Today’s post comes from Nishika de Rosairo, CEO, Creative Director, and founder of dE ROSAIRO. Before becoming an entrepreneur, Nishika built a corporate career with Deloitte, Cisco, and Salesforce. In addition to leading her business, Nishika serves on several boards including Startup Women, Upward, and the Center for International Business Education and Research.
“Aren’t you scared?”
“What will you do if you fail?”
“You have no experience in the industry, how will you succeed?”
“Don’t worry, you can always go back to Corporate America”
… and so the questions and comments flooded in…
What surprised me the most was that these questions and comments were being dished out from a combination of people who knew me very well, and also from those who didn’t know me at all.
I soon started to realize that non-entrepreneurs were projecting their own anxieties of starting a business onto me.
So the real question became:
How do you listen to the parts that matter, and turn off the parts that don’t?
An Entrepreneur is Born
For me, entrepreneurship has always felt very real. I was still a teenager when I came to the realization that life would be boring if everyone succumbed to practices and principles denoting linear patterns of thinking and execution, simply because they made life easy to explain and easy to understand.
My version of happiness started to emerge around the same time when I turned to mentors such as Sir Richard Branson and Anthony Robbins. They taught me that happiness was a state of mind, achieved through a non-linear journey of strategy, discovery, and perspective: the perfect mindset for an entrepreneur.
I grew up with an adventurous spirit, and by the time I reached my 30s, I was living on my fourth continent, had traveled to over 40 countries, and my career in the corporate world was ripe and flourishing. Over my 10 years in Corporate America, I had the incredible opportunity of learning a repertoire of deep knowledge and expertise from the best of the best: Deloitte Consulting, Salesforce, Apple, Levi, Cisco, Chevron, and many others.
Even still, I wanted more.
I decided it was time to turn in the stability of a steady paycheck for something that was much more adventurous and impactful.
I wanted to change the world, one design at a time.
Building a Business
Finally, my business – dE ROSAIRO (pronounced ‘day ro-zai-ro’) — was born: it was a childhood dream coupled with a deep desire to influence the world through the inherent psychology behind the clothes we wear.
I spent 10 months writing my business plan and building the business on nights and weekends, all while still employed full time at Salesforce. At the end of that time, I had my first collection of sketches sitting on hangers in a sales showroom in Los Angeles. I built dE ROSAIRO on the founding principle of ‘Look Feel Lead’, which translates into — how you Look, is how you Feel, is how you Lead. The idea being that how we dress influences how we feel, and on the flipside, how we feel influences how we dress.
No matter how many people have shared their years of wisdom with me, not one person, or any one experience, could have truly prepared me for the broad depth and range of mental and physical strength it takes to be an entrepreneur.
Doubt is Part of the Journey
There are days I have wanted to pull my hair out, and then there are days that I know I am doing exactly what I should be. I would be lying if I didn’t admit the rough days.
But the truth is: doubt is a part of the journey, as it continues to provide me with an opportunity to question even my most basic set of assumptions. Healthy businesses cannot be built on complacency and self-assurance.
Mistakes will be made, money will be lost, and through it all, the question that we will need to keep answering is – am I still aligned with my vision?
Why does alignment matter? It matters for two key reasons:
- When we launch a business, we should aim to build a foundation that aligns with our personal set of values. We need to ask ourselves: what matters to me? How do I want to affect the lives of others? What do I want my legacy to be?
- Doing ‘good business’ is no longer the icing on the cake; in today’s world it is a basic expectation. This means we each have a role to play.
Through this journey, what I’ve come to discover is: there is no greater measure of self-fulfillment than when profit, individual values, and ‘good business’ intersect.
So when you’re on the brink of YOUR entrepreneurial journey, and when people ask you:
“Aren’t you scared?”
“What will you do if you fail?”
“You have no experience in the industry, how will you succeed?”
Tell them that you would rather give it your best shot than regret not trying.
Tell them that you desire transformative growth in your life that a steady paycheck cannot provide.
Tell them that changing the world is worth the calculated gamble.
BEST WISHES ON YOUR PITCH!
After 9 Startup Weekends in three years, I’ve come to the conclusion that it is one of the most exhilarating experiences of my life (in fact, I’ve written previously that I might be addicted to it). However, for some that the journey could be really intense at times, and not everyone makes it to the finish line feeling the same way.
Recently, I facilitated Startup Weekend Miami: Diversity Edition, where I was taught the concept of “la pasión,” which is Spanish for “people in Miami are really, REALLY emotional.” I was tasked to harness la pasión in a community that had a plethora of it, in a way that would make everyone come away from Startup Weekend Miami feeling as wonderful as I had 8 times before.
Below is a list of lessons and tips for a facilitator, organizer, or volunteer to apply that would help maintain a sense of stability to an otherwise potentially chaotic event.
1. If you’re an organizer or volunteer, your mission is to execute the event as orderly as possible
In Startup Weekend, Murphy’s Law generally applies – anything that can go wrong will go wrong. It is vital that every organizer and volunteer is informed of the weekend’s tasks and can easily communicate with one another to correct any situation that arises.
Best practice: Print up a universal task list that specifies each delegation and giving a copy to all your volunteers. That way, even if they don’t have an assignment, they can look at the list to see if someone else needs help with something.
2. If you’re the facilitator, your first priority is to take care of the lead organizer
Generally, lead organizers shoulder the most burden, and the stress can be overwhelming. They should be acknowledged especially for their months of hard work leading up to the big show.
Facilitators should check in with them hourly and make sure they’re fed, hydrated, and as relaxed as you can get them. If necessary, give them a hug (more on that later).
3. Communicate to people on their level – perhaps even in their language
Startup Weekend is an educational event at its core, and the most effective way to teach is to contextualize it with abstract reasoning that they understand. Learn more about them to understand their thinking processes.
An added challenge for me: most of the attendees of Startup Weekend Miami speak Spanish as their first language. I do not – except for what I’ve learned on TV – so when people weren’t looking, I’d review my Dora The Explorer Lessons on YouTube and bust that out randomly. You’re welcome, mi amigo/as.
4. If teams are arguing without end, facilitate a scrum
Inevitably, disagreements occur in a competition, but they become difficult to resolve when people are not talking in a respectful, orderly fashion.
To resolve this, get them to stand up and talk in a circle, one at a time. Here’s a quick video to teach you how to run a proper scrum – a very popular method of coordinating large, diverse teams.
(The key lesson starts at 6:32)
I did this with one team in particular. More on that later.
5. Have a quiet space – one for volunteers, one for participants
We all need to decompress, so give your people a place to rest, nap, socialize, and blow off some steam. Don’t go so far as create a distracting place such as a game session – you still want people to focus on on the main goal.
6. Throw in a dance session or two (you’ll have to start it)
It was a foregone conclusion that I’d be dancing in Miami. It was just a matter of how often. I like to keep the music playing in a common area for attendees to come out, relax, and practice their salsa.
Dancing is a great way to stay loose and relaxed, and it’s probably less terrifying than, say, public speaking.
7. Prevent “hanger” by providing snacks and insist that everyone drink water frequently
Startup Weekend is a high-energy competition, and with brains working on overdrive, they’ll need to be replenished. I try to have a bottle of water and a protein-rich snack on my person at all times. Keep your people well-fed, and they’ll be well-tempered, too.
8. Give out hugs and high-fives whenever possible
At a hyper-networking event like Startup Weekend, these physical embraces lead to lasting connections that you’ll appreciate long after this experience.
9. Plan to finish your event as soon as possible…
- Links only: Instead of letting people present and demo on their own laptops with varying file types, have them send cloud-based links to both and put them in a single document. This moves things along quickly in between Q&A sessions.
- 4:3 presentation model: Limit presentations to 4 minutes with a loose 3 minutes for judges’ Q&A works well, too. Judges average about 45 seconds per question, so a group of 3-5 judges works well.
Why do we do this?
10. … so that everyone will go to the after-party
I love the idea of an after-party, but often Startup Weekends run too late, and who can really stick around to party on a Sunday night? However, if you aim to end your event around 8pm or earlier, and your event was a rousing success, you’ll have a great time.
Also, try to have ALL of your parties in Miami, regardless of your own location. Here’s why:
When a team that nearly imploded on Saturday night…
Team BreakinBread was a fun project for me. Constantly bickering in Spanish over every single detail, I was positive that they would implode and disband by Saturday night.
To fix this, I made them do a scrum. By getting them to talk in turn and truly listen to one another, they realized that they were actually a well-rounded team that agreed on one thing: they had communication problems.
Afterwards, they delivered a beautiful presentation that impressed the judges. The rest is Startup Weekend Miami history: they won first place.
Or when a team that won 2nd place got a standing ovation…
Ernie struggles to get where he needs to be due to the lack of convenient transportation options for the disabled. His dedicated friend Juan pitched an idea:
An “Uber for the differently-abled,” Juan wanted Ernie to have access to the ride-sharing technologies that dominate the startup marketplace today (e.g. Uber and Lyft). They found great validation by tapping into people’s good nature – an uncommon approach for a Startup Weekend team.
Once I announced their second place win, Ernie stood up and made his way to the main stage. With every step, more and more people rose with him and applauded his victory with deafening cheers of support.
Or when I could not stop smiling when I was presented with this amazing certificate
The text reads:
“A special recognition for surviving your
MIAMI DRAMA INITIATION
Let all who view this document know you survived Miami. We are diverse, speak at the same time and have a rollercoaster of emotions, but at the end of the day, we’re all family and end the night laughing with J’s (JAJAJAJA). You rock!”
Perhaps I had been a bit of a curmudgeon the whole time…
In short, Startup Weekend is indeed a roller coaster (it’s designed that way), but for a small minority, that can be an unpleasant experience. Emotions are meant to run high, but there are ways to keep it balanced yet still exciting.
I hope these suggestions serve as a way to hold someone’s hand to make them feel safe right before they take the deep plunge into entrepreneurship.
Good luck, and thank you, Startup Weekend Miami: Diversity Edition!
Lee Ngo is a community leader based out of Pittsburgh, PA.
At UP Global we believe every person has the opportunity to experience and become an entrepreneur. In all we do, we practice radical inclusion to help build and grow this open world of entrepreneurship for everyone.
Editions Month is all about this inclusion by exploring undiscovered topics, industries, and giving audiences a chance to experience entrepreneurship firsthand. A great example of this is the Startup Weekend Women events organized by women for female entrepreneurs in their community. We first launched this edition of Startup Weekend last year and have seen tremendous efforts by women around the world organizing these events. During the month of May for Editions Month, Women & Girls events were the most popular edition being held!
In this post we go to Bangalore, India to take a look at their upcoming Women’s event. Be sure to also check out their inspiring story about improving the life of women in their community and how entrepreneurship can help.
Organizing team members:
What are you most excited about for your upcoming event?
What we look forward to the most in holding an event such as this is the prospect of enabling women entrepreneurs to actively work together towards a common goal, exchange ideas based on their experience and generally be a part of something that will contribute to increasing their confidence and drive in the entrepreneurial world.
It is a collective effort where all of our organizing team is coming together to make this happen. In a way, we are also empowered by a sense of unity in our journey to make this Startup Weekend a success. We are excited to how these women nurture over the course of three days and what they take away with them at the end.
What makes this Edition special for your community?
Our SHE Bangalore edition of Startup Weekend is a special one where we are trying to dig out the brilliant but unknown women entrepreneurs of Bangalore city, a city already famed for its startup culture being number one in India. When such a conducive environment for the setting up of start ups is already in place and rapidly growing day by day, we feel that it is high time more women jump onto this bandwagon and showcase their successes. We want to give these women a playground of sorts to exercise their entrepreneurial faculties which is the essence of SHE Bangalore.
Startup Weekend Stories: Memories, reflections and lessons learned from Startup Weekend events in Cedar Rapids and Iowa City, Iowa.
Today we meet Lauren Aguilar, a student at the University of Iowa who has been involved with multiple local projects along with her brother, Nico. Sometimes college towns struggle with a disconnect between students and residents, but Startup Weekend helped Lauren cross the divide – she found the community support to keep going. She writes: “We never stopped working on the idea! I’m actually graduating in May and I will be working on SPEEKO full time!”
The idea – pitch, please:
Friday night we pitched an “um” counting app. Saturday we added helping people get over the fear of public speaking to our value proposition. Sunday night SPEEKO was pitched and it is an app that records your presentation or speech meanwhile tracking volume, pace, and filler words to give you valuable insights into how you speak in order to make effective improvements.
What were your hopes and goals going into the weekend?
I had no idea what I was getting into! I just wanted to meet new people, see what all the hype was really about, and try to learn something out of it.
What was your involvement with the local startup community before the weekend?
As a finance student at the University of Iowa, I really wasn’t involved in the startup community at all! I got involved with the student incubator through JPEC during my third year, but I had no idea that there was so much more. I remember people talking about events that were going on in the community (like 1 Million Cups and TechBrew) but I never went to them. That’s why I’m so glad I eventually did because the community I’ve discovered has been incredible.
What was the most challenging part of the weekend?
The most challenging part of the weekend was just focusing on one idea and sticking to it. When you get a group of creative people together ideas just never stop! It was really exciting to see the evolution of ideas from the Friday night to Sunday night pitches.
Find the next Startup Weekend in Iowa at swia.co!
Talent is the most fundamental of the white paper’s five ingredients to “Make Your Own Silicon Valley”, as it is through human talent that dense, funded centers for innovation become possible. The capital, culture, policy, and density of startups are inanimate by comparison—while the concept of a ‘thriving ecosystem’ in biology demands life.
Tehranian entrepreneurs face significant obstacles in terms of regulatory environment and access to investment capital. The government’s lack of support in these variables has an interesting cultural watershed: it places responsibility for startup innovation directly upon the city’s entrepreneurs. Organization, community outreach, and educational programming– including the idea that the entrepreneur is not just a self-employed shop owner– proudly reflect Tehran’s developing talent pool.
One advocate for Tehran talent is Hamidreza Ahmadi, who returned to Iran from New York City to work directly with entrepreneurs. He identified a disconnect between available talent and startup development in Tehran.
A candid photo of Ahmadi at #swtehran on Nov. 20, 2014 (taken by @srfarzaneh)
A computer science graduate from City University of New York, Ahmadi, 32, has come to embody the current demand for startup organization in Iran’s capital. He organizes events for Startup Weekend, the Iran App Fest, the Iran Web Fest; and Hamfekr, Tehran’s weekly coffee-meetup for entrepreneurs. He serves as the vice president of the Iran Entrepreneurship Association (IEA).
“Despite the many Startup Weekends that we’ve hosted, there hasn’t been a second step to support all the projects,” Ahmadi said. “The average age of Startup Weekend participants in Tehran is [26-years old]… and of 500 entrepreneurs surveyed over five separate events, ‘team building’– or finding co-founders– ranked as the greatest ‘challenge’ for Iranian entrepreneurs.”
For their ability to connect startups with mentors, investors, and technical talent, Ahmadi sees organized events– and ‘accelerator’ programs, in particular– as the next step in Iran’s entrepreneurial progression.
“Self-organization, cultural conversation about entrepreneurship, and helpful participation of regulators is vital towards creating dense talent clusters,” Ahmadi said. “It’s really hard to showcase success stories without accelerators, because such programs help spread the news about our community. Iran is ripe… [but] most Iranians think about ‘entrepreneurship’ as owning a small business or farm or shop, rather than working in technology.”
Ahmadi intends his work with Hamfekr, the IEA, and technology festivals to help startups find and keep employees.
“We are planning an advocacy campaign to change the way technical professionals in Iran think about risk and entrepreneurship,” Ahmadi said. “We believe that [Iranian contractors] are taking more risk by freelancing, rather than building ownership in a company.”
UP Global’s white paper found that once talent becomes available, government can encourage entrepreneurial growth through sponsoring physical hubs, creating flexible labor markets (to attract people with a variety of skills and experience,) supporting STEM education, and promoting diversity in the workplace.
Entrepreneurs in Iran also hope to address severe hiring disparity in their country.
Women account for 86% of the student body in Iran from secondary education onward, and the integration of Iran’s women is essential to addressing the country’s startup and innovation challenges; however, engagement of women in startups and managerial positions has been disportionately low (just 4% of management jobs in Iran are held by women.)
Arezoo Khosravi helped organize Startup Weekend Women’s Edition in Tehran last September in an effort to address this hiring discrepancy; 62% of attendees were female entrepreneurs and academics from Tehran’s community.
Participants at Startup Weekend Women Tehran.
Khosravi’s entrepreneurial journey in Iran– from attending university, working with the United Nations, and creating a startup with her husband– compelled her to help other young women create their own jobs in the face of hiring inequality.
“Despite the high rate of graduation among women, there is not enough job vacancy to employ men and women equally,” Khosravi said. “The startup trend in Iran is very new, but it encourages young people to realize that they can turn their ideas into a job.”
Khosravi says that theory-focused Iranian universities do not actively assist students in the quest to find work, and that hiring markets are extremely competitive for all Iranians. She says that often, women do not seek management positions because of the competitive nature of the hiring process, and are content being hired into staff positions.
“When women want to find work, if they are in the same [educational] position with a male candidate, the male will be preferred… All the highest positions are given to the men,” Khosravi said. “For myself, it happened a lot. Most of the men had low experience in comparison to me.”
Ahmadi and Khosravi both acknowledge that the growth of accelerators, self-organized events, and startups in Tehran is reassuring news for talent in the city. Startups are bucking the trend of inequality in hiring, and providing technical, challenging jobs to young people in the city.
“Startups help women improve their leadership and initiative skills,” Khosravi said. “It’s effective for the youth, and especially girls, to see a way to make their own employment.”
Wherever an economic ecosystem hangs in the balance, it is human talent that must find a solution to the mental and physical challenges therein. While several of the white paper’s key ingredients are still missing, Tehran’s talent is on its way to solving the broader organizational challenges facing Iranian entrepreneurs, and is a driving force for greater, more equitable innovation within the city’s startup community.
We invite you to read along and lend your perspective.
What challenges are you facing in your community?
What solutions have you developed?
What questions do you have about these communities?
Metavallon is a model social enterprise that empowers and accelerates startups at the very early stages. Through its three-stage program (Τhe Lab, The Accelerator, and The Hub), Metavallon seeks to motivate talented individuals, expose them to experienced entrepreneurs, experts and investors, and provide them with the necessary resources to start their own high impact businesses. Its mission is to uplift the endeavors of active entrepreneurial spirits around the world and generate a powerful venturing movement in Greece and beyond.
The startup world is not solely the realm of men. Firms owned by women currently account for almost 30% of all new businesses and have grown at 1.5 times the rate of other small enterprises over the last 15 years. Let’s take a look at 10 women behind tech, science or engineering startups. (1)
Alice Brooks and Bettina Chen
The startup: Maykah Inc.
Founded in: 2012
Notable for: Roominate, a line of toys allowing girls to design, build and electrify their own dollhouses.
How they got started: Alice asked her dad for a Barbie for Christmas and he gave her a mini saw, so she made her own dolls. Bettina grew up constructing elaborate Lego creations with her older brother. The two women met while studying engineering at Stanford. (2-5)
Original goal of Kickstarter project to fund Roominate
Total funds raised on Kickstarter
Number of backers on Kickstarter
The startup: Adafruit
Founded in: 2005
Notable for: Selling DIY electronics, tools and kits for makers of all ages
How she got started: As a graduate student in electrical engineering at MIT, Limor would experiment in the student labs at night, creating products she’d eventually sell through Adafruit, such as the Minty MP3 player, which fits inside an Altoids tin. (6-7)
Ranking on Inc. 5000’s list of fastest-growing private manufacturing companies
3-year growth (2010-2013)
The startup: Brit & Co.
Founded in: 2011
Notable for: E-commerce platform and online media hub connects DIY enthusiasts with tutorials and inspiration as well as the tools and supplies to complete them
How she got started: After she graduated from college, Brit worked at Apple, learned how to code, worked at Google and then left to form her own tech startup – after taking a six-month break. During those six months, Brit was inspired to create Brit & Co. (8-9)
Amount raised in seed funding from investors such as Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer
More than 5 million
Visitors to the company’s website, brit.co, every month
Miki Agrawal, Radha Agrawal and Antonia Dunbar
The startup: Thinx
Founded in: 2013
Notable for: High-tech women’s underwear line aimed at preventing leaks through a “quad-dry, BreatheTECH” support matrix that cuts down on the need for disposable tampons and pantyliners. The company also partners with AFRIpads to give a week’s worth of washable, reusable pads to girls in Africa for each pair of Thinx sold.
How they got started: Twin sisters Miki and Radha were talking to their friend Antonia about mishaps and frustrations with underwear options during that time of the month, and they learned that girls in developing countries often have to miss school due to lack of access to pads. The three women decided to kill two birds with one stone by inventing Thinx. (5, 8, 10)
Funds pledged on Kickstarter for Thinx
Number of backers on Kickstarter
The startup: Evite.com
Founded in: 1997
Notable for: Digital invitation and social planning service with 17 years of history.
How she got started: Selina and a friend, Al Lieb, came up with the concept of Evite while she was studying computer science as an undergraduate at Stanford. After graduating, she kept working on her project and eventually made it big when it was sold to Ticketmaster in 2001. Selina is now the chief technology officer of SurveyMonkey. (11-13)
Number of registered users at Evite
Invitations sent every year by Evite users
The startup: Lumo BodyTech
Founded in: 2012
Notable for: Lumo Lift and Lumo Back, wearable gadgets that vibrate when its wearer slouches in order to improve posture. Both devices also track calories, steps and distance.
How she got started: A lifelong athlete with an interest in health, Monisha co-founded the company with Dr. Charles Wang and Andrew Chang. The three discovered how important posture is to reducing back pain when Andrew attended posture classes, and they decided to launch Lumo Back through a Kickstarter project. (5, 14-16)
Total amount raised for Lumo Back on Kickstarter
Total amount raised for Lumo Lift through another crowdfunding campaign
Pre-orders for Lumo Lift
The startup: Pathbrite
Founded in: 2008
Notable for: Cloud-based Portfolio Learning Program, a digital portfolio service for ed-tech that helps track, manage and assess students’ achievements and makes course planning easier
How she got started: With a colleague, Heather originally co-founded a secure document sharing site for families, but saw that educators were using it more and more as an alternative way to share classroom-based media with students and parents. She decided to go it alone and pivot the company, turning it into Pathbrite in 2012. (11,
Funding received in four rounds from four investors
More than 500
Number of schools using Pathbrite’s technology
On Wednesday, November 12th I had the privilege of attending UP Global’s Women’s Policy roundtable in Washington DC. For two hours, 50 community leaders sat in a room and had discussions around how women (and men) can change perceptions regarding the gender gap and strengthen policy reform.
“We are all here to build upon the white paper’s key ingredients for fostering thriving startup ecosystems: Talent, Density, Culture, Capitol, and Regulatory Environment. With support from UP Global’s initiative #StartupWomen, today’s discussions will focus on public and private sector policy reform.”
Each table of participants was prompted to discuss the following questions:
How did you get to where you are today, and what helped you along the way?
How else can we frame this issue to engage policy makers and industry leaders to effect change?
The following personal testimonies were overheard:
“I don’t consider myself an entrepreneur. I’m a problem solver.”
“Women believe there’s only room for a few women on the top. That’s just not true!”
“It’s our responsibility as a collective group for every women to go in and ask for what you’re worth.”
“Fortunately, in programming, the code speaks for itself.”
“Surround yourself with people who encourage you along the way. Your biggest allies are the people who see your passion.”
“Talking to people and getting it out of your brain is key! Don’t give up. The more I talk to people, the more I come across new ideas.”
“This shouldn’t be framed as a ‘feel-good’, ‘help the women’ issue. Women make or influence 80 percent of consumer purchases. It’s good business to invest in women. It’s not a philanthropic effort.”
“Being a programmer myself, I would often forget that I was a women. The bigger barrier I had was the age gap.”
“I’m constantly asking myself, ‘Am I being too nice?’ The answer is YES. Don’t be afraid to ask for how much you’re worth.”
“You can be girly AND code!”
“You’re not going to get paid what your worth but what you negotiate.”
I was honored to share a table with three industry leaders. Here’s what they had to say:
At the end of our forum, the entire group determined these next steps for action:
- The power is in informing and educating women
- Have a baseline, find the data and then use those numbers to incentivize
- We need to recognize women as business owners
- Women need to support other women instead of climbing over them
- Take women out of the gender diversity box
- We need to look at the gender gap as women’s empowerment instead of victimization
- Lead by example
- We need to engage our brand influencers
- Money talks, it’s not men vs women
- Engage men!
- Help legislators see the win-win situation of supporting women entrepreneurs
- Business moves faster than government, if we leverage corporate social responsibility it will set the trend
- We need to challenge the messages that are being sent to women and girls before they enter the business world
- Do we need hard regulation? Example: minimum number of women participation
How would you answer the question: How else can we frame this issue to engage policy makers and industry leaders to effect change?
It’s Not About “The Boys’ Club” Anymore: 5 Lessons From Women’s Startup Lab by Ari Horie
This post, written by Startup Weekend Sacramento Women’s Edition’s Keynote Speaker, Ari Horie, originally appeared on Huff Post Blog on 5/15/14.
If you’re a woman in business, maybe you’re familiar with this story: You’re leading a meeting or driving a deal and when you’re face-to-face with a client, he approaches your male colleague as the decision-maker rather than you. Why is it that a business woman is often mistaken for the executive assistant, rather than the boss? It’s tough to admit that people still struggle with unconscious bias even during a time or industry many people consider to be progressive.
Guy Kawasaki, former Chief Evangelist of Apple, and now Canva, recently said at a recent Women’s Startup Lab Unconference, “The way to get Silicon Valley to this next paradigm on gender is to very simply realize it’s so difficult to create a successful company in general that you need to use all your weapons and to think that you are not using half your weapons because of gender really is ludicrous.”
I began Women’s Startup Lab because I believe in the power behind community, even when it comes to the competitive nature of early stage startups and new markets. Collective intelligence, designed in either an accelerator model or through one’s research, is the backbone to efficiency and learning the lessons without doing it the hard way, wasting valuable time, money, and may I add — emotion.
The innovative leader wants to be successful in his or her career and surround him or herself with other successful men and women. It’s no longer a zero-sum game because we’re all defining our own meaning of what success means to us and within our individual markets. While sexism still, unfortunately, persists in our culture, I don’t believe the general and open-minded thinker is “out to get” women.
Claire Cain Miller’s recent New York Times article “Technology’s Man Problem,” gave clear insight into the gendered outlook from the dark corners of the technocracy, whereas Claire Shipman and Katty Kay’s recent article, “The Confidence Gap,” in The Atlantic parses the difference between men and women’s competence verses confidence. Anecdotal and empirical studies survey that women generally score higher on competency across the board, whereas men are far more confident, therefore they get promoted and move ahead faster than women.
These trending articles make me ask: “Why are women trying to join the ‘Boys’ Club,’ when we can rebuild a culture where both women and men are at the bargaining table?” People hold an unconscious bias and as a society we need to wake up from our idle state and reinvigorate the workforce with new and inclusive standards to allow innovation to flourish, independent of gender.
Born in Hiroshima, Japan, I’ve built my professional career around the notion that your differences aren’t impediments, but powerful resources to bring to the table. At Women’s Startup Lab, we empower our business growth through community collaboration and here are some of the best lessons we’ve learned together:
1. Remember to collaborate even when you think business is about competition. Entrepreneurship is a lonely road, especially for women. Women founders face the same obstacles as all startups, such as fundraising, building a customer base, establishing business acumen, and communicating effectively. Women also deal with the added pressure of working with investors, customers and colleagues who address business differently. Women’s Startup Lab provides a place for women tech entrepreneurs to be members of a collaborative community, gain business and personal skills, emotional support, confidence, and build their network to develop the precise set of skills needed to start, run and grow a thriving startup. In all this, seek insight and community from those women who are experiencing the same struggles. By exchanging intelligence, you can learn solutions for future strategies, while also getting answers for your current problems.
2. It’s not just about “leaning in.” Sheryl Sandberg told business women to “lean in,” but it’s also important to remember that success in business has more to it than pushing yourself, but it’s about how you leverage opportunities, your skill set and your community. This is where The Hito Rule comes in, inspired by the Japanese character meaning “human.” Pictorially, the character is comprised of two arcs leaning against one another. Similar to collaborating, Hito reminds us it’s important to lean in, lean up, and lean on your community to better your business. There’s always an exchange; you’ll help someone out and they, in turn, will help you — which, brings me to the importance of networking:
3. Networking isn’t about quantity, but quality. Aim high to meet trusted and well-respected advisors and partners for future opportunities. Facetime is invaluable and strong connections are made by engaging with the same people more than once. Remember to be tactical with the events you attend. Don’t go to a free event because it’s free. Spend your time at specific events. For example, instead of going to a general tech startup event, attend a specific gathering like a Speakers Panel for Angel Investors in the gaming industry. By narrowing your scope, you’ll meet the right niche of people and begin to cement strong relationships.
4. There’s nothing like finding strength and accountability in a community that you’ve helped build. Community and understanding what a fellow founder is going through is invaluable, and Women’s Startup Lab has been critical in many women’s business development. All Cohort members contribute to the success, lessons, and culture to Women’s Startup Lab. As one founder noted, “Women’s Startup Lab makes you accountable, but it’s a different accountability than what you have with a Board of Directors.” Imbue meaning into your work by connecting with others as well as yourself. In business, it’s important to find your own color or song and you’ll resonate more with investors and your audiences.
5. There are always options. As a founder, you determine the path for your business success. Sometimes, the navigation takes a different route than what we see modeled in Silicon Valley, but that doesn’t mean it’s a wrong choice. Through mentors and hearing alternative ways of doing things, founders can learn how to incorporate new techniques to carve an alternative route to success.