Celebrating women and entrepreneurship
I am a lawyer by trade. I specialize in professional indemnity litigation. I have a degree in Genetics. I am a wildlife activist. And, I am an entrepreneur.
From this introduction, you may conclude that I am also one very confused lady. But, as Steve Jobs famously said, “you can’t connect the dots looking forward, you can only connect them looking backwards”.
Like many of my fellow millennials, I’ve had a few changes of heart during my early adult life. I started my professional career in the veterinary sciences, motivated by my love of nature and animals. I then switched to Genetics, following my fascination with the building blocks of life. And, as interesting as this was at the time, working in a lab wasn’t quite as glamorous as TV shows make it out to be.
I then, once again, decided to change course to pursue a career in law. This was partly motivated by the advice of my mentors, but also my strong sense of justice - I wanted to give a voice to those who could not speak for themselves – animals and children.
Two and half years into my time at the big firm I always wanted to work at, where I pursued the “safe, sensible and secure professional” career path advised by my mentors, I was left feeling enormously frustrated. It felt like my spirit was slowly dying inside – a sentiment I’m sure many of my fellow entrepreneurs can relate to.
You see, I had dabbled in entrepreneurship during my younger university years, when I started a tutoring company that would end up funding many of my travels and adventures abroad. But apparently the mature and sensible thing to do after my studies was to get a real job and obtain some work experience – you know, “to fall back on” in life.
Well thank goodness I had that to fall back on. My windy path outlined above involved a lot of trial and error and figuring things out along the way. My lawyer job got a facelift – by moving to corporate and becoming the legal advisor at Cash Flow Capital, I was able to feed my entrepreneurial spirit on the side and use my legal experience to add value to the company that gave me the space to do that.
How many of you had a 5-year and 10-year plan and how many of those plans do not look at all what that started out as? You see we all have dreams, but it’s not as simple as merely putting in the hard yards to achieve them. It takes a lot more than hard work to get there. The path is more often windy than straight. But if you keep that dream as your north star, you will get there. Eventually.
According to Entrepreneur magazine, women only account for approximately 3% of Venture Capital funding. Kevin O’ Leary of Sharetank fame openly admits that female-run companies are some of the best performing start-ups in his portfolio. So why aren’t we women more active in the business world and why aren’t we attracting the bulk of funding? I’ll leave that to remain a rhetorical question.
So, what have I learned on this seemingly long, yet short journey:
1. The business world is a man’s world. Being direct, competitive and ambitious are traditionally unfeminine characteristics. This will irk your male AS WELL AS some female colleagues. You can’t be everyone’s cup of tea, you can only be you.
2. Be authentic – business is tough so focus on your unique value offering and be true to yourself, even if that means you will often stand alone.
3. Take counsel from those around you, but never in its absolute form. Be honest with yourself and distill what others are trying to teach you, but always remember that it is given in context of their reality, fears and aspirations. Only you can run your race.
4. Keep moving. Keep hustling. The moment you become complacent – your dream will die.
5. Surround yourself with people that are your most honest critics and your biggest cheerleaders. I could not have done any of this without my husband cheering me along.
6. Take breaks and prioritize your health. This isn’t a sprint, it’s a marathon and it’s a mind, body and soul experience. Make sure you take some time to look after all three of those aspects.
7. Winners have never not lost. They just keep getting up and learning from their failures. If you survive, and you implement those learnings, your dreams will come true.