The SheStarts founders recently travelled to New York and San Francisco, for a week in each location, where they met with trailblazing women, investors and startups who are changing the way we live and work.
This was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for the founders, providing an opportunity for them to see what scale actually looks like on a global stage. It revealed realities of what it takes to survive and thrive in competitive environments, as they set course for the future growth of their companies.
It allowed them to think big about what’s possible for their startups and the impact they can have in the world.
“It was incredible to challenge my thinking and understand the potential is even greater than I thought.” Danielle Owen Whitford, founder of Pioneera
Here are the top five lessons from trailblazing women in the USA:
- You can never be too kind.
- A support network is essential.
- Do the work. Then ask for help.
- Human connection matters.
- You can achieve anything you want.
The SheStarts founders with Sallie Krawcheck from Ellevest & other powerhouse women from Salesforce New York.
1. You can never be too kind.
Life happens. It’s easy to become so busy, tired, frustrated or angry that we’re no longer operating as our best selves. Often these overwhelming feelings will pass in a matter of minutes, days, weeks or months. Our situations are usually not permanent and change is constant.
So how do you keep a level head when we’re reacting quickly with short attention spans? Give yourself a minute to remember we’re all human.
The SheStarts Delegation met with several women in America who repeated the mantra: “you can never be too kind.”
Aim to be your best self
Sallie Krawcheck has dedicated her life to empowering women financially. Sallie co-founded Ellevest in 2014 which is a digital investment platform for women. She’s also a legend of Wall Street and has been a leader at some of the biggest financial institutions in America.
One of the most impactful and inspiring meetings in the USA was with Sallie Krawcheck and Meredith Finn, the VP of Salesforce Ventures, who hosted a discussion at the Salesforce New York office.
Even though Sallie has worked in many male dominated environments, or perhaps because she has, Sallie has simple rules for business and life:
Sallie showed us that no matter what your experience or your status, we chose to be kind.
“I was reminded that there are people out there helping other people change the world through the power of kindness.” Dr Annie McAuley, founder of Talkiplay
Every single person we come into contact with is having their own experience, and it’s easy to get swept up in our own stories of suffering and entitlement.
Key lesson: Take that extra moment to be kind.
2. A support network is essential.
Startup life can be a tough rollercoaster of highs and lows. The people in your life can help to ease that process.
There’s that old saying that ‘it takes a village to raise a child’ – which is just as true in this day and age where parents face the juggle of ‘balancing’ demanding careers and family, meaning additional caring and childcare options are necessary. The need for this village isn’t just required for parents – building a startup is also something you can not do alone. A village isn’t JUST needed for raising children.
“One of the best things about the trip for me was bonding deeply with the amazing SheStarts founders. They are highly intelligent and determined leaders. The informal 360º coaching we’re giving each other is helping me lift my performance and my ambition across so many different areas of my business.” Lily Dempster, founder of The Neighbourhood Effect
We consistently heard in the USA that no matter your occupation, we need a deep support network so that we can co-create meaningful lives, being supported while following our passions.
Find your supporters
One of the New York startup community events we attended was a monthly panel: In Good Companies. In June, they hosted three expert social impact investors who shared their insights around how to be both a mission driven and profitable company.
We also met with Lisa Schiffman and David Jolley in New York, from EY’s program for female founders, “Winning Women”. It was great to hear that in addition to their levels of business success, the greatest benefit the founders experienced through the program was the strong sense of resilience and courage they felt with their community.
There are many different types of support
During the US trip, even though our SheStarts founders were away from friends and family, they had a village of support around them.
“It has been such an amazing experience to be constantly surrounded by people who want to see you succeed and are willing to share every shred of wisdom to get you there.” Laura Simmons, founder of Theratrak
In addition to each other, the founders could also call on the entire SheStarts / BlueChilli team who led the Delegation, the advisors and partners who came on the trip to support them, and the inspiring people we met along that way who were keen to help propel them on their journey.
“Above and beyond the money, it [connection to other startups] was the most valuable experience for those founders.” Uriri Onovakpuri from Kapor Capital
There’s real power in being able to call on your colleagues, advisors or friends for targeted advice, or just to see a friendly face. And it’s priceless to surround yourself with people that enable you to be your best self.
Key lesson: Don’t underestimate your support network and your relationships.
3. Do the work. Then ask for help.
We all have our different areas of expertise, passions and experience. If we’re lucky, we spend our days focused on things that we’re good at and that we love doing.
That’s in an ideal world.
As an early stage startup founder, you often have to do all the things, yourself. And when you’re in that stage, things can be frustrating but you will eventually make progress.
Show you’ve done the work
From many investors in the USA, we were reminded that although it often feels like you’re working on your startup alone, there are supporters out there that once they hear your vision and mission, they will be on your team, wanting to help.
Approaching problems with the attitude that everything is figureoutable only works for so long when you’re working alone. So once you’ve done all that you can to make progress with the resources you have, get some outside help.
“When I started SheStarts, I could only see what was right in front of me, now with trip massive trip to the US being exposed to scalability and that level of diversity in companies, business models, concept and users, I am definitely triggered to think bigger, bolder and just to go for it.” Andrèz Coco, founder of Knowlly
Get clear about what you need
During a breakfast panel discussion at the inspiring fintech company Juvo, the Head of People & Culture Lisa Haugh said, “be really honest about where you are and where you want to go.”
Once you have a clear request for help, help will more likely find you once you voice that ask. Samantha Katz echoed this sentiment that people want to help, you just need to find them.
Key lesson: We all can’t be experts in everything. Realise what you need help with. Then reach out to those who can help you.
4. Human connection matters.
Within the giant global tech companies we visited, we were reminded regularly that we’re ALL human. Our connection to other humans really matters.
Creating a better culture
Moving through life with the view that you can always learn from others, takes a humble openness and curiosity. Being a lifelong learner means admitting that although you might be an expert in many subjects, there’s always more to learn and you’ve got to be open to it.
Box has a stereotypical startup story of starting out in a garage which has since now scaled globally to employ thousands of people and service millions. At Box, we heard from senior recruiter, Martha Pinilla Aguilar who explained how Box used to hire for ‘culture fit’ but now they hire for ‘culture add’. So rather than trying to find people that ‘fit in’ with the existing team, they hire people who can add value to their teams.
Even though you might not have commonalities with everyone, can you learn something from them? Can someone you’ve met once add something great to your life even if you might only ever meet them once?
Diversity includes diversity of thought
When we were with our partners at LinkedIn, we heard from Laura Williams who has a great impact on community engagement. Laura shared with us how their tech based global company does it’s best to create a culture that values diverse voices. They’ve purposefully create a workplace culture where people are able to disagree in a way that’s clear and constructive.
Having constructive conversations with people who have a different view can open up new realms of thoughts and opportunities.
Within LinkedIn, they use a compassionate leadership approach where leaders ‘connect before they direct’ so that employees are treated as humans first rather than just a resource.
Colleagues on paper but these relationships are bit bigger than that
Our friends at Salesforce hosted a panel discussion with female leaders in the impact investment space.
Investors, especially early stage investors, are often one of the first cheerleaders of early stage startups. But their roles don’t stop at investor or cheerleader. Ulili from Kapor Capital joked that a investor-founder relationship can resemble deeper personal and professional relationships.
The panel also backed up the importance starting a pitch with your ‘why’ and your story – because people value your humanity as well as your business idea.
Key lesson: Connect with people. You don’t have to have something in common with someone to connect on a human level.
5. You can achieve anything you want.
This shouldn’t come as a surprise. From day one, the SheStarts founders have been dreaming big and taking action to make their visions are reality.
“Lean into your strengths. Know what you, your team and your organisation does better than everyone else.” Aravind Krishnaswamy, Engineering Director for Google Photos
There are a range of cultural and structural barriers that have long existed to prevent women from realising their value or potential. Research has shown women may hold themselves back when they don’t meet all of the criteria. But it’s not that women can’t do tasks within a job position, it’s just that women haven’t always been given the opportunity.
Just because no one has before, doesn’t mean you can’t
There are some very concerning stats about the lack of women and lack of diversity within the start and investment ecosystem. Although women receive less investment in their startups, it’s proven that women generate more revenue. And according to the latest data from Crunchbase Head of Content Gene Teare, only 18% of founders are women.
It’s because of stats like these that we need to continue to push forward with following our passions, listening to diverse voices, asking for help and connecting with others.
Visiting New York and San Francisco, the SheStarts Delegation met trailblazing women who are now doing the things that have never been done before by women. These women often make success look easy but we know it takes a lot of hard work.
Having visited two major tech and business regions in USA, our SheStarts founders now have a clearer idea of what it means to go global with a sense of scale outside Australia. And they’re ready to do the hard-yards, to create incredible change in the world.
Key lesson: As Sallie Krawcheck said with great conviction: “there’s no substitute for hard work”.
“It’s hard to imagine a world where women actually can do anything they want, because that is not a world we currently live in. But the women we had the privilege to meet in NYC and SF allowed us to imagine, even if just for an hour, what that world would look like. They showed us what it was to be bold, to command a room, to be successful enough to spread that success around. They reminded us that as women, the world is waiting for us to step into our full power. And when we do, something magical happens: we change it.” Zoe Condliffe, founder of She’s a Crowd
Stay tuned for more insights from the SheStarts US Delegation.