Know your business, know your customer and your people: key tips from leaders at Facebook's SheLeadsTech programme

16th Jun 2017
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YourStory is the outreach partner for SheLeadsTech from Facebook.

What is the recipe for success for an entrepreneur? How do you go from starting up to building a business that is profitable? While you build and scale, how do you ensure that you have the best talent working with you? And who are your allies and advisors in this journey?

These and many other questions were discussed on a rainy evening in Mumbai as part of Facebook’s SheLeadsTech meetup in the city. On the occasion, women business leaders and founders gathered to talk about the challenges of building a business in technology and how to address these challenges.

The programme is an exclusive initiative launched by Facebook for tech startups founded by women, which gives them access to a community of peers and mentors, tools, and resources to overcome barriers and succeed in building a technology business.

The evening saw speakers like Durga Raghunath, Co-founder, Juggernaut Books; Naiyya Saggi, CEO and Founder, BabyChakra and Shikha Uberoi, Co-founder of Indi.com, who are the programme’s official mentors, join Chandi Jafri, CEO of Mumbai Angels, for a panel discussion. Other programme mentors include Shalini Prakash, Principal at 500 Startups, Shradha Sharma, CEO of YourStory, and Sumeet Singh, CMO of Naukri.

The Chief Guest for the evening was Anjali Bansal, Director - GlaxoSmithKline (GSK), Bata India, Tata Power and Voltas and also a SheLeadsTech programme mentor.

Fireside chat with Anjali Bansal (right)
SheLeadsTech

Data shows that there is no dearth of intent when it comes to starting a business.

According to Namrata Kohli, Manager, Strategic Product Partnerships, Facebook, four out of five women want to start their own business. “Women are far more passionate than men in everything, and we have to harness that. If we were to convert even half of those intentions into ambition and execution, by 2021, there will be 15.6 million new businesses, and 64 million newer job opportunities created for women,” she said.

The challenge, however, was that most women were reluctant to take the plunge as they felt starting a business was daunting. While former tennis player Shikha Uberoi advised that the best way to overcome that challenge was to just take that plunge, Naiyya Saggi said that founders should start cheap and lean, with a clear vision of what they wanted once the business peaked, and work backwards from there.

A time for action and a time for teamwork

Another important feature of transitioning from a startup to a mature company was that women, who have a tendency to multi-task and micromanage, must learn to take a step back. “When you’re bootstrapped, you do everything in the company, but as you grow, you must delegate. After all, if you’re doing their job, who is doing yours?” asked Anjali.

A good team is a key ingredient for success. And when it comes to building the dream team, her hack is to not just identify talent with the hard skills required for the role. The right cultural fit is also crucial. She added that one needs to be a giver while urging women in the audience to overinvest in their team and colleagues not with rupees, but with themselves. “Give yourself to them and reap the benefits,” she said.

Naiyya added, "Give them the bad news first – the work hours are ridiculous, it’s immensely hard work, etc. People tend to romanticise working for a startup, so you need to find people who will be willing to stay even after you give them the real deal.”

From L to R: Namrata Kohli (Facebook), Chandni Jafri (Mumbai Angels), Tanvi Dubey (YourStory), Shikha Uberoi (Indi.com) & Naiyya Saggi (Founder - Babychakra)
Tackling gender biases to focus on your goal

Anjali spoke about how she has seen gender bias prevail when it comes to women entrepreneurs, and especially when it came to the fundraising rat-race. She told the gathering about a meeting she had attended earlier that week with a company that had been conceptualised, crafted, and largely driven by the woman co-founder in the two-founder team. However, the VCs on the panel queried only her on whether she had her spouse’s support. Her male co-founder was spared these queries. As the reasoning was that most women drop out of the race, she urged the women in the audience to stay for the long haul and help build a different statistic.

Chandni Jafri, CEO, Mumbai Angels said, “We are riddled with centuries of conscious and subconscious biases. As women, it falls upon us to correct them, and to stand up for what we believe in. It is your energy flowing outwards that can cut through the noise. Come out and share your stories, of struggling, conquering or just being. They will all shatter stereotypes.”

Building scale

Each of the mentors at the gathering offered a different perspective on scaling up. While Naiyya said that scaling up should be reserved for when one had a set of customers who were willing to pay for the products, Anjali advocated a wait and watch approach to gauge the best time to raise funds drawing a parallel saying, “more people die of indigestion than of starvation”.

Durga Raghunath, Co-founder, Juggernaut Books, emphasised the importance of knowing your customers, understanding the market and being greedy. “Be hungry for exits. You should want to be a billionaire. Aim for more. Be intelligently passionate.”

Dejection and appreciation

The other important aspect the speakers advised the audience about was on how not to let dejection get to them.

Chandni said, “Don’t take rejection personally. Men know that they mustn’t, but women tend to get bogged down.”

Mentorship

A key feedback from the women panelists was on mentorship. The one question that all women have is how to find a mentor and how to make the most of that relationship.

Anjali’s response struck a chord with the group. She said, “Find someone you can be vulnerable and candid around, without them seeing you as unsure or weak. Everyone has self-doubt, after all. Men just hide it better.” She stressed the importance of making the mentor-mentee relationship enjoyable, as the mentors were not obligated to help you. She told the women not to be afraid to reach out for help and to leverage the community as it fell upon women to help other women grow.

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