Daring Women Q&A: Leslie Feinzaig, Founder and CEO of Female Founders Alliance

"One thing all women should do is champion one another and actively help each other succeed."

Leslie Feinzaig is all about women supporting women. Her company, Female Founders Alliance, is a community of women startup founders and CEOs working together, to help one another succeed. In May, at our first Daring Women event, Feinzaig led a TED-style talk, “Dare to Succeed Together,” discussing the importance of women helping one another. Read about her proudest moments, challenges she’s faced in her industry and her advice to women starting out in their careers in this week's installment of our Daring Women Q&A series.

Tell us about the high point of your career. What do you love about your work? Describe your proudest moment.

Hiring great people to work at my company — that is the proudest moment of my career. The ability to hire people means that customers believe in you so much that they rewarded you with revenue; that investors believe in you so much that they gave you capital to grow; and cofounders, contractors or employees believe in you so much that they are betting their careers on your endeavor. The best part is that hiring is just the beginning, because those great people who came on board will make your company so much more and so much better than you ever could do by yourself.

What challenges have you faced as a woman in your industry? How have you addressed them?

When I started my last company, Venture Kits, I knew that entrepreneurship would be a challenge, but I never imagined I would hit a giant wall trying to raise capital. In 2016, the year I founded Venture Kits, only 2.19 percent of venture capital was invested in female-founded companies. While my failure to raise financing wasn’t completely gender-related, my experience fundraising was undeniably shaped by the fact that I am a woman, and at the time was a new mom. A year later, I was about to give up. Instead, I started a Facebook group, including all of the founders and tech startup leaders I knew. It was the group that I needed, made up of people who knew exactly what I was going through. That’s how the Female Founders Alliance was born.

What advice would you give to a woman getting started in her career?

I have three pieces of advice I like to share with young professional women:

1. You don’t have to play dumb. When I was growing up, I always felt a little embarrassed about being smart. Sometimes I felt like I had to downplay my intelligence, hide my IQ and temper my ambition to fit in. In hindsight, I would encourage young women and girls to be proud of being smart, curious, capable and ambitious.

2. Ask for more. Data show that women are less likely to negotiate pay than men. If you get a job offer, ask for more salary, better benefits and/or more vacation. The worst that can happen is they say no, but you won’t know until you ask. (And in case you’re wondering — yes, you do deserve it!)

3. Find your own markers of success. I spent most of my career measuring my success with external validation like degrees, awards, raises and promotions. But those success metrics aren’t designed for your personal happiness, they are designed for a corporation’s success. The ultimate path to fulfilment is to figure out what success means to you, and then pursue that thing relentlessly.

What can women do to improve gender equity in the workplace? What can men do?

One thing all women should do is champion one another and actively help each other succeed.

My generation grew up seeing that there was room for only one woman at the table. Many times, that results in women competing against each other for the one seat. It is heartbreaking to me that mean girls still thrive in 2018! As long as we turn on each other, we’re just fighting for scraps.

“One seat” is a fallacy. In reality, there’s a whole table! In a whole room! In a big building! And we can all help fill it up with honesty, kindness and integrity, men and women, together.

Tell us about a favorite book/show/podcast and why/how it inspires you.

I am a huge podcast fiend. One of my favorite podcasts is 99% Invisible, a show about the design of everyday things. I love thinking about why things are the way they are. Are they deliberate? Are they random? Who are they built for, and do they still work? The host, Roman Mars, inspires me to ask myself why things are the way they are, and should they or could they be better. For example, the Female Founders Alliance recently designed a new kind of accelerator program — Ready Set Raise — that offers solutions for women where more traditional accelerators fail. Designed for female founders, by female founders, we built in design details like remote programming, free child care and coaching in areas female founders uniquely and routinely struggle with — like raising financing. So much of diversity and inclusion is in how we design. I am proud to design programs that work better for women like me.

Where do you find support and inspiration? How important is networking and how do you expand your contacts?

I have to be honest: Networking is NOT where I find my support and inspiration! What I’ve learned in time is that having a strong network — not “networking” itself — is what’s incredibly important and valuable at all stages of your career. I built a strong network by having coffee with lots of people one on one, asking questions and listening. When you meet with someone, ask for introductions to others you want to meet. Stay in touch every few months, and help them however you can, whether they ask you for help or not. Building a strong network is not about going to all events and being super popular. It is about building lasting relationships with people and finding ways to create value for them. And those relationships are a true source of inspiration to me.

What are the most important characteristics of a good leader? What leadership traits are overrated?

The best leaders are people who personify integrity and who manage to balance honest humility with honest confidence. They are people who care about getting results more than they care about getting attention. And they are people who behave the same in public and in private.

One highly overrated trait that is frequently associated with leaders in the tech space is ruthless ambition. I do think investors reward that kind of behavior because hypercompetitive entrepreneurs are thought to be safer bets, as they are motivated to win no matter what. I just think that bad behavior is never OK, and in the long run doesn’t achieve positive results.

What would be the title of your autobiography?

Think Bigger.

We’d love to hear from more women across all industries who are challenging the status quo. Does it sound like you? If it does, click here and fill out our questionnaire.

Daring Women Q&A responses have been edited and condensed.

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