Be patient. You will screw up. Your team will screw up. That’s okay. Everybody makes mistakes. But those mistakes should not repeat themselves.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?
I started as a tech journalist back in Russia in 2010. I wrote hundreds of articles about entrepreneurs and entrepreneurship, science, tech, and innovations. I made friends with some of the founders and techies I was writing about. These inspired me and made me want to do something more profound in the tech space that could make a difference. I learned something new and met someone new every day, which significantly widened my horizon and worldview.
After a while, entrepreneurship caught my interest, and I launched a startup that eventually failed, but it was an amazing experience. It gave me the test of character that has kept me going on my journey so far. At some point, I got the chance to participate in an acceleration program by the famous Russian venture fund with one of my startups, and it was the best thing I ever did in my life at that point, and I think it kickstarted my entrepreneurship journey properly. I started thinking like an entrepreneur, and it was a sort of real-time MBA for me. I can’t say the journey has been hitch-free, but that acceleration program paved the way for me.
Can you share the most exciting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
GetOutfit.ru was my third attempt at building a startup and the one I’m proud of the most. We co-founded the company along with my friend Kim Sanzhiev and had a lot of fun in the process. GetOutfit was born when Kim had to wait for his two girlfriends to get ready to go for a walk. It took almost 2 hours for them to choose outfits, and he was so annoyed that he came up with the idea of a service to help people to get outfits for every season.
It’s funny, but that’s the story behind GetOutfit.ru. When it comes to funny stories along the way, we have a bunch of them. Most of them are related to the AI-stylist we were working on. Sometimes the beta-version of the AI stylist was just combining funny clothes. We’ve experimented with tech a lot, and allow me to say that the technology isn’t just there yet. For now, the service is still put together by real-human stylists. But application is on the way.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
The biggest part of our marketing strategy was based on influencer marketing. I still work with influencers a lot. So there was a story when an influencer was promoting us and our competitor. But instead of creating drama out of it, we just collaborated in order to enhance the engagement.
I also think this is the difference between the female and male approaches to do business. We can be competitive, but we do not take business as a war field; we prefer partnership.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
I met this incredible woman Esther Dyson back in 2013 for an interview. I was a journalist back then, and it was one of the first interviews I did in English, which is a second language for me. I was very nervous, but Ms. Dyson’s friendliness encouraged me a lot, and I was genuinely inspired by her. She was the first female venture investor I met, and I saw a whole different paradigm of thinking. She is a visionary, and she predicted a lot of technological trends we see in play now.
She became my role model, and I set a goal to become a venture capitalist serving people someday.
Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the primary focus of our interview. According to this EY report, only about 20 percent of funded companies have women founders. This reflects great historical progress, but it also shows that more work still has to be done to empower women to create companies. In your opinion and experience, what is currently holding back women from founding companies?
Entrepreneurship is not for everyone. It is a lesson I’ve learned over the years. Even though it was the obsessive dream for me to become a female entrepreneur, I failed not once but twice. And it was painful. There were times I slept at coworking spaces when we were passing the acceleration program because I needed to finish some work before the traction meeting. I had burnouts and weight gain, and then weight loss. I heard a lot of destructive things from people like, “Stop fooling around with your startups. Just get married and have babies already”. I was 25 back then, and honestly, I had some concerns, and I questioned if I was going in the right direction. But today, if I had to choose, I would absolutely do the same things. The only thing you need to do is to develop your talents and apply yourself in a way that makes you happy. It can be baking cookies or having a family, or building an international company. There are so many ways to be happy and be faithful to your mission on this planet.
Can you help articulate a few things that can be done as individuals, as a society, or by the government, to help overcome those obstacles?
I have a feeling that nowadays, women’s entrepreneurship is encouraged in the US like never before. But as a society, we still have a lot to work on. The best thing you can do to support female founders is to show them that they are not alone. Thousands of women are going through the same challenges, like doubts, pressure from parents or partners, not being able to have it all. That’s okay.
I believe in education. Every girl should have access to information and learning facilities. These days you can find almost everything on the internet, but the most crucial skill is to be able to focus, find what you need, and distinguish reliable sources from fake ones. Critical thinking and access to the internet are opening so many doors nowadays — not just for women.
This might be intuitive to you as a woman founder, but I think it will be helpful to spell this out. Can you share a few reasons why more women should become founders?
I don’t think everybody should be a founder. In my opinion, it takes some level of craziness and a strong desire to make a difference by creating a solution. However, every founder should keep in mind that your business is not equal to you, but the personality of the founder defines the business in so many ways.
What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about being a founder? Can you explain what you mean?
Being a founder is more or less a game. You can liken it to monopoly in real life if you want. Once you’re learning how to enjoy it, you find it hard to stop. The key is to provide value. People pay you when you solve their problems or give them something that is valuable for them. The funny thing is that it can be so obvious and not really that valuable for you. Like, sometimes I consult businesses on PR and digital marketing matters. For me, it’s obvious stuff I was doing for years, but for some people, it is extremely valuable knowledge that can save a lot of their time.
Is everyone cut out to be a founder? In your opinion, which specific traits increase the likelihood that a person will be a successful founder and what type of person should perhaps seek a “regular job” as an employee? Can you explain what you mean?
The first thing you need to have is a will. When there is a will, there’s a way. You can treat your “regular job” as your business in the first place. Try to give excellent customer service by treating your employer as your customer. Next, think about how to make your work even better, automate some processes you do every day, and save time on routine tasks. This isn’t about anybody else but yourself and your attitude towards work and creating solutions.
Ok super. Here is the main question of our interview. Based on your opinion and experience, What are the “Five Things You Need To Thrive and Succeed as a Woman Founder?”
- This may sound a little bit esoteric, but the biggest challenge to you as a founder is to learn how to keep a high level of your energy and not waste it on meaningless stuff. Sleep well, eat healthy, workout, because you are the most valuable asset of your business, especially in the beginning. Especially when the company has some crisis. Don’t take it too personally.
- Be patient. You will screw up. Your team will screw up. That’s okay. Everybody makes mistakes. But those mistakes should not repeat themselves.
- Always keep learning.
- Invest in security systems. Sometimes the people closest to you can let you down. Be ready, but don’t stop trusting.
- Invest in your team. As Princess Diana would say, try to reach people’s hearts. In 21 century, when there are so many opportunities out there for talented people, it’s so hard to motivate your team with only material things.
How have you used your success to make the world a better place?
I’m here to serve people. Sometimes, I share my knowledge for free or even get some promising startups published for free. I appreciate friendship and collaboration. Your network and relationships are better assets than money. Experience is a better asset than connections. And with my startup, I aim to solve a crucial problem for many people fashion-wise. Being spoiled for choice with what they have in their closets should not give them headaches. GetOutfit solves a global problem for all genders and age groups. That to me is impact.
We are very blessed that some very prominent names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them.
I would love to meet with Peter Thiel or Elon Musk. Or both.
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.