Women are making waves in the workforce. But they're not just standing by waiting for opportunities to arise. Rather, they're creating opportunities for themselves. That's right: The world has witnessed an influx of empowering entrepreneurs in recent years.
The year 2021 is welcoming a whole wealth of high net worth female founders because of some serious innovation and the all-too-forgotten fact that, when women lead, companies make more money. A survey of 21,980 firms from 91 countries by the Peterson Institute for International Economics found that having women at the C-Suite level significantly boosts net margins. And, when women start up their own businesses, their statistically good-for-business traits lead them to success. Harvard research finds that women excel in "taking initiative, acting with resilience, practicing self-development, driving for results and displaying high integrity and honesty" even more so than their male counterparts. In fact, more Harvard research finds that women tend to be better leaders in times of crisis, too (i.e. the entire year 2020).
So, even despite the fact that women are afforded far less venture capital dollars than men, according to PitchBook research — never mind that they're forced to navigate the systemic sexism that plagues the whole workforce — women are bringing their business goals to fruition. With that said, here are 25 female entrepreneurs who forged their way forward despite the odds against them.
Her best advice: "Two mistakes we made at the beginning: 1. We tried to build out too much technology right at the beginning. 2. We were not ready for fast growth," she said in a Y Combinator podcast. "When one of our parents posted on Weibo about VIPKID, 2,000 people signed up in one day. It took us three months to handle all of those requests."
Nicky Goulimis is the COO and co-founder of Nova Credit is a cross-border credit reporting agency. It exists so immigrants don't have to start building credit again from scratch when they move to new countries. Nova Credit secured $19.4 million from investors like General Catalyst, Index Ventures and Y Combinator Nova.
Her best advice: "When I was just out of college, I struggled with reconciling my identity as a good student with the reality that I had no real skillset" she told YCombinator. "I think I held myself back from doing new things because I wouldn’t be good at them. In the last few years, I’ve tried to push myself to not worry so much about my current abilities, and focus more on the learning process. Right now I’m in a position where I’m pretty dreadful at sales but I’ve got to learn it because someone’s got to do it for the company. So I’m trying to focus on enjoying that learning rather than beating myself up for not being the best yet."
Anne Wojcicki is the CEO and co-founder of 23andMe, which she founded in 2006. It's a human genome research company that unpacks customers' DNA to learn about their health and ancestry. In 2018 alone, 23andMe raised $300 million from GlaxoSmithKline. It's total funding thus far is about $786 million.
Her best advice: "As a business leader, you have to be very comfortable being criticized and recognize it's not about you," she told Inc. "It's about learning how to be even better. And who wants to be in a static state?"
Heidi Zak helped secure $68.6 million in funding for ThirdLove from investors like NEA, L Catteron and Allen & Company. The intimates brand reinvented the way women shop for bras.
Her best advice: "Get comfortable with being uncomfortable," she said, according to The Native Influence. "When you start your own company you have to get used to learning how to do things that you don't know how to do."
Mackenzie Scott is a billionaire philanthropist and author. According to the New York Times, she was a part of Amazon's founding and Amazon's first accountant with her ex-husband, Amazon founder, Jeff Bezos. According to Forbes, Scott is the third-richest woman in the world. She allegedly received a four percent stake in Amazon during the year of her divorce, according to CNBC.
Her best advice: “If you’re craving a way to use your time, voice, or money to help others at the end of this difficult year, I highly recommend a gift to one of the thousands of organizations doing remarkable work all across the country. Every one of them could benefit from more resources to share with the communities they’re serving,” Scott wrote on Medium. “And the hope you feed with your gift is likely to feed your own.”
Yeva Hyusyan is the CEO and founder of SoloLearn, which helps users learn and practice new skills for free. Students can share programming content with their peers all over the world. SoloLearn has been given $6.9 million in funding from investors like Naspers, Learn Capital, and Granatus Ventures
Her best advice: "Never underestimate your capacity to be great," she told Authority Magazine. "We always think that there is someone who can do this better than us. As a founder, it took me a while to understand that no person in the world understands my business better and can contribute more than I can."
Arum Kang is the CEO and founder of the dating app, Coffee Meets Bagel. The app was given $31 million in funding from investors like Atami Capital and DCM Ventures. The dating app is a more meaningful alternative to others on the market.
Her best advice: "In so many ways, my MBA experience allowed me to be an entrepreneur," she told Business Because. "I don’t think I could have gotten started at all if I didn’t have that network of people I could tap into, that were so willing to help.”
Judith Faulkner is the founder and CEO of Epic Systems, which develops medical-record software to "help people get well, help people stay well, and help future generations be healthier." Faulkner, a computer programmer, founded the now $3.2 billion company in her basement in Wisconsin, according to Forbes. It supports the medical records of over 250 million patients, and top medical centers like Johns Hopkins and Mayo Clinic use it. Though she never raised venture capital or made any acquisitions, she's lead her company to success.
Her best advice: She told The Cap Times that it's important to trust yourself. “I wonder sometimes why more people don't do that,” she said. “I always think of it as the yellow brick road. I can see the yellow brick road. I know how to step down it and I don’t want to go off of it. I can see it. And I think for the others maybe they can see it, but they question it. They say, ‘Is it really the yellow brick road?’ But they probably know it is.”
Zhou Qunfei is the founder and CEO of Lens Technology. The Chinese billionaire is reportedly the world’s richest self-made woman, according to Forbes. Her company manufactures glass for tech giants like Tesla, Apple, and Samsung.
Her best advice: “I have encountered many difficulties and setbacks as an entrepreneur,” she told CNBC's "Make It." “If I gave up then, there wouldn’t have been Zhou Qunfei or Lens Technology.”
Steph Korey is the CEO and co-founder of Away, which earned $107.5 million in funding from investors, including Forerunner Ventures, Global Founders Capital, and Accel. The direct-to-consumer travel and lifestyle brand, founded in 2015, creates high-quality, affordable luggage.
Her best advice: "If you love what you do, it’s not two separate things," she told GirlBoss. "Every single day of my life is work and life. I enjoy the life part and I enjoy the work part, and it’s all very integrated. If I go somewhere new, I would never choose to not be thinking about Away while I’m there and seeing things that are inspiring me for the company."
Laurene Powell Jobs (widow of Apple founder, Steve Jobs) is the founder and president of the Emerson Collective, which "deploys a wide range of tools — from impact investing to philanthropy to advocacy — in pursuit of a more equal and just America." The collective's focus is on creating systemic change throughout the country by tackling issues such as education, immigration, climate change and more.
Her best advice: "One profound learning I took from [Steve Jobs] was that we don’t have to accept the world that we’re born into as something that is fixed and impermeable,” she said, according to Ladders. “When you zoom in, it’s just atoms just like us. And they move all the time. And through energy and force of will and intention and focus, we can actually change it. Move it.”
Reshma Saujani is the CEO and founder of Girls Who Code, which earned $6.5 million from investors like Walmart, Lyft and Uber. Founded in 2011, Girls Who Code empowers young girls with the skills and resources to pursue computer science. The program introduces them to robots and design with mentors from young women who code.
Her best advice: "What I learned to do is work on silencing that voice in my head that told me I wasn’t smart, wasn’t good enough, and I didn’t belong," she told the Women Amplified podcast.
Payal Kadakia is the executive chairman and co-founder of ClassPass, which is a subscription to find and book fitness classes. In 2016, Kadakia was listed in Forbes’ Women Entrepreneurs to Watch list and Fortune's 40 under 40. ClassPass secured $239 million in funding from investors like Acequia Capital, Hank Vigil, General Catalyst, GV, and Temasek Holdings.
Her best advice: "Always call up other CEOs and founders who’ve worked with those [investors]," she told Forbes. "Especially with investors or anyone who is going to sit on your board — it’s important to know what they’re like. During good times, everyone is always very easy to work with, but what are they like during bad times? That’s the most important thing to ask and get your hands on. The only way you can find that out is by networking and getting in touch with someone who’s worked with that person before."
Michelle Zatlyn is the COO and co-founder of CloudFare, a web security company that protects websites from attacks while optimizing their performances. The company got $332.1 million in funding from a whole host of investors, including Venrock, Fidelity Investments, Franklin Templeton Investments, Pelion Venture Partners, NEA, and Union Square Ventures. She landed in Fortune's "40 Under 40" list and Forbe's "Top 50 Women in Tech" lists for going from "a small town in Saskatchewan, Canada, to Harvard Business School, and on to build one of the most important security firms in the Valley," according to Fortune. Forbes reports that her company has a valuation of $3.5 billion and over 700 employees.
Her best advice: "One piece of advice that someone shared with us early on that we really took to heart is if you’re going to build a company, have a mission," she said, according to the Mission podcast. "Humans, especially today, want to be part of something.”
Emily Weiss is a former Vogue assistant turned her beauty blog, The Gloss, into the cosmetics brand, Glossier. As the CEO and founder of the beauty products retailer, she's raised a ton of money. In March 2019, for example, she raised $100 million in a Series D round by Sequoia Capital. According to Forbes, she raised over $10 million in venture backing in the first year alone. She landed spots on Forbes "30 Under 30" lists in 2015 and 2017. Ultimately, she turned the blog into a billion-dollar brand.
Her best advice: "I proved myself to be very valuable,” Weiss told The Cut about being an intern first. “You have to be so many things. You have to be a sponge, you have to be respectful, you have to roll up your sleeves. I really earned my right to be there. I was just like, ‘Put me to work. I love work!’”
Her best advice: "Loving what you do is the key ingredient, so start with these basic questions: Why do I want to start a business? Do I like the industry enough to be living and breathing it 24/7? Do I have enough passion for beauty to follow it through?" she told successful-entrepreneur-677579" rel="noopener noreferrer" target="_blank">Marie Claire. "Personally, I’ve always given people make-up advice and talked about beauty products because that’s what I’m passionate about. I can’t promote makeup on Instagram if I don’t believe in the product. If I’m asking people to spend money on Huda Beauty products, I have to genuinely believe we have created the best."
Mariam Naficy is the CEO and founder of Minted, which is backed by investors like T. Rowe Price, Norwest Venture Partners, TCV, Ridge Ventures, Permira, and Benchmark. It's gotten $297.1 million in funding to help the platform grow. Minted is a platform for artists to learn and gain exposure to grow their businesses. Minted was named one of 2014’s 10 Most In-Demand Startups among job seekers and Naficy was named one of Fast Company's 25 Most Creative People in Business in 2013.
Her best advice: "Entrepreneurship is two-fold. It’s about creating a product or service that changes your customers’ lives in some way and engineering a competitive business model to operate your company," she told HuffPost. I am not an entrepreneur because I want money and fame, in fact, these factors can be detrimental to good decision making."
Georgina Gooley is the co-founder of Billie, a shaving subscription for women. Billie offers razors and body care products at reduced rates. Investors, including Goldman Sachs, Silverton Partners, Lakehouse Ventures and Female Founders Fund, have funded $35 million.
Her best advice: Gooley told Forbes that it's important to "change the conversation" with a "different point of view." "We became the first women’s razor brand to acknowledge that women have body hair and suggest that shaving is a choice, not an expectation," she said. "The goal is to empower women to feel more comfortable with the choices they make around their bodies. With Billie, I’m excited to have launched a company that puts women first in a category that has always considered them an afterthought."
Her best advice: “Don't overinflate your worth, but also don't settle for less than you're worth,” she told CNBC. “Know that it takes hard work to get to where you are.”
Abigail Johnson is the CEO of mutual fund giant Fidelity Investments, which she's served since 2014 when she took over for her father. She's been chairman since 2016 at the company that her grandfather, Edward Johnson II, founded in 1946. According to Forbes, Johnson owns an estimated 24.5 percent stake of the firm, which has reportedly about $2.9 trillion in managed assets.
Her best advice: "I've passed along the same advice that I was given when I was a kid: Be cautious with leverage," she told Business Insider. "What I mean by leverage is buying assets with borrowed money. It's dangerous and can be financially toxic when people use too much credit card or home-equity debt to pay for current consumption."
Afton Vechery is the CEO and co-founder of Modern Fertility, which is a health company that makes fertility information more accessible to women and offers a comprehensive at-home fertility test. These are the same kinds of hormone tests that are given in fertility clinics, but they go for a fraction of the price via Modern Fertility. The company earned about $7 million in funding from investors like First Round Capital, Maveron, and Union Square Ventures. Vechery made Fortune's "40 Under 40" list and Forbe's "30 Under 30" list for her entrepreneurship.
Her best advice: "We did nothing but work on the company for three months,” she told Entrepreneur. “We had a list called AC -- a running list of everything going on in the company, things that Afton was doing, things Carly was doing. We built this company list by list.”
Jessica Mah is the CEO and co-founder of inDinero, which has raised $9.9 million in funding from 500 Startups, Y Combinator, SPH CAPITAL, Signatures Capital, and Streamlined Ventures. inDinero offers software solutions for small businesses to track and manage their finances.
Her best advice: "YC was the experience of a lifetime. I came in with a prototype and left with a real business," she said about getting funding for her startup from Y Combinator. "The PR contacts, investor relationships, and entrepreneur camaraderie helped me level up my CEO skills faster than I could have even imagined."
Safra Catz, an Israeli-born American business executive, is the CEO of Oracle — a position she has served with the software firm since September 2014 when founder, Larry Ellison, stepped down from the role. She joined the company in 1999, however, and she is credited with spearheading the company's acquisition strategy. Catz reportedly helped the Oracle close more than 130 acquisitions, according to Forbes.
Her best advice: "Hopefully in the future, generational challenges will be measured by achievement, not gender," she said, according to Citatis.
Sheryl Sandberg is the COO of Facebook. Her successes at Facebook have been aplenty. For example, she helped the social media company dig itself out of a $56 million loss in 2008 and lead it to $18.5 billion in profits in 2019. She's also the author of several highly revered career books, such as Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead and Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience, and Finding Joy.
Her best advice: "There is no perfect fit when you're looking for the next big thing to do," she said, according to Inc. "You have to take opportunities and make an opportunity fit for you, rather than the other way around. The ability to learn is the most important quality a leader can have."
Oprah Winfrey didn't grow up with a lot of money. In fact, she had a difficult childhood before her world-renowned talk show, The Oprah Winfrey Show. She ultimately turned her show into a media empire and multimedia production company. Today, she's on a first-name basis with the world as one of the richest and most influential women in the country.
Her best advice: “The truth is, I try not to let other people define for me whether I have power or don’t," she said at an Essence magazine luncheon. "I ended the show, and then there were a whole bunch of people who said, ‘Oh, you don’t have power anymore.’ But the truth is, I know who I am, and the thing about power for me is that it’s connected to a source that’s obviously greater than myself. Any time you can connect to the source and understand that that’s where all of your energy, your creativity, your joy and your triumph come from, I consider that to be authentic power.”