Introduce yourself! Who are you?
I’m Bonnie Lister Parsons, the founder & CEO of @schoolofsos, a new feminst dance national platform taking the @seenonscreen.dance concept nationwide! We’re on a mission to empower a generation of women to believe in themselves, using dance as a source of strength, power and confidence which they can carry through to all aspects of their lives. After closing the world’s first all female investment round earlier this year, we’re expanding the SOS concept throughout the UK, and officially launch the national platform on September 5th 2019!
When did you first start dancing?
As a toddler. My Mum enrolled me into ballet classes at the local town hall, but honestly, I wasn’t into it! It wasn’t until I’d moved to a new school when I was 9 and saw the girls making up music video style routines in the playground that I got hooked.
Did you always know what you wanted to do as a career?
Nope! I knew I wanted to be a backing dancer after a Britney concert, so I knew from the age of 14 that I wanted to go into dance. But I had no idea that I would become an entrepreneur! I made the decision to leave my dance career early and founded Seen On Screen when I was 23. My younger self would be like… you did what!?
What made you start Seen On Screen dance?
I got the idea while I was working on the X Factor Live Shows in between rehearsals. I was sitting at the side of the stage thinking “I wonder if any of the 20 millions viewers at home are watching thinking ‘I’d love to dance like that!”. I did my research I couldn’t believe nothing like SOS existed!
My boyfriend at the time (now husband) had just started a business, my Dad had his own business, my husband’s Dad had his own business. I honestly had no idea what a big deal starting a business was because it was the ‘norm’ for me. I just thought, if they can do it, I can do it!
Were you scared to start the process?
No, not at all. When you’re a dancer, risk isn’t something that bothers you… you’re whole career is a risk, but you make the choice to bet on yourself. My experience as a dancer was a really good foundation for entrepreneurship.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
“Prove them wrong”
When I began raising money for the School Of SOS platform, I got the idea to do an all female round after learning the hard way, that I will never fit into an investment structure coded for men. I realised that if I wanted to successfully raise money, I’d have to change the structure, just like Mary Beard’s Women & Power A Manifesto says.
Just 2.2% of the $130 billion of venture capital money invested in 2018 went to women. That figure jumps when male co-founders are in the founding team.
Why do female founders only secure 2.2% of the billions of capital invested every year? Put simply, it’s because the vast majority of investors are male. However, women (like me) tend to create products for women. Additionally, if that female-focused product is for a millennial market, it tends to be too young for investors’ wives and too old for their young daughters. And if their wives and daughters wouldn’t use the product being pitched, men don’t know whether the product will sell, so they see the opportunity as too risky. But what ‘risky’ really means is, I don’t understand it, therefore, I am unable to invest in it. I learned over the 2 years of pitching that if we want to close the gender gaps, it is paramount for women create a new structure, where women invest in women.
So, in early 2018, I proudly announce my intention to an all female round at a pitch event to 120 people, held at a well known all women’s members club in London. After my pitch, I was told, to my surprise, not to do an all female round because – ‘women don’t invest’, ‘women are risk averse’ and not to do an all-female round because it will hold my business back.
To be told this (after I’d already been pitching for 2 years!) was disheartening to say the least. This is why entrepreneurs need resilience! However, shortly after this, I hired two incredible women to help with our brand strategy and business development. We sat down for our first strategy meeting, and I told them this story and my goal to raise money by doing an all female investment round. They said without hesitation “prove them wrong”.
Later that year, we announced our all female investment round on Instagram. We hit our target in 2 weeks, and not just that, we doubled it, so every shareholder in School Of SOS, our national platform, is a woman. If my research is correct, we’re the first company in the world to have achieved this. Not because women don’t invest (they clearly do!), but perhaps because we we’re the first company to be bold or brave enough to do it.
So remember, when someone tells you that you can’t do something, they’re normally reflecting their own insecurities back at you. Never be afraid to believe in yourself, even if the odds are against you. Bet on yourself, and take the best advice I have ever received – prove them wrong!
What would you say to 16 year old you?
Honestly, I’d be super excited for her, but I don’t know if I’d tell my younger self anything. The highs and the lows have made me who I am, so I would only say, “believe in yourself and go for it!”
Have you ever had anyone doubt you? How did that make you feel?
All through my life.
That’s why women have to support other women. If my Mum hadn’t supported me relentlessly through school (I’m dyslexic and she was fantastic getting me the help I needed so it didn’t hold me back), I wouldn’t be where I am now. If I hadn’t met my best friends, the incredibly ambitious, loving, supportive women who have had my back since I was 16, I wouldn’t be where I am now. If I didn’t have my big sister looking out for me, and whipping my butt into shape, I wouldn’t be where I am now. If I didn’t have my all female investor squad behind me, I wouldn’t be where I am now. The power of babes supporting babes is real, and necessary!
Have you always had confidence in yourself?
No at all! My confidence is learned. As someone who now teaches confidence through dance, I know for sure, real confidence is a skill which you have to practice everyday. A missing ingredient of confidence is self compassion. You build confidence by overcoming challenges, and over that process, you will learn how to fail, and make mistakes. You have to learn how to give yourself a break, pick yourself back up, brush yourself off, get straight back on it and go again.
But the foundation to all of this, is knowing that deep down at your core, that you’re enough. Fundamentally, you are enough. You may need to work hard to upgrade your tool box – the necessary techniques, skills etc, whatever it may be, but the foundation blocks you’re building from, who you are – is enough.
What is one thing people would be surprised to hear about you?
Maybe that I struggle with confidence, which is why I’m able to teach it – I know how it feels to be able to overcome self doubt, and be the most confident person in the room. What I have learned how to do, is handle the fear of self doubt. People sometimes call me fearless, but actually I think I’m pretty brave as I’m not fear-less at all, I’m fear-full’. But, I feel the fear and do it anyway because the vision is always bigger than the fear. Dancers know how to use emotions like fear, and nerves, to get the best from their performance. This is what I want to teach other women how to do, so they can smash their goals too!
What is one thing no one really knows about you?
I’m super passionate about history! Well, more to the point, herstory. I’m particularly fascinated with 16th Century herstory, because some of the most iconic female rulers of the last millennium – Isabella Of Castile, Anne Boleyn, Elizabeth I, Mary Queen Of Scots, Catherine D’Medici – came to power.
Being a modern woman, I’m very aware of women and power, and the role female leadership will play in creating a safer, happier, more balanced world for our generation and generations to come. Historian Mary Beard said in her book Women & Power A Manifesto –
“You can’t easily fit women into a structure that is already coded as male; you have to change the structure.”
Throughout history, women have had to navigate a world hard coded as male. I love learning about how they did that, because the female leaders of today stand on their shoulders. My thinking is, if Queen Elizabeth I can overcome the immense challenges to become one of the world’s greatest leaders, just imagine what our generation of up and coming female leaders can do with all the opportunity we have in the 21st century. This is one of the reasons why our logo (above) has a crown over the SOS. I’m all about Queens!
What is something on your bucket list?
Get a dog, build an empire.
As a passionate advocate of boosting confidence through dance, Bonnie Lister Parsons has developed a super empowering team of instructors to help her get the masses moving.