Watching women come together with a collective intention is a powerful experience. I went to the FS not knowing what to expect, and not knowing that I would leave feeling extremely inspired. The room was full of excited women entrepreneurs ready to make a difference and share their ideas; ready to pitch. How do you summarize your idea, added value, and years of hard work in 3 minutes?
Barbara Rogoski has the answer to this question. She can teach you how to show investors and the jury what they are looking for: a visionary, confident speaker who believes in her idea and clearly describes how it can improve the world. And that’s exactly what we saw next! 9 powerful female founders who dared to make a difference and create scalable, sustainable companies with positive social impact. They want to make things better for everyone: create plastic-free skincare, extend clothing’s lifecycle, and recycle and re-use human hair. Their focus is on creating more inclusive workplaces and societies, reducing burn-out rates by measuring performance differently, and supporting each other through a mentoring platform. These female entrepreneurs want to eradicate allergies in children, democratize digital innovation, and bring online dating offline to increase connection in a world that is losing its essence behind screens and computers. These are women who dare. They share a passion to make a difference, to not accept the status quo, a passion for making societies better.
As I sat there, waiting for Joachim Goyvaerts -Director of Paypal- to announce the winner, I realized they’ve all won. They stood up against the odds, they crossed the many barriers that women face when starting a business, and they made it happen. Getting funding is one of the most crucial parts of setting up a business, and unfortunately, women have way less access to funding than their male counterparts. When women become entrepreneurs, they make their families, their communities, and entire societies flourish. Why are we then not giving more funding to women-founded companies? Fortunately, Marian Spier and Sandra van der Pal created FEM-START to close the funding gap for female entrepreneurs and launched an educational module for women on how to raise funding. Yes, because they also dared. They are making a difference.
The journey of entrepreneurship is not easy- that’s for sure. A 3-minute pitch does not reflect all the hard work behind the idea, or the effort put in setting up a start-up and getting your first customers -it certainly doesn’t. But one thing is for sure: you are not alone in the process. FEM-START is here to support you. There is a whole community of entrepreneurs and businesswomen who are willing to walk the journey with you, advise you, and support you to make it to the top. Because when women support each other and come together, the whole village flourishes. So what will you dare next?
Joachim Goyvaerts, the director of PayPal Benelux and Ireland, talks about the power of digital transformation, the benefits of building networks, and PayPal’s new partnership with FEM-START.
What was your journey leading up to being the Director of Benelux and Ireland at PayPal?
I have always found myself at the intersection of customer-centricity and technology; I have a degree in marketing management, but analytics interested me. I started my business consulting career: I helped businesses flip a product from internal orientation to customer orientation. Unwittingly, I entered the area/field of payments, and as of today, I have been working in it for the past 15 years. I was the first person to be hired at PayPal Belgium six years ago and helped them establish themselves in this region. Throughout the years at PayPal, I have been in different roles: from developing strategies for partners to leading the Benelux and Ireland region.
What were the greatest challenges you faced as a Director?
At PayPal, there is no lack of opportunities. The challenge lies in smartly using limited available resources by focusing on the most important things. PayPal now doubles down on cryptocurrencies as we see a more stable regulatory environment and customer relevance. More recently, at the onset of COVID-19, I had to rebuild the team’s culture and keep that culture alive throughout the global crisis. That has been a big challenge, but it also energizes me the most. Customer orientation is important, but that gets done through the team, of course.
How did you maintain the culture through COVID-19 times?
I have great internal allies who help me organize things for the team. With COVID-19, we miss out on the informal interactions, so it is important to structure them and make them more intense. PayPal really cares about its employees. We constantly check in on them; ask them if they are in hardship, or continue to work, etcetera. People need to take the time they need to get the basics right first. Otherwise, there is no way to perform sustainably over time.
Shifting gears now: over the past few years, we have witnessed a growing interest in businesses going digital, especially in the past year. How important do you think it is for businesses to adopt this new “trend”?
I don’t think we can think in terms of a “trend” anymore, it is important, but it is also a necessity. If you set up a business now, being digital helps you ensure continuity in all your processes. It is your lifeline today. The advantage of digital is that you can scale it. If you are starting a company, you need to think about scaling and think big. Having digital technology from the start facilitates faster scaling.
So, it is a must!
Yes, it is. Another advantage is that it makes things simpler, as well. It is essential to offer a straightforward solution to your customers and give them the possibility to contact you easily, digitally. If you think about customer service, for instance, phone calls or even e-mails are not so effective anymore, it is easier to have a chat available. Digitalization also helps to focus on sales, e-commerce, among other things.
It does! FEM-START is an ED-Tech solution to close the funding gap for female entrepreneurs. We are grateful and excited about this partnership between FEM-START and PayPal. What is your vision for this alliance?
First, it is important to understand the nature and the identity of PayPal as a company. We give people access to their money through technology. We believe it is a way to achieve more equality and inclusion by making the management and movement of money more accessible, secure, and affordable. More people have access to economic opportunities. Another core value of PayPal is innovation, and we have an entrepreneurial nature, so we encourage people to start their business.
Based on these core values, a collaboration with an initiative such as FEM-START seems natural! There are still many challenges for women to combine different roles. They often have more difficulties accessing funding, so we really need to watch out and ensure that digitalization does not increase inequality. We are also supporting women internally at PayPal. We have active programs to promote female leadership and diverse leadership. It is what we live and breathes as a company, so we have knowledge and networks to share.
Why do you think it is worthwhile to invest in female entrepreneurship? What are the advantages for investors and the community as a whole?
If you are trying to solve a problem, you would ask someone: would you leave out 50% or more of the potential? Of course not! By promoting female entrepreneurship, we are also tapping into creativity, sustainable results, and creating a society with a healthy bandwidth of equality and inequality. If half of the people are not participating, it is too unequal. Fundamentally, we should aim to have a healthy ecosystem that offers sufficiently equal opportunities, and that is, in the end, what produces the best results. Female entrepreneurship clearly has a big gap, even in The Netherlands, where many women work part-time when they become mothers.
Besides motherhood, what do you think contributes to this gap?
Networking plays a crucial role, having informal connections. It is key, and many people who have access to a strong network are not even aware of it. For example, many men from these business networks inadvertently exclude women. They seem to be unaware that this creates exclusion. Furthermore, with the lockdown, there is also a risk of missing out on opportunities because, in a way, people who do not have a strong network suffer more. This also goes for mental health. People who are alone are having a harder time. It might mean that some things need to be reset. Some networks do not exist anymore, which creates an opportunity for building new ones. Again, it is crucial to give women access to these newly formed networks, as well.
How can we bring more men on board to include female entrepreneurs?
I think the first step is awareness. If men become aware, they can make simple actions to change this, also in digital networks. Another action is to promote women and not see it as a threat, because it is not. If companies and stakeholders in society stand up and speak about these issues, we can address them. But it starts with what you can do as an individual because, in the end, it is the people and leaders within companies who are assigning budgets, assigning people, setting up a structure, focusing on diversity, and so on. As an individual, you can have a huge impact. It takes time, it takes precise focus, but once it takes off, it can become really big, which changes the network. As an individual node, you can influence the whole network.
Generally, women face difficulty when looking for investors for their businesses. What advice would you give to female entrepreneurs that want to raise funds?
I would say think big and bold; it is what investors are looking for. Compared to 10 years ago, there is a lot of capital available, and there are really many great ideas. The supply and demand are at a whole different level, so show that you can be that next big company, but you need to demonstrate how you will generate revenue. How will you get cash and make money out of your idea? I would suggest showing mastery in how to get paid. Many companies do not think this through, and thinking about this deeply builds trust and shows that you are a solid team. If you address this dimension of numbers and finance, you build extra trust in your leadership quality, and it helps get not only funds and investments but also helps your business.
How do you think start-ups can be helped to go to the next level financially?
As we discussed, if you build your company and use a digital backbone, you are ready to scale. I see many companies struggling with the scaling, and the excellent startups have thought this through, and they have the flexibility to test a lot, especially in different locations. Also, I would say think about geographically scaling. I have seen too many companies starting in one market and planning to expand in the next 2-3 years. I think that by doing this, you inhibit yourself from learning. It is better to learn sooner by testing the different markets simultaneously. Accessing a different market challenges your own perspective. It is a different culture.
The second thing is to define KPIs which in the future will generate cash and revenue. You do not need to be profitable from the start, but you need to know your key indicator that will lead to that profitable and healthy position. We see all social media platforms not making money at first but gaining users because they know that they will monetize on that in step two.
That is great advice. Thank you, Joachim.
You are welcome! I am really excited to see how FEM-START will create this energy and network of female entrepreneurs. That is why I have been advocating to support this!
By Azaina Shaikh and Paola Hasbun
By Azaina Shaikh and Paola Hasbun
As part of our interview series showcasing and celebrating women leading the forefronts of FEM-START, we had the pleasure of interviewing Živilė Meškauskaitė, co-founder of FEM-START Lithuania.
Živilė is dedicated to generating social and collaboration projects. She has worked with Rockstart (EU’s first start-up accelerator) and TEDxAmsterdamWomen. Her passion to connect people led her to co-found Common Threads, an initiative about slow-fashion and teaching skills to improve the longevity of clothes and she founded a book club for Lithuanians in The Netherlands called Amsterdamo knygų klubas.
It is always nice to hear directly from people about themselves. Would you please share some of the things that you have done and are proud of?
I am very proud of all the things I have done; the common thread of what I have been doing, consciously or subconsciously, has been bringing like-minded people together, enabling them to share and connect with each other. Building upon each other’s knowledge, and collaborating has been my motivation across all the projects I have worked on. That is why I have done event management; I view it as a strong knowledge exchange, which is valuable to me.
I am very proud of TEDxAmsterdamWomen, the event itself, and the team! In team meetings, we were about 30-40 women in one room working together. In particular, I am pleased of the dynamic we created; we found ways to support each other and found ways to work together.
Moreover, I am very proud of my book club for Lithuanians living in The Netherlands. Being of one culture and expatriate, I see great value in bringing us together. We talk about books, of course – it is the one thing that binds us – but it also gives us the chance to talk about our personal lives, support each other, and to network. In the same way, I see a lot of potential in FEM-START, as it has a similar community aspect. It will empower female entrepreneurs, and provide them with a global network. Additionally, it will enable them to get to know people with the same energy, which I find very important.
What challenges did you face while being the Operational Director of TEDxAmsterdamWomen?
The biggest personal challenge that I had to overcome was trusting that I could do it. For me the challenge was seeing the reality that I can, that I am able. This is something a lot of people, especially women, can relate to. We tend to downplay how skillful we are and how we can face challenges. That was the biggest lesson. I learned I could recover from setbacks and learn from them. It made me understand that I can really do it.
You have a background in film and television production. Throughout your career, you have undertaken several successful projects as an event/project manager. How do you see your educational background influencing your current role as an event manager?
Yes, I have a bachelor’s degree in Film and Television production. Organizing teams and groups has been at the crux of what I did in my bachelor’s degree and what I do now. I like to focus on working together and doing something meaningful. While I studying film and television production, I was always in a role of helping the team move forward. It’s just that, eventually, I wanted more ‘people connection’ in addition to making digital products, so events seemed like a great next step. So to me, whatever is the project, online or offline, an event, a movie, an initiative or anything else, the skills I bring are very similar across the board.
And how would you describe your leadership style?
Leadership is something I am getting to know in myself. It’s only recently that I started to think of myself as a leader, and it even feels strange to say it now, so I have a long road ahead of me before I can describe my style. What I strongly believe in is a clear vision, authenticity and curiosity. That is what I am holding onto as I dive into the experience of leadership.
Who has inspired you to be where you are?
I am finding this quite difficult to answer because I find many pieces of inspiration everywhere, it’s not single-focused. Let’s see, what inspired me to be where I am and continues to inspire me today: my own vision of my future self; my family, boyfriend and close friends who support me and help me; my community of peers who are going through similar journeys; powerful authentic public figures (recently Anna Wintour and RuPaul); my multiple mentors, and especially Marian Spier, who has taught me a lot about making things happen for myself. I believe that one becomes what one surrounds themselves with, and all these people for me have been an inspiration and reminder to just go for it.
Let’s change our focus to Lithuania, the country’s female entrepreneurial ecosystem, and start-up landscape. How would you describe it?
Generally, the start-up ecosystem in Lithuania has been rapidly and quite intentionally growing. There is a good deal of government support and resources for people looking to start their business. Lithuania is doing very well compared to the other Baltic States, and it is rated globally as the top 20 countries to do business in. The environment is very suitable for businesses.
There are many female entrepreneurs who have great ideas and who are eager to learn. With FEM-START, I am hoping to dive into the entrepreneurial world and see what they really need. There are many initiatives supporting female entrepreneurs in Lithuania, but I think FEM-START will bring a global invitation and network that might not be present at the moment.
It seems the Lithuanian government is playing a role in creating a favorable environment for new businesses and start-ups. Could you give an example?
One such initiative is an extensive website called “startuplithuania.com”. It is a one-stop-shop for start-ups. It facilitates a national start-up ecosystem, and attracts foreign people to come and start their business.
Globally, female entrepreneurs have difficulty in accessing capital and visibility. What challenges do female entrepreneurs face in Lithuania?
From my observations, in addition to the challenges you mention, entrepreneurs who are mothers find it challenging to balance running a business and being a mother. Another aspect that resonates with women, not just in Lithuania, is how to be mentally and physically healthy and not burnout while running a business.
What sectors or industries are most attractive to women seeking to start a business in Lithuania?
Like anywhere, the tech industry is growing. There is a program called Women Go Tech, which is a mentorship program for women seeking a career in the technology sector. Marketing and media are also, popular; I would say there is diversity in the different sectors.
What are your plans for FEM-START Lithuania in 2020?
A lot of it depends on COVID-19 and how it will play out. The plan for me is to go on this journey, whether it is online or in Lithuania, meet these women and find out what they need, and what they struggle with. My vision for FEM-START in 2020 is to have a better in-depth understanding of the start-up ecosystem and the needs of the female entrepreneurs to give them access to the mentorship and global community that FEM-START can provide!
Thank you very much for joining us today!
Photo: Maurice Mikkers