Two years ago, I was hired by the four cofounders of mobile Ad-tech startup ClicksMob to lead their company.
They hired me because I shared their vision of growing the company exponentially, and because they believed I was better positioned to run it than they were. Shortly after beginning my position as CEO, I discovered I was pregnant. It’s been a wonderful journey being a mother and chief executive, and I’m due any day now with my second in 14 months.
But it hasn’t been easy. The work culture at startups is fast-paced, incredibly demanding and — especially in my field — tends to be male-dominated.
It has taken careful steering through the industry’s “boys club” to successfully lead the company and to balance my ambition with all the other aspects of who I am.
Here are some things I’ve learned along the way:
Your startup is like a newborn. The very early stages of a startup are critical for its future development, so creating a positive work environment — which involves how you hire and treat employees — is essential for building the company you envision. So, for example, legal issues aside, there is still a stigma at many startups around hiring expecting mothers. This couldn’t be more wrong-minded. An employee who has been supported through the various stages of motherhood — or any other lifecycle event for that matter — is more likely to feel valued and that will be reflected in their dedication and loyalty for the long run. That goes for a startup of three to a company of three hundred, as those who are with you from the early stages will be an integral part of the company’s future success.
In short, always hire the right person for the job, period. From our experience, from top to bottom (with more than 50 percent female employees at ClicksMob, including top management), it always, always pays off.
Fake it ‘til you make it. Improvising and “putting on a brave face” even in the face of uncertainty are leadership qualities too often associated with males, but I assure you, women do them equally as well, if not better. You will be overwhelmed at times balancing work with the rest of your life — it’s only natural.
By putting on a brave face, you won’t only steady others in stormy seas, you will convince yourself of your own strength.
Build a support team. It is of crucial importance that as you build your budding startup team, you also build an all-star support team outside of work. Your life partner is like your cofounder, choose a good one and it’s the best move you’ll ever make. Steadfast friends are like your leadership team, they will be your rock during feast or famine. Babysitters are like your star hire — worth their weight in gold.
In short, build strong relationships with a network of people who support your executive leadership role and whom you can lean on, both on the job, and off.
Let go. It’s OK to relinquish control of some of your duties. Delegation is smart and indicates foresight, talent, strength and confidence. It should never be considered a sign of weakness – whether in your professional or personal life.
It can be deliciously lonely at the top. Make sure you schedule time for yourself. If you can find the time to sit it on a conference call about a lone unpaid invoice or for a long discussion with a manager about their concerns, you can also make time for yourself. Go to the gym, for a walk, to meditate, or just be alone with your thoughts. It’ll keep you sane and it may just be your most important meeting of the day.
There has never been a better time for women leadership in business — just look at Marissa Mayer, Sheryl Sandberg, and Indra Nooyi. A new crop of startup CEO’s is following suit — keep your eye on us and you’ll see … tech will never be the same.
Chen Levanon is the CEO of ClicksMob, a fast-growing mobile performance advertising network.