WhatsYourTech is excited to launch its Women Entrepreneurs series. Our focus is to explore the world of start ups and entrepreneurism in Canada, and will feature interviews with small business owners and start-up thought leaders as well incubators, support networks, corporate programs and educational offerings. 2016 will be an interesting economic time for entrepreneurs, but Canadian business innovation and tenacity is a proven strength in this country. Please get in touch if you are a budding entrepreneur or are thriving in your start up business: WYT wants to share your vision, voice and innovation.
Meet Neeti Passi, CEO and founder of mywedhelper, a unique wedding concierge service for South Asian weddings. Enabled by a sleek website, Passi has developed a customer-specific service offering in the lucrative wedding industry, which she supports with blogs and episodic videos that let engaged couples into her conversation with vendors and other couples planning their weddings. Her start-up journey is one of vision, skill and a lot of tenacity.
“I have always been interested in enterpreneurship, but for someone who has spent more of her career in corporate land it was hard for me to see how I could make the jump into entrepreneurship,” said Passi. “Then, three years ago, when I was planning my own wedding and experiencing the challenges of finding the right wedding vendors, it hit me: we needed a service that could help couples with the decision making process of locating the right wedding vendors, based on location, budget and wedding style.”
Passi had her startup business idea and, after some assessment and planning, she jumped. She became an entrpreneur: she became that gritty person who organizes and manages an enterprise, usually with considerable initiative and risk. And, she loves it.
“The most rewarding part of running your own start-up is seeing a simple idea turn into something that adds value to your customers and helps improves their lives,” said Passi.
And, like many Canadian entrepreneurs, Passi’s resolve to launch her start-up two years ago also came from a familial history of startups. Passi’s mother, also an entrepreneur, owned and ran a clothing business, exposing Passi to entrepreneurship at an early age.
Invited to share the startup journey by her grandmother, Joelle MacPhee is another business woman now blazing an entrepreneurial trail in Canada. MacPhee is director of marketing, Ooka Island, an adaptive, online learning platform for children that personalizes the reading experience and mastery of five foundational reading skills. Through the art of story telling and careful instructional design, children in 32 countries are brought into the whimsical world of Ooka while simultaneously honing their literacy.
“I am very close to my grandmother and she is a successful entrepreneur. Growing up I saw how hard she worked, but also how much she loved what she did and how challenging and exciting it seemed. She created something from nothing and her work helped so many people as a result. After she sold her last company, SpellRead, she launched Ooka Island and invited me to cross over into the dark side to help her. The opportunity was too big to pass up and I haven’t looked back.”
“I left a stable job for an unknown world of high-risks and high rewards,” said MacPhee.
Passi and MacPhee have successfully pushed through the initial phases of their startups, which led me to ask them about their thoughts on what it takes to be an entrepreneur.
“I think there are three qualities that you need to have: endurance, patience and resourcefulness ,” explained Passi. “ Each of these qualities will play a part at different points in your journey as an entrepreneur.”
“I think the best experience for me was working at an early stage startup company. I was able to see how a startup operates, the challenges you may face as well as the opportunities. I was able to wear multiple hats during my employment, which allowed me to become skilled in areas that I currently use in my business, like how to align the business strategy with technology to allow your platform to scale and grow.”
MacPhee commends entrepreneurs who have grit, hustle and those that are receptive to change.
“Grit because startup life is a slog. Hustle because you’re likely all you have in the beginning and you can’t be afraid to put yourself out there. And, being receptive to change because you’re going to make wrong choices and, more often than not, things don’t work out like you plan.”
Like Passi, MacPhee similarly values her experience working alongside an entrepreneur prior to becoming one.
“I worked for my entrepreneurship professor on her venture for a year before joining Ooka Island. There was only the two of us and I was able to find out firsthand the rollercoaster that is involved with starting your own company, and what matters most. It was like an entrepreneurship bootcamp without all the risk.”
Inevitably there have been hurdles in their experience, and I was curious to know if Passi and MacPhee faced particular challenges as women entrepreneurs.
“A lot of the challenges experienced by female entrepreneurs are similar to male entrepreneurs with one caveat,” shared Passi. “Female entrepreneurs are always tested on proving themselves before they are even asked to prove the business. In every conversation I have had with potential investors, I need to sell my abilities first before I can even enter into the conversation about my business.”
“The challenges have been subtle in my experience, but they exist,” remarked MacPhee. “I still get hugs versus handshakes and it’s sometimes assumed that I don’t understand the technical details because I don’t fit the typical profile.”
MacPhee added, “I am naturally extroverted and it has been misinterpreted while I see my male counterparts act in the same way and it’s called charisma. The majority of my time is unscathed though as I’m very lucky to work with mostly women, and a few men who are awesome and don’t subscribe to any of that nonsense.
Women running startups can face innacurate personal judgement; self-employment gets confused with lack of corporate grit, confidence gets confused with bossiness and know-how is confused with arrogance. But, there are also systemic factors the women entrepreneurs inevitably face like limited access to funding, networking and mentorship, especially in technology-related sectors.
So what about these challenges that women entrepreneurs must overcome? What about funding, incubation and networking opportunities for women who run startups? What can we further learn from Passi and MacPhee about how they funded their businesses?
Whatsyourtech.com will continue the startup conversation with Passi, MacPhee and other entrepreneurs in future articles of its WYT Women Enterepreneurs series. Stay tuned.
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