Women entrepreneurs are more likely than their male counterparts to grade their performances harshly during the first year of business, though that tendency typically fades over time, according to a new survey by the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation.
It often is about approaching the venture a realistic viewpoint, said Jeff Shackelford, executive director of Digital Sandbox KC.
“[Women are] anticipating things being difficult,” he said, noting men frequently “want to think everything’s going to be rosy right from the start.”
Of the first-year startups who rated their business performance in 2017, 52 percent of women said they performed well, compared with 67 percent of men, according to the Kauffman Foundation survey. For older businesses, it evened out: 77 percent of both women and men rated their business performance as well.Of the projects Digital Sandbox KC has funded, more than a third of them are for startups founded or co-founded by women, Shackelford said, conceding that Kansas City may be “an anomaly.”
Women tend to think more about immediate milestones and challenges, he said, adding that female entrepreneurs focus on reaching goals two to four months from now instead of looking years ahead.
Such tendencies also manifest themselves in women being “less likely to toot their own horn,” even across other industries or when running for office, said Melissa Roberts, vice president of strategy and economic development at the Enterprise Center in Johnson County.
“It tells me that maybe there are some women that are doing really well, but flying below the radar because maybe they feel a little less confident or they’re a little less open with their successes that we could really do a good job of highlighting in the future,” Roberts said.
The Kauffman Foundation, alongside research firms Public Opinion Strategies and Global Strategy Group, conducted its nationwide representative survey of 2,165 entrepreneurs. Click here to download complete results of the survey, “Breaking Barriers: The Voice of Entrepreneurs.”
While women were found to be more critical of themselves and their businesses success, Kauffman’s overall findings pointed to an overwhelming optimistic crop of entrepreneurs.
Eighty-eight percent of startups, including those in their first years, predicted their business would perform well in 2018, according to the survey. More than 70 percent were satisfied with their profitability. And more than 80 percent felt support from their friends and family to even start their business.Shackelford wasn’t surprised, he said.
“To be an entrepreneur, you’ve got to be optimistic,” Shackelford said. “I oftentimes tell folks, ‘The most optimistic you’re going to be is before you’ve even started or launched the business, and you need to be because you’re going to run into a lot of obstacles.’”
Some of those roadblocks appear almost immediately, as founders must navigate through the technical aspects of starting a business — often with little guidance, the survey found.
Still, Gretchen Henry is among those with a positive outlook, she said. The chief executive officer of ConsultUS Technology, she most recently launched Sprout Solutions, one of Startland’s 2017 Under the Radar startups.
“If I didn’t feel optimistic, I wouldn’t be a business owner,” Henry said. “Quite frankly, I would be working in corporate America. I’m very passionate in what I’m doing.”
While optimism is definitely a good thing, at a certain point, that optimism could become a departure from reality, Roberts said.
“A lot of times, when we talk about the entrepreneurial community, we say only positive things,” Roberts said. “We don’t always talk about the difficulties of entrepreneurship. Yes, there’s a story about optimism and these numbers, but there’s also a story about false expectations.”
The most striking figure in the survey, according to Roberts: At least 95 percent of entrepreneurs felt excited to start their business.
“That’s the number in this entire survey that speaks most strongly to optimism,” she said. “They felt like they had control of their lives. They felt they were taking a step in a positive direction in starting their businesses.
“It makes me feel good because this is the world that I live and breathe, and to be reminded of just the positive impact that entrepreneurship can have on people and, in the aggregate, on communities, it makes my heart warm.”