Today at the Circular Summit, the fastest-growing women entrepreneurs are gathering, and the time has come. Time to take flight. You all need to collectively spread your wings, make billions, and change the world. Half of the world's potential is being held back because your companies are not scaling, $10 trillion in opportunity costs to be exact. Women are starting businesses at almost twice the rate of men but failing at a disproportionally faster rate. If we are going to build jobs, cure cancer, and send someone to Mars, you--women--need to create your own wings to fly.
We all look for what is allowing the next unicorn to leap from the sky so a bunch of old white dudes can make another billion off of their equity.
So, unicorns. Cowboy Ventures defines a unicorn as a software company valued at more than $1 billion by public or private market investors.
As of April 13, 2016, CrunchBase's Unicorn Leaderboard shows 165 companies at a total $557 billion valuation.
My first job was cleaning up horse crap in Texas, and I have worked my whole life not to stand at the ass end of a mystical barnyard animal even if it has a horn and poops glitter-covered money.
Most of all, I don't want to stand at the ass end of unicorns because only three of them are you--female entrepreneurs.
Unicorns don't describe us women. In fact, do you know how these elusive animals were caught in Greek mythology? They sent virgins to trap them. I don't know about you all, but that ship sailed a long time ago.
You know why? You are not unicorns. Instead of trying to be them, claim your own path and claim your own name.
You know what you are?
You are the phoenix. You are a creature that will rise up to fly and use all of your entrepreneurial powers to save humanity.
The phoenix is traditionally known for three things:
- Symbol for rising up
- Symbol for strength
- Symbol for compassion
This all describes you--the phoenix--not a unicorn.
The formulas that are creating unicorns are not working for women. The way you access capital, your work style, and types of companies you are building don't fit into today's ecosystems for entrepreneurs.
You also have a different definition of success. Maybe being a phoenix isn't about hitting a billion-dollar valuation--maybe it is about being the world's best entrepreneur in the space you are leading to help a billion customers.
If you asked me when I was 30 years old, "Elizabeth, would you rather be a billionaire, or cover every refugee in Africa with anti-malaria bed nets ... what would you choose?" I'd take the bed nets in a heartbeat, and I did through Nothing But Nets. That saved lives, lives that will collectively make far more than the billion dollars. That was my moment as a phoenix.
What will be yours?
By the way, on Monday, I was talking to an elite executive, asking their opinion on this, and do you know what that person said? "You should call yourselves vagina-corns." Really ... ?
Let's talk through how we can take on the three traits of the phoenix in our business: rising up, strength, and compassion.
1. Let's think about rising up
An economic resurrection, if you will.
When women start their companies, they usually have a day job and have small children, so they are working all night; or are in their 50s and starting a second act for that company that has always been in the back of their mind. The struggle is to take all that on and take a risk.
It is time to rise up and risk. One of the most important things about leadership in a business is the ability to take risks. If you can't risk, you can't lead.
Most data shows that women don't risk the way men do. If you don't risk, you will always be working for those who do, men.
We need to ask for help. We need to ask for money. We need to ask for everything, and you know why, because you deserve it!
Alyse Nelson from Vital Voices said, "The one time women do risk is usually in response to need versus opportunity."
I love this about women entrepreneurs--but it is OK to risk for both.
You are going to have to risk your money. Women are incredibly fiscally conservative, which will serve you and your business well in the long term, but when you are getting started, you should not hold yourself back from flying by waiting for that full budget.
Most women are seen as savers versus investors--but if we are going to change that 7 percent stat--we need to ask for more money. And we need to invest more money.
Use your best asset--your right hand. Hold it up and ask.
And look, if you don't want to go the investor route, then bootstrap and build a great product that people love so you can chase customers instead of investors.
2. Unstoppable strength
There are no stronger creatures on this earth than women. It is time to show it. We have babies, take care of families, support aging parents, and more and more of us are becoming the main breadwinners, 40 percent in fact. We manage everything in our lives: kids, finances, carpool, health care, children's care, community events, pets, calendars, bills, partners, cleaning, taxes--can I say kids again?
Yet, the data shows that women have a "confidence" gap. They have not met my 4-year-old daughter ...
So why is it that when an investor, reporter, or potential customer asks you a question, you hesitate and gather every shred of data before sending back that answer or raising your hand? If I asked a group, "Who has the best idea to cure cancer?" a hand of a guy will shoot up. I will then ask, "OK, how will you cure cancer?" He will answer: "I don't know, I just wanted to be first ... "
So, let's start showing our strength. Be bolder, confident, and think bigger--present yourself on the outside with the strength that is inside.
There is exponential power in women because we can combine compassion with strength. This is the part of you that does not need to change or be like the boys.
Women start businesses because they see a need--not because they want to be a millionaire by 30. Women create products because there is a purpose in their making.
Women put 90 percent of their income back into their communities and family.
That is what makes you unique--that is what makes you the phoenix, not a unicorn.
Because you put purpose in profit. You have the power in your businesses to help the planet and enhance people.
So in closing, f--- the unicorns. There are only three female unicorns in the world right now. Instead of making more, let's rise like a phoenix.
And listen, men are not the problem here. I think they want the phoenix to rise as much as any of us. In fact, my husband came up with this whole idea.
If you are not getting what you need--access to capital, networks, mentorship--do what you already do for your kids, families, and communities. Build it yourself, take it, raise your hands, and make it happen.
One day, I was standing with Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala, and I asked her dad Zia what he did to make her so great. Zia said, it is not what I did. It is what I didn't do--I didn't clip her wings.
Women, I know there is a lot on our plate, but there is no such thing as work-life balance: It is a work-life balancing act, everyday. Strap on your wings and jump on the high wire.
Journalists have called unicorn companies "the world's most exclusive boys' club."
The Circular Summit is a new kind of club: a club of high-achieving women entrepreneurs who save humanity.
On Sunday, someone said to me, "It sounds like menstrual summit ... "
So let's close the circle, prove that person wrong, and create for women the most exclusive billionaire club--the phoenix.
Whether you want a billion-dollar valuation or to save a billion lives, it is time.
I am a phoenix. Each of you is a phoenix. You spread your wings and you bring life into this world.
The phoenix is not just a billion-dollar idea. It is a creature that gives back. Its tears heal humanity. So don't be afraid to get what you want, because ultimately you, women entrepreneurs, will give it right back to those who need it. Women entrepreneurs, join me in the rise. The rise of the phoenix.