The real unicorns today aren’t tech startups – they’re profitable tech startups. Mark Cuban sums it up best: “When it comes to business, there is a simple scorecard. Are you making money or are you not making money?”
Recently, venture capitalists have started choosing profitability over innovation and proven results over promise when deciding where to spend their investment dollars. According to the Startup Genome Report, 92% of startups today fail within three years because success requires more than the next Snapchat/Uber/Airbnb.
And yet, as rare as the profitable tech startup is, there’s an even bigger rarity in the industry – the successful female tech entrepreneur. According to CrunchBase, of the 14,341 U.S.-based startups that received funding, only 15.5%, or 2,226, have at least one female founder. If we apply that number to the 8% success rate after three years, only 1,147 of those companies will survive, of which only 178 will have a female founder.
So what does it take to become a female entrepreneur at the helm of a profitable tech startup? To be honest, it takes a lot. There’s good reason only one in ten startups find long-term success.
In my own personal journey as a three-time global entrepreneur – including my current role as President and co-founder of Linqia, a technology-backed influencer marketing platform based in San Francisco – I’ve encountered just about all of the ups and downs you could imagine as an entrepreneur.
What’s my secret to success? Here are five things I’ve learned along the way:
1. Identify a need, then fill it.
It begins with identifying a need in the marketplace then building a vision that fulfills that need. Time to market is crucial to success, especially when you consider that the biggest reason startups fail today is because there is no market need for the product. If people don’t need it, they won’t buy it.
George Deeb, managing partner at Red Rock Ventures, says the one thing investors gravitate towards more than anything is “the speed of customer adoption [because] if customers and revenues are scaling quickly, [it] instills confidence and excites an investor to write a check.”
2. Hold your vision close to your heart.
Believe in your idea, be crystal clear on your vision, and always remember why you are embarking on this journey. During those inevitable moments where bumps in the road have you questioning your ability and willingness to push forward, this will become your guiding light and foundation.
As an entrepreneur, you will have to deal with many situations – the good, the bad, and the ugly. Building and establishing a strong mental toolkit will help you deal with any situation that arises.
3. Choose your headquarters wisely.
Establish your business in a city where there is an abundance of resources. A successful tech startup relies on many things – talented workers (present and future), access to investors, reasonable proximity to major clients, available service providers, etc. The city itself must also be desirable as location plays a major role in attracting top talent.
But keep in mind that the cities with the highest concentration of startups don’t necessarily have the highest success rates. While San Francisco, New York City, Boston, Los Angeles, Seattle, and Washington, D.C. rank for the largest number of new tech startups, a 2016 report conducted by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce ranked Boston, the San Francisco Bay Area, Denver, Raleigh-Durham, and San Diego as the best cities for new tech companies to find success.
4. Narrow your inner circle.
As an entrepreneur, majority of your time will be dedicated to your business. Invest the little precious time you have outside of your company in people who are truly important to you. Otherwise, you will find that other people will be a huge distraction and a major drain on your energy.
For female entrepreneurs, this is a bit tougher to navigate as you likely already have or are planning on having a family. It is 100% possible to have both – a family and a company – but ensure you have a rock solid partner or family to support you. I gave birth to my first child while I was starting Linqia and to my second when we were raising our funding round. Now that my children are 3 and 5, it’s all about balance and ensuring I have quality time with my family while staying immersed in a fast growing startup.
5. Celebrate the small wins and treasure the adversities.
There will be ups and downs, peaks and dips. Being an entrepreneur is about embracing the journey and not just gunning for the destination. When things go wrong, rather than wilt under the disappointment, take it as an opportunity to learn what went awry and make the necessary adjustments to correct and better it. And when things go right, celebrate the accomplishment, no matter how minor it may seem, and continue down the path that shows positive results.
During the times when things get really extreme, I tell people, “Today I feel really alive.” Saying it and, more importantly, believing it, has a calming effect and provides the strength to push through. Go ahead, try saying it.
The tech world moves fast. Women who want to break through in this industry need to have unwavering confidence and enduring strength. The competition is fierce and the window of opportunity to succeed rarely opens. But when it does, charge full speed ahead and keep on running.