By Val Ji-hsuan
To those women out there who dream of building their own startup — but feel like they don’t fit the archetype because of their gender: Guess what? You do! This is my story.
No matter the gender, building a startup takes a tremendous amount of time and energy. Due to stereotypical ‘household roles’ women are expected to perform — especially in Asia — most cultures expect women to avoid time consuming jobs. Being a startup Founder in fintech certainly fits the bill.
But I am here to strongly disagree to this myth!
Women have the ability to do both through determination and perseverance – Women have succeeded in the likes of Sheryl Sandberg, Marissa Mayer, Arianna Huffington, and even J.K Rowling. These trailblazers have set forth the development for future generations of female entrepreneurs.
Female founders may be a rare breed in a male dominated tech industry (but I always thought to myself that if Kathryn Minshew. The Muse Founder, can do it, so can I.
In recent years, the development of female founder groups, such as TechLadies, has helped to foster an environment where women have direct connections to communities, mentors and other exemplary women.
But that is the big picture. I want to share a snapshot, so that the ecosystem can hear some of challenges I face as a Female Founder & CEO.
As a woman in charge in a fintech startup, it takes a bit more work to gain credibility from investors, partners and engineers.
Our gender can face tougher scrutiny so female CEOs must lead with decisiveness and directness — a soft Founder, is often characterised as being too feminine.
Whatever someone feels about the person, they can always justify as being ‘because they are female’.
Attending meetings where the other person is more interested in something else than in the product is a legitimate problem.
As it is difficult to distinguish early whether someone is genuinely interested in the product, founders may end up wasting their time. If they do make advances, which get shut down, it gets awkward and unfortunately it becomes difficult to keep the working relationship with the person.
After a while, I learnt to do some research about the person before scheduling a face-to-face meeting to ensure that the meetings are fruitful and productive.
People in business don’t take women seriously until they become successful, which makes building the network and team tricky.
It’s possible that when reaching out to prospective developers/ partners, the founder may get messages asking them on a date or commenting on their looks rather than their ability to conduct business.
All this being said, there are some advantages to being a female founder.
The biggest advantage is that being female can be memorable: it is sometimes easier to get press coverage and meetings can happen faster.
There’s also growing interest from the tech community in encouraging women entrepreneurs, which leads to opportunities to present at conferences or events.
Help from fellow women
People will usually lending a helping hand and females often are keen to help a ‘fellow female entrepreneur’.
As a female, founders bring different skills to a technology companies. They can have more empathy and be more focussed on a people-first strategy.
Combining the strength of both intuitive vision and the ingenious application of metrics that developers look for, the different approach to business can help a company build a product that people will actually want.
It is tough being a CEO. Male or female. But it is up to the person to choose their attitude in how they manage navigating the industry.
Male or female, both genders have their own advantages and drawbacks — and I would suggest not overplaying the ‘female’ card as it can backfire.
Ultimately, the goal is to have people to picture you as the CEO, not as a ‘Woman CEO’.