If you want to get inspired right now, read Elizabeth Gore’s love letter to her fellow female entrepreneurs. Even if you’re not a female entrepreneur, her excitement about this topic is contagious. In the article, she’s searching for, and beginning to create, a completely new model of entrepreneurship for women, one she calls the phoenix model, instead of the typical “unicorn” model.
Gore makes the argument that women’s businesses don’t fit into the traditional mold for male-run businesses, where the ultimate goal would be unicorn status (defined as a company that is valued at $1 billion by investors.) That’s why, she argues, there are only 3 female unicorns in the world, among 165 companies with “unicorn” status.
She also makes the case that the challenges being faced by women entrepreneurs aren’t the same as those being faced by men.
The problem, she says, isn’t that women aren’t starting businesses. In fact, in the US, the number of businesses with employees that are owned by women grew at almost twice the rate of men since 2007.
The challenges, she says, are lack of funding, lack of growing revenues/scaling and lack of media attention. In the US, only 3% of venture capital-backed companies have female founders, and women receive only 5% of news coverage.
This is true in Sweden too. Women start a lot of companies, representing 36% of all entrepreneurs. (In tech, it’s a 19% women/81% men split). However, women are receiving a very small proportion of venture capital funding. Recent research by a Swedish newspaper showed that of all tech and internet-based companies that received funding in 2015, 93% of the founders were men.
Regarding the difference in media attention, as an entrepreneur myself, I’ve definitely noticed that there are a ton of images of men succeeding as entrepreneurs in the media. However, finding role models of female entrepreneurs who are wildly successful (as in running companies with millions in revenues) has involved me actively searching for them.
Recently, I got frustrated when one of the entrepreneurs that I followed for inspiration on Instagram started posting sexist pictures. To him, it was clear that his audience (of other entrepreneurs) would be male and straight. I wrote to him and said that I followed him because I’m an entrepreneur, not to see sexist pictures, and I promptly unfollowed him. He didn’t answer.
Finding mentors, and building networks among other women running businesses, have involved me searching for and building these things up myself. For instance, I’m currently in the process of building a Mastermind group of other female entrepreneurs to help each other grow our businesses, because I didn’t find any such networks for female entrepreneurs like myself that felt like they fit.
When we were writing this blog, Serge wanted to know why I wouldn’t want to have a Mastermind group with 50/50 women and men. I discussed this with some of the Mastermind members that I wanted to start the group with, and they had a strong desire to have a focus on women-owned businesses for now, probably because we’re underrepresented in other networks. My thought is, we can try this out for a few months and then evaluate. Some of the most successful women entrepreneurs swear by women-focused Mastermind groups.
So, what’s Gore’s advice for women entrepreneurs?
- Ask for money, or whatever else you need
“We need to ask for help. We need to ask for money. We need to ask for everything, and you know why, because you deserve it! Use your best asset--your right hand. Hold it up and ask. And look, if you don't want to go the investor route, then bootstrap and build a great product that people love so you can chase customers instead of investors.”
- Show strength
“Be bolder, confident, and think bigger--present yourself on the outside with the strength that is inside.”
- Use your compassion to build an amazing company
“There is exponential power in women because we can combine compassion with strength. This is the part of you that does not need to change or be like the boys.”
“Women start businesses because they see a need--not because they want to be a millionaire by 30. Women create products because there is a purpose in their making. So don't be afraid to get what you want, because ultimately you, women entrepreneurs, will give it right back to those who need it.”
Serge and I see some flaws in the final point, in that it’s somewhat based on stereotypes. I work out of Impact Hub, so I’m around a lot of men who are social entrepreneurs, building businesses that are compassionate. Also, I don’t see a problem with women wanting to become millionaires by 30! Compassion and financial success are definitely not mutually exclusive, and I think that’s really what Gore is trying to say here, ultimately. This applies to both women and men.
Thank you to Elizabeth Gore for providing insight, and inspiration! For more inspiration and role models of other female founders, check out the Circular Summit’s speaker list - this is the conference that inspired Gore to write the article.