This article has been written by Bilge Apak for Impact Hub Zurich to celebrate their #femalefounders week!
The title shouldn’t deceive you. No matter if male or female entrepreneurs, we all need tips on how to find a co-founder or how to invest money etc. But you wouldn’t see an article written with a title “5 tips for male entrepreneurs” because obviously, women go through some extra hoops before and during they handle such questions. If you come this far in the article, already give yourself a heartfelt applause, because it shows that you are in the right mindset to be an entrepreneur. For the male readers, if there are any, please go ahead and read to support the cause!
Female entrepreneur or male, one truth – as we all know – is that the startup scene is not a bed of roses for anyone. I can only share my own experience with you. There have always been things that made me feel lucky because I am a woman and made me feel helpless for the same reason.
I am in my 30s and I am raised by middle-class, loving and self-confidence boosting parents. I left home when I was 18 and lived on my own since then in 4 different countries, travelled 40+ countries. My friends have always been international which made me familiar with the problems that women face in different cultures. It is a known fact that we still have a long way to go for the equality in the workplace and in social life to democratize the given chances to the diverse groups.
Almost 2 years ago, I and my female partner founded WeWent.com, a marketplace for group experiences tailored for professional teams, families and friends. It started when we won the third place and best pitch award at Startup Weekend in 2015. The memory of myself and my 7 months-pregnant-partner pitching on the stage is one of the proudest moments of my life.
Here is how you can do it, too.
Use the Gender Gap to your advantage
Today only 3 out of 10 entrepreneurs are women. The venture capital and angel investor ecosystems are also heavily managed by men. The truth is it doesn’t look very inviting to many women and creates the added worry to start. The good news is, the startup ecosystem is fluid and reaction comes much faster in comparison to the hard-boned corporate ecosystem. Therefore there are many women-specific funding organizations. You can check out ladybirdlist.com – co-created by a friend of mine – for the full list of available funding for women. Huge conferences such as Web summit and alike are offering free or almost-free tickets for women in tech to balance the participation to their events. Enjoy feeling unique and use it for your product PR and use the benefits of exclusive programs built for women.
Remove discouraging voices from your life
You might hear negative comments when you express your willingness to start something. It can be due to how the female social role is seen differently in life. Or as women, we are not perceived as strong to exist in such competition. It may come from your friend, boyfriend or even your parents. In my 20s I had a friend laughing at my face when I said I would like to have my own business in the future. We women tend to take these comments to our hearts more than men do. My sole suggestion will be: stay away from that person. If you will need one thing in this journey that will be the people who are supporting you and believing in you. When you are down you will need people around you to remind you how far you have come.
Humility versus hubris
Another difference between women and men is very well explained through the “male hubris, female humility” effect. According to Wharton University research men are more often overconfident. I quote: “What it says is that women have lower levels of hubris than men — they’re less likely to be overconfident. Men are much more likely than women to believe that their success is because of their own doing and failure is someone else’s fault. Women, in addition to having a lower hubris, also have higher levels of humility. Humility means that in the face of actual success, you’re less likely to attribute it to yourself and you’re less likely to take advantage of it.” It also adds that women actually have a more accurate judgment of risk in this particular way, however, they are more discouraged to start a business or continue after a failure. In my experience this is true. What I do to overcome this is; I feel grateful for each success or failure as a learning and I take notes of those learnings daily.
Women support women
One of the most beautiful and inspiring entrepreneurship stories I heard was from Stephanie Shirley thanks to TED talks. In the 1960s, she founded a pioneering all-woman software company in the UK, which was ultimately valued at $3 billion. She hired only woman working from home in those years to code with her! Although she had to name herself as “Steve” to be able to get jobs. Watch the hilarious talk. One of the outputs is increasing female numbers in the entrepreneur ecosystem will help other women to succeed. So by pushing your endeavor, you are also being a hope for the future female entrepreneurs. As an example, at WeWent we are exclusively looking to hire stay-home mums who would like to come back to work part time. In general, the entrepreneurship culture is based on helping each other and as women, we should echo it.
Find the gaps that can be only fulfilled by women for women
You know you want to start something but you don’t know what? What you are good at always deserves a shot. However, keep in mind that there are pain points out there that can be solved mostly by women for women. If you look around most of the baby & kid related solutions comes from women entrepreneurs because they are the audience who knows the problem and the market best. Also wearable tech for eliminating menstrual pain and as such are fascinating technology focusing on women problems. So think of what is there to solve around you that is close to your heart.
Your network is your best friend
It starts with an email or saying hello to a person who has been already in the challenge you are facing. Your co-founder, first employee, first customer, or marketer will be very likely to be someone in your network. So even though you are feeling outnumbered in the environment, do not hesitate to knock on other’s doors. As long as your intentions are good, the entrepreneurial community will try to help you. However, it will start with your step only, so make that step. There was a nice article previously on Impact Hub Zürich blog related to networking, you can read here.
As every entrepreneur, you will have moments that you are skeptical. As women, we need to be extra careful!
- Don’t forget to give yourself credit, and appreciate all the effort.
- Be authentic. Gender is not what defines us.
- Always focus on the positives.
- Believe that you are enough.
You will ask yourself why you are going through this roller-coaster. Remind yourself that you are taking control in your hands to change things, to follow your dreams, one step at a time.
I know I touched only a couple of topics, if you want to add other tips please share it in the comments. If you feel like talking, please reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org or you can join our next event on March 16th in Zurich.
Bilge Apak, is the co-founder of WeWent.com, global marketing tech and e-commerce expert at Mondelez, team building enthusiast, AIESEC Alumni and women rights advocate.