Holding up half the sky
By Sharmila Ganapathy-Wallace March 27, 2017
- When you do something of significance, you want to do more
- The stars align when you persevere, work hard and play your cards right
IT IS a well-known fact that the business world is dominated by men. However, that hasn’t stopped women entrepreneurs from blazing trails in the challenging world of startups. Digital News Asia caught up with six women entrepreneurs from Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia for their insights into entrepreneurism and life as women entrepreneurs.
Renuka Sena, chief executive officer of Malaysia-based Proficeo Consultants, which designs and conducts coaching programs for entrepreneurs
Ask Renuka Sena (pic above) what inspired her to become an entrepreneur and she is quite frank that it was not so much inspiration as collaborating with two ex-colleagues to start intellectual property consultancy Mindvault Sdn Bhd, where she first started working with entrepreneurs. “I’ve always liked to work with entrepreneurs and find it very inspiring. I feel I have contributed to someone else’s growth,” she says of her experience.
She admits that this being a fast-paced world, once you have something of your own, it is difficult to go back to working for someone else. “When you do something of significance, you want to do more. It’s great to wake up every day and feel that you’re making a difference,” she says of her current job.
Commenting on her early challenges with Proficeo, she said that the biggest challenge was getting early adopters. “The Ministry of Finance gave us a budget, but we still had to convince entrepreneurs and agencies to send us entrepreneurs and that our program was different. We didn’t want to get big names because they had no time to coach. We wanted something by entrepreneurs for entrepreneurs,” she recalls.
“I dug my heels in and went all out to prove them wrong. You need to believe in what you’re selling. You cannot let negativity bring you down. You need to surround yourself with positive people and distance yourself from negative noises,” she advises.
The toughest decision she’s had to make is to stick to her guns, she said. “You have to believe in your vision and stick to it.”
Her advice to aspiring women entrepreneurs? “Women always have different challenges from men, it comes down to priorities. They should be realistic in setting their expectations because no matter what, many responsibilities of the home fall on the wife and mother. The worst thing is the guilt, it’s no good if you’re constantly drowning in guilt,” she says.
Raja Jesrina Arshad, co-founder and CEO of online health marketplace PurelyB.com
According to Raja Jesrina (pic, above), becoming an entrepreneur was always an aspiration of hers, even early on in her career. “Every job I had I treated it like it was my company, my baby and would put my all into my work with constant sleepless nights. I knew one day though that I would channel all this energy and drive into my own business but it was a matter of finding the right idea that would hit me like a rare ‘aha’ moment! That's when the idea of PurelyB in 2015 changed everything,” she tells Digital News Asia via e-mail.
An early challenge was being a first mover in providing a holistic health and wellness content-community-commerce integrated platform to consumers in Asia. “There wasn't a successful model that we could compare to or set benchmarks against. Thus every step along the way was experimental based on research, trial and error and gut-feel, which definitely had its fair share of challenges,” she recalls.
“Furthermore, my team and I started PurelyB with our own investments and bootstrapped it all the way till end Dec 2015 when we raised our seed fund from investors. Thus for the first eight to nine months, we had to keep costs as low as possible and all the awareness and visibility we had gained was mostly through word of mouth referrals. Whilst we had gained good traction through this organic growth, it was a challenge to establish a new brand in the health and wellness industry with no marketing budget and achieve the level of trust and credibility we needed for PurelyB to connect with our audience and be successful.
“Then having to raise funds in end 2015 with no background in finance or experience in fund-raising was the next challenge, especially with VCs being very male skewed. But I’m thankful to have amazing mentors who helped me develop the necessary skills required fast,” she says.
According to Raja Jesrina, her father is someone she looks up to and is her pillar of strength and inspiration throughout her journey. “Whilst he isn't in the technology field, he has achieved great success & respect from his peers as a leader in the accounting and financial field despite the trials and tribulations encountered, and throughout it all he has maintained admirable humility and integrity.”
What’s the toughest decision she’s had to make as an entrepreneur? “There have definitely been a lot of tough decisions my co-founders and I have had to make, but one in particular that still pains me is having to let some good employees go because they just could not fit into the fast paced startup culture or deliver what was needed for their scope or our business. Even if we tried to give a few chances, sometimes it's obvious what the best decision for the business is, but it's always a tough decision to make when we know they mean well and we've built good relationships with them.”
What has she learned from her entrepreneurial journey so far? Raja Jesrina names the power of perseverance, having a strong and diverse core team, speed and agility and building a network of mentors, peers and investors, as key takeaways.
Her advice to women entrepreneurs is to be brave, stay true to their vision and never give up on their dreams. “There will always be naysayers and doubters especially as a women entrepreneur in the tech business, thus just stay focused, work hard and execute well, knowing that success is always the best way to prove the critics wrong. Also remember that all the highs and lows throughout your journey are stepping stones bringing you closer to achieving your goals. Reflecting on my own experience, I believe the stars really do align when you persevere, work hard, surround yourself with the right mentors and just play your cards right.”
Next page: It’s all about tenacity and rolling with the punches