Being a female founder: four lessons I learned from my father.
I get asked quite often if it's hard to start an organization as a woman. The truth is I am not quite sure. I've never tried starting one as a man. But I do know that I owe my dad much of the credit (whether he knows it or not) for teaching me about what it takes to be an entrepreneur.
Here are four lessons:
1. KEEP LEARNING
In 4th grade I signed up for basketball, but there weren't enough coaches. So my dad volunteered. Did he know anything about basketball? Nope. He went to Blockbuster and rented, "How to play basketball" starring Magic Johnson wearing a huge afro and Taylor Swifts shorts.
We were terrible, but I think we may have been doomed from the start. While other teams wore bright colors and were sponsored by Freddies Pizza, our uniforms were gray and sponsored by the local tire rotation business. I can still remember my dad during a halftime saying, "Remember what Magic says -- kiss that ball. Kiss it. Kiss it against that backboard." We lost. A lot. But it was better than not having a team at all.
He later went on to successfully coach both my sisters’ teams for multiple seasons and was our swim team “starter” (the guy who fires the gun) for over a decade.
When I was teaching myself how to code our website I kept thinking, I have no idea what I’m doing, but I’m going to figure this out. Thankfully, google is the new VHS.
2. INVEST IN PEOPLE
In 7th grade I spent the day with my dad as part of “Take Your Daughter to Work Day” where I spent the day watching my dad read files and depose a woman who clearly did not know which way was up. Biggest lessons I learned was: A. Being an attorney is nowhere near as exciting as Law and Order and B. never get deposed.
The first stop in our day was to the cafeteria for coffee.
"Becky meet ______ (I forgot her name). Now. You HAVE to try her tuna sandwich. She makes THE best tuna fish sandwich in the entire world. You want one?!” I declined, because it was, after-all, 9 AM.
I looked at this petite, middle-aged Asian woman in her cafeteria outfit and hairnet as she tried to modestly deflect the compliment, saying something like, "Oh no Jim, it's just a regular sandwich.” But her eyes were beaming. She was doing everything in her power to hold back a huge grin.
I remember thinking, "Wow, my dad just made this woman’s day."
I left the cafeteria determined to try and emulate my dad’s spirit and kindness. Here was my dad, a partner in a law firm he built, yet he took the time to get to know the names and people behind the cafeteria line. I mean sure, my dad loves food (apparently tuna), but it’s still a great example of the content of his character.
We rarely choose the people we come in contact with throughout the day, but we get to choose how we make them feel.
3. DON’T LET OTHERS TEAR YOU DOWN
It wasn't until I was out of graduate school that I accidentally overheard my boss tell an advisor, "You know, to gain credibility we really need an older guy in Becky's role." Which was unfortunate because "old" and "male" were exactly the two traits I have no control over. To mitigate I dyed my hair dark brown, thinking the blond was giving off a "young" vibe. In another twist of fate the stylist accidentally cut my hair like a mullet - so coincidently, I also looked kind of like a dude.
Still, to this day, I cannot call my Nana without her asking, "Are you still single?" Quickly followed by, "Your hairs not that brown color again, is it?" Then she reminds me that we are "both" natural blondes and need to stay that way.
Here's what my dad taught me - that my gender has absolutely no bearing on what I want to achieve in life. I was taught to be stubborn and a fighter, but I was never taught that being a woman might be a disadvantage. If he did, I imagine I might be jagged or guarded. Instead, he gave me 24 years of feeling like I could do anything I set my mind to as an intelligent and hardworking person.
4. DON’T QUIT
My dad was telling me the other day that at a Bar Association meeting two firms announced that they were closing because of the economy. My dads own firm has had to do some major shifting this year because one partner sadly and suddenly succumbed to a brain tumor and another is grieving the loss of his wife to breast cancer earlier this month.
I asked if he has considered a merger or acquisition. He said poetically, “No, I’m going to wait for all these other (expletive) firms to go under, and I’ll be the last one standing.”
Most businesses die not because they don’t have a great product, but because they don’t have the grit and fortitude to stomach the stress. Sometimes you just have to slog through it. There are great highs and low-lows. The highs are so much fun (like our gala) and the lows make you want to crawl under your desk and put your finger in a socket. As a nonprofit, finger-socket time always revolves around fundraising (or lack-there-of).
People have often advised me to focus on only creating jobs for women because women are "so hot right now" and we could “totally raise a lot of money if we ditch the men and pulled the ‘women helping women’ card.” Which is kind of true, unless you’re an animal. In the US we donate more money to causes supporting dogs, than women and girls. I’m tempted to create “jobs for dogs,” but only because that has such a great ring to it.
I remember being in Haiti after the earthquake and talking to Esther in our tent at night. She was upset because she met a man that afternoon cradling his toddler and crying, sitting on the rumble in the hot sun. The UN had finally arrived with food rations, but to stave off riots, only the female head of households were allowed to wait in line and collect it. This mans wife was killed, along with every female relative he knew. He looked at Esther crying and said, “I don’t remember the last time we ate. What am I going to do?”
There are many great men out there fighting to care for their families; we just don't hear their stories.
So I prefer to invest in the good ones. Because when you support great men, they raise strong daughters.
Happy Father’s day dad!