IWD 2023: The hidden cost of being a Female Tech Entrepreneur
Entrepreneurship is not for the faint-hearted. And in my journey, the real cost of entrepreneurship isn’t purely financial.
I decided to become an entrepreneur because I’ve always been fascinated by entrepreneurs. I think it takes a certain personality trait and character to be able to pursue entrepreneurship. The entrepreneurs that I met before starting my own journey saw the world differently, and I wanted to see the world from their lens. I remember associating this with the movie The Matrix. When Neo was given the opportunity to see a different world? And all he had to do was take either the red pill or the blue pill? Well, my case wasn’t as exciting as the movie, but I remember sitting in my cubicle thinking, “why am I doing this?”. I felt I was spinning my wheels and not really achieving anything. That’s when I realised that I’d lost my sense of purpose, and I needed to get it back. So just like Neo, I took the red pill.
I started my entrepreneurial journey eight years ago. I remember ‘breaking’ the news to my parents over dinner. Silence filled the room. I expected my parents to be confused about my decision, especially since my career was going very well. My parents have always had “conventional” careers, stable corporate jobs with good pay. So, I don’t blame their reaction to my news. After what felt like an eternity, a question was asked, “when are you starting a family?”.
My husband and I weren’t planning on starting a family until the company was off the ground. We had a goal, and we were focused on that goal. That same year, however, we welcomed our first child. We effectively had two ‘babies’ in the same year, which I often refer to as our ‘digital twin’.
Raising a child, getting a tech company off the ground, and managing a household proved extremely taxing. The guilt of not being with my child 24/7 crept into play daily. The fear of missing out on meetings and work-related matters kept me awake at night. “What if the company fails because I couldn’t dedicate all my waking hours to it?”, “what if I make the wrong decision because my headspace was somewhere else?”, “what if my child grows up hating me because I wasn’t there 24/7?”. These questions then transformed themselves into negative self-talk such as “I’m a selfish person and I don’t deserve a child”, “who am I to think I can take care of a child and grow a company at the same time.” and the list went on. The negative self-talk became more pronounced over time, and I fell into depression.
It took me a long time to find the mental strength to push through. But as time went by, and with support from my family, I found my cadence.
With a committed team and a supportive family, I was able to balance my time as effectively as I could. Knowing that my team and family had my back gave me comfort and confidence that everything was going to be ok. I grew more confident in delegating tasks and letting go of things knowing that they were in good hands. Life was busy but good. Both my ‘babies’ were thriving, not realising that I was ailing.
I ignored my exhaustion and fatigue for a very long time. It was a price I was prepared to pay as a mother and an entrepreneur. Until one Friday afternoon when a colleague noticed a growing lump on my neck and strongly suggested I clear my calendar to go and see a doctor. Three days later, I was diagnosed with stage 3 breast cancer.
Business as usual was the key message I told my team as I shared the news. I went to work as usual and only took days off when I physically had to. I scheduled my chemo on a Thursday and rested on Friday, so I had the strength to spend the weekend with my family; the odd days I couldn’t move my neck due to severe burns caused by radiation therapy; and the weeks I had to stay in hospital to undergo a double mastectomy. I wanted to protect my team and family from what I was physically going through. Apart from the bald head and burnt patches of skin, I had a semblance of normality.
I heard someone say “that life is a series of adjustments, and the best are the ones that can adjust. The people that can fall and get back right up.”
I used to think that my “adjustments” were a series of misfortune. The universe was telling me I should never have taken the red pill. But nothing could be further from the truth. Welcoming our first child at the same time as starting a company was not ideal, but in hindsight, it was a miracle. My breast cancer treatments have left me unable to bear another child. The impact of cancer taught me an essential survival skill, to focus my energy on what I can control and not worry too much about what others think or say. It taught me how to be stoic. And in the roller coaster journey of entrepreneurship, having a strong mindset to deal with tough situations via logic and reason rather than emotion has proven to be very valuable.
Yes, my path was a lot ‘bumpier’ than I would have imagined. And yes, it did set me back in some areas. But just like Neo in the Matrix… I now see the world through a different lens.