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Step into your power: An open letter to the next female startup founder
Dear fellow and future entrepreneurs:
Congratulations. You have embarked on one of the most challenging and fulfilling journeys: Building a sustainable company.
You will face many difficulties that I and countless other founders have faced. You will need to build an amazing product that is valuable to people. You will need to find your “family” that will stay and fight with you through thick and thin. You will need to wrestle with competitors and suppliers to remain relevant in a rapidly changing business landscape.
You will have moments when you are filled with pride with what your team has accomplished. You will experience frustrations so strong that you break down and cry.
Gender should not limit you
I have seldom, if ever at all, had any concerns about my gender.
My three biggest concerns as a founder of three years leading a company of more than 30 people are:
- Strategy: How can we be 10 times better than our competitors and reach out to 100 times more users?;
- Leadership: How can I attract talent and groom my team to become fantastic managers?; and
- Cash: How can I sustain my company and continue to provide meaningful value to our users and a home to our team?
Our users join our community inspired by runners completing our virtual running challenges. My team follows me because of the vision we share. My investors invest in my company because they believe that we are solving a real problem. None of these people have an issue with me being a female founder.
I am first and foremost in the role of a co-founder, the leader of my team. My responsibility is to provide a better future for those that follow me. There were many times where I doubted my capability and direction. Those doubts however, stemmed from my limited knowledge and understanding of business strategies and industry. I am blessed to have amazing mentors (a shout out to James Tan from Quest Ventures) and fellow co-founders from Oddle, Carousell and Xfers where I can share my problems with and whom I can learn from. I do not feel limited to reach out to them because of my gender.
Step into your power
I was an avid runner before managing a company took up most of my time and energy. In 2016, I even completed the seven-day, 250 kilometre ultra-marathon in the Gobi Desert. There are many parallels that I draw from running and managing a business.
First, running a business is like running a marathon. You need to pace yourself. If you run too fast at any point, you will burn out and fall out of the race. Similarly in business, you need to manage your team’s time and energy and give them realistic yet challenging goals.
Second, you need to be resourceful. I have seen very innovative gear used by runners during my seven days in the Gobi. An example was runners wearing plastic bags over their shoes to keep them dry while crossing a river. In business, you need to constantly innovate and think outside the box.
Finally, you need a team to support you. I had a buddy training with me during preparation for the ultra-marathon. I am also grateful to my husband for supporting me and encouraging me during the race, where he joined as a volunteer. You have to find comrades you are glad to work with in your business, such that no matter what challenges you face, you know there are reliable people you can count on.
Never once during the ultra marathon race did I feel less capable because I am a woman.
There are definitely biases in this world regarding gender.
We should all work towards building a more equal society. However the real danger comes when we ourselves limit what we can do. It is important to speak up on inequality issues, but to change the world we need to start with changing ourselves.
So dear fellow entrepreneur, never give your power away because of your gender or your age or your skin color. Step into your power, believe in yourself and push ahead. The sky is the limit, and the world belongs to those who dare to change it.
The writer is the co-founder and chief executive of 42Race, a Singapore-based startup that organises virtual long-distance races.