Lessons I learned from strong “everyday” Women Entrepreneurs
We tend to wax eloquently about women who have made it BIG in their respective fields. Nothing wrong in that. But recently I was reminded of some strong, yet not-so-popular women I have had the fortune to interact with. I call them “everyday” woman not to undermine their important, rather to salute their grit even though no one notices it.
I am often asked about the challenges I face as a “woman entrepreneur”. I tend to be flippant about this as I initially considered this as an attempt by the journo looking for a sob story.
But as I “grew up” as an entrepreneur and realized that I am one of the fortunate few to have incredible family support and of course the good luck to be born and working in Kerala — a relatively gender neutral state — I started paying more attention when I came across women entrepreneurs. Especially the ones who are brave enough to strike out on their — without spousal support or a family business to fall back on.
Whenever I am asked to address such a group or mentor such women, I jump at the opportunity. Because I know that I will come away richer from the experience.
I would like to share with you some of the lessons I learned from their experience:
I learned about courage
I have come across women entrepreneurs who decided to start this journey when they were seriously down on luck in their personal lives. If some of the things they experienced had happened to me , I would have curled up in a corner and never got up. But these woman got up and decided to live as best as they know how. And just look the path they chose — Entrepreneurship…where even the brave hesitate to wander!
I learned what hard work truly meant
This is the story of a girl I came across a while back. Her parents were rigidly against her quitting a BPO job to start a fashion design business as they could not afford the risk of a startup. Neither could she afford to go without a source of cash flow till her business started showing revenue.
She would work the graveyard shift; go home to catch around 3 hours of sleep and then work on her design business. Developing designs, getting them stitched, lining up potential customers, etc. and then rush back to her BPO job. Day on day, everyday. According to her estimate at that point, she would have to work for another 2 to 3 years before she can quit her BPO job.
Unfortunately, I lost touch with her. I hope she succeeded. But even if she chose a different path at some later point in life, she is an inspiration to me even today for the sheer hard work she put in.
I learned that men and women speak different languages
I enjoy being part of the startup community in whichever city I find myself in. It is not just about how much I can learn, how much I can network or even about how much I can give back — it is for the vibrant positive energy in such a crowd.
When Startup village commenced operations in Kerala, Fourth Ambit was one of the first virtually incubated startups. Every now and then, I would drop in without a particular agenda — for the sheer vitality and enthusiasm of its inhabitants.
The majority of these entrepreneurs were young men. So the language I learned to speak was their language. While interacting with women entrepreneurs, I soon learned that I had to speak a different language.
If my “pep talk” goes overboard, the women get overwhelmed and I can feel them mentally withdrawing from me. If you speak “scale” the male entrepreneurs get highly enthusiastic and super charged. But not here. They are more focused on the short term wins.
When you are talking to an angel investor or a VC this may not come across as a great trait.
But here is where I beg to differ. We speak at length about getting more and more women into this stream. If we genuinely need to do so, we need to stand in their shoes and understand what their perceived limitations are.
I am not saying people should invest money without clarity on scale and operations — you just need to make allowances for their comfort levels and learning curves for confidence.
These are women who are comfortable starting small. And THAT’S OK. Allow them to gain confidence with small wins. And they will scale up and give you companies to be proud of.
All this I came to realize because of some of the “everyday” entrepreneurs who may never make it to the front page of ET. If we look around, I am sure there will be many such encourages tales.
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