The best time to start your own business as a woman? Right now.
We’re currently in the midst of a startup revolution. Globally, Venture Capital funding hit $207bn in 2018, increasing by 21 per cent from 2017 and seeing deal activity rise by 10 per cent. The startup scene, globally, hasn’t been in better shape since before the 2008 crisis.
If we take a moment to look specifically at the UK, despite socio-economic factors such as Brexit causing more instability than in previous years, we still see 75 companies launch every hour in the country. London in particular is the highest performing European startup ecosystem with the London tech startup sector raising $6.6bn in 2017 alone. Yet, despite women making up half of the population, only 19 per cent of SMEs have female leaders or female majority management teams.
In this piece I want to address three very important issues: the current state of the female startup landscape; the differences between the entrepreneurial and corporate journeys; and that if you dream of being an entrepreneur, the time to take the leap is now. I’ll also give you some top tips on how to set yourself up for greatness if you do decide to start your own business.
The female startup landscape
Entrepreneurship has long been a male dominated scene. Despite being nearly two decades into the 21st Century, female founders in the UK only took home 1p from every £1 of all startup funding last year. However, the situation is improving. Women saw a record high for the average deal size secured last year at £2.33m – up from £2.22m in 2017. We’re nowhere near where we need to be, but we’re getting there.
A lack of female business role models has been cited as a main reason why women feel they can’t start their own business, but there are so many out there who are working on world changing ideas. So far we have seen that about half of the startups who have received funding at Antler (a startup generator) had at least one female co founder and I’ve had the pleasure of working closely with many who have successfully generated fantastic businesses.
For example, Gardoré is a fashion ecommerce marketplace for female professionals founded by Anna Raabe and Laura Cordes. They work with independent designers to allow professional women to filter clothes depending on their organisation’s dress code but also to suit their personal style. Founded a year and a half ago, until recently they were able to sell their solution without any marketing budget, making headway through networking and a form of guerilla affiliate marketing where they encouraged high profile business women who benefitted from the platform to share their outfits on social media.
Another inspirational woman, Sakina Turabali, is one third of the founding team of SkyQraft, a startup using autonomous drones to inspect remote infrastructure. The drones collect data on things like risky trees, cracks in infrastructure and illegal towers to prevent blackouts and fires. Surprisingly, her background isn’t in drones but in marketing. She joined the Antler startup generator programme at the end of 2018 because she yearned to be a key part of something which could change the world.
Should I leave my job and start a business?
I worked in the financial services industry for almost two decades before taking the leap to working with startups. I don’t regret a single day of my corporate career, but last year – approaching my forties – I took a step back and decided I wanted to be part of building a global company from the ground up. I wanted to make a bigger impact using what I had learned and help to build up ideas that could change the world.
This doesn’t mean that everyone looking for a change should immediately hand in their notice. Even in a corporate job you can experiment – try asking for flex assignments, get involved with different teams, or even ask to move department or city. All of these things can change your life completely – and could help you develop new vigour for your existing job. I’ve managed dozens of people throughout my career and something I’ve noticed is that barely anyone asks for more.
However, for some, building their own business at one point in their life is non-negotiable. If you’ve had the entrepreneurial ‘niggle’ for years but haven’t known when to take the leap – my advice would be: there’s no better time than now.
Leaping over the barriers to success
Startup Genome claimed that: “more than 90 per cent of startups fail, due primarily to self-destruction rather than competition.” In the experience of the entrepreneurs I work with, many of whom have seen failure, the three main barriers to success are: an idea without a market fit, an incompatible founding team and, as a result, a lack of funds.
As a startup generator, Antler was established to help founders overcome these barriers. Antler recruits exceptional people with grit and provides them with a platform to meet other founders who possess complementary skill sets to their own and whom they may never have met in the ‘real world’. They are then given space to develop their ideas and receive constant advice and support from a variety of advisors who have built successful startups themselves or are masters in their field. This also gives founders the opportunity to pitch their ideas to a panel of leading investors in order to secure funds – an opportunity that many who don’t have a little black book of connections may never otherwise have had.
That’s not to say that you can’t do it yourself, but the process can be much more arduous, particularly if this is your first time building a business. Some top tips for anyone looking to start their own business are:
1) Spend time educating yourself before you take the plunge – there is no point jumping into something without having knowledge of your idea’s viability and the industry you want to operate in. There are loads of resources out there to help you learn, from online courses to networking events to simply gathering feedback from your peers.
2) Find a co founder that is the yin to your yang. If you’re a banker, don’t start a business with another banker, find a software engineer with the technical knowledge that will complement your business expertise.
3) Be flexible with your idea and iterate constantly – the world moves fast and so should you.
4) A common barrier for women is that they’re the primary caregiver in their family and need stability to look after dependants. Having kids myself, my advice would be to ‘build a village’. I live on the opposite side of the world to my home country, so have worked to meet new like-minded people that I trust. If you have family and close friends nearby that can be a massive plus!
5) Be curious about things that are outside of your expertise and domain. Build connections beyond your own industry and constantly look to enhance your network without expecting anything in return.
6) If you simply can’t afford to quit your job, start building your business incrementally. Set aside a few hours after work on the weekend to start selling your product, you will learn and you may soon find yourself at a crossroads where your business is big enough to take the plunge.
There is never a perfect time to be an entrepreneur and building a startup isn’t for everyone. Experiment in your current workplace first but, if you know deep down that building a business is your calling, start preparing yourself now. Be brave. Educate yourself. Find your perfect co founder. Believe in yourself. And, good luck!
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