According to research commissioned by the U.S. National Women’s Business Council in the, female entrepreneurs start companies with 50% less capital than male entrepreneurs. At Homestrings, we are proud to support successful, innovative female entrepreneurs who are making an impact in fintech, e-commerce, on-demand services, health tech, and consumer product sectors. In celebration of Women’s Entrepreneurship Day this year (November 18), we reached out to the women behind the successful companies funded on the Homestrings platform or women that are a part of the Homestrings network to ask them about their experiences as business leaders.
What inspires or drives you to be an entrepreneur?
Aisha Pandor: I was driven into entrepreneurship because I wanted to manage my own time and be able to dictate the impact I could make in the world. As an employee, I was frustrated that my work, position and salary was dictated by complicated company policies and politics, and felt that no one would value my skills or work for what they were truly worth. Now that I’ve actually become an entrepreneur, I’m constantly inspired by the ability to create something new of value where nothing existed before, just by the process of ideation and hard work.
Viola Llewellyn: The need to create a legacy business that will change the business lives of SMEs all over Africa. I am driven, especially as a woman, to have control over my destiny, my revenue earning capacity and to be an example to other girls and women. I never ever want to be guilty of living an average life! There are so many heights to scale and “impossibles to make possible”! But more than anything, being an entrepreneur gives you control of your choices, your time and your wealth.
Martha Haile: Creativity, independence, and the opportunity to implement ideas that have a real and positive impact on people’s lives.
What are the trends you see among female entrepreneurs? What are common qualities?
Linda Livingstone: Many female entrepreneurs build businesses with missions they are deeply committed to on a personal level. They may also start businesses so that they have more control over their career and their career trajectory, particularly if they have seen these limited in a more traditional organizational setting. It can also be more difficult for women entrepreneurs to find funding and to build a large business so it takes women who are fearless, willing to persevere in the face of hardships, and unwilling to accept no as the answer.
What do you think the importance is of women-owned and women-led companies?
Aisha Pandor: Our job as entrepreneurs is to solve problems in a way that provides value. The best way to do this is to solve a problem that you’ve experienced yourself. Often, our experience of life and society as women is different to that of men, so we can’t rely on men to solve problems that may be unique to women. Also, women are woefully underrepresented in business, which could benefit from the new ideas and insights that women’s diverse experiences and insights could bring. Finally, we’re good at business! Women-led companies perform 3 times better than the S&P 500. In South Africa, we have high rates of unemployment (over 25%) and a high rate of women-headed households (60%), in situations like this, entrepreneurship is our best hope for uplifting communities.
Viola Llewellyn: We are woefully short of credible examples of successful female entrepreneurs. Without examples, young girls will enter into entrepreneurial opportunities in fewer and fewer numbers. Considering that entrepreneurs drive as much as 70% of employment in some countries and women can account for half of that group or even more in some cases, then I and other women who feel as I do need to continue to push the envelope and push the boundaries of ambition. Businesses have been reported to experience as much as 15% more revenue when they have at least a 30% female representation in its leadership. We also know and are convinced that no economy can maximize its potential if half of its citizenry is not afforded access to entrepreneurship and equal opportunities. Women are incredibly important at any juncture and at any level of business endeavor. From working in the home on an unpaid basis to sole proprietorship, small business all the way up Presidential levels. Women bring a diversity of opinion and insight, that diversity is a powerful addition to private and public business.
Martha Haile: Women are underrepresented in leadership positions and yet we are half of the world’s population. Women have the skills to lead, manage, and scale businesses around the world, and yet there are serious and unique challenges that we face in acquiring leadership positions. It’s frustrating and disappointing to continue to see the lack of women’s representation in businesses and organizations around the world. When women are not present in decision-making positions, there is a missed opportunity to truly create products and services that speak to both men and women consumers. Successful products and services are built on a keen understanding of consumer needs and desires; how can that happen if women are not represented in decision-making positions? However, entrepreneurship is an opportunity for women to bypass the traditional barriers present in companies and organizations, and to deploy our ideas directly into the marketplace. I salute women in leadership positions, because they are creating space for other women to become leaders themselves. The more women lead businesses, the more our voices, our concerns, our interests, and our desires are expressed in the products and services in the marketplace.
Linda Livingstone: It is critical that we develop a strong cadre of women-owned and women-led companies. Businesses led by diverse individuals broaden the array of products and services offered and meet needs that might not otherwise be identified. In addition, it is significant to have women owners and women CEOs as role models for younger women and female students to encourage them to seek out these types of opportunities.
What specific advice would you give to budding female entrepreneurs? (i.e. any particular challenges to expect or tools to leverage?)
Aisha Pandor: Provide yourself with a supportive and experienced personal and professional network, let your metrics speak for themselves, and don’t let imposter syndrome take over, you belong in the room!
Viola Llewellyn: Do NOT be afraid to fail! I have said it before and I will say it again! Fail forward! Associate and collaborate with other smart women. Seek to fashion your success along the lines of the problems you are trying to solve. Solutions are the source of a solid business idea. Work from there. Also, make sure that you get close to the money, decisions about money, and understand how to raise capital. This is a serious challenge for women, especially black women. Men are not always attuned to understanding the universe of female entrepreneurship. Open dialogue and determination will be most important for the budding female entrepreneur. The best tools will ALWAYS be a strong network and good tech!
Martha Haile: Work extremely hard, be confident, and never give up on yourself. I learned that from a male mentor of mine. Nobody could tell him that his dream was unachievable; nobody could tell him that he didn’t know enough to fulfill his dream; nobody could convince him to stop. And he did it. It was the most remarkable belief in one’s self and I realized that’s what it took to be successful.
In addition to that, be realistic with yourself on your weaknesses and bring together people who are experts in fields that will help your business grow. To do this, it’s important to be open and share your idea with a lot of people. I used to keep my ideas to myself, but I learned that everyone needs help, and some people have great ideas or contacts that will help your business grow. You never know who you’re going to meet. Plus, you’ll perfect your pitch and refine your idea by being so passionate about your work that everyone in your life knows exactly what you’re doing. Networking and social interaction is a much bigger part of business than I would have thought before working at a start-up. Your idea could be great, your work ethic could be stellar, but if you are not constantly building relationships and a network, it will be extremely hard to gain funding opportunities, investment, and access to opportunities.
Linda Livingstone: Build a strong network of support on both the business side of your entrepreneurial interests and on the personal side. Being an entrepreneur is life consuming, particularly early on, so you need people around you that understand the demands and will support you in meeting those demands. Find sponsors with credibility and connections who will help promote you and your business to potential customers and clients and/or funding opportunities. Build a business that you are passionate about. There will be many ups and downs as an entrepreneur so it is important that you love what you are doing and are willing to see it through the good times and the difficult times.