Last week, leading female founders and funders gathered in Palo Alto to discuss how to navigate business being underestimated as an underrepresented founder, and how as a community we can build a supportive environment, share knowledge, and hold the door open for future rising entrepreneurs and executives to go farther in our entrepreneurial journeys and defy the odds.
The event was hosted by Village Global, an early-stage venture capital firm backed by some of the world’s most successful entrepreneurs. The 100 invitation-only women attendees were passionate about sharing knowledge and holding the door open for future rising entrepreneurs and executives. The day started with a fireside chat with Reid Hoffman, founder of LinkedIn, and Sara Blakely, founder of Spanx, followed by two TED-talk style talks by Kat Cole, COO and President of North America at FOCUS Brands, and Sophia Amoruso, founder of Girlboss.
1. The Competitive Advantage Of Being Underestimated
“People have often asked me what’s the best thing about being a girl in business, and what’s been the hardest? My answer is the same… being underestimated,” Blakely stated. In the beginning of founding Spanx, Blakely shared that being underestimated made starting her business more challenging, but that it also worked to her advantage. “The competition didn’t take me seriously for a long time. And I think it’s really fun to prove people wrong.”
Hoffman shared that he looks to invest in underestimated or misjudged founders. “The entrepreneurs I’m most likely to invest in are the ones that have gone and seriously tried, maybe failed, and are really hungry to play again because the market underestimates them,” Hoffman said.
Most entrepreneurs are going to be underestimated at the beginning of the journey, because if you are pursuing a big, bold idea, many people will not understand your idea or strategy. “You can’t accomplish extraordinary things without doing something contrarian,” Reid advised the group, “At first, have people think you’re crazy and then two to three years later be obvious.”
Amoruso shared, “One of the most important lessons I’ve learned in the past few years is that we have to compete with ourselves, not with other people. Let others underestimate you. Let that be your fuel, but never underestimate yourself. Rewrite success on your own terms.”
2. Seek Feedback Constantly
Hoffman encouraged the founders in the room to constantly seek feedback on how they can improve. “Feedback is a gift,” Hoffman said.
Blakely shared a memorable story of receiving valuable feedback. She began her career selling fax machines door to door and one of her early prospective customers began to raise his hand seemingly at random. “I was so freaked out. I was like, does he have a nervous twitch that nobody told me about it? I started fumbling in my pitch and he stopped me and he goes, ‘Sara, I just want to mention this to you. You’re a great salesperson. Every time you say ‘I know’ it’s super distracting to your message.’” Blakely had no idea she was repeatedly saying ‘you know’ throughout her pitch and was grateful for the honest feedback. “I went back to the office and told everybody, ‘Every time I say ‘you know’ — hold up your finger, let me know what I’m doing.’”
3. Don’t Let Your Roots Define You
Cole’s career involved an improbable rise from working as a Hooters Girl to running a billion-dollar brand in under two decades. She shared a heartwarming story of how her mother would write this message on a card: “Don’t forget…[continue reading]