"It's so Cute You're Doing a Startup!"

Photo Credit: Hank Randall, Brown University; L to R: Me, Sadie Kurzban, Morra Aarons-Mele, Vibha Pinglé, Sarah Carson

Is it hard being a woman entrepreneur? Is it hard getting funding? Is your venture really a ‘business’ or is it ‘just’ a lifestyle business? Given the stories finally coming out from the VC and tech worlds on what women have had to put up with, we know the answers to these questions.  So, when asked to moderate a panel of women entrepreneurs, I thought it was time to change the conversation.

The panel ranged from age 27 to 55, manufacturing to services, for and not-for-profit, and diverse backgrounds.  The discussion was lively, as one would expect from us women, with 3 main insights (yes, they’re based on a small self-selecting sample and are generalizations, but…):

1.  Women are agile entrepreneurs.

Putting issues of funding & access aside, do women approach entrepreneurship differently than men?  Yes! We are more willing to ask questions, which accelerates learning, which accelerates experimentation, testing, prototyping, which gets to answers faster, which results in faster adjustments and pivots based on customer needs.  Our egos are tied to the business’s success, not to being ‘right’, so we let go of assumptions when the data shows otherwise.  And, we marveled at how we get so much more ‘free advice’ (from men) then do our male peers.

2.     Balance is a variety of excesses.

Photo Credit: Hank Randall, Brown University; R to L - Morra Aarons-Mele, Vibha Pinglé, Sarah Carson

A member of the audience shared this insight – what a great summation! We had a wide range in views on this topic.  Sarah Carson feels, “Striving for balance is striving for mediocrity.” Both she and Sadie Kurzban try to do a handful of things very well, forget the rest and manage the guilt (does that ring true!). Vibha Pinglé encourages integrating work and life to reduce the frequency of choosing.  On one occasion she had to take her young son with her to a meeting in South Africa and found him in a tree with the village children showing them his video game.  Not many kids get that kind of experience! Morra Aarons-Mele feels that the definition of balance is up to us, not to society. It’s our decision on how/when/why to scale our business and how to support and raise our family.

3.     It’s not the degree; it’s learning to learn. 

The world tells us the degree matters.  None of us have an MBA and yes, amazingly, we are all successful!  Our undergraduate degrees ranged from STEM to STEAM and while many of us didn’t or hadn’t directly used our area of concentration a lot since college, the process of architecting our own education and learning how to ask great questions, which was key to our undergraduate success, led to our success after college. 

Morra closed out the Q&A with a great piece of advice ~ live with a spirit of abundance.  We women, in general, tend to worry about not having enough – time, money, energy, etc.   But hey, it’s not about re-slicing an existing pie – it’s about making new and bigger pies and being proud of it!

 


Many thanks to the Pembroke Center for Teaching and Research on Women and the Jonathan M. Nelson Center for Entrepreneurship for sponsoring this panel and a personal special thank you to Danny Warshay for such an incredible introduction!

Photo Credit: Hank Randall, Brown University; L to R: Me, Sadie Kurzban, Morra Aarons-Mele, Vibha Pinglé, Sarah Carson

Benefits of Being a Young Entrepreneur

The Founder Project is a new type of venture fund run by students investing in students' startups to create a global student startup ecosystem.  The founder of Founder Project, Ilan Saks, did a guest post and asked me to return the favor, which I did here.  Currently, Founder Project is only in Canada - Montreal & Toronto, but Ilan has plans to expand to the USA... I sure hope so!!!

 

 

The Business Plan Fallacy

As I'm reviewing business plans from college grads I'm mentoring (as an alumnae mentor at Brown Univ ) and from Glengary , the VC firm I'm a partner in, this whole business plan process is getting to me.   So much of what I see in biz plans (and strategies) is, pardon the phrase, BS.  We all know none of us believe any of the numbers is the proformas, the market growth, etc., so why do we bother with all this stuff when we know it's a joke?  I don't know, but here's what I'd like to see in a biz plan for a change.

  1. The current, accurate, realtruthful view of the world - market(s) as it exists and will exist. If it doesn't yet, why, what are the real needs, current and potential competitors (in/out of your market space).  What have others tried and what has succeeded or failed and why. Tell me a TRUE story of the world you're going into - you can use spreadsheets, analysis, etc...you should give me #'s, but tell me how this world really works, not how you'd like it to work.
  2. Clearly state your assumptions and hypotheses (e.g., if we do x, then y will happen; we can make A with $X in T months, we will take C to market and the market will do S) - how will these impact the market you're going after or creating - and ideally, do it in a way that you can change the assumptions so they automatically change the outcome.
  3. Delineate your plan ‘management/mitigation' story - since we know you'll make mistakes in #2 above, what are you going to do when this happens?  This has 3 critical areas: 1) how flexible is your management - can you adapt and shift if necessary? 2) how flexible is your product or service? Can it adapt or is it a binary choice? 3) if things really don't happen as planned, are you done? Do you have other ways to go to market?
  4. People - you need the required resumes of course, but what matters more is their level of passion, commitment, heart/soul into the biz, attitude, abilities, history of executing, of doing, of making things happen.
  5. Money - how much do you need, what are you going to do with it, cash flow, P&L, balance sheets, margins, exits etc. - the usual stuff.  But, what are you doing while you're waiting for the money - are you still moving ahead? Are you able to straddle ramping up based upon funds? Investors want to see that you can still make progress while you're waiting for funding or if you don't get enough.