I am a f̶e̶m̶a̶l̶e̶ founder: my experience.
Being Everything and Nothing
When I was 5 years old I loved two things: creating and acting. I knew I wanted to become an actress as an adult, and hence practised acting every day since. But I did not attend any theatre courses or acting schools. Instead, I trained myself to behave as a different character depending on who I was talking to or what would have helped me in any specific moment.
Never in my life could I have imagined that these skills learnt when I was just a child would have helped me get to where I am now, but at a price: losing myself.
I must have been 8 or 9 at most when I started believing that behaving like a boy would have helped me be taken more seriously: when my maths teacher told me that I was almost as smart as the boys in my class.
Throughout my school years I have actively decided to surround myself with male friends and copy their way of walking, talking and thinking because that was what I thought to be my only option for being respected by professors and adults more in general.
However, when I turned 17, I unfortunately found out that things had changed. What seemed to make me achieve what I wanted to obtain at that age (high grades, more friends, being liked) wasn’t being masculine anymore. I now needed to modify my attitude and be more feminine, delicate and seductive.
All my life up until some months ago has been a constant act. I had learnt to be what people wanted me to be at any given moment.
But who was I? What did I want? These questions started to run around my head and I could feel their weight more and more with the time passing; so much that the sole thought of my true self would make me experience severe panic attacks.
That was the wake-up call I needed. It was time to be me, to stop trying to please everyone else and do what has always made me happy, instead. I decided to create something good.
That is when I chose to apply for the Alacrity Foundation and form my own company with people I respect, who respect and appreciate me for who I am, and who want to achieve something positive and change the world as much as I want to.
Our company, Trovalo, has stemmed from these roots. My co-founders are two incredibly talented men who did not even for a second expect me to behave in any way which differs from who I truly am. We share the same passions and ambitions for the future of the company: we want to help everyone get the most out of what they do through the use of data.
My role as Trovalo’s Product Manager in itself shows how much trust Oliver, our CEO, and Curtis, our CTO have in me, as I am not only in charge of our product’s direction, but also responsible for keeping in touch with our users.
This job is complex, tiring and requires an extreme amount of effort, but there is nothing more rewarding than loving what you do and seeing what you have imagined take life and help people.
I was motivated to create my own startup not by money, but by the desire to have a positive and real impact in society. However, I have to admit that I had to fight hard to find female role models to take inspiration from, as opposed to my male colleagues.
Women's representation in business is valuable and worthwhile because the example it sets for girls aspiring to become entrepreneurs is so powerful. Women in entrepreneurship must be lauded for the incredible work they're doing, not only to innovate in their field, but to improve society as a whole.
Looking back, I sometimes wonder what different choices I might have made in my teenage years had I been in closer proximity to strong female role models.
When I finally researched stories of women starting businesses or taking career risks before they felt fully prepared, I felt the kind of confidence I was looking for and I decided to take a ‘leap of faith’ in myself too. Seeing other women confidently embracing their unique strengths and defying stereotypes has encouraged me to speak up more confidently, ask for what I do want or say no to what I don’t.
It is important to make today's female founders more visible in the media so they can be seen as relatable, aspirational role models for young women who are looking to achieve their ambitions through entrepreneurship. If we don’t, the world will continue to miss out on some of its best startup founders and the high-impact, socially-minded companies they have the potential to create.
In addition, when embarking on tech entrepreneurship, most women find themselves in a male-dominated industry or workplace that does not want to acknowledge their potential leadership role.
In my short experience as a female entrepreneur in a male-dominated industry, earning the respect of people outside of the company has been a real struggle. During my time at Trovalo, I have been mainly in contact with male data experts, the majority of which have been asking incredibly useful questions and given just as useful advice.
Nothing weird with what I have just written, if it wasn’t for the fact that the majority of questions were oriented at my two male co-founders. It is still natural for most people to perceive more preparation and confidence in male founders, especially in the tech sector.
I have never been angry at any of them, I have just recognised the pattern and started to give answers myself to their questions, as I was more than willing to put in the work to create my own reputation for being a hardworking, honourable businessperson in my own right.
I am conscious that society is working hard towards an honest change, but still has to make big steps for what concern including women in the tech world and give them the recognition they deserve.
However, there are also some things we can do as women ourselves. To overcome this, we must learn to build confidence and overcome negative self-talk. Those negative comments that have built up in your head are stopping you from reaching your full potential.
I started this career experiencing the classic imposter syndrome faced by girls like me being surrounded by extremely capable men.
But it is one of these men who gave me one of the most honest and perspective-changing pieces of advice I have ever received in my life. He told me to stop apologising for how I was explaining something or for the questions I was asking.
If you are successful it is because you deserve it. If you have the role you have it is still because you deserve it. If you think you deserve better, it is probably true and you should fight for it. But never forget to hold on tight to who you are and be proud of it.
The best support you can get as a female founder is from another female founder that has already done it.
This is why I founded The Founding Women, a group where young female entrepreneurs can talk about their experiences as founders, have open reality-based conversations and help each other accomplish more.