I don’t know about you, but when I was growing up I always thought that entrepreneurs were the giants of business -you know, Steve Jobs of Apple, Gates of Microsoft, but then in the early 80s I realized that I was an entrepreneur. You know, I didn’t do this intentionally, I simply wanted to be my own boss. At the time I was working with Imperialoil and I was hiring other specialists in my field – associated with high speak corporate growth and managerial development – and realizing that i was doing the majority of the work, while they were getting about five times my salary.
Little did I know that when I would start my own business, I will be forging a career and a lifestyle that would take me and my family to the peeks of financial success and to the debts of bankruptcy. Now there’s a great deal of debate about an entrepreneur like is it self employment, is it small business? You know, entrepreneurs are described as profiting growth oriented people, who have an innovative vein running through them. But the primary aim of a small business owner who have actually been the heroes of the past two decades in terms of economic growth, well, they just simply want to provide income for themselves and their family, as well as to satisfy some important personal goals. Now there’s a quite of difference in definition when you think about it.
In today’s show we’re going to explore what it means to be a female. Is it entrepreneur, is it self employed, is it small business owner? Well, what is it in today’s economy? Joining me is Kirsten Eastwood, who has spent ten years as an entrepreneur successfully bringing both products and services to market. She has been highly recognized for her work running a successful incubator for women starting their own business. Kirsten is a part-time professor at Seneca College, School of Business Management, where she teaches a graduate-level course on building alliances and partnerships – a key factor in growing entrepreneurial businesses.
Lesley: Well, hello there Kirsten Eastwood! I’m so glad that we’ve had a chance to connect across the ocean, you in Toronto and me in Portugal. And I’m going to start right off at the very top, what made you decide to become an entrepreneur?
Kirsten: That’s a great question! Um, I spent ten years working in financial services, and large corporations tend to have tons when they grow and when they get on size. And so, the end of my ten years there was a downsizing and it just right for me to leave, there was no specific place for you be. And one of the benefits of working for a large company is that there are usually next step options, so they offered the package for career exploration and they offered a package around being self-employed. And I thought at that time my children were quite slow, and i thought why not? I’m perfectly comfortable leaping into the unknown and taking risks, which are two great characteristics of entrepreneurs. And so, I chose the self-employment option.
Lesley: I just wanna… I thought it was really interesting when I was doing some research for this show that there are three classic reasons why people become entrepreneurs, and there’s different percentages for men and women. The first is called “The Classic” and that is motivated by a pull factor such as independence, desire to be one’s own boss, earn more money, challenge or creativity. And in that category 71% of men say that’s what they want to become an entrepreneur and 53 percent of women say that. The second one is your category mixed with the second, which is “Force”, enter entrepreneurship due to change in occupational circumstances and 22% of both men and women self identify in that area. The third one is also where I think you’re coming from which is “Work family”, where entrepreneurship fulfills a desire towards greater work life balance, and that’s 25% of women and only 7% of men.
So it’s interesting when you take a look at it. In my particular case, I was in the first category “Classic” because in 1970…let me see…1979 I had a baby and I was senior manager at Imperial Oil or Exxon – as people will know it – and there were no professional who had asked for maternity leaves when I asked for mine. So, they had no policy of what should they do with me since I wasn’t going to come back in the designated time of 15 weeks, and I wanted to have between three to six months with my newborn. And so they made the agreement that, “Yes I could do that, I could comeback in six months.” And then I stated, “Well, you want me to travel all over Canada and the U.S, and I’m going to need to take my nanny with my newborn baby with me for nursing purposes.” And I was told by the head of H.R that that would not be professional, because you could not take a baby and a nanny on the road since they didn’t even know how men to take their wife and children if they were going to be gone less than 18 months on a job. And I tried to find the logic in that in terms of a father going with his wife and his children versus a nursing mother going with her child. And that was the day I decided I would set up my own business and it took me a year to do it, but it seemed like the only option if I was going to have some control over my work life balance and in some respect be my own boss. So, it’s interesting how these categories kind of blur when I’m thinking that women out there listening might be checking off the list. You know, am I doing it because I want to be free from all kinds of other boss like relationships? Am I doing it because I really don’t feel there’s any other option? Or am I doing it because my life needs more balance?
Kirsten: Right! And the control is you…it’s an interesting one. Anyone who knows me knows I like to be in control. And I think one of the things about owning your own business is that there is that increase element of control. You decide what you’re gonna do each day, you decide who you’re going to work with. And so I think there is a lot of appeal that was a big part of it that appealed to me, is that having worked for a large company with a lot of rules and I don’t do rules particularly well that that was very attractive to me. And so, the other piece around the work life balance i figured women is that it doesn’t mean that you actually have balance. I mean balance is…it’s never equal, it’s never found to be the same amount of time of work at home.
What is the longest there is that that even flow between what you’re doing to make money, or your focusing on the day-to-day and your family then it’s hard to feel comfortable for you. But there’s a lot of challenges would have in your own business and having a young family and i certainly learned that firsthand.
Lesley: Well, I certainly had two small children and just shortly after that I became a single parent, so it certainly posts some interesting realities. But, I don’t know about you, did you think of becoming an entrepreneur when you were a child?
Kirsten: No not at all.
Lesley: And you know that’s one of the interesting statistics is that young women, and even today in the college base study that was done just last year women don’t self identify in even at college in these days as being entrepreneurial. They score lower in what they call “The entrepreneurial self efficacy”, which is, “How much do I believe in myself? How much do I believe life could be successful out there on my own? How much do I really believe in my professional skills in getting ahead?” And they are twice less likely to have engaged in any type of entrepreneurial activity by the time they get into college.
Kirsten: Hmm interesting! I mean..there was..I have no..that was wasn’t even on my radar. I had no role models but my parents are doctors. And, I worked for another organization ironically minimum but still practices has her own business now, but I’m not sure she would necessarily called herself an entrepreneur. Um, and it was not something it was ever talked about in high school, in guidance and any of the processes that should provide you with options. It wasn’t until I was 30 that this became something that started to appeal to me. And I think it was because of all those things that was the right time, it was the right point of my life. And it was also…you know, I had a couple of ideas around what I might want to do as an entrepreneur but it was never ever on the radar, and I think it’s really not on the radar for a lot of kids now either. I don’t think it’s really encouraged, or talked about or even fostered in the education system.
Lesley: Well, I wanna go into the part that you play the significant role in establishing a women center that was designed to help women identify their skill sets, and in many ways launch entrepreneurial start-ups. So in your experience is that…what was the average age of the women that would start to show up at your women center in North York?
Kirsten: They were probably…of your creation that we have this program but it was called “Enterprising Women”. And the proper aged women were typically between 35 and 54, but most of them probably late 30s early 40s. So, these are women who had lived life already – some of them were mothers, some of them were grandmothers, some of them were single women. A number of them have were of some very interesting kinds of work, there were women who came from different parts of the world. York region has a very high incident of new comers, it’s one of the fastest growing areas. So, it was always a very diverse, very eclectic group of women many of whom did not speak English as the first language. And i guess the underlying theme was these women were challenged financially for a number of reasons. And in some cases, these are women who are dealt with some pretty awful stuffs. Some of them had left abuse of relationships, some of them were women who were trying to pick up life after traumatic events, and for the most part of your self-esteem was really low. So that was sort of the reality, the context of the women who came to this program, and it was a 5-month program so we have the luxury about a fair amount of time together.
Lesley: And the intense was for them to discover how they could engage in greater confidence, building awareness of their skills. And was it an intention that they would go out and become self-employed or where there other objectives?
Kirsten: Well, i guess that was the ultimate objective, it was a funded program. So, certainly to our founder may have to track the number of women who were starting their businesses, who were expanding their businesses. And the funder have some interesting success since they want us to collect to the number of women who had hired other women, how much money women were making, and women they stared to make money. So, we kind of parked for some of those pieces because for most of the women that didn’t really fit, and we’re spending all for a lot of time on how can women to do a couple of things – one is to have them really visualize themselves owning this business. And so that whole self-esteem piece was really important, the other piece was around the sense of social inclusion. How do we start to help these women develop a network? Many of whom had never had a lot of networks, some of them didn’t have friends. If they were new to Canada they really didn’t know how they were going to start in integrating into this very new and strange culture that they were in. And so, we spend a lot of time really developing a lot of those thoughts, skills and having women think about the constant relationships that they needed to create to support them, and some cases they did not have family who supported them. I remember women saying, “You know, my husband, or my kids, or my parents is a complete waste of time when I should just go and get a job.” So this group was there, it was their cheering squad. It was the one that said, “You could do it.” And it was the group to whom they said, “Mom, I had this great breakthrough, I tried this and it didn’t worked.” This was the group that was able to support them through it. And I think for women who are starting businesses were starters of your social background regardless of you are in life, regardless of how much money you have that acts support system is more important. And I think that’s probably one of the many outcomes of divorce…for women to start businesses that these women gained so much more the knowledge about how to start a business.
Lesley: Well I wanted stump in because I’ve read another study which I felt really interesting, they studied the effect of peer relationships on female entrepreneurs and this study was done in India. And it found that women who recieved business training with a friend were more likely to take out business loans, and more likely to report higher business activity and household income than peers who received training without a peer.
Kirsten: Yeah i completely agree to that.
Lesley: And so, what is it about women in particular where this peer relationship becomes such a critical part to their entrepreneurial development?
Kirsten: Well I think for a couple of things women are amazingly resilient, and I think women are social creatures; they like to share. They like to share knowledge because it helps them to feel like they’re making a contribution to someone else, and in turn they are open to getting that knowledge or those ideas from other women. And then I remember one part of our course where, um, when there were women who came in and they talked about what they did to be able to use coupons to be able to make ends meet from one week to the next. And the whole excitement around this piece of knowledge that women were able to share around couponing was amazing. And what that did to the women who were having along the information and the women receiving it created a bond around. We have a lot of similarities, I see a lot of me in you and that makes me feel better because I don’t feel like I’m the only one that’s going through a lot of the really yucky stuff in my life right now. So I think it’s that ability to connect and build relationships on women run their businesses, we tend to do it on a very relationship basis. I don’t think many of the women that I know who are self-employed or entrepreneurs are really interested in transactions. I think that what we want is those opportunities to meet people to get to know them, to really make sure that the people who are buying our products or services cheer about what we’re doing. When we surround ourselves with partners, or suppliers, or clients, we really want to make sure we have relationships with those people. I think the transactions that, you know, “I’ll give you my business card if you give me yours” don’t work for a lot of women, which is why traditional networking doesn’t work for women because it’s very transaction based.
Lesley: So when you think about standard or traditional networking versus the kind of networking that women are seeking as entrepreneurs, what’s the difference?
Kirsten: Well, I always talk about it in terms of cocktail parties and dinner parties. So you think you come into a cocktail party or a large group of people and you could by yourself, you look around and you think, “Is this kind of like the playground again?” When you walk out and you’re thinking, “Who am i gonna play with? Who’s gonna come and talk to me?” It’s very much a one…it’s a very uncomfortable situation for me. And I have to say that I don’t like those kind of networking events….the whole cocktail party piece. But with the dinner party, it’s much more intimate. You’re usually around a table, it’s a fewer number of people and it’s an opportunity to really sit and engage in a conversation. You’re just beside a couple of people or accross people for a couple hours at a powerful, relaxed environment. So I think the women I know much prefer the dinner party networking and conversations. The cocktail party ones are much more transactional because you have the sense of meeting together around the room and talk to a lot of people, or you have a sense of someone’s always looking more with their shoulder to see, “Who else is coming along, who better is coming along that I can talk to.” So I think that women really choose the ways that they want to work with other women. And I think women, the whole idea around space in place play a big role in how women choose to meet and connect with other women. I know a lot of women who are very comfortable meeting at coffee shops, so sit and relaxing work and a coffee, whereas most manner looking for more of a business environment in which they can do that. So I think that’s the place…in how women want to engage with others and taking the time to really invest in relationships is critical for women entrepreneurs.
Lesley: So here’s an interesting slice of that which is that in the States alone, 12,000 businesses are started by women everyday, and they have a phenomenal track record of how much they are contributing to the … product i think. These firms generate more than 1.4 trillion in revenue and employ more than 7.8 million people, and that’s in the total of 9.1 million women-owned businesses. But in that same report they say that the Issue is not for women in start-ups, the issue is for women growing their businesses. And they say two really interesting things that i’d like you to comment on. One is that men are much more likely to export. In other words, be involved in an export business, which is one of the main ways of growing a business. And the second is women don’t feel they need to get financing; they set a threshold upon which they want to grow their business. And they said it based on what their resource capability is in why would call a more easy reach kind of fashion. But they are much less likely to walk into a bank and use an aggressive pitch to secure a line of credit than their male counterpart. So two things that are stopping us from growing our businesses from small to medium are that we’re not necessarily engaged in trying to expand our business to export, and we’re not really keen on financing a business passed any small risk threshold.
Kirsten: Interesting! Well I’m gonna start with the financing one first, and I think that’s absolutely true. Most of the women that I’ve worked with are not all that interested in financing, we even set a microfinance program for women where there were additional networking and mentoring support….they were into networking part but not the money part. I think traditional financing models have worked to gauge women. If you think about the way that financial services used to be is that you have to have your [custom?] there to be able to able to vouch for you when you are getting some kind of along. And I know that’s not true now but I think that a lot of that….hangs over the whole idea falling into a bank of asking for money. There’s an awful lot of support around than true capitalists particularly in this country, but a lot of it is very focused on high tech IT businesses. And a lot of women that I’ve worked with really start businesses that are an extension of themselves, so women that I know have started businesses based on things they’re good at. So if they have traded fabulous chocolate product, then that’s something the people have said, “You really need to get it out of the market.” And so they focused on doing that. And I think that part of it goes along with their comfort, their desire not to go to big that can feel want to have the balance with family. They want to support their communities so they want to stay local as well too, and I have a number of former clients who were in that situation. And I got to the point that they didn’t want to expand, they didn’t want to have huge enterprise. And so they ended up selling their business which they felt very comfortable with. They liked to start-up phase of the business, they liked the smallest of the business and they were comfortable with their ability to be able to live on what they were earning from that. With the whole export as I again I think it’s just…it’s a different level of the business, so you need to know about different currencies, different regulations, you need to focus on the distribution trend. For some women, it’s pulling them away from the reason they started business in the first place. So if you’re passionate about creating a scrap-looking business, if that’s what you love to do or you’ve created this really cool salad dressing then that’s what you want to do. And I think that when you start in that growth phase that maybe you have to hire someone to do that, or you have to give up the part that you love to focus on the part that’s going to grow your business. So I think that there’s a lot of those holes as well too that people make because they’re reluctant to change what they do within the business.
Lesley: So here’s a thought too because when I took our business from business from being a small or medium-sized business and brought it into the medium-sized threshold, it’s exactly like what you said the staff that I was passionate on I stopped doing, I had now an infrastructure of a CFO, a CTO or whatever a O, O , O. and you know in a 150 employees. And so my job was really about continuing to land massive contracts that would associate engine that was there that was not necessarily where I thought I would start as an entrepreneur, but it definitely grew the business. But I have to say that the trade-offs of running the business at a medium-size level and running it as a small business were to very different worlds. And I wonder what is it about women that we kind of take it to one level, and then we say, “That’s enough! That’s just enough for me.” What do you think it is about us that does that?
Kirsten: Well, so the next phase of the program I talked was called “The enterprising business incubator.” So, we recognized that there was a lot of risk to support start-ups, but there were number of people – women – who got their business to a certain level and then they were stuffed, and that’s why we started the incubator. And the reason that they were stuffed is usually because of that thing that you just talked about that they needed to get to another level. And a lot of times it was that the whole marketing and communications focused that they needed to apply to their business. Or it required them to bring in other people, to develop that expertise or to develop that experties themselves. And I think it was a comfort level in being where they were. I don’t think that they necessarily had some of the skills and experiences to be able to leverage their business to the next level, and they were quite sure how to get that additional support. So the women that came to us who have been in business, who had some great products! And there was there was one woman who had this fabulous tea business beautifully packaged, gorgeous products that she had no idea how much money she was making at her business, she had no cash flow. She was terrified to know whether the business was succeeding financially or not. So with her we spent a lot of time helping her to look at her books to bring in someone he could provide with that support, to make sure that she knew what she was spending her money on. And since then she kind of got unstuck and she really has flaws to the point where she’s putting herself out in a lot of different situations now, because she’s recognized that it’s okay for this business to make money. She had a real barrier about her business makes you money and for reasons I don’t know all about feel guilty about other business making money. So sometimes there are some of those personal things whether it’s financial baggage or emotional baggage that kind of getting the way. And I think that’s the value of program …but I started as it start to impact some of that stuff as well too. It doesn’t have to be a business reason, there maybe an off-the-water other emotional layers that women need to peel back. And that’s I think some of the women’s networking groups help women to say, “Are you dealing with these two? Who do you work with?” There’s prestige use about you’re involved in and what I’m wanting to go on corporate business as well too. But I think now there’s an awful lot more models and examples of really amazing successful women who have taken a business they’re serving in their basement and transform it into something that’s now become a huge local success. So I think that as more women take their business to the next level as more women’s organizations…that there’s need to approach how women access services such as thing about exporting their product outside their borders of access in financing, then a lot of those barriers will start to change. But I think a solution has to be driven by women, I think women have to say, “Here’s a whole new recipe for how we’re going to finance women’s businesses” And it’s not the way that people traditionally think of financing a small business or a start-up.
Lesley: So, you know, one of the things I also found interesting is that businesses, small businesses run by women are much more likely to have been driven by innovation than their male counterpart. In fact, they have much higher indexes of innovations every three years that can catapult their business. What do you think it’s about women and the nature of innovation that causes them to really engage in that part of business growth?
Kirsten: Well, and I think the women play so many different roles. So, women understands what’s going on in a community and what’s missing, and so I think that women then become more tuned to knowing what are the things that are missing. You know, if the products or services not available, why is it not available? And if there’s something that I can do about it, or I can round services and in a lot of times you should’ve think, “Why is there no one who is delivering food to my house?” You know, think about women who have TVs and they can’t get out. You know, why are there not services that respond to those needs in a woman’s life, whereas a man might not realize that because he just doesn’t go through that particular phase of life in the same way.
Lesley: So if I were to ask you this question as we come to the end of our interview, I think a part of this…I’m gonna put it with a statement and then a question. I think where women have redefined what success is and success may not be growth, success maybe sustainability in terms of creating something that will keep itself growing in a manageable way, though it has a sustained life force to keep it moving and that isn’t going to tear the family apart in the process of achieving those goals. So my question to you is, what advice would you have for women who are sitting on a threshold of a very successful small business, and they’re toying with the idea of, “Should I take the risk of doing some different types of grow strategies that will re-use my risk muscle but will potentially get me into that layer of growth?” What advice would you get them?
Kirsten: Well and I think everyone is very personal in terms of where they are and the flow is probably the most important. So, how is a businesswoman? Am I looking at my business, and saying, “What is small look like?” When I’m in the zone and everyone is looking along what is that look like. So I think for women who are in that phase of deciding, “Do I go big or do I stay where I am?” If really doing that self-assessment, the honest assessment to say, “What’s bugging me? What’s going well? And what would my business looks like if it was completely perfect and running along smoothly all the time?” And then for women who might say, “I’m okay keeping my business at this level. I’m comfortable, I’m in-control, it’s sustainable, it’s fun and that’s a big phase that I’m still really passionate about my business.” So I think it’s really doing that full self-reflection, that mindfulness about the business and making a decision that feels right to them and it’s not based on what someone tells them that they should be doing.
Lesley: Right. So it’s coming from them. I remember when it was brought to me that I needed to have a Board of Directors if I was going to keep the business growing at a medium-size and make it really sort of sustainable at that level. And my first thought was, “What do I do with them?” Like, now I’ve got to invite other people in or going to poke their nose all through my business. And I have no idea that they’re gonna be able to understand what I’m doing in a way that I understand it. And I think there’s this stress that we somehow don’t allow other people to know that they do have our best interest in mind. And so what I did is I created first an advisory group, which was less formal, had equal amount of players that I had selected, that I felt I could really trust. But I’ll tell you, the first series of meetings where it was like opening the kimono, and saying, “Take a look at my business.” I found frightening as anything. And so I guess, part of this is women is to how do we start to realize that as we open the door that the trust that we give others will be returned in full, because at the end of the day the people that come and say yes to helping you actually really want to help you.
Kirsten: Exactly! And that was by to that pull of networks…. One of the things I’m a strong believer of is that we need to create more entrepreneurial ecosystems, and using that natural metaphor to really look at. You know, within nature that there’s about six components that make up a really healthy ecosystem. And the whole idea around the networks and the interconnections that are based on relationships are so important, the other piece is really around the flows and the constant energy. And I think the people have to recognize, are the relationships of the advisers that you are bringing in, are they providing you with energy and building you up and supporting you? And if not, then that’s probably part of your ecosystem that you need to cut away because you don’t want to have any kind of toxicity in your business when you’re deciding to make a big change as well too. And it’s also looking at the whole cycle, um you know, businesses will go in cycle. Then they’ll grow and then they will come to a point where they will stay at the same point and they’ll go through some kind of change, whether it’s a change in partnership or a change in focus and knockout products are out there and stay on top of the market all the time. So I think it’s people being really aware in looking at the ecosystem that they have created for their business, as well as the ecosystem which their buisness operates.
Lesley: So I’m going to get you to top this out on what the six elements are to the ecosystem?
Kirsten: Okay. So first one is “Networks” that everything in an ecosystem is interconnected, and it’s based on relationships within one another. The second one is “Nesting system”, so nature made up of systems that are nested in each other. So in society you look at this whole systems and their social systems, and you need to look at this system that your business is part of. So if you’re involved in manufacturing or involved in financial services that you’re part of a larger system that will go through changes that you maybe not be able to control, but you always hae to be aware of where your business is in relation to those other systems. What I talked about just now in terms of cycles that, you know, we need to be aware of the exchange of resources that as businesses grow or expand or contract, that they do have connection to larger cycles in a whether in your region, or your province, or your country. And the flows that your business, you know, like us always needs energy, positive energy to stay alive. And so, you really need to look at how your business is being energized as much as how you as a woman is being energized by the business. The whole Idea around development, you need to constantly be involving, and growing and changing. You know, you look in this country from the great businesses that we had that didn’t develop because they ignore the fact that they have to take a different approach to how they were working; they have to extend and evolve. And so, as women, we also need to be aware of, “What are some of the tools that I need to create, some of the training I need to be aware of, or some of the other people I need to connect to?” And the last part is I think where we start is the whole idea around this dynamic balance, is that we constantly need to have ways to bring in feedback, to look at how we’re living our lives, to making sure that we’re okay with the ups and down apart our business that we are able overall to have a business that is resilient to changes that happen. And that in turn is also making sure that we are feeling strong and resilient to be able to deal with whatever good, bad, great, wonderful things happen with our business.
Lesley: Well, you certainly let us out on a brilliant note, I can’t thank you enough for taking the time and taking us into the spectrum of the ecosystem and the whole notion about how we as entrepreneurs as women hold some pretty unique characteristics, and for us to hold on to those as well as open them up as much as we can.
Kirsten: So, I really enjoyed your conversation. Thank you so much, Lesley!
Lesley: Thanks Kirsten!
You know, one of the statements that really stood out for me in my interview with Kirsten was that women tend to build businesses that are extensions of themselves. It seems for women owning our own business is a formidable way for us to build our self-esteem, it taps into our inbred resilience and our survival instincts. The autonomy we gain allows us as women to choose to meet and connect with others in the way we prefer, it taps into our natural instinct to build relationships which are critical to our business’ growth. These are all important features that help women feel comfortable in starting their own endeavor. The question is, is this enough? Well, one way of looking at it is that women-owned businesses make only about 25 cents on the dollar compared to our male counterparts. By establishing a somewhat risk adverse financing strategy we tend to play it safe in that self-employment category or in the small-business category, where we have very few employees. But if we’re going to play an ever increasing role in building our economy we may need to challenge some of our self-limitations, one is our threshold of risk. This involves us challenging our comfort level, it means that we have to explore our relationship with money. What would it take for us to go for that next level of financing that will help us grow our business? And what do we have to do to drive our business into the export area where we can take advantage of global reach? You know, I’m not suggesting that we adopt the characteristics of our male colleagues, but rather that we use our own in-capabilities such as innovation. You know, women have excelled in the area of product innovation. Well, what would it take for us to use our innovation muscle in growing our businesses? And then in trusting ourselves in others to push ourselves to the next level of our business’ development. Just a question. Well, you can find me on www.womenwholead.co as well as on facebook “women who lead radio show”. You can tweet me @womenwholead, you can get in touch with me any which way you wish. But please get in touch with me and connect, let’s keep this dialogue going. Just remember, this is your show, I am your host Lesley Southwick-Trask.