Fabi Hubschmid of Markaaz: “It takes courage to break out of that pattern”

We see things differently, we are determined and, if we can get beyond the stereotypes, conventions and our own insecurities, we can create anything. I want to encourage more women, particularly those early in their lives, to take this path less traveled. It’s so rewarding, beyond anything you can imagine. This path takes you beyond […]

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We see things differently, we are determined and, if we can get beyond the stereotypes, conventions and our own insecurities, we can create anything. I want to encourage more women, particularly those early in their lives, to take this path less traveled. It’s so rewarding, beyond anything you can imagine. This path takes you beyond all the silly things people tell us you need for a fulfilled life and beyond the stereotypes that young women, in particular, are told are so important. Sadly, we are often confined to historical norms and patterns, which are most often propagated within families and through social media. It takes courage to break out of that pattern.

As a part of our series about “Why We Need More Women Founders”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Fabi Hubschmid.

Fabi Hubschmid is co-founder and COO of Markaaz, the world’s first global platform to verify and connect every small business on the planet, providing small business owners with the tools and resources they need to run, manage and grow their businesses from a single platform. Fabi is a serial entrepreneur with global experience in the platform, construction and smart cities industry with a track record of leading global and complex transformations across private and public sectors. At Markaaz, she focuses on providing every small business owner with access, equality and empowerment by building partnerships and creating opportunities that are not typically available for small businesses.

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 grew up in an entrepreneurial family, and ever since I can remember I’ve been building things. I’ve spent time at Fortune 500s and in various roles in both the private and the public sector. Throughout my career, I’ve had a passion for helping people and making an impact.

At 16, I packed myself up and went to Costa Rica, learned to speak Spanish and built houses for the homeless with TECHO. From there I started a foundation and later started my own business. I’ve always been drawn to people who are audacious and believe that together we can make the impossible possible. I have an affinity for people who want to make the world a better place and those who make personal sacrifices and go beyond themselves, their history and their circumstances to have an impact. I’ve connected with a few such people and I am humbled to be able to learn and share with them.

I’ve also dealt with a lot of adversity, doubt and skepticism. As much as it hurts that we all face so much of this, I’ve learned to smile, look past it and not allow it to derail my journey.

These things have all come together to shape who I am today: an entrepreneur who loves to build things that make the lives of others better and who refuses to accept the conventional obstacles and stereotypes that so easily limit our potential and our impact.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?

Former colleagues, family members and friends often call me to share news about a job change, a promotion or a longing to have a bigger impact. When they share this news, I am always so excited for them. For me, when I found the courage and inspiration to co-create something bigger than myself and my ambitions, I began to look for that spark that came to life in others at different points on their journeys.

I consumed the bios of Elon Musk, Steve Jobs and many others and came to realize for myself that there was a constant tug-of-war between sheer terror, doubt and fear of judgment, juxtaposed against the passion and drive to leap over these things, and often myself, in favor of the greater good.

I was blessed with a few people who believed in me and helped me to step into that wide open space of creativity and inspiration, without the safety net we all so often favor. All the way they whispered, “Go for it, you can do it.” So, I did. To my surprise, I felt at home there. I started spending more and more time in that space, and less and less time in conventional places. I like this space, and it works for me. I’m also blessed that I have people who, with understanding and compassion, call me out when I slip. I try and do that for others as well.

For me, Markaaz is the perfect place where I can be all those things. Markaaz is a place where I can grow, create and have an impact.

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?

I have to laugh when I think of “Swinglish,” or my mix of English, Swiss and Spanish. I was not afraid to try communicating in different languages, but it took some practice and humility along the way.

I learned early on that sticking to conventional wisdom and what I know today is the best way of limiting the potential for tomorrow, the potential for success and the potential for happiness.

Early on I remember a pitch I made for a business opportunity where I thought what I had achieved to date was all I needed. I laugh now thinking about that and how much more learning was ahead of me.

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?

My father helped me get where I am today. He built a business from so little, and with so much sacrifice and against so much adversity. For years, he patiently faced and dealt with so many risks and obstacles. He quietly taught himself what he needed to know, brought others with him on the journey and never complained when things were really tough. He is now sharing the great success and fruits of all these sacrifices and enduring determination with many. I guess I both have that in my blood as well as finding in him a constant source of inspiration. Now we find that we are able to share experiences and learn from each other and I love that!

Of course, there are others who have had a profound and life-altering effect on me as well. I’m so thankful for them. These unconventional and extraordinary individuals are my tribe. They are the better parts of me.

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?

There are many reasons why this statistic is not more equal. I don’t tend to think too much about these ratios, preferring to see great people lean forward and create great things. I guess I believe in nurture over nature.

That being said, I do think we need to continue to encourage women to step up and step forward to create, drive and run businesses. We are overcoming decades or even centuries of obstacles to do that, and the results speak for themselves. Diverse businesses perform better than non-diverse businesses. Women-led businesses do as well and better than others.

If we look at where these stereotypes are being broken, it may surprise many to know that this is happening so much more quickly in emerging and fast-growing societies and countries. We can learn a lot from these examples.

There may be many reasons holding women back but, at the end of the day, what matters more is that determination to find a way to overcome and to do so for the right reasons. There is a lot we can support each other with to that end.

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?

It starts on a human level. Often a business starts with an idea, and you have to find those people around you who believe with you in this idea. Staying open, being more productive than everyone else looking at the same thing, and looking and living beyond your natural, social and conventional constraints is key. It takes sacrifice, it can be lonely, and it requires determination and constant learning.

Ensuring equal access and opportunities and discerning between the disaffected and the determined is crucial. Doing so, you might just pull off the next unicorn, change the lot in life of so many, or achieve what others thought was impossible.

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?

We see things differently, we are determined and, if we can get beyond the stereotypes, conventions and our own insecurities, we can create anything. I want to encourage more women, particularly those early in their lives, to take this path less traveled. It’s so rewarding, beyond anything you can imagine. This path takes you beyond all the silly things people tell us you need for a fulfilled life and beyond the stereotypes that young women, in particular, are told are so important. Sadly, we are often confined to historical norms and patterns, which are most often propagated within families and through social media. It takes courage to break out of that pattern.

What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about being a founder. Can you explain what you mean?

Some founders are at times being marked as “visionaries,” but every founder by default needs to have both the visionary and the execution gene. Otherwise, you would never move from an idea to a real business.

Second, being a founder is not for the faint-hearted. No one ever tells you all the things you will face and all you will need to overcome, and all the profound sacrifices you will need to make. You won’t find it in many books. It’s sort of a secret code amongst those who have done it.

A friend often quotes that great line from “Men in Black” when Will Smith asks Tommy Lee Jones if it’s worth it to give up so much. Tommy Lee Jones replies, without hesitation, “Oh yeah, if you are strong enough.”

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?

It’s absolutely not for everyone. Some people like the quiet, or coming home from work at 5 p.m., or going out on Saturday nights. That’s not the founder’s life at all.

Great businesses are built by people with great vision, making great sacrifices. What’s interesting is that we call these people great in retrospect, rarely in the moment.

You need great vision, sort of the ability to see around corners and spot what everyone else misses, then you need determination and disciplined execution. Then you get to share in the rewards.

Ok super. Here is the main question of our interview. What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)

  1. People are organic and not job descriptions.

I have always been amazed by the results team members will achieve when they believe in the business. While it is important to hire for certain skills and experience, equally important is finding people who share your passion. Team members who believe wholeheartedly in the mission will bring new ideas and new opportunities to the table, helping your company to constantly improve and exceed even your own expectations. I’m very wary of people who apply for jobs at Markaaz and secretly sit on the fence waiting for some affirmation by the company to come to them. These scenarios always fail, and we’ve had our share of them. We’ve learned to spot that early in the interview process.

2. Proof points matter as much as clear ideas.

You can talk about what you are going to do or why you believe you will succeed, but it comes down to delivering on those promises. It’s one thing to articulate the need for your solution, but it’s quite another thing to prove that you have what it takes to deliver it. Find those opportunities to demonstrate tangible results and deliver value for your team members, business partners and investors along the way. People were incredulous when we told them Markaaz was going to connect and verify every one of the 300 million or so small and medium-sized businesses on the planet until we explained how our team has done this before, we provided a demonstration of our directory and we explained how it compares to what others are doing.

3. You need agility and constant evolution to create extraordinary things.

Whenever you are building something new, you must approach the problem with an open mind. If you think you know the answer before you start, you are in for a shock. You must look to truly understand the stakeholders’ pain points and the variety of potential solutions. Listen to the questions from the skeptics and figure out how to address the concerns of the doubters. Be willing to listen, adapt and approach the journey with humility. You will find the end result is even better than you imagined. Agility has been the key to our success with Markaaz. We worked with three technology vendors who all let us down before we realized we needed to build our solution ourselves. Further, we are constantly conducting surveys and really listening to our stakeholders, not just to justify what we are doing but to guide our product roadmap and deliver the solutions small businesses really need to grow and thrive.

4. People follow leaders who inspire them and can light the path ahead.

A founder’s journey is never easy. You are constantly challenged while trying to solve a problem no one has been able to figure out. Through your words and actions, stay true to your mission. Let your “why” be your guiding light. When others see your passion, they will share your belief in the mission, and they will see the light you are shining on the path ahead rather than any obstacles along the way. We often find we need to keep simplifying how we explain our mission and make it personal until it resonates for everyone.

5. As they say, “You have to kiss a lot of frogs before you meet a prince.” In the business world, this means that you will pitch many good investors, and business partners for that matter, but they may not be right for your business. Don’t give up!

Approach every pitch as an opportunity to learn and improve. You will meet doubters and skeptics along the way. I ground myself in their feedback and the pitches we did early on when I thought I already knew what I needed to be successful. Looking back, I realize it wasn’t the right time or the right opportunity. Had I allowed those pitch meetings to determine my next steps, I would not be where I am today.

How have you used your success to make the world a better place?

At Markaaz, we work every day to create a positive and sustainable impact for small business owners. Through the Markaaz Foundation, our nonprofit arm, we are building the Center for Inclusive Business focused on conducting market research around the areas of inclusion, digital transformation, access to equal opportunities and much more.​ Together with our network of partners, we are advancing the global dialogue on behalf of small business and inclusion, while setting a standard where there is none. As thought leaders and pioneers, we give a voice to the businesses that have been unheard. Through the Foundation we are leveraging our data to improve education for small businesses while we continue to leverage research with our partners to build communities in both established and emerging markets.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the greatest number of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.

The impact sourcing model leverages basic skills that every human being has, such as photo tagging for AI companies, in emerging markets. Leila Janah, who founded Sama, was a great leader in this space. The model creates connections across socioeconomic and geographic boundaries in an unprecedented way.

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 the opportunity to have a conversation with Elon Musk. He makes the impossible possible and continues to overcome so much to do so. He is an inspiration for not giving up in the face of adversity.

Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.

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