Women-led companies are massively underinvested. Ashley Dombkowski of Before Brands is here to help you get that money and build your dream job. The fight for equal pay rages on (as it should), but there is another money and gender issue flying under the radar – equal opportunity for investment.

After working in male-dominated industries for nearly 20 years, including venture capital, Ashley Dombkowski had an idea that would let her be her own boss. She developed Before Brands, a consumer-focused health and wellness company with the aim of preventing children from developing (potentially fatal) allergies.

To say that the company was a major success would be an understatement. The business closed the largest Series B on record for a company with a female CEO in the healthy-living category.

We tapped Ashley for her advice on making it big in a male-dominated industry.

1. Have a #bosslady mentor

Ashley formerly worked at the massively popular DNA-kit company 23andMe, where she met an influential mentor, CEO Anne Wojcicki. ‘I really admire Anne as an example of a boss lady,’ says Ashley. ‘One of my takeaways from her, is she found a principle that she really believed in in her product and then has stuck with that principle and that’s guided her.’

2. Take a risk… It may literally pay off

When Ashley had the idea for Before Brands, she was working in venture capital as the managing director for Bay City Capital. Despite the job security (not to mention, serious bank), she decided to leave the company in favour of her own idea. ‘I remember after I told my partners that I really wanted to do this, they were super-supportive but I got in the car and I was driving back home and I called a start-up lawyer, and I said, “Listen, I just quit my job. There’s this intellectual property that I want to license. I have no money.” That was in December of 2015. By May of 2016, we’d closed the Series A, and raised $13.1 million (more than R176 million).’

3. Have confidence in your brand (and yourself)

‘I was nervous about [starting Before Brands] because when you’re setting off on a new thing like that, there’s a lot of responsibility,’ says Ashley. ‘At the same time, it wasn’t scary at all. I had confidence that I knew the network; write the business model, make the case, and then bring all the people in to do it.’

4. Don’t let anyone get in your way

‘When I started, I sat down with one potential investor and he said to me, “I think it’s great, but I think men don’t really think about preventing a food allergy in their kids. That’s the kind of thing women think about more. You should really go pitch to a woman.” I found that moment really deflating because the issue is not a woman problem, it’s a society problem,’ says Ashley. ‘The second thing I felt in that moment was that it’s lucky I know a lot of investors. If I had been a different entrepreneur who had come into that meeting and someone had said, “Why don’t you just go find a woman partner at a venture fund and then that’s your path?” I would have thought, well first of all, there aren’t that many.’

5. Pick investors not just for the bucks

‘When you sit down to talk with investors, it needs to be a two-way discussion. That is so key because on the one hand, you need to do a good job pitching your idea – both the passion and the execution,’ says Ashley. ‘It’s not just about capital, that’s only one type of resource. Having expertise, perspective, a network, or something as simple as encouragement, just feeling like they’ve got your back. All of those things really matter.’

6. Collaborate and bring in others

‘The myth of the lone ranger is something that’s pervasive in Silicon Valley [especially],’ says Ashley. ‘First of all, it’s a myth. It’s never just a single person or two or whatever. It’s always [a case of] a lot of things that have come together. I think finding ways to connect and build that web so that you can bring everything together is key.’

7. Keep dreaming big

Both in terms of your business, and the future of women in the workplace. ‘We still have a long way to go. I mean, that goes without saying,’ says Ashley. ‘I love my posse of all these other female CEOs. So, seeing all of these great women, those who are more successful than me and those who are just coming up – I think it’s neat, as a mom of daughters, to think about how those role models [can become something my daughters] can look to and emulate. Frankly, the boys in their class can see the same and see that a CEO can be a woman.’