Female Founder With a Vision

Leading off our feature founder series, Sam Smith of Vishion is everything you could want in a founder. She’s bright, dynamic, enthusiastic, and energetic.
Vishion Founder Sam Smith

We’ve started a series that shines a light on the founders we’re most excited about. Their work is inspiring, they’re dedicated to their cause, and more likely than not, they’re looking for capital to launch or scale their venture. With that, meet Sam Smith, the founder of Vishion. If you are interested in connecting, be sure to let us know! 

We met Smith at Dig South this year when she participated in their Wild Pitch competition. Although she didn’t come in first, she certainly made a splash at the event. Since meeting Smith, we’ve learned then that she seems to make a splash wherever she goes. Smith is memorable. On stage, she’s bright, dynamic, enthusiastic, and energetic. She embodies everything you’d hope to find in a founder, and more. She’s also a female founder which, in and of itself, often sets her apart from her fellow pitch contestants. 

A regular on pitch stages throughout the southeast (and beyond), Smith has made a name for herself and her startup Vishion, a color-focused search engine that helps design lovers find decor and organize their home design by color. Like many startup founders we admire, Smith exhibits incredible commitment to her work. From partnerships with Pantone to launching a design competition for interior designers, she operates at an unfathomable and impressive pace.

Smith was kind enough to share her thoughts about what it means to be female founder and what the future holds for Vishion.

What is the biggest barrier you've had to overcome as a female founder?

The toughest thing is the lack of understanding about the problem we are trying to fix. I love that you mentioned "not winning" the Wild Pitch. It was a great example of a male judge that was very vocal about not understanding the problem we were trying to solve. A few weeks later, I won the SoGal Regional Pitch Competition in Washington, D.C., but most of the judges were women. Because the love of interior design typically involves a female audience, many male investors have a difficult time getting our value proposition. That's not to say that all men don't understand us -- we have male investors! But you can definitely tell by the first or second question if they can't relate. 

Do you have a support system of other talented, like-minded women that you turn to for advice? If so, how important is it to your success?

Oh man. That's the lucky thing about being in Charlotte. When I started Vishion, three female founders had just made it into TechStars; Meggie Williams of Skipper, Dina Carey of Milkful and Haley Bohon of Skillpop. Off the bat, I was speaking with some of the best founders in Charlotte that I was aware of because they were recently covered by the local news. 

I also started a founder-focused group, Collective Hustle, that enabled me to meet other amazing founders like Aru Anavekar, Macie Mata, Sherrell Dorsey, Katie Hotze, Lisa Ganderson, Priya Malani, and Christina Nicodemus. The ladies in Charlotte are so open to helping others, I think they are really what's driving the ecosystem. I've had a beer and sought advice with each of these ladies.

That's not to say I don't lean on male founders. One of my really good friends is Emir Dukic of Rabbu. I speak with him all of the time to gain his insights. So much so that our families hang out now.

I always recommend that new founders meet as many founders as possible. It wasn't until I met these talented individuals that I gained confidence as a founder. It's really lonely starting a company and very easy to feel like you're doing it wrong. Once you speak to other founders you realize you're problems aren't that unusual and you aren't failing. It's a huge relief to grab a beer with someone who understands what you're dealing with and actually has advice on how to tackle the problems of the day. 

How important has it been to my success? I would argue that meeting other startup leaders, in general, is one of the most important things you can do when you get started.

What does success look like to you?

Success on a day-to-day basis is hitting the milestones with my team. Success at the end of the rainbow? That would be making my husband's dreams come true. He's sacrificed so much alongside me. We want a big enough exit to build our own house(s), buy our dream cars and take really crazy trips for the rest of our lives.

What does it really take to be successful?

This reminds me of when Guy Raz asks on the 'How I Built This' podcast, "how much of your success is due to luck and how much is due to skill?"

There is always a bit of luck behind every founders' success. I am lucky to come from an entrepreneurial family that made me comfortable with the risk. Lucky to have a supportive husband and a really stable life without a salary. As far as success in these early days, I think it takes:

  • finding the right people to join your team
  • being a hard-working leader others can get behind
  • over-communicating every day
  • learning how to handle defeat
  • knowing when to ask for another opinion and when to ignore advice

Probably in that order.

What is your morning routine? 

I always get 8-hours of sleep. I only mention this because, in the beginning, I thought the less sleep you had the more dedicated you were. It's just not true. 

I usually wake up at 6 a.m. and typically tackle any messages I missed overnight and any urgent emails from bed. I have a "focus" notebook where I write down the three must-finish tasks of the day, as well as every other task on my ever-growing to-do list. I follow a bunch of newsletters relevant to my industry, leadership, and startups; I skim through them all to make sure nothing comes up in a conversation that could catch me off guard. I cannot stand if I am on a call and a potential investor says, "did you see the announcement from "X" and are you concerned?"

My goal is always to be the most informed and prepared person in every conversation. After three cups of coffee and a whole bunch of "good morning" slack messages, we're hitting about 7 a.m. EST. 

What question do you get asked most often when you pitch?

If it's someone that doesn't like my value proposition; "How is this defensible?"

If it's someone that does, "How do we hit that growth metric?"

What question do you wish you got asked more when you pitch?

How I know this will be at least a 10X exit if they take the risk and invest now.

What is next for Vishion?

We have three large marketing initiatives we've been working on at the Brandery Accelerator we've started to roll out this week. A design competition, an exclusive interior design community, and a color retreat. This is all leading up to our next big release; a social platform to share and search designs by color. It's going to the Dribble for interior design.

Users will be able to find existing designs in the colors they are considering for color confidence, while interior designers are able to promote their brands by sharing their designs. The next time you say, "I wonder how that orange will look in my house" ... you'll go to Vishion and see how it's been used successfully.

Is there a founder you’re most excited about these days?

Although I don't have a family, I find it so impressive when successful founders pave the path and show how we should treat family-focused leaders in the workplace. Katrina Lake from StitchFix just wrote an OP-ED on CNN about the importance of family leave and taking time off when she had her child. That is exactly what I would do if I were so lucky to be that successful. Even now, with two members of my team having kids, I try really hard to make an environment where the kids can join and no-one has to feel concerned about rescheduling because of family obligations.

Uprise is proud to support and champion a diverse portfolio of founders across the country. Equal parts strategy and execution, we help our clients build meaningful businesses. Working on something great? Let us know, we’d love to hear what you’re up to.

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