And this is when I decided to become an entrepreneur. My passion now is paying it forward and sharing the gift my father gave me and helping other women to become financially independent.
Amber: That’s such a great story, thanks Silvina. Looking now at your first company, when you founded Intuic in 2008, what were some of the first obstacles you encountered?
Silvina: That was the first company I founded when I left corporate America. I had been VP Communications at Visa and I wanted to build a digital agency to support corporates in multi-country deployments.
So, my first challenge as an entrepreneur coming from the corporate world was how do I not feel embarrassed charging for my services. I had to fight something which is very common among women: imposter syndrome. Am I good enough? Am I capable enough?
But once I started to gain some traction, it gave me confidence. I started to leverage the power of my network.
One of the things I always say to women entrepreneurs is that you must think creatively and learn to bend the rules without breaking them. We have to build better and reach higher to get things done because we are not measured with the same measuring tape.
Women are measured by their results while men are measured by their potential. I think the main barrier always comes from inside and the perception of our own limitations. I think female entrepreneurs are often influenced by cultural barriers, and the limits we set ourselves because the notion of leadership was not always associated with women.
Other obstacles that I had to overcome were all about my own behavior; how to ask for money, how to ask for more money, how to be aggressive without feeling guilty, how to become comfortable with the notion that I can do anything. I learned how to build a castle for myself and I helped other women build their own castles as well.
But things are definitely changing and COVID19 has been a massive catalyst for that. We have all seen that countries that were led by women achieved better results in managing the crisis. We apply empathy, and a different leadership style that is essential in a time of crisis.
Amber: That’s so fascinating and it ties into a recent post I saw from the Harvard Business Review which including research suggesting that "Women Are Better Leaders During a Crisis."
Tell us about some of the other major milestones in your career.
Silvina: I think the most recent and the most important one was when we designed a creative fundraising strategy to scale my company. We deployed a global private offering, selling equity in pre-IPO stock to achieve a billion-dollar valuation for the company without having to turn to VC for funding.
VCs are significantly less likely to invest in women-led companies, let alone LatinX women-led companies. So, becoming the first LatinX woman to found a billion-dollar company is the accomplishment of my life. But it’s only one step towards the bigger goal of helping many other startups to leverage the wisdom of the crowd and democratize access to investment opportunities and supercharge their businesses.
And for me, one very important aspect of that is the work that I'm doing to power women entrepreneurs. We are developing something called the Unicorn’s Lab which will be a virtual accelerator for women entrepreneurs. I want other founders to have it easier because I didn’t have it easy. We need to build a bigger table instead of fighting for a chair at the table. I want to see many more women succeeding.
Sometimes I learned the things I learned the hard way, but I also had the gift of people who helped me and supported me, partners that elevated me when I needed to be lifted up. I have the responsibility to pay it forward by making things easier for the next generations to start their businesses.
Amber: I want you to expand on that a little. What do you think some of the key differences that female founders face that their male counterparts are not aware of?
Silvina: That’s a long list, Amber. I will say that when we ask for money we are always apologizing in advance and then promising that it will be the best investment ever. We are shy. We women have a huge issue with the notions of money and power because we were taught that it was not cool to be powerful. But this is wrong. Power can be used for good and it can be used to transform societies and to empower people
Women are shy when asking for money. Women are shy when showcasing their accomplishments and this is not only true for entrepreneurs. It’s true across the board. It happened to me as a corporate executive. When I was promoted from leading communications in LATAM to leading all international communications and reporting to the CEO at age 27, I thought that someone would knock on my door one day and fire me, as soon as they realized that I had no idea what I was doing. Of course, this never occurred to them. I think we just have to believe that we can do things and that we deserve to be playing in the big leagues.
Men always say, “We were great,” while women say, “We were lucky.” This has to change.
Amber: What tips do you have for entrepreneurs that are starting their first company?
Silvina: The most important thing is to find your passion. It’s a lot of work and you truly need to believe in what you are doing and find the market that needs what you are delivering. Only big companies have a big impact. I strongly encourage entrepreneurs to think big and shoot for the moon. It’s actually much easier to build a big company than it is to build a smaller one. The most difficult part is to get started.
People will look at you and make you feel like you are not old enough or not male enough. They won’t believe that you have what it takes or that you are for real. I encourage all entrepreneurs, both women and men to hold their ground. Be assertive. Be crazy, think big and ask for a lot of money. Build networks, leverage from the tribe, and democratize opportunities for others. Building with other people is much better than building alone.
Amber: Wow, thank you. Are there any young entrepreneurs or founders that you think more people should be aware of?
Silvina: Yes, yes. I am a mentor of many different programs. I am a global ambassador for Vital Voices where I support two young entrepreneurs in Puerto Rico. They are absolutely extraordinary. One of them, Mariangie Rosas, has a network of coworking spaces and services for startups called co.co.haus. She is an architect and an amazing entrepreneur and one of the key drivers for rebuilding the island after the hurricane
I love many women entrepreneurs and many men too, especially in Latin America where I have a strong base.
One is Ricardo Weder who launched the most successful online supermarket in Mexico called Jüsto and he’s now expanding across Latin America.
And one of my favorites is the former CIO of Cisco, Guillermo Diaz, now CEO of Kloudspot. They use sensors and AI to deliver real-time intelligence on maximizing the use of spaces, for example, under pandemic restrictions.
There are many fantastic entrepreneurs.
Amber: Looking at your current work with TransparentBusiness, what are some of the most interesting trends that you're seeing in remote work now?
Silvina: First is that this is a reality. It’s the new normal and it’s here to stay. It’s going to profoundly redefine how companies grow as well.
From the notion of working from home, we are shifting towards the notion of working from anywhere. That will change the market for hotels and for office spaces. It will change the market for tourism because people will start to take "workations". Work is being redefined as the thing you do, NOT the place you go to. And this will have a massive impact on how companies scale.
The notion of the on-demand share economy means access to talent plays a significant role, especially for companies like my own SheWorks! where we help with hiring professional women from around the world that are remote first.
And another important side effect of COVID19 is that it will help hack the gender and employment issue. Fifty-one per cent of moms abandoned the workplace in the past because of a lack of flexibility. Now that remote is the new normal, they will not need to choose between their professional life and their career.
They will be able to work with greater flexibility because the pandemic eliminated the friction for people with families. This will then feed the leadership pipeline, because if previously we lost 51% of moms between 25-35, keeping them on a career track will increase the number of women being promoted at that stage in a working career.
I believe that remote work will hack gender unemployment because it allows companies to hire flexibly from anywhere in the world and allows women to do what they love the most and be close to the people they love the most as well.
Amber: Do you have any final words of wisdom that you want to pass on to the women out there?
Silvina: Think of yourselves as doers and makers and know that there are no limits other than the limits you set yourself.
When you are interested in building a company, you should focus on one single concept which is also the basis of the book that I am working on called “Skirt the Rules". Right now, it’s going to be a book, but it’s also a movement and a community for women entrepreneurs. There is loads more to come and I am looking forward to sharing it with everyone.
Amber: Silvina, thank you so much for your time. It’s been inspiring hearing your journey and learning how you are paying forward into the entrepreneur ecosystem all the wisdom and experience you have gathered.
Silvina: And thank you and the Microsoft for Startups team for setting this up. It’s been fantastic!