Dear Female Founder: A Letter of Advice from Entrepreneur Danae Ringelmann
Dear Female Founder,
My name is Danae Ringelmann, and I’m one of the founders of Indiegogo. We are on a mission to empower people to unite around the ideas that matter to them and together make those ideas come to life. We launched in 2008, and after nearly 10 years, I have learned quite a bit about entrepreneurship, our world and certainly myself. I wish you all the success in the world, as long as the definition of success to which you aspire is your definition; no one else’s.
Here are two learnings I would love to share – both as an entrepreneur and as someone helping entrepreneurs making their ideas happen.
- Know Your Why
Entrepreneurship is hard. It is messy, chaotic and full of uncertainty. The only thing that can be certain about entrepreneurship is why you’re taking the journey to begin with. So make sure that’s certain – know Your Why.
And then love it and embrace it. Wake up every morning repeating it. For when you meet what feels like an insurmountable challenge or you face a seemingly impossible decision (which there will be many), Your Why will guide you around and through them.
Your Why doesn’t make entrepreneurship easy; it just makes it possible.
So how do you know Your Why?
Ask: why do you want to start a business, what problem are you trying to solve and why is this problem so important? After every answer ask Why again (like an endlessly curious toddler exploring how the world works). Keep asking yourself why until you get to an answer that is a belief – something you can’t rationally prove. Just something deep down you know is true for you. Then stop. You have found Your Why.
For me, I started Indiegogo because I wanted to democratise access to capital and entrepreneurship.
Why? Because I saw ideas going unborn every day not for lack of heart and hustle, but rather for lack of knowing ‘the right’ gatekeeper.
Why did this inequity matter? Because I thought every person deserved a right to bring their ideas to life.
Why did I believe entrepreneurship was a right and not a privilege? Because I thought life should be fair.
Why do I think life should be fair? Well I just do. It’s my belief. It’s my Why, and this Why has gotten my co-founders and I through the toughest periods with Indiegogo, and continues to guide our mission and strategy to this day.
What’s also interesting is that the most successful entrepreneurs on Indiegogo are often the ones that know and share their Why relentlessly too. Campaigns with a video raise on average 4x more than campaigns without. In their videos, entrepreneurs don’t just talk about what they are trying to achieve and how they are planning to achieve it, but also why they are trying to achieve it, and why their success matters to the world.
- Expect Resistance
As illustrated above, entrepreneurship is not a linear path. It never goes according to plan; what you end up building often looks very little like the original vision in your mind. So while the problem you are solving remains the same, how you solve it will evolve – and that’s OK. That is how it should be. The evolution – while challenging – is actually the fun part too.
So how do you ensure that your solution evolves? Expect resistance in all flavors (rejection, ridicule, and even self-doubt) and then turn that resistance into opportunity.
When an investor tells you ‘No’ or a customer says ‘I wouldn’t use your product’, don’t be discouraged. Instead, respond with gratitude. Thank them for the feedback, and then ask what would make them say ‘Yes’ or ‘Okay, I’ll use your product’? Same goes for when someone makes fun of your brilliant idea, calling it ‘crazy’ or saying ‘it will never work’. It even applies to you when you are questioning yourself, your intentions and your own assumptions.
When you are ready to hear ‘No’, be laughed at and to second-guess yourself, then rejection, ridicule and self-doubt turns into learning. And that learning turns into progress, because it is the learning process through which you will acquire the information you need to iterate, improve and get closer to making it all work. When you are not ready, then resistance just turns into defeat. Plus you miss all the fun of evolution too.
Like Ghandi once said, ‘First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.’ So expect resistance! You need it to succeed.
And this is also why we have built Indiegogo to be a learning experience for you to test your assumptions about your ideas and to gather feedback. No one knows with certainty if there is a market out there for a product, service or creative expression that doesn’t yet exist – not you, not any investor, nor any one customer or fan.
The only way to know if your idea has an audience is when you start putting one foot in front of the other, and iterating your way to a sustainable value proposition based on feedback all along the way. A campaign on Indiegogo just accelerates this journey and iteration process.
In sum, if you know your Why and expect resistance, then the only thing between you and entrepreneurial success is yourself. So keep going and enjoy the ride!
The world needs change. The world needs you to succeed. And when you do, we will all thank you for enduring the journey and making it happen.
San Francisco-based Danae Ringelmann co-founded Indiegogo in 2007 with a mission to democratize fundraising and has since helped to propel the company into the world’s largest crowdfunding platform.