Shaherose Charania – Women 2.0 2 of 2

“Entrepreneurship is a soul journey.” Shaherose is the cofounder of Women 2.0 and Founder Labs mobile app incubator, and a mentor at 500 Startups.

Matthew: Since you’ve been in operation, what have you learned about your business and your users that you didn’t realize before you launched?
Shaherose: Hm. So that’s a good question. With Founder Labs we have learned, hm, that there are people who think they wanna be an , and they try (laughs), but they’re not cut out for it. And I think it’s OK, I think we need to position that as a great lesson learned; in fact, what we then encourage them is… they still get jazzed about the concept when they come through our program and they think, “OK, I’m not ready to leave yet but what can I do, because I feel good about this entrepreneurship space.” So we have to hook them up with start-ups and get them working as an employee of a start-up, and that wasn’t what I was expecting to do; I was expecting to launch companies. (laughs) And I also wasn’t expecting… you know, out of the five teams that we launch every session, I think I was expecting more to succeed, but, I mean the reality of a start-up is really, you know, most are gonna fail, and everyone says that, but now I’m seeing it (laughs) you know, like, in my face, that out of five, you know, two are gonna make it. And that’s OK, again, but out of the three that don’t make it, they come back in some other way or they try a little bit later and the timing’s not right or whatever and I think that’s OK. So I think we had no idea what our odds were gonna be when we were gonna launch Founder Labs, and the number of companies that were gonna succeed. Now it’s very consistent, you know, there’s always two winners out of five, and I’m like, “OK, I can deal with that.” And so it’s just, you know, it’s nice to have the proof when you haven’t a clue, when you’re getting started, what’s gonna happen.
Matthew: Lots of people admire entrepreneurs because they appear to make starting companies look easy. We know it can be really difficult so we want to dispel some myths here, and so my question to you, Shaherose, is what are some skills or talents that come intuitively or easy for you, and what has been difficult and how have you managed that?
Shaherose: Hm. I think perseverance. I don’t know if that’s a skill, that’s more of a trait. I think… I’m OK with no, I’m okay with failing, and I don’t think everybody else is. Maybe it’s because I grew up as the underdog in Canada, or number two in school, or number five in school. It was OK to not be number one, it was OK to hear no, so I think that was one thing that is important for an entrepreneur, to sort of be OK with that. In terms of other skills I think multitasking is huge. Being able to switch gears quickly, you know, from product to funding to uh oh! after the idea worked (laughs), I think that’s a really important skill to have, because some people, I’ve noticed, they can’t switch gears quickly and they wanna just focus, focus, focus, focus, but there’s no opportunity for that in a start-up, you need to just be sort of on the switchboard (laughs) plugging in, plugging out, and this is something I think that maybe Steve Jobs kinda talked about it. This is how I see the world; like, you can’t tell me, if I’m gonna read trends, what product to build, that’s not gonna be the case. Like, have some intuition or have your own view of the world. Couple it with data, right? So I always tell the entrepreneurs, like, you can have a gut feeling of what the next mobile start-up should look like, or what the next in-house product should look like, but you need to have done sort of your homework, or, like, built sort of some expertise over the years to have some intuition on what’s next. If you don’t have that, I mean, you’re kinda building a run-of-the-mill product. But you also just can’t build on your own intuition, you gotta talk to customers, and so we teach customer development, for example, in Founder Labs and I always say take 50% of your gut and take 50% of the data and put that together and then make a decision. So I think that’s something new that… it’s not new, per se, but it’s just something that, you know, I think all entrepreneurs should participate in the beginning of the start-up, and then throughout it as well.
Matthew: What’s the most important lesson you’ve learned since launching both these ventures?
Shaherose: One thing was actually… so, because I’m not only the cofounder I’m also the CEO, that sort of being on the top can get lonely (laughs) so 2.0 at the beginning we were all sort of even keel, working hard, and over time I’ve had to take a larger leadership role, which I’m totally comfortable with, but after five years of leading something, the weight of just sort of leadership, it can be really exhausting, and so I didn’t believe that, you know, that that would be an issue where suddenly I just woke up and I was like “Wow, this is exhausting!” So being the leader for a very long time and being accountable for every decision sort of forced me to rethink, wait a second, it’s… you know, I need to sort of learn to just sort of have groups independently work around me, and so learning sort of a… sort of collaborative management style, which I’ve now started to apply. It feels so much better. So that’s sort of like a personal, like, aha! moment where I was like, whoa, I was just kind of like, you know, being the leader and letting… and not necessarily letting everyone sort of grow (unintelligible – 0:05:07.3) and so there was a personal blessing I learned that I’m happy to have sort of learned quickly and adapted to quickly, ’cause it lifts a weight off your shoulders a little bit and makes it… makes it more fun than before, you know? (laughs)
Matthew: What bit of advice do you wish you would have known before starting your ventures?
Shaherose: So yeah, the cofounder question you asked earlier I think is important. Like I said, the cofounders I’ve met have been through happenstance. I think, yeah, having criteria of who you’re looking for, who you wanna work with, what your desires are is a good thing to sort of keep in mind as a piece of advice if you haven’t started your company yet. Talk about work style, talk about ethics, you know, talk about passions, you know, are you aligned on all that and do you bring complementary skills to each other. I think that’s really good, I think… again, I was lucky to have met people that it just kind of fell in that place, like I always look back and go “Man, I’m so glad I trust these people!” ‘Cause if, you know, I’ve also worked with founders where it hasn’t worked out and it was around the trust that was broken, so, you know, I didn’t even have the criterion in mind so I couldn’t understand what went wrong in that situation, but now, like, oh, OK, this is my criteria, so I mean that’s one of the biggest things, ’cause in the end there’s nothing that you need other than good people. You don’t… the idea… if you have good people the idea will come, I promise, like, no one believes it, they’re like, “My idea is better than yours.” No, no, it’s… if you have smart people in the room that idea will evolve, and it’ll take over the world if you really do have the best people in the room.
Matthew: What mentor has played a significant impact in your professional development?
Shaherose: Very good question. I think it’s been a community of entrepreneurs that have sort of grown and helped my sort of, you know, opportunities here in Silicon Valley, so I wouldn’t say there’s one particular mentor, but for all the people who have mentored me you know who you are (laughs) and I think there’s a long list and I wouldn’t wanna start listing that, but I would say that mentors have played a pivotal role in getting me to where I am and I would tell people to build a mentor community for themselves. I always say it’s my personal board of advisers and I always like to pick people that have different skill sets complementary to mine or, you know, different to mine, but have my common passion and common thread of making a difference, and that weeds out a lot of people (laughs) right? ‘Cause in the end, people who wanna help people are a certain type of person, and so I’ve kept those types of people close to me, sort of on tap, phone and email, and go to them with different questions, you know, I get different perspectives and I think… I mean, I’m grateful that they answer me (laughs) ’cause they’re all very busy people, again, they know who they are, so, you know, respecting their time and all that is really important, but, you know, you should pick who you wanna work with and find, like, a concoction of skills that are gonna support you in your process, because entrepreneurship is a solo journey sometimes.
Matthew: What bit of advice would you like to share with our audience about launching a start-up? If you had to distill it…
Shaherose: Mm hm.
Matthew: What are the key elements?
Shaherose: Don’t think too much about it! (laughs) So do one thing is prepare yourself, whether it’s financially, logistically, emotionally, just sort of know that you’re gonna get on a path and the path is very different from having a job, so if once you’re sort of… let’s say you have the savings or you have (unintelligible – that 0:08:31.6) that cushion and you have logistically things set up, and, you know, emotionally you’re ready for the hundred million no’s that you’re gonna hear, I would just say begin, you know, begin and begin with a cofounder, don’t… try not to do it alone. Doing it alone, it just… it’s exhausting, and I know people who’ve done it, I’ve done it, and it’s just… you need the energy to keep someone next to you, keep your energy up, because there’s down times, there’s other times you wanna celebrate with someone, you wanna (unintelligible – 0:08:56.9) with someone, so find a partner is the second thing, and, you know, test it out, work with them on a project and see where it goes. And then, work fast, you know, just get something out there, like, don’t even think about it, don’t even moan about it, “The design’s not ready, ah, the feature’s not ready,” it doesn’t matter, it’ll change, you know, and people always come back to other products two, three, four times and are always delighted when things change. So yeah, be ready to iterate; it’s all about that and talk to customers, as my wonderful friend Steve Blank would say, “Customer development, customer development, customer development.” (laughs) So I… you know, at first when I met him, you know, I didn’t know what his whole customer development thing was about, and heard him speak, was blown away, like, this makes so much sense. So you’d be foolish not to build your product or service without having talked to customers first. So those are the first four baby steps, and after that you’re high flyin’.
Matthew: Before we close, Shaherose, I would love for you to give our audience your vision for both Women 2.0 and Founder Labs and how you hope it will change the world.
Shaherose: Yeah, sure. So, again, when we started Women 2.0 we didn’t know if it would change the world, per se, but I think it’s going to change the world. Fifty-one percent of the world’s population include women and it’s, you know, in developing countries the people that are making change are the ones taking microloans and starting businesses, and so there is an opportunity around the world for something like Women 2.0 to encourage more females to start companies, because that means companies are being started by the head of the household in some cases. And in other cases they’re building companies that matter to their market, you know? And so there’s a lot of smart women out there. They may not be used to the concept of being an entrepreneur, but we’ve seen it: when they try, they’re awesome. So our change in the world is to have more and more female founders. We think tech is the future, so we don’t, you know, you can do other types of businesses but our focus is that, and we think that around the world people can sort of embrace an opportunity to build a company, but even if it’s for their local community it’s, you know, a hyper-local community it’s OK. So, you know, people… I just want people to just try it, you know? And just see what it’s like, so if our change in the world is that every woman just tries to start a start-up, just once, I mean, that’s our job, you know? And then if they decide to continue, awesome. If they don’t, it’s all good. I want them to just try, ’cause it’s addictive when it works. (laughs) So that’s for Women 2.0; for Founder Labs, yeah, we just wanna pump out awesome mobile start-ups. We’ve already had one that received funding and so we’re looking forward to more of them growing. We wanna grow our presence in New York, grow our presence in San Francisco and just be the hub for, like, the best mobile teams out there. Again, it’s not necessarily about the idea but we wanna build smart teams, and unless we help put them together, you know, it’s just… it’s gonna stay the same, people are gonna work on the same kinds of ideas and maybe iterate, you know, on a social media app, but I want people to tackle real problems in (unintelligible – 0:11:57.0) health space, mobile security space, the… you know, a whole bunch of different places that there’s just opportunity, so I’m excited (laughs) for more teams to pump out more ideas.
Matthew: Excellent. Well, Shaherose, it’s been a pleasure having you as a guest on FounderLY. We’re rooting for your continued success at Women 2.0 and Founder Labs. For those in our audience, you can visit her website to learn more and participate. This is Matthew Wise with FounderLY. Thanks so much, Shaherose.
Shaherose: Thank you.


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