Written by Kasia Bargielska, AdTonos CMO and Co-Founder
With over 25 years’ work experience, 20+ as a marketing leader in the tech industry and in more than one industry-leading startup, I’ve had to create order out of chaos. I’ve had to persevere through world-changing geopolitical struggles, 3 financial crises, a global pandemic, and personal life issues in male-dominated industries. In this blog, I share messages and advice that I wish someone would have told me in the beginning of my career. I do this with the hope that it will inspire the next generation of women entrepreneurs, and that they in turn will pay this forward.
Tip #0: Be Memorable (For the Right Reasons)
Without us ever being able to know ahead of time, the story of our own startups can begin months, years, decades before we found new businesses. So be observant of the environment around you and the people you meet along the way; your paths may cross again in meaningful ways!
I never would have imagined that after 20 years, a former employee of mine would found their own startup and invite me to become a co-Founder and CMO. With this in mind, put your best foot forward, both in the professional sense and in terms of letting the best of your personal strengths shine through. Someone, somewhere may just be impressed by your skillset or the way you approach issues.
You may never choose to set up your own company and find yourself in that position regardless; sometimes the opportunity will choose you! For this reason, it’s important if you’re starting your career to try and leave a good impression wherever you go, and to not burn bridges you may benefit from on your future ventures.
Tip #1: Know Yourself to Understand Your Unique Niche
There are so many tools available now, from psychometric personality tests, to DiSC, Ikigai and Personal Strengths tests, and these can all provide intriguing insights into what motivates us as individuals, where our callings lie, and what roles we are best suited for. I strongly believe that the best entrepreneurs are eternal students, but not just in the sense that they stay abreast of current affairs, technological trends, or keep up to date on developments in their respective industries. I recommend that every aspiring entrepreneur – and their teams – take the above tests at least once.
Equally, if not more importantly, entrepreneurs should get to really know themselves. The best way of doing this is to reflectively experiment by challenging yourself in different ways, in different roles, in different industries, and different environments. The more experiences you open yourself up to taking positive lessons from, the more you will understand your limits, your strengths, what invigorates you, what kills your passion, and what you need from others in your teams to ensure you perform at your best.
Tip #2: Build Foundations Before Bridges
On a solid foundation of self awareness, you can build the interpersonal relationships and professional networks you need to build on and complement your technical knowledge, industry-specific expertise and create future opportunities to grow and develop.
B2B marketing and business is mostly about relationships with business partners, customers, and teams, so it is critical that you surround yourself with resilient, emotionally intelligent people who you can build strong, supportive interpersonal relationships with, and limit exposure to relationships that hinder, rather than help you. One of the most valuable things strong teams can offer you is making a habit of ‘checking in’, and addressing self-limiting beliefs and behaviours before they develop beyond repair.
Tip #3: Getting Started in Another Startup
To clarify, I don’t mean ‘join a pre-existing startup with zero ambition, and treat it simply as a training ground for projects you actually care about’. If I entrust people with important roles within my teams, I don’t expect them to be as passionate as I am, but one thing that cannot be compromised on is a good work ethic.
My honest advice would be to give your reasonable best to new businesses, for the simple fact that the more you put into them, the more you will get out of it, no matter what your long-term future goals may be. Whether you stay in a startup for 2 years or 10 years, you will have so many more opportunities to learn more about what makes a business tick, to hone your craft, and can rise up the ranks much faster than is sometimes possible in the biggest, established corporates. This insight and experience can inform your own entrepreneurship journey, yes, but there are limits to how much you can learn if you don’t do your best on the role at someone else’s startup.
Tip #4: Will You Play the Game, Or Let Yourself be Played?
To be a founder or co-founder, a person should be daring enough to take calculated, well throughout-out risks. You must always keep in mind the vision you want to pursue, focus on the implementation of strategic goals, and do not allow temporary setbacks or failures to interfere with the implementation of each project. Every start-up goes through its ‘valleys of death’, and the founder’s team should know how, and proactively plan for how to safely bring the project and team out of these ‘valleys of death’. A flexible, agile approach, even in marketing, is important in startups. The ability to manage change non-stop is probably the most important skill in a startup.
More than just simply failing to understand the market, I feel it would be unwise to venture into the world of entrepreneurship without knowing which unique obstacles you may need to overcome due to your nationality, gender, or any other aspect of your background.
Women in Entrepreneurship and the Future of Enterprise
Men entrepreneurs outnumbered women entrepreneurs 10:7 as of 2019. Yet founders who are men secured $109.36 billion in venture capital compared to women founders who successfully secured $2.86 billion in venture capital. When you dig deeper into the research however, it doesn’t seem to be because women just aren’t up to the task. Studies show that female entrepreneurs are more likely to bring investors more return on investment, secure win-win situations for themselves and their key stakeholders, and tend not to prioritise egotistical gain to the detriment of their business’s success. Despite all of this, there seems to be a bias against women in most VCs that seems too big to ignore.
Take the case of Canva for example; the personal life of its Founder and CEO, Melanie Perkins, was scrutinised. Her relationship with her co-founder was highlighted as a cause for concern. She succeeded by having a strong vision, incredible resilience and an unyielding determination to make others recognise the value in her business. Perkins saw 100 rejections before she was able to get an offer. Now, Canva is the most valuable startup founded and led by a woman. Its valuation grew by 666% in two years, making Canva among the top 10 most valuable unicorn startups in the world.
Research also shows that the most diverse companies are also around 36% more profitable than their less diverse counterparts at the same level. Venture Capital Firms are not the most diverse places to work in, with 65% of firms entirely lacking women on their team of decision makers. The few VCs that have investment partners only have between 11% to 15% representation of women. As someone from a minority group that doesn’t look like the vast majority of clients that VC decision makers usually deal with (or who are not similar to the VCs themselves), you have to prove yourself doubly and not miss a single step to counteract cognitive biases like the ‘similar-to-me effect’. It’s incredible pressure, but it’s possible if you over-prepare (the right way).
Tip #5: Become An Expert, Surround Yourself with Better Experts
Attending as many of the biggest industry events as possible, learning from today’s industry thought leaders and daring to be part of the conversation will be key in positioning yourself as the go-to expert. What sets real experts apart from ‘poseurs’ is the openness to re-learn and unlearn. Especially in marketing, trends change so rapidly that what works in one year may be completely useless or detrimental in two years. Conversations will keep developing and our knowledge constantly evolves, so you have to be prepared to question your assumptions from time to time.
Tip #6: Be The Best Version of Yourself
Experience alone is not enough to build a successful team. An infectious passion and impeccable storytelling that brings your vision to life – and convinces others to get on board with you – can be even more valuable than experience in some cases. Regardless of what it is that you do, and who you do it for, people will gravitate towards you as a leader and towards your company if you have a reputation for being excellent; there is always something positive we can glean from being in the presence of people who go above and beyond, who perform their role to high standards, as well as delegate tasks effectively.
Entrepreneurs should ensure that at all times, everyone is enabled and empowered to do the best they can, with reasonable expectations of what any one person can do. Work conditions must be good enough to inspire self-competitiveness, to keep teams striving to give their best and build up those around them. More and more startups are open to collaboration and partnerships, especially in the realm of audio adtech, which is a much needed opportunity for innovation and an injection of excitement and novelty. Imagine the future startups like Canva that you can help bring to life, just by telling the right person the right thing at the right time!