were not scared to start your own startup alone as a woman?
To be honest, I was a bit naive when we started. Back then I didn’t know how hard it’s going to be down the line. Entrepreneurship is not for the weak and it has humbled me and taught me many great lessons: one of them is the importance of staying persistent. There are no overnight success stories, you need to work really hard for as long as it takes and adjust your strategy accordingly before you actually succeed. How you stay motivated through ups and downs, that’s the big question regardless whether you’re a man or a woman.
Did anyone try to talk you out of it simply because you are a woman and they thought you can’t handle it?
Anyone who knows me personally knows how passionate and persistent I can be at the same time. So, no nobody tried to talk me out of it, but I wish they would have tried. It’s important to be challenged to your core as a female entrepreneur before you start a new venture. If anyone can talk you out of it, then perhaps you shouldn’t do it in the first place – because it’s going to get harder as you go. There will be a moment when you’ll doubt yourself and I think that’s the ultimate challenge any entrepreneur needs to overcome. That’s even more painful than anyone else trying to talk you out. I think because we are more risk-averse, we tend to create negative beliefs in our own mind about our limitations. Throughout my experience taking part in two startup accelerator programmers, I’ve noticed that men naturally have more self-confidence. On average, they tend to trust that they will be able to handle challenges as they come, while women stay more realistic. At the end of the day, self-belief and positivity will bring you further in life.
What types of obstacles did you need to face at the beginning? Do you think they would have been easier for a man?
Men and women really differ on some important traits – probably as a result of cultural pressures. On average, it’s perceived that women are warmer, friendlier and more anxious and sensitive than men, while men are being perceived as somewhat more assertive and open to new ideas. Women are agreeable and neurotic, while men are more extraverted and open to new experiences. That being said, it makes total sense why there is such little percentage of female founders and leaders. I’ve seen again and again, especially in the startup context, women being more risk-averse and that resulting in taking fewer chances. I heard numerous times during Keynote presentations that according to data women tend to under-promise and over deliver, while men over-promise and underdeliver. In order to attract capital and create the right buzz for your startup, you need a lot of charisma and followers that believe in you and your competence. I’ve noticed that very often women – including myself – shied away from the spotlight and give more space for eager men to express themselves. Because of those conversations that we keep on having, trying to be completely perfect before we actually trust that we and our ideas are good enough to be expressed. Gender inequality is very often the subject discussed in the startup communities. When these subjects are constantly being brought up as a reminder, you can’t stop thinking: oh, am I a minority in this community? However, is it a strength or a weakness? That’s something I have been contemplating myself in the past two years, and I am still not sure if I have the right answer.
As you work with another women founder, what would you highlight as the positive aspects of a woman becoming a startupper?
Working with another female co-founder is great, we are very supportive of each other. We do care about our friendship and it’s important for us to constantly check in whether we are still on the right track and if we’re enjoying the process. When things get tough, we try to support each other and that helps to deal with stress. However, we also realized that it’s important to have diversity in a team. It shouldn’t be all female or all male when it comes to building dream teams, there should be more diversity to spark creativity and innovation.
In your opinion do you think that investors take women founders as seriously as they do men?
Some investors do, some don’t, it depends on their background and their core values. During my trip to Delhi and Bangalore with the EU startup delegation, I had the opportunity to discuss this issue at length. I met investors from EU that are very supportive of female founders and try to encourage them to fundraise. Very often the issue articulated is that female entrepreneurs lack confidence and tactics on how to approach and pitch their ideas to investors, there is a blueprint how these things should be done professionally. So, maybe it’s about female empowerment and training, giving the right tools, network and knowledge for them to pursue their dreams. We also need more female role models to know that it could be done. I met a managing director of a startup accelerator, who is a great advocate for more diversity in organizations whether its gender or culture related. In his latest venture, his first hire was a woman and it was a strategic decision at the time. If we would have more men in the startup community thinking like him, we wouldn’t need to discuss these issues at all.
What do you consider as a great accomplishment in your company or as a woman?
I don’t know whether it’s about feminine or just in general about human values, but we don’t tolerate any bullshit in our business. When we promise to be completely sustainable, we stick to what we said and work persistently. Trust me when I say, it’s much harder than it looks like: there are a lot of corners you could potentially cut to make it easier for yourself. We have seen corporate brands using sustainability in their communication strategy merely as branding tricks, rather than actually meaning it. They tend to have vague internal policies what sustainability actually stands for. It would add more value to consumers if brands were thinking about how they can build a sustainable business model on the long run and at the same time have a positive social impact.
Our goal is not focused on building a great story in order to fundraise or sell more products – but more about trust and constructing the right set of values as a business. I am proud because our products deliver our brands promise and we stand behind our values that we don’t compromise for profit.
If you would need to give a piece of advice to a young woman who is planning to launch her own business, what would it be?
It’s simple but not easy – Know Thyself. It’s really important to understand what’s your purpose in life! What are your natural inclinations? What skills do you have and what skills do you lack in building your venture? It’s important to understand your limitations! That level of self-awareness will guide you through hard times. Also, seek mentors, build your network with meaningful relationships and don’t be afraid to ask for help. You can’t do it alone. But most importantly be easy on yourself, you’re not perfect, no one is. We tend to be our own worst critics, so having those internal conversations and compassion for yourself is going to be crucial. Keep on going no matter what, success is not a linear process. Also, know that your best is GOOD ENOUGH.