Lizanne Falsetto sold her company for $217 million. Now, she’s giving back to rising female founders with a high-profile mentoring program.
Not long after she launched her visionary Pink Talented Angels initiative for female entrepreneurs, Lizanne Falsetto polled 500 male CEOs, asking them what they would do if a woman took over their seat. One response stands out in her mind: I don’t have to worry about a woman taking over my CEO role because another woman will take her out before she does.
“That was a powerful conversation for me,” she remembers. “I realized we must start bringing women together and collaborating with the younger generation of female thinkers. When women are able to do that, the energy starts to grow.”
Falsetto, 56, is the founder of thinkThin® (now called think!), a nutrition bar brand she launched in 1999. At the time, as a successful fashion model, she couldn’t find a protein-rich, high-energy, portable snack that was low in sugar and gluten-free, so she decided to make one, launching her business at her kitchen table. In 2016, she sold the company for $217 million to Glanbia and was ready for her next act.
Leaders giving back
Not surprisingly, Falsetto wasn’t one to sit back and relax once she’d sold thinkThin. A driven, creative thinker, she wanted to share her entrepreneurial vision and strategy, to pay it forward. She started by documenting her experience in two books, neither meant for publication, but as a way to tell her story to her children, future grandchildren, and others who come after her.
“I didn’t know what to do, because I’m Type A,” she says. “I love to think and solve problems, and it was hard for me when I sold my business. If you talk to a lot of people that do that, they say, now what? You wake up, and what are you going to do?”
So, she launched LF Advisory, a firm that works with small to medium-size entrepreneurs with high growth potential in the food, beverage, nutrition, and health & beauty sectors. It also offers corporate advisory services to large global enterprises.
Additionally, she transferred her desire to always be learning into Think Tank, eight-hour immersive experiences where Falsetto and other business leaders offer recommendations to startups to help them reach the next level. If that wasn’t enough, she created a 12-week program to foster children’s entrepreneurial instincts.
The more she helped other entrepreneurs, the more Falsetto realized she loved mentoring other business owners. At one point, she found herself working 16-hour days, helping 10 different entrepreneurs at no charge.
“I was helping to uplift them, and I enjoyed that,” she says. “When you’re able to help other people learn from your knowledge, it’s a win for everybody. I realized I enjoyed mentoring other women because the ideas that were coming out of the box from them were really smart thinking, really unique.”
Boosting the next female founders
As more and more women showed an interest in securing her guidance for their business ventures, Falsetto realized that many talented female entrepreneurs lack access to mentorship, guidance, and resources. One night, over a bottle of wine with a friend, she had a brainstorm.
“Do you know the PTA (parent-teacher association)? My mom was in the PTA, and in the old Disney movies, they were always the women in charge, finding their power running the PTA.”
“I realized I knew powerful women, CEOs, who sold two or three companies, who are running huge businesses and investing in companies. Why don’t I bring that intellect into the room with people I’m mentoring? That was about a half-bottle in, which is when we have some of our best ideas,” she laughs.
Each year, Falsetto chooses four entrepreneurs with whom to work. Those founders receive 10 hours of mentorship throughout the year on critical topics such as marketing, supply chain, retail, and finance.
Falsetto helps each prepare a presentation, including a strategic “ask” of the audience, over an intense, three-month period. Then she invites friends and colleagues to the entrepreneur’s presentation, where they eat, drink, and offer feedback and assistance.
Her late-night idea became Pink Talented Angels, which has quickly scaled from the initial quarterly get-togethers in her home. The group of women leaders who attend these presentations — originally Falsetto’s friends but now drawing on a broader membership — offer advice, services, connections, and sometimes, financial backing. In the months before COVID-19, the gatherings had grown large enough to move into a commercial space.
“It became an event of women supporting women. In the end, everyone comes up with ideas, and those ideas get deciphered down and executed for the entrepreneur,” Falsetto explains.
“I realized that every woman in that room wanted to say something — they wanted to be respected by their tribe. The women feel good about it, and the entrepreneur can take their ideas and run with them. We’re changing the entire energy around how people think about women supporting women. That’s where it needs to start, with simple respect in the workplace.”
The program is free of charge, and female entrepreneurs can apply on Falsetto’s website.
Women supporting women
Falsetto believes there’s a reason she sees so many innovative ideas put forth by women: 75% of females do the household shopping, driving what enters the home, making them the best people for creating new products that solve everyday challenges.
Still, she knows women often struggle to secure funding for their businesses, compared to male founders. While she herself didn’t experience this (she completely self-funded for the first 15 years), she feels it’s her responsibility, as a successful female business leader, to use her experience and connections to help rectify the situation.
“I can’t really explain why [women don’t get as much funding as men], except that men invest in men, and that’s their comfort zone. PTA, for me, is a platform to help women understand there is a bigger picture. If my legacy could be that I created a conversation with women to support other women and uplift each other, we’re a better example for the next generation coming in.”
“Less than 1% of entrepreneurs sell their businesses; when you do, there’s a reason why. I think that reason is you were meant to give back.”
Stand in your femininity
Although the pandemic impacted the PTA schedule and logistics for the year, Falsetto is forging ahead, bringing in new sponsors (including Braun Hagey & Borden and UBS), contributors, mentors, and applicants. She’s especially motivated because, despite the uncertainty around COVID-19, she views the pandemic as an opportunity for working women.
“Everything has flipped on its head, and the female community is starting to own the forward way of thinking,” she says. “That’s probably the most exciting part of what COVID brought to the table: Men have realized that it’s not that easy to work, be at home with the kids, and buy and prepare food. There are trends right now that give the female community a chance to push the conversation of growth.”
The one thing women should do to help themselves, she believes, is stop apologizing. Falsetto encourages female entrepreneurs to learn everything they can, ask for advice, and never say they are sorry for what they do, think, or question.
As women adopt this mindset, they are more likely to look for advisors, lean on consultants, and consult advisory boards, which increases the business community’s support for their business ideas.
“More women are on boards, more women are in the C-suite, more women are becoming CEOs, but we’re still on the fringe,” Falsetto says. “The more that women continue to support each other, the more the universe and the male psyche will understand that this is just normal. Stop making things look abnormal, and things will be normal.”