Kajal Malik, co-founder, PickMyWork, a gig platform, was 26 years old when she founded her first startup, Reculta. She was young and relied heavily on books on startups and advice from mentors to find the right way to do things. However, in two years, Reculta shut up shop.
“The business of Reculta didn’t scale up. Two years later, I realised that all the advice and mentorship in the world can't counter the realities of high burn and scalability issues. Nothing in the world can compare to your system of learning by trial and error,” she says.
Post Reculta, Malik and her co-founders started PickMyWork.
“It has been three years of trying new ideas, failing in most of them, and working on the ones which became successful. This fail-and-learn mechanism is currently working well for us,” she says.
Every entrepreneur is very passionate about what they do. And entrepreneurship is a continuous process of learning from mistakes.
This Women Entrepreneurship Day, women entrepreneurs tell People Matters avoidable mistakes that they made and would definitely like others to be aware of.
Stay away from numbers
Many women have an aversion to, or lack confidence, in finance and delegate the male co-founders to deal with it, or even rely on employees or outsourced professionals.
Nisary Mahesh, founder of HerMoneyTalks, a platform for women’s financial empowerment through financial inclusion and upskilling, says relying on others to manage finances can result in you losing grip on financial planning. And ignorance leaves you vulnerable.
“Also, when pitching to investors or banks for loans, if you don’t show confidence over numbers, things won’t work in your favour, even if you have a great idea or product. We have seen this in our HerMoneyTalks community and while I was working with a bank, as I was on the loans credit side,” she adds.
Women juggle with career and personal responsibilities. For many women, there is a fear of potential sacrifice while putting aggressive scale-up plans.
“So they tend to compromise on big-picture planning, scaling up or thinking beyond their geographies,” says Mahesh.
Fear of failure
Women are innately more risk-averse, which may lead to delaying critical decisions due to the fear of failure.
“I always tend to overthink and over-analyse every single decision. Although it is good to have enough facts in hand to make informed decisions, the focus should not be on whether or not the idea would fail,” says Priya Prakash, co-founder and COO, Naturally Yours, a healthy noodles and pasta brand.
Prakash says a better way to think of it would be to fail fast and do a course correction towards the right direction instead of continuing in the wrong path just because you were scared to take a decision and test it out.
“The speed of execution is more important than perfect execution, especially now, when things are constantly changing around us,” she adds.
Not networking enough
Prakash has consciously focused on developing a strong professional network, including suppliers, customers and employees since starting her venture.
Apart from that, she has her network of friends and family too. But the network that she did not focus on was her strategic network, which is fellow entrepreneurs.
“Due to the lack of a strategic network, whenever I felt stuck or confused with any aspect of my business, I didn't have anyone to unload my concerns and fears or to guide me to make an informed decision. No one in my personal network are entrepreneurs, so they did not necessarily understand the business risks and struggles that I would face at that point in time. It is very easy to start feeling lonely during such times,” she says.
Now, she is consistently building her network of fellow entrepreneurs who may be from different sectors. “I know that I can reach out to them whenever I need to clear my head or need some advice. They will help you, encourage you, and share their wisdom and experience,” she adds.
Passion over vision
For many women, a hobby or interest turns into business, and they tend to build the product first without creating a strategy to sell it.
“So they may get stuck when things don't work out the way they expected (In fact, men also make this same mistake),” says Mahesh.
Trying to do everything
Women are good at multitasking, and when it comes to business, the common mistake women entrepreneurs make is they feel they should take up most of the responsibilities on their own.
“I come across so many female entrepreneurs with such brilliant products and wonderful business sensibilities but they struggle delegating the tasks and want to do everything by themselves. It's not a long term sustainable way to run a business, whether small or large scale. Build a team, even if a small one and delegate small tasks to begin with,” says Aditi Handa, co-founder & head chef, The Baker's Dozen.
“I, too, made this mistake initially. It's difficult to focus on everyday work and effectively scale up,” says Mahesh.
“There was a time when I was so immersed in the everyday operational activities that I was no longer focusing on scaling my business. I failed to understand that overworking is not equal to productivity. It just leads to frequent burnout. Eventually, I started concentrating on the tasks that helped me grow my business and learnt to delegate the rest to my team. By doing this, I was able to make time to upskill myself and focus on my personal growth as well,” adds Prakash.
Don't do it alone, find a co- founder
This is something every entrepreneur should do, find a co-founder with a complementary skill set. “Entrepreneurship is a long, difficult journey which requires an array of skills. Everyone needs a partner who will be your shoulder to lean on,” says Handa.
Choosing the right path
Entrepreneurs get a lot of advice from various sources.
“But knowing what is good for you and staying away from whatever is not relevant is very important (even if it's calls and proposals which are taking up your time). Many women are hesitant to say 'No',” says Mahesh.
Being a perfectionist
When women are constantly juggling work and home front, it is inevitable that they may drop the ball periodically.
“As a mother of two kids and a dog, my house sometimes looks like a battlefield. I have made my peace with it. Keeping posters around with quotes such as 'A clean house is a sign of misspent time' definitely helps to justify this in your head. Jokes aside, just know that it is okay; move on. Obsessing over mistakes or trivial issues and loading up on self-criticism or guilt is only going to drain you. So, prioritise when to be a perfectionist and when you can let some things slide,” says Prakash.
Treat yourself as an equal
We hear and even experience “I get treated differently because I am a woman”, and this may be good or bad.
However, Handa feels the way we treat ourselves, eventually gives the people around us a signal that they should treat us the same.
“I have always believed that when I am at work, dealing with my vendors or colleagues I always think of myself as an equal, I judge myself on my skill set and not on my gender. Set an example that treats me on merit, call me out because I could improve and not because I am a woman, accept my ideas because they were good and not because you wanted to show being supportive to a woman,” she adds.
“Many phenomenal women entrepreneurs underestimate their value. And as we all know, there's a wage gap in most countries, including India. So, sometimes women fall into the trap of just taking what is offered to them with gratitude. To truly succeed in business, women need to learn to own up to who they really are and recognise their capabilities. Women should be demanding what they need to be successful. They must believe in themselves and be confident of who they are,” says Sanjay Shah, COO – India/SEA, Wadhwani Foundation.
Not taking care of yourself
While handling multiple roles of an entrepreneur, mother, wife, daughter, etc., it can feel like your heart and time are being tugged in a million different directions at once.
“So, ensure that you regularly take some time out for yourself regularly. Indulge in some hobbies, spend time with your family, read the latest novel if you are a bookworm like me, and take care of your mental and physical health,” says Prakash.