#StartHerSuccess powered by #SheMeansBusiness Meetup: Strong Women, Powerful Stories

By Anjuli Gopalakrishna 

Our community writer Anjuli volunteered at our first ever #StartHerSuccess meetup, powered by SheMeansBusiness – a space for entrepreneurial women to make valuable connections, share advice and move forward, together. She shares her takeaways from this event, including some real vulnerability and hard truths about women, entrepreneurship and resilience.

When it’s about women, I am all ears. Women in tech, who are entrepreneurs too? You’ve got me hooked! That’s how I ended up volunteering for Girls in Tech Singapore at the #StartHerSuccess meetup, powered by SheMeansBusiness.

I usually go to such events with an open mind: to meet people, get inspired and build connections along the way. I was pleasantly surprised by what I experienced at this event. I was expecting some PowerPoint presentations – there were none. I was expecting a huge crowd – but the setting was small and intimate.

What it was instead: three women recounting their entrepreneurial journey. How do you hang in there when times are tough? What does resilience mean for those who are their own boss? It was a remarkable event in that it brought out the raw, vulnerable and less glamorous aspects of entrepreneurship.

Pocket Sun runs the first female-led millennial venture capital firm SoGal Ventures – she got her start by organizing a conference while at university, and in the process found her calling:

“During the process of hosting these events, women started opening up to me on the issues and problems they face. I realized that the most important roadblock for women entrepreneurs was money.

When they went out to raise money, it was hard for them. When I got into the statistics, I was shocked. Only 2% of the venture capital funding went to female CEOs. ”

– Pocket Sun

Pocket decided to solve that problem, but said that it was sheer luck to subsequently be chosen for the Forbes 30 under 30 list. Her accomplishments and conviction to solve a problem she identified are impressive; proving that age is no bar for success, and that successful people are often very grounded. Serendipity may also have a role to play in our lives – Pocket attributed her spot in the Entrepreneurship and Innovation course at University of Southern California (USC) to a requirement for 50% female scholarship applicants!

An insight on problems that  Sjiva De Meester, founder of 9yards Innovation Consulting, shared was that it is important to fall in love with the problem, not the solution, because the solution may change going forward.  

As a youngster Sjiva was shaped by values of financial independence from her grandmother, who ran her own furniture business, and her mother, a divorcee who brought her up single-handedly. It was a big shock to her system when she decided to leave her career and join her husband in Singapore, so that he could pursue his. He was sitting in the audience, clearly a huge supporter, and has actively helped her in pursuing her aspirations.  

She lives her values and recounted a touching story of how she struggled with a serious bacterial illness which left her physically depleted with a weakened immune system.

“Every day was a struggle. I really felt like that song – ‘I get knocked down, and I get up again.’  To me that experience was a huge learning and I apply that to my business every day. You get knocked down and you get up again.”

– Sijva De Meester

Each day though, she pulled herself up.  Sjiva also spoke of two other ingredients for resilience – that determination to get up again, and continuous improvement. 9yards is a true testament to these two aspects of her character – in addition to partnering with communities such as Girls in Tech Singapore, Sjiva now works with some of the biggest companies, such as DBS and Accenture, to consult on and facilitate transformation through design thinking.

Solonia Teodros, the founder of The Change School shared her story of being on an entrepreneurial journey at the same time as her life partner and pivoting her business 4 times in 5 years. She stood out for me by voicing a different yet powerful point on resilience. Pivoting is not something that’s amazing or cool, as it is projected to be in the start-up community – it is truly exhausting. Resilience is a given when it comes being an entrepreneur, in the sense that you need to be agile and responsive to market needs.

“Each and every time we had to pivot, it felt like we had to start all over again. Everyone can be an entrepreneur, but entrepreneurship is not for everyone. And we need to be real about that.

I worry when I hear too much about resilience. As a society we are risking getting into this belief system that if you choose not to start over again, its because you are not resilient enough. I say that with a lot of passion because I am fresh off of a 3-month sabbatical. That’s because it has been my 3rd burnout in 6 years.”

– Solonia Teodros

She expressed her worry about the general concept of resilience, which puts pressure on you to get up and start again when you fail. For Solonia, resilience has taken on a different meaning now. It involves scrapping what the world peddles to you on how to run your business, and what you should or should not do.

Instead she urged the need to be honest with yourself about your mental health and well-being. The conversation on resilience needs to level up, so you can be true to yourself and your values. Sometimes, it may mean that you make a difficult choice: to simply pause, give yourself space to breath and restore a sense of balance to your life.

“For me resilience is now taking on a new meaning. It is not about can you work harder or smarter – it is more about how you are feeling, where you are, and about having to make choices that are difficult for you. Knowing that we are resilient, how do we ensure that we are mentally strong, we are living our values and we are courageous enough to say, ok, we need to pause.”

– Solonia Teodros

Yiping Goh, Founder of Quest Ventures,  learnt lessons of entrepreneurship at a young age, helping her parents with their humble business. It was very important to her to succeed and prove to the world that people from modest backgrounds could achieve the highest level of success too.

When she realized that her first start-up was not working out, she decided to put it aside. She took up two full-time *and* one part-time job; sleeping for only a few hours a day and saving money to give her parents an allowance for two years. She took the practical approach to first secure her parents’ needs, and told herself that if things did not work out, she could go back to her job again.

“Resilience to me looked like the nights where I have this habit of just lying on the bed, looking at the ceiling, when I am really depressed. Entrepreneurs have this depressive feeling most of the time. Spending lonely nights, staring at the ceiling trying to formulate answers and solutions.” -Yiping Goh

At a time when Yiping’s business needed to pivot, she walked away from a funding offer, because she wanted long -term success on her terms, rather than short-term success on terms dictated by others. It is this navigation through what she calls “a total mess”, and coming out of it knowing that you made it – that was Yiping’s version of resilience.

This meetup connected women on both sides of the table; the speakers and the audience as individuals being vulnerable, sharing relatable experiences and issues, as well as their own version of resilience – the common threads of which tie us all together.

About our community writer

Anjuli is a seasoned apparel and fashion industry professional and consultant; she is also a trainer, digital media practitioner and influencer. She is super motivated by the digital disruption sweeping the universe at large, and believes Digital is a mindset. She is energized by innovation and currently obsessed with curating and executing the best fashion-tech events for clients, as well as bringing together the most inspiring thinkers, innovators and business leaders to initiate conversations around digitalization, technology and innovation in the industry. Connect with her @anjuligo (IG/Twitter).

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