Advice for female founders: Just focus on being the best
Gabriela Hersham is founder and CEO of Huckletree, a London co-working space. In this article, she shares her advice for budding female company founders.
When tasked with the challenge of writing an advice piece to female founders, my initial reaction was one of indignation. For what felt like a very long while, I wasn’t able to get my head around the idea that I was to offer advice to women that should differ from advice to men.
‘Wearing Lipstick to Board Meetings,’ ‘How to get a Male Cofounder and Keep Him’ and ‘Playing Dumb for Dummies’ were amongst the ironic subheadings racing through my mind.
Such was my chagrin, that I took my co-founder Andrew (incidentally, male) aside to proclaim my exasperation with the task at hand. “But, Gaby!” he said, “You know there are differences for women. You’ve dealt with them!” And just like that Andrew made me discard my shroud of subconscious ignorance, thus allowing me to share the following pieces of advice.
Focus on being the best founder you can be
The reality is, we’re not playing in boys and girls leagues. Your founding competitors are everyone you see around you, everyone you read about and anyone and everyone who inspires you. So what you’ve got to do is focus on being the absolute best in your industry.
Be determined. Work responsibly. Build and nurture important relationships. Understand that nothing is more important than happy customers. Listen to feedback. Don’t stop refining your product. Work each day as if somebody is trying to take it all away from you.
Write down your key performance indicators and objectives and key results at the beginning of each quarter and then rip them up and make them two times harder. Live by the motto that if you’re hitting each target, you’re not setting the challenge high enough.
Work efficiently instead of working long hours for the sake of it. Prioritize hiring superstars and establishing the right structure for each team member to learn, grow and be rewarded. Make certain that everyone knows what’s expected of them.
Understand that no one else is going to set the pace and that the company will be defined by the effort that you put into it. Establish processes (my favourite word) and communicate them clearly with your team.
Work hard to set a company culture that makes you happy, but moreover one that makes you proud. Don’t be ashamed when you don’t know the answers. If you don’t know what someone is referring to, ask. It’s that simple and yet it ensures that you’re always learning.
Don’t be afraid to make mistakes: if you’re always learning, you won’t always get things right. Fail faster, come back quicker, iterate and move on.
But remember – to the outside world you’ll always be a female founder
And your job is to use that to your benefit. Work on turning what could have been disadvantages into advantages. How? Here’s the obvious one: the very fact that there are fewer female founders than male means that there is more publicity available for girl bosses hitting it out the ballpark.
Think Anne Wojcicki, Julia Hartz, Adi Tatarko, people always want to hear about great female founders. Maybe it’s morbid curiosity. Maybe what they really want to know is that you’ve had to sacrifice building a family, or that you have a family but you’re a terrible mother who never sees her children. Maybe that makes them feel good. But the truth is that you shouldn’t have to sacrifice being a good mother for being successful and actually, having a family should stand in our favour.
What do I mean? Well, if a woman applied for a role with us and that same woman happened to be a mother, one might easily see that as a disadvantage, correct? But what if I told you that that particular woman knew what she was talking about, had a killer career to date and that my gut feeling told me she also happened to be a great mother? I would likely feel very confident in her abilities to not just manage, but to do everything meticulously. I would hire her in a nanosecond. There’s nothing wrong with people who have their lives together.
Next? Learn how to negotiate really well. The sad truth is that people expect that less of women than of men. So your job is to hit these unassuming molasses with a coup de main, a pre-emptive strike. You’ll be astonished how far a little caught off-guard can get you.
The flip side
Can you imagine an advice piece to male founders? The concept just doesn’t exist. Typing the words ‘advice for male founders’ into Google only brings up articles aimed at women. And why? Because as women, we’re still classified (by men) as less good and more likely. Less good at leading, less good at negotiating, less good at building things. More likely to be emotionally unstable, more likely to start a family, more likely to cost the company money.
Whilst in cities like London we’re light years away from the horrific inequalities faced by women in developing countries, the fact remains that women account for a mere 20% of all tech founders in the UK.
What to do? Continue being the very best founders we can be.