Female Founders: Riham Satti Of MeVitae On The Five Things You Need To Thrive and Succeed as a Woman Founder
An Interview With Candice Georgiadis
Measure. Taking a wrong step can impact your business so building a plan but measuring your metrics allows you to assess risk, come up with a strategy and align your budget to it. We are measuring many factors, from customer success to financial metrics.
As a part of our series about “Why We Need More Women Founders”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Riham Satti.
Riham Satti is a keynote international speaker, neuroscientist and entrepreneur. She co-founded MeVitae in 2014, a deep tech company aimed at solving the biggest recruitment challenges — mitigating algorithmic and unconscious biases from the hiring process. Riham is involved in several initiatives including: Founder of LinkedIn’s Women in Tech group and member of TechUK Diversity and Skills Council. She is a business mentor including the London Business School entrepreneurship course (helping over 20+ early-stage founders who have raised over £1m). Riham holds a Master of Research in Clinical Neuroscience, University of Oxford and a First-Class Honour Master of Engineering in Biomedical Engineering, Imperial College London.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?
I’m what you would call a Fema-Neuro-Preneur — a female clinical neuroscientist turned entrepreneur in a male dominated start-up field.
My childhood and upbringing has everything to do with who I am. In fact, I went to one of the most under achieving community schools in Westminster (shut in 2006). I never grew up with mentors and hardly knew the importance of them, and was bullied in school. However, I was fortunate enough to be surrounded by friends and family to inspire me in the direction of success and fulfilment. I was always one of those kids that would play with LEGO and a Barbie doll at the same time. I was always curious about the world of tech and my family were also STEM orientated. Therefore, it wasn’t a surprise that I pursued a career in STEM — MEng Biomedical Engineering at Imperial College London and then came to Oxford to study Clinical Neuroscience.
I had my life set; I was going into academia, contributing to science– study for a PhD and then become a Neuroscience Professor. I was determined nothing would change it, until I opened my mouth with an idea. This idea is one that I didn’t know was going to stick with me for life and as I was continuing my journey I fell in love with the startup world and journey. Since then I never looked back.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
The most interesting/important one is growing as a person. When first jumping into the business world I was very introverted; shy when talking to ‘strangers.’ Networking was something I completely sucked in. Entrepreneurship means stepping out of one’s comfort zone. I had to build up my confidence and just get out there. I have had to learn fast and take risks. Now, I am more comfortable with networking and giving talks, e.g. giving a TEDx talk to thousands of people. Back then I never thought any of these things would be possible.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
Before co-founding MeVitae in 2014, my co-founder and I were dabbling in entrepreneurship. We built a swapping and trading site for students. At that time, it was my first interaction with investors, and one of the first questions was what is our revenue model, i.e. how will you make money. I kid you not, my answers were along the line of “I do not know. Facebook didn’t make money, and neither did Skype. We will figure it out.” You can easily see the problem with that. It was an immediate learning experience that in fact we had lots to learn. That was 10+ years ago, and now I learnt to surround yourself with people who have done it before
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
Everything to do with the world of business has been experimental, from sales strategy to networking. None of what we have achieved at MeVitae would be possible without being surrounded with numerous mentors, such as the co-founder of Shazam, Dhiraj Mukherjee, or development manager at Microsoft, Geoff Hughes. They have shared their wisdom with me and showed me great examples of what life can be like if you work hard at something. An example is that the problem with being a scientist/engineer is that you become very detailed orientated as you are trying to make sure that all your experiments run well, though in entrepreneurship you need to use a lean approach; build quickly, release faster and modify as you go along repeating the cycle. Getting feedback from mentors and investors has quickly taught me when to stop iterating and get out there.
I am going to be cheesy and say my family have been essential, from an emotional support perspective. You learn to develop thick skin in the world of entrepreneurship, and they have always picked me back up when there are days where I could doubt myself.
Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the primary focus of our interview. According to this EY report, only about 20 percent of funded companies have women founders. This reflects great historical progress, but it also shows that more work still has to be done to empower women to create companies. In your opinion and experience what is currently holding back women from founding companies?
Risk: I believe it’s in our nature to overthink things, and worry if things don’t work out, i.e. what are the consequences. We can often paralyze ourselves by doing that. I know personally for me, I was always worried about failing and I wasn’t much of a risk taker. I wish I knew that Fail=First Attempt In Learning. We sometime need to let go and not overthink. Just do it!
Funding: Another stat that I often see is that only 0.2% of black women founders have raised investment. Of those that have raised money, the average amount of funding its $36,000. Gobsmacked! Speaking as a black entrepreneur, the odds are stacked up against us. That is one of the many challenges female entrepreneurs like myself are faced with. Hence the need for change — great ideas can come from anyone and given circumstances anyone can reach their full potential, irrespective of age, gender, sexuality, religion etc. Hence the need to break glass ceilings. Sometimes we know what to do next, but just need funding.
Can you help articulate a few things that can be done as individuals, as a society, or by the government, to help overcome those obstacles?
A few things:
- Networking opportunities to share stories and support each other
- Grant schemes to help de-risk early stage entrepreneurs that need funding to start their business
- There are some great corporate initiatives such as Oracle for Startups that provide resources to entrepreneurs and open doors. More of these will be great for founders
This might be intuitive to you as a woman founder but I think it will be helpful to spell this out. Can you share a few reasons why more women should become founders?
Simple: If you see a problem or opportunity, why not pave the way and change the world.
What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about being a founder? Can you explain what you mean?
On the media we often see CEOs and founders such as Jeff Bezos and Steve Jobs that are all powerful founders with powerful personalities. I have seen countless articles of the ‘successful’ daily schedule, such as waking up at 4am, gym at 5am, emails from 6am-7am. You get the point.
We need more representation. I would love to see founders from different backgrounds, examples of how empathy can be an asset in leadership, how being introverted can also be powerful. Everyone has a story to tell and diversity of thought is an incredible thing. We need to see more of that.
Is everyone cut out to be a founder? In your opinion, which specific traits increase the likelihood that a person will be a successful founder and what type of person should perhaps seek a “regular job” as an employee? Can you explain what you mean?
This is a debate I keep thinking about ‘are entrepreneurs born or made.’ I’m a firm believer that founders can be made. There aren’t any specific muscles or bones that you need to succeed. Different successful entrepreneurs have different personalities and traits, therefore, there isn’t a specific characteristic that will result in success. I consider success to be a combination of hard work, luck and timing. A universal acumen that we all need to succeed in our career is passion. Entrepreneurs spend long periods of time on their business, and having self-motivation, passion and drive to succeed is fundamental.
Ok super. Here is the main question of our interview. What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)
- FAIL=First Attempt In Learning. This relates to risk. No point in over worrying about all the different things that could go wrong. Starting a business means that you are always learning.
- Having a thick skin. Rejection happens often (e.g. losing a sales deal or investors saying now). Before, I used to be so sensitive to this. I remember during our first investment round, I would spend so much time thinking what’s wrong with me during my train rides back up. It was very draining and I quickly learnt not to take things so personally
- It’s who you know, not what you know. This is important for mentoring, networking, raising funding, hiring etc. I wish I learnt this very early on as I truly think it would have helped us scale faster. Networking and having warm introductions was how we initially scaled MeVitae
- Storytelling. You are always selling, and you need to be able to communicate your business effectively so that people can resonate. The first time I got up on a stage to pitch MeVitae, it was such as daunting experience. Quickly, I learnt that how we speak, our confidence and our body language makes a huge difference
- Measure. Taking a wrong step can impact your business so building a plan but measuring your metrics allows you to assess risk, come up with a strategy and align your budget to it. We are measuring many factors, from customer success to financial metrics.
How have you used your success to make the world a better place?
Our vision at MeVitae is to create fairness in the workplace by helping organisations mitigate algorithmic and cognitive biases. Our offerings are a set of tools that plug into 15+ Application Tracking Systems (ATS) to de-bias recruitment processes. The most popular solution is blind recruiting — redacting 20+ types of personal identifiers (e.g. gender, ethnicity and age) from CVs, application forms and cover letters — with 95% accuracy, and which has proven to increase diversity and inclusion by 30% in firms.
On a personal level, there are a few things that I have been doing:
- I wanted to build a place where women can connect, and share successes and stories. Therefore, I set up a LinkedIn Group called ‘Women in Tech and Female Founders’ which has 3,000 members and growing!
- To give back I joined as a mentor at London Business School entrepreneurship course to inspire aspiring entrepreneurs and help them in their own startup journey
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the greatest number of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
We should teach entrepreneurship at schools. Providing students and children the exposure and skills to building a business would be so eye-opening. The impact this will have on individuals and societies will be huge!
We are very blessed that some very prominent names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them.
Simon Sinek. A true optimist and visionary. His storytelling capabilities are genius, and Starting with Why is such a fantastic concept that truly differentiates businesses.
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this!