How often are you asking yourself big questions about the decisions you make day to day? I know for me it’s not often enough. I read books, listen to podcasts, have engaging conversations with friends, yet it’s when I am quite that I’m able to process all this information. It could be a walk in the woods or when I’m at home by myself, this is when I decide it’s relevance in my life, what I want, and ponder the decisions I’m making. So what am I pondering now?
The role of women in the startup ecosystem. I know tech is the hot subject, but let’s just start with women in the startup scene first. Then we can touch on the tech aspect. Yes, we all know there is a gap. What I want to talk about is what we do within that gap and the choices we make.
I’ve founded several businesses over the years and been active in the startup scene off and on through them. I never considered my businesses startups though, they were just businesses. Some I sold, others closed, and some left to go inactive. It wasn’t until recently that I really felt like I was in the startup scene. Why? What made me feel like I was really in startup land? Maybe it was all the pitch events I’ve gone to recently or the fact that I am now starting another venture. It’s been 3 years since I started my last new venture and the world as a whole seems to be moving so quickly let alone the lighting pace of the startup world. I feel the energy and restlessness of the other startups and founders and how hard everyone is working on their idea. It’s intoxicating. Yet it feels very much like a machine. The machine of venture capitalism, of accelerators, pitches, how to raise funds, the list goes on of topics and systems that are set up to support start ups. Don’t get me wrong, this is all great. It’s just figuring out how to navigate it that can be challenging.
Now I will bring it back around to women in this crazy ecosystem. I want to talk about in particular the types of businesses women are founding and the support for those businesses. I myself am founding a new lifestyle business and I’ve seen many other women lean towards that or product based businesses. Tech is still dominated by men. I say that with no connotations, it is what it is right now. The issue here is that a lot of the support for startups goes to tech businesses. I know of some programs that focus on women or creative ventures, yet the top dollars and resources are still for tech.
As a women in this strange startup world I feel like our choices are to stick to our ideas regardless of what the industry leaders or ‘experts’ say or to start a conversation with them about how we could take our product or lifestyle brands and techify them. I know there are other options, at the moment I see these as the 2 bigs ones in front of us. Stay with our original idea or start to experiment with how to modify it to fit into the ever increasing popular tech category.
I want to talk about 3 things around this decision to modify our ideas or product — power, criteria, and what I call the 3 legged stool.
Let’s start with the 3 legged stool. This includes your values, vision, and mission. This is your core, without this you cannot move forward. (As I am typing this I realize I need to redefine this for my own venture so I feel your pain around digging into this:) What I mean by values are the values of the new venture you are starting. For example, mine are connection, self-expression, passion, growth, beauty, and joy. This is what the business is built on and the filter through which I make my decisions. For vision, this is how the world is a better place because your business is in it, it’s inspirational and aspirational. For me, my vision is to see other women light up. You know the look when you see a woman truly happy and excited about something;) The mission is then how you accomplish your vision. (Still working on the wording for this myself.)
So how does this apply to women in the startup ecosystem? You need to know what these are for yourself in order to make the best decisions for you and your business. If you are debating on whether to seek funding, apply to an accelerator program, or bring on a new partner, these are your guiding posts. Will the core of the business still be the same if you decide to do X, Y, or Z? Keep these values close to your heart, they are non-negotiable.
The next is criteria, how are you and your business being judged and by whom? What is their experience and perspective? I feel like it’s important for anyone not to take anything personally but especially women in this space. Too often I find myself on the feedback loop from hell (I should have applied, why am I beating myself up for not applying and the circle continues) or having a list of coulds, shoulds and have tos running through my mind. The startup space is fierce and there is competition for attention, funding, and spots in programs. Yet take at step back and ask yourself what criteria are decisions being made by. Do the decision makers have this freely available? Also, what criteria are you making your decisions by? It goes both ways.
Lastly, remember your power. Yes you. There are more and more opportunities for startups each day. There may be a day where they are vying for your attention rather than the other way around. Either way, you have a choice on what to do with your business, time, and money. Don’t be intimidated by the credentials of so and so or start to say ‘No, I couldn’t possibly do that’. We are all a little crazy for starting businesses in the first place so we might as well own it. Remember that your power lies with you, not because of any external validation. Yes those are nice, and also fleeting. Everyone that you may look up to or be slightly intimidated by had to start somewhere too.
With these 3 things in mind, your power, criteria, and the 3 legged stool, I find it much easier to navigate this space. I just keep showing up in my own way, that’s what will change the space. Everyone being themselves and not someone they think other people want to see. That’s how the gap will start to change, because each of us fabulous, entrepreneurial women are showing up as ourselves. Not trying to be like anyone else.
Also, going back to my original question of options… How have I changed my business because of the ecosystem? I’ve actually started to toy with the idea of adding internet of things to my idea. It’s in progress yet I know which aspects of my business are non-negotiable and I am playing with the rest. It has taught me to see things in new ways and ask myself tougher questions. Don’t be afraid of these changing dynamics and the focus on tech, start to ask questions and think about where you want you and your business to be.
Ultimately there is always a place for lifestyle brands, products, and any other underdogs in the startup scene. There is a space for it because you say so. Not because of what anyone else says. That has been my lesson. If I want to see more handmade products, then I need to support that. If I don’t, will that go away like my favorite book stores too? We all have a say in these things. What will yours be? What big questions are you asking yourself?