Don’t Call Me a Nice Person

How to Be a Female Founder

Athena Talks


This is the blueprint on how to be a female founder. This is the top secret plan.

No Resting Bitch Face, because there is no time for resting!

#1. Check your hair. Always check your hair. Because no matter how good your facts, your team, your market research, your pro formas, your supporting PowerPoint deck, your references, your working nuclear fusion demo, people will always notice your hair, first and foremost.

Check that you’re having a good hair day, then press the Big Red Button on the nuclear fusion demo. Everyone in the room will be literally or figuratively blown away.

#2. You have the best job in the world. If you don’t think so, seriously, really, you should be doing something else. Because this IS the best job in the world. You get to one up those byotches from the High School Reunion. “What are you doing with your life now? Nothing? Well, I just founded a high tech startup. Check out our website. Download our app. We’re totally legit.”

#3. When the going gets tough, try not to actually kill anyone. Bodies require a lot of cleanup. Some fancy legal footwork. Favors owed to… people you would rather not owe favors to. Much better to have a solid NDA and/or non-compete in place, and use more subtle psychological techniques, such as shaming. Example: “Mr. Smithers is working overtime. So is Ms. Zeus. We cannot understand why you, Blameless Bob, are lagging behind. Surely you can see the effort of everyone else on this team. Why, Bob, why must you always be the one to let us down?” Practice saying these words in a soft, toneless voice, over and over. It will have the desired effect.

#4. If you are working for a nonprofit or the arts, you are probably in the wrong line of work. Want to make a difference in the world? Found a startup. Want to effect social change? Found a startup. Want to have a platform for your book, or your documentary film, or whatever you want to do next? Found a startup. People who graduate with liberal arts degrees fail to realize they have the exact right skillset to be effective entrepreneurial leaders: writing ability; presentation ability; people skills; big picture thinking; moral conscience (the last of these really can’t be taught). If you are idealistic, please think twice about taking that $12,000 stipend to save the world and think instead about getting friends, family members, small business loan programs, accelerator funds, and future clients to put $12,000 into your business idea. I guarantee you will never look back.

#5. Your job is not always to be nice. Your job is always to be ethical. Ethics, in my book, has a lot to do with honesty and managing expectations. If you give somebody fair warning of actions and consequences, that is far more valuable in the long haul than fitting the cultural definition of “nice.”

When a friend working for me got huffy because I wouldn’t give her the vacation time she asked for, and then decided not to show up for work, I called her on it. We had a serious discussion. The next morning, she resigned. I would have preferred that she stay, but she resigned.

That was not a nice thing to do I guess — to hold her accountable. But it was the right thing to do. You sort of get a sense of what the right things to do are over time, because they cause pushback. And they are more or less always worth it.

#6. Remember that you are at least 5–7 times more talented than the average straight white male who goes up before you, and who comes up after you. You have to be, to have made it this far. And 5 to 7 times out of 10, they will still get the sale, or the account, or the funding, instead of you. And that is okay for the moment, because the law of probability is in your favor. And if you go up for ten things, or even eight or nine, the one time you do score that win, you will bring it home with a vengeance, and you will reap such rewards, and you will use your victories to win greater respect and rewards for all of us.

#7. Other women are not your enemies. It’s easy to get hurt and cynical pursuing your dreams. Don’t be that way. See #2 — you are doing something immensely glamorous and fun, which every woman in the world would love to do, if circumstances allowed. If some people seem envious or can’t be quite as happy for you as you would like, don’t take it personally. They don’t see the hard parts. They can’t see the hard parts. Be present, and be yourself, and remember you have the best job in the world, but you are not your job.

#8. When the going gets tough, network! ** >> PRO TIP >> ** Whether you want to find potential collaborators, friends, clients, partners, or employees — or even date — professional networking venues are a great way to meet people informally. Bonus: there is usually free food and drink, so if you’re feeling awkward and socially anxious, you can just retreat to the buffet table and blend. Bring plenty of business cards and don’t be afraid to follow up with the folks you meet.

#9. Go Tech, or Go Home. For every woman who has a line of handmade jewelry, or eco-sourced fashion made from recycled milk cartons, or sells home-baked cookies door to door, I am telling you that you are sitting on a goldmine. There is a blockchain supply chain waiting to happen, a boundary-busting ICO, a meme that’s just about to go viral… you just need to take the leap. Think about how your idea can scale. Think about what you would do if you weren’t the skilled craftsperson putting it all together, but instead, The CEO. Could your cookie recipe out-Blue Apron Blue Apron? Could your fashion outlet make the leap from niche to next big thing? Could you design your fashion line so that every bell, bauble, stone, and trinket on a necklace is sourced sustainably from start to finish? Because that might be your differentiator. That might be the difference between having an Etsy page and being the next Etsy. Think about these things, and don’t aim low.

#10. Have fun. Seriously, I mean it. Why are you even doing this thing if it isn’t fun? It should be fun. Every moment will not fun, but there should be something awesome and badass about each and every single day. That’s why you’re here, after all. Shhhh, don’t spoil it for the rest of us.

Tess Gadwa founded tech company, Yes Exactly, Inc., now approaching its tenth anniversary. She is the founder of and the current acting Program Director at, a not-for-profit, data-driven Coronavirus relief portal.



Athena Talks

Product Architect at, a startup dedicated to creating better user experiences for data driven applications.