In sixth grade, Lydia Henshaw knew exactly who she wasn’t.
She wasn’t the popular girl.
She wasn’t the athlete or the cheerleader.
She wasn’t the cute girl or the brainy girl.
What the founder of Moxie Girl, a startup focused on empowering preteen girls through goal setting and achievement, didn’t know during middle school was this:
Who she was.
“I had this general feeling of insecurity about how I fit in; an uncomfortableness. Fortunately, I avoided major scarring by going with the flow,” she recalls. “It wasn’t until high school that I found my way. Choir and a part-time job opened new channels of thinking.”
Lydia was better equipped than most to handle the angst prevalent among middle schoolgirls. Bored in first grade, Lydia’s parents moved her up to second grade, despite the disadvantage of being 18 months younger than her peers. Looking back, Lydia credits her parents’ confidence in her for fueling a tenacity to succeed at whatever she did.
“At six years old, I learned I had to play up to keep up. If I failed, I had to get up,” she recalls. “It was true in second grade and it’s true now.”
Playing up became Lydia’s game plan for life. In college, she earned a bachelor’s in business administration. Seeing her colleagues at Stewart Title advancing in their careers, she earned an MBA to join them. Thinking she might want to teach, she knuckled down and earned a PhD in management. With a shrug, she explains. “There’s never a perfect time to go back to school, but it was something I needed to do.”
When Lydia reached the ten-year mark in her first job, she decided to trade comfort for something radically different: a position with a Washington D.C. federal contracting firm that worked primarily in the defense industry. Among her responsibilities was mapping software technologies to the federal government’s investment strategies. It would be the first of several calculated leaps of faith that would enrich her bank of knowledge and network.
She admits it was tough, but worth it. “I learned an entirely new world, a new language and how to solve complex problems at scale—things I knew I could draw on in the future.”
Two increasingly challenging jobs followed, further testing Lydia’s ability to play up. She added managing people and multi-million dollar projects to her skill set. She also addressed social problems related to water resources and environmental science. Software development was always there, contributing to problem solving.
Testing the waters
While deep in technically and emotionally demanding jobs, Lydia somehow found time to launch her first startup, Sow Organic, drawing upon everything she’d learned over the last 15 years.
“I grabbed engineers and organic farmers then built software that automated the certification process for organic foods, which was hopelessly complex and paper-based. The company landed its first customer because she liked my name. (Laughs.) Within two years, Sow Organic had 60 percent of the organic industry using our software so we sold the company,” she says. “I was amazed to make it so quickly.”
The experience left her ready for another life-changing adventure. In January 2017, Lydia and her husband Patrick welcomed daughter Audrey into the world. Soon after, Lydia joined Procter & Gamble (P&G), which was building out a new digital innovation group, Alchemy. It was an epicenter of innovation at P&G, a traditional consumer products company seeking to leverage digital apps and IoT to retain the power of brands like Olay, Gillette and Always.
Ever the learner, Lydia embraced the opportunity to understand P&G’s ability to establish relationships with women across their lives and product categories. During her two years at P&G, Lydia hired an executive coach, Heather Moster, to boost her confidence as a leader. As the two built their relationship, they began exploring building something else.
Most women have memories, rarely fond, of their middle school years. The loss of self. The loss of confidence. Pressure to be in synch with popular culture. To be attractive. Smart. Popular. The horrible realization that it’s not enough to be you. The real you.
As Lydia and Heather explored the vulnerabilities that spring from adolescence and stay with women through adulthood, a wheel began turning in both of their minds. “We looked at how P&G was harnessing the digital world to build relationships with consumers. Heather and I asked, ‘Can we do the same with adolescent girls? Can we use technology to reach them at their tipping point and minimize the anxiety, depression, and stress that can paralyze girls?”
As she has done in the past, but this time with Heather’s help, Lydia began gathering software developers, mentors, parents, and girls to help create something that would replace middle school angst with achievement. That something is Moxie Girl.
“Regardless of who you are, confidence comes from achievement. The more you achieve, the more you believe in yourself. The Moxie Girl platform and app teaches adolescent girls about goal setting, celebrates with them as they achieve their goals, and ultimately measures confidence and shows how it’s trending, up or down,” she explains.
“Moxie Girl is not just for girls; we see it as a tool for parents who also struggle through the middle and high school years. They can encourage daughters to use it.”
One of those possibilities is reaching the bold goal of 10 million confident girls in 10 years. To get there, the Moxie Girl experience will continue to expand with new ways to engage and deliver support. Lydia and Heather are currently testing a virtual mentorship program that pairs middle school girls with college girls from Purdue University, Indiana University, Drexel University, University of Indianapolis, and Marian University. Meet current mentors here.
Future enhancements will include cohort groups for girls achieving similar goals, badges for playing up, enhanced social sharing and opportunities to earn certificates or credentials. And just like P&G does, Moxie Girl may expand into career and life coaching as its user base reaches college age and beyond.
Even social startups have to make money and Moxie Girl is following the software-as-a-service model. While aspects of Moxie Girl are free, a monthly subscription allows girls and their parents to access a higher level of products and services such as mentors and certifications. Licensing to existing girls organizations and corporate sponsorships are a future possibility. Currently, Lydia and Heather are focused on building its user base, raising venture capital and continuing to expand their knowledge base with Midwest and Bay Area tech mentors, teachers and parents.
Asked when she will know that she has made it with Moxie Girl, Lydia is coy. “There are so many different levels of ‘making it’ like reaching our goal of 10 million confident girls. But it’s also much simpler than that. One our advisors said she and her husband with arguing with their daughter and couldn’t resolve it. The dad asked, ‘What does Moxie Girl say about that?’ That story gave me chills. It’s a signal we’re in their heads.”
Lydia has advice for other women seeking success by starting a business, getting a new job or making other significant life changes:
“Have the guts and resilience to play up. Don’t do it alone. Surround yourself with people better than you; people who believe in you.”
This blog post is the work of Melanie Lux, an entrepreneur who went out on a limb 25 years ago to launch Lux-Writes, a highly successful business that took her all over the world as a branding, marketing and public relations strategist. Today, Melanie is an angel investor and founder of “Women Making It,” a social network and blog that celebrates female entrepreneurs and those who support their success. If you know a female entrepreneur you’d like to celebrate, connect with Melanie here. If you provide resources for women entrepreneurs, we invite you to connect.