The Reality of Being a Female Company Owner

We speak with Valentia McVey from FatCat Studios.

Tell us the story of FatCat Studios.

I did a lot of job-hopping after graduating from UMBC with a Bachelor’s in Design because I have a natural desire to work on a variety of projects. As I received calls from every company I left requesting that I do freelance work for them, the idea of FatCat began to blossom. These smaller projects were ‘fine,’ but then I received a call from Network Publications about designing their magazine. This was no ‘small project.’ Suddenly, the dream of FatCat Studios became much more real.

I was hired to design Physicians Practice Digest, a bi-monthly, 64-page magazine that housed a centre 4-page state-specific section showing available local CE credit offerings for doctors. The goal of the Digest was to be published in each of the 52 states. When I left three years later, the publication was in 22 states.

I went from being a freelancer working from the basement of my home (with work hours primarily 6 pm to midnight) to being a business owner with an employee (still in the basement, working morning and day hours). As the business grew, it outgrew the basement, and I found myself a business owner renting office space with a staff of 6 (in FatCat’s heyday) – all within a decade. Now my schedule was an elongated version of 9 to 5, with clients ranging the spectrum of individual start-ups to one-offs, nonprofits to multi-million-dollar corporations. That is still the case today.

What are the challenges of being a female company owner?

I’ve been fortunate to not encounter gender bias in this business. Perhaps the biggest challenge has been staffing issues. I have a quieter form of leadership and believe you don’t have to be the loudest person in the room to be heard. Sometimes employees mistake this for weakness and when they do, most times, our paths forward will separate. Or perhaps they simply don’t have the work ethic required to make a small business successful.

What would you say to other women who are considering starting their own company?  

I simply say: “Do it! Don’t sell yourself short.” Even if you’re more ‘organic’ as I am, and maybe don’t adhere to the ‘5-year-plan’ that seems necessary to so many. If you have a desire, a passion to be your own boss and believe you can make it happen, then make the leap. No one knows you better than you know yourself. You know what you are truly capable of, so don’t let someone else define you.

What’s the best and worst business advice anyone’s ever given you?

The best advice I’ve ever been given was from a great friend and mentor who said to me, “No one can sell your business like you can.” It’s so true! While I have hired salespeople in the past, part of the appeal of FatCat is that we are smaller and clients get to work directly with me. I consider us the ‘purrfect’ fit for most, larger than the freelancer in the basement (which you know I have the utmost respect for given my start) yet smaller than the agency in the high-rise (which comes with layers of people and processes). I believe in making myself available to my clients – it’s part of what I so enjoy about being in this business – and owning my own business.

What would you like your legacy to be?

I would want people to remember me as an easy-going, fun-loving, truly creative person. I hope my staff remembers me as an inspiring boss with an uncanny knack for keeping the office running during the most difficult times while keeping our stress level to a minimum. My sincere desire is that FatCat leaves a lasting legacy as a great design shop owned and operated by an amazing set of creative women who appreciated offering our clients ‘design without the drama.’


FatCat Studios, Inc.


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