When we started with Backstartup, I never thought that I would end up running the ship. The 4 founding partners: Adriana, Diego, Cristian and I, we defined our roles at the beginning and Diego took over the role of CEO. After several CTO changes, in 2017 he decided to focus on leading the technology division and to retire as CEO. At that point, I was surprised that most of my partners (backstartup co-founders and investors) were in favor of my replacement as they believed I had the skills needed to take our operations to the next level.
My first reaction, of course, was to doubt my abilities: not just because I didn’t think I was the right person, but because I didn’t fully understand what it meant to be the CEO of a startup.
Everyone with whom I shared my self-doubts diagnosed me the same: Imposter Syndrome. This false syndrome first appeared in 1978 when two clinical psychologists, Pauline Clance and Suzanne Imes, conducted the study “The cheat phenomenon among high performing women. “According to the study, there is a high percentage of high-performing women who believe that their success depends on luck and has nothing to do with their talent or qualifications.
The study, which was reviewed by Clance in 1993, confirmed the concept that the cheat phenomenon is “the psychological experience of believing that one’s accomplishments were not due to real ability but as a result of being lucky enough to have worked harder than others “. or manipulated other people’s impressions […]. “and that this affects men and women alike.
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Based on what I have told you, it seemed easy to explain my self-doubts. My reluctance to take on the role of CEO had to be due to the fact that I was not convinced that I had the qualities or traits necessary to be one and therefore suffered from imposter syndrome. If it is something according to the study The cheat phenomenon, by Jaruwan Sakulku, affects 70% of people at some point in their lives. Why couldn’t this happen to me?
In order to overcome my cheat syndrome, or at least learn to live with it, I wanted to conduct my own study and interview various CEOs of startups and traditional companies. The first thing that surprised me was that even though I had gone through an acceleration program like 500 Startups and had a fairly wide network of colleagues, she asked what skills I should have and what was expected of me in my new role I realized that all but one of the CEOs I knew were men. And they were not a few.
There are so many gender differences that, according to the latest Endeavor and MasterCard white paper, only 23% of startups in Latin America today have a woman on their founding team.
This, in my opinion, leads to a very important trend for women running tech companies: Since there are not enough references for female leadership and, above all, for success, we believe that to be a successful leader, you have to be, or not that we have to adopt very masculine leadership styles.
To speak of the fraud syndrome means extremely simplifying a much more fundamental problem that originates from ignorance / Image: Depositphotos.com
As time went on, I realized that talking about the cheating syndrome is supposed to extremely simplify a much more fundamental problem that originates from ignorance. Nobody prepares us to be the CEO. Indeed, according to Ben Horowitz, general partner For one of the most renowned investment funds in the world, “Andriessen Horowitz”, “CEO is a very unnatural task”.
In fact, my “Cheat Syndrome” was not a result of self-doubt: I dare say it wasn’t even the Cheat Syndrome. My problem was a lack of information and a fear of the unknown: I don’t understand what it means to be the CEO of a startup (which I will write about in future columns); from not knowing what skills it takes to run a business and from being completely ignorant of how capital was raised. But mostly because of the lack of role models in the world of entrepreneurship who are women.
I think we should stop telling people who have Cheat Syndrome. In this way we are giving a superficial explanation for what can be a fundamental problem: the cheating syndrome can be the lack of clear instructions, the lack of mentoring, the fear of something we don’t know and our ability to realize. When we understand the real cause of uncertainty arising, we can meet them face-to-face and achieve better leadership skills for our teams.
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Today I know a lot more entrepreneurial women who are willing to share their experiences and insights and also know what worked for them and what didn’t or where they failed. This led me to work with Adriana, my partner, to create an initiative we call Fearless: Women ship, a space to hear and learn from other women’s experiences. These are conversations with women entrepreneurs who have already come part of the way and how they overcame their own fears and challenges as they ventured out. This project, which we publish every Wednesday and every time, has taught me to overcome many of the beliefs that nurtured my so-called Cheat Syndrome. I describe some of them below:
- Belief 1: “To raise capital, you have to be aggressive. If you don’t take the deal now, you will lose the chance of a lifetime. “To raise capital, you actually need traction. You don’t have to be aggressive, although this is one of many strategies that work. You need to be authentic and show a real passion for solving a problem.
- Belief 2: “Only aggressive and strict leaders build successful teams.”: Each person has their own leadership style. Whenever I tried to be someone I am not, I backfired. And aggressive leadership can easily lead to leadership of terror and that your employees will follow you out of fear, and that the same fear will lead them not to point out mistakes you may be making as a CEO.
- Belief 3: “To have a successful business, you have to be a man”: You need a lot of non-gender related things: solve a problem, listen to customers, create a great product. You always have to be ready to keep learning, have a great team, surround yourself with people who share your passion and know more than you do. There are great examples of successful women entrepreneurs starting with Whitney Wolfe Herd, the founder of Bumble.
- Belief 4: “To be a CEO, you have to know everything.” I don’t believe anything, but you need to understand very well how your business works and learn to prioritize. You shouldn’t be a financial specialist, but you should know how money is spent or invested. You shouldn’t be an expert in technology or software development, but you should know how the product or service you are offering works. In short, you need to be able to put together a team in which each member knows their area of work very well and with whom you can speak in the same (working) language.