This time last year, I was announced as a finalist for a Woman of the Future Award in the Science and Technology category. As the press descended on me for interviews and quotes, I realised I was asking myself all the same questions. How did I feel about being a woman in business? Was I struggling to make my way in my chosen field? It prompted me to write about my experience of being a young, female technologist running a business in a predominantly male landscape.
A year has passed since then. I am a year older, hopefully somewhat wiser and I am lucky enough to have another three hundred and sixty-five days of business experience under my belt. Oh, and I own a lot more shoes - because I'm a woman, you know?
I started my business straight out of university, so every day throws up new challenges. A lot can happen in a year - especially when it's 1/25th of your life and a whopping one third of your career to date. Over this time, I have realised that there are lessons to be learned, areas in which to grow, and things you just have to accept.
Other people are amazing.
As a person, I don't really lack confidence. I've always known what I want, where I want to be and how I intend to accomplish everything. I don't know whether it's down to being young, naive, (female?) or all of those things combined, but I used to feel a bit like I had something to prove. I wasn't ashamed to ask for help, but always did so with a minor feeling of defeat. Opening myself up to other people has helped me in more ways than I can list. I learn more, I understand myself better and I have access to years of experience. Best of all, I have an incredible support network behind me regardless or whether I have a business problem or am just having a bad day. The independent, sole warrior may be ferocious, but she sure gets lonely sometimes.
Girls are special.
Alright, let's just get this one out of the way. I am a girl. I wear make up, I paint my nails and my hair gets all messed up when it's windy. It shouldn't matter that I run a business, or that I work in technology, but to some people it does - and that's fine. We won't bother with the 'women in business' discussion but I have learned that if you happen to be one, people are going to want you to talk about it. A year ago, I wasn't really sure how I felt about the whole thing or how comfortable I was being placed on a giant pedestal of femininity, but today I am forthcoming with my opinion and respect that I am fortunate enough to be in a position to do some good with it. At the end of the day, the statistics remain the same: there are fewer women then men in both the business and technology worlds so ultimately, anything we can do to encourage more young girls to pursue their ambitions in these areas, the better.
You're always learning.
If I could, I would go back and sit through my university lectures all over again. Well, apart from the ones about the Harvard Referencing system; I'd probably give those a miss. I like to expand my horizons and one of the things I love most about my career is that I'm learning every day. It can be exciting, eye-opening and exhausting - sometimes all at once. As a young founder, I definitely underestimated just how much I was going to have to take on board in short periods of time. It can be pretty taxing, but it's worth it when you look back and realise you now pack a mighty skillset that far surpasses the humble foundations you started out on. Whether you realise it or not, you take something away from almost every experience - and that's pretty magical.
If you happen to be one of the people waiting patiently for my product to launch, I don't need to tell you that things go wrong. Deals fall through, suppliers don't deliver or prototypes don't work. It's not just work-related either; your personal life can really screw you over if it wants to. And trust me when I say you always get the flu when you have the most work to do or an awesome party to go to. More often than not, it's not even your fault, but when things go wrong it can be frustrating, disheartening and can throw you off course. Riding out the bumps can be tricky, but it is how you deal with these setbacks that can really define you as a person. When I started Little Riot I battled business problems as if they were my own personal shortcomings, whereas now I aim to gain something positive from every situation. Let your setback be the platform for your comeback.
Never underestimate yourself.
I think this is the greatest thing I have learned in the past year. Never underestimate what you are capable of and, more importantly, do not let anyone else tell you what you can or cannot achieve. There is a fine line between confidence and arrogance, but who cares which side of it you fall on if it gets the job done? I am shamelessly proud to be able to say I have accomplished things in 2013 that people told me I would not be able to - and I wouldn't have managed any of it had I listened to the doubters. No one ever got punished for pursuing their passion (apart from witches, but I think you can even try that today if you really want to) so a big life/business lesson for me has been that anything is worth a shot. The harder you work, the luckier you get, so with enough commitment there's a good chance your own self-belief will deliver results.
Success is a fickle beast and can be defined and quantified in many ways. If I can sit here in a year's time, having grown as a person and learned as much as I have in this past year, I will consider myself a very lucky person. If I still have a company, that will just be a bonus.
Oh, and our parents were right; for every year you age, your birthday gets less exciting.
Joanna Montgomery was shortlisted for the 2013 Women of the Future Awards. For further information click here. The awards ceremony will take place on Wednesday 13 November and is hosted by Real Business in association with Shell.