Don't get me wrong, I love men. Some of my best friends are guys. David Beckham's one and my granny married three; intelligent, confident and forever towing my car somewhere, the men in my life have always been a source of great inspiration and wisdom to me. So when I launched my own company, I had no idea how much everything would change.
In fact, it was my second business. The first was a conceptual catering company my best friend and I started at 21, when we thought it would be a fantastic idea to start a bakery despite the fact we had no idea how to bake. The resulting summer was a haze of dense Victoria Sponge, laughter and accidentally pouring way too much pink food dye in almost everything - and taught me more about human psychology, sales and why people don't eat cake on a sunny day than anything before.
The second company, I'm happy to report, has been a bit less of a baking bloodbath. About Time, an digital women's magazine that explores everything it's about time you tried in London, launched a month ago; the magazine received 12,000 hits on Day One and has been growing steadily since to reach 45k users in its first month. And what happens when you're 23, a female and suddenly in charge of this beautiful, wild thing that seems to be dragging you into the spotlight with it? You either put success down to chance or you say 'I planned that'.
Here's some things that 'how-to' business books on female enterprise don't teach you: firstly, you're going to look like a baby panda from falling asleep with your mascara on at your keyboard a lot, and, secondly, lots of people are going to stop liking you. It's a sad truth, but the perception of success is going to do strange things to your friendships and relationships as a girl. Your good friends will become closer, and everyone else may well disappear from your life.
I think this is because in business, qualities of the directness, confrontation and negotiation are lauded in men, but apply the self-same qualities to women and they are 'ugly'. After the success of About Time's launch, I found myself isolated. I would naturally talking it down, blushing when people asked and wanting to divert attention away the project... Why? Because I've watched Dragon's Den enough to know that people don't really like the Woman in Business.
I'm not stupid. People do deals with those that they trust, and no-one seems to warm to the proud and loud, ruthless and fearless ambitious woman - they like the woman who flicks her hair, laughs softly and puts a man's needs before hers. Sometimes this woman wears pink sparkly lip gloss, and everything that's happened is chance, not a part of a big old plan.
Just look at coverage of female entrepreneurs in the news - how many times have you read about the 'accidental entrepreneur' who had a great idea for a business after she had a baby / was really bored at home / stumbled on something / got ill / got hitched. It's so often branded as chance; an idea for a company that sprung out of the mundanity of every day life for the 30-something housewife. Said entrepreneurs are always 'surprised' and 'delighted' - they never say, 'yeah, well like I knew it was going to happen'. That would be most improper.
Thus we've been conditioned by the media to think that when a man succeeds, it's the act of hard work and confidence, and when a women succeeds, it's luck.
And I think I had subconsciously moulded myself around these expectations; when meeting men, I would catch myself trying to look and act more feminine, wearing lighter colours and florals rather than a suit and super high heels, in an attempt to seem less of a 'threat'. Was I embarrassed by the success of the venture? Perhaps a little. Thus in truth I was relieved to have an advertising agency come in and negotiate on my behalf - suddenly I was free of the burden of appearance. I could get back to the business without worrying what men would think of me.
And that's the problem, really. For women, business is based on looks and appearance. It's not just about how well the company is performing, but how we act - it's personal, as much about smiles as stats. And that needs to change.
This self-effacing attitude is only creating a ceiling for ourselves; it's because of the fear of perception and image that women don't speak up enough about their successes. We talk of wanting equality - and yet it's us that is creating our own problem.
The silence needs to be broken - young female entrepreneurs need to be able to talk about their work, what we have, want and can achieve, without the fear of being branded as a nastier version of Deborah Meadan. There's nothing wrong with having a plan; there's nothing wrong with actively striving for success.
So stop being scared of what people think of you; if you lose half your friends for coming across as too ambitious, just ask 'would a guy get this treatment'. If the answer's no, then they weren't worth your friendship in the first place. Now let's go out and do something truly, truly amazing.
It begins with cutting the 'accidental' entrepreneur crap - sometimes women start businesses because they realise a gap in the market for fresh vegetable juices when nursing their baby, and sometimes they plan to start a business, and they do it. Female entrepreneurship can be active, as well as reactive. It's about time we realised that.Suggest a correction