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“I’ve noticed that many women hesitate, and want to ‘be better prepared’ before they start anything. Today, my biggest piece of advice is to just start. The real learning only starts when you commit, and start to build on your idea.” So said Amal Dokhan, General Partner at 500 Global, in our story featuring the inspiring women leading Saudi Arabia’s venture capital (VC) ecosystem.
We echo these sentiments at Lucidity Insights, where we believe it is important to level up everyone’s game, by sharing data, insights, and most importantly advice from the movers and shakers that are building the MENA region’s digital economies and startup ecosystem. If you’re a woman, ready to set out on your journey of conscious leadership, to build your own startup, to build your own career, and to build your own voice in the world of work, well, you’ve come to the right place.
First, what is venture capital? This field that these women are at the forefront of in Saudi Arabia is a type of private equity financing typically provided to early-stage, high-growth companies with the potential for significant returns. Investors provide funds in exchange for an ownership stake in the company, and they work closely with the founders to help nurture and grow the business. Here are the top pieces of advice from these inspiring women on how to become successful founders and venture capitalists, specifically for the aspiring female leaders who want to work in this exciting field:
1. Be curious, and be open to all learning and input. Whether you’re a founder or a venture capitalist, it’s all about listening, constantly learning, and making incremental improvements on your product every single day. Small, consistent improvements, every day or every week, is better than trying to make one massive change all at once. A 1% improvement everyday is greater than a 365% improvement in a year.
2. Equip yourself with the necessary skills and competencies. Building a career doesn’t happen overnight. You’ve got to take strategic steps towards acquiring the skills and competencies you need over several years, and often times, decades. Build and gain the right experience to achieve your goals. You don’t have to have it all figured out, but if you want to be in VC, understand finance and cap tables, learn about negotiations and term sheets, strengthen business development skills, communications and network building. Take free online courses, teach yourself, and join an angel investor group in your area- if you want to start investing in startups yourself, learn from people who’ve already done it.
3. Be humble, be kind, and ask for what you need. Building a startup requires help from your founding team, from your investors, from your board, and from your mentors. All stakeholders bring something different to the table, whether that’s sweat equity, the idea, or the capital– we all have to work together for the startup to succeed. Kindness, humility, and focus on teamwork is critical for a smooth ride on an inevitably bumpy road.
4. Prioritize “like-valued” over “like-minded.” Surround yourself with people who see differences of perspective as an asset, not a liability. So long as your values are the same, different perspectives can be expressed and used as a tool to make your team stronger. The strongest founders tend to surround themselves with people that are experts in their fields, and then step out of their way. The founders’ role is not unlike the investors’ job- to provide strategic vision and help steer the ship, while nurturing the people around them to get the job done, and contribute in a way you might not have ever imagined yourself.
5. Don’t be afraid to take the first step. Get out of your head, stop over planning, and get out there. Meet with angel investors, incubators, and accelerators, and get feedback on your idea. Just remember: while you’re busy overthinking your idea, someone could be developing a mediocre version of it, and getting it out to market before you. Starting is the most important step, and learning from failures along the way is part of the learn-by-doing process. This applies to founders as well as those wanting to join a venture capital firm as an analyst. Commit, and go forward.
6. Build your network. Being a founder or a VC requires you to be a people person. In both roles, you need to get yourself out there, meet, and recruit potential team members, as well as co-founders, investors, and key stakeholders that are going to help bring your vision into reality. So, start building your network now, schedule meetings with people you want to meet, and start having the conversations you want to have. There’s an age old quote: “You are the average of the people closest to you.” So bring smarter, funnier, happier, more ambitious, more knowledgeable, more creative, more technical people into your tribe, and their magic will rub off on you.
7. Be flexible. You might think you want to be an investor today. Tomorrow, while you’re an investment analyst, you might meet a startup founder that blows you away, and inspires you to join their enterprise. Who knows what the future will bring- but just trust the process, and remember you can always change your mind. In fact, that is the one thing that is certain. The more life you experience, the more people you meet and careers you come across, the more opportunities to tweak your career of choice.
Learn more about the most prominent venture capitalists in the KSA startup ecosystem by checking out the report, The Evolution of Saudi Arabia’s Startup Ecosystem 2010-2022.
This article was originally published on Lucidity Insights, a partner of Entrepreneur Middle East in developing special reports on the Middle East and Africa’s tech and entrepreneurial ecosystems.