Ari Horie has always had a different approach to supporting women entrepreneurs.
She doesn’t talk about “empowering” women and sensitivity training is not in her toolkit. Ari is showing the startup world that incorporating some of the problem-solving skills and leadership techniques favored by women improves their chance of success.
Women having a leading role in entrepreneurship is not the socially responsible thing to do. It is the most profitable thing to do. Ari’s been on stage with some of the most powerful men in Japan including Prime Minister Abe and Hiroshi Mikitani of Rakuten, and her message is starting to take hold.
Entrepreneurship provides a much more level playing field than any other kind of business, and we should not be surprised that a lot of women excel here, and they often do it by doing things differently from their male competitors.
Startups that plan to survive need to use all the tools at their disposal, and Ari explains exactly how this is happening.
Show Notes for Startups
- The difference in the way man and women give back to the community
- How feminine and masculine styles of collaboration differ
- Is the Japanese decision making more feminine?
- Conscious vs unconscious biases against women
- Why women entrepreneurship in Japan is good for women and good for Japan
- The advantages and challenges of moving to San Francisco
- How overseas Japanese can help Japan modernize
- Which Japanese companies should move to the US
Links from the Founder
- Women’s Startup Lab
- Friend WSLab on Facebook
- Follow WSLab @wslab
- News Coverage
Welcome to Disrupting Japan straight talk from Japan’s most successful entrepreneurs.
I’m Tim Romero and thanks for listening.
A few years ago, I sat down with Ari Horie and we talked about why men need women founders.
Ari is the founder of Women’s Startup Lab in San Francisco, and she’s always had a bit of a different approach to encouraging women to start companies, both in Japan and in the US.
We talk about some of the successes and failures of Women’s Startup Labs, the different things that attract women to entrepreneurship in Japan and in the US, and we cover some of the most successful strategies used by women founders.
Ari and I first recorded this conversation a few years ago, before the #metoo movement had such an impact. We had a chance to talk again recently, and after the interview, I’ll give you an update on some of the most important things that have changed since then, and on a few things that haven’t.
This week we are are going to talk about Women. Investors and Founders who have visited Japan for the first time are often amazed at the number of Women Founders here.
You have met some of the more innovative ones on the podcast already. You will meet a few more in the weeks to come. Today, I would like to introduce you to Ari Horie, CEO and Fearless Founder of Women’s Startup Lab in San Francisco.
Ari works with Women Founders, and men too. In order not only to promote entrepreneurship, but to improve the effectiveness of start-ups in general, and to give Founders a larger sense of tools from which to choose.
We also talk about her improbable journey to becoming one of the leading forces behind Women in Entrepreneurship. You know, I don’t want to give too much away here, so let’s get right to the interview.
Tim: I am sitting here with Ari Horie, the Fearless Founder and CEO of Women’s Startup Lab. Thanks for sitting down with us.
Ari: Thank you for having me today.
Tim: Delighted to. Now, actually this is probably the first time you and I have had a long, serious conversation without wine in front of us, so it’s a little unusual.
Tim: Hopefully, this will be just as interesting as our previous conversations.
Tim: Women’s Startup Lab, there is a lot of accelerators and start-up incubators in both San Francisco and Tokyo these days, but you guys are doing something that’s a little bit different.
Ari: Women’s Startup Lab started as more of a community based organization having many mentors out there coming in and wanting to really support a female entrepreneur. Along the way we decided to take on the next huge step which is run as accelerator.
One of the things we look at is what is missing in the market ecosystem to really have woman to be successful. One of the things we do is really focusing on three elements.
One is providing a resource to make companies successful. The other elements that are unique about us is that we have put so much emphasis on developing CEO, Founder to do actual analogies.
Ari: Through mentoring and through actual Executive Coaching to really help them to find their own voice and leadership style. To actually gain confidence in a way that they never really realized.
Tim: It sounds like Women’s Startup Lab put a lot more emphasis on personal growth and education than simply corporate growth.
Ari: Right, and the third item was to surround the Female Entrepreneur with strategically thought through network. You were talking about the support to grow a Founder is especially important when you have an early-stage start-up.
Now, when you have a lot of money in the bank, and you can hire people, and people will continue to show up at the office. When you actually don’t have that money to pay you as a Founder constantly enrolling and convincing people.
Tim: Most of companies are very early-stage seed or per-seed stage companies?
Ari: I would say pre-series A.
Ari: So many of the company that are actually having already quite a bit of attraction. We had a batch where half of them are Serial Entrepreneur.
Tim: Oh, okay.
Ari: Which I think is interesting because you don’t really see Male Serial Entrepreneur say, “Hey, I want to go to Accelerator hangout”. Female Entrepreneur said, I never have been successful, but I want to be around other Female Entrepreneurs who succeeded and want to collaborate.
Tim: Why do you think that is? Why do you think that there is that difference in opinion?
Ari: One of the things we consistently hear is we are so singled out. I am probably the only women in the Boardroom, or in the Meeting. As an entrepreneur they might have succeeded building a company, but they also felt it was always surrounded by very much a masculine style.
There is no point in me ever thinking, saying that women are better than men. I never think that way. It is more of what is the different approach the woman has different than male? What is the different point of view that we bring in the market?
The female entrepreneur said, “Look, I have been doing fine, but I would have approached it differently”. I would have discussed it differently. We have collaborated differently if I had a more feminine style or women in the room.
Tim: What is that specifically? Because that is a fascinating statement right there. What is the biggest difference on average in the way that male entrepreneurs approach a problem and female entrepreneurs approach a problem?
Ari: Before we started Women’s Startup Lab we spoke to many specialists. Why women function differently then men? Their traits. Pros and Cons.
One of the things that was quite evident was the women thrive in the collaborative environment.
Ari: Their confidence also increases. They gain much better perspective in making a decision. Versus men, they tended to be more of it was out of style. Each of them has an idea, and they will kind of compete each other. My idea is, one of the example is, so I have this idea. Next person would say, but I think this way versus if it was a woman, more of I have this idea
Next person who would happen to be a woman would say and we can do this. It’s a collaboration means there is one idea and they tend to add on or connect the dot instead of a competing idea at each other.
Tim: You know I have to say that makes a lot of sense. I think another perspective thought, what you are describing is collaborative decision making isn’t necessarily just masculine/feminine. I think the Japanese style of decision making is very much more that consensus based rather than the competition based.
Ari: When you look at the Japanese culture versus American culture. It is a collaborative culture versus more independent culture.
Ari: There is a similarity to the subject of Women versus Men, and Japan versus United States. One of the things I also see is in Japan it is very much hierarchical.
Tim: Oh yeah, oh yeah.
Ari: That’s very much of a masculine style in many ways when you look at it.
Ari: Women did not necessarily create the hierarchy. They tended to have more of a collaborative environment. Which they would rather say I am with you. Let’s do this together, versus let me tell you I got these things. It’s nothing wrong with both sides. The whole point here is when you have one style you end up not seeing the other side of it.
Ari: Our mission is to really bring a unique style that has been kind of lost in this male dominated technology industry.
Tim: That’s a good point. Women’s Startup Lab is not all women, right.
Tim: There is plenty of men involved in this.
Ari: Yeah. Thank you for bringing that up. We support Women Led Companies, and we welcome male teammates to be here. Our mission is to really bring the collaborative environment. Both ideas and good stimulation happen both the men and the women.
Our mission is to have more female entrepreneurs or women being successful and influencing the world.
Tim: There is absolutely no question the San Francisco start-up scene is heavily male dominated. The Japanese business scene is heavily male dominated. What are the biggest challenges that women face in San Francisco in the start-up environment?
Ari: I think one of the biggest challenges that I see is when the certain ecosystem are very much dominated by one kind. It sets the tone as if that is the superior kind. For example, many of the female entrepreneurs who have amazing technical background, Ph.D.
Because it has been so dominated by men here in the Silicone Valley, some of those female entrepreneurs said I told them I get what they are talking about. The continue to assume that I don’t understand any of it, different language.
As a female entrepreneur it becomes very difficult to get resources. Again, when you are running a start-up because you don’t have money too then you tend to bring people who share the same passion.
Ari: Share some sort of personality. There is some sort of a clique going on. You tend to form a team based on the people you relate to and are comfortable with. Most of the resources our ecosystem here in the Valley tend to be male. It is just that much extra difficult for Women Entrepreneurs to create our resources around.
Tim: Do you think it is more of a subconscious judgment that people make, or is it something that like a conscious declaration?
Ari: Yes, totally. This is not a malicious intention at all acted by men at all. All of us including the women against the women. Among ourselves we have lots of thing go unconscious by us. That is a hot topic right now. That tends to limit the opportunity, because they were a limited thinker unconsciously with those. .
Tim: Right, right. Did you personally face any of that kind of discrimination or subtle bias when you were trying to set-up Women’s Startup Lab and raise funds for it?
Ari: . When I started Women’s Startup Lab, my mission was to have more Women being at a visible place. Having more role models. For example, at the Silicone Valley, every single pitch I went. Literally every single judge was men.
Ari: Not only you don’t have a female led company was on the stage to pitch, but the judge versus sometimes the audience tended to be male dominated, but that sometimes depends on the industry you were in.
Ari: The judge is something that you have to constantly make an effort to reflect the opportunity in the market. At some point, I realized that wasn’t quite optimal set-up.
Tim: Makes sense.
Ari: I started contacting several prominent start-up organizations here in the Silicone Valley. I said look you don’t have to do anything. Let me bring you a really awesome female speaker or judge. Can I make a recommendation to even 1 or 2 out of 15? Can you have a woman on the stage?
There were 2 Male Founders turned around and said I will never do anything focused on a woman.
Ari: We want women to be there, but the woman is the one who say no for the stage, so it is their fault. We will never do anything special. The other Founder specifically said to me that we have a discriminatory organization that we focus on women. I made it very clear that I do support male to go through our program as well. It is okay to say we focus upon women.
Now, to tell you the truth those organizations now get quite a bit of funding from other organizations to do the woman program within their program.
Tim: Oh really.
Ari: Now, they are public saying we always wanted to support women. We always wanted to do this thing. I find that to be a little bit hypocritical the fact that –.
Tim: Yeah, but on the other hand. I can understand why that is frustrating. On the other hand it is a good thing that it is happening.
Tim: It is a good thing that they actually are running these programs even if they don’t. You know, they don’t really want to.
Ari: At the end, they have increased more women participants. Brought them more awareness and acceptance. The reason why I didn’t want to have another 3 or 4 additional women’s group instead of just building my organization. I went to them and asked those things.
Ari: You have male audience. You have a certain presence. I need you to be able to say we are including. That was in the past. Them actually including women did make a huge difference. You are right.
Tim: Well, it’s progress.
Tim: Progress is good.
Tim: Let me ask you this. If most of the bias is subconscious almost everybody agrees that women should be more involved in business and start-ups and they have a lot to offer in general. What is the best way to start a conversation about this?
Ari: Well, talking about it is a good start. One of the significant changes that you actually can make is having a male role model.
Ari: Many executive or leadership role tended to be male. If it starts mixing up. For example, Prime Minister Abe was here. They have asked me to MC for his reception, which is quite a big role. The fact that they asked me to do that role actually shocked quite a bit of the audience.
After I have given my talk and opened up and introduce Prime Minister Abe, a number of people came up to me and said oh my, I never thought that Japan would every put a woman in this position. Congratulations. I am so hopeful for Japan’s future.
Tim: That is fantastic. I have got to say, over the last few years, Prime Minister Abe really has been shining a spotlight on the importance of women in Japan, and the importance of entrepreneurship in Japan. I guess naturally Women Entrepreneurship in Japan. Women’s Startup Lab is going to be coming to Japan in the not to distant future, right?
Ari: . Yes, we would like to. Our site is now set-up to share our program in Japanese. We hope to support many ambitious entrepreneurs in Japan, as well as Corporate who seek the opportunity to be more innovative and also look for the strategic partner here in the Silicone Valley. We would like to provide that platform.
Tim: Do you think Women Founders in Japan face different problems than Women Founders here? Is it the same problem just different levels?
Ari: I would say same problems different level.
Ari: Because fundamentally men and women have differences, and how would you integrate is the same problem. Even the race issue. Different degree and certainly country has done a great job in having more women in a permanent leadership role. They took just about 100 years to do this.
Ari: When I look at all the history of Women’s changes, America is just about half way, and it took 50 years. When I look what’s going on some of the conversation the that goes on not only between men and women, but among women. Are just about what we had here in the United States 30 years ago.
Tim: Okay. Do you think Japan will follow a similar path that America did.
Ari: In many ways, we are same, human.
Ari: Basically, human desire to make an impact. What motivates us. Having passions, and that’s just a drive that is society. I think women realize I am educated. I can do something. I want to feel my value. When they got that opportunity they want to pursue it.
Ari: The past, the culture or same frame work of what women should do. Break the mold.
Tim: That makes a lot of sense. I think that might be one of the reasons that entrepreneurship is so attractive to women in Japan. I think it allows them to bypass, instead of waiting for 30 years for Japan to catch up to Western way of thinking. It allows them to bypass and succeed or fail on their own ability.
Ari: Yeah. I was so glad you brought it up because people often ask me why did you start the Women’s Startup Lab? I said we need to pursue this. This changes through Tech start-up. If we can give tools to women and this tech industry is a lot more forgiving and flexible.
Ari: You are not waiting for somebody to approve you to become CEO. You could be CEO over 1 employee.
Ari: But…. If you have a great idea, now you can actually access to the customer with very little cost. Then that means that women have more opportunity to prove themselves. You don’t have to have all of those massive numbers of employees to build the company. You can start small.
Tim: It’s a very fair way of playing. Very few people have some sort of intrinsic advantage.
Ari: You know the last 30 years, U.S. too they put a lot of money and effort to try have more women to be on the Board Seat. Still have a processing culture. Taking a long time. Even and 8-year-old can build the company and is successful. Then people say hey you got a result. We love you.
Tim: Right. If you hit your numbers those are great. Not arguing with that.
Ari: This is a great pathway and opportunity for women to really go out there and show what they got.
Tim: I am very active in the start-up scene, and I do Coaching for Start-Up Weekend on occasion. What I have seen is particularly the events focused on younger people, college students. Between one-fourth and one-third of the participants are women. There is a tremendous interest in entrepreneurship among Japanese women.
Ari: What I am hearing from some of the female students is that they have studied and they wanted to have success in the future. When they look at some of the path. If I marry I may not be able to have the freedom. If I got to Corporate, I might not have the full opportunity.
Given that many women realize maybe I have to hurry up and pursue this start-up and see if I can make something of it. Positive energy.
Tim: Sure, it’s motivation, it’s yeah. You moved from Japan to San Francisco almost 20 years ago, right.
Ari: Right. Yeah.
Tim: What brought you to San Francisco the first time?
Ari: When I was 17 I was fortunate enough to go through the exchange student program. After spending a year, actually Southern California, sunny Los Angeles. I went back home. My home is in Hiroshima.
I felt a huge gap between two cultures. One said tell me more. What do you want to do? Tell me more about your different thinking. Versus when I went back to Hiroshima, first thing I was told is don’t you ever share anything that you learn from America. It might distract other students. Do not say anything about America.
Ari: Huge difference.
Tim: It seems that most Japanese who study abroad get this lecture when they come back, saying keep that in your hear, but don’t tell anyone.
Ari: They were fighting new thinking could disturb the order. I certainly respect them anyway because Japanese culture or our success wouldn’t be where it is without some of those solid values and process to pass on the good knowledge or not, right.
Tim: Yeah, absolutely.
Ari: At 17-years-old that felt so suffocating.
Tim: I imagine. Yes, I am sure.
Ari: It was suffocating to the point that I felt my soul would be crushed. . Now, I look back and it’s quite amazing to think that as a 17-year-old I had that awareness. I convinced my mother, only child of a single parent household. It was a big decision for my mother to let me go.
While she was raising me she always said you have to have your experience to have your own independent thinking. She did it so well to the point that I became so-called stubborn daughter. .
Tim: . No, this is a pattern I hear among not only the successful women on entrepreneurs in Japan, but the men as well. Because let’s face it in Japan traditionally, all parents want what is best for their kids.
Tim: Japanese parents tend to be very much opposed to entrepreneurship. It is still considered risky and the social status is very low. The common thread I have seen among all of the Japanese entrepreneurs I talk to is very supportive families.
Tim: That encourage them to go out and take risks and try something. It sounds like you had that as well. It must have been difficult for your mom to send you half way around the world.
Ari: Yes. .
Tim: And, say go do your own thing.
Ari: Yes. I am sure she was really sad, but given how she brought me up I think she kind of accepted. She hoped that I would come back after graduating college. After that I went to Southern California and graduated school. What brought me up her to Northern California was a job I got accepted from IBM.
Tim: You ended up not going back after graduation?
Ari: Well, I always wanted to go back to L.A.
Tim: Poor Mom.
Ari: . No. I think my Mom eventually gave up.
Tim: Yeah, mine too. .
Tim: I have been in Japan 20 years.
Ari: We are a reverse.
Tim: That’s right.
Ari: I remember some point I decided to go to Hokkaido. I said to her that I will ride the bicycle for a month around the Hokkaido.
Ari: I ended up doing it all by myself. I had a couple of friends, and they bailed on me. I said I will not give up because this is a part of my practice of how my life is going to be. Something always happened, and I have to always find a way to continue to pursue it. This was a lesson for me. .
I packed up my bike and I flew to Hokkaido and left. I remember my Mom was so upset and said that I cannot believe you are doing this all by yourself.
Ari: If you die don’t you think you can call me to pick your body up.
Ari: I said, Mom, if I am dead I cant call you. .
Tim: That’s a very Japanese Mom kind of comment actually. .
Ari: Probably not with this topic.
Tim: Actually it sort of is. It is the same type of risk taking pattern, but in the end even bicycling around Hokkaido. It’s not really risky, as much as it is strange. People just don’t do that kind of thing.
Ari: When I have challenges in my life and specifically running a company, so on. I try to reflect my bike trip. When you think about it, riding a bike is like simple. All those things happen along the way that set you off and knock you off. Some days are rainy and I didn’t have an umbrella, so I had to ride all day long under the rain, and if I stopped I got really cold, so I could not stop.
Ari: You keep going, and that’s just something. You don’t know why you started. Sometimes you don’t know which direction you are going.
Tim: I am sure some days are absolutely miserable.
Tim: Some days are wonderful.
Ari: The point is that you keep going.
Ari: You trust the process, that you will get there. I did.
Tim: See, it is more related to start-ups than it first seemed. .
Tim: Well, let me ask you a big, big questions about Japan. It is easy to be discouraged because of the low-level of participation in industry by women. Looking forward in say 10 years, pulling out your crystal ball. What big changes do you see happening in Japan? Do you see more successful female entrepreneurs? Do you see women becoming more successful within Japanese companies?
Ari: I think women will take prominent leadership roles in Japan. I don’t think there is any question about that. It is going to take time.
Tim: Do you think we will see a woman Prime Minister?
Ari: Why not. I totally believe that’s possible. I truly believe Japanese amazing people. Their integrity. The commitment. You know in Japanese .
Tim: Oh yeah.
Ari: They are such hard working. If they realize this is the right direction to go, this is the right thing to do as a team they go for it.
Tim: I think so too. I think that Japan actually changes incredibly quickly.
Tim: It can take an awful long time to prepare to decide.
Tim: Once the decision is made is happens quickly.
Ari: The quality and the perseverance that they have demonstrated, quality is so top notch. We have seen that through their product and growth despite the fact that they are such a small country. The power that they have. The shift that they make for survival has been incredible. They know how to do it as a team.
Women’s Startup Lab, we have a tag line saying, “Individually we are awesome, but together we are powerful”. I think that complete conviction comes from me being Japanese, experience the power of team work growing up in Japan.
There is no doubt for me that Japan will get there.
Ari: Japanese companies, Japanese Leaders have to want to be a Global Leader. What’s that mean? Of course they have to speak English. They have to be able to solve the conflict in a global way, not Japanese way.
The transition has to happen. That only happens after seriously faced with survival. It’s coming I think.
Tim: You think the change is going to come from successful female entrepreneurs becoming role models? Do you think it is going to come from large organizations finally facing that existentialist threat? You know, finally facing a chance where they are going bankrupt and being willing to change. Where do you think the change will come from?
Ari: I think a big powerful company in Japan has a power to set the tone. Whether they want to accept their social responsibility or not. One of the things we hear a lot here in the United States is if you are a big company you have that social responsibility.
Ari: How you behave. How you set the tone. You have this role model that you have to play out. In Japan I am not quite sure that big corporations see themselves as that.
Tim: I think yeah. I think the role has changed. I think they use to. I think they use to see themselves much more as a responsible force for good in society.
Ari: Yeah. That comes through. I am not saying as they don’t. I want to make sure that is not how I come across.
Tim: I guess a lot of it is so many of those kind of subconscious barriers that you were talking about before.
Ari: Well, one of the things you were talking about is women will change the Japanese economy. Certainly, they will bring a brand new concept and it forces certain changes. Meantime, I also think that many of Japanese that work outside of Japan. For example, like me and many other. Who Japanese and have a strong value of what it is like to be Japanese, and they have a tremendous love for their own roots.
Yet, they also choose to live in another country, and they understand the different value. I often feel like Japan is not maximizing those resources filling the gap.
Tim: I think that’s true. I think it is probably, it’s just the grown-up version of what you were told when you came back to Japan. That you know everything you learned kind of keep it to yourself and conform. Yeah, I think you are right. Those people aren’t valued. Those skills aren’t used.
Ari: I think it would be interesting if you have a foreign living Japanese to actually pull something.
Tim: You left Japan and created a new entrepreneur life here in the states. A lot of the participants in Women’s Startup Lab are women from Japan coming to San Francisco to learn about start-ups. There is this trend among Japanese companies to move to San Francisco. I think there is pluses and minuses in that.
What are your thoughts of the Japanese companies coming to San Francisco versus staying in Japan to form a company?
Ari: I think not just Japanese company, but many others seek to be in the Silicon Valley. It is just massive resources. The level of sophistication and maturity of the Advisors, the Mentor that you have access to it is just incredible.
I mean just around our network we have amazing leaders who let all of those well-known companies and they are Serial Entrepreneurs.
When you go to other places you just kind of have a few that are famous, and you recycle through as adviser and eventually they become outdated. They are overused, and start-ups. The ecosystem is something Silicone Valley offers. It is really hard to duplicate in other places.
Ari: Now, you don’t have to be Silicone Valley to access. My hope is that Japanese Companies stay in Japan where they continue to build their identity and thrive in their business, and have access to Mentors and Advisers from Silicon Valley.
Ari: Part of the Women’s Startup Lab is have them go through our program. Help them to create their network, and find a Mentor and Adviser here, so that when they go back they can actually build the Global Company being a Japanese Company as well as having Global perspective from Silicone Valley Mentor. I think that will be awesome.
Tim: I think so. That makes sense. That is kind of the best of both worlds. Because you want to be, well wherever in the world you are you want to be close to your customers, but also be able to be plugged into a Global Network of Advisers and Partners is incredibly valuable.
Ari: I have to say you know you can’t learn about culture without going there. If you want to understand how the Silicon Valley works whether you choose to move and never go back, I don’t know.
Ari: I think it is still worth it to be here and experience it. To just really immerse yourself into whatever your are seeking here in the Silicone Valley.
Tim: You talk to so many new Founders both Men and Women. What is the most important advice you have for women or men to I suppose who are just about to start their first company.
Ari: You need to look at the team you built.
Ari: Who is going to be your teammate? Also, choose an Adviser wisely. Besides that you will get a lot of Advisers all of the time. Many of them contradict. While you are getting all of that information, you as a first time entrepreneur, you have to really, really ask why you are doing it? Why you want to stick with certain strategy while everybody else says your wrong.
You have to really ask what you are willing to do, and stay focused on each milestone that you set-up.
Tim: You have to be really true to your own vision.
Ari: Otherwise, you get thrown off quite a bit.
Tim: I can imagine. Before we wrap up is there anything you want to add? Anything we haven’t talked about?
Ari: The Women’s Startup Lab is focusing on Women, but we are truly passionate about change. Transformation for people really utilizing their talent and traits. Any of you who are out here in the Silicone Valley. I would love to have you guys to stop by Women’s Startup Lab.
Our programs available for not only female entrepreneurs, but for entrepreneurs that seek Silicone Valley experience, as well as for Japanese Corporations. We would love to have all of you consider checking us out.
Tim: All right, we will make sure all of those links and resources are up on the website. Listen, thanks so much for taking the time to sit down with me. I really appreciate it.
Ari: Thank you so much.
Tim: We will have some wine next time.
Ari: . Sure.
And, we are back. What impressed me most about Ari’s approach, and the reason I think it is succeeding so well is that she is not focused on empowering women, or leveling the playing field, or any of those other buzz words.
Those kind of programs always seem to imply that women somehow need help in fitting into a man’s world is too hard and needs to slow down to allow women to compete.
Ari’s approach of demonstrating that collaborative less confrontational styles of communication and problem solving are actually superior in many situations, and that these methods can be successfully adopted and integrated into larger organizations.
Seems to me a far more powerful force for change, and frankly I think a lot of women Founders have an advantage in the fact that they are doing things differently from their male competitors.
As we see more and more successful entrepreneurs, hear more and more success stories, and see more and more role models and successful female Founders. I think women in Tech and Start-Ups will be seen as perfectly natural and unremarkable. Then Ari will be out of a job. We are a long way from there.
These ideas have not yet been universally accepted, but that is the point of an incubator. Women’s Startup Lab is incubating and growing. Not only the company is founded by women entrepreneurs, but they were also incubating the very idea of competitive advantage in using a wider range of tools like collaborative decision making. We are only seeing the very beginnings of the long-term impact Women’s Startup Lab will have.
OK. Time for an update on what’s really changed over the past few years.
Now, before I get into this, I want to explain that I always feel a little strange talking about female founders in Japan. I mean, it’s an important and interesting topic, and I get asked about it a lot. However, it’s something that I, having never been a female founder, have no direct experience in. And the women founders who come on the show have a huge variety of opinions on these topics. There are so many things you can’t really understand unless you’ve actually lived them.
Most of my own opinions on these matters are really just reporting or paraphrasing what women founders have told me. Today Ari, but often, others.
So, the good news is that some things are definitely getting better. The #metoo movement raised awareness of the problem and there seems to be a lot less blatant and direct harassment of women founders than there was a few years ago.
It’s now pretty rare for women to be told they are hot at pitch contents or invited up to hotel rooms to discuss investment terms. So …. that’s progress, I suppose. But that kind of harassment is relatively easy to address. That kind of bad behavior tends to get called out, and the prospect of embarrassment is enough to keep most would-be-misbehaviors in check.
But as Ari explained, the biggest problem is a subconscious one. It’s a problem with attitude. While it is relatively easy to get companies to sponsor women’s entrepreneur programs, attend conferences and publicly support these initiatives, making fundamental change is hard.
I mean, almost no one thinks that having more women founders is a bad idea. Pretty much everyone supports it as an abstract idea. But as I mentioned before, if you don’t actually live through something, it can be hard to understand it, and most business leaders simply don’t see any problems in their own organizations and assume the problem is external.
And to be fair, the biases Ari talked about can be hard to spot.
If an individual behaves badly, that behavior can be called out. There are social, and maybe even professional consequences. At an organizational level, things are less obvious. There may be no specific instance of bad behavior to point to, and the company itself may be doing quite well. And it’s always hard to get people to consciously commit to solving a problem that they are not consciously aware of.
So what’s the solution? Well, according to Ari, there is no simple one. The communities of women founders are invaluable to their members. And the programs and conferences do help change things at the edges. Slowly. For the better, but slowly.
A next big leap of progress will probably require more people to shift their thinking from viewing the challenges women founders face as women’s problems and viewing them as our problems. All of our problem.
A better understanding of why men need women founders.
If you want to talk about women founders, Ari and I would love to hear from you. so let’s talk. If you leave a comment I guarantee you that Ari or I, or maybe both will respond.
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But most of all, thanks for listening, and thank you for letting people interested in Japanese startups an innovation know about the show.