Ari Horie, founder and CEO of Women’s Startup Lab—an accelerator in Silicon Valley supporting start-ups founded by women. Ari comes from Japan. She is the winner of many prestigious awards and rankings, including Women of Influence in Silicon Valley 2015 according to “Silicon Valley Business Journal,” 10 Visionary Women of 2014 of CNN and The 40 Women To Watch Over 40 2015.
When you want to start something, you need to ask yourself whether it is a good idea: Are you really passionate about it? Do you really want to do it? People often have a desire to do something, but there is always a part of you that says, “I don’t want to do it because I might fail.” If it goes well, it is exciting… the “yes” part is there, but the “no” part shows up when we begin to fail. Entrepreneurs are usually optimistic: they are so excited and so committed to the changes they will facilitate that their inner passion and their desire drive them to become successful. The other part, though, is solely business, can you create value that others will pay for? If your business is not making money, then it’s actually a great hobby. So you can be a great hobby person; the question is, can you generate revenue from your hobby or from your passions? We often get so excited about what we want to do that we forget about what customers really want and that leads to an unsuccessful business.
Women have a very small number of role models. Women lack a business culture, the culture that it’s OK to talk about our business. Most of the time we talk about our other personal things to establish connections! We talk about saving money but not about making money. And those are two very different ways of thinking and approaching the world. Women have smaller circles of business resources and networks to help with their business. So it is challenging, but the challenge doesn’t mean that it’s impossible. As a female entrepreneur knowing the background and landscape of our business environment, I would say, make sure that you are willing to go through the hardship and don’t give up, don’t listen to those who suggest that you can’t do it, because there is always a chance of winning and you just have to bet on that chance. Believe in the 2 percent, even though 98 percent fail. Think differently and have a unique strategy to be that 2 percent winner.
“Just Do It”
Entrepreneurship is also about personality. When I was 10 years old I saw a documentary on TV about the Japanese Department at Warsaw University. The students were so bright: they knew more about Japanese history than an average Japanese, and their language skills were much better than most Japanese people. I was so impressed!
I thought it would be great if one of those students became my “pen pal.” So I wrote a letter. But where to send it? On the envelope I wrote only: “To any student learning Japanese at Warsaw University, Warsaw, Poland.” I was so excited about the possibility of having a friend at Warsaw University that I didn’t really care that it might not arrive. I didn’t really care if sending a letter without an address wouldn’t work… I just did it. The possibility was far too exciting for me as a 10-year-old girl, I couldn’t not act. I got reply from Maggy; she came to visit me in Hiroshima. Today, my Polish “pen pal” lives in Japan and after 35 years, we are still friends! Let your passion lead you, not your fear of failure!
I think entrepreneurship is being so excited about something that is so important to you. So passionate that you cannot help but take action, and no matter what happens you keep going. You must be truly faithful to your passion and finding your voice ... And let it sing!
Have a Strategy
Silicon Valley right now is not known for its openness; it has also gotten a bit of a male model. If you want to come to Silicon Valley as a start-up founder and a woman, don’t just show up. When coming to Silicon Valley you need a strategy; just as when you start a business, you need a strategy. Try to go through an accelerator where you can anchor yourself with other female entrepreneurs, local influencers are a must. Silicon Valley is open and friendly but people often mistake that as “easy.” It gives that impression but this is the center where the global best of the best gather. There is no second chance if you present yourself poorly at VCs (Venture Capitalists). Why should there be? They have hundreds of start-ups knocking on their doors. You need to start building your network immediately. Also find out what kind of investors are here. And last but not least, assess, find out for yourself what is really important in your life and make sure your strategies for your life and for your start-up are aligned. Don’t get mad at VCs when they expect you to give up everything else for success... Don’t get in bed with them before you clearly understand what they want and their expectations for you.
In my opinion, what is really different between women and men, is that women are often fulfilled by different things in life. Women often value and get fulfillment from relationships, community, and people. Even if they have a career and even if they are successful, they still feel that the “human” part is important. So know what fulfills you and be sure that your start-up journey is part of the puzzle… or end up one of those super successful people that are so unfulfilled, unhappy with their personal life falling apart. Make sure to ask what success you want in your life, not just in your career or business.
To create this ultimate success at WSLab (Women’s Startup Lab) we revisit and redefine success as whole: we make sure you have considered this other part of your life too; we make sure that you would be fulfilled, optimized, aligned to function at your best. This way you ultimately become the most powerful and the start-up CEO most likely to succeed. Because you might have a business that is going to make millions of dollars. That’s great, but meantime create around your life a structure that will allow you to actually have what matters to you. I highly recommend that as a woman with a start-up, you build your life designed such that you run your start-up and your start-up doesn’t run you.
Is it possible to run a successful start-up and have a family? You have to define what success means to you. If you are trying to have a typical Silicon Valley success, which is raising millions of dollars and growing really fast, then you have to think about it. There are people that are devoting every single minute of every single hour to achieving that success. Are you going to be like that? Or do you have enough money to employ somebody to grow your company? God gave us 24 hours a day—everybody has 24 hours and some might have a more powerful network, team, brain, or money, than others but at the end of the day we all have limitations. What’s great about this is that you just have to put the puzzle pieces together by assessing what you can accomplish within the limitations. The problem is everyone thinks trying harder and asking for more money will get you success. No! Accept the limitations on time and money then be creative in getting things done with extreme measures if you want extraordinary success in life.
I actually don’t think you can have it all. You can say that you can have it all but it has to be your individual definition of what’s in it and how much. Some people think that the definition of being a good mom is being really patient with your kids, cooking healthy meals, managing playdates and social lives, spending a lot time with them, throwing big birthday parties, and having kids that are playing sports, are well balanced, smart, playing music, piano, all that stuff.
And having a husband who is really committed and having a great relationship with all of them.
But remember that if changing the world—having a start-up that makes an impact in the world—matters to you, for the next few years you may need to redefine “being a mom” differently. You need to redefine the standard, not follow the standard, you need to be a confident parent to communicate your mission in life, keep strong values in your in family regardless of crazy hours. Do not waste your time saying “sorry” to your kids or feeling guilty. Just like your employees need you to lead them with confidence in any challenging time, a parent needs to lead their kids with confidence in keeping the family values intact. So you can have it all as long as you design your life around the 24-hour limit. That’s really clear; it is that simple, actually. But doing it requires discipline, focus, strategy, and design—just like a business. You just have to find the right answer for yourself.
Accept your priorities, own them, design around them, get help instead of feeling sorry or guilty and overwhelmed with everything on your plate. Yes, we women have more work to do, it’s not easy, but we are doing it, and we are successful. Your start-up is like your other baby: it requires commitment and adjustments from everything in your life for it to grow.
Can you have a “life-style” start-up and be wildly successful? If you can only have five hours per day for your start-up, it can be successful but it might take 15 years. If you want to do it in five years, you need to give a lot of hours. If you want to work five hours a day, and you want to grow your company in five years, then you probably have to invest money. So now money is compensating for your freedom. People will look at you and say it’s a compromise, you are not spending as much time with your kids. But that’s not a compromise… the message is: You chose it. It is a perfect balance for you.
In Women’s Startup Lab we look at how we can redefine your success clearly, and how we can surround you with powerful resources and advisors to accelerate your success.
What I Wish I Knew
I wish somebody told me 15 years ago that as a young person you actually have so much already! You don’t need to be wiser, you don’t need to live in a “someday when I have...” future. Be open to learning and gaining more experience but also be deeply aware of the power of youth and vitality, the freedom to think and act that often diminishes as we get older. I wish somebody told me to be present with who I was in my wonderful twenties, asked me to focus equally on what I already had and on staying humble and learning. I always thought that I was not good enough yet as young person. I would remind others they are powerful now and embrace living life in the now: You are already so awesome, and you are perfect.
Letting young people know that they already have something that other people don’t have and giving them the power to appreciate themselves and to design their career and personal life based on what they already have is very important. So, challenge everything you know! The earlier you discover that you can break the code, break the rules, to create something new, the faster you find the path to your success, and the better insight you gain about your own gifts and talents.
What I really wish is that when I was 20 years old someone had simply asked me, “Why? What is truly important to you?” Let your life unfold, your passion and purpose lead you to success that you deserve. Hope to meet you soon in Silicon Valley!
Your biggest fan,
—Ari Horie Founder and CEO of Women’s Startup Lab