Mentor spotlight: Astrid van Leeuwen

Mentor spotlight: Astrid van Leeuwen

I am Astrid van Leeuwen – the owner of TekstAppeal, an agency for journalism, editing, and communication, and owner of coaching practice MovingMinds Coaching Amsterdam. Unraveling people’s dilemmas, drives, and (hidden) passions with warmth and commitment is second nature to me. After a challenging start of my career as a press officer at Het Nationale Ballet (Dutch National Ballet), I have developed into a versatile freelance journalist and communications consultant. Besides, after extensive training in this field, I started my coaching practice. I focus, among other things, on career guidance, guarding your limits, high sensitivity, and effective communication.

What is your story, and what led you to join the entrepreneurial world?

Autonomy is a high priority for me. I thoroughly enjoy the freedom and flexibility I have as an entrepreneur. I come from a family of entrepreneurs – father, brothers – and already knew at an early age that I wanted to be my own ‘boss.’

What have you learned in your entrepreneurial career?

It is a continuous learning process in which you keep growing and keep responding to changes and new developments. The most important lesson for me was: always follow my intuition.

What is one thing you still really want to do in your entrepreneurial career?

I want to inspire young people to be the best they can be and, above all, to believe in themselves.

Looking back, what is one thing you would do differently?

I would have paid more attention to my pension accrual. As a young entrepreneur, I was – foolishly – not concerned with that.

What is the reason you joined FEMpreneurhulp?

I have had many ‘mentors,’ people who believed in me and who helped me take a step forward in my career. I am now at a point in my life where I can and want to take on that role myself.

What are common challenges women face in the startup world, and how can we tackle them, according to you?

What you need is the focus, passion, capital, and belief in yourself. What you run into are prejudice, indifference, and gender inequality. How you can break through all of that is different for each situation.

What would you advise women to start their journeys in the entrepreneurial space?

As I said before, above all, follow your intuition and believe in yourself.

Mentor spotlight: Lisa Ross-Marcus

Mentor spotlight: Lisa Ross-Marcus

Lisa Ross-Marcus is an executive coach and intercultural consultant with a focus on women and leadership.

What is your story, and what led you to join the entrepreneurial world?

I moved to Paris from the United States as a student and eventually settled in Amsterdam. My first career was as a professional dancer and choreographer, creating my performances that toured throughout Europe. Later I realized that this was my first entrepreneurial experience. I was an artistic director of my foundation and raised significant money annually to fund my productions through grants, sponsoring, and income from performances. After leaving the theatre world, I established one of the first wedding planning companies in The Netherlands, ‘Dream Weddings.’ I sold the company 5 years later, after doubling the earnings every consecutive year.  In the interim, I had started to work as a corporate communication trainer for multi-national companies. The professional development field was a good fit for me, so I expanded my skills as a coach and an intercultural expert. Through my company In-Coaching, I coach and train professionals in leadership, career development, and intercultural communication.

What have you learned in your entrepreneurial career?

I have learned that taking risks is important. If you want to do something that hasn’t been done before, don’t worry about negative scenarios or what other people will think get in your way. On the contrary, there is strength in presenting new ideas and concepts because it creates curiosity.

What is one thing you still really want to do in your entrepreneurial career?

I want to explore structured ways to help develop female leaders, such as creating a self-assessment model or designing a workshop. I love experiential and creative learning; I would like to find more ways to leverage my artistic/performance background in coaching and training.

Looking back, what is one thing you would do different?

I would give more compliments and do less complaining. I have always set very high standards for myself and expected others to do the same. I have learned that acknowledging what people do well creates the trust and respect you need to address problems and get people to perform better honestly.

What is the reason you joined FEMpreneurhulp?

I jumped at the chance to be part of FEMpreneurhulp because of the mission of helping female entrepreneurs, which is in line with my focus on female leadership. I came on-board as a coach but rapidly realized that I had a lot to offer as a mentor to women relying on grants to get their enterprise off the ground. Likewise, I have a lot of experience writing successful grant proposals and having a knack for articulating compelling arguments in general, such as pitching business proposals and even winning a court case against a multi-national company. This means that when working with women through FEMpreneurhulp, I frequently switch between my ‘coaching’ and ‘mentoring’ hats. 

What are common challenges women face in the startup world, and how can we tackle them, according to you?

Speaking your mind and holding others accountable can be challenging because of a fear of not being liked or respected. Learning the skill of constructive conversations and framing that with clear intentions – why something is important for you and the company – are empowering habits to cultivate.

What would you advise women to start their journeys in the entrepreneurial space?

Keep your antenna out to connect your ambitions with opportunities. Read the local newspaper, pick up clues about valuable information in your conversations, share your ambitions with everyone. You never know when a door will open, and you need to be ready when it does. 

FEM-START EDUCATION : SALES

FEM-START EDUCATION : SALES

In the last years, sales, purchasing habits, and processes have completely changed. Thanks to the digital transformation, we now find ourselves with a more empowered consumer and greater control of their purchasing process, having relegated shop assistants, sellers, and salespeople to second place and prevailing in many cases, their own research on tech giants such as Amazon, and Google. An important term to explore and understand is “sales,” which includes all the activities necessary to provide a customer or company with a product or service in exchange for money. However, for companies, the meaning of this word goes much further.

In the pre-internet era, we needed to follow push strategies and impact the user to advertise our solution, our added value, our qualities. In short, we had to create a speech to impact our target. When the user has the information at his disposal quickly and easily, push techniques are less and less effective, and it has become practically vital to use pull strategies. This new client does not want to adapt to the sales processes of the companies, but rather the companies are the ones who must adapt to the user’s new purchasing wishes and process. They want to be guided, advised, and accompanied in their research and decision phase to be an active part in solving their needs. This strategy is more related to inbound sales, unlike the outbound sales that focus on the pitch, that is, on the message given to the user about what the company offers and what is their added value. These two methods, especially the inbound sales-type, provides visibility to the entire process since it allows to know the life that exists between a potential client in a phase of awareness, research and decision, and the purchase: their first interaction, the most optimal channels, the type of content with which interacts. This inbound sales strategy allows businesses to know and have more visibility of the customer’s preferences since, in addition to the information that would come from marketing, it is possible to know the entire itinerary that has been followed until the purchase.

The sales process has moved from punctual repetitive actions (calling leads over and over, door-to-door…) to a more agile, data-based informed, in constant need of innovation to get customers’ attention and answer their needs. The current and future models focus on the company’s journey and their whole funnel, from reaching and converting them to increasing their brand awareness and virality. As everything can be measured fast, integrating sales in the company’s culture has to be done the same way employees and founders get more data-driven and informed. The challenge remains in keeping a share of creativity, intuition, and impulsiveness to stay over the top.

Text by: DANIELA PATERNINA

FEM-START EDUCATION: FUNDING

FEM-START EDUCATION: FUNDING

Entrepreneurs are characterized by using the resources they have to develop an idea and turn it into a business. Entrepreneurs pursue a dream; while some seek to solve a market need, others seek to create social impact and improve communities. Entrepreneurship contributes to reducing poverty in a country by creating jobs and generating income, thereby raising the socioeconomic level and well-being of citizens, particularly of its main actors: entrepreneurs. To succeed as an entrepreneur, It is relevant to understand how to build a brand, monetize products or services, and most importantly: how to make startup businesses grow and get funds. Currently, women entrepreneurs struggle to access capital without going into debt. Still, it doesn’t have to be this way as there are different ways to access funding through investors, which we will briefly discuss below.

There are different types of funding routes to build a company, and one of them is bootstrapping, meaning no funds are raised, and the only source of money comes from the founders and customers. In these cases, founders get to keep the shares and profits if successful, but they also assume all the risk if they fail. Of course, this option is impossible for everyone because the initial investment needed to scale up a business can be quite high. Therefore some entrepreneurs go into a partnership with another entity to grow its activity and delegate part of the operation to another company in exchange for a revenue share. This is an excellent opportunity to access new markets.

A significant term to mention is ‘Venture Capital Funds,’ described as “a mutual fund managed by professional investment managers. Fund investors are mostly pension funds and institutional investors” (Morrissette,2007. p52). The ability to form a business network is imperative to female entrepreneurs for setting ventures. It concedes them to approach peers individuals and improve their skills and competencies to establish opportunities that help them grow their business ventures. This is important to mention as men manage most venture capital funds, so women tend to have more difficulties accessing this capital.

An investment fund is a Collective Investment Institution made up of a group of participants, either individuals or companies, who invest part of their capital in an investment vehicle (shares, fixed income securities, etc.), operated by a managing entity, to obtain an economic return, maintaining the security and liquidity of its capital. The growth of private capital funds worldwide during the last years has been remarkable, reaching an annualized rate higher than that registered by any other financial product. The investments of these financial agents have the potential to represent a determining impulse for economic development. According to recent studies, its participation in very diverse companies’ capital produces positive effects in terms of job creation, sales, results, investment in assets, and tax collection, among others.

The typical private funds capital seeks to invest in projects that meet clearly identified attributes, such as the profitability of the project, its maturity period, and the economic sector where it is proposed to invest. One of the dimensions that receive the most attention from the perspective of the analysis and selection of projects carried out by the private funds capital is the Entrepreneur’s Profile. In most of the research on the topic of entrepreneurship, the attention given to entrepreneurs’ characteristics stands out. Specifically, they are interested in their commitment, dynamism, experience, and leadership, recognized as defense mechanisms against the adversity of the environment at the time of funding, managing their business, and internationalizing.

Another relevant concept to look into is the term ‘Angel Investors’, this definition of business angels describes “wealthy individuals who provide capital for start-up companies. Also known as, private investors, this term emphasizes the non-public and idiosyncratic nature of this capital market.” (Morrissette, 2007. P52). Morrissette also points out a profile of ‘Angel Investors’, describing that a “consensus paints angel investors as well educated, middle-aged men with significant business experience and substantial net worth.” (Morrissette, 2007. P53). Sudek (2006) analyzed the priorities of the “Angel Investors” during their selection of entrepreneurial projects and found that they pay special attention to the entrepreneur’s technical and administrative team’s characteristics. Other studies show that the entrepreneur’s commitment, experience, and track record are equally important investment funds.

We can assume that there is an unconscious bias based on the fact that people tend to look for a similar profile while building a network between investors and entrepreneurs. Women-owned businesses do not have equal access to angel capital. This could jeopardize female entrepreneurs’ situation, as they might lack the knowledge and experience to pitch in front of angel investors. Many women still ignore how the investment process works, and the fewer presence of women as business angels could explain the difficulty women face when financing their business projects. This reminds us of the importance of supporting and educating female entrepreneurs when raising funds, creating better opportunities for women to access funding.

Text by: DANIELA PATERNINA

FEM-START EDUCATION: ONLINE SUCCESS

FEM-START EDUCATION: ONLINE SUCCESS

Online presence has a huge impact on sales and visibility growth for businesses and brands. The digital transformation has revolutionized the way we consume, communicate, think and work, radically changing how we do business. Digital transformation is key to access funding, scaling your business, and achieving a great customer experience. 

The digital transformation has completely democratized access to information, knowledge, and data, opening up a whole range of possibilities for entrepreneurs to gain direct and informed access to markets and consumers without time and space barriers. The democratization of access is, without a doubt, the most important and transformational benefit that the use of technology has in this era. Similarly, through crowdfunding platforms, technology has boosted access to capital, and entrepreneurs can raise funds in a more agile and diverse way, multiplying the growth opportunities. Likewise, technology allows investors and Venture Capitalists to access and get to know more projects that they would have hardly been able to discover, evaluate and fund without the facility the Internet brings to reach new leads and share information. 

Online success or digital transformation can be approached in three different ways. Some consider digital transformation as an issue – it is associated with implementing information technologies and/or digital platforms that would change the organization’s processes. Others understand digital transformation as a marketing means, a new way to attract customers and deliver value. However, a third group considers digital transformation as a new way of doing business: digital transformation leads to the construction of new business models and exploiting new opportunities (Hachana, R., Berraies, S. & Ftiti, Z. 2018). Successful ventures manage to integrate technology into every business area: sales, marketing, data analytics, management, and customer service. For companies, innovation and digital transformation is no longer an added value but an essential element, which must be integrated into the organization’s strategy, culture, and structure, creating a strong foundation to scale and reach different markets.  

Another benefit of online presence is the possibility to keep track of your customer’s preferences and behaviors, generating useful insights to improve customer experience. Customer experience is paramount for success, and the ability to tailor and customize products and services is a huge competitive advantage of digitalized businesses.

In this era of high innovation, well-used technology and online success allow the opportunity to make important changes that benefit businesses and our communities, and female entrepreneurs are no exception. Even though women entrepreneurs generally overcome more barriers to reach the same business opportunities as men, women-led companies often are more successful. Currently, startups run by women and online businesses for women are on the rise on the international market, such as Whitney Wolfe, creator of Bumble, a dating app worth $1.5 billion. To continue increasing female entrepreneurs’ success, it is essential to adopt online social activity successfully. By doing this, women, entrepreneurs will continue to impact communities worldwide. 

Text by: Daniela Paternina