Every day someone is giving advice or offering some type of mentoring for entrepreneurs. The most important thing I learned about being an entrepreneur is that entrepreneurship is a personal journey; one that involves tremendous growth.
Becoming an entrepreneur at age 50 meant that the way I interacted with others was firmly imprinted in my psyche, and the way I related to others, firmly entrenched. Years of clinical practice encouraged my empathy and my humanity to be my calling card. Moving from clinical practice to a startup taught me: extreme flexibility, a keen ability to pivot and a constant hunger to move my company forward. It most importantly necessitated learning and growing personally. The very qualities that served me in clinical practice would not be the ones that would be prized in my business startup.
The critical lesson over these last 8 years was that in order for my company to grow, scale and be successful, I too must be ready to grow, scale and be successful. Without this the business invariably gets stuck and the risk is failure.
Here are some insights that I gained as an entrepreneur. They are applicable for all entrepreneurs but especially for women entrepreneurs. Women entrepreneurs face all of the same issues that men face, except historically they have had less access to capital and built smaller businesses than the men. These insights, I believe, will help improve entrepreneurial life for both male and female entrepreneurs.
1. Build Connections
An important tool for all entrepreneurs, especially for female entrepreneurs is connection building. While the gap has narrowed in recent years, females in our culture have not been exposed to as many supportive networks as their male counterparts. For example, historically boys more than girls had the opportunity to play team sports at a young age and were introduced to the important connection building skills that little league, football and soccer teams provided. These activities encourage camaraderie, verbal and non-verbal communication and most importantly connecting in a meaningful way with each of their teammates to work toward a common goal.
The needle is shifting with more young girls participating in sports and other network building activities. This must continue so that greater trust, especially between women, can be built through connections at an early age.
2. When the "BULLY" in the Room Shows Up - Just Shut the Door
The very first term sheet that we received at my company, Curemark, was so onerous that our lawyer was unwilling to read past the second paragraph. It required that if we did not develop our drug on a dictated timeline, the investor would own increasingly more of the company.
The term sheet came in at 6PM on Friday and I was planning to fly to Europe to finalize the terms on Monday. When I called to say I wasn't coming, the Group's managing partner attempted to pressure me into going to Europe. I again said no. Finally out of anger he said: "Who the hell are you going to get money from?" I said: "Not from you."
Never let other people's agendas, proposals, or positions bully you into behaving or reacting when it is not in your best interest. Never act or react out of fear. Realism is an absolute, but acting out of fear obfuscates reality, and will often result in poor choices.
3. Don't let Anyone Mistake your Kindness or Perceived Lack of Experience for Weakness
In the early days of building my business, invariably someone would speak to me as if I were incapable of understanding the complexities of what was being discussed. I heard things like: "Who are you to discover this?" or "Maybe you should just reverse merger your company into our shell, and we will split the company with you 50/50".
Finally my brother said: "Joan, they are mistaking your kindness or perceived inexperience for weakness. Because you are kind and present a very welcoming position, they assume you are ripe to be exploited." Don't let anyone mistake your kindness or perceived inexperience for weakness, not on the playing field, not in a negotiation, and not in the boardroom.
4. Listen as the Leader
Listening is sage education without a cost. Leadership is a skill that is foremost about understanding and defining problems. Listening is good leadership! Gathering and culling information from diverse sources rather than a regurgitated version of your own viewpoint, and being decisive in action, are key to being an effective leader.
At the Stanford d.school design thinking boot camp, I learned that in order to have impact and solve problems one must first identify the problem. We have all traveled by air. Airports can be daunting, difficult and often uncomfortable. How people travel, whether a single parent with two small children, the individual in a wheelchair, or a business person, all experience the airport is different. During the boot camp they turned us loose to listen to travelers at the airport and look at their experiences. Once you understand the problems they are facing, only then can you design solutions that can actually improve "airport life."
Entrepreneurship, leadership and personal growth are intricately intertwined, so let 1) Connecting, 2) Showing the Bully the Door, 3) Proving kindness is not weakness and 4) LISTENING be your quadrophonic entrepreneur mantra.
Dr. Joan Fallon, Founder and CEO of Curemark, is considered a visionary scientist who has dedicated her life's work to championing the health and wellbeing of children worldwide. She is widely recognized for her vision, passion, and innovation in defining a successful entrepreneurial venture. Curemark is a biopharmaceutical company focused on the development of novel therapies to treat serious diseases for which there are limited treatment options. The company's pipeline includes a phase III clinical-stage research program for Autism & ADHD, as well as three preclinical programs focused on Parkinson's Disease, schizophrenia, and addiction. Joan holds 51 patents worldwide, has written numerous scholarly articles, and lectured extensively across the globe on pediatric developmental problems including autism and She was recently appointed Senior Advisor to the Henry Crown Fellows at The Aspen Institute, as well as a Distinguished Fellow at the Athena Center for Leadership Studies at Barnard College/Columbia University. She is also a member of the Board of Trustees of Franklin & Marshall College.