At a recent event hosted by Asian Women in Business, a new generation of CEOs gathered to discuss their experiences of starting a company and provide advice to aspiring entrepreneurs.
All of the twenty-something panelists had left either corporate banking or consulting jobs to pursue their own businesses. Through their work, they are shaping the landscape of startup tech companies and redefining traditional business models.
The panel included:
• Gauri Manglik, Fondu, which fuses the concepts of Twitter and Yelp for bite-sized dining recommendations.
• Shauna Mei, AHAlife, a global lifestyle and e-commerce media company.
• Benita Singh, Source4Style, a website that connects designers to a curated network of suppliers from around the world.
• Cheryl Yeoh, Reclip.It, an online coupon site that Yeoh hopes will change the way people gather and share deals on the web. (Read our profile on Ms. Yeoh here.)
The panel was moderated by Mitra Kalita, a senior writer for The Wall Street Journal.
At a time when about 54 percent of Americans with a bachelor’s degree under the age of 25 are either unemployed or looking for full-time jobs (that’s 1.5 million people), these young women CEOs are clearly the exception, dedicating long hours to their budding businesses.
So what can we learn from these young entrepreneurs? Here are the lessons they shared:
• Know your own abilities and shortcomings. Each of us has many skills and abilities so we need to identify our strengths and weaknesses. You can’t take on everything and absolutely must delegate tasks in areas where you do not excel.
• Partner with people you know. The best co-founders are people you know and have worked with previously. You need to be able to trust this person and know that they are as committed as you are to the business. Honest communication is the key to making partnerships work. A plus in the partnership would be complementary skillsets.
• Build a strong team. The hiring process can be challenging as you learn how to recognize what people can bring to the team. The firing process is even harder—bosses never regret letting go of an employee too soon, but rather, they regret letting go of an employee too late. The key to a strong team is when every member is focused on the same end goal. It’s the CEO’s job to make sure that everyone understands the company mission and to ensure that every individual is accountable for his or her contribution towards that bigger goal. And when you have a good team, you’ll have a good business.
• Keep the passion alive. As an entrepreneur, you have to have grit – that sustained passion for a long-term goal. Grit allows you to withstand any adversity that comes your way because you’re the kind of person who perseveres through life’s obstacles. Your grit, coupled with your resilience and ambition, will take you far on this entrepreneurial path.
• Take advantage of your youth. There are many advantages to being young and starting a business, including the flexibility to work longer hours and fewer family commitments. Now is the time to live your passions without having to worry too much about money.
• Take gender out of the equation. Say, ‘I am an entrepreneur,’ not ‘a woman entrepreneur.’ It empowers you to be on an equal playing field with all the other entrepreneurs out there, not just the women.
• Take a break. With days filled with long to-do lists, sometimes your brain gets into a traffic jam, so you should expect to have mental blocks everyday. Allow yourself to relax, take a break and do something different to recharge your mind.