Founding a startup and following your intuition: Across the globe and back again
Founder Friday is a weekly guest post written by a founder who is based in or hails from the Silicon Prairie. Each month, a topic relevant to startups is presented and founders share lessons learned or best practices utilized on that topic. June's topic is role of founder.
In 2011, I founded Klink Mobile, a company that uses cutting-edge mobile technology to transfer minutes and money to mobile devices worldwide, and in retrospect, I didnʼt fully comprehend what I was getting into. I didn't realize that I was embarking on a path that would transform me, a twenty-something living with my parents in Kansas City, into the public visage of a potentially billion-dollar company; a path that would take me out of my comfort zone and into a war zone; a path that would show me, time and again, the importance of intuition in the face of adversity.
But, I did know that my heart was telling me something. And lucky for me, I listened. As a female founder of a mobile technology startup, I've had my ups and downs, but in recent months, as I've grown increasingly confident that my little mobile company is actually going to make it, I've started to compile a list of lessons I've learned along the way. Being a founder is hard work but if you follow your intuition – by taking risks, reaching out, and staying true to your values (even if they are conventionally "feminine") – you'll succeed, and so will your business.
First and foremost, as the founder of a startup, I've learned the importance of following your intuition and taking risks. Starting a new company is always risky, and of course, it's important to do your research and think carefully before you commit. But once youʼve decided to do it, how do you know when is the right time to make the move and whether or not it will all be worth it in the end? As clichéd as this might sound, this is where it becomes important to listen to what your gut is telling you and take an intuitive leap of faith.
In his best-selling book "Blink," Malcolm Gladwell talks about the ways in which our best decisions are often dictated by those gut-level hunches that we have in the flash of an instant, the blink of an eye. Sometimes, over- thinking can be our enemy and a lack of self-confidence our undoing. Gladwell's book has been criticized recently for downplaying the importance of carefully reasoned decision-making and the value of extensive research, and I take the point. But I still think that intuition has an important role to play in the decision-making processes of entrepreneurs, who often have no choice but to make risky decisions quickly and without any opportunity for gathering more evidence.
Klink was born out of my willingness to look at the information at hand and take an intuitive risk. I had been working in the mobile transfer and pre-paid mobile business for some time, when I recognized that there might be an easier way for customers to replenish their mobile devices other than visiting top-up machines in retail stores. Considering both the rapid rate at which mobile technology was improving and the growing demand for electronic money transfer in developing nations, I couldn't ignore the extra value that a direct mobile-to-mobile transfer process would bring to the global market. I suddenly knew that now was the time to head out on my own and find some great people to help me start a company that realized the technological potential of mobile-to-mobile money transfer.
Of course, taking intuitive risks is only part of what it means to be a good founder. As the leader of your startup, you are responsible for reaching out and surrounding your company with the very best people, partners, and investors you can find. As I've learned, you have to be willing to follow your intuition all the way around the globe, if need be, in order to make the connections that will help your company survive and flourish.
Which is how I found myself (left) in Afghanistan just days after the accidental burning of Korans by U.S. troops led to an outbreak of protests that, according to The Washington Post, left six Americans and thirty Afghans dead. I had been warned against traveling to Afghanistan by so many friends and colleagues that, as I was boarding the plane that would take me from Barcelona to my nine-hour layover in Istanbul, I almost turned around. It would have been so much easier to just back out and go home to Kansas City, but in the end, I am so glad I listened to my gut and got on board.
I was heading to Afghanistan in order to make contact with the nationʼs key mobile operators, and Iʼm proud to say that today Klink has made great strides with many of these companies. But my trip to Kabul brought Klink so much more than new business partners. Experiencing first-hand the stark contrasts between the Afghan and the American banking systems, I got to see just how beneficial mobile-to-mobile money transfer could be in a developing nation. I can now make it clear to investors just how powerful their capital is; their investments not only help to build a business but also help to improve the daily lives of those in less well-to-do nations.
It was inspiring to see the really life-changing effects that mobile-to-mobile technology could have in the region, but the most moving part of my trip was getting to know the people. I will never forget the kindness of my host family, the way they shared their home, their meals, and their warmth with me. During the first night of my stay, I was amazed when aunts, uncles, and cousins from the surrounding neighborhood came to introduce themselves, say goodnight, and literally help tuck me in. Even though our countries have their differences, both Americans and Afghans understand the value of reaching out.
Staying true to your values
As a founder, you can become so focused on representing the company and doing whatʼs best for business, that you forget to stay true to yourself. My experience with Klink Mobile has taught me that, no matter where you go or how far youʼve come, itʼs essential to maintain a clear sense of your personal style, goals, and values if you want to run a successful business.
I have to confess, as a female founder of a mobile technology startup in the Midwest, I've occasionally fallen prey to the worn-out notion that women have to change their personalities in order to fit into a male-dominated business culture. When I started presenting at conferences, I was sometimes asked by other founders and potential investors (most of them male) if I really thought I was the right person to represent Klink Mobile to the public. Was I sure, they would ask with a grin, that I wasn't too sensitive, too sincere, or even too nice? Soon I was asking myself the very same questions: Could I really run a business? Was I really CEO material? While there are many men and women who have been extremely supportive of my role as a founder, I occasionally faced resistance from the business community and sometimes started to doubt myself.
But when I listened to my gut, I got the right answer. It isn't so much that I need to change as that entrepreneurial culture is still struggling to adapt to a new era of tech-savvy, female founders who know that being sensitive and sincere and, yes, even nice to those you do business with is an excellent way to guarantee both financial and professional success. As more and more women and men embrace their own unique styles of entrepreneurship, I'm proud to be "klinking" away on a business venture that is bringing a more exciting, more connected, and more intuitive mobile technology to life.
Credits: Photos courtesy of Bishop
About the author: Jessica Bishop is the founder of Klink Mobile, a company that uses mobile-to-mobile technology to enable people from around the globe to share minutes and money instantly. Helping Klink Mobile to develop strong relationships with international mobile network operators across Africa, Asia, Central and South America, the Caribbean, and Europe, Jessica is, at heart, a proud Midwesterner, born and raised in the great state of Kansas. Catch up on her business travels at her new blog, jessiebishop.tumblr.com.
Bishop can be found on Twitter, @jessiebishop.
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Thanks to our Founder Friday series sponsor, Heartland Technology Alliance, a nonprofit working as an advocate for innovation and competition in technology and communications across much of the Silicon Prairie and throughout the Upper Midwest.