According to a report commissioned by American Express OPEN, women-run small businesses are on the rise. In fact, as of 2013, approximately 8.6 million women-owned businesses in U.S. generated over $1.3 trillion dollars and employed nearly 7.8 million people. The rate of growth in women-run businesses over the past 16 years is 1.5 times higher than the national average. As these stats show, women are gaining the skills and confidence to open and run successful businesses.
While women haven’t yet topped their male counterparts when it comes to breaking into the $1 million club, powerful ladies like the following are proving that women entrepreneurs can shatter the glass ceiling and change the face of business—and even the world.
1. Julia Hartz on Granting Employees Space to Be Brilliant
Along with her husband Kevin Hartz and technical architect Renaud Visage, Julia Hartz started Eventbrite, an online ticketing service, in 2006. Together, they’ve grown a successful company while building a culture in which employees’ ideas and ways of working are valued and respected. Says Hartz of the corporate culture at Eventbrite:
I didn’t want to dictate the culture. I didn’t want to get in the way of brilliance happening. If you want to build a sustainable culture, you have to have a strong philosophy and then let people do with it what they will and be OK with that.
Translation: Guide the direction of your company culture, but don’t dictate and force it. Allow your employees to drive the culture using your direction. If you’ve done your job in the hiring process, the result will be a great culture that fosters and sustains itself.
2. Lisa Stone on Meeting Customers’ Needs
Stone is the co-founder and CEO of BlogHer, a media company aimed at bringing exposure to high-quality female bloggers. She and her co-founders, Elisa Camahort and Jory Des Jardins, felt women were under-represented in the blogosphere, and with some hard work and grassroots campaigning, they launched BlogHer in 2005.
When it comes to figuring out what your customers expect from you, Stone offers this sage advice:
Wonder what your customer really wants? Ask. Don’t tell.
Translation: Don’t think that you can force your products or services on your customers because you feel you understand what they’re looking for. Instead,conduct market research, and find out what they truly want to buy; then build the product to match their needs and expectations.
3. Sari Davidson on the Power of Mentorship
In 2007, while working full-time at Microsoft, Davidson started BooginHead, developers of children’s products like the SippiGrip. Over the next three years, she grew BooginHead to over $1 million in sales before leaving Microsoft to focus on her business. When discussing the role that women leaders have played in her own career, she says:
There is something so valuable about women mentors, and I have had people along the way help me for no reason other than that they were generous with their time and resources. I am glad that I am now in the position to be able to pay it forward to other women who are looking to grow in their field.
Translation: Mentors are significant contributors to professional success, so whether you’re an aspiring entrepreneur or even a hopeful school teacher, find a willing mentor who can offer guidance as you grow within your career and industry.
4. Nina Nashif on Creating a Culture of Risk Taking
We need to change the DNA within organizations. So it’s not just about bringing these new solutions forward and the discovery of all this really great innovation. It’s also about the implementation, and that takes a culture inside that is willing and accepting of a new way of doing things … We need to be developing a culture that’s open to trying new things and to thinking not just about incremental changes on the inside, but how do we open up to the outside and test and deliver on new things.
Translation: Encourage creativity, and don’t punish failures that result from risk taking. Push your employees to look at goals from different perspectives and to seek out creative strategies for problem solving, but don’t expect these strategies to always be effective, and don’t reprimand your employees for stumbling while trying to be innovative.
5. Danielle Fong on Personal Growth
Fong is an entrepreneur, scientist and co-founder of LightSail Energy, a developer of technology that generates and stores clean and renewable energy. Since 2009, LightSail has raised more than $52 million and has had some serious backers in Bill Gates and PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel.
At the ripe-old age of 26, Fong learned this valuable lesson about personal growth:
Physics taught me both to ignore the experts, accept my own fallibility and to keep asking questions, to keep working!
Translation: Don’t blindly follow rules, and don’t be afraid to fail. Instead, make your own rules, and see if the others can conform to them. And don’t worry about making mistakes; use them to learn and to help you shape your next venture.