Female Entrepreneurs: 5 Tips to Bootstrap Your Company Into a Success
Follow this advice from female CEO Agnieszka Wilk!
It’s Women's History Month, and while we commemorate the social, political, and economic achievements of women, let’s also highlight one common battle that they have had to overcome: financing their businesses. As receiving VC funding is still a very difficult process, some female entrepreneurs have found other ways to create positive cash flows.
Women.com sat down and had an inspiring chat with Agnieszka Wilk, CEO and co-founder of Decorilla Online Interior Design, a digital interior design service that connects customers with vetted professional interior designers who create curated 3D and VR spaces based on customer style preferences and budget.
Wilk’s accomplishments would be impressive in any field, but especially so in a virtual-reality industry where women are significantly underrepresented. She has grown Decorilla into a multi-million dollar business with a team of over 300 interior designers and 350 furniture partners. She is known for cultivating strong company culture, building diverse teams, and encouraging employees to practice self-care.
Agnieszka feels that women are often undervalued when it comes to what they are capable of, and bootstrapping – where founders turn cash flows positive fast and use their own funds initially – can help female founders succeed, even in the face of gender inequality or bias.
1. Build a Culture of Gratitude
Through the good and bad, whether work-related or personal, it is important to remain grateful and build a positive mindset that becomes contagious to those around you. Agnieszka said that she writes a gratitude journal every day to help develop her self-appreciation and a culture of gratitude within herself and her company.
Change blossoms from leadership. To start off team meetings or bonding experiences, Agnieszka encourages team members to share what they appreciate or any life hacks to help each other out. By sharing tips for work, personal life, or expressing gratitude about the weather, or sharing a memory, you’ll build a grateful culture and maintain a positive team bond. Ultimately, when team members can even feel grateful for being grateful, which Agnieszka calls “meta-grateful”, you’ll feel like you’ve won the lottery every day and that attitude is contagious.
Essentially, to bootstrap successfully, you want to build yourself up to the position of “Chief Inspiration Officer”, not just the CEO, and inspire people to be grateful and push themselves to do better – we are all capable of improving and finding new ways to achieve our goals.
2. Be a Remote-First Company
When planning to bootstrap your business, you need to cut down your daily expenses. Monthly office rent payments are one of the hard-hitting expenses you can face when starting out.
Agnieszka’s recommendation is to let your team experience working from home and don’t rush into owning a workspace. She has discovered that this isn’t for everyone – some team members may struggle with a home office. However, this is easily resolved with the co-working space opportunities and cafe setups available.
“I was told countless times that my startup would fail if my team was not working together in one place. Pre-pandemic, people didn’t believe in remote working as much. But we adopted the latest technology and systems like Freshdesk, Hubspot, Jira, and the G Suite. We created workflows that allowed us to work together remotely and efficiently.” exclaimed Agnieszka.
3. Cross-Train in All the Departments
Agnieszka said to women.com that she deliberately chose to immerse herself in every department of Decorilla, from the beginning, to understand all aspects of the operations today.
Because of this, she has been able to train and employ a group of managers to run each department and, despite a large network of designers, Agnieszka still deeply understands what is affecting the business. She also encourages her employees to cross-train in other departments because it helps them be more efficient and autonomous overall. She’s a real believer that work environments function most effectively when the hierarchy is scrapped, when employees can problem solve and think about the business holistically, and when they feel comfortable talking to the correct person when they do run into a problem.
Plus, if female founders both value and understand each department, they are more likely to build trust with all employees, regardless of who they report to. As they grow and scale, they should prioritize a culture of trust and make time for one-one-ones, which will prevent costly turnover.
4. Start Referral Hiring
When Agnieszka first started hiring, she felt it was important to bring people into her close professional circle that shared common values. This still holds true today as she looks for people who offer more than just the skill set; they must share the core values of resourcefulness and a positive attitude. Look for candidates who, through their CV, any digital assessments, or interviews, prove that they’ll make the most out of any situation and have a willingness to try.
As it so happens, if you keep your employees happy through weekly shoutouts, a flexible work environment, and scaling employee appreciation initiatives such as in-person work retreats or virtual team-building, word-of-mouth referrals start to work.
Agnieszka states that organic HR operations start to transpire and are far less costly if trusted friends of your employees start wanting to work with you. More than half of Decorilla’s hires are from referrals, allowing for natural and personal incentives for the team.
5. Set Targets and Hold Yourself Accountable
Bootstrapping forces founders to perform in a cash flow positive way - they need to prioritize making the business sustainable instead of attaining sky-high valuations and rapid growth. Therefore, female entrepreneurs must remember to set realistic targets and keep their eye on the bigger picture: Is this idea feasible? Is cash flow expected to be positive? Is the upfront cash needed enough if there’s no external investment?
There’s no universal correct first step; all roadmaps depend on what fits you and your business’ needs. Agnieszka points out that by bootstrapping, an entrepreneur remains in control, and it's easier to say no to outside investment if the match is not right. By having positive cash flows, female business leaders can focus on building a resilient, scalable brand with the right culture, which is the foundation of a successful global business.
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