What Being a Diverse, Female Entrepreneur Has Taught Me About Challenges and Uncertainty
The spread of the coronavirus has severely impacted so many industries and businesses, and founders across the startup world, are moving quickly to adapt to this new reality. The general advice coming from venture capitalists has been to stay lean and don’t expect that fundraising will happen.
But this has always been the startup reality for underrepresented founders. I spent 12 months pitching over 250 times before I got my first ‘yes,’ learning quickly how to stay lean and rely on myself and my team more than anyone else.
According to Pitchbook, only 2.7% of VC money in 2019 went to women-led businesses and it’s even worse for women of color who received less than 1% of the capital. To put this into perspective, WeWork received more funding in 2019 than all of the investment in women-led businesses combined.
The odds have always been stacked against women and people of color. There’s never been a certainty of capital, which means building lean and agile businesses has always been our normal. So as we enter this new era post-COVID, despite the challenges and uncertainties ahead, women in startups are well-positioned to weather the storm because adapting is what we do best.
This will not be an easy time for any entrepreneur, but as women, we know how to get through this.
Stop at nothing
You built your business for a reason. There are deeply rooted origin stories and missions behind every founder. Take the time to reconnect with that passion and recenter yourself on your “why”. When you’re in the valleys of the startup rollercoaster, it’s that passion that keeps you going. It’s what motivates you out of the darkest moments.
It’s important to make sure your team and your customers are also connected to that “why”. Even before this crisis, finding that north star is what gets you through failed deals or normal business struggles. I can remember three distinct days in 2019 that felt like the end of the world, but I couldn’t give up because our users needed the business to survive. Stop at nothing to make it happen.
Lean into community for support
This is the time to lean on teammates, friends, family, and mentors. Ask for help. Be honest about what’s going on. Share your ups and downs with anyone who will listen. The more honest you are, the more helpful your community will be.
Female entrepreneurs often find themselves in rooms of mostly men that underestimate them, which means we have to appear taller, faster, stronger. When you are in that room, it’s not comfortable to be honest when you don’t know something or when things are not going as you hoped. We have all been there.
It’s important to find safe spaces where you can let your guard down and be brutally honest about the state of your business. Join an online group or plan a Zoom call with other female founders. Reach out for help.
It takes a village to become a badass female entrepreneur and the right community will get you there. But too much advice can also be detrimental. Everyone has an opinion, but no one knows your business, market, team, users, or mission like you do. Even if you are not an expert in every aspect of building a business, you are the leading expert in your business.
Trust yourself. Listen to your gut. Collect as much data as you can from users, mentors, and teammates, but then trust yourself to make the right decisions. Bad advice happens when you blindly follow suggestions that come from folks who know nothing about your specific business situation. What works for some companies does not work for others.
I’m not a classically trained entrepreneur and I didn’t come into my business with experience in product development or marketing. At first, I did not feel qualified to make decisions about engineering or growth. I built my team to overcome my weaknesses, but I also learned that my domain expertise and all of the time I spent researching and plugging away at this business were enough. I was enough. Trust yourself. You are enough too.
This crisis may lead to market and economic shifts that are unprecedented and there are more unknowns than there are answers. But if we have learned anything in these first few weeks post-COVID, it’s that creativity will get us through.
Every person on this planet is dealing with this. All of our lives are shaken up and thrown off track, making the perfect recipe for creativity and innovation. There’s always a way to solve a problem and entirely new solutions are possible now.
There are new opportunities to pivot or adapt your business. Entire industries are ripe for change and the biggest, boldest ideas are what we need. If you have been looking for mentors, now is the time to reach out to your dream person since everyone is at home. Get creative. Push the boundaries of what used to be and get in the fight to create what will be.
This guest post was authored by Amanda DoAmaral
Amanda DoAmaral is an educator, activist, and entrepreneur on a mission to make educational opportunities more accessible and equitable for students. After teaching AP World History in Oakland, CA, where she served on the frontlines in the fight to protect an inclusive AP World curriculum, she changed roles to entrepreneur and founder in 2018.
DoAmaral expanded the size of her classroom to more than 60,000 students when she founded Fiveable, a social learning platform for students and teachers to engage through live streamed lessons and Q&As, trivia battles, and supportive communities. The company has since expanded to offer test prep resources for 15 different AP subjects, helping its students achieve a 92% pass rate on the AP exam. Prior to serving with Teach for America, DoAmaral attended Boston University and earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Social Studies Education.