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It’s a golden age for female entrepreneurs

Originally featured on Fresh Business Thinking


“Female founders are coming into a moment,” says Jo Dalton. She should know because she has a novel insight into the UK entrepreneur scene.  For one thing, she is an entrepreneur, she has founded three companies, for the other thing she is in the headhunting business and works with a lot of entrepreneurs. “I am an entrepreneur,” she says, “but my job is supporting entrepreneurs who are scaling their businesses, so I have got a helicopter view of founders, I work with them every day, and have done so for 15 years.”

Not only is the UK more entrepreneurial than it used to be, agrees Jo, we are seeing a golden age for female founders, who, she says, “are better at identifying opportunities.”

These days a certain ‘f’ word has become almost cool. The UK used to be plagued by a hostile attitude towards failure, but has the pendulum swung too far? Jo says: “Failure is really in at the moment, it is cool to have failures, and people are dining out on failures.”  But she is not so sure this is a good thing: “I think we are going down a rocky road if we are too accepting of them,” she opines.

Instead, she talks about battle scars. “I hire a lot of graduates, and when I meet them on day one, I say: “You are absolutely useless to me until you have got some battle scars, go away and make lots of mistakes and come back when you have made your first 50, and then maybe you can get to work with me on a project.” We talk about the movie Jaws, when the characters played by Roy Scheider, Robert Shaw and Richard Dreyfuss are on that boat comparing scars, waiting for the shark.  Jo says that when she talks to the graduates about battle scars they look horrified – “I think they have that Jaws analogy – what will my face look like.  Then I reassure them they are metaphorical scars.

“I would say failure is good in some situations, each time we make a mistake we must learn. I think battle scars is a better way of putting it than failure. They should be scars that you take, you look in the mirror every now and then and you are reminded of them, so you can improve, rather than say: ”Oh, I have just lost loads of somebody else’s money and I am going to go and start something else up now, and I don’t really care the repercussions.”

Making a success of an entrepreneurial endeavour is hard work, it’s not like appearing on the X Factor, says Jo, “But Simon, I really, really want to be a pop star,” rather than “I have worked hard and mastered my craft, and I have put lots of time and effort into what I am doing, and I am now going to pursue it. “

It’s a theme we return to when she talks about that other TV show the Apprentice: “I would like to see better thought out programmes because I see young entrepreneurs who think that it is going to be as easy as going on a show, and making lots of money. They forget about the revenue model or competitive advantage.”

That point is clear, it’s hard work being an entrepreneur. So what advice would she give a budding entrepreneur?  “Being able to persevere,” she replies, “being able to pivot, and being able to adapt and be resilient – I say to people: ‘always make decisions, so if at 10 am there is a decision to be made make it. If at 2 pm you have to make another decision because the decision you made at 10 has fallen flat on its face, then at least keep making decisions, there is nothing worse than procrastinating, you have to keep moving forward.

“For young entrepreneurs, I always talk about their side hustle, stay in your day job – and always be working on a side hustle” – meaning stick with your day job, and work on your idea in your spare time.

Incidentally, hustle is a word you hear a lot when talking to entrepreneurs, in this context it means a state of great activity – as in hustle and bustle.

And what quality must an entrepreneur have?

“It comes down to self-belief, but the ability to rely on others at the same time. You have to be able to embrace the things around you.” So, it is a tricky double act, but one that many entrepreneurs emphasise – you need to have confidence in yourself, but also have faith in the people you work with, trust them.

Jo says: “Entrepreneurs I work with tend to surround themselves with a tight circle of people – sometimes I am working with them, and it is the very first time they have hired somebody who is not family or a friend and it really freaks them out, it is as if they are going beyond the inner sanctum, and I think this is to do with the fear that they don’t want to be found out, they have that imposter syndrome.”

joDaltonAnd then she turns to the theme of female entrepreneurs. “I was at a ‘foundher’ conference last week, she says “funding went to 2.17 per cent of women in the UK compared to men, and I think that is a lot to do with the fact that women are less confident, less willing to blag it, you know ‘fake it til you make it’.

Jo Dalton is the CEO of JD & Co, a business in executive search, and people consulting space for the tech industry. She has created a business that is trying to do things differently within headhunting and people consultancies, targeting entrepreneurs and people who are scaling tech companies globally.”