For women in entrepreneurship, competition can hinder collaboration, Tiffiney Baumgarden said, outlining her mission to judge less and live more.
“I was really sick of the way women were talking to each other — particularly online,” said Baumgarden, founder and CEO of Crossing Broadway, detailing her experience (and that of many other local women she’s encountered, she said) with competitive mindsets, egos, and false promises in a growing world of entrepreneur support networks and organizations.
“My mom looked at me one day and said, ‘So, what are you going to do about it?’ So we started a T-shirt line — because we knew people wouldn’t always listen to what we said, but they’d read what was on our shirts.”
Click here to shop Crossing Broadway-designed tees.
With such phrases as, “I’m not bossy, I’m a leader,” emblazoned across them, the statement tees delivered on their intended promise, sparking conversations and building a new kind of community for women looking to genuinely lift each other up — and market themselves as the “bad asses” they really are, she said.
On the heels of such success, Baumgarden and Jennifer Riley, co-founder and marketing guru, saw an opportunity to expand Crossing Broadway beyond their own products — and beyond Kansas City.
“We wanted to figure out how to bring women together. So, in 2019, we started ‘The List’ and it was going to be an online directory of women-owned businesses,” she explained, detailing an effort to spread the company’s mission to cities nationwide.
While Kansas City has at least five Facebook groups dedicated to women entrepreneurs, the duo said, they sought out similar support groupings in other cities to see where and how businesses were thriving.
From St. Louis to Omaha to Des Moines, Baumgarden and Riley found the type of networks they were looking for.
The pair traveled city to city pitching Crossing Broadway to much success at 1 Million Cups meetings. Then came the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We thought, ‘What the hell are we going to do now?’ So we took a little break,” Baumgarden said, noting the growth of Crossing Broadway didn’t stay paused for long.
“One of our plans was always to have this great marketplace where you could shop these woman-owned brands all in one place — but that was three or four years down the line,” she said, explaining such plans were accelerated in response to the pandemic.
“I taught myself how to build a marketplace,” Baumgarden laughed as she recalled 2020 and all it brought with it.
“I did a website tutorial and I went through and — step-by-step — learned to build a WordPress site. It was a lot of Google, YouTube, and researching plugins.”
Six months later, Crossing Broadway debuted its online marketplace with the support of 35 women-owned businesses — stretching from California to New York.
The company’s virtual boutique boasts everything from candles and jewelry to home goods and dog beer.
“The messages that we’ve received from the businesses that have come and joined us [show] the backing [business owners] have felt,” Riley said, noting Crossing Broadway also creates promotional content for featured items.
Click here to listen to Crossing Broadway: The Podcast — just one of the ways Baumgarden and Riley are working to elevate women in business.
“You feel like you’re in this together and supporting each other. There’s strength in numbers and getting these messages from the businesses is amazing.”
Messages shared with Startland News indicate a sense of relief from business owners who’ve found comfort in what Crossing Broadway has to offer them.
“In the last four years, I have come across many businesses proclaiming to empower women — except their actions, messages, and vibe just don’t match what they are trying to portray,” a Crossing Broadway-featured business owner said in an email to Baumgarden.
“… I just wanted to make sure you knew you were seen. I see you. I see all the hard work and effort you’re putting into this and I can’t be the only one who is noticing. Sometimes it’s just nice to know all your hard work is actually changing the world for the better and [I] thought you should know.”
Baumgarden and Riley hope to continue expanding the marketplace through pop-up shops — a community building tool and sales channel many women-owned businesses found value in pre-COVID, Baumgarden said.
“They’re looking for ways to grow beyond their bubble. I want [Crossing Broadway] to be the resource for finding, supporting, and hiring women-owned businesses. I want to be the Etsy or Amazon of women-owned.”
How to support Crossing Broadway
“This is a grassroots effort and I think the hardest part in all this is getting the word out. Everybody wants to shop small, everybody wants to support women — and we’ve made it easy, all in one central location,” Riley said of ways Kansas Citians can best-support Crossing Broadway as it finds its way.
“That has been the biggest hurdle, being a bootstrapped, two-woman team,” Baumgarden added. “We do everything from social media to tech support to customer service. … getting beyond that bubble of us and our brands is tricky. So getting the word out is huge.”
Beyond word-of-mouth, suggesting Crossing Broadway to women-owned businesses looking to expand their reach could also help boost the growing business, Riley said.
A brick and mortar home for Crossing Broadway hasn’t been ruled out either, Baumgarden teased.
“It’s definitely a possibility. Jen and I have our HQ all planned out [in our heads] and we want to have a coworking space. A little boutique would be really cool. But we’ve talked a lot more about pop-up events in different cities,” she said, adding she served as the general manager of a retail shop for five years.
“The constant turnover and overhead is a little bit of a challenge. I think the events might be more where our hearts lie.”
Such a focus could prove to open more doors to women — and start more conversations about what they need in terms of support — especially in communities that might lack the entrepreneurial social fabric of Kansas City, Baumgarden said.
“There’s a lot of groups — especially Facebook groups — for female entrepreneurs, but as much as there’s that, there are still limits to collaboration efforts,” she explained.
“Until we stop that competition [barriers will exist.] We need to get beyond that. It’s starting, but you still hear that back and forth. What we really need is true community.”
In Baumgarden’s mind, such a community includes access to mentorship and funding opportunities that are found just as easily as online social clubs and organizations.
“I’m always staggered by the difference in funding [for male-led companies versus women-led companies] from VC’s and angel investors. As much as that was struggling in 2019 [when Crossing Broadway launched] there were all these new VC funds that were female-focused,” she explained, noting she’s observed another stall in funding opportunities amid the pandemic.
“When we get to the point where we’re cash flow positive — for every $100,000 we do in business, we want to give a $5,000 grant back to a woman-owned business,” she said of what the future could hold for Crossing Broadway, eager to see the brand become a much-needed and authentic voice in the fight for entrepreneurial equity.
“Even if you don’t go with Crossing Broadway — support your neighbors. That’s the most important thing that we’re trying to get across. We’re just trying to make it easier,” she said.
This story is possible thanks to support from the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, a private, nonpartisan foundation that works together with communities in education and entrepreneurship to create uncommon solutions and empower people to shape their futures and be successful.