As an entrepreneur, I am considered a "late bloomer" as I co-founded my first company, the online queue system Queue-it, five years ago in my late thirties. While the choice to delay entrepreneurship certainly carried its financial disadvantages (I am the main breadwinner in my household), it allowed me to co-found my company based upon the cornerstone of the extensive business experience and network I gained while working in the industry prior to our launch.
I often wonder why I don't come across more female entrepreneurs in the technology industry; while the general gender bias in the IT industry still exists, it's getting more attention and scrutiny now - but the female entrepreneurs are still few and far between. I believe the world needs more female founders in technology - so I wanted to share a few tips especially for future female tech entrepreneurs:
1. Base your first start-up on a field that you are comfortable with professionally
Starting a company will bring on many general business challenges that you wouldn't have even imagined existed, so my recommendation is to make sure that the core of your offering is based on a few elements of technology, concept, business area or other idea that you are thoroughly familiar with. In the case of Queue-it, my co-founders and I had worked in the software development industry for years, which meant that we started with a well-developed software system, confidence in the business plan and model, as well as (most importantly) an extensive personal network, which helped us get those first critical customer references.
2. Forget the "good girl competency check list"
Generally speaking, it is my experience that women - more so than men - have a tendency to want to match all requirements for a new job, a promotion, or starting a business up front, before they apply for the position or found the company. For start-ups, this list is unfortunately an endless one. It is therefore pointless to strive to fulfill all the requirements in advance; you just have to get started and ask around when you come across challenges which are new to you.
3. Establish an advisory board or a board of directors
Be realistic about which areas of the business you and your co-founders will be requiring external help to handle. Some areas may be outsourced (e.g. bookkeeping and graphic design) to consultants, whereas others may rest better within an advisory board or a board of directors made up of people who possess complementary competences to those that you have available in-house. It may seem hard to ask your business connections for this contribution to your success, but I have been very surprised about the willingness and interest in helping that my connections have displayed. I think you will be, too!
4. In a gender-biased industry, you will be faced with discrimination and gender-based resistance - pick your battles and make the best of sticking out
As a woman operating in the vastly male-dominated IT industry, you will occasionally be confronted with various degrees of discrimination - explicit or between the lines. While this is certainly no pleasure, my best advice is to brush it off and focus your energies elsewhere - in other words, pick your battles. Chances are that the individuals behaving this way in a business environment are not worth your time and will bring no business or mental value. Instead, try to focus on the positive consequences of "sticking out in the crowd" - examples of this would be that people are more likely to remember you (and your conversation), and you are more likely to be included in social events in connection with business meetings. Who cares why you were remembered or invited in the first place, if it opened a door to a business advantage? The final business deal will never happen if your value proposition is not relevant, but you need to first get your seat at the table to even present your value proposition to begin with.
5. Take the power
A few years ago, working for a large company, I participated in a meeting for about 50 female leaders within that company. The presenter asked us the question,"Do you have power?"
Four of us raised our hands. Four!
This is lousy, because as a leader - and as an entrepreneur - you must accept that you have power, and you cannot hesitate to use that power in the situations that call for it.
I will leave you with one of my favourite quotes by American actress Roseanne Barr, who put this very precisely:
"The thing women have yet to learn is that nobody gives you power. You just take it!"
Camilla was recently named as one of the fifty most inspiring women in the European technology sector by Inspiring Fifty. Inspiring Fifty is a pan-European programme that identifies, encourages, develops and showcases women in leadership positions within the technology community. The aim is to inspire a new generation of female leaders and entrepreneurs across Europe and indeed worldwide, leading the charge to affect meaningful and durable change.