As a startup founder, a lot of women approach me asking for advice on how to get ahead in business at their company, or advice on how to start their own. Lots of ideas come to mind, I would have done things completely differently now that I’ve gone through the experience and I’m so eager to share these lessons with other founders, especially female founders because it’s so important that there are more of us that become successful.
There is a consistent theme that I see in many of these women I speak with, which is that they put impossibly high expectations on themselves and over-think many of the early steps, oftentimes being so pragmatic that they’re not as good at telling the story of their company.
I was fully guilty of this myself. I locked myself in a room, building for a year and a half before talking about what I was working on even to friends. I waited twice as long as I should have before fundraising because I wanted to have more data and a more compelling pitch. I didn’t network with early stage VCs because I thought that was less important than just showing them awesome numbers (heads up they don’t really care that much about the numbers at the end of the day, they invest in who they like and want to work with). We didn’t do much PR in the first few years because I wanted to do things and show them rather than talk.
I did these things because I thought it was the smarter way, but instead it was the slower, harder way. I see other female founders making these same mistakes and I want to tell them they’re doing themselves and their business a disservice. Looking back, the culmination of these things ultimately wasted a lot of time and prevented me from learning and growing faster.
I get why a lot of female founders I meet do this. There’s so much at stake when starting a company, and especially if you haven’t done it before you want to make sure you don’t make stupid moves. When you’re the minority (very weird to say that as a white woman founder I’m a minority in tech, but sadly it’s true, especially years ago when I started) there’s pressure to do better than your peers to get the same deal or a less desirable one. But we need to stop doing this.
The reality is that when I meet male founders in a similar stage of their companies, many of them do not get hung up on so many details. They focus on a job until it’s done enough, and they move on. They hang with the boys and it benefits their fundraisers and their professional relationships. They look people in the eyes and say “We’re doing incredibly well, we’re going to kill it” when they might be doing ok, but this instills confidence in others and helps them recruit, raise more, and build a reputation for their business.
Now I’m not saying talk more and have less substance, or don’t be forthright about how things are going. I’m saying that until you know, even if there are challenges, overcome them quickly and have confidence in yourself and your team to fix them. Yes, focus on the right things, work your face off, and improve every day but run fast, spend some time building relationships, and have an incredible story to share externally along the way.