The following is an address I gave to the second Women Entrepreneurs Festival, held on January 17-18th of this year.
This year we chose the theme "making it" for the Women Entrepreneurs Festival. A maker is a person who creates something. Women tend to create businesses that fill a void in their lives. As women we tend to have this desire to take care of others. It is innate. It isn't surprising that a woman invented the stove, refrigerator, dishwasher, ironing board, liquid paper, Scotchguard, the Apgar test, disposable diapers, fire escapes, and of course chocolate chip cookies. There were many other innovations that came from women but we weren't allowed to file for our own patents until 1840. How crazy is that? No doubt we have come pretty far since then.
Throughout my career I have made things. Even as a kid my first entrepreneurial venture was making cinnamon sticks and selling them to kids in my elementary school. I started off making profits for a large organization. I then moved into making clothing for the large sized women's market. During this time I was also making children which in turn meant creating a home. I struggled with the work life balance, particularly after I had children, as many do.
I always thought that I was going to be the bread winner yet after having two children I decision to stay home for a while while I baked chocolate chip cookies and made a variety of things with our children. I did love being home but mentally I yearned for more.
Life is a journey and the dots always seem to connect. I returned to the work force in a start-up where I got my mojo back. I was able to find my own identity again. Being a woman entrepreneur and the oldest one in the room at the time allowed me to create a structure that worked well for me and my family. Once I had created a structure that worked for me it was really hard to ever give it back. That is the beauty of being your own boss. It is the freedom that comes from being an entrepreneur.
I would bet that every woman in this room has dreamed of doing great things with their career. We want to follow our passions, feed our egos, and live our lives on all cylinders. We want to have it all. Technology is giving us a platform to do that but there is more to it than that.
First of all, building a business is hard work. There is no magic bullet and there is no such thing as an overnight success. Being a woman starting a company is even harder. We have to push boundaries to get our businesses off the ground. It is far from glamorous but it is seriously exhilarating. It is an emotional roller coaster and if somebody tells you it isn't they aren't telling you the truth. If women want to change the ratio and proliferate women led businesses, then the change has to start with us.
When I started out my career I was working in corporate America. I was truly blind sided by what I saw. Men moved up more quickly and women competed with each other in way that men did not. Women did not look at their peers as people who could help them move forward but as another barrier to get thru to their next promotion. That kind of mentality has changed over time but there is more work to do.
We need to collaborate and mentor each other. We need to find mentors and peer groups where we can learn from each other by picking each others brains. It isn't about emulating your mentor it is about learning from them so several are recommended. Those conversations will enable us to create the tool kits for out own business.
Women need to take more risks. The thing about risk is that it can lead to extraordinary success (and failure). This kind of success can only be achieved by being an entrepreneur and owning your own life and company. We need to be able to plunge in more often with two feet first and ask questions later. We are much more calculating about risk then men and in order to be successful entrepreneurs we need to start shooting first and asking questions later. Our companies will evolve over time and what we think was going to happen won't and what we believe won't happen will.
At Techstars, both women and men were asked to be mentors for the start-up companies going through the program. Every man that was asked to be a mentor said yes without a question. Every woman asked what would be expected of them, how often would they have to come, they wanted to know the rules of the game before committing.
That was an opportunity to be part of the game. And the truth is you didn't necessarily need to show up everyday. The men understood that. The women didn't. We need to be more self-confident with an independent mind set about just going for it.
We need to build our businesses with teams that challenge us. We need to be strategic about our businesses from day one. We aren't building families here, we are building businesses. We must create the right team that is going to help us succeed in our businesses. We tend to be loyal to a fault. We have to hire competent trustworthy people. And we have to move people out of our businesses if they are not competent and trustworthy. We cannot put a priority on loyalty over performance.
How can we build businesses and brands that eventually will not need us? The value in a business comes from setting the right foundation from the start so that eventually every role can replaced with a new set of people.That includes you. That is how we should be thinking about our companies. Use yourself in the brand but create a separation between you and the brand of the company. When we think of Foursquare or Twitter we don't necessarily think about the entrepreneurs behind those companies but when we think of Oprah and Martha Stewart you do. We need to built more Foursquares and Twitters.
I encourage you to use all of your assets. I learned this early on. When I was working an assistant store manager at Macys I worked for an amazing woman. She was smart, brilliant and she knew exactly how to get what she wanted. She was my mentor. She had the confidence that came from her belief that she was the smartest person in the room. We should all learn from that. Once every few months the big boys (yes the men who happened to run the company) would come on a store visit. As an assistant store manager I would walk the top management through my departments introducing them to the managers that reported to me as we recited the numbers of our business so they knew how on top of things we were. For my first visit, I got to the store early and of course wore my black suit. My boss called me to come upstairs to her office for a quick meeting before the boys showed up. I went upstairs and my mouth dropped because she was wearing a tight black leather mini skirt with a pair of 4" high red pattern leather pumps and a tight black sweater. I couldn't believe it. I said to her, don't know you know who is coming today? Her response...yes I do. What was my take away? Know your audience and be a woman not a man.
Don't be afraid to ask for something. And for god sakes we need to stop saying I'm sorry. Sorry for what, asking for what we deserve? Confidence is a choice or as my son says it is a necessity. Create your own path. Be successful at whatever it is your choose to do. As women we need to lead and by leading we inspire others. Leading means supporting other women entrepreneurs in any way that we can. We should all do what we can to see more women running companies. Here is what I do, I invest in those women. If I invest in ten women who are starting their own companies then I have just changed the statistics. Now there are ten more women running companies. I'd like to see more women that have the means and also experience behind them do that. Help more women entrepreneurs be successful by mentoring them to navigate the waters of growing a company.
Recently I was interviewed at an event put on by 85 Broads. The room was filled with women who were mostly out of the finance industry. One woman got a little pissy with me about how I was championing women entrepreneurs in the start-up/tech community and she was angry because in regards to her industry that she couldn't get any higher up the ladder and she wanted to run the place. I questioned her to why did she stay with that company? My advice to her was here is a room of super successful women in the finance industry, at the end of the day only one person gets to run Goldman Sachs, so why doesn't she collaborate with a few other women that are movers and shakers and create your own Goldman Sachs. Now that would inspire other women. I bet they would do a better job too. As Janet Hanson said to me, at one point corporate America becomes rungless so why continue trying to charge up that ladder. We need to take more risks and start our own companies and that give us the ability to balance our own life between work, friends and family.
Here is one thing that women do that men don't. We are incredibly judgmental of each other. We need to stop judging others and start focusing on what is in front of us. We look at other women and say, where did she get those awful shoes, look at that haircut, yikes what an outfit, why is she flirting with that guy, how did she get that funding and I didn't? It has to stop. We have to stop it because who the hell really cares. I bet half of us in this audience can barely boil water. Does that matter? Does it make us less able to be successful at our chosen path? No.
What we need to do is applaud each others' efforts as we start our own companies, we need to help each other figure out how to find the perfect engineer, to share our rolodexes, to be champions of each other and be honest about how difficult it is to start a company and that includes sharing how you actually find time to buy groceries and get your hair cut.
This room is a cross section of women of all ages who have all come here today from a different path. Some of us have already started our own companies, others are thinking about jumping in the game. This is an environment for everyone to put their guard down and talk about the real deal. Last year on one of the panels somebody asked a panelist about the first year of her business. You hear from most entrepreneurs that everything is just great. There is this eternal optimism. The panelist said she pretty much cried every day of the first year. There was an audible sigh in the room.
Let's be champions of each other level not only by the excitement of our ideas and the frustrations of raising money or finding the right hire but also by sharing our favorites websites so we can get shit done and by sharing the fact that haven't had time for a mani-pedi in over a month. Most important it today we need to meet as many people as we can in this community. We have put together the people in this room because you are leaders in the community. Use this event to network, create connections and use our collective intelligence to move our companies and ideas forward to be the makers of the next wave of women led start-ups.