Launching a tech startup demands vision and something that most founders don’t talk about — bravado. Male founders, the majority of whom I see on Zoom screens in those endless virtual conference rooms, are great at this. But as a female founder of two companies and a woman of color, summoning the showman took me some time and a different set of skills.
I still remember the first meeting after starting my first company. Sitting outside of the coffee shop before meeting the prospective client, I kept thinking “Am I good enough?”, “Can I do this though I don’t have all the necessary experience and formal education to run this business as a founder?” I let fear get in the way of the pitch. It was the side effect of imposter syndrome that many women leaders struggle with. But after a few failed meetings, I overcame that and now I see my imposter syndrome as an opportunity. Success lies outside of the comfort zone. If I am having this nagging feeling – am I good enough to do this new thing? I am working outside my comfort zone and it’s that feeling that helps me expand my horizons.
This fight against my own imposter syndrome brought me to Everyday Life. Before co-founding Everyday Life, an insure-tech platform, I felt too comfortable and stagnant in slow-moving corporate culture and the 9-5 life. I wanted to challenge the status quo, to redefine a problem or innovate a solution, and I wanted more than a corporate job could give me. I was ready for the anxiety and mental struggle that’s part and parcel of building a startup to find my seat at the table.
Here are a few lessons I’ve learned along the way:
- Acknowledge the discomfort. Accept that you just don’t know everything, like how to run a business when you’re trained as an engineer. Use what you don’t know as a signal to learn new skills. It’s more interesting with experiences.
- Be assertive. No apologies. In an industry dominated by male founders, women are often stereotyped. Speak up, even though others may confuse your ambition with you being difficult. Startups require a 150% commitment. Don’t apologize for being assertive to meet deadlines and achieve goals just because you are a woman.
- Stay authentic.
Expect to have disagreements with your co-founder, investor, or business partner. Push-pull is sometimes the rhythm of the workday. Speak your mind. The most successful ideas may seem crazy at first. Share them.
- Hire for diversity.
Diversity brings creativity and innovation. Women – especially women of color – are grossly underrepresented in the technology industry. As you scale your team, hiring a diverse group across all races, genders and ages will make your organization stronger. Remember, your customers don’t all look like you, either.
- Don’t listen to the nay-sayers.
Entrepreneurship is challenging and tech startups often brutal. Expect rejection and lots of it. All you need is a single “yes.” I’ve seen women wilt, lose confidence and be discouraged by criticism. Most successful entrepreneurs are only successful after a few failed attempts. Failure can teach you more than your success, so don’t give up on entrepreneurship too easily.
Now that I have a seat at the table, I am using what I learned from big corporations and from incredible men (and women!) in start-ups to mentor and support women with big dreams.
Dipali Trivedi, CTO and co-founder of Everyday Life, was raised in a small town in India with no internet and went on to get degrees in engineering and AI from VJTI, then an MBA from MIT. As a woman of color and a mom, she wants to make expert financial advice available to all and fix an industry where average income people — those who need protection the most — can protect their families and their precious budgets. Unlike “old-fashioned” one-size-fits all policies, the company designs policies that automatically adjust over time as people’s needs change, often saving thousands of dollars.