– As founder and CEO of Venture Lab, do you believe there is some sort of pattern or formula to becoming a successful entrepreneur?
Through my own experiences and through my interviews with hundreds of CEO’s, in particular women CEO’s and leaders, I have found many shared traits to becoming a successful entrepreneur. Here are my top five.
Have Passion and Self-awareness. A successful entrepreneur is passionate about her idea, cause, or company, and is attuned to her inner voice. She is able to focus on her mission, despite naysayers dismissing her idea, or telling her she is too young or a woman. She understands her strengths and does not compromise on herself or her beliefs. As a CEO, you get to craft the job to fit you. Don’t try to be like someone else or do what you believe a CEO should necessarily do. Being your authentic self lets your passion shine through and will win people over to your cause.
Be Failure Resistant and Persistent. A successful entrepreneur has most likely succeeded in bringing her idea to market and has worked through many challenges and failures on the way to success. Through my interviews, I have noticed that many successful entrepreneurs experienced obstacles and challenges in their youth that shaped how they responded to challenges. Many entrepreneurs I spoke to were adopted, lived in a foster home, came from a different country, or had dyslexia or ADHD. Life wasn’t handed to them in childhood; they had to learn to bounce back from challenges and failures and take initiative to pave their own paths. Know that failure is not permanent and doesn’t define you personally. Failure is controlled practice. You keep practicing and failing until you get to that next phase of growth.
Be Fearless (or at least act like it). A successful entrepreneur is not afraid to jump in with two feet and get started, despite not always knowing exactly what she is doing. If she finds her business model tanking or finds her burn out of control, she is comfortable analyzing what is working, what is not, and changing her tactics. She isn’t afraid to ask the hard questions or make the tough decisions, because she knows that will lead her to success. Being fearless can be intimidating; I struggle with this on a daily basis. Just keep the ‘fake it till you make it’ mindset and seek out advice from those smarter than you.
Seek out Mentors and be Coachable. I have noticed that many successful women CEO’s and leaders, myself included, have all had some sort of ‘spark’ or mentor which gave us the confidence to believe we could accomplish anything. For many women, this was their parents, and in particular, their fathers, early in life. And for others, their spark has been a mentor, whether at school or in their career, who pushed them out of their comfort zones. Having the ability to realize you need help and ask for mentorship and advice from those wiser than you will help you grow and stretch yourself personally and professionally. Remember to ask the hard questions, be amenable to feedback, but also take a mentor’s advice with a grain of salt and be true to your values.
Learn How to Build a Strengths-based and Values-based Team. A successful entrepreneur can’t do everything herself (even if she thinks she can) and be able to grow to have the impact she desires. There is just not enough time in the day. Through my experiences and research, I have found that it is important to build a team that compliments your strengths and allows you to leverage yourself more than you could on your own. You want to build a team of smart people, who are each working in their own area of strength, but also collaborating together towards shared goals and values. Don’t always rush to fill the position with skills you need. Take your time to look at what strengths are needed to round out the team and make sure the new team member is open to learning, will be a good culture fit, and team player. Like the old saying goes ‘Teamwork makes the Dreamwork!’
– You recently wrote “Venture Girls”, what ignited the spark in you to write this book?
My experiences as a female founder, a woman in STEM, and a professor ignited my passion for understanding and slaying gender bias. While teaching at the university level, I realized that in order to overcome messages of bias, girls needed a certain type of confidence and risk-taking that are still not specifically taught to them at a young age. I was fortunate in my upbringing to have learned the entrepreneurial mindset and immigrant mindset from my dad, which empowered me to pursue my passions regardless of obstacles. So I started my non-profit, VentureLab, as a way to empower girls through the entrepreneurial mindset and to create more confident girl leaders in STEM or whatever field they chose to pursue.
As an organization, I still felt as though I was not having a large enough impact in spreading the entrepreneurial mindset as far and wide as possible. To truly have a global impact, I realized that I needed to democratize entrepreneurship and make it available to all. I felt compelled to write VentureGirls in an effort to reach more parents, teachers, and kids, and to provide a blueprint on how to instill their kids with an entrepreneurial spirit, thus creating more confident girl leaders. The book, VentureGirls, is my attempt at igniting a culture change in order to solve the gender gap, and to create a world where both men and women develop our future innovations.
– What are the three core ideas of your book? What will the readers learn?
Three core ideas from the book VentureGirls are 1) that entrepreneurship is not just about starting companies; it is a mindset and skillset that empowers girls and unlocks an interest in STEM, 2) that we must start teaching entrepreneurial skills to girls as young as 4 and 5 in order to combat gender bias and prepare confident kids for the future, and 3) that failure is a critical skillset girls need to learn in order to succeed.
Entrepreneurship is not just about starting companies. Through my experiences teaching entrepreneurship at the university and then teaching young girls, my own daughters included, I discovered a new way to look at entrepreneurship. I believe entrepreneurship is not just about starting companies but is a mindset that empowers girls with the confidence to pursue their passions and a skillset that unlocks girls’ interest in STEM. Entrepreneurship brings STEM to life and shows girls how to combine their passion with what they are learning in school to create real-world solutions that help people and the planet. They realize that they can 3D print a robotic hand to help people without limbs or develop a way to filter undrinkable water. When girls learn that they can tackle large problems and turn their ideas into reality, a lightbulb goes off and they develop a confidence that lasts a lifetime.
Start young to build confidence and combat gender bias. It is never too late to start teaching entrepreneurship, but I believe it’s best to start teaching girls entrepreneurial concepts beginning in pre-school. As we all know, kid’s brains are like sponges; scientific studies of the brain show that specific neural pathways that shape how children perceive the world are created at a young age. If we can indoctrinate their brains with entrepreneurial thinking, like problem solving, curiosity, creativity, growth mindset and persistence, I believe we can override their early exposure to gender bias in our society. Teaching these concepts at a young age is really rewiring their brains for confidence.
Redefine failure. Unfortunately, our society is obsessed with idea of perfection. Students in school must get straight A’s to get into the right college and then the right job. Media bombards girls with images of beauty and perfection. Research shows that many girls opt out of challenging subjects for fear of not being perfect. To solve this problem, we need to teach girls not to internalize themselves as failures, but to redefine failure as a vital part of the learning process; they are testing hypotheses and learning and practicing new information. Failure is temporary and the more they persist, the more the will grow in confidence and achieve their goals.
After reading VentureGirls, I hope readers will come away with a better understanding of some of the challenges that still face women in STEM fields and leadership positions. I hope that they will gain a better understanding of entrepreneurship and the importance of teaching our girls, and our boys, the entrepreneurial mindset and skillset at a young age. I hope readers will feel empowered to use the knowledge, activities, and resources in the book to teach and empower their own children. And I hope the book inspires readers to join the movement to spread the entrepreneurial mindset by bringing entrepreneurial learning to their schools and their communities.
– Can you name a person who has had a tremendous impact on you as a leader? Why and how this person did affect your life?
My postdoctoral supervisor at the University of Texas, Dr. Steven Nichols, had a tremendous impact on me as a leader. As the Director of the Murchison Chair of Free Enterprise, he instilled in me an appreciation for the mission of the chair – creating and nurturing a culture of technology innovation, creativity, leadership and entrepreneurship.
Dr. Nichols taught me the ins and outs of running the Idea to Product program by making sure I knew all of the details, from financials, to grant writing, event planning, teaching, and coalition building. He had high expectations, provided me autonomy to do my work, and gave the right amount of guidance and direct feedback backed up with data. By empowering me, he taught me how to build teams where people felt a sense of ownership in their work and organization. He taught me the nuances of persuasion and how to work together with diverse groups of individuals to accomplish goals by aligning our goals with their mission.
Dr. Nichols was a mentor who was supportive and nurturing of my goals in life, which included having a family, starting a company, and trying to figure out how to decrease the gender gap in technology. He pushed me to learn and try things that seemed out of my reach and introduced me to the opportunity to direct the Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation at Trinity University. He taught me what a good leader was by modeling it and encouraging me to pursue my dreams. Dr. Nichols’ gifts to me are something that I hope to pass down as a leader myself.
– What are you doing to ensure you continue to grow and develop as a leader?
Starting off my career as a shy, data-driven engineer, I’ve done quite a bit of reading and practicing to learn how to lead and give my team at VentureLab a sense of ownership in the creation and growth of the company. To develop and grow as a leader I always try to maintain a beginner’s mindset. I look at the world through a lens of curiosity, openness, and learning. I know that I don’t have all the answers and am not afraid to ask questions or seek out advice. I am always seeking out opportunities to meet and talk with different people in an effort to learn and improve. I am constantly reading articles, learning about business models in other industries that might be helpful to my company, and attending workshops to improve my leadership skills. And I have learned that I am not growing if I do not put myself in a position to fail by stretching myself farther than I am comfortable.
By Mayshad Team