8th Mar 2023

12 successful female founders share their top tips

We asked female founders for their thoughts on entrepreneurship, leadership, and how we can better support women.

Women are still highly underrepresented among both VC-backed entrepreneurs and venture investors. According to research reports, women-led start-ups receive less than 3% of all VC investments. The same goes for the C-suite at tech companies.

Even though firms with diverse senior leadership teams perform better, we are still a long way from embracing equity.

Through my work here at MMC, I've been fortunate enough to connect with many talented and inspirational founders and investors. So I asked for their thoughts on entrepreneurship, leadership and how we can better support women. Here are their answers.

Alexandra Boussommier-Calleja, Founder, ImVitro

What advice would you give other women who are thinking about starting their own business?

Always remember that you can learn to neutralise, or at least minimise, gender bias.

I used to feel powerless when I thought I might be discriminated against. We can however learn to recognise patterns.

When possible, don’t hesitate to give others a chance to acknowledge their bias. I do believe many of us are unaware of it (including women!), and often it isn’t malevolent.

Otherwise, learn to recognise and avoid toxic personalities that cannot question themselves.

It is extra work, but essential to deal with this reality, which at any rate is already changing, one woman entrepreneur at a time.

Napala Pratini, Co-Founder, Habitual

What’s the best advice you’ve ever been given?

When I was a super shy young girl, my dad would always tell me ‘you’ll never get what you don’t ask for’ (mainly in reference to asking the waiter where I could find the toilet in the restaurant… I was that shy).

It’s so basic, but so many women don’t ask — for advice, for investment, for a raise… the list goes on.

Always ask. The worst that could happen is they say no, and you move on and ask someone else.

Rania Lamprou, Co-Founder, Simpler

What do you enjoy the most about being an entrepreneur?

What I find most enjoyable and rewarding is taking something from nothing, like a blank canvas, and turning it into something valuable: an organisation, a product, a culture.

It’s probably the most fulfilling career path and the best way to develop yourself fast and in multiple dimensions.

Although the journey is challenging, risky, stressful and somewhat painful, the reward is the opportunity to leave a lasting legacy.

Cecilie Hvidberg Jakobsen, Founder, wawa fertility

What advice would you give other women who are thinking about starting their own business?

Do it before you think you should, and do it before you are ready! We (women) function in a way where we would like to feel safe (more than most men). You won’t feel safe when doing this at all. But you will feel empowered. So do it before you think, and do it before you are ready!

What are the three most important habits to be a successful entrepreneur?

For me, it’s 100 % being myself. That means knowing my strengths, but also my weaknesses. And being open to feedback always.

Being adaptable. Your world will change, often and fast. Sometimes in ways you did not want. Accept that as fast as possible and commit.

Be positive! Positivity can be a superpower. It breeds smiles, laughs and conversations. All of this is key to building a great working environment, especially because it will be tough for everyone on the team once in a while, and your positivity will make everyone stop self-doubting, and start doing.

What makes an effective leader?

For me, it’s all about creating a growth environment with compassion. If you are not in a place where you can have a direct conversation around something that needs to improve, then you have not created a safe space for that kind of feedback. Then you don’t have a culture of growth, but the opposite. Being a leader is about making everyone feel safe about being who they are, that includes their weakness, but especially their strengths.

How do you build a great team?

Creating an environment of direct feedback and psychological safety. Have respect for how difficult hiring is! It is extremely difficult, especially at the start. Ask for help, research, or buddy up with someone. The first ten hires will make or break your company.

Kiran Roest, Co-Founder, PocDoc

What is the best advice you’ve ever been given?

Someone once said to me, “the only certain way to fail is never to try at all”. This resonated with me as, like a lot of people, I fear failure. For me, failure isn’t the opposite of success, it’s a necessary step on the path to success through which we learn and grow.

Dr Bea Bakshi, Co-Founder, C the Signs

How do we achieve equity and equality in healthcare?

We must do more to tackle disparities and ensure our healthcare system improves health outcomes for patients from all communities where disparities and inequalities exist.

To start, healthcare organisations must be reflective of the populations we serve: multicultural, multiracial, and multi-channel. We must give patients the opportunity to access healthcare when, where, and how — based on their needs.

It is clear that only when we start to actively track, measure and report on existing disparities and inequities in care can we meaningfully implement strategies to close the gap in healthcare outcomes.

Only then can we truly make healthcare accessible to all.

Brittany Harris and Jade Cohen, Co-Founders, QFlow

What advice would you give other women who are thinking about starting their own business?

Jade: My advice would be to understand and own your personal leadership style.

This can be easier said than done (it’s taken me years, and I’m still figuring this out…), but women typically lead in different styles and this can conflict with more traditional ways of working, which some of your male colleagues might otherwise take.

Avoid ‘leaning in’ would be my suggestion, and make sure to surround yourself (at work and/or outside) with other strong, confident women who can help support you navigate difficult situations which you’ll inevitably face along the way.

Brittany: Know WHY you are doing it. To make money is not a good reason. It won’t get you through the hard times, because you can make more money in the immediate term by being a consultant.

If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together. Find the right people to join you on the journey. I know lots of solo founders, and it’s doable, but it’s tough. Having Jade with me on this journey has made us stronger, and better in every way, and having someone to share the highs and lows with is invaluable.

Get comfortable with not knowing what the hell you are doing. The men don’t either. You’ll learn along the way, find great people to support you, have a whale of a time doing it.

What are the three most important habits to be a successful entrepreneur?

Brittany: Sleep — don’t be a Marta. Sleep is so important for brain function and your health in general. With too little, your cognition drops and you quickly turn into an arse. Manage your time, get enough sleep.

Stepping back — both too look at the business as a whole, but also to consider individual situations. When you care about something or someone, it can be easy to take things personally. Don’t. The best lesson I’ve learned is that “life is meaningless until you give it meaning”, and you decide the meaning you give it. You choose to take offense and to receive something a certain way. Learn to separate your emotions from the task at hand, and consider things both in isolation, and in context.

Protect ‘you time’. This looks different for all individuals. For me, it means high intensity, long weekdays, and then not working on weekends so that I can really shut off for a bit, go mountain biking and see my friends and family. This isn’t a hard and fast rule and there are plenty of times when I break this to catch up on key tasks on a Sunday. But Jade and I learned the hard way to protect our weekend to rest and recuperate, and make sure we don’t burn out. The impact of burnout is not just on you, but on your team also. And it becomes painfully obvious when someone is burning out, so it’s best avoided. To put that in context, I have a couple of founder friends who have ended up in the hospital due to burnout. No matter how much it’s glamorised in the Silicon Valley founder journeys, it is not something to aspire to, and not a requirement of a founder’s journey. Learn to manage yourself before managing others.

What do you enjoy most about being an entrepreneur?

Brittany: Doing something I truly believe in every day. It’s really hard at times, but knowing that this is part of something so much bigger than just building a big company, keeps you going through all the difficult times, and gives you the energy and enthusiasm to work the silly hours.

What makes an effective leader?

Brittany: Communication. It sounds cliché, but it’s true. And learning to communicate effectively with different people is actually quite an art. Not everyone can receive information in the same way. If you can identify the way you like to receive information, and how different team members like to receive information, your efficiency and relationships will improve dramatically. This book helped me with this: “Surrounded by idiots”.

How do you build a great team?

Brittany: Know who you are. Where you are strong, where you are weak. Look to hire people who are stronger than you, and don’t be afraid to admit you don’t know. This can be hard, particularly when hiring for a role you’ve never done yourself or had in the team before. In this instance, rely on your network and mentors to help guide you to a good fit. You won’t always get it right, so get comfortable with losing people along the way. The most important thing to acknowledge is that the right person for the company now, may not be the right person in a year’s time when the company has doubled in size. That’s okay.

How have you personally grown from becoming an entrepreneur?

Brittany: I’m much more confident in what I know, and what I don’t know. I’m constantly learning, and I can only do that by working with people who are better than me at the things I’m weak at, and who challenge me and offer different perspectives. Diversity is not frictionless. Get comfortable with friction and learn how to use it to build a highly resilient team and company.

What have been some of your biggest learning experiences in running a business?

Brittany: It is a roller-coaster. Everyone tells you this, but you never really understand it until you’ve lived it. You have extreme highs and extreme lows all in the space of a day, sometimes an hour… being adaptable, and resilient is the best thing you can do.

What is the best advice you’ve ever been given?

Brittany: “Take it with a pinch of salt”. Everyone has advice and experiences to share. Listen to them; it’s often interesting and reassuring, if nothing else. But remember, your journey is unique, your company, your team, and you have the fullest picture of what’s going on. So, seek advice and experience from others, but don’t blindly follow it. Take it all on board, with a big pinch of salt, and then make your own decision.

Charlotte Guzzo, Co-Founder, Sano Genetics

What advice would you give other women who are thinking about starting their own business?

Strike a balance between hiring junior and more experienced people. In the early stages, we shied away from big salaries and for good reason i.e. cashflow. But, while our bright junior hires and interns were helpful to a point, it was when we took the plunge and hired people who came highly recommended in their field, with years of experience and a network of contacts that we started to speed up our development and sign big contracts. Our first significant hire had a background in clinical trial sales and spoke the same language; his knowledge proved critical in a heavily regulated industry like ours.

What makes an effective leader?

Patience and humility. Growing a start-up is a long game, and success is measured in years, not days. You need to be able to question the way you’ve done things in the past, continuously reassess yourself and be open-minded if you want to find better ways to get things done.

What is the best advice you’ve ever been given?

‘An entrepreneur never asks for permission, they ask for forgiveness.’ It’s critical to keep trying new approaches. But while failure is how we learn and improve, failure can also affect the people you hire. I take that responsibility very seriously.

Michal Meiri, Co-Founder, Agamon

What advice would you give other women who are thinking about starting their own business?

As a woman entrepreneur, my gender never dictated my ability to succeed in business. What’s most important is my passion for solving important problems and offering innovative solutions. I encourage other women to take risks and trust in their ability to build a successful business.

Rely on your knowledge, skills, and experience, and don’t let external perceptions hold you back. It’s up to us as women entrepreneurs to challenge gender-based stereotypes and demonstrate our capabilities in the business world.

Dr Rebecca Love & Andrea Berchowitz, Co-Founders, Vira Health

What practical actions should companies consider to create a menopause-friendly work culture that supports gender equity and diversity retention?

Andrea: Every workplace is different, and not all companies will have the same approach to becoming menopause-friendly. But at the very least, increasing awareness and demonstrating some real empathy can be low-cost.

One way to raise awareness is to bring the discussion right into the workplace. Many companies already offer training programs on things like diversity and inclusion, anti-harassment, conversations on mental health or parental leave. Let’s normalise conversation on menopause, inviting people of all genders and all ages to understand what’s happening in this natural process of aging, so people can learn how to be supportive.

Next is the physical setup and expectations around work culture. For example, open-plan offices are a disaster for so many reasons, not being able to control the temperature, having no doors to close when you’re having a hot flush or need a moment to regroup.

For employees who can work remotely, you can make it easier by giving examples of things to say to a manager when symptoms are out of control. For example, “I’m having a really tough day due to my symptoms, and it’s making it difficult for me to perform at my best in the office.” In cases where that’s not possible, being able to say things like, “I need to take a few more frequent breaks today rather than one long break,” or “Hold on a second — I’m having a hot flush.”

Andrea’s answer is sourced from her Ted Talk on the link between menopause and gender inequity at work. To watch the full presentation (you definitely should!), click here.

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