It doesn’t always happen but sometimes there is an event that really sticks with you. You leave the room feeling stronger, smarter and ready to take action. The SPARK Deakin Female Founders night was one of those events.

Jericho Cleary, founder of Bountie, Nicole So, founder of Honee, Megan Elizabeth, founder of Making Things and our facilitator Jeanette Cheah from The Hacker Exchange made up the panel of speakers for the evening. Each woman spoke of lessons learned along the way such as; getting started, getting funded and getting customers.

Statistics show that there is drastic underrepresentation of women in the startup space. According to TechCrunch, in 2017 women made up only 17% of startup founders globally. The Australian national average is better with 24% of startups featuring a female founder but we still have a way to go. The good news is that the numbers are on the rise and we’re starting to see increased female participation within the ecosystem.

While the stats are significantly lower than they should be it was encouraging to see such great turnout for this female focused event and to witness such a high level of engagement. Throughout the evening our audience submitted some thought-provoking questions to our panel. So many questions were submitted that we ran out of time to answer them all on the night.

Our incredible speakers and SPARK Deakin Program Manager, Daizy Maan were kind enough to respond to these questions after the event and we are pleased to share their insight and advice with you now.

 What was your experience like when you had to try to prove yourself as a person rather than as a female in your venture/industry? 
Megan Elizabeth (Making Things): It’s not something I spend much energy focusing on. Day-to-day, the things that need to be done (tasks, education, conversations) require me to show up as my best me, and to pretend to be anything else would be selling myself short. You do you. Don’t worry about what makes you different – think about what makes you great.

Nicole So (Honee): I focus on what I do well and what I can do better as a co-worker, as a leader, as an entrepreneur and as a friend. None of these roles that I play are distinctly female, but I know that what I add to it is distinctly me. Whether my female characteristics contribute to that or not, I don’t think that it helps other women for me to dissect and distinguish it.

Jeanette Cheah (The Hacker Exchange): I feel like I do this every day. As a professional, I’ve focussed on benchmarking and outperforming myself, educating myself, and challenging myself as a person (who just happens to be female). I think ‘as a person’ also indicates a level of self-reflection and honesty about what you actually want to do with your time, which I have only gotten better at in the last few years. In my career, I’ve proved myself as a marketer, an entrepreneur, a banker, a wealth expert, a user experience designer, a digital product owner, a speaker, a facilitator, a sister, a friend, and an educator. I would be disappointed if anyone left this event thinking that ‘female’ was the main identifier of any of the speakers.

Do you think you need an idea to be an entrepreneur?  

Megan: No. If you want to be an entrepreneur just get started, work at a business you’re passionate about, spend time with other entrepreneurs, etc. If you want to be a founder, spending time in this space, and more importantly the spaces you’re passionate about, an idea will form eventually.

Nicole: Yes! An entrepreneur is someone who takes risks to achieve glory, that can mean recognising your co-founder’s idea as one that will change the world. You need the complementary skills of a dreamer (ideas) and executer (operations) to have a successful startup.

Jeanette Cheah: No, I think you can be a fantastic co-founder/entrepreneur. You don’t need to be the ‘ideas person’ to build a great business. Some people with great ideas cannot execute them – which is where you might come in with your skills!

Were you ever laughed at for having an idea?  
Megan: Absolutely! In fact, the people who are closest to me (family & friends) struggle to get their head around what I’m doing, and keep gently suggesting ‘isn’t it time I went and got a job?’ Self-belief and thick skin will get you a long way!

Jericho Cleary (Bountie): NEVER! Contrary to my inner humiliation, which made me really hesitant to discuss my idea initially and also afraid to post on social media about it. When I finally got the confidence to start talking, I was happily surprised to find people are REALLY supportive.

Nicole: Not laughed at, but people who didn’t understand the opportunity. We pitched to some investors who didn’t believe us when we told him that the beauty market is worth $60 billion in Australia. Who’s laughing now?

Daizy Maan (SPARK Deakin Program Manager): Yes, even told ‘that’s cute’ or you’re too optimistic.

Do you have any tips on how to build confidence? 

Jericho: Read this awesome article, it really helped me.

Nicole: Two things! Power posing (Ted Talk) and helping others! I got a lot out of the Ted Talk and actually did this before every interview I’ve had since I’ve watched it. It works! Changing your body language changes who you are and how you feel. Secondly, helping other people is one of the best ways to boost your confidence because it forces you to focus on your strengths rather than your weaknesses. Those fuzzy good feels are rewarding and addictive! Stand up straight and offer to be someone’s mentor!

Daizy: Lots here’s a starting point on my blog.

When teetering on confidence of your idea, what made you ready to take the leap?  
Megan: I don’t know if you ever feel ‘ready’ you just have to start, and see how that first step feels, and then the second.

Jericho: Knowing I would always regret it if I didn’t. Caring so much about climate change that the need to do something for the planet transcended my hesitation. Having really great support networks around me and having fantastic role models to aspire to.

Nicole: I wanted to take a chance on the unknown.

Daizy:  Looking at how so many people I thought ‘made it’ by landing a grad job were unhappy and doing unfulfilling work for a basic salary. Just because it was ‘the normal path’.

What’s the number one thing about your business that is keeping you up at night? 

Megan: Prioritisation of tasks. Super fun.

Jericho: That I’m not moving fast enough!!!

Nicole: Am I prioritising my time correctly for my clients, my team and myself?

Jeanette: Wondering if I’m making the best use of my time.

When you dive into a startup, how do you decide what to prioritise?
Megan: What will have the most impact on getting you from here to where you want to be. There are always a million things to be done, but 90% won’t actually have a huge impact in the super early stage. Tweaking your logo for the tenth time or talking to a new customer? Customer. Chasing down blog interviews or getting intercom set up so customers can speak with you? Intercom.

Jericho: I find this the hardest part of being a founder. There is no one helping me to determine what is a key priority and being pre-launch it’s tricky to know what will really move the needle. someone gave me some good advice that I should be focusing on acquiring my first 10 customers. If time spent on activities is not resulting in customer acquisition, it’s probably a waste of time. But who knows really – it’s a struggle sometimes!

Nicole: Start on the WHY. Why are you building this? Why would people use it? Why would people pay for it? Watch this TED talk by Simon Sinek to understand the importance of “START with WHY”. You can apply to this prioritise anything in your startup. Once you know what that is, it will become clear to you what you should do first.

Daizy: This is a super tricky question, you start with WHY you’re doing what you’re doing, then with 3-4 key goals that you NEED to achieve to succeed. I.e. by X date I will have X customers, work backwards on what you need to do daily to get there – 100 calls a day maybe? Or if you’re at an earlier stage maybe you go out and interview 100 potential customers and understand their pain points. Really depends on what stage you’re at.

Do you ever feel like you’re failing? 

Megan: About 10 times a day. But I only see it as failing if I don’t take the lesson from it and move on. You are going to fail on the way to being successful – it’s the only way you’ll get there. Learn how to learn from your ‘fails’ that’s how you’ll succeed!

Jericho: Yep! I definitely have bad days. the biggest thing I struggle with is feeling like I don’t have enough to show for myself. But then I remember – it’s a journey, not a race. That helps!

Nicole: Yes, it can be hard to tell yourself that in failing there is always learning and believe it. But what I never fail to do is tell myself this. There is always lessons in failing. And this where your support network is crucial to your survival as a founder.

Daizy: Yes, though I see it as ‘X project failed’, how do I do it differently, as opposed to I failed. Nothing is personal.

How to tackle a business idea when you aren’t financially strong? 
Megan: What is one step you can take that can help validate your idea that won’t cost anything? Can you set up an Instagram account and start sharing your story? Can you attend local meet ups for entrepreneurs? Can you reach out to someone you admire in the business world and ask them for a coffee? Can you start a blog?

Jericho: Read the Lean Startup by Eric Ries. One thing that taught me was how cheaply you can start testing your business idea to see if it’s viable, without exposing yourself to risk

Nicole: That all depends on your idea and you and your team’s skillset. It is doable if you have the basics, like a technical founder (if you have a technical product) and a business head who will look after users, operations and raising. This question definitely needs context, best to chat to more people about your idea!

Daizy: You don’t need money to start a business in this day and age. The internet has democratized opportunities. You are as powerful as anyone about to start a business.

What advice would you give to your younger self? 

Megan: Just start.

Jericho: Everything you want is on the other side of fear – don’t let it dictate your choices.

Nicole: Don’t be afraid to try new things.

Daizy: Don’t worry things will work themselves out, just stay curious and hungry.