Overcoming Fears as a Female Entrepreneur

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By Sama Jashnani

What is the biggest barrier between a woman entrepreneur and her path to success? The fear she creates in her own mind. Our scared, hesitant and self-doubting thoughts create that atmosphere of inferiority for us, make us weak and allow other people to question us. My co-founder, Anuja Shah, and I believe that overcoming our fears was one of the most integral parts of our entrepreneurial journey. These are some of the lessons we learned in doing so:

1. Don't think you're not good enough.

As women, we often think we're not good enough and perceive ourselves to be the inferior or less capable sex. Anuja and I always thought we needed a third (male) partner, but with time we realized that we are completely capable ourselves. As we started achieving our goals, we started feeling a sense of power. Our fears gradually turned into positive energy. We got proof that our skill sets complemented each other and started feeling powerful -- powerful enough to fight for our mission every single day.

If you think you are inferior, that is exactly how people will treat you.

2. Don't be intimidated by the male-centric startup world.

A majority of the leading positions at VC firms -- the people we have to pitch to -- are held by men. Similarly, today, almost every fund website has a tab titled "portfolio," which sometimes includes a picture directory of the CEOs -- mostly males -- of all the companies the fund has invested in. This often leads to women founders being taken advantage of. However, it is in our own hands to demand the respect we deserve and prevent others from talking to or treating us like we are less capable. A friend of mine had an experience where an investor told her, "I hope you know most women founders have to sleep with male investors to get funding for their startups." When she discussed this with me, we were both infuriated and I told her to channel her anger into motivation -- to work harder and prove him wrong.

During her male-dominated interview process at Goldman Sachs, Margarite Halaris, the CEO and co-founder of BunkUp and a fellow ELEVACAO entrepreneur, feared whether she would fit in and be taken seriously or even get accepted in the first place. However, when her nerves finally settled, she was able to think clearly and transition that fear into positive energy. "It was simply a new mindset," she told me. "I trained myself to think differently through these experiences. I was able to see clearly then that I was adequate and capable to work at Goldman Sachs, and I see clearly now that women entrepreneurs are just as adequate and worthy of an investment for their startup." Therefore we must have that confidence in ourselves and also demand the respect and dignity we deserve.

3. Don't get bogged down by what people say or think.

When I experience an incident in which someone tries to put me down, I think about the bigger picture and do not let it affect me. People can be intimidated by a strong, independent woman and might try to bog you down. If someone disrespects you or tries to cross the line, you must speak up about it and get the apology you deserve. Such incidents make us question ourselves and can shatter our confidence. We end up asking ourselves, "Am I strong enough to do this?" The answer is yes: Overcoming our fears gives us the strength to shine in spite of what anyone says or thinks. We are perfectly capable of being funded and succeeding based on our own merit. Lisa Sutton, serial entrepreneur and founder of Sin City Cupcakes told us, "I experienced multiple instances when sitting down to a meeting with all-male casino executives or restaurant owners, and the greeting has been something along the lines of, 'Oh, you girls are so cute, and you brought cupcakes! Are the owners coming?' Persevering through those (now hilarious) moments remind me that it can be powerful to be underestimated. As women entrepreneurs, we absolutely deserve a seat at the table and no one will place us there for us; we have to do it ourselves."

4. Accept that there will be setbacks.

As women, we might experience more setbacks than men. Accept that entrepreneurship is going to be a difficult journey. Stay confident enough to face these challenges and succeed. Initially, when we started looking for tech teams to partner with, a lot of people said, "You cannot start a tech company without having a tech background" and "You both are girls, you'll be easy to cheat." But when we accepted that this could be our biggest weakness and that we will face problems because of this, our positive thoughts attracted the right people to work with. Fearful minds attract more challenges. But a positive and strong mindset gives you the power to fight them.

5. If your desire is greater than your fear, you can overcome just about anything.

Love always outweighs anything. If you truly love what you are doing, it will automatically reduce your fears. As time passes, this love only increases and your fears decrease. Dalia MacPhee, founder of the eponymous clothing brand, overcame her fears through passion. "I grew up riding horses and still jump and compete," she told us. "When you’re galloping a 2,000-pound animal toward an obstacle that’s five-feet tall, fear comes into play. Whenever I would get scared, my trainer would say, 'Throw your heart over the jump and follow it.' What makes us have the courage to do something even though it scares us? Passion. This is the most important ingredient for success. Throw your heart over your greatest obstacles." Let's create a new revolution for women entrepreneurs and be an inspiration to those who are afraid!


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