Entrepreneurship: Lessons Learned From Y-Combinator Female Founders & BossedUP Conferences

Women are literally taking over the Men's Room. Here's proof from Y-Combinator's Female Founders Conference this weekend. 


Since starting Finding Ferdinand, I've had great opportunities to be surrounded by very ambitious women. I'm currently in SF and just attended YC's Female Founder's Conference hosted by Jessica Livingston, and just last week in DC for Emilie Arie's BosssedUp conference. Both were extremely powerful and here are lessons learned. It's a long post, but I'd rather be useful than just vague. Enjoy! 

1.     Money

If you have money, then your business is still alive. Either fundraise or make sure your business is profitable. For many startups, you don’t hear much about making money YET, but in all honestly, you should think about your startup as a small business and any business needs to make money in order to stay in business. Creating a budget, calculating margins, and revenue are some things that a business needs to keep a close eye on.

2.     Time

The longer you stay alive, the likelihood of your success increases. Find ways to buy you more time, and I literally mean BUY. Buy more time and use that time wisely to keep your idea alive and you’ll survive. 

3.     Goals

Set real goals and hold yourself accountable to that. This can be development goals, timelines for launch, sales…etc. Know what you want to accomplish and write them down and set deadlines. You are the boss of this, and dictate the momentum and urgency. GET SHIT DONE!

4.     Metrics

Identify key metrics that tell you how you’re tracking towards your goals. I recommend taking a look at 3 metrics per milestone. For example, we have the phase 1 of our Modeling Platform built out, now we need to measure and see how many customers we can sign up in the first month. The number of people signing up is a metric.  

5.     Life

You still have a life to live. Personal relationships, babies, eating, sleep. The list goes on, you know what I mean. Along with running your own business, you have to do the same thing every one else does, live. Since I can’t have everything, I pick 2 things: eating and sleeping. The rest falls off the radar, at least for right now till I get to a point where I can shift priorities. That’s the reality. I don’t have the mental capacity or energy to care about more. Lots of the speakers at Y-combinator and BossedUp were married and had children. A surprising number were also married to their co-founders. The lines of work and personal life gets blurred, but I think that’s the trend as we move into a generation where there are more female founders. Jessica Livingston, founder of Y-Combinator, and Diane Greene, founder of VM Ware, both had children while starting their companies. I also spoke to a few expecting mothers at the conference. I commend these women.

6.     Rewards

I’m sure everyone likes to think that we’re all intrinsically motivated to accomplish this astronomical goal, but in all honestly, I set up a reward system along the way. I get a mani-pedi every time I reach a milestone or get something big done. BossedUp brought in a lot of research material that showed people were more likely to accomplish long term goal, if they broke it up into smaller chunks. This just goes back to planning out the steps to getting where you want to be. Every time you reach a milestone, reward yourself and celebrate. That’s what I mean about counting the small wins. It’ll keep you in the race. I’m known for always having manicured hands and my mani doesn’t last longer than 2 weeks, so I have to keep hitting those goals if I want to keep up appearances :) 

7.     Culture

Coming from Bazaarvoice, culture was highly emphasized. Brett Hurt, one of the founders and CEO at the time was huge on creating a great work culture, which boiled down to hiring people who were passionate about their work. I’ve seen how culture plays out from startup to IPO, so these Y-combinator startups who talk about the importance of culture are on point. Also, Amy Rothman, Marriott executive and ex-Accenture management consultant at BossedUp referenced this as well, saying culture will always trump strategy. Get good people on board, make sure it’s a place they want to go to every day, and you’ll have a solid team to help you reach your goal. A way I see this is AVOIDING toxic people. Don’t let a toxic person come on board and poison the energy.

8.     Experience

A good number of successful entrepreneurs including Homejoy’s founder, Adora Cheung, got jobs in their industries to learn the ins and outs before fully launching their disruptive technology. She literally got a job becoming a maid to clean. This may not be applicable to everyone, but the bottom line here is that you should research and know the industry that you’re in.

Final Words

A lot of people don’t have much insight into how companies are built from the ground up. It’s not magic and it doesn’t happen over night. The success stories you hear are selection bias. Warren Buffet said don’t get caught up with the noise out there. Remember to focus on the things you really want. Know what you want, and put forth a plan to accomplish that goal. If your goals change, that’s ok too. Just have a system in place to help you get where you want to be. 

Don’t be apologetic for knowing what you want and going after it. Don’t waste time trying to please everyone along the way. If they’re really supportive, they’ll understand and still be there after you’ve reached your goals.

Good luck to all the females founders out there who dare to venture out from the norm and go after what you want.

RESPECT to the ladies at Y-Combinator Female Founders. May next year’s reunion bring more success stories.

There’s a lot in this post, but one last thing I’ll put emphasis on is SUPPORT for your fellow female entrepreneurs. It’s already really hard to do what you’re doing, so remember to support each other. There was a recent article in The Atlantic about how women prefer to work with men. You can read it here. Keep a positive attitude and be supportive to one another. It’s a tough journey and we don’t want to do it alone. 

Congratulations for reaching the end of this post! 

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