Growing up, I was lucky enough to spend my childhood surrounded by a family of strong-minded entrepreneurs, and I was taught perseverance from a very young age.
At the age of 25, my mother had already set up her own recruitment agency, while raising me and my brother single-handedly.
Seeing her achieve such incredible success as a female entrepreneur ignited my own entrepreneurial spirit, solidifying my decision to do the same.
My mother remains a key adviser throughout my business ventures to this very day.
In the early stages of setting up my ecommerce business, Waldo, I spoke to many influential men and women in business who gave me valuable advice and recommendations.
But one recurring piece of “advice” I often received from the men around me – and one that always frustrated me – was to consider bringing on board a male co-founder.
There was a widespread consensus that if I brought in a male co-founder during the early stages, it would be easier to raise funding.
I couldn’t get my head around the idea that someone’s gender could influence the success of my business. Instead, I followed the excellent advice of my Harvard professor, who suggested I create a team of advisers, rather than relying on one person.
My experience has taught me that building relationships with strong men and women as mentors is the best way to go further. I’ve also learnt never to underestimate how much people want to help and share their knowledge.
It’s important to approach every interaction by thinking about what you would like to gain from the discussion (based on the person’s expertise), as well as what you think you can offer. And gender aside, bringing someone on board fairly late in the game (when a brand and business has already been launched) has the potential to create conflict and dilute the focus.
It’s this exact approach that would stop me from deliberately seeking out a co-founder for any reason beyond their expertise.
Breaking the cycle
One of the best pieces of advice I received is to be careful what guidance you listen you. I am cautious about whose advice I take on and always try to contextualise it.
In the context of it being easier to raise money with a male co-founder, I understand this advice was based on the fact that most investors are men. Only seven per cent of partners at the top 100 venture firms are women, and male investors find it easier to build a rapport with male founders.
But we should be breaking this cycle, rather than playing into it, and it’s important to build professional relationships with men to do so.
As a businesswoman, I can’t afford to underestimate the importance of forming professional relationships with male mentors. But if people – however influential they may be – tell you that bringing a man to the table will boost your power or influence (for no good reason aside from his gender), I’d question whether they should be your advisers at all.
We need to break this gender bias against female entrepreneurs once and for all.