Female Founders: The Odds Are Against Us
4 Tips to Consider Before Starting Your Own Company
I don’t fit the stereotype of a tech startup founder. I’m a first-time entrepreneur (if you don’t count selling Girl Scout cookies), am a married woman over 35 who has children, and I founded a tech startup with my husband. Phew! Talk about fitting a square peg in a round hole. But since the founding of NowSecure in 2009, neither the company nor I looked back. The more I talk to other founders, the more evident it becomes that each successful founder has his or her own unique startup story. In a blog post titled “Dream Teams: The Characteristics of Billion-Dollar Startup Founders,” Tomasz Tunguz, a VC at Redpoint who has sliced and diced 30 top startups from the past couple of years, reached the conclusion that “…data confirmed what I believe: great founding teams can come from anywhere.”
But the odds against success are formidable. Within 3 years, 92% of startups fail. And according to TechCrunch, approximately only 10% of startups that receive funding have a female founder. So how was I, as a female founder, able to succeed with NowSecure? Here are my thoughts on how I got to where I am and advice I’d pass along to women considering taking the entrepreneurial plunge.
No, I’m not referring to the Gwen Stefani’s band. When Andrew and I were deciding if we should go all in with the company, there was never any doubt in my mind about the answer. We both chipped in a $1,000 at the start and then we were off and running. The possibility of the company failing never entered my mind.
Being bootstrapped does not mean you are not a startup. We bootstrapped for five years before taking any VC money. Bootstrapping teaches you to be disciplined with your money and resources, provides time to test products for market fit, and build a strong company foundation until you are ready to hit the accelerator with funding. You will make mistakes along the way, but when you are your own boss mistakes become learning opportunities rather than potential death spirals.
Build Your Network
When Andrew and I first started the company, we had a blank rolodex and zero contacts. Today, our customers include over 50 companies with recognizable brands in many different industry verticals. Networking can be especially hard for women. Learn to go out of your comfort zone — it’s incredible how give-forward the startup culture is.
Have a Team
Starting a company by yourself is very lonely. We started our company with two people, but I believe three is the ideal number of co-founders. The third can break the tie when the other two co-founders can’t agree. Each of your co-founders should have complimentary skill sets. For Andrew, it was sales and tech. For me, it was the business side. You need co-founders who will rally together when things get tough and be able to provide a different perspective.
Being a founder is fun, exciting and exhilarating. On the flip side it can be devastating, stressful and lonely — those who’ve never started their own company won’t understand the challenges you face every day. But if you are on the fence about founding a company, I say….GO FOR IT! You’ll never find success without taking a few risks. And even if you don’t succeed at first, the Valley loves to see an entrepreneur who has failed once or twice, because it means they learn from their mistakes and the learning curve is that much shorter the next time around.
And above of all, don’t let it discourage you if you don’t fit the Valley’s ideal of a tech startup founder — success comes in all shapes and sizes, even in tech.
Chee-Young Kim co-founded NowSecure with husband Andrew Hoog in 2009 with a mission to advance mobile security worldwide. As a bootstrapped company NowSecure was included in Inc. 5000 in 2014 for its year over year growth. Today, NowSecure is a recognized leader in mobile security, calling four of the five largest financial institutions as well as Fortune 500 companies as clients.