5 things every woman should know about start-up life

March 8, 2022
Kathleen MacLean

To celebrate International Women’s Day 2022, Kathleen MacLean, our Head of Growth, shares her five top tips for women looking to enter the start-up sphere.

Start-ups are hectic. No matter how great the business plan, how secure the funding or how wonderful the people are, this is just a fact of the business world. The environment can be even more challenging for women, but coming in with the right mindset can help you reap the benefits of start-up life.

Having worked at large advertising agencies with over 2000 people in my office and over 20,000 employees globally, to Series B scale-ups of 450, I joined ev.energy just over a year ago as employee 28.

This was my first venture into a pre-Series A start-up and I’ve learned a lot along the way. This International Women’s Day, I wanted to share some of my lessons to help other women to survive and thrive in start-up culture.

Understand how you and others like to communicate

Building a business from scratch is an uphill battle, on all fronts. Whether that’s your fifth pitch to land the perfect product messaging in your key markets, or getting the onboarding process right for an influx of new employees. Everything is absolutely brand new, or near enough.

The differences between female and male attitudes and behaviours in the workplace are well researched. For example, men are typically known to be more direct, confident acting on decisions alone and excellent at displaying power, but less likely to read non-verbal cues and listen well, which are essential skills for managing and nurturing teams.

With limited resources at you and your teams’ disposal, you need to be as efficient as possible with your time and energy and therefore it’s important to establish and share your working styles, strengths and weaknesses between you and key team members as early as possible.

This builds trust and avoids wasting time and energy on misunderstandings. It’s also a great way to build awareness of biases that might be in place. All of which ultimately helps you and the business to grow.

Do your thing and be a zero

In high-pressure start-ups, we all want the business to succeed. Everyone is keen to give their opinion on what we should be doing, and I’ve found that as a woman, I feel an urge to agree.

Chris Hadfield, Canadian Astronaut and author of “An Astronauts Guide to Life on Earth”, shares his approach to thriving while working in the high-achieving, high-pressure landscape of NASA.

His view is that every person will either be a 1: an overachiever, a 0: doing everything to meet their job description or -1: an underperformer.

If you don’t want to work and clearly don’t try, you’ll be a -1. If you try too hard to be a +1, you end up annoying your team or working yourself into the ground and become ineffective (a -1), but if you just try to do everything that your job description asks of you to the best of your ability (a 0), you do your job well and naturally become a +1.

While it’s important to listen to others and aim to be your best self in the workplace, remember to keep the focus on what you’ve been brought in to do. Don’t be afraid to speak up and ask for what you need to do your job well.

Just let it go!

My personal biggest lesson learnt since joining the start-up world has been letting go of my perfectly polished marketing strategy presentation, followed by a synchronised marketing communications plan and a matching budget sheet to go with it.

I just don’t have the time. Nobody does.  

Start-up life is scrappier, decisions and actions need to be made quickly and being flexible and agile are more important to keep you and the business moving forward.

Do yourself a favour and be more like Elsa from Frozen. Just let it go.

Share WIPs, use tools that allow active collaboration (we use Notion internally at ev.energy) and don’t fear when something isn’t quite as polished as you’d expect, especially if you’re coming from a corporate or agency background.

This will not only save you a tonne of stress but also help your team to move quickly too.

Set your boundaries early on, and stick to them

Start-ups are exactly that, starting up. There is a journey before you are a thriving, profitable business. There will always be something more to do, something not quite right, something that could look better.

You can (and will) drive yourself into the ground if you let it take hold of you. Set your boundaries of when to stop, what the real priorities are and what you need to be your most productive self. Most importantly, try to do it early on.

A wise woman once said to me ‘How can you look after others if you don’t look after yourself?’. Make time for reading, exercise, friends and family. It will make you better at your job.

Have fun every day

Always remember why you joined a start-up in the first place. Start-ups expose you to so many new challenges and opportunities where you’re guaranteed to grow your skillset immensely.

This will certainly feel uncomfortable at times, which is why it’s so important to make time for having fun with your team as well.

Have that coffee chat with a colleague, get involved in team-building excises or take the lead on suggesting an informal games night (we’re big fans of codenames at ev.energy).

With the task you have ahead of you, those relationships and bonds will be important, and they’ll certainly make the challenge feel more worthwhile on difficult days!

We’re hiring. Check out our careers page to see our latest roles.

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