When In Doubt, Ask for Directions

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Why women and startups have more in common than we think. By Elina Furman (Co-founder, Pley.com)

As the co-founder of Pley.com and having been an entrepreneur throughout my life (I actually wrote my second book Generation Inc. when I was 22 years old), I have learned a few things about the techniques and strategies that can serve women well in the start-up realm. With the popularity of books The Confidence Code and Lean In, we are seeing many great conversations about women redefining what it means to be a leader.

Setting our own rules, letting go of perfection, not apologizing, finding our own personal way to exert leadership whether its viewed as feminine or masculine – all these values boil down to authenticity and not being afraid to ask for help. One of the strongest core values women have is their ability to ask for directions and thrive in a chaotic, constantly changing environment, but the flip side to this quality is uncertainty, which can lead many women to over-analyze and question themselves unnecessarily.

Here are some lessons that can help women learn that they have all the necessary qualities for start-up success:

Follow Your Own Path, but Learn from Others

Women don’t have to sit quietly at the boardroom, they don’t have to lean in, or even lean back to gain dominance in a traditionally masculine way. They can assert their power and make their own way in the world by creating an environment that reflects who they are and is based on their own needs and ethical standpoint, which means managing expectations, focusing on results, and acknowledging their own needs whether it is needing more support at home or on the job.

Pley was born out of a specifically motherly lof wanting to raise my kids in a more sane, non-material and creative environment. As we grew, we discovered that so many sharing economy companies were already putting guidelines in place and best practices to help educate their customers and teach about their responsibility that go along with sharing. We have learned a lot from watching these companies stumble and thrive, and we can adopt some of their techniques while staying true to our core values.

Flaunt Your Vulnerabilities

So many women think that if someone finds out their weaknesses, they will be discredited or marginalized. One of the biggest strengths is admitting your flaws and pitfalls. Whether it’s being able to handle a P&L or managing a large team, by asking for support and showing your willingless to learn you can turn a weakness into a strength. Worst case scenario, people will admire you for your honesty. At the very least, you will have set realistic expectations and hopefully will get the resources you need to succeed.

When it comes to my company, we are always growing and learning from our mistakes. We had some delays in shipping over the holidays and instead of ignoring the lag, we made a point to announce the delay and send apologies to our members. By owning our limitations and admitting that we are still learning and working to scale our operations, we were able to retain many customers who might have just left otherwise thinking that we weren’t responsive to their needs.

Negotiate for What You Will Be, Not What You Think You Deserve Now

One of the toughest things for women is to negotiate their salaries since they believe they have to be perfect candidate to get the higher salary rate. The key is to remember that you’re not negotiating for yourself now, but what you will deserve once you spend two to three months getting the lay of the land. Having confidence means knowing you will learn everything you need to know and can perform if provided the adequate tools, support, and training.

From a business standpoint, we often do this when negotiating better rates with service providers. As a smaller company, we may not be able to pay the full price now, but if the relationship is working and we are getting good ROI, we’ll be more than happy to pay the full cost moving forward. And the service provider will be getting a long-term loyal customer into their roster. It’s important to remember that the first offer is always a starting point and that by having confidence in yourself, you can work to negotiate so that everyone wins.

Learn to Play Nice with Others

“Bossy” isn’t just a negative label for women, it’s a negative label for any team leader – male or female. It implies that someone is insecure, needs reassurance and points the finger to deflect blame when things aren’t working. If you feel you have be forceful to get your team to adopt your ideas, maybe they’re not the right ideas. If you are getting resistance, focus on doing further analysis rather than trying to be pushy. If you’re not getting results that you want, think carefully about the organization as a whole and your role as the leader before taking it out on an underling. Be passionate, convey your vision, but if people aren’t embracing the vision or you, find out why and work hard to rectify the situation.

In my current company, I often have to gain consensus of the group and validate my points before running ahead with a plan. And while it can be draining to draft proposals for every new idea and it goes against my natural inclination to make quick intuitive business decisions based on careful analysis of the market and our offering, it does force me to stop and analyze expenditure and overall goals. Working in partnership with others isn’t always easy especially when they have different working styles and approaches, but often it leads to positive results if you can focus on the fact that differences can be very helpful in business by an providing alternative vantage point, while consensus can often lead to group think and costly mistakes.

Fake It, Till You Make It

No one, however confident they seem, has it all figured out. When we start a new job, become a mother for the first time, plan a vacation, or launch a new business, it’s almost impossible to feel 100 percent confident no matter how much research we’ve done, how much financing we’ve raised, how skilled we think we are, or how good a business plan we’ve developed.

Every business starts small, but in order to grow you need to have a grand vision in mind and act as if you’re already there. And while that doesn’t mean faking it and pretending you have all the answers, you do need to speak and act from a point of confidence even if you’re not there yet. It’s important to invest in highly visible projects that will project confidence and authority. A stand out website, strong brand image or a technology that will elevate your business can go a long way to conveying authority and mastery even if you’re not there yet. Knowing when to skimp on something, and knowing where to splash out will give consumers more confidence in your brand while helping you navigate the waters until you start turning a profit.

Stay Flexible

Women work hard to stay flexible. It’s in our DNA. We push ourselves into pretzel poses in yoga so we can achieve similarly mind defying poses in real life. We speak on conference calls while reaching with one hand to grab a falling object or child. We can have a friendly conversation with our best friend while typing a strong response to a colleague about brand strategy.

Startups by nature have the same dexterity going for them. Without the red tape that comes with working at a large organization, we can be nimble, quick and adopt quick solutions and test whether they are working. The most important thing in start ups is being analytical, while allowing yourself to move quickly, implement solutions and make fast decisions.

After talking to many entrepreneurs both male and female, I have learned that common sense, a strong vision/strategy, ability to turn on a dime, and patience are the keys to startup success. After all, there is no roadmap for success, which is why it always helps to ask for directions.

Have you benefited from these tips?


About the guest blogger: A seasoned digital media entrepreneur, Elina Furman is the co-founder of Pley.com and founder of A-List Mom, a media company that distributes emails to over 70,000 moms nationwide. A widely sought after lifestyle/kid expert, she has appeared on many television shows, including The Today Show, Good Morning America and CBS' The Early Show. Her sites were voted "Best of Web -- Kids" by InStyle and "Best of Net" by Working Mother, and she has published over 20 books, including Boomerang Kids and Generation Inc: The 100 Best Businesses for Young Entrepreneurs. She lives with her two kids and husband in Westchester, NY.