Grit. For women entrepreneurs, it’s a quality you need in spades. From facing structural barriers to accessing venture capital to people just not taking you quite as seriously as they should, women entrepreneurs face greater barriers in making their business dreams a reality. Our own CEO, Suzanne Siemens, sat down with Toni Desrosiers, founder of Abeego. Both SheEO Venture Finalists, they discussed grit, entrepreneurship and getting it done.
Q: What, to you, is entrepreneurial grit?
Toni: Entrepreneurial grit is deciding that you are big enough to face any obstacle that gets in your path and if you get knocked down you’ve learned and are more prepared to face the challenge the next time it presents itself, even if it shows up in a different form than expected. Problems or obstacles are good for an innovative thinker like me because they represent endless opportunities.
Suzanne: It’s about believing so firmly in your business that you’ll do whatever it takes to succeed. It’s about having the resilience to keep pushing forward, balanced with the practical mindset that the business model must be sustainable to succeed in the long term.
Toni: It’s the belief that problems are opportunities in disguise that keeps me motivated and moving forward.
Q: Can you tell me about a tough time in your entrepreneurial life when you needed to dig deep to overcome challenges?
Suzanne: In the early years, we ran short on cash flow and went without salary, juggled our payables and hustled for sales. More importantly, it forced us to rethink our B2B business model and change our focus to direct-to-consumer sales. Thanks to e-commerce, that shift in perspective saved the business and is the primary source of our success today.
Toni: I’m an entrepreneur who, when I set my goals, I expect to reach them. In 2015, I reached for the stars and fell flat on my face before I could recalibrate my goals. I was forced to triage the business; I had to make the heart wrenching & critical decision to lay off almost my entire team two weeks before they went on Christmas holidays. It was a moment that could have sunk me emotionally and it took all the grit I had to get up and dust myself off. I overcame it by surrounding myself with radically generous women who helped me get up emotionally, physically, financially and spiritually to come back stronger than ever. My sincerest thanks to all SheEO Activators that had my back.
Suzanne: Yes, shout out to the fabulous SheEO community!
Q: Is grit ever harmful? How can you practice self-care while pursuing entrepreneurship?
Suzanne: “Blind” grit can be harmful. When things are not going well, don’t let your grit dig you deeper into a hole. Instead, re-examine the fundamentals or root behind of the challenge and redirect that grit into new tactics that will be productive and regenerative.
Toni: A day is often over before it even starts and self-care is left in the dust. I don’t practice self-care well and it’s constantly the area I need to be gentle with myself about.
Q: How is grit unique to women entrepreneurs?
Suzanne: Women entrepreneurs are typically driven by the desire to solve a challenge they have personally experienced. Business is personal to many of us! So, the lived experience of dealing with something we truly want to fix takes on a deeper level of commitment, or grit, if you will. Grit takes on a level of emotional investment, leading us to refuse to give up easily and work hard to find a better way.
Toni: As a woman, I don’t “persevere” alone and I don’t believe that it my duty to hold the weight of the business on my shoulders alone. That being said there are few people you can share the highest 5% and lowest 5% with when running a business. The dark side of entrepreneurship is how utterly lonely is can be, especially when things are not going as planned. I have actively surrounded myself with other incredible entrepreneurs that I lean on when things get tough and are there to hear my biggest successes. Many happen to be women because I find they comfortably hold space for the emotion that comes with the lowest and highest points of running a company.
Q: What are other values crucial to success as an entrepreneur (compassion, independence)?
Toni: Value your unique thinking style. I wish I knew earlier that the way I think is a strength not a weakness. My business coach helped me recognize that I am visionary thinker, not distracted and unorganized. Once I identified my unique thinking style, I embraced it and then found the action-oriented people needed to bring my great ideas to life.
Do something, even when you can’t do everything. I believe in doing something even when I can’t do everything because every single step in the right direction takes you down a path you may never go down otherwise.
Suzanne: As a social entrepreneur, I hold compassion and humility as cornerstone values, as they are fundamental to learning and listening to others, especially from folks who aren’t typically heard. We all hold our own forms of unconscious bias; compassion will ensure you remain open to other ideas and perspectives. Entrepreneurs must be willing to take risks and make mistakes. But to succeed in the long run they also to have the humility to accept they are not always right or know everything.