Don’t Call Me Sweetie and Other Lessons From Starting Up as a Woman

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Lessons in busting perfection, self-doubt and unproductive gender politics. 

By Jess Lowry (Founder, Key to the Street)

Lately I’ve been reflecting on the many lessons I’ve learned over the past year. Working to launch a startup is a daunting task for anyone, but often we hear about it being harder for women. Having never been a man I can’t really compare the male and female experience. Obviously, I’m going to hold a certain amount of bias as a woman. Maybe each individual has to overcome certain obstacles? I really can’t say for sure who has it harder. But I do know that most of my male counterparts don’t relate with several of my biggest challenges and the lessons I’ve learned from them. These challenges seem to be uniquely female.

So what have I learned over the past year in launching a startup as a woman?

Here’s my top three lessons:

Don’t Get Tricked Into Self Doubt

Tricksters can be hard to spot and they come in all shapes and sizes. Many times they appear to you in disguise as someone wanting to give you advice as a friend or mentor. They’ll try their best to feed you a toxic stream of disjointed information in an effort to trigger your insecurity.

Tricksters will tell you that you’re heading down the wrong path because they read some article on Mashable or Fast Company. They will confuse you by trying to give you unsolicited advice without having all the facts.

The simple truth is: If someone genuinely wants to support you and help you with advice they’re going to share personal knowledge and their own professional experiences. The person who wants you to succeed is going to take the time to understand you and your business. Without insight into you and your startup unsolicited advice is really just the trickster expressing their own personal anxiety and insecurities. Perhaps the trickster secretly wishes they came up with your idea or were bold enough to do a startup of their own.

These individuals are toxic and have the power to entirely derail you. Don’t fall for it.

Don’t Call Me Sweetie

One of the many challenges in starting a business is hiring the right people. This can be particularly hard for women because many men haven’t had a female boss. Many times a man who is uncomfortable with taking direction from a woman will try to domesticate the issue. He’ll act like everything you’re doing is adorable and cute.

Also, many men do not feel comfortable letting women down. Their masculinity can get wrapped up in any type of situation with a woman. If a woman is visibly frustrated or annoyed she is “emotional” and therefore irrational to a man. To many men, showing that you are flustered is a sign of weakness, so they don’t share that they are vexed and instead lash out with passive aggressive comments.

In the early days of a startup there are a million things to do and you are constantly dealing with stress and challenges. There is no time for gender politics. Everyone on the team needs to be able to be direct and effective communicators. Gaps of knowledge happen when there’s a lack of communication and it will kill your startup.

Perfection is a Waste of Time

When I first started working on my startup I hit the ground running. I sat at my computer 14-16 hours every day and stressed over all of the things I failed to do perfectly. But a friend told me, “done is better than perfect” and I agree with this 100%. If you stress over every mistake or self criticize you’ll slow yourself down. The truth is in the early days it’s more important to deliver something 80% right.

Because you experience ups and downs which inform your direction you need to remain flexible to change. Focusing on perfection slows you down and blocks your ability to learn quickly. Of course, follow the rule ‘don’t bother doing something if you’re not gonna doing it right’ – but this is not the same as doing something perfectly.

It’s during the slower times that you can go back and edit things. And many times you won’t edit it at all because you’re scrapping it for something better. Learning how to focus on what’s really important comes from letting go of the idea that everything needs to be perfect.

What have you learned starting up as a woman?

imageAbout the guest blogger: Jessica Lowry (@jeslowry) is the Founder of Key to the Street, a digital service that empowers anyone to participate in the design of public spaces. As a UX consultant she has worked on projects for a broad spectrum of organizations, including National Australia Bank, EPA Victoria and the Bureau of Meteorology in Australia. 

Image credit: Mathew Wilson via Flickr