Updated: Dec 3, 2021
The night began with Ari introducing a game to all of us - listening. She told us all to close our eyes and imagine like we were kids again and connected that with entrepreneurship. It’s full of the unknown with no money, but the best gift we can bring is passion, contagious energy, and playfulness. Entrepreneurship is full of challenges, but we need to be the biggest cheerleaders and bring the energy to what we are passionate about.
She talked about how when she was younger she heard about workplace discrimination against women. We have to speak up, be tough, and work ten times harder. Things still have not changed.
However, it does not mean that we would go through the same things as she did because technology and education are advancing every day. We have 100% control over how we speak up and show our passion. After we graduate from college, people may not care about us, but she sees it as an ocean. We have to learn how to go into the water, play with the water, and surf (like her son did when he was a young child). Water is essential to our lives. The conversation about society is how we will continue to be confident, young, and bright women. Anything we have to overcome we have to face, not run away.
Currently, 93% of venture capitalists are men. It is going to be a rough ocean for women to be in venture capital, but if you choose to be an entrepreneur, you will have to surf the water. It is also important to embrace our differences. Ari showed us an incredibly impactful photo of her wearing a pink backpack amidst all of the other backpacks during her childhood. She was an only child to a single mother, which was against the cultural norm. Her mother wanted her to be different and to get used to it (in a loving way). She had to grow up and think of why she was different from the rest.
We then closed our eyes and imagined a time we were so fierce, focused, and in the zone. That kind of energy we have to bring as CEO of a company. When we feel tired or we feel like nothing will happen, we have to play our game, not theirs.
One of the events in her life that really resonated with me was her CNN call. Halfway in the interview, the interviewer was going to hang up the phone after thanking Ari for talking with her. Ari panicked and wondered if she was not good enough. Then she remembered, bring her differences to the table and speak up. She asked the interviewer if she went to Japan and if she met Japanese women. Japanese women are told to be submissive and not told to speak up. When she founded the Women's Startup Lab, she had to make her stance. She also asked how many Asian women she was interviewing, and the interviewer said she did not know. The important message here is you have to diversify and make sure there are diverse leaders and role models.
Do not play society’s game. Tell them why you are special and tell them your story. Investors are looking at players for startups who can play the game, not just the bill. They have money and they know people, and they can build what you want to build in one week. They are interested in you because they want to know who you are and how you are going to play the game that will change the world. Be persistent and never give up on reaching your goals.
She also taught us the importance of setting your tone. She was taught to be friendly, smiley, and easygoing as a Japanese woman. However, for driving a company, she is firm on what she expects people to deliver and is on top of it getting things done. People came in with the perception that she was so friendly. She was indeed kind, but shortly after people who worked with her said she was not nice. She wasn't not not nice, she was getting things done. When men are assertive, they get rewarded. When women are assertive, people get threatened. There is an unconscious bias that you have to be aware of and get over it by articulating. She was unaware of this bias and unaware of people's perceptions of her. She sets the tone and is clear. She is friendly and committed to her team’s success, but it ultimately comes down to business and everyone has to deliver.
Money and innovation and opportunities all come from people. You want to be happy with your start-up. Build a company that can change society. It is crucial to hire people of different origins, backgrounds, etc. You have the power to make an impact and a successful company. Before you drink the kool-aid of what society thinks success looks like, think about who you want to be and what hito you want to be. Hito means human; it originated in China, and Japan adapted it. Be the person you want to be. Start the startup and let it fail so you can say you are an entrepreneur. Have the courage, play, and have fun!