In the second annual Disruptor 50 list, CNBC features private companies in 27 industries—from aerospace to enterprise software to retail—whose innovations are revolutionizing the business landscape. These forward-thinking upstarts have identified unexploited niches in the marketplace that have th…
“There is a special place in hell for women who don’t help other women,” former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright once famously said.
The truth is that nobody reaches the top without help and support from others. Every successful entrepreneur, executive, and leader has benefited from guidance, advice, or mentorship throughout his or her career that helped solve introspective questions, overcome career challenges, and propel him or her forward toward their ultimate potential.
Seven female executives shared their advice for young entrepreneurial women aspiring to be in their shoes one day, and what it takes to get there.
BE RUTHLESSLY, UNENDINGLY CURIOUS
Megan Quinn, a partner at venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, advised aspiring female investors to be relentlessly curious, hungry to learn, and have first-hand experience working at a startup to gain understanding of what it takes to build a successful company.
“Be ruthlessly, unendingly curious," Quinn says. "Curiosity is a requirement for identifying great entrepreneurs and companies. Read obsessively across many industries—technology, business, science, education, and so on. Find smart people in the verticals you’re interested in and follow what they’re reading, writing, saying, and even tweeting to develop your own point of view. An important part of tech investing is developing a strong point of view on emerging technologies and trends—curiosity is critical.”
“Start or work at an early-stage startup," she says. "There’s no better way to help entrepreneurs build companies than to have done it yourself. You need to experience the daily highs and lows to understand the grit and fortitude required to go from customer one to 1 million. Great investors draw from their own personal experience and it’s hard to be a coach if you’ve never been a player.”
REALIZE THAT SUCCESS AND BALANCE GO HAND IN HAND
Huffington Post President and Editor-in-Chief Arianna Huffington says young women aspiring to one day lead their own companies should make sure to not lose sight of who they are while climbing the ladder of success.
“I hope young aspiring female entrepreneurs will begin their careers knowing something that took me decades to learn: Not only is there no tradeoff between living a well-rounded life and high performance, but performance is actually improved when our life becomes more balanced," Huffington says. “I wish I could go back and tell my much younger self, ‘Arianna, your performance will actually improve if you can commit to not only working hard, but also unplugging, recharging, and renewing yourself.’ That would have saved me a lot of unnecessary stress, burnout, and exhaustion.”
“For far too long we’ve been operating under a collective delusion that burning out is the necessary price for achieving success," Huffington says. "This couldn’t be less true. So here are three pieces of advice I’d give to young women just starting out:
1. Don’t be afraid to fail.
2. Don’t just go out there and climb the ladder of success. Instead, redefine success because the world desperately needs it.
3. Finally, remember that while there will be plenty of signposts along your path directing you to make money and climb up the ladder, there will be almost no signposts reminding you to stay connected to the essence of who you are, to take care of yourself along the way, to reach out to others, to pause to wonder, and to connect to that place from which everything is possible.
As Archimedes said, ‘Give me a place to stand, and I will move the world.’”
StubHub CTO Raji Arasu says she attributes part of her success as a technology leader to embracing change, seeking out different perspectives, and critically listening to honest feedback.
“I urge women technologists to consider leadership roles in product and technology," Arasu says. “For those already on this path, be prepared for constant change because it is inherent in everything we do. Technologies evolve on a daily basis. Embracing change allows you to grow the business and help the company stay competitive.”
“Second, don’t be afraid to learn from others and try new ways to solve old problems," she says. “As much as possible, seek many external and internal perspectives. I owe much of my success to the many mentors who took time to give me genuine hard feedback. They helped build a stronger, wiser, and more mature me.”
“Third, narrow in on one goal that inspires and challenges you," she says. “If you develop a passion for technology, you will have fun, and stay engaged as you learn and grow in this industry.”
“And last, be the best at what you do," Arasu says. “Striving to be the best technology leader and CTO gives me the courage to be strategic and bold.”
IF YOU TIME IT RIGHT, YOU CAN HAVE IT ALL
Minted Founder and CEO Mariam Naficy advised entrepreneurial women looking to start and lead their own businesses to take risks early on in their careers so they don’t have to make big sacrifices in their personal lives.
“One thing that it’s important to know is that you don’t have to give up having a family to be an entrepreneur," Naficy says. “I would advise women to take more risks early in their careers than men. There’s a natural age at which women may consider having children, and it’s best to have gotten as far as possible with your career by then so that you have the leverage to set the terms of your work when you’re a mom.”
“Taking risks allows you to shoot up the career ladder and gain personal leverage much faster," she says. “I realized this accidentally, before I had my kids, as I started my first company at 27 and sold it at 29. Because of this, I was able to later have children and be an entrepreneur at the same time. I had resources for childcare and to take further financial risk, and I could attract more capital—all ingredients I needed to start my next company, Minted, on my own terms and at my own pace.”
TAKE CARE IN SELECTING THE PEOPLE YOU SURROUND YOURSELF WITH
Carolyn Everson, VP of global marketing solutions at Facebook, says aspiring female executives should surround themselves with people they can count on, while simultaneously being someone that others can rely on.
“Know what you stand for and make sure the people around you know that they can count on you," Everson says. “That is the best advice I’ve ever been given and have since followed at every company I’ve joined, and every position I’ve had. Likewise, I’ve learned that I need people to count on as well—people that go beyond my current company who are looking out for me personally and professionally. I call this group my ‘personal board of directors,’ and they’re an extraordinary group of men and women I’ve developed deep friendships with over the last 20 years. This board is comprised of your true evangelists, and can often be found in the most unexpected places.”
“It’s always about the people you choose to surround yourself with," she says. “In fact, I haven’t found a problem in business that wasn’t solvable with the right people in place. Waiting too long to make decisions on people who are not performing to the level your company and colleagues need, well those are the biggest mistakes I’ve made along the way.”
“Finally, know your purpose in life and business, and remember to always be yourself," Everson says. "I’ve seen many pitches and deals lost because one side told the other what they thought they wanted to hear, and they lost themselves—and the business—along the way. The more you can say what you really mean, the better it is for you and your clients.”
INVEST IN YOURSELF AND LEARN EVEN THE HARD LESSONS
Cisco Senior VP and CIO Rebecca Jacoby advised aspiring leaders to make sure they have a strong sense of self, to constantly learn from every experience, and to understand that change is constant.
“As a leader, you will not grow and develop without developing a keen sense of self-awareness; introspection is key,” Jacoby says. “Understand what your motivators are and work to identify what you want to get out of your career, what you want to give in your career, and what you want to avoid. You truly need to know yourself and make decisions accordingly. Learn something from every experience you have, even the difficult ones, so you can always add to your experiential toolbox.”
“It is about bringing technology to bear to bring value to every aspect of business," she says. "Over the span of your career, this will be increasingly true. Invest in yourself to learn fundamental business skills and adopt a mindset that change will be constant. Combine technology with great communication skills to make a difference for your business and the world.”
HAVE PASSION FOR WHAT YOU DO AND BE KIND TO YOURSELF
Blanca Juti, CMO of Rovio Entertainment, said to be a successful and inspiring leader, young entrepreneurs have to be fiercely passionate about what they do.
‘’The most important learning I would share is: Do what you love and love what you do," Juti says. "If you love what you do, you will remain curious to learn and your passion will be contagious. Doing what you love means also being close to your values. And don’t believe in perfection. Be kind to yourself."
“There is an art in building teams where different people bring different things and complement each other, including yourself. There is something very liberating in learning that. An authentic person who truly loves what she does can be a source of inspiration.”