Being an entrepreneur is a lot harder than I thought — and things are even harder in Asia where there’s more stereotyping of women in society. I thought being an entrepreneur was all about building a product or service you believe in, filling that gap in the market, and marketing and selling it as hard as you can. But as an Asian female entrepreneur, you have to work twice — maybe five times — as hard to make people take you seriously, or let alone, believe in what you are capable of.
Not until I entered the startup world did I think women empowerment and female support was more important than ever before. With that said, here are some things I’ve learned about being a female entrepreneur in this part of the world:
1. You’ll have to surround yourself with the right people
People are what make the company — but people are also what makes your life a lot easier. Surrounding yourself with people who don’t believe in what you’re doing, whether in business or in your personal life, is a real time-waster. And I can tell you that from experience. You don’t have to convince these people why you’re building this company — that’s what you have to do for customers and investors.
You’re life shouldn’t be one giant pitching session. This is obvious for employees, but sometimes women don’t understand how important this is for people who are involved in your personal life. as well. As a female entrepreneur, you’re already trying to beat the odds, there’s no point in adding more odds to the equation. On the other hand, surrounding yourself with people who support and believe in what you’re doing can really help your business multiply.
2. You’ll want to build a product you can talk about for hours
It doesn’t matter whether you want to build a compression algorithm or a wedding platform, you’ll need to be seriously passionate about it. My first startup idea was in finance — I really believed in it (and I still do), but it’s not something I can talk about for hours. Weddings, on the other hand, are something I’ve always loved and dreamt about as a little girl.
Just because we’re ambitious women doesn’t mean we have to prove something extreme to make a statement. If you like baking cakes or handcrafting jewellery, you can still be a fierce female entrepreneur.
3. You’ll need to use your strengths to outdo competitors
Use your femininity as your advantage. I’m not talking about sex appeal, but the ability to relate. When I first started Asia Wedding Network, I understood that there were tons of older male founders in the wedding technology space. I tapped into my femininity and really looked at the product and the world from a female perspective — after all, we are building a platform for brides.
The ability to understand your strengths and what only you could bring to the table is what will make your company better than others’.
4. You’ll need to trust your intuition
Coming off of the last point, you’re going to be intimidated by your competitors. I know, I was — they were twice my age and armed with a handful of experience. But once you learn to trust your intuition and once you see customers switching over to your product, you’ll learn to take control and trust your instincts.
5. You’ll need to learn to brag
Nobody likes people who brag, but as a woman, you’ll need to brag when the time is right. I feel that women, especially in Asia, are too humble — and that’s okay in normal circumstances. But when you’re talking to an investor or selling you product, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t be bragging about how great your company is.
Talk about the awards that you’ve received or which big company is using your product (if it’s not confidential). As Asian women, we were taught to not brag and be loud- but when you enter the male-dominated startup world, rules do not apply.
6. You’ll need role models
This sounds cliche but I feel that role models are extremely important, even if you don’t know personally know them. For me, I look up to role models, because they show that they have defied the odds, and the things I want to achieve are actually achievable. I’m not defying the odds — they’ve already done that.
Role models show you that the things you want to achieve are actually possible, and that if you put your mind to it, you too can do what they’ve done — and maybe even more.
7. You’ll need to use your emotional intelligence
I’m about to stereotype us but here it goes: Women are sensitive. Now this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Use this emotional instinct to your advantage. If you trust your gut instinct, you can read people, customers, and investors. This will help your forecast their next steps.
8. You’ll need be learn ‘tough love’ leadership
Women in leadership roles tend to either be pushovers or strict and unyielding to the extreme. I find that women need to show more love to their employees — tough love, that is. Yes, you need to make sure people are meeting deadlines and working hard on their projects, but you’ll also need to show some compassion when it is most needed. I’m not talking about befriending your employees or letting them walk over you, but I’m talking about showing leniency when it matters. Nobody wants Cruella de Vil as their boss but you’re still building a company here.
Females in the Western world are founding companies, leaning in, and taking control of their #girlboss lives. It’s time for women in this part of the world to also start building great businesses, fulfilling their dreams, and start chipping away at the invisible glass ceiling.
Michelle Yuan currently runs the Asia Wedding Network, Asia’s ultimate online wedding planning resource for newly engaged couples. The site provides wedding planning tools, wedding vendor reviews, tailored wedding content, thousands of wedding ideas, among other wedding planning necessities. Michelle was listed on the Forbes 30 Under 30 list in Asia for her work on Asia Wedding Network.
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