How to Stop Holding Yourself Back from Building a Billion Dollar Startup



It is true that there are fewer women than men getting funded and building billion dollar companies. The numbers are improving, yet we still have a long way to go. The answer to this problem is to start early and focus on the internal factors causing this imbalance.

“What’s holding you back is the thought that something is holding you back.” –Ralph Marston

I was raised with four siblings. I am the only one who graduated from high school. I later went on to college to study finance, and today I run a financial advisory firm that helps early-stage companies get funded. The only difference between me and my siblings is I decided to follow a different path. My internal message set me on that path.

Nobody claims being a pioneer is easy, but it is always worth it. With each victory, I am able to find strength to climb higher. I fall. I make mistakes. Yet each mistake I make helps me to learn more about myself and to grow. My internal message is that failure is part of the process. I don’t worry about failing; I worry about stagnating.

It’s Not About My Gender

In my 20’s, I worked in technology M&A. I was the only female on my team and the only team member who did not have both a degree in electrical engineering and an MBA. I struggled to keep up with my peers. I constantly complained to friends that I was being treated differently because I was female. Today, I can see that I struggled because I did not have the same knowledge as my team members. My work was not always up to par because I lacked a solid background in technology. This explains why I was treated differently.

When we are honest, we get better. I gained nothing by blaming my gender. When I look at my own deficiencies, I am empowered to improve my skills. I still don’t have an electrical engineering degree. I don’t code. I don’t consider myself to be tech savvy. Yet I take the time to understand technology well enough to do my work. Nobody is holding me back from learning. Nobody.

Telling Your Financial Story

If you are building a company, you need to understand the numbers. I know that is not always easy to do. A female engineer once said, “When I see a dollar sign in front of a number, I panic.” Calculus was easy for her, but finance was hard. Her internal message was that finance was difficult.

When you understand how money is coming in and out of your company, you increase your chances of success. If you can understand basic addition and subtraction, you can understand your company’s income statement.

Tell Investors What They Want to Hear

When you talk to investors in the language they want to hear, you increase your chances of getting funded. Investors will invest when you show them you know how to make money.

Do you know your revenue metrics? If you are in the retail business, you want to track your sales per square foot (SPSF). A company like Gap will see $300 in SPSF while a company like Warby Parker will see well over $3,000 in SPSF. If you are operating an online business, you want to know your average revenue per user (ARPU). Amazon has $500 in ARPU while Facebook only has $5.

Once you’ve determined your revenue metrics, you can measure against your peers. Are you outpacing your peer group? If you’re not, find out how you can improve your numbers.

Remember: Investors are investing for financial return. They want to know how your company is going to make money and a return.

Taking My Own Medicine

I don’t believe building a billion dollar business is easy. In fact, a friend and I recently started a support group called Billionaire Babes. We realized we both needed help in growing our companies. We get together to discuss revenue generation for our respective companies and to hone in on our weaknesses. My goal is to build a billion dollar company in the next five years. In order to do that, I need to work on my internal messaging by rewiring my brain.

If you are not already in a similar group, I strongly suggest you form one. Women have an entirely different internal message about money than do men. We were not raised to think about making money. We were not taught about wealth creation.

The good news: Nobody is holding us back from learning. Nobody.

This post originally appeared on Atelier Advisors. Lili Balfour is the founder and CEO of the SoMa-based financial advisory firm, Atelier Advisors, creator of Lean Finance for Startups and Finance Boot Camp for Entrepreneurs. All AlleyWatch readers are automatically eligible for a 50% discount on either of the courses using the preceding links.

Image credit: CC by smlp.co.uk

About the author: Lili Balfour

Lili Balfour is the founder and CEO of the SoMa-based financial advisory firm, Atelier Advisors, creator and host of Finance for Entrepreneurs, author of Master the Finance Game, and host of the Finance for Entrepreneurs broadcast on Spreecast.

After spending fifteen years in investment management and investment banking, she decided to develop a firm to cater to the specific needs of early-stage companies. At Atelier Advisors, Lili advises leading brands across industries: from tech to consumer goods. In the past, she has advised over 100 brands, including:

Bag, Borrow, or Steal, Visual IQ, Alpha Theory, Derivix, Practice Fusion, Peeled Snacks, Sustainable Minds, Firescope, Chix 6, Duchess Marden, Erin Fetherston, Eckart Tolle, and Stuart Skorman (founder of Reel.com, Elephant Pharmacy, Hungry Minds, and Clerk Dogs (sold to Netflix)).

While advising companies at Atelier Advisors, she observed a common theme – -brilliant founders avoided finance. She began writing about entrepreneurial finance to solve this problem.

As a native of Silicon Valley and a first generation Mexican American, Lili understands the importance of imparting wisdom learned in Silicon Valley to the rest of the world. Her goal is to teach the entire planet about entrepreneurial finance.

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