Sharing entrepreneur success stories can spark insight and inspiration for founders in the startup community.
A lot has been written about female technology entrepreneurs--why there aren't more of them, how some of them struggle with fundraising, etc. I don't profess to have all the answers to these questions, but I do believe that sharing success stories can help to spark insight and possibly inspiration for other entrepreneurs, female or male.
I'll start with a couple of entrepreneurs--who both happen to be female: Beth Nenniger and Laura Austin, the founders of DraftingSpace. They are two smart and authentic young women who met each other in the Architecture program at the University of Waterloo (often referred to as the "MIT of Canada"), which they both selected because it sits at the intersection of "engineering and art," as they describe it.
During their architecture program, Laura said that they both realized that, "space planning quickly becomes a tedious, boring task for a designer, while computers can do it instantly." Beth adds, "After you have designed hundreds of condo floor plans, you really understand that there are only so many ways you can fit a toilet in a room." Their conviction around this opportunity led them to learn how to code--founding a chapter of Women Who Code in the Waterloo region along the way--and to write complex algorithms to make designing a room easy.
This insight and experience led to the launch of their startup, DraftingSpace, which caught the attention of Vancouver, Canada-based BuildDirect, a large North American home improvement products platform that recently acquired Laura's and Beth's company.
The women point to a number of different influences and inspirations along their entrepreneurial journey.
- Find or build a village to support your startup
First of all, they credit the Communitech and Velocity tech hubs in Waterloo for offering a community of support for them while getting their company off the ground. Beth says, "Thanks to Velocity and Communitech, the early stage companies of our generation are no longer hiding in basements. If Laura and I are struggling with a business, design, technical, or any other kind of issue, we can just walk around to the other people in the space and find someone who can help. And that simple collaboration, which often takes just a few minutes, has saved us days of headaches."Laura adds, "Thanks to competitions and grants, like the Velocity Fund, we were free to work on our idea full time after graduating."
- Be determined, focused and tenacious
They also point to a mindset of perseverance. Beth says, "We saw a huge problem with the current design process and became determined to solve it. You have to be kind of crazy to start a company because otherwise someone will try to convince you that you can't do it."Laura adds, "Entrepreneurship is an emotional roller coaster. You will experience high tides and undertows, sometimes as frequently as multiple times per day. You need to be nimble and ready to iterate on your business at any moment.... I am motivated by risk and inspired by the open-ended potential of the future. I dream of what could be, and whom I could become. Each day, I work a little harder, learn a little more, and get a little better."
- Learn to fall... so you can get up stronger
Acceptance and embracing of failure is also important according to the entrepreneurs. Beth shares that she is really into skateboarding. She says:"From the outside, skateboarding appears to be about doing tricks and landing them. But there is a secret--skateboarding is really about learning to fall. After you fall hundreds of times, you learn to fall without hurting yourself. Once you can jump down a big set of stairs and fall without hurting yourself, you are pretty much invincible. All great skateboarders are experts at falling and I believe all great entrepreneurs are experts at failing in business, too. Skateboarding taught me to embrace falling and failure, which has given me the confidence to really push new boundaries with our start-up."
- Be decisive, focused, and make informed choices
Finally, they point to the importance of making proactive choices along the entrepreneurial road--and in life in general. Beth shares a story from YMCA summer camp when she was 12 years old, when asked about what inspires and drives her:"At one point during a multi-day backpacking trip, a bunch of us campers were complaining about how much our feet hurt, how it was too hot out, and how we each wished we were on a beach or in a hot tub. One of the camp councilors then interjected, 'There is nowhere else in the world that I would rather be right now. Right here, walking down this path, with you, is exactly where I want to be. If there was anywhere else in the world that I would rather be, then I would just go there.' In that moment, I realized that I had actually chosen to be exactly on that path, and that there was nowhere else in the world that I wanted to be either. Since then, especially when the going gets tough, I have made sure to ask myself on a regular basis, 'Is this exactly where I want to be?', and if the answer is ever no, instead of complaining about it, I work to change it. Helping to launch and grow BuildDirect's new Design Center is definitely where I want to be."
Entrepreneurs who are changing the world come in all shapes and sizes, but the key tenets of entrepreneurial success are surprisingly consistent across all entrepreneurs: focus, tenacity, ecosystem of support, rapid iteration, learning from failure and making informed choices.