There are not enough female tech entrepreneurs, says Camilla Ley Valentin, former winner of Ivækst’s Female Entrepreneur of the Year award. She has a few ideas about why that is. Read her top 5 pieces of advice for women who dream of taking the plunge into entrepreneurship.
Camilla Ley Valentin is CCO and co-founder of the software company Queue-it. She is a former winner of the Female Entrepreneur of the Year award and was recently crowned as one of the 50 most inspiring women in the European technology industry. She believes there are not enough female tech entrepreneurs in Denmark and has some guesses about what causes this discrepancy. Below, she gives 5 tips for all women who dream of plunging into the world of entrepreneurship.
# 1 Throw out checklists and wishlists
Through many years of senior management positions in large corporate companies, and now as the head of her own business, Camilla Ley Valentin has held many interviews. She has observed a trend in many of the female applicants that she calls, 'checklist syndrome'.
“When there is an opening for a position, the poster always has a written list of skills they want applicants to have. It is here I've noticed that women who apply almost always have all the skills in question – documented! Whereas the men who apply, they see the headline and think, ‘That sounds great, I’ll seek that’. And sometimes, they get hired without even having all of the qualities wanted. It does happen. I believe that women should learn something from this.”
“Of course, I do not employ somebody if the person does not match what we’re looking for, but I find that I can choose someone that meets only three of the ten things on the list – because I think that there are other things that person can do. As the person who does the hiring, you do not expect to only have candidates with everything on the list. So it’s about seeing the list as a wish list, not as requirements. The problem with being an entrepreneur is the fact that the checklist is actually infinite.”
“You have to try to get rid of the list, and go ahead and start the business based on what you know. That is actually another piece of advice.
# 2 Women go bankrupt when they switch industries
“I read somewhere that the reason there are so many women-owned companies going bankrupt (statistically there are more women-owned than male-owned companies that go bankrupt) is because women change industries when they start something by themselves. They may have been consultants at Microsoft for 20 years, but then when they choose to jump out and be independent, they open a children’s clothing store. But they have no experience in managing.”
“What happens is that they both change sectors and take the plunge to start a business by themselves – it’s too much.”
“My advice is: if you want to become an entrepreneur, consider starting with something in which you either know the product or have a business network; find a base in anything you can.”
# 3 Do not start a business with your friends
“…or anyone else you’ve tried to work with before. Whether it was through writing your thesis or a previous job – if you start up with your friends, things can go wrong very quickly, just as it is not always your best friend who's also the best choice for a roommate.”
“However, if you choose someone you’ve worked with before, that you worked well with, you know their strengths and weaknesses - who is good at what and who does what. So you don’t have to start from scratch to get that aspect in place on top of the whole process of starting up a business.”
# 4 Use your clothes to stand out
Camilla Ley Valentin says that women have no need to hide their femininity in the workplace. As a woman in a male-dominated industry (which the startup ecosystem certainly is), it is easy to believe that you will stand out in a negative way if you wear a brash outfit. But this mindset is completely upside-down, says Camilla:
“You have an advantage. If, for example, you are at a conference where you are the only one in a green dress among 100 suits, it’s you who will be noticed.
For better or for worse, of course. You will be remembered for what you say and what you stand for, because you're sticking out. So it's important to use this constructively, since there aren't so many female entrepreneurs. It is at least something you can use to give yourself a boost.”
# 5 Disregard the 'traditionalists', they will die out soon anyway
“Do not be put off by sexist old men who think they're better than you, just because you are a woman; of course they exist in all industries. It's stereotypically an older, grey-haired gentleman, who talks down to you. Here is my advice for this situation: Avoid them. Find other people you can work with, there are plenty.”
“Choose your battles and stay away from sexists.”
“Moreover, they are a dying breed, so at some point, the last one will be dead and the problem will go away.”