Lisa Wang has an unusual background. A former USA National Champion gymnast, she used her ten-years of experience as an elite athlete to build a unique platform to help female entrepreneurs. Enter SheWorx.
Lisa Wang does nothing half-heartedly. The former USA National Champion gymnast, has not only founded SheWorx (a global collective that connects female entrepreneurs to capital, networks, mentors and knowledge) but has also become the host of the Enoughness Podcast and a high-performance leadership coach. She’s on the Forbes 30 Under 30 List of 2018, on the 20 Female Entrepreneurs to Watch in 2017 and 2018 by CIO Magazine, a Red Bull Hero of The Year, and has been featured in top publications including the Wall Street Journal, CNN Money, USA Today, Washington Post, The Atlantic, and others. She is a national writer for Forbes and Fortune.
For her leadership in driving gender parity in the entrepreneurial space, we honor Lisa Wang with the 2019 Hall of Fame.
Red Shoe Movement— How does a world-class gymnast end up leveling the playing field in fundraising for women?
Lisa Wang—Gymnastics is a very competitive environment. It’s a zero sum game: There’s only one medal – If I win, you lose. When I was a gymnast, my teammates and best friends were also my competitors. It’s a very toxic competitive environment. As I progressed and retired from gymnastics, I continued to notice these competitive patterns in the workplace there was a sense of scarcity among women who fought to outperform each other rather than collaborating.
When I became an entrepreneur, my fundraising experiences made me realize the unique challenges women face when raising money. I wanted to be around like-minded, ambitious women who could support each other to achieve our goals. But it was very difficult. SheWorx was born as a result of my personal struggle. I wanted to create something for women who needed to raise capital, to have access to the skills and to investors and build meaningful relationships in a collaborative way. Behind every successful woman there is a group of other successful women who have their back. Our motto is: Closing the funding gap by collaborating not competing. Our duty is to support this generation of female leaders and teach people to think from a mindset of abundance. ‘My success is other woman’s success.’
Lisa Wang shares key traits to succeed as an entrepreneur
RSM— What are some key traits you need to succeed as an entrepreneur?
Lisa Wang—The most successful people are the ones who fail and always get back up, over and over again. I had to have a clear North Star as a gymnast. Every time I fell down I had to remember that North Star and get up again. What people see on the outside is the five minutes of the performance on the mat the day of the competition. But there are millions of hours of practice and tears behind those five minutes.
As an entrepreneur, you are inspiring people on stage but they don’t see the hours of pain, tears, and sweat that get you to that point. That’s a lesson everyone needs to learn. Understanding that any kind of journey that leads to success comes with millions of hours of hard work and failure. Only if you’re willing to slog through that and if you have a true North star will you be able to attain the level of impact you want to make.
Also, people don’t ask nearly enough: “What do I want? And Why do I want that?” A lot of people go into entrepreneurship because they want the external glory or the money. But that’s when they burn out. You need to find something you’re really passionate and curious about that will pull you through even the lowest lows.
RSM— You went from hardcore competition to hardcore collaboration. What were some of the hardest lessons you had to learn?
Lisa Wang—The hardest lessons always have to do with people. One of my mistakes is mixing friendship and business and not differentiating intentions. Specially as you become more successful you attract more people to you who come with many layers of intention. Sometimes it is hard to decipher what those intentions are or if they are true. I had to learn the hard way to keep a close group of friends and advisors around me and to be more skeptical. I believe you are the reflection of the people you surround yourself with, so that’s why I’m careful with who I let into my closest circle.
RSM— SheWorx focuses on helping female entrepreneurs secure funding in a field that’s mostly male. What are some advantages women have in a fundraising situation? Can you give us concrete examples of seeing them in action?
Lisa Wang—Women are natural leaders when it comes to being team-oriented. We are great operators… we are more realistic about financial projections and what we can do in a certain amount of time. Entrepreneurs tend to think they can do more than they really can. In fundraising, women often get asked different questions as a result of unconscious bias. But in some ways, the fact that we have to prove more means we get tougher, we come in knowing all the data and numbers. We are consistent when it comes to showing progress. One example is Court Buddy, founded by two African American founders (a woman and a man.) She became the 14thever African American female to raise $1M who met their lead investor through SheWorx. Now she just closed her $6 million series A round.
Key negotiation tactics you can't afford to ignore!
RSM— Your generation is changing the way we think about our current workplaces. What would you say are some of the big changes that it will put into place in the next twenty years?
Lisa Wang—The entire workplace composition and dynamic will be transformed, and is already transforming. We’ll see a change in leadership. More women, more minorities, more diverse sexual orientation. There will be a massive shift in the workplace. The structure we see today of people working 9-5 in big corporations will completely fragment or disappear. People won’t stand for corporations that don’t represent the true makeup of the actual population.
70% of Gen-Z wants to be an entrepreneur. For 1 in 3 their dream job is to be a “YouTube star.” This is the most entrepreneurial generation in history. They are skeptical of big corporations, red tape, and bureaucracy. They care about authenticity, people creating good products for themselves and the environment. They hate being sold to. They are the most socially conscious and connected generation in history. Also, women are changing. Women are the more ambitious and more educated than we’ve ever seen. They are delaying children; there are more women with kids in their 30s than 20s for the first time in history; women are 60% of college students.
Advice to women contemplating entrepreneurship by Lisa Wang
RSM—For a woman contemplating whether she should strike on her own or stay employed, what exercise would you have her do in order to help her make a wise decision?
Lisa Wang—I’m a high-performance leadership and mindset coach and I have people do this exercise. I’d ask you to close your eyes and imagine your ideal day 5 years from now. Imagine it in as much detail as possible. From what you’re wearing, what you’re eating, where you live, who’s on your team. All of those things will help you understand your North Star and what changes you should start to make today. When you start by envisioning your perfect day you can start working backwards. If you care about having an office close by or a flexible day, etc., it will help you create your roadmap to get there.
RSM— In terms of leadership lessons, is there a particular one you’d like to share?
Lisa Wang— Embrace your own unique style of leadership.I learned to embrace my own style of leadership, which is not the same as that of the dominant model of leadership that’s been created by men. The narrative says that the most successful CEOs are the ones who are overconfident, command the team, and are aggressive. And my style is caring, listening, collaborative, individualized, it’s quieter than the aggressive, dominant one, it’s wiser. Over time I realized there was nothing wrong with me but something wrong with the model we were worshipping. There’s something to learn from that model but it’s also important to realize there is not just one type of leader.
Take the leadership style quiz to discover yours!