Megan McNally drops the F-bomb

(This story originally appeared in Lawyer, Spring 2019.)

By Claudine Benmar

In Seattle, a lawyer had luck
Helping women who felt a bit stuck
She created a space
Where they met face to face
And were encouraged to holler out ... anything they wanted to.

Megan McNally at DigidayMegan McNally '13 was a new lawyer and a budding entrepreneur with an exciting new business idea when she attended Seattle Startup Week in 2016. But after talking with women at the event, she noticed a common theme.

Women weren't attracting the same levels of venture capital. Their ideas were treated as cute little side projects. People presumed they were incompetent. Their ideas were taken more seriously when men expressed them. 

It made her want to swear like a trucker.

So, in January 2017 she founded the FBomb Breakfast Club, a collaborative community for female business founders and entrepreneurs that has grown from 20 women to more than 2,200 in only two years. Seattle Magazine named her one of the city's Most Influential People of 2018 for her efforts to support women entrepreneurs.

"For women to really survive, thrive, and succeed in the business world, it helps to have some private space that you can step into with each other and go 'f--k!'" McNally said. "It empowers us to get back out there and keep going."

The club meets once a month at Impact Hub in Pioneer Square, but also has a substantial online presence through its lively Facebook group. (Find the group at www.fbombbreakfastclub.com.) McNally calls it the "squad of badassery" and "a merry band of cussing collaborators." Women find support there, but they also make valuable business connections.

"We set the table for women to come together and tell each other what they need from each other, and all kinds of magical things happen in that space," she said, adding that it's an early morning club so FBombers have the rest of the day to kick butt and take names. "All you have to do is get up early because once that business day starts, I'm back in the hustle."

The club's reach has even extended back to Seattle University School of Law, McNally's alma mater. Some female founders and business leaders in the club have become clients of the law school's Community Development and Entrepreneurship Clinic, co-taught by adjunct professor Madhu Singh, chief legal officer at Foundry Law Group. (McNally merged her own law practice with Foundry last year.)

"We had 40 applicants for the clinic last year and half of them heard about it through the FBomb Breakfast Club," Singh said. 

One of those clinic clients was active FBomber Leslie Pierson, founder of GoodHangups, a Seattle company that makes adhesive magnets for hanging art without damaging walls. Pierson said the club's fun atmosphere makes it more appealing than other networking groups and added that the discussion topics help her "think bigger" about her business.

"Megan clearly identified a need in the market and ran with it, with integrity and honesty," Singh said. "It's not gimmicky, it's not marketing - it's real. She's truly creating a movement in the community."

As McNally works to transform the F bomb from profane to powerful, she has a few other F words to reclaim as well. One is fear. And that's a lesson she learned in law school.

McNally had been working in philanthropy for two decades when she decided she needed a few more tools in her toolbox. So she enrolled in the part-time evening program to earn her JD.

"One of my mantras is 'be afraid but do it anyway.' It's okay to be scared sh-tless," she said. "It was scary to go back to law school at age 40! But law school has opened so many doors for me. I will never let fear hold me back again."

Another F word is failure. The great idea that sent McNally to Seattle Startup Week three years ago was Diana | SportsTV, which would have been the first digital streaming network dedicated to women's sports. Unfortunately, McNally's startup officially dissolved at the end of 2018 because she wasn't able to raise enough money to support it.

"This is one of the things I want women to know. Failure is okay. Failure is how we learn," she said. "I have no regrets. I swung for the fences. I went big in a space where I had almost no relevant experience. It was managed risk, but it was still risk."

McNally said she still hopes to help close the gap between coverage of men's and women's sports, but she'll do it by supporting other women's efforts instead of her own. In the meantime, she practices business law at Foundry, helping clients pursue their own big dreams.

"In truth, I think it's that entrepreneurial streak that makes me a good lawyer," she said. "I can sit down with my clients and I've been where they are. I've been the person trying to build something from scratch."