During my entrepreneurial adventures there have been many occasions in which being a woman was the exception. There are not a lot of women in technology. Nor are there a lot of female high- growth entrepreneurs. My business partner at Improve Digital Joelle Frijters and I have been confronted with prejudice, stupid questions, offending assumptions and people being surprised that we are women.
It's the reality that when people picture a successful entrepreneur that can build and scale a business, they picture a man. It's also the reality that women themselves often assume certain things are not achievable or possible. A British documentary maker summarised this perfectly: "If she does not see it, she can't be it."
And that is why role models are so important. Role models are key to changing perceptions. The effect of Marissa Mayer and Sheryl Sandberg have not gone unnoticed across the globe. When more and more women are seen in the top of organisations and running high growth technology businesses, the more this will be regarded as the standard and a perfectly normal, and logical, path to choose.
That's why Joelle and I started the initiative Inspiring Fifty, to celebrate role models across Europe and shine a spotlight on them to ultimately bring positive change in female leadership and the perception towards it, especially in the technology industry.
But it isn't just women already building their careers we need to reach. It's also the future generation. And that's why I've also just launched Project Prep, a novel with the aim to engage and inspire 10-14 year old girls and young women, highlighting how real, how exciting, and how cool setting up your own tech business can be. While Project Prep has just been published in the Netherlands, I hope to publish it in the UK, US and other markets later this year.
Many of the Inspiring Fifty fabulous role models have already kindly shared their top tips on Huffington Post to help inspire women to build a successful career in tech. Here are some of the things I've learned along the way as a female tech entrepreneur:
Don't put limitations on yourself or you will never give yourself the chance to achieve something really big. Think big - and ask yourself 'why would it not be possible?' When I launched Project Prep for example, I thought it would be fantastic to have the support of Queen Maxima of the Netherlands. Some people laughed at my idea as impossible - but I never once thought that and on the 17 June I walked into the Palace to greet the Queen and present her the first copy of the book. My 'big' idea got me there. And now I need to find publishers in the UK and US, but I don't doubt I can do it. Not for a moment.
2.Have fearless ambition
See your idea as successful, and go ahead and do it. Don't think too much about the reasons why not to do it and act on the reasons to do it. Have courage in your idea and don't listen to anyone who tells you it's not possible. When we launched Improve Digital, people thought we wouldn't be able to compete with the big US players. But we just started anyway. And proved them wrong. Of course the challenges, and knowing things could go wrong at any time, was sometimes scary, but also incredibly exciting.
3.Fake it till you make it
Think about how you want to be perceived, rather than what the reality might be. For example, you could decide to wait to announce a product to the press when it is fully out of beta, or you could do it earlier. The reality is probably the same -but the perception is different. Being the one who launches a new product to the market first will make you seem bigger. It's not about lying, it's about timing, messaging and how you present yourself.
4.Celebrate your success
Many people focus too much on the end goal. An exit is of course important, but it can be a long road to that point and if you don't celebrate all your small wins, it won't be easy to hang in there. And when the exit does happen, you'll look back and realise it's all the small things that made the experience so great. Whether it's a new client, a new release, moving into a shiny new office - there should always be champagne in the fridge, as there is always something to celebrate.
5.Work really hard
The reality is building your own company is really, really hard work. But what sets entrepreneurs apart from others is the ability to persevere against the odds. They hang in there pushing for their dream to become a reality when everybody else would have given up already. And yes, the grass often seems greener on the other side which can be tough. But it probably isn't greener - it's just the PR department saying so (see point 3 on 'faking it').
And last but certainly not least - have a role model who you can look up to for inspiration. They might be someone you know who mentors you personally, or it could be one of our Inspiring Fifty women across Europe. We all need a role model, no matter at what level we are. My personal role model is Neelie Kroes - and watching how she works has driven me for years. And rest assured these women will have all faced the toughest of challenges to get to where they are, but what makes them inspirational is they kept going. And who knows? One day you might find yourself named as one of the most inspirational women in European tech yourself. And then I hope you will share your story of success with those who are inspired by you. I wish you luck on your journey.
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