I was once told ‘you’re not a typical founder’ — but there’s nothing typical about startupland

typical founder

Brandcrush co-founder and chief executive officer Teresa Aprile.

During the capital raising process, I was told: “You don’t fit the typical founder persona.” It was a comment that left me a little confused. 

What is the ‘typical founder persona’?

Do I have to wear a turtleneck? Have successfully exited a business? Be younger? Older? Tech expert? Male? Not a mother? Not sure. 

I’m still confused by that statement because I don’t think there is anything typical about being a founder. Starting a business is tough. Starting a tech business with minimal financial backing, and no real tech experience? Tougher. 

Maybe I’m not the typical founder…

For starters, I’m a woman. And there aren’t a whole lot of female founders in the tech world. There are definitely more of us coming through, but we have a long way to go to close the gap both in taking the startup leap and in getting funded.

Last year, Fortune reported that “female founders received 2.2% of $130 billion in VC funding in 2018”.

“The number of deals completed by female founders is growing, though the percentage of money going to these companies remains stagnant as the total amount of VC investment increases.”

Not exactly reassuring insights.

When I kicked off my founder journey, I was a novice to the world of tech. As a marketer, I had a passion for customer experience and martech. I have always loved and embraced tech as a tool to improve processes and free up more time for creativity. But I’d never developed a tech product from the ground up. 

Although I had helped scale a startup, I’d never run my own business.

And, I am also a sole parent to two young boys.

So yes, agreed. Not typical. 

There are a lot of reasons why someone in my position would never usually choose to become a tech founder. But, I am a problem-solver by nature.

I had recognised an opportunity to use technology in a way I’d seen it done in other areas but had never seen in experiential marketing. I saw a gap in the market for a tech-based platform enabling marketers to simplify and scale the discovery, booking and running of real-world activations. And so, Brandcrush was born. 

What really matters

About 18 months into my startup journey, I’ve experienced highs and lows and endless learning. I’ve gotten into the nitty-gritty of product development, and now consider myself pretty ‘dev’ fluent. I have learnt what it takes to nurture and motivate our team and engage investors to bring them on the journey. 

And, importantly, I’ve learnt what it really takes to be a tech founder.

1. Focus

Your attention and time are being swallowed at every turn. With a double-sided marketplace to consider, creating a product that ‘works’, not to mention raising funds, managing stakeholders, empowering staff… everything is important. Keeping focus is incredibly hard but vital. 

2. Energy

This is an energy game. There are never enough hours in the day, and there’s no time to waste. Optimistic energy is the one thing that keeps you moving forward. Learning how to build it, and how to conserve it for my team has been key. 

3. Positivity

Rob Igor said: “No one wants to work for a pessimistic person.” There are days when everything seems stacked against you. Yes, you get frustrated. Yes, you get disappointed. But there’s no time to dwell on that. 

4. Gratitude

The key to keeping your positivity is to remember to be grateful, every day. Appreciate the shitty moments as well as the amazing ones. Every setup is a teacher.

5. Transparency

This means being honest with yourself and your team — acknowledge the good, the bad, and the uglies. It takes too much energy to bullshit, and there’s too much at stake to risk an avoidable mistake. 

6. Resilience

For every yes, there’s likely to be 10 no’s — especially when you’re doing something completely new. It takes grit and determination to keep pushing ahead and to keep believing in the success of your idea, against all odds. 

7. Individuality

It’s scary doing something new and unproven, and it’s hard to convince others (investors!) to believe in something that has no precedence. Brandcrush solves problems that I had been personally challenged by, and I knew others in the industry had also been challenged by.  So in the words of the famous Lady Gaga: “You need to be unique and different (not typical) to shine in your own way.” 

8. Curiosity

As a founder, you need to have the appetite to learn, to be coachable, to try to find the missing piece/s of the puzzle. The great founders I’ve observed are the ones that have this child-like curiosity and enthusiasm for the unknown. They’re not afraid to be wrong, they love to be challenged, and they continually seek better ways to do things.

And, most importantly, I’ve learnt that it’s not the persona that matters — it’s the person. 

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