I am on the way to see Cyan Ta’eed, the co-founder of Envato and one of the most sought-after female entrepreneurs. Excited and nervous. For all the obvious reasons. Cyan is in high demand at all sorts of tech and startup events. Cyan is busy running a company with over 170 employees, yet she finds the time to get involved and help women like me to get into tech and to have the guts to be entrepreneurs.
It is both exciting and unnerving to talk to someone like Cyan about your first early stage startup. As I walk in the rain, I try to psyche myself for this meeting: “ Allie, don’t crack your usual self-deprecating jokes to cover up for all sorts of silly insecurities in your head. Who cares that you are a non-techie. Anyone can have a great idea, only some will start working on it, and only very few will bring the great idea to life… You are halfway there.. “
What freaks me out
What freaks me out is the lack of entrepreneurial experience and an early-stage insecurity. I recall my first visit to some social meetup event for entrepreneurs. It is incredibly intimidating to be a first-timer at any event, especially the one where no one knows you. Holding onto a glass of wine, I was circling the room trying to make some confident small talk with total strangers, when some tipsy beer-drinking dude decided to find out why I was there. Bursting with pride I managed to get through the first line of my ZippyCrowd pitch, when he cut me off getting in my face and grilling me with cliche questions “Yes, but what problem are you solving? Where is the problem? How are you solving the problem? There is Linkedin for those things..” Blah blah.. He was drunk, rude, had no idea what he was talking about and he didn’t care.. Yet at the time he somehow managed to deliver a confidence-killing punch, and it took me a lot of mental workout to get his words out of my system…
Fears in your head
Fear of failure, of looking stupid, of sounding incompetent can be paralysing. My meeting is in 10 minutes. I wonder who other entrepreneurs will be, how many, how much better their startups are. I am almost there, and I distract myself, thinking instead about people passing me by in the rain. Most of them must be rushing to their cushy, secure corporate jobs that they hate…Have I made a mistake, is it just a midlife crisis? At 50, I am the first time proud “startup mum”. Starting at this mature age has it’s own advantages. I am much tougher. I know a lot about a lot. I am trained to learn fast, navigate through chaos and do constant U-turns. I ignore rejections like crappy dates, and I take blows with a trained smile of a seasoned corporate assassin. I live on coffee and I never quit.
OK, I am here. I ask myself “What is it that I need from Cyan? She certainly doesn’t need anything from me.. I must be one of those “charity” cases.. “ Building a startup for the first time is like making a new dish without knowing the recipe. I am hoping Cyan will share with me her Envato recipe, with all the magic ingredient widgets, so I can just plug them into ZippyCrowd, and boom – everyone loves it!”
Envato is like home
A couple of women walk into reception, wet from the rain and looking same uncertain as I was a minute ago – must be my meeting buddies, also in search for the magic ingredients. Quick intros, and we are shown to the meeting room. A first day intern, shy boy with an unusual Hawaiian name, brings the kettle running into Cyan on the way. It’s his first day, and he must be so anxious about doing everything right. Coming face to face with the CEO of the company must have freaked him out, but a few friendly words from Cyan – and he is all smiles.
My meeting buddies
5 minutes into the meeting, and I already love my meeting buddies – incredible women with very interesting businesses in the making. Izolde Bensch is the founder of Waggle Dance, the online marketplace for bringing unique experience as gifts to children. Tasha Jennings has built an online site Zycia helping people with advice on best possible nutrition to support conception and a healthy pregnancy. And then there is Rosie… Rosie is the youngest in the room, still working out what is it that she would love to do in life. Interested in everything and passionate about all things social and digital, Rosie came to listen and learn, also probably hoping to get the magic advice..
I walk out feeling better than good. I have 4 new friends, tons of inspiration and 3 great tips.
3 Startup takeaways from Cyan
- Have faith in yourself. Early stage is all about survival. You will be punched in the face time after time – get up every time and keep going.
- Your team is everything. Surround yourself with people who are smarter than you and who fall in love with your idea. Ignore negative people no matter how important or useful they may be.
- You don’t need to fake it until you make it. Stay real. Your business is about making an impact and the difference in people’s lives. Focus on that, keep it friendly, fun, hip and cool.