The amazing world of female entrepreneurship

How to succeed in the business world? How to make your ideas come to life? We had a chat with four Estonian female entrepreneurs and successful startup founders – Kadri Haljas (Triumf Health), Kaidi Ruusalepp (Funderbeam), Kelly Kangur (Decomer Technology) and Katrin Liivat (FoodDocs) are sharing their thoughts and stories about entrepreneurship to inspire others to make their good ideas into reality.

In your opinion, which personality traits help to succeed in entrepreneurship? Which personality traits have been useful for you?

Kelly: I think the most important traits are being strong-willed, setting goals and sticking with them, confidence and good communication skills. In addition, you have to be consistent but not stubborn while doing something you like. I have always been that type of a person who likes to be responsible over things and as an entrepreneur It is a very useful skill.

Since I’m also eager to create goals and have secret agreements with myself, I can’t let myself down. It’s important to take responsibility and to admit to yourself if something doesn’t work out the way you expect it to. Good communication skills are something I’m still working on it every day because I’ve understood that without this you won’t get far.

Kaidi: You have to be willing to take some risks. This is the first one because your first risk is to quit your day job and to become your own boss. The second trait is the ability to listen. To find yourself a good team and to really listen to them, not to walk all over them. Thirdly persistence – because you often have to tackle the same challenge at least twice. When you reach the bottom, a sense of humor and the ability to make decisions helps a lot.

We only live once and not to do and achieve something because critics would be stupid. – Kelly Kangur

What inspired you to start with your own business?

Kadri: For me, this was a necessity-based decision. I missed working as a clinical psychologist, which was something I did in Estonia before enrolling into the University of Helsinki’s doctoral studies. I mainly worked in a hospital with children, so as I was doing my scientific work in Finland, I felt that there is a piece missing. Since I do not speak Finnish, I didn’t have the opportunity to work a psychologist in Helsinki. At the same time, a collaboration possibility with a developer arose and I started attending more health technology events to see can I use my knowledge through a digital medium.

So, in the beginning, I didn’t have a plan to start entrepreneurship myself, I just wanted to use my expertise in a different way. What happened though, was that I jumped head-on into entrepreneurship two years ago, and in conclusion, I can say this is a wonderful tool to make your dreams into reality. The most important is to do your thing, just being an entrepreneur shouldn’t be a goal on its own.

Kaidi: I had an entrepreneur soul inside me that encouraged me to start with the entrepreneurship. Since I was home with my second children at that time and been on stock exchange for 11 years, I decided to not return from my childcare vacation. Because if I wouldn’t try entrepreneurship now, then I will regret it when I retire. From then on, I had to work with ideas and found the one that resonates with myself as well as with the current market. Otherwise, the journey would be very hard.

"You should take criticizing as regular feedback. It’s very important to tell the difference whether it’s you or your product receiving criticism." – Katrin Liivat

How does society perceive successful women in your opinion? Have you come across weird comments?

Kelly: I’m happy that female entrepreneurship has a growing tendency in Estonia and more encouraging programs are being made. It’s rather usual in our society today to have female leaders as well. And as much as I’ve met them, I can say that they are extremely clever and good leaders, who know what they do and why do they do it. I think I haven’t heard any comments directed to me about being a woman. Instead, I have felt recognition about being a female and finding such a practical way to use my studies while being so young.

Katrin: I feel that Estonian society accepts female entrepreneurs very positively. I’ve been involved with lots of events made especially for women, to grow women’s percentage in entrepreneurship and especially in startups. I have not come across weird comments. Instead, there has been some friendly jokes.

Kaidi: I think that society values successful but humble people. It doesn’t matter if it’s a man or a woman. As a woman, some things are more complicated, especially if you are a mother as well. Questions such as “How do you manage both a company and a family?” are regular. Instead of discussing business, family topics are discussed first. Our gender roles are so programmed in us, that even if you are happily married, then the man is not considered as a housekeeper. During receptions, it's usual to start discussing family or something else with women. This usually happens subconsciously and automatically.
When you reach the bottom, a sense of humor and the ability to make decisions helps a lot. – Kaidi Ruusalepp

How to deal with criticism and preconceptions in the business world?

Kelly: It’s easiest not to take it personally and to think about the fact, that at the end of the day, everybody has forgotten all about it. We only live once and not to do and achieve something because critics would be stupid.

Katrin: You should take criticizing as regular feedback. It’s very important to tell the difference whether it’s you or your product receiving criticism. Mostly the product is criticized, and you shouldn’t take it personally under any circumstances. Preconceptions are usual and the more people you get riled up the better your project.

Kaidi: There are two easy decisions when it comes to criticism in entrepreneurship. If it’s just mean words, forget it. If it’s constructive, listen and take it into account. Preconceptions mostly harm the person holding them. If you do your thing, stick true to yourself and your values, then this is all that matters.

What have been the biggest joys of your journey?

Katrin: The biggest joy has definitely been winning Ajujaht. This is an experience that you will never forget. Eight months of studying, hard work, amazing people, performances, grilling and finally something happens that you couldn't even dream of - you are the best! Another big joy is to find people with who you work well together. Meeting up, discussing ideas, everybody has a spark in their eyes, everybody is a unique person, it is simply awesome!

Kadri: Since Triumf Health develops a mobile game, that helps children who have been diagnosed with chronic illnesses to cope with treatment, we are happy to see that our game is effective, user-friendly and children love it. Despite fast pace and daily “fires”, startup life has been an extremely positive experience. Surprisingly I’ve found myself in a situation, where I have to say “Hey, you don’t have to work so much.”

This is a superb feeling to see people finding a place and a role suitable for them, this makes facing challenges a lot easier. Every positive funding decision is also invaluable. No matter how big the wish is to change the world, we also need resources to do so. In addition to monetary resources, startup life takes up a lot of time, so this is something to consider.

I think that society values successful but humble people. It doesn’t matter if it’s a man or a woman. –Kaidi Ruusalepp

So, let’s suppose I have a really great business idea. What should be the first steps to start with?

Kelly: You have to find a person who believes in this project as much as you do and has the wish to make it happen. You will not get anything done alone and it’s much easier to effectively share work duties. Finding a mentor, who may not have a lot of knowledge on the specific field but can offer you business-related advice, would also be a good idea. In addition, there are a lot of support opportunities everywhere - you can join an incubation program or get connected with a university.

Katrin: I always recommend running for incubators, Enterprise Estonia’s classes or to Ajujaht. In these kinds of places, you will meet people who can help you to get on the right path or will join your project.