What does it take to be an entrepreneur? If only the answer were as simple as the question.
There are certainly a few go-to hard and soft skills required for the success of any business. You’ll need some understanding of accounting and finance, as well as strategy and user insights to develop your product or service. You’ll also want critical thinking to help solve problems, empathy to nurture a healthy team, and storytelling for communication.
But then there’s the elephant in the room: the gender gap. What’s expected of men vs. women in the workplace?
The different words we use to describe men and women paint quite a picture. The Harvard Business Review reported that, just among leaders, men are “assigned attributes such as analytical, competent, athletic, and dependable.” Women, on the other hand, get “compassionate, enthusiastic, energetic, and organized.”
In other words, there’s still a big divide in who’s allowed into the club, and for what. Raegan Moya-Jones, founder of the swaddle blanket and baby goods company aden + anais, shares her struggle against adversity in What It Takes: How I Built a $100 Million Business Against the Odds. The book follows her entrepreneurial journey, from raising capital in the lean times to reaching the USD$1 million revenue milestone, then on to selling the company, and finally (reluctantly) leaving it all behind.
Moya-Jones has a clear chip on her shoulder for all the men who’ve done her wrong, but the takeaway here is not that men are the enemy. Rather, it’s that stereotypes about men vs. women in the workplace are wrong and harmful for everyone.
When a company gets shaky and a woman is at the helm, the woman is blamed and is often removed, whereas when a company gets shaky and a man is at the helm, it’s the circumstances that get the blame, and he is given the support and opportunity to fix the issues.Raegan Moya-Jones, author of What It Takes
What It Takes to Be an Entrepreneur
Among all the TED Talks, social movements, and memes about the need for gender diversity in business, too few seek to debunk stereotypes about what it takes to be an entrepreneur. And that’s an important element of the discussion.
How much of a risk taker do you actually need to be? Should you really never take no for an answer? Is it absolutely necessary to quit your day job so you can fully commit to your business?
Moya-Jones uses anecdotes and research to prove that entrepreneurs aren’t the all-in go-getters we tend to expect. Much like our perception of leadership, “entrepreneurial skills” is an evolving concept.
“The myth of entrepreneur as risk-taker,” she says, “[has] the potential to do . . . damage.”
Expectations for a wolfish Wall Street personality, even to lead a small business, doesn’t only hold back would-be startup founders. Those same expectations also make investors hesitate.
Adam Grant learned this the hard way when he turned down a chance to invest in online prescription glasses retailer Warby Parker. Business idea aside, he couldn’t get past the general appearance, slow decision-making, and hesitation to make a full-time commitment during the pitch.
As Grant told Forbes, “When I compared the choices of the Warby Parker team to my mental model of the choices of successful entrepreneurs, they didn’t match. In my mind they were destined to fail.” As of 2023, Warby Parker was valued at USD$1.7 billion, and Grant counts his missed investment opportunity among his greatest regrets. His traditional expectations of aspiring entrepreneurs simply got in the way.
At the end of the day, I think it’s difficult for most men to yield the ultimate power to a woman.Raegan Moya-Jones
What It Takes to Let Go
The revolution against the gender gap and its deep-rooted stereotypes is long from over. A big part of the problem is that those who benefit from the current system will lose some of their control.
The reluctance to let go is another thing men and women have in common.
To say Moya-Jones had an uphill climb as an entrepreneur would be a gross understatement. aden + anais swaddles are made from muslin, a cotton weave that creates a uniquely breathable fabric. It was the swaddle cloth of choice in Australia, but no one in the US had heard of it in 2004—not even textile suppliers.
In other words, she had to learn how to start a business and build a market while holding down a full-time job. Later, she would fend off an attempt by her cofounder (another woman) to force her out—an account that puts to rest any suggestion that women lack the ruthlessness of men.
Despite these and other obstacles, aden + anais kept climbing. The company expanded beyond luxury boutiques, went global, landed products in the hands of celebrities and royalty, and built an enviable work environment.
Then came letting go.
Moya-Jones sold the company, hoping it would bring long-term financial stability for her family and a stable future for the brand. But her relationship with the new owners quickly turned sour. Focus shifted from brand loyalty to profit margins, from a tight-knit startup culture to inexperienced corporate networks. Much of the trouble came from clashes with dismissive male counterparts who preferred the advice of other men. After a few years of futilely trying to wrest control back, she was let go.
A fractured culture has an enormous and negative impact on the success of a business.Raegan Moya-Jones
What It Takes to Move Forward
There are young people all across the world with great ideas. At some point most of them will wonder, “What does it take to be an entrepreneur?”
What It Takes presents a clear message that we need most are new, gender-free definitions of entrepreneurial traits. The negative things women experience don’t happen in a vacuum—they impact the entire business world and put undue pressure on men, too. Free of tired stereotypes, no one would have to work against the odds to prove they have what it takes as a man or woman in the workplace.