As a woman, doctor, and 45-year-old mother, I'm not your typical founder. But to make better products and to have more successful companies, we need more diverse leaders like me in the startup world.
Diverse teams provide diverse insights for creating your product, which can broaden the product's appeal and increase your chances for success. If you're anything like me and you have qualities that are undervalued at companies that lack diversity, then you need to market yourself as an asset. Here are four undervalued characteristics that I bring to the table, and how they are actually assets.
Being a Woman
Women come prepared. A famous Hewlett Packard report exposed that "Men apply for a job when they meet only 60% of the qualifications, but women apply only if they meet 100% of them." Some people see this as a hindrance, but I see it as a guarantee that women will be completely prepared to do the job. I wasn't going to start a company unless I could "100% do it," and I was confident that I could pull this off and outperform the competition with my founding team. We used our experience to work smarter and faster, and as a result, had 15 times the number of customers our competitors had at this stage.
Women can also access and relate to other women. I co-founded Pandia Health to bring birth control to any woman with internet and a mailbox. I have access to women's organizations (mother's groups, sororities, etc.) and our customers appreciate my genuine concern about birth control accessibility and convenience. If your target audience is women, have women-founders onboard who understand the issues and know how best to market to women.
Having Domain Experience
My domain expertise allows our company to address things proactively and quickly. When companies use consultants, they risk landing in a "you don't know what you don't know" situation. If you don't know what to ask, then you might miss out on something that could radically help your company. Consider having a domain expert in a founding or share holding role so that you don't run into this problem. Because of my medical expertise, Pandia Health can quickly iterate our telemedicine processes instead of relying on others.
Being a Mother
Raising kids is like Entrepreneurship 101. As a working mother of 7 and 10-year-olds, I've learned to work and multitask well after the average workday ends. This experience is priceless when you think about what it takes to be an entrepreneur. Being a parent makes you realize all that you can accomplish in a day. I've learned that there are 18 working hours in day and I can push it to 21 if I have to. Being a parent has increased my efficiency and my comfort with change.
Being a Seasoned Professional
As a seasoned professional, I have developed more skills, connections, and opportunities for collaboration and trust than the new college graduate. My years as an MIT undergrad, UCSF medical student, and Stanford Clinical Associate Professor have shown me that there are plenty of people who are smarter than I am. I easily admit when I don't know something and am not afraid to ask for help when I need it. My seasoned friends and colleagues also have useful expertise which helps me to develop my company quickly and effectively. Pandia Health's experienced CTO can create problem-solving code quickly because he has done it before. We can source our purchases quickly and inexpensively, because we have used these sources before and know how to bargain.
For too long, investors and VC's have favored those who fit into a non-diverse, less-productive, old-school "bro culture" workplace. Don't fit the mold? Take a moment to consider your unique strengths and how you can improve a "traditional" workplace. Building a company? Look for those with under-represented traits to improve your team and products. Move your company beyond competitors who don't understand the value of diversity.
About the Author
Sophia Yen, M.D. is the CEO and Co-Founder of Pandia Health, a digital health startup making women's lives easier by providing convenient, confidential, and reliable access to healthcare via an online doctor's visit and medication delivery, starting with birth control. Pandia Health launched its service August 2016 and has received awards from Girls In Tech and the Palo Alto Social Impact Center. Dr. Yen was named one of the top women entrepreneurs to watch in 2017 by Bustle. Dr. Yen also graduated Springboard Enterprises Tech Innovation Hub and Women's Startup Lab's Accelerators.