Our Be Heard women's leadership series celebrates the entrepreneurial spirit of women through conversations with innovators, change-makers, founders, and industry disruptors. Read their stories here.
Susan Lyne is the president and CEO of BBG Ventures, an early stage investment fund that focuses on the next generation of female-founded, market-defining consumer products and services.
One thing I wish I had known when I began my career is not to sweat mistakes. People remember your hits more than your misses, so take risks and aim high.
A major challenge I’ve faced was becoming a beginner again. I moved into new roles, new companies, and new sectors several times in my career. I learned that the old adage about “faking it till you make it” is a bad idea; but if you let people know what you don't know, and ask them to teach you, they’ll be invested in your success.
The thing I’ve achieved that I am most proud of is helping to launch the careers of a lot of fantastic women who’ve gone on to great things in tech, media, and entertainment.
My first job was assistant to the editor-in-chief of City magazine, Francis Ford Coppola’s San Francisco weekly. I learned to raise my hand for any project that was understaffed. I didn’t care if I was taking notes or tracking down a phone number, as long as I was in the room where it happened.
The biggest challenge that women entrepreneurs face is accepting that you’ll be held to higher standard. You’re up to it—so forget about the statistics and go out and make it happen.
To be a good leader you have to recognize that you are only as good as the people you work with. You can’t build a significant business on your own—so your first priority has to be recruiting, nurturing, and growing a team. It starts with some candid self-reflection, acknowledging your own strengths and weaknesses so you can fill in the gaps. And it’s never too early to make diversity a priority.
Not just gender and ethnic diversity but thinking styles, as well, will set you up to better serve the next generation of consumers.
My time working in magazine publishing taught me that there is nothing as satisfying or more fun than good teamwork. Seeing something move from an idea to an assignment to an edited, photographed, and designed piece is to truly understand the phrase that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.
The most important feature of a business pitch is YOU. Yes, the addressable market has to be big enough; the business model should be solid; and you need to show product/market fit; but at the end of the day investors have to be convinced that you can turn a good idea into a great business.
I unwind by reading novels, doing yoga three times a week, playing Scrabble, and spending time with my daughters and sisters. I have three sisters, two daughters and two stepdaughters, and a delicious six-month-old granddaughter—all of them in NYC and Brooklyn—so I am blessed to have a tribe of amazing women around me.
The one thing I would like to say to every woman in the world is YOU CAN DO THIS.
Dee Poku is the founder and director of WIE, an influential women's leadership network. In 2016, she launched The Other Festival, the first of its kind, all-female entertainment and maker festival.
The best career advice I've ever received is: Prove them wrong. When I first became an entrepreneur, I would often personalize rejection, which made me feel vulnerable and less willing to take risks. Then a friend told me that he used rejection to fuel him to achieve and to demonstrate what could be done. It really helped me brush off the "No's" and focus on my goals.
One thing I wish I had known when I began my career is it's important to work smart. I am a worker bee—the first in the office and the last out. I always thought dedication and hard work alone was the key to success. In reality, it's about how you manage the relationships around you and ensure your hard work is recognized.
The book that has had the biggest impact on me is The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri. It's such an evocative story about love, loyalty, and culture.
The woman who changed my life is my best friend Celine. She is unrelenting. Nothing phases her. She somehow always finds her way to "Yes." It's powerful to watch in action.
I unwind by going for walks. I love to walk. I don't go to the gym, I just walk and take the stairs. It's when I do my best thinking.
My first job was working for a fashion PR and marketing agency and what I learned from it was how to innovate. They were big on thinking outside the box and finding blue-sky ideas. We were always brainstorming and coming up with new approaches. Creativity is a muscle you have to exercise.
The biggest challenge that women entrepreneurs face is raising money. We receive a fraction of the available investment capital. Without adequate funding, it's difficult to scale our businesses and compete on equal footing. The investment community needs to change the way it sources deal flow to encourage better diversity overall.
The one thing I would like women to realize about their leadership potential is you don't have to lead like a man. Embrace so-called feminine qualities such as empathy, communication, consensus decision making, and long-term thinking. You don't have to change who you are. You are a leader.
I thought women needed a festival of their own because we were being left out of the equation. The major music festivals are terrible at diversity and rarely feature female-led bands as headliners. Overall, women in the creative industries aren't being given the recognition they deserve and I wanted to address that by providing a platform for makers and creators to connect with one another, learn valuable skills, and showcase their work.
The one thing I would like to say to every woman in the world is I am your ally. Other women are your allies. Everything you need to succeed is within the network of women around you. We should all think that way. Women are great at forming networks but not always great at asking for what they need.
Shan-Lyn Ma is the CEO and founder of Zola.com, a website that uses design and technology to reimagine and reshape the wedding gift registry, and an investor in female-founded businesses.
The best career advice I’ve ever received is: Make yourself irrelevant, from Zola’s chairman, Kevin Ryan. It goes against everything you think as CEO, but if you hire people to do what you were doing on your own, then you’ve built something enduring and bigger than yourself.
One thing I wish I had known when I began my career is not to doubt myself. Entrepreneurs, especially female entrepreneurs, put up false barriers as a reason they can’t live up to their full potential. I immigrated with my family from Singapore to Australia, and then I moved to the U.S. for business school. I had to work hard and make connections quickly. It wasn’t—and still isn’t—easy, but I’m proof that there are no barriers except for the ones you artificially put on yourself.
A major challenge I’ve faced was letting go of some responsibility. Up until two years ago, I was managing every department, which was completely unsustainable. We decided to hire a president, Rachel Jarrett, and it was one of the best decisions we’ve ever made. She always jokes that I get to do the sexy stuff like marketing, and she does the unsexy stuff like finance. But Zola wouldn’t be what it is today without her!
I thought the wedding registry business was in need of a shake-up because it hadn’t been shook in 100 years! Before Zola, the in-store registry experience was impersonal and clunky, and the e-commerce experience was even worse. Zola is the only place where couples can totally personalize their registry by uploading pictures and notes, plus registering for things they really want—not just what they think they’re supposed to register for.
I tap into creativity and inspiration by talking to our users. There is nothing more powerful than getting feedback from the people who use your product.
The thing I’ve achieved that I am most proud of is the team that we’ve built at Zola. We’ve hired 110 of the most intelligent, curious, creative, and driven individuals in the country. I really believe that. They are our heartbeat.
The biggest challenge that women entrepreneurs face is projecting as much confidence as men to investors. Susan Lyne, president and managing partner of BBG Ventures, said, “men pitch unicorns, and women pitch businesses.” Men walk into a meeting touting that they’re going to build a billion-dollar company. Women are more conservative even though we’re also building billion-dollar companies! We need to shift our mindsets.
Before I invest in a business, I look for a fast-growing business with a huge growth opportunity. It’s as simple as that.
The most important feature of a business pitch is confidence. Know your numbers. Know your business. No one can stop you if you know what you’re doing.
I maintain balance in my life by taking full advantage of the weekend. I love SoulCycle, Pilates, and brunch. Plus, a bit of shopping and a glass of champagne never hurt anybody!
Amanda Hesser & Merrill Stubbs
Amanda Hesser and Merrill Stubbs are the co-founders of the cooking and kitchen goods company Food52, an online resource for cooks, food lovers, and good eaters.
Amanda Hesser: The best career advice I’ve ever received came from Barbara Wheaton, a food historian and college professor of mine: Don’t ask for permission.
Merrill Stubbs: The book that has had the biggest impact on me is The Power of Full Engagement by Tony Schwartz and James E. Loehr. Hearing about the personal experiences—and triumphs—of others facing similar resource management challenges is always inspiring and helpful for me.
AH: My first job was being a lifeguard. I learned I’m not cut out for sitting around.
MS: Training to be a chef helped me in my current career because I learned that the time it takes you to do something is mostly in your head. If you have 60 minutes to make a soufflé, you’ll likely use the full 60; if you only have 30, you'll make it in that time. And the 30-minute soufflé won't necessarily be inferior to the 60-minute one.
AH: I tap into creativity and inspiration by walking. When I’m at home in New York, I tend to hunker down and work intensely. Walking wakes up my brain and allows me to think freely. And I love that you can do it anywhere.
MS: The secret to working with a friend is to push yourselves to be direct and candid, even when you’re afraid you may hurt the other’s feelings. It will do far more damage to the relationship in the long run to keep resentments and fears to yourself.
AH: We knew it was time to take our business to the next stage when we knew our community was thriving. Merrill and I knew from the beginning that we wanted commerce to be a part of Food52, but we needed to first build a strong community and produce excellent, useful content.
MS: The biggest challenge that women entrepreneurs face is worrying our true, genuine selves aren't good enough or compelling enough or strong enough to be successful, and feeling a constant need to improve, do better, etc. Add this to the job of actually running a business and it becomes a herculean effort.
AH: Being able to cook for yourself is important because you’ll eat more healthfully. Because you’ll be treating yourself well and this will make you happier. Because it will serve your innate desire to satisfy your appetites in a meaningful way.
MS: The thing I’ve achieved that I am most proud of is getting better at not letting myself be motivated by fear. At the beginning of every new year, I write “Live Fearlessly” somewhere where I know I’ll see it often, and I return to it when I’m in a tough spot or am struggling to make a big decision. Fear is our biggest obstacle.
AH: The one thing I would like to say to every woman in the world is you can have everything, because you get to decide how your time is spent.