February 14, 2012 by Joyce HUANG
While the term, ‘entrepreneur’, typically conjures the image of a male like Steve Jobs, Bill Gates or Mark Zuckerberg, we’ve come to see that the ladies are not leaving it for men to claim full ownership of the word.
In fact, females may be better than their male counterparts in certain areas. A Co.Exist article asserts that females are intuitive systems-thinkers, care more about solutions than who gets credit, are experts on collaboration, and are good at seeking balance.
There are certainly many things we can learn from them. To help you along, we’ve distilled a list of useful tips from female entrepreneurs in Singapore and around the region to guide you if you’re embarking on the road less traveled.
1. Understand why you are doing this.
Most ventures don’t succeed on the first try.
The reality is that behind every successful entrepreneur, there was a lot of learning from failed experiences. Understanding the reasons behind your decision to become an entrepreneur will help you to learn better from your mistakes and give you the confidence to keep going.
Social entrepreneur Carol Chyau co-founded a lifestyle brand that promotes sustainable income in rural China called Shokay (Read: Five lessons from an experienced social entrepreneur).
Shokay designs and sells products made from soft yak down sourced by Tibetan herders.
Although Carol and her partner had zero knowledge in the fibre industry, they perservered and drowned themselves with knowledge from books, mentors and Google search results.
It took them patience and sheer grit to become experts in the field, having to tweak their business model several times before hitting the ground running.
What motivated these Harvard graduates to choose this path instead of a comfortable corporate career?
“I’m not doing this because I am more philanthropic than other people out there, nor because I’m particularly altruistic. For me, it’s about a sense of responsibility. I just believe that as lucky as we are to have so much, we should give back even more,” she answered.
Be honest with yourself. If you’re doing it to attract hot chicks like in “The Social Network”, then it’s probably not the best motivation.
2. Don’t be afraid to get out of the building and validate your business idea.
An idea for a product means nothing if your customers don’t really need it.
Testing your business idea quickly by talking to potential clients will give you a clearer idea of customers’ needs.
Elfaine Tan, founder of The Sample Store, left her office job a few months after graduation. She had an idea to set up an on-line store that distributes and sells samples and wanted to validate it (read: Age and gender do not define your chance at success).
Determined, she relentlessly cold-called brand marketers at their offices and arranged for meetings. Her idea was spot on. After presenting her idea to her clients, they were convinced to try the platform.
The result? The Sample Store has to date, successfully distributed close to 500,000 branded product samples to an audience of over 78,000 people.
3. When being called stubborn, take it as a compliment.
There is no doubt that you will meet your fair share of nay-sayers on your entrepreneurial journey. How much you want to be affected by their opinions though, is up to you.
“It was especially stressful when others gave doubtful comments about whether the business would work. But looking back, I think it was those very comments that fueled me to prove that my idea would work. Always have an open mind and take criticism in your stride,” she advises.
4. Learn to hold contradictory values together.
Being passionate about your work is no doubt a important component to innovation. At the same time, entrepreneurs should also be able to realistically understand the risks and actionable needs involved in their business.
“I always find that as an entrepreneur you have to hold contradictory values together. For example, you have to have a big picture and be a visionary and yet concentrate on the short term goals of the start-up. You are impatient because of the time pressure, but yet patient because you know you have to build one thing at a time. What helps me is that I’m passionate about what I do, so it’s not like I’m being forced to do it. I’m focused and narrow things down to specific targets to make sure that I always make it something I can work on,” she says.
5. Don’t quit when things are just getting started.
Sometimes when one door closes, another one opens. We just have to look harder and not let one person dictate what we can or cannot do.
Gillian Tan, founder of local production company Munkysuperstar Pictures, manages clicknetwork.tv, an online video network that offers hip, fun, and edgy entertainment programming (read: Being a female director has its merits).
She started her company working out of a room in her mother’s office, equipped with an old Mac she used for editing.
The test pilot that she produced later became popular local reality dating show “Eye For A Guy”.
While the shows gained in popularity, it wasn’t long before an obstacle appeared in her way.
“Back in 2007, we were supposed to produce season 2 of a Channel 5 show called ‘Girls Out Loud’, but it was cancelled at the last minute due to some complaints from the public,” she said.
Faced with this minor setback, Gillian and Girls Out Loud hosts Rosalyn and Wendy decided to pack up their bags and take a short road trip to Malaysia.
Recalling the events that followed, “I shot some videos of Rosalyn and Wendy and that ended up on YouTube. Somehow it caught on and people were writing in telling us to produce more videos. I then decided to put these videos onto a website instead. The road trip videos ended up being the first videos on clicknetwork.tv.”
In just four years, clicknetwork.tv has become a viral hit with audiences and garnered over 23 million video views and counting. Had Gillian felt defeated when Channel 5 told her she could not longer produce her shows, she would never have started clicknetwork.tv.
We hope these tips have been a helpful summary of our Women in Entrepreneurship series thus far. Write in to us if you know any other female entrepreneurs with an interesting story to share.