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InfoQ Homepage News Q&A with Susanne Birgersdotter about Entrepreneurship and Thriving in Tech

Q&A with Susanne Birgersdotter about Entrepreneurship and Thriving in Tech

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Make sure that as an entrepreneur you are extremely well-informed before a presentation, about your own topic and also about the investors and their company, said Susanne Birgersdotter, tech entrepreneur, founder and owner of SBDM, at European Women in Tech. When your first idea or company fails, don’t quit, don’t play safe, and be sure to get back up as fast as you can. Her advice to female entrepreneurs who want to thrive in tech is to join a "women in tech" group where members can empower, connect and support each other.

InfoQ is covering European Women in Tech with Q&As and summaries, and interviewed Susanne Birgersdotter after her talk about being an entrepreneur and how to thrive as a woman in tech.

InfoQ: How did you become an entrepreneur?

Susanne Birgersdotter: I guess I have always been an entrepreneur in some way; my father was an entrepreneur and I learned early from him. But I think it started for real when I made a math application for my daughter and in that same year started my first tech company.

My daughter had a really hard time learning her math table and I was looking for an App for her but couldn’t find one I or she liked. So I decided to do one on my own without any experience in either programming, development or IT.

I actually googled "how to make an app". I hired one programmer from Ukraine, a developer from Nepal and front end designer from Poland, and then I skyped with them every evening from my kitchen table. Three months later I had my first App and I started Sthlm App Lab. After that, we made 14 more and one of them, the 5:2 health diet App, climbed all the way to the first place on the App store.

InfoQ: What have been your experience with investors? How do they think about female entrepreneurs?

Birgersdotter: One important lesson I’ve learned is that VCs praise men for being "young and promising", while female founders with similar backgrounds are criticized for being "young, but inexperienced". I deal with it in two different ways.

As an investor, I’m always looking for the skills, not gender. And I also try to invest more in startups by women.

As an entrepreneur, I try to be more confident. I make sure that I am extremely well-informed before a presentation, about my own topic of course, but also about the investors and their company.

Sadly it feels like "we" need to act more professional than men do to get the investment.

InfoQ: What your view of the startup scene- where do you see possibilities and what can be done to exploit those?

Birgersdotter: I love the startup scene and I’m also happy to see more and more women starting their own companies. One thing I think is important, is the team and the different skills needed to build companies.

You can’t be perfect and the best at everything. Some people are creative and others are good with figures, and you need both in your company. I tried to build companies with people like me. Don’t do that :)

Roles that you need of course in a tech company are programmers and developers, but don’t forget that the person who is taking care of the figures is often as important and the marketing person when it’s time for launch.

It’s hard and expensive to hire people, and sometimes you can’t afford it but then you can offer them shares of your company instead. You can also use teams all over the world. I built my first apps with people NOT from my country, and instead I worked with global teams, as I still do.

InfoQ: What communities are there for women who want to thrive in tech?

Birgersdotter: "Women in Tech" groups are a leading indicator. They’ll allow women to speak up, gain confidence, get visibility all over the world and have an impact globally. But also "Female Entrepreneurs Communities" are very important. We are lacking women in tech but also female entrepreneurs.

I started my own members’ club before Christmas, Other communities that I recommend are Women 2.0, Leap, and Female Founders Community. What I like about communities like these and what they are giving me and other women is that the members empower, connect and support each other.

InfoQ: What do you suggest for overcoming persistent gender bias?

Birgersdotter: Let’s stop talking and start doing. There are so many companies saying they will make a change, so let’s do that then.

Create a mentoring program for women where the mentors are both men and women, talk about the gender gaps and make sure everybody get the same paycheck from the beginning.

Also, women need to help each other to get into the boardrooms. Don’t push each other down because there are too few seats for us; instead, make more room.

InfoQ: In your talk, you stated: "stop playing safe". Can you elaborate on this?

Birgersdotter: Yes. I have seen women who failed with their first idea or company. They are quitting. Don’t quit, don’t play safe; get back up as fast as you can again.

When a man starts to lose his company, he sells his car or borrows money. Maybe sometimes it’s stupid or too brave, but I think "we" need to be a little bit more like that. Stop playing safe if you want to build a big company; often you need to have some failures behind you because you learn from them.

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