In conversation with 3 female founders – sharing their growth stories
Do you think there is enough support for women entrepreneurs, or do you think there is no differentiation based on gender anymore?
Sarah Jones, Founder & CEO, Sprii: I genuinely believe that being a successful entrepreneur isn’t about your gender; it’s about being focused, passionate, tenacious and, above all else, customer centric.
Nadine Mezher, Co-founder & CMO, Sarwa: We are not there yet for sure and work needs to continue on this front. My situation is different given that I have two male partners. I do believe this makes the conversation easier, since there is still the male-to-male affinity.
Generally speaking (and I want to emphasize ‘generally’ thought it does not necessary apply to all), women still need to prove themselves more and we still are learning to voice our values. This is a universal issue. I believe (and mention this often) that this situation applies to any minority in a workplace. Women are the minority gender and become even more scarce in high management roles. Human nature has us developing affinity for anyone around that resembles us. Men have more affinity with men, and that creates an unconscious bias. We (women) also sometimes box ourselves and need to break away from that.
What’s the solution? More awareness and more education. It also helps to surround yourself with people who inspire and support you, both men and women.
Ambareen Musa, CEO, Souqalmal.com: I think it is a great time for women in business and in entrepreneurship. There is a lot more focus on women founders and therefore a lot more coverage. There are nowadays more role models and support in terms of funding, networking and mentorship around the female entrepreneurship.
From a surge in female entrepreneur support groups (early-stage accelerator programs for female-founded start-ups as well as mentorship programs like Endeavor) to increased funding for new businesses. A few examples of great female leaders include Sonia Weymuller, Amira Rashad amongst others.
But regardless of whether you're a man or woman, you need to have sound knowledge of industry dynamics to come anywhere close to succeeding. Being a woman should not be an excuse although there are more hurdles or preconceptions on being a woman founder. Isn’t a bigger challenge worth even more satisfaction?
Also read: 7 surprising lessons from powerful women
How was your funding journey - what were the challenges you faced getting there?
Sarah Jones, Founder & CEO, Sprii: Fundraising is a full-time job. Trying to run a business, and a business that’s growing fast, at the same time as raising funds - that’s a challenge for any entrepreneur. Anyone that tells you otherwise, probably isn’t telling the truth!
We have been very fortunate at Sprii to have closed three funding rounds relatively quickly and have raised over USD15m to date. We’ve always been very focused on bringing in strategic investors that can add not just money but additional value to the company which I think is incredibly important. It takes time to find the right investors; to meet them, to build relationships with them and to close rounds. It’s important to remember that there are lots of ups and downs when fundraising - lots of positive conversations and also people that turn you down. I’ve learnt it’s important to never become disheartened and to always keep going.
Nadine Mezher, Co-founder & CMO, Sarwa: In general, and that applies to everyone, we had many factors to consider when developing our fundraising strategy. We started by looking at the target we would like to achieve within a given timeframe and what are the milestones we need to accomplish to get there. We also looked into why we needed to fund (other than cash burn) and how the funding would accelerate our growth.
Once we had all this properly planned, it was about finding the right partners. This is the main challenge. It might sound easy but it is very crucial and will make a huge difference on how you run your own business in the near future. When you bring investors on board, you have to keep in mind that these are strategic, long-term partners that need to align with your vision and provide the right support and guidance. Sarwa has good brand equity and investors are interested but of course they need to see a proper plan and a solid business model. We made sure we have all that in place.
Ambareen Musa, CEO, Souqalmal.com: The funding journey of any start-up is a roller coaster. For Souqalmal, the journey changed constantly as we grew and as the amount we raised grew - different stages of the fundraising process came with its own challenges.
At the very start, investors would look at you as a founder mostly as there was nothing else to base themselves on. Can you pick up in hard times, are you someone who gives up easily, are you passionate about your project, do you have what it takes to scale up your business?
As you get bigger, your numbers start speaking for themselves. Investors would be looking at your company’s performance and whether you are on top of it and whether you understand the levers of your revenues, your KPIs and in difficult times, how you adapted.
Also read: The best leaders are versatile
How has your business evolved since your last funding and what difference did it make?
Sarah Jones, Founder & CEO, Sprii: Sprii is continually evolving however the last injection of funds enabled us drive further investment into our internal technological infrastructure, make a number of strategic hires across our commercial, marketing, engineering and product teams, and launch the business in Saudi Arabia so that we could simplify mums lives not only in the UAE but further afield.
Nadine Mezher, Co-founder & CMO, Sarwa: We closed our Series A back in January (2020) and we had detailed plans for both the short and the long term. Now, with everything happening around us, we had to re-look at some of our strategies – for example, where to focus our marketing budget and what can wait – but the main vision and strategic work has not changed. It’s all about adaptation while staying focused on the end goal. We were lucky to have closed our fundraising before the pandemic and we have a good runway that will allow us to continue our exponential growth.
Ambareen Musa, CEO, Souqalmal.com: Our Series B round of funding, nearly two years ago, really gave us a strategic advantage. Saudi Arabia based, TAQNIA Fund's participation helped us build a concrete plan to expand our footprint within the GCC, especially Saudi Arabia. And with GoCompare coming on board as a strategic investment partner, Souqalmal is now able to leverage the former’s technological know-how and expertise to bring its insurance platform at par with the best in the world.
The region’s financial regulators and start-up support community has also contributed immensely towards helping next-gen Insuretech players enter the market. Case in point - Our entry into Bahrain. The Central Bank of Bahrain (CBB) made sweeping regulatory changes to allow the entry of insurance aggregators in Bahrain. Souqalmal.com became the first ever company to be granted an e-broker license by the CBB back in June 2019.
The last fundraise really gave us a boost on our regional expansion and allowed us to bring the right talent on board.