Who are your women role models? I have always struggled with this question honestly. Growing up, I saw how successful men paved their path, created innovative products, lived daring lives, and were celebrated for it. I remember how much I was in awe of Steve Jobs and his work.
But alas, I only ever saw male entrepreneurs as inspiring figures.
My mom sure set that example and filled the void but I wanted to see more women being celebrated and living as an entrepreneurial success.
As I grew up, I decided that I had to certainly change that course. So, I set out to live by example. I was in Silicon Valley and thought this was my time to shine. Looking back, I feel how naive I was. I remember being the only woman at networking events. Being in an investor meeting but my (male) co-founder being taken more seriously. Dressing up or down because I was always worried about how I would be perceived as an entrepreneur. I tried too hard for people to take me seriously and it was exhausting.
But as times are changing, we see such a fresh wave of women entrepreneurs who truly question the status quo and rise to be incredible role models. Some names like Whitney Wolfe Herd became the youngest woman to take her company public. What a time to be alive!
But, so much more needs to be done for entrepreneurship and a level playing field. We need to normalize women leading, rising, and building wealth around their great ideas.
Here are 5 things I wish I knew when I started my founder journey:
Don’t settle for less than your vision
Take that journal and write down what that ideal life looks like for you. Describe a day of that life and go after it. There are always going to be naysayers asking you to settle for mediocrity. But, the average life was not built for you. Shoot for the start and land there. I remember, when I moved to silicon valley to start my tech company, I was surrounded by friends and relatives, who asked me to get a ‘normal’ job and have a calm life. I am so grateful that I didn’t listen to them. I would have gotten the Alien of Extraordinary Ability Visa, because of my startup and would have still been struggling on a work visa in the US. Taking that path less trodden was utterly mad and difficult but I am proud that I took it. Go take that path and shine on.
There is nothing that beats persistence. I was rejected over 1000 times. By investors, by team members, by prospective advisors and potential customers. Had it not been for my persistence in the face of continuous failure, I don’t think, I would have created an ed-tech startup that became a semi-finalist in the global learning Xprize, sponsored by Elon Musk. Ask yourself, what is your WHY, what is the purpose you want to work on and go for it. Luck and success chase persistent ones.
Choose the right tribe
Being an entrepreneur needs sweat, time and unbridled focus. On this path, you need to have the right partner, friends and supporters. I got lucky that my partner celebrated my ambition, my parents encouraged my dreams and my friends supported my mission. Entrepreneurship isolates you. You know you have to put a brave front for your employees, customers and investors. So, find this tribe where you can share your fears, ambitions and those crazy moments that still make you sane. When I created the New Founder School, I wanted to create this safe space for other new founders so they don’t feel isolated rather supported by people in the same boat.
Use your uniqueness to create innovative companies
We women bring a new perspective to entrepreneurship. It has only been in the last decade that we have started thinking of the point of view of women in products. And the movement that solutions for and by women is only picking up now. So let’s not try to subdue our superpowers, our unique perspectives, and our innovative ideas to fit the traditional entrepreneurship box. My ed-tech company Equally, became a success with moms because I was a teacher and I could bring the empathy of how this product could support working moms and improve their kids’ learning.
I started out scared. When raising our first $150K cheque, I thought I had to ask for a lower valuation because it was my first time being a founder of a tech silicon valley company. I think we always find ways to negotiate poorly in our minds because we think we don’t deserve that. So please, whether it is your company’s equity, first hire, or a simple paycheck, ask for what you deserve.
--Arjita A. Sethi is the Co-Founder of Indiarath, Equally & New Founder School. Views are personal.