How Women-Led Startups Can Get Past The Challenges Of Being In A Male-Dominated Technology Ecosystem
"As two entrepreneurs and founders of a social tech platform, we acknowledge that women in the UAE are at the center of a regional hub with endless opportunities to grow an online business. That being said, female-owned businesses are still in the huge minority."
This article has been co-written with Nancy Najm.
As two entrepreneurs and founders of a social tech platform, we acknowledge that women in the UAE are at the center of a regional hub with endless opportunities to grow an online business. With over 20% of women leaders in the UAE cabinet playing a significant role in supporting technology and innovative companies in the country, we believe that as female entrepreneurs, we live in the best time and place to build something innovative and unique.
That being said, female-owned businesses are still in the huge minority, and there are endless obstacles for women who have embraced entrepreneurship. This is due to women’s rigidly defined family-driven role in the Arab region, with often very different hardships than those experienced by the male counterparts. After all, a fact we all know is that the technology industry is a highly competitive, male-dominated market.
Based on our experience of building an online business, below are listed some features that you need to cultivate to succeed in the industry:
1. Networking Having a solid network is one of the main drivers for entrepreneurial success. With leading roles in the financial, investment, and tech industries being predominantly occupied by men, breaking your way through such robust male ties can seem almost impossible. Luckily in the UAE, women can find the right support through female focused networking events, with women investors looking to invest in women-led fresh innovative ideas that provide solutions at scale for all the right reasons. Invest in attending seminars, financial mentorship programs, jump at the opportunity to enroll in an accelerator program, and, most importantly, connect with other women entrepreneurs. It is important not to view other women as competition, but rather an opportunity to collaborate. Each connection you make, no matter how small, can have an profound effect on your success.
2. Confidence Unlike men, women often hesitate to ask for what they want, and they are prone to take strict, calculated risks. Once you build your network, go for it whole heartedly. Be confident to fight for what you want to achieve, and have credibility on the matter. Know your numbers, financials, and industry. Investors look for leaders that can get the business to grow in value, so show confidence in your know-how and the competence in running your company. Be bold about your business growth strategy. Do not hesitate in collaborating with international established brands, and worry about your return on investment at a later stage. Recognized brands often search for prospects to acquire a new business which they consider as a good market-fit.
3. Finding the right balance Although we believe that finding the right balance between family and work is key to success, based on our own entrepreneurial journey, we’ve come to make peace with the fact that one can never have the right balance. Being defined in one’s role as a mother puts more pressure on women entrepreneurs in finding the balance, resulting in more guilt and lack of focus, to the point of burnout. Instead, learn to prioritize and acknowledge that you are building a business that will fulfill your dreams, fuel your sense of accomplishment, and support your family. When you reach your launch phase, do not hesitate to ask for help and seek the support of family members. Be the role model to your children, and don’t feel guilty to prioritize your time. Some days, you need to be committed to your business, on others, to your family, and on usual days, juggle both– accept that this is perfectly normal. Taking care of your mental and emotional wellbeing is essential to provide a mindset that will keep you going. Stay on top of the latest industry trends, listen to motivational podcasts, make healthy choices, and include movement at every given opportunity.
4. Believing in your product Do not expect people to clap and cheer for you on at the early stages of your entrepreneurial journey; however, know that they will- at the first flare of success. Let this keep you motivated and have you truly believe your product. Celebrate milestone successes, and ask professional help for the mistakes– grow and educate yourself on the wrong turns. For us, owning a social support network for mothers is challenging. The main contest is pitching our company’s mission to decision-making leaders from various industries. The women are typically unwilling to acknowledge the struggles that come with the early stages of motherhood, due to cultural and social pressures. The men consider mothering and raising children should come as second nature to women, while also maintaining thriving career paths. That remains the toughest challenge- pitching a female support network to male investors. Not everyone is supportive of empowering women through the early changes of motherhood. Many can’t even relate to the idea of females needing support, while growing a business and a family. Thankfully, we are living in a time when this is changing for the better.
5. Support for fellow women Through our platform, we have always felt the need to empower women-led startups, no matter how small– from a handmade brand to a promising e-commerce enterprise, we support all entrepreneurial mothers trying to get their business noticed. It’s such a small segment of women in the industry that we need to support each other. We cheer and encourage women in our network to inspire, support, and motivate others. We firmly believe that we rise by lifting others, and that is why our network is growing stronger and bolder.
6. Resilience If there’s anything positive that came out of the coronavirus pandemic this year, it is the acknowledgement that resilience is a crucial life skill. Halfway through creating our Cloudhoods app, our development company had to liquidate and move out of the country. It was a major setback; nevertheless, we launched anyway. With this obstacle, we were more educated on the unexpected changes in budgets and updates, thus able to negotiate a better deal with the new developers. Tech entrepreneurs are more pressured to deliver amidst technical difficulties that may arise, pushing back deadlines, or affecting platform performance. The key is to keep an open mind, and work alongside the team to find a solution. You must overcome obstacles instead of giving up on your project. As said by Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook: “You will be defined not just by what you achieve, but by how you survive.”
Lara Hamdan is the co-founder of Cloudhoods, a community app for mothers that covers an array of topics. The platform provides a new-generation of mothers and mother’s-to-be with an online community that offers local initiatives, events, tips and expert advice on parenting in the Middle East.