There are more CEOs called John than women on the Forbes 500 list.

On April 6 2016, we were privileged to have four accomplished women in tech join our moderator and General Counsel, Ursula Hogben and speak to a full house about their why in business, creating a company culture and growing a business. We unpack these three key takeaways below, as well as reflect on our experiences as a startup in the hope that telling our story and experiences, will encourage others to do the same.

1. What’s Your Why?

Simon Sinek in his now famous TED Talk set out to discover why companies, like Apple, have had such enormous success while others with the same resources failed. His reason? Successful businesses start with why. They ask, and understand, their purpose – and no, as Sinek explains, it’s not making money. Why does your business exist? Why do you do what you do, and why should anybody else care?

Entrepreneur and accountant, Melissa Browne, explained that her why was to return personal power to women to improve financial literacy, and to help them understand and grow their business. Liz Kaelin, CEO, and founder of food-tech startup, You Chews, confessed that her why one month ago was very different to her why today. When pressed at The Marketing Academy as to why she cared whether people ate better food, she explained, “I love people, and I am trying to educate them.” 

Your why should permeate every aspect of your business – including your communications. Why do we write content, and why should anybody bother to read it? We’re lawyers – we know the law is complex, but also that it affects everybody. We write articles to explain legal concepts and answer common (and some not so common) questions. We know that access to legal services continues to present a barrier typically for those who require it the most.

Writing content then allows somebody to access information anywhere and for free. It equips clients with a new vocabulary to communicate with their lawyer and to cut time. There is no monopoly on information.

2. Creating a Company Culture

Your business’ culture revolves around you, as the business owner or founder. Liz Kaelin laid it out by telling attendees, “here’s how you set a culture – either you’re an asshole, or you’re not.” When hiring new employees, she now looks for intelligence and kindness. “I’m exhausted, I want to go work with people who I really like… people like me!” She searched for a CTO through song, and after witnessing her energy and raw attitude, it’s easy to see how she attracts similar personality types to You Chews. Browne also openly admitted that while she’s not an asshole, she’s an accountant. When starting her accounting practice, she was an ice queen because she didn’t understand that as the founder, she drove the culture.  

Startups particularly rely on the company culture to encourage innovation. It’s difficult to disrupt the status quo with rigid hierarchies, prescribed dress codes and passive employees. Our physical office is a converted open-plan warehouse, with plenty of natural light. We play music (although staff sometimes disagree over which artist or genre), have Friday French lessons and three office puppies. Yes, it can get noisy (although this explains the presence of so many headphones) but we can all openly chat to colleagues who sit in different teams.

Our CEO, CTO, Head of Client Care, Business Development Manager, Marketing Directors and Partnerships Manager all sit within a 50-metre radius of each other, as well as staff. We also have a team comprised predominantly of women. Our culture is then not only about working hard but also working together and learning from our peers. Knowing what’s happening across teams helps encourage collaboration. Like Liz Kaelin, it’s our world, and we’re building it – it’s just a fortunate coincidence no one in our world really enjoys wearing a suit.  

3. Know Your Numbers: the Business End

Head Over Heels founder, Sara Lucas, explained the pain point for women as connectivity. “We have the power and the control, but not the money. So how can we connect people to those who do?” She went on to tell the women in the audience not to think of themselves as women raising capital, but as business owners putting together a proposal. “Focus on your value proposition – investors want to know what their return is and when they can expect it”. Melissa Browne added that while passion is great, women also need to be passionate about the numbers. “If you don’t know your business – why on earth would someone invest?” Balancing your numbers is equally as important as your vision. But what are the numbers you should minimally know when talking to investors?

We get that startup numbers can be an alphabet soup of acronyms: CAC (customer acquisition cost), CPL (cost-per-lead) and CLV (customer-lifetime-value). But you can’t convince an investor that she or he will receive a greater return on their investment without them. Clearly and succinctly explain the problem you are solving, and the numbers needed to deliver your solution.

However, if you raise funds from an investor, you are giving away a piece of your business. Liz Kaelin then explained to attendees that you should find investors the same way you find your team. Have coffee, read up about them, talk to other portfolio companies. When in doubt, ask – ask questions, read articles and immerse yourself in the ecosystem to increase the chances of colliding with people who share your values and want to help.

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Before Wednesday’s seminar, I had attended a lunchtime lecture on women’s economic empowerment. I left with a key takeaway that we need to tell the stories of successful women in business until it becomes the norm. We look forward to hearing and telling your stories. Tag us on Twitter @legalvision_au and let us know!

You can download our Women in Tech eBook here.

Claudette Yazbek

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