Why I Participated in Bizwomen Mentoring Monday

I can’t remember exactly when it started, but at some point this last year, I started receiving emails from complete strangers who hoped that somehow a few moments of my time might help them with the next step towards their own dreams and goals. At first, I replied to every single email that arrived, but it didn’t take long to no longer had the bandwidth to answer every question or to volunteer my time for every invitation.

I was in the midst of determining what to turn down and what to say yes to when I attended this year’s Women Entrepreneurs Festival. I posed the question to a group of women entrepreneurs, and Debra Sterling, the founder of GoldieBlox, offered up some advice that helped me gain clarity. “That is the question,” she said. “What I do is come up with strategic goals for the company. Then every month I come up with what are my goals towards those greater goals and use that as a filter. So when any opportunity comes in, if it is not hitting those goals that I decided on, I’m going to tuck it away.”

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I’ve used that principal to make several decisions since that conference, and it’s worked well for me. And when I was asked if I would be willing to serve as a mentor for the upcoming Mentoring Monday, a national initiative spearheaded by Bizwomen, I again used this filter to decide. The event pairs women business leaders with women in their own community through speed-dating style sessions, and this year’s event was expected to encompass over 10,000 participants at 40 locations throughout the U.S. Because the local event in my city would host 150 attendees, I saw it as an opportunity to spend a morning sharing whatever insight might be useful with anyone who wanted to talk with me. I will admit I was a bit skeptical that anything of real value could come out of 7-minute conversations that were started and ended by the ringing of a cowbell, but I was willing to try.

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What actually happened – at least for me – was profound. When the speed mentoring session kicked off, a woman who was maybe in her forties hurried up and sat down across from me. She wasted no time getting to her point. “Here is where I am,” she said. “I’m good at my job and like it, but I’ve been at it for a long time now. I have this thing I think I really want to do, but I don’t know how to get started or whether I should give up my current security to try to pursue it.” I was expecting softball questions and, instead, ended up with someone facing a life-changing crossroads. For the next six and a half minutes we talked about life’s scary decisions – weighing worst case scenarios against the payoff, how to explore new possibilities without destroying what was currently working. We discussed the need to gain enough reference points to understand if something was a passing interest or a burning passion as well as the option of taking baby steps – and the struggle of knowing when to go all-in and risk our security for the chance to do something that really matters. I have no idea if our talk helped or not, but it certainly inspired me to see someone seriously weighing the cost of pursuing her dream.

The procession over the next hour included women of all ages from college students to retirees, all with unique issues and perspectives. Some wanted advice or access to insights based on my own journey. One woman waited in line for her turn because she thought the event would be the perfect time to sell her product to me.  I spent the remainder of her seven minutes talking about strategic sales and customer validation. I’m pretty sure my response wasn’t what she wanted, but I’m really hoping she was listening.

I found as I walked back to my car to make my next appointment, that I was energized and inspired by the dreams and goals of the women who had spent their morning talking to me. It’s a good thing to remember when our lives get so incredibly busy in the midst of growing our own companies – that while it becomes vital to protect our time to reserve the  necessary bandwidth needed for priorities, it is also important to carve out time to give back. Even when we give, we still get. For me, that takeaway was well worth my time.

 

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Thirteen Inspirations for Women Entrepreneurs: My Takeaways From WE4

20140115-221729.jpgA year ago I sat in the Going To Scale panel at the Women Entrepreneurs Festival and asked panelist Limor Fried, founder of Adafruit, how I, a creative, could best interact with a highly technical team. Her response still rings in my ears today. “Sometimes you just have to get in the cage and wrestle with engineers. Sometimes that is what it takes for them to respect you.” I was in the middle of negotiating an acquisition, and I very much wanted to make sure I had the right tools to not only make the transition smooth but the new team culture one that would foster creativity, respect and teamwork.

Fried’s advice as well as that of her co-panelists Alexis Juneja, cofounder of Curbed Network, and Emily Hickey, COO of Lolly Wolly Doodle, helped bolster my courage. I left WE3 a changed woman. I no longer saw myself as a fledgling, most likely unqualified entrepeneur but as a someone with a valuable set of skills and a vision worth pursuing. Drawing from the inspiration I found listening to the stories of my fellow attendees, I began to believe that it was really possible to see my vision to fruition. I went back home to what many of those I met in New York declared to be the middle of nowhere and threw myself wholeheartedly into building the right team, creating attainable but ambitious milestones and finding new investors to help us ready our national launch.

20140115-221921.jpgThis year I found myself taking stock of whether I’d met the goals I’d set for myself a year earlier, and not only have we met the goals, we’ve blown past them.

And because last year’s nuggets from WE3 sewed seeds of inspiration that carried me further than I thought possible, here are some of this year’s nuggets so that we can all be inspired to blow past the goals we set for ourselves. The following are the ideas that I’ll be carrying with me this year:

Sometimes we need to create a new narrative that is different from the current propaganda, the current conventional wisdom.

The thing about climbing the ladder of success is that it suggests that there is only one bottom place to start and one place to end on top; let’s think instead that there are several bottoms and several tops, and it is unique and different for each of us.

We are likely a lot more bold than we think we are. We make bold choices that we may not see as bold. Saying no to demands that drain us without any purpose is bold. Saying yes to opportunities that challenge us is bold. Not fearing failure is a type of boldness.

Don’t ask that the rules be changed for us. If we don’t want to play within the current rules, start a new game. That is the foundation of being an entrepreneur.

When we find ourselves hurt and devastated, see it as a lesson to be learned. Discover if you’ve dreamed too small or been decked by something in the middle of dreaming big. We often tell ourselves something that gets us off the hook for giving up on a dream. If you’ve been decked pursuing a dream, let yourself be scared to death and then promise yourself you’re going to be bold.

Make sure you invent a dream big enough for yourself. If you find yourself jealous or bored or unhappy, you probably need to dream bigger, think bigger. If you dream too small, you will eventually be unhappy.

When raising capital, it isn’t just about raising money. It is about finding the right partners that share your vision.

Investors are always going to want more proof before they invest. It is our job to figure out how to make sure they believe they are going to miss out on something big if they don’t invest in us now.

When we’re successful, people assume what we created was easy. It’s not. It’s painful. It’s difficult. It’s plain hard work. Don’t be afraid of what it will take to be successful.

Don’t aim for a life of balance. Strive for a wonderful life of imbalance. The only career that demands balance is a yoga instructor.

If you haven’t already encountered one, you will eventually have to deal with a bully. Don’t ignore them. It’s really important that you deal with bullies, or it will paralyze you.

Trust our intuition. We don’t have to wait or hesitate if we don’t have all our ducks in a row before we leap.

And the one that inspires me most to push myself to grow even more this year:

The paths we forge now will make it easier for the next generation of women entrepreneurs.

Do We Need A Men’s Movement To Create True Equality?

Who wants to join us in changing the dialogue and mindset? I’m in.

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Tonight kicked off this year’s Women Entrepreneurs Festival in New York City with a keynote address by Anne-Marie Slaughter, President and CEO of the New America Foundation. Slaughter, who has enjoyed an illustrious career wearing a multitude of hats and who gained national recognition with her essay in The Atlantic, Why Women Still Can’t Have It All, made an observation tonight in her address to 250 women entrepreneurs that has inspired me to begin thinking differently about the way I raise my sons and the environment I create for the men who work for our company, APPCityLife.

“I have three sons,” Slaughter said, “and I know that things would be very different if they were daughters. If they were daughters, I would tell them that they could be anything they want to be, that they can arrange their life however they choose. If they want to have kids, not have kids, take time out to be a full time caregiver, a part-time caregiver, or not – that they would all be valid choices and I would still be proud of them no matter what they chose. Not so with our sons. We don’t present the same opportunities to our sons as if they are valid choices; we don’t tell them that they can choose to stay at home full time to care for their children and make sure they know we’re still proud of them and support that choice.”

I have spent the past five years swimming upstream in a very male-dominated industry. I’ve attended conferences as a presenter where I was the only woman on the stage. I’ve worked tirelessly to raise investment, all the while knowing that much less than 10% of investment capital is funneled to women-founded companies. I have lived, breathed, and spoken openly about the disadvantages facing women entrepreneurs, especially those in tech.

And in the midst of it all, it never occurred to me that I could be creating barriers and challenges for my own sons. Slaughter is right. I cannot count the number of times I’ve made the comment to my sons, “If you like doing that, you should think about a career in (fill in the blank), because salaries are high and would allow your future wife to stay home with your kids if she wants to.” I have been indoctrinating them from the get-go that they will be the breadwinner and that their wife will have the choice of whether she wants to stay home full time or work. Never in those conversations did I suggest – or even think – that my sons would want or should have the option to be the one to stay home, that it was just as reasonable to think that one of my son’s wives might be the one who wanted to work and build a career while my son might want to raise the kids.

It has inspired me to begin a journey of introspection to where else my biases towards men may be causing me to make assumptions that are limiting the options open to the men in our company.

I agree with Slaughter – the only way to achieve true equality and balance is to begin a Men’s Movement – to speak up and change our own thinking to make sure we are being just as supportive, just as open, just as vocal about creating a positive, supportive environment where men are accepted and supported for their choices just as we’ve fought so hard to make possible for women.