Sometimes, a long plane ride puts things in perspective. I had just been on stage at the renowned Kauffman Foundation in Kansas City, Mo. It’s one of the epicenters of all things entrepreneurial in the U.S., and they had given me six minutes to talk about what got me started as that rare species – the female founder of a tech start-up.
For more than five years now, I have had the good fortune to build my own company, BIME Analytics, in order to do something that I desperately wanted to achieve when I was still a controller for a large multinational: get answers, fast. By that I mean digging through fresh data as things happen, not when an all-male IT department snarls at me: “Next.”
So here I was, on a plane back to France, where BIME has its European headquarters, when I read three stories that struck a nerve: Sheryl Sandberg of “Lean In” fame had just joined the billionaires’ club; how only two of last year´s IPOs had a woman CEO; and finally a piece in the New York Times about the dearth of female executive chefs in top-notch kitchens.
The usual kvetching about a lack of equality, right? No, I think it’s more than that. It’s about admitting the long slog and sticking to your vision, despite old stereotypes as well as new cliches that girl power has arrived. It’s about persevering until the hype cycle of technology syncs up with what you’ve been working on.
A CLOUD WITH A SILVER LINING
Here’s what I mean: In my case, it was sheer frustration and an inkling that this “cloud” thing was going to be big which fed my urge to quit almost ten years ago and start tinkering with the idea to start my own company. My colleagues thought I had lost it, and potential investors didn’t get the idea of business intelligence as a service. Why bet on a woman in her late twenties with a great idea and a rickety demo?
That’s why my advice to the crowd in Kansas City, Mo., was as simple as misleading: “Don’t get mad, get moving.”
It’s easier said than done, especially when you’re a woman fighting the good old boys in tech who have seen it all but want to fund none. For one, the entrepreneurial trajectory is never as smooth as depicted. It’s neither a curve nor a hockey stick if you draw it, it’s a succession of peaks and troughs. That’s particularly true when you are pursuing something that has yet to be built.
THE GENDER ISSUE
You should absolutely capitalize on the fact that you’re a female – repeat: “female” – tech entrepreneur to get attention.
But the gender card only gets you so far, and that’s a good thing. Equally important is to have your pitch down and enthrall people with your vision. They might at first be more prone to listen up if you’re a woman with a plan, but you still have to lean in to make them listen all the way through. So I’m saying, play your cards – one by one, in the right order – and be prepared to go through the whole deck until you see success.
In my case, it took patience to build a small startup in the South of France, slowly grow the business and keep talking about our vision as to how BI should be affordable for everyone. Last fall, our vision finally aligned with the rise of the cloud and datamining going mainstream. As a result, we were a startup in the black when we raised $4 million in our series A and opened our second headquarters in Kansas City. BIME is a team of 26 people and keeps growing.
Now – I tend to think for the first time – people listen up and listen all the way through when I talk about what got me started and where we’re going with this company. And I certainly haven’t played all my cards yet.