The SheEO Spotlight Series showcases the talent and radical generosity of the SheEO Community, one entrepreneur at a time.
Meet Delilah Panio!
Delilah Panio is on a mission to help women around the world become economically independent. Six years ago, she left her competitive corporate job to do just that. Now the founder and CEO of Stiletto Dash, Delilah helps female entrepreneurs build their dream companies in a realistic way. She chatted on the phone with us while she sat on her stretch of beach in L.A. to share about her passion for mission-driven work, and the journey she’s had in transitioning between the corporate world and entrepreneurship.
Why do you do the work that you do?
I’ve started a new company, Stiletto Dash, which helps female entrepreneurs get ready for funding and access capital so that they can grow their companies. Ultimately, what I care the most about is economic independence for women. I believe that all people should be able to be who they believe they are meant to be, and many women are not able to achieve that because of oppression, restrictive jobs, and other limiting factors. While it may not be the easiest route, entrepreneurship can afford an individual the ability to freely live the life that they want to live.
It is wonderful that these days, more women are starting businesses. But to be successful, most will likely need to raise capital, and there just isn’t a lot of it that is currently available to women through traditional funding sources. Part of my work is to help them access current funds, as well as work to create new pools of capital. I personally want to help more and more women build their businesses, create new jobs, send their kids to good schools, and ultimately live their dream lives. My passion for the economic independence of women is the main driving force behind why I do what I do.
You've spent a lot of your career in the corporate world. What compelled you to transition out of that sphere six years ago and become an entrepreneur?
The primary reason why I left the corporate world was that I was spiritually bankrupt, and burnt out mentally and physically. While I had a really good job and made good money, I was really unhappy, and knew that there was something else that I was supposed to be doing; I just didn’t know what that something was. I took the leap and quit, and was shocked to find out that things didn’t turn out blissfully like the inspirational posters say it will. The six years since I’ve quit have been a really long journey, and included the creation and failure of a start-up in-between where I am today with Stiletto Dash.
How did you continue building your confidence as an entrepreneur to create Stiletto Dash during that difficult journey?
I had a lot of confidence when I left the corporate world. I have always been a high achiever, and was self-motivated even when my first startup failed. I also realize that every single person has their tough days, which has helped me to take a breath when I am feeling the pressure of ‘imposter syndrome’ in my own work. Much of my personal confidence has come through exposure to the world. I have traveled to over thirty countries, and have built resilience while learning how to take care of myself in foreign places.
And ultimately, I am now confident in my work and personal life because I am driven by a mission. I started Stiletto Dash to help female entrepreneurs be economically independent, and that mission, along with the strong sense that I’m doing what I’m supposed to be doing, now drive me on a daily basis.
After your quit your corporate job and were searching for personal authenticity in your work, was there something that particularly sparked your interest to start a business?
I was actually influenced by the knowledge of what I didn’t want to do. I didn’t want to keep climbing the corporate ladder and making tons of money without feeling like I was contributing to the world in a way that resonated with my mission. I became an entrepreneur because I wanted to create something of my own, and have the freedom to do so where and when I wanted.
I've read how the mission of Stiletto Dash is driven by the maintenance of realism in the lives of businesswomen. How do you personally continue to build the success of your business in a realistic way?
I think that what is least talked about but is the most important aspect of building a business in a realistic way is taking care of your personal health. There has long been this ‘martyrdom to your start-up’ where the more burnt out an entrepreneur is, supposedly, the more fundable they are. I completely disagree with this because it is not a sustainable way to grow a business.
At Stiletto Dash, we promote the importance of ‘getting real’ about the challenges of building a business and the funding that is available I tell female entrepreneurs that one of the most important things that they can do for their business is take care of themselves; if they have energy and feel vibrant both internally and externally, they will be more creative, productive, and more likely to succeed.
Relating to this talk about realism, how do you unplug when life gets crazy?
I’ve chosen to live on the beach in Los Angeles, which is a big source of freedom and relaxation for me. I frequently travel as a part of my spiritual journey, and recently spent six weeks in Bali. Vicki and I were actually there at the same time, and just didn’t know it! I prioritize my spiritual health and my relationships, and love spending time with my family and friends. My work is important to me, but I would rather take more time to build a business if it means that I’ll be happier and healthier along the way.
What are you excited about in your work right now?
Certainly working with SheEO! I am in love with the model of radical generosity, and the game-changing opportunities that Vicki has created for female entrepreneurs and investors. The social activist in me is charged up by the fact that she and I are bringing the SheEO model to LA. I admire that while Vicki acknowledges the major faults in the traditional system’s lack of support for female entrepreneurs, she is not discouraged; she instead lets the flaws of the existing platforms drive her mission to create something better and more inclusive.
I am also launching some online courses and e-books in the fall on getting ready for funding and how to access the right capital. This is super exciting as it means I will get to help many more female founders around the world.
And what is next for you and Stiletto Dash?
My long-term vision for Stiletto Dash is to have the for-profit side of the business fund a non-profit that includes a microfinance fund, that will allow women in the third world to also achieve economic independence. A lot of atrocities are happening to women around the world every day, and we don’t have a lot of power to stop these terrible things from occurring.
I have realized that we have everything we need in the first world to positively change the game for entrepreneurs here. And for me, changing the game in the first world is going to give me the opportunity to impact women and girls in the third world. Here in the U.S., we need to better understand our economic power and use our voice for a better world here, so that we can reach out to help women in other countries do the same. That really gets me excited about the future and what we can do!
Anna Wolle is an intern with SheEO, and a rising junior studying philosophy and French at St. Olaf College in Northfield, Minnesota and in Paris, France. You can email her at [email protected].
Hello SheEO Activators!
My activator ask? If you are interested to learn more about getting ready for funding, please visit stilettodash.com