There’s Never Been a Better Time for Female Tech Entrepreneurs
When I was a young girl, I knew that I wanted to run my own business someday. In fact, I would end up leading almost every club or team that I got involved in at school. However, by the time I actually began my career, I was well aware that the odds were not entirely in my favor due to my gender and ethnicity. I didn’t let that get in the way, though, and worked hard to prove myself. Today, I am proud to be the CEO of MetricStream, a leading technology company that I helped build from the ground up.
That being said, I know how daunting it is to be a woman, and especially a female entrepreneur in the field of technology, where the lack of gender diversity is a serious cause for concern. Silicon Valley Bank’s recent “U.S. Startup Outlook 2016” report found that 66 percent of startups have no women on their boards, and 46 percent have no women in executive positions. However, about a quarter of respondents (26 percent) said that they have programs in place to increase the number of women in leadership roles. And therein lies the good news – things are slowly but surely changing.
Copia, Privail, and Senseware are three of the hottest tech startups in the U.S. today. They’re also all led by women. CEO and co-founders Komal Ahmad, Anwaar Al-Zireeni, and Serene Almomen are showing the world that women can build and run tech-centered businesses just as successfully as men.
The tech industry is fast realizing this, which is why Google Entrepreneurs, for instance, initiated the #40Forward effort, committing $1 million to 40-startup focused organizations to increase the representation of women in their respective tech communities. Meanwhile, an increasing number of startup accelerators are coming forward to support women entrepreneurs.
Women are also speaking up. They’re bringing attention to their challenges as tech entrepreneurs. And they’re joining hands to support each other. Today, there are startup communities like Women’s Startup Lab, Startup Chicks, and Women Who Startup, as well as organizations like Watermark, who are doing some incredible work in encouraging, mentoring, and nurturing female tech entrepreneurs.
All these efforts and more are certainly paying off. In 2009, only 9.5 percent of startups had at least one woman founder, but by 2014, that rate had almost doubled to 18 percent, according to CrunchBase data reported in TechCrunch.
Against this backdrop of increasing opportunities and support, what are some of the things that aspiring women entrepreneurs can do to increase their odds of success?
My advice is to make a PACT with yourself where:
- “P” stands for Planning your path
- “A” stands for taking Action to differentiate yourself
- “C” stands for leading with Confidence
- “T” stands for leveraging the right Tools
Plan Your Path
Having a plan gives you a sense of purpose, and helps you stay focused on what’s important, even when things change. The most successful entrepreneurs I know all had a plan for how they intended to achieve their vision, build their brand, manage their cash flow, monetize their product, and so on.
Another good practice is to research your chosen market. Determine how your product will fit in there, and whether or not there is a genuine need for it at this moment. Equally important, find the right funding. Many women entrepreneurs struggle at this stage because investors don’t take them seriously. The key is to make sure that you have a great product that solves a real problem. Also, look for investors who support women, and when talking to them, lead with your credentials, and be confident.
Take Action to Differentiate Yourself
When I was striving to break into the executive ranks at IBM, I had to do something to stand out among 150,000+ employees. So, I began taking on the roles that not many others wanted – the ones that involved fixing a broken business, or taking a plateaued business and growing it. It was a challenging job, but it got me noticed, and set me on the fast track to becoming a high-ranking executive.
My point is that in a sea of aspiring and hungry entrepreneurs, you need to be able to differentiate yourself. Sometimes, it could mean demonstrating that you know your market, your prospects, and their needs better than anyone else, or responding to customers quickly. Other times, it could mean getting out of your comfort zone and taking bold but calculated risks. All these things will help you stand out.
Lead with Confidence
It’s a well-known fact that compared to men, women generally underestimate their abilities, opinions, decisions, and expertise. However, if you’re an entrepreneur, you need to lead with confidence. How do you build your confidence? First, find an area in technology or business that you’re passionate about. Your confidence will shine though when you’re doing something that you love.
Second, read and observe as much as you can about your market, the pertinent technologies, and the landscape, so that when you’re talking to customers or investors, your expertise and knowledge comes through.
Third, don’t get discouraged by failures. Get up, dust yourself off, learn what you can from the situation, and then move on.
Fourth, act confidently even though you might not feel like it sometimes. Walk into a room like you belong there. Make eye contact. Offer a firm handshake. Know your capabilities and strengths, and don’t be afraid to put them out there. Remember that confidence inspires people.
Leverage the Right Tools
There are tons of tools out there that can help you become a successful entrepreneur. Sites like LinkedIn and Women 2.0 offer great ways to network with peers and influencers in the tech industry. Google Alerts helps you keep your finger on the pulse of the market. And CrunchBase helps you follow what other startups are doing and where investors are putting their money.
I also firmly believe in the importance of mentors who can not only advise and guide you, but also back up your credentials, and put you in touch with the right people. When I started out in my career, I would just “adopt” mentors by going up to them and asking their opinion about a specific challenge or idea. Later, I would make sure to go back and let them know how things turned out. And inevitably, they were happy because their advice had had a positive impact – which, in turn, made them more willing to help me again. So, find mentors and don’t forget to be a mentor yourself to someone who needs it.
The Bottom Line
There is a global talent shortage, specifically a leadership talent shortage. ManpowerGroup’s annual Talent Shortage Survey found that among U.S. employers, 48 percent acknowledge that talent shortages have a medium to high impact on their business, but few are putting talent strategies in place to address the problem. An alarming one in five U.S. employers is still not pursuing strategies to overcome talent shortages, despite the negative impact on their business, which include: reduced competitiveness and productivity (41 percent); increased employee turnover (32 percent); higher compensation costs (32 percent), and reduced employee engagement/morale (32 percent).
The global economy of the future requires the kind of skills that women embody, including the ability to empathize, to build strong relationships, to foster trust, to multi-task, to support each other, to be problem-solvers, to come up with creative ideas, and to be strong leaders. These are the qualities that will see an increasing number of women bloom into successful entrepreneurs in this year and beyond. Today, women entrepreneurs are leading some of the most successful tech companies, like Amy Pressman, president of Medallia, a true unicorn. They are building and advancing some of the most exciting technologies, such as Lisa Dyson, CEO of Kiverdi. The time is right, ladies. Let’s seize the opportunity.