Lisa Wang is a serial entrepreneur, a former 4x USA National Champion and USA Hall of Fame Gymnast, and the CEO of SheWorx, the leading global platform empowering 20,000+ women to build successful companies through actionable business strategies and access to top investors. She is driving the movement for gender parity in funding and championing a new model of empathetic leadership. Lisa is a columnist for Forbes and has been a keynote speaker at top conferences including the World Entrepreneur Forum, CES, IBM Think Leaders, and more. Previously, Lisa founded a food tech company incubated in the top food innovation accelerator Food-X. She started her career as a Hedge fund analyst on Wall Street. Lisa is a graduate of Yale University.
What are the the biggest challenges the female entrepreneurs in SheWorx‘s network faced during their entrepreneurial journey?
Lisa Wang: Currently, the biggest problem for women is lack of access – to capital, to networks, to mentors, to quality knowledge – especially within a supportive environment that intimately understands the unique challenges female entrepreneurs face. My goal is to democratize this access so it is available to any woman serious about building a high-growth company, no matter where she is in the world. Access though, is not enough. Startups cannot thrive if they don’t have the proper capital infusion to grow. Currently, 96% of the venture landscape is male, making it objectively more difficult for women and minorities to raise funding. The numbers reflect this: In 2016 VCs invested $58 billion in companies with all-male founders, compared to a mere $1.4Billion invested into women founded companies. Only 3% of venture funding goes to companies with a female CEO. And at each progressive funding stage, it gets worse. Female-founded companies raise 17% of seed dollars, 13% of early-stage dollars and only 7% of late-stage dollars. The irony is that studies have shown that companies that with at least one female founder on their team perform 63% better than average. Yet while there are countless obstacles that continue to persist, we are seeing increasingly more women succeed despite the odds. So long as we continue with an altruistic mindset, focused on making the pie bigger for all women – one woman’s success leads to greater success for all – the “impossible” will become possible,
Can you tell us more about SheWorx‘s philosophy of “ambition, action and altruism” and how your programs address all three values?
Lisa Wang: As a gymnast, I grew up in an environment of zero sum mentalities. ‘I win, you lose.’ Only one gold medal. In contrast, SheWorx, thrives on collaboration, not competition. I met my best friend when I was 24 years old and it was the first time that a woman openly expressed to me genuine happiness when I was successful. Not a single tinge of jealousy. It was so powerful, and it was a watershed moment when I realized the power of having a community of supportive women around me. These experiences directly influenced the foundation of SheWorx and our 3 core AAA values: Ambition, Action, Altruism. Ambition to dream bigger than anyone says is possible, Action to actually execute on those dreams, and Altruism, the realization that none of us reached success alone, and as we become more successful, it our duty to give back to each other and to the next generation of female entrepreneurs.
Can you share some of your experiences as a competitive rhythmic gymnast?
Lisa Wang: As a gymnast, I sacrificed everything for the pursuit of a dream. Gymnastics taught me the importance of having a clear, singular focus. At my peak, I was training 8-9 hours per day at the Olympic Training Center, and no matter what distractions came around, I was able to easily brush them aside because nothing else mattered except for my dream. As the leader of SheWorx, I am singularly focused on my mission to drive gender parity in entrepreneurial leadership. Everything I do is focused on what I can do to help more women succeed in their entrepreneurial journeys: that means speaking up when no one else is willing to, standing up when it’s uncomfortable, and sometimes setting aside my own interests if it is for the good of the greater community. The World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report indicates things have worsened for women in the last year, at the rate we’re going, economic gender equality will not be achieved for another 170 years. It is worrying that we are not making progress; unacceptable that we are moving backwards. I know that anything worth pursuing requires perseverance and pain. As an olympic level gymnast, I spent a decade of my life pursuing a dream at all costs, very few people understand the mental and physical limits I have reached. I believe that in my lifetime, we will change the status quo and achieve gender parity. I will continue to play my part as a leader of this movement, because if there’s anyone who knows how to push the limits to manifest change, it’s me.
Who is one female entrepreneur who you personally admire and why?
Lisa Wang: Dame Stephanie Shirley is one of the most successful UK tech entrepreneurs who dared to start a company in the 1960’s, before women could even open a bank account. She pioneered the idea of “a company for women by women” and eventually built $3B public company that went on to employ 8,500 employees. When she founded her company, Freelance Programmers, people mocked her because “software, at that time, was given away free with hardware. Nobody would buy software, certainly not from a woman.” Yet rather than succumb to popular opinion, Shirley took a more radical route, disguising herself as a man and going by the name “Steve” to get in the door. A belief in herself and the value of her company led her to defy any expectations about what others believed was feasible. I believe that you manifest what you believe. As an individual, you are in control of how you will face each day. You may not be able to control external factors, but if you believe in your mission, if you believe will be successful, then you will persevere in the face of any challenge. How you act in your lowest points defines the type of leader you will become. A real leader sees the opportunity in each obstacle, and grows stronger because of it.
Can you talk about one woman who has impacted your life?
Lisa Wang: Karin Bellantoni, my Coach and mentor has played an invaluable role in the growth and success of SheWorx. I started working with her before launching SheWorx and she helped me understand the underlying mental blocks that were keeping me from reaching my full potential as a leader. Too often, I see people walking around carrying the weight of their past wounds. They take the pain of past failures and channel it negatively into their next endeavors without fully understanding why they continue to see the same patterns manifest over and over again. Karin helped me see the patterns that I was repeating, and by holding up that mirror for me, she helped me overcome self-defeating beliefs and step into the leadership role I’ve always known I was meant to embody.
What advice do you have for the next generation of women entrepreneurs?
Lisa Wang: My advice to a young female founder is no different to my advice to any other founder. Founding a company is one of the hardest endeavors you can undertake and you have to be willing to do whatever it takes because if you don’t do it, nobody will. Being a founder means forcing yourself into uncomfortable situations, it means ignoring the no’s, it means sacrificing certain desires, and it means that you’re making a long-term commitment to working in one of the most difficult and uncertain professions. The media has glamorized what it means to be an entrepreneur, as a result, there is an influx of people creating companies who are not meant to be founders. What the media misses are the low moments when everyone is telling you ‘no’, the tense moments when you are running low on funds, the uncomfortable moments when you have to start assuming roles that you know nothing about, and the lonely depressing stretches of time when you question whether any of it is even worth it. So my advice for any founder is to really understand not only what you want to build, but why you want to build it. The why cannot simply be “to make money” because statistically, being an entrepreneur is one of the worst and least likely ways to get rich. Instead, you need to ask yourself, ‘What is my mission?’ ‘What impact do I want to have?’ and equally important, ‘Am I the right person to build this company?’ Fully fleshing out your vision, your North Star, understanding your why, will continue to motivate you even in the lowest moments. Just remember, there is no ‘I can’t’, there is only ‘I don’t want to.’
What are your favorite books, films, websites and/or resources?
Lisa Wang: Podcasts: Reboot, 20 Min VC, How I Built This, Books: Shoedog, The Unbearable Lightness of Being