Dear Female Founders …
To celebrate International Women’s Day, I want to highlight some of the lessons I have learned from some of our inspiring Ignite female founders. I also want to share a few conclusions about what I think will make you more successful and happy (whatever your gender).
Starting a business is scary and hard.
When I was a founder back in the day, we started our startup straight out of Uni. Over the course of the past 2.5 years, I have seen female founders jump into this journey from all sorts of backgrounds and careers. Here are a few inspiring anecdotes:
More than one female founder on our most recent pre-accelerator programme quit their job to become a founder. I remember speaking to Hira during our interview. She seemed stressed when talking about her current job — but that drastically changed when she spoke about her ideas for her startup; Your Medicine Your Choice. We were blown away by her passion and drive for providing medication to patients with specific dietetic needs. Since then, she has evolved as a founder and has found a better reason to get out of bed in the mornings. It must have been a scary step — but it paid off.
Hira is just one example — but all of our female founders definitely fall into this category. (Yes, you too!)
Never stop learning
Having a specific skillset is great but — and especially in the startup world — the skills required in specific roles can change all the time. Even more importantly, we change, and what we were passionate about today might not be what fulfils us in 2 years time.
For this particular point, I like to think about my friend and amazing female founder Bailey. She used to be Head of Marketing for challenger bank Monzo but decided that she wanted to take on a new challenge. She learned how to code; gained more experience in different areas and recently started her own business, Toucan. Whether it’s a big change and learning new skills like this or a small one: learning new things should be on the daily To-do for every founder.
A special shoutout also goes to Aga from Langu, who graduated with her second masters during her programme. Never stop learning!
Don’t be scared to change
Rebecca applied to our last pre-accelerator with an idea that was very product-focused. Through speaking to mentors and her time on the programme, she realised that We Are Auburn could be so much more. She is now determined to build a huge community around strong women who want to be more confident. This is only the first step in a journey to one day improving the self-confidence of all women all over the world. Taking this huge step was risky but inspiring. There are exciting things to come and I can’t wait to see the next generation of empowered women leaders and change-makers transform our world.
You can have it all
We had quite a few inspiring mums (and dads!) start businesses and join our programmes over the past few years. They have managed to follow their passion and, at the same time, have families and work-life harmony. I’m sure it’s not always easy but it still proves that it’s possible.
Founders like Sara (Happity), Berna (Little Sleeper) and Gemma (AllByMama), who have used their networks of mums and parents to create exciting businesses, are great role models for other parents who don’t think it’s possible or could work out for them.
It can be terrifying to feel weak or lack confidence, or to think we’re seen that way by others around us.
That’s why many of us go through life and business pretending to be bulletproof. After all, aren’t strong leaders supposed to put their emotions aside to get things done? I don’t believe this is true and there is research that proves that a lack of vulnerability can be harmful to you and your business.
The founders that come to mind here are Emma and Lizzy from Myndr. They have used their own experiences and challenges with mental health to fuel building a business that helps others overcome common mental health problems, like the fear of failure and anxiety.
That makes them incredibly authentic and strong as founders because they are not trying to seem perfect. Social researcher Brené Brown said it well: “Most of us don’t trust perfect and that’s a good instinct.”
This brings us to the next point.
Be real a.k.a Don’t Believe The Hype
This is an incredibly important point.
The first founders I think of are Amaliah founders Nafisa and Selina. Rather than just sharing the wins and highs of their startup journey, they try to give you an insight into everyday life on their Instagram and keep pointing out that you should not believe the hype. Being credible and working hard as founders seems to be the right way to go if you look at their success so far!
Choose your own path
There is no blueprint for being successful as a founder, although it might seem like it if you look at any startup success stories in the news.
Firstly, in my opinion, you need to define success for yourself and do your best to build a business that works for you and your team. It can be hard not to listen when you are told that you need to raise more money or that you need to make revenue quicker than you are.
Tash from Our Daily Thread always seemed to have a clear vision of how she wanted to build her startup. Although she is a first-time founder, she quickly decided that she didn’t want to raise money after the programme to maintain control and to be able to create the type of business she was happy with and wanted to build. At least not straight away. Looking at her numbers today, she seems to have made the right decision.
Another inspiring founder I think of is Ashley from With Jack. Without getting on the accelerator or raising external investment, she has managed to create a growing, successful business that will change the way freelancers think about insurance. This seems to have been exactly the right path for her.
I believe it’s important to know that your path won’t necessarily be linear and to get comfortable with the fact that there’s not one right way to approach your startup (or career). You’ll take twists and turns that might not always seem totally rational but, if they feel right to you, listen to your gut. You’ll end up exactly where you’re supposed to be.
Define your own success
I think success is a really personal thing. You need to define for yourself what will make you happy and successful. I have seen so many inspiring founders — and especially female founders — that don’t want to follow your standard startup venture capital route.
One founder that comes to mind here is Bec from Prolifiko. Very rarely do you come across someone who is so resourceful and seems to be able to make all the right decisions for herself when it gets to what to focus on, what to celebrate and how to shape one’s businesses vision.
I think when it gets to success, you first have to know what you want — you don’t necessarily need to know how you’re going to get there, but you have to be able to visualise what being successful means to you.
You can do anything you want, just not everything! a.k.a Ask for help!
In a startup, you learn to handle anything that comes your way. Even if you have one specific area of responsibility, you very quickly start to stretch yourself massively as your business starts to scale. If you don’t work in the right environment, you might feel reluctant to admit that it’s too much, and that can have serious implications for not only your business but also your health. Asking for help is sometimes hard but you would be amazed by how happy people usually are to help you.
Ting from Busy Backpack has always been the first to let the Ignite team know if she was struggling with something — this made it so much easier for us to help. I have no doubt that she will get what she needs to make her startup a success.
It really is this simple: you just have to talk to others! The journey of doing anything great is always rough, extremely uncomfortable, and full of detours — so you need friends and support to get through it.
These anecdotes were just a few things that I have learned from the founders I have worked with during my time at Ignite. Hopefully, there are some inspiring stories in there for other founders out there.
However, I want to end the post with one little ask.
I strongly believe in supporting female founders and other women to help us all work towards a future where equality isn’t just a buzzword and #BalanceforBetter isn’t just a hashtag. I will make it my mission to put even more focus on helping other female founders by offering more office hours and being more hands-on with helping out. I will also make sure that Ignite highlights women in tech — not just on International Women’s Day but as often as possible. I would love you to do the same!