9 key takeaways from the FoundHER festival of female founders in London

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5am Monday morning, as sun poured through the loft window, I found myself rolling out of bed to get ready for a 6am bus journey from Oxford to London to attend the first of four sessions at the FoundHER event in London. I’ve been looking forward to these sessions since I heard about them, excited by the prospect of all women’s panels (unheard of in most business conferences), hoping to get an insight into the world of female entrepreneurship at the very highest level.

Hosted by Allbright and EY Women Fast Forward, the goal of Monday’s session was to expose female founders to women who have successfully set up (and may have even sold) their own companies. While the main emphasis was particularly focused on the big scary topic of fundraising, two of the sessions also covered the important and daunting subjects of PR and personal branding. I was most impressed with the caliber of the women on the panels. Seated before us were 14 very credible and successful female entrepreneurs. The bonus for me from a TechPixie perspective was that many of the panelists were also mothers who had managed to build successful businesses while raising children at the same time.

So… what do we know about female founders? For starters, according to Allbright, less than 3% of venture capital goes to women-led companies despite that fact that 1 in 7 women want to start their own businesses. Having surveyed over 500 female founders, Allbright found that women said they needed strong networks, professional work space and education in entrepreneurship.

I took more than 8 pages of notes and quotes… but here are the 9 key takeaways from today’s four sessions for me:

  1. Female founders care about profitability. Tania Boler, who set up Elvie and recently raised £8 million, got started with a £100k government grant and was profitable within 6 months.
  2. If you want to raise money, you have to be confident without being arrogant. According to all the women on the first panel, men size you up the second you walk in the room, so how you act matters. Being able to demonstrate you have a strong grip on your numbers and a bold, bigger vision is key.
  3. Business has changed. Caroline Plumb, the founder of Fluidly, summed it up brilliantly: ‘It used to be ready, aim, fire! Now it is more like ready, fire, aim…’ Women struggle to set up businesses because they are afraid to launch a product or an idea which isn’t perfect. If you have an idea and you feel passionate enough about it, at some point, you’ll need to take the leap and do it.
  4. When you ask for money, you’ll be told no more than you’ll be told yes. The key is to grow a ‘Rhino skin’ as Debbie Wosskow the founder of Love Home Swap put it. Ideally, you want quick nos… but often the yeses are slow – and there is nothing worse than a slow no!
  5. Business strategy does not need to be a 112 page PowerPoint presentation. You should know what you are trying to do and be able to express it within 2 sentences.
  6. When building relationships with journalists and future investors, don’t ‘spray and pray’. If they are a journalist, read their writing, become familiar with the kinds of things they want to write about, and make sure your business has a reason for media coverage. If they are an investor, get to know the kinds of businesses they like to invest in, make a personal connection if you can and remember if they are difficult pre-investment, they are likely to be difficult post-investment.
  7. When it comes to your personal brand – you have one whether you like it or not. To put it simply, your personal brand is effectively what people say about you when you are no longer in the room. Linzi Boyd, author of Brand Famous, encouraged everyone to work on their ‘Google Fame’, asking us to think about how we’d want to show up in a 3 second Google search. Shy? No problem… focus promoting the solution to the problem you have solved rather than on promoting yourself.
  8. Julietta Dexter, the founder and CEO of The Communications Store talked about the long haul. ‘Be careful what you wish for. A lot of people have the skills to start something, but staying in for the long run is harder… 22 years later, 180 people later, you have a lot of responsibility to look after your community. You need to be a little bit of a ‘long-termist’.’
  9. Finally, help women out when you can. Jacqueline de Rojas, founder of TechUK spoke about how she wished when she was younger she wishes she had been less of an angry feminist. ‘I wish I’d known that being generous to other women would have been so rewarding.’

A gallery of the pictures from my trip to the FoundHER festival. Original source the FoundHER Facebook page.