Female, Bootstrapped, and Profitable in Silicon Valley

I was recently asked to speak at The Startup Conference as part of a small panel of three other successful startup founders.

Our topic: “First Day Startup Mistakes.”

I was the only female, and the only one who represented a bootstrapped startup.

We were each asked three questions:

Question 1: “What Was Your Biggest Low as a Founder?”

There was clearly a trend about how the other founders answered this question.

All three talked about how everything was down to the wire. Money was running out, a baby was on the way, and they didn’t have product-market fit. The stories were not just of lows, they were of some spectacular lows.

My view is this: Allowing yourself to get that stressed shows you have a problem with your priorities.

It’s been proven that most founders are addicted to risk, but I’m about to burst your bubble:

There’s a difference between taking a risk in order to feel the highs and lows, and taking a calculated risk to make a profit.

As more Americans find themselves without a job or in situations where they’re freelancing, they’re clearly in an entrepreneurial stage of their lives. This means that more kinds of founders are going to be entering the space, including ones who can manage stress by avoiding unnecessary stress altogether.

My lowest low is not a static moment in time. It comes and goes, and is very simple:

Sometimes being a startup founder feels very isolating.

My team is mostly remote, and I work from home. Sometimes it’s great, but sometimes I miss socializing with them too.

I have no addictive highs or lows, and my low is quite manageable especially when I consider that a small office would cost us at least $7,500 in rent.

Question 2: “What Was Your Biggest Hiring Mistake?”

Apparently, age discrimination is alive and well in the valley.

At least two of the other founders stated that the most valuable employees were computer science students who just finished school.

One went so far as to say he would never consider hiring experienced professionals. According to him, experience just means that they’ve been around long enough to work somewhere. He went on about how they don’t have initiative, and because they’re so experienced, he questioned why they would ever want to join your startup in the first place.

I find that so sad. And also seriously flawed.

Since my company is bootstrapped, I don’t really have much room for error. That’s why I want my team to have experience. If a brand-new developer just out of school was coding my script and messed it up, I’d be out for days. I can’t afford that kind of mistake.

And another thing: Why “just students”?

One of the panelists argued that because students weren’t used to hearing the word “no” or “never,” they were willing to attempt making the impossible, possible.

This makes no sense to me. I’ve worked with many experienced people who seem to always accomplish the impossible. A desire to hire “just students” leads me to believe that the employer wants to take advantage of them in some way.

After the panel, he was boasting about how he takes his entire team on a one-month long vacation.

Not long after, a middle aged professional woman approached me to express how horrified she would be if she was away from her son for one whole month.

This got me thinking: He doesn’t want parents in his company. He doesn’t want a diverse age range either.

He wants all employees to be in their 20s and having no meaning other than the success of his project.

Maybe that’s just his work culture, but I believe it’s short-sighted.

Diversity has huge benefits to a company—and I’m not just talking about race when I use the word “diversity”. I’m talking about age as well.

Ideo hired a 90-year old designer because they believed her tremendous experience trumped anything an inexperienced newbie could offer.

I can’t believe I have to say this, but I just want the best people working with me.

That means experienced employees, or those with enough initiative to overcome their lack of experience, should come knocking on my door.

Question 3: “As a founder, you receive a lot of advice. Who do you listen to?”

Ignoring noise is the single most important factor to focus on what you need to do so that you can push product out, grow users, and grow revenue. All three of which we’re consistently accomplishing.

You know who I listen to? My customers and my team.

This is our modus operandi:

  1. Identify your weakness
  2. Focus all your energy to fix it
  3. Don’t forget to tap into your creativity to solve the problem

A lot of us focus so much on being heads down, that we forget to think in more abstract ways. It’s like putting on blinders and trudging forward through the mud. It’s not very productive.

Warren Buffett, Oprah Winfrey, and Bill Gates all use the five-hour rule. They devote five hours of their work week learning something completely new.

Opening yourself up to different experiences allows your brain to access solutions that you probably never would have thought of before. In a time where most people value STEM skills, I believe we can value all skills, which is why I’m an advocate for STEAM, the variation of STEM, which includes an “A” for the arts.

Attacking problems in your company based on STEAM experiences, allows you to find more robust solutions.

Keeping the bigger picture in mind lets me confidently carve out a workplace with low stress, hockey-stick growth, and a high value placed on diversity and creativity at cloudHQ.

Overall, I walked out of the conference thinking how much I differ from my fellow (and funded) Silicon Valley founder panelists.

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