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Female Entrepreneurs In Tech And Beyond Vol. 1: What Ventures Are They Running And What Are Their Challenges

We often limit the stories we tell to female startup founders, CEOs of large product companies, and investors from the tech sector. Yet, there are so many badass women running businesses who don’t necessarily fall into this category but are also entrepreneurs who have know-how, face challenges, get over problems and can share valuable insights. This March, we decided to celebrate variety and these women, the ones who run different small businesses, not necessarily connected to tech products, and don’t usually get enough of the deserved media attention. 

Founders of healthy pastry shops, owners of digital agencies, event organizers, food innovators, coaches, logistics businesswomen, magic paint innovators, designers, community leaders… We find great diversity among the members of the recently started community “Female Entrepreneurship Bulgaria”. 

Why have they formed this group, what are the topics they wanted to tackle together, and generally, what are female entrepreneurs in Bulgaria doing, why have they chosen this path, what are their missions, do they believe in the business-family dilemma and what challenges are they facing.  Meet Pavlina Desheva, Elena Nikolova and Teodora Donkin.

 

Pavlina Desheva, founder Webdesh: Make quick decisions, and never follow the sunk cost fallacy

Pavlina Desheva © Private Archive
Pavlina Desheva © Private Archive

Pavlina Desheva is the founder of webdesh, a company that develops WordPress sites and design. She is a single founder which she calls “both a blessing and a challenge”. The team of webdesh is over 80% female and is on a mission to give everyone a chance to have their beautiful place online (we call it – your land on the web) and to have it fast. Currently a service company, the team is now thinking of a product that would make the creation of websites easier. Before webdesh, Pavlina had her own product startup – Doglar, an app for pet owners, which was started with another female partner. Pavlina is one of the founding members of the Bulgarian entrepreneurship organization Start It Smart, and also the initiator of the Female Entrepreneurship Bulgaria group on Facebook. For a while, Pavlina also had a project for refurbishment and design of old furniture called Kreslo.

Have you ever faced challenges of being a woman and how male-dominated your business sector is?

Yes, definitely, but somehow this motivates me even more. I have a degree in Mathematics and Informatics, for 10 years now I have been involved in entrepreneurship and various companies and initiatives in the IT industry, all dominated by men 🙂

What are the challenges that you are actually facing in developing your business and what helps you in that?

Different periods have different challenges. From whether someone needs my services to – will that someone choose me to entrust the project. In our company, there is a lot of remote work for the whole team and I, in particular, work from home – all these things have their own specifics and it is important not to overdo it. A challenge is how one person becomes a team of people and becomes one with it, how to stimulate each other to grow constantly. However, as you can see, I have not written anything about clients – because dealing with difficult clients is part of the business, but fortunately, at every tough moment I have the support of 2 basic things 1. my persistence and 2. an amazing ecosystem of people and not just family and friends, but generally the startup ecosystem. Thanks to it, we are growing, have clients and we haven’t used any advertising up to now (over 4 years). And many people have told me that working for 7-8 years for NGOs is not the smartest way to spend your 20s, but now I understand, not only it was worth it for my business, but for everyone, to whom this environment has helped. Thanks again for the support!

How many other business owners (regardless of the gender) do you interact with on a regular basis? What are the most common topics of these conversations?

With many. (Almost) All of our clients are business owners, my closest friends are in the startup ecosystem, startups like Noble Hire, The House (Social Club), Escreo, NoBlink, Enhancv, Farmhopping, Betahaus, Reloyalty, Arthesis. We work together and we are close friends with a lot of organizations like Start It Smart, ABLE, MoveBG. Most often we talk about problem-solving, new business challenges, and how we can help ourselves. Workaholics … 😉 Well, sometimes we gossip, again about the ecosystem 🙂

Do you think female entrepreneurship networks are important and why? How often do you talk to other women running their own businesses?

With this idea, we created the Female Entrepreneurship Bulgaria group – to get to know each other and interact more often. We have a lot of ideas, our regular meetings are great fun, we just have to find time to develop a project together. To be continued … 

 What is the superpower that helps you grow your business?

Being able to put yourself in the other’s shoes and not give up. With understanding and perseverance, you can reach any goal you have set. The rest is a matter of purpose and dedication.

Have you ever faced the dilemma of family or business?

Honestly, being 31 years old now I question myself – is it time, will I be able to match them, who would replace me – this one is the most challenging question. Yet, it is good that I have great examples, which inspire me and prove once again that anything is possible, as long as you have the desire and enthusiasm.

Which is your most significant failure and what helped you go over it?

Before Webdesh I ran a startup – a mobile app for pet owners. Definitely all the mistakes made in that business are my big lessons, including selecting partners, making quick decisions, and never follow the sunk cost ( I invested a lot, so there is no point now in quitting partner/goal/project). In general, people lose gambling money – by betting on the wrong hand, just because they have already bet a lot. 😉 The same is with business. Sometimes success is in taking the seemingly hard decision, and you just have to take it to keep moving forward 🙂

 

Elena Nikolova, ESCREO: Being a founder taught me to trust my instincts and emotions, instead of putting them aside

Elena Nikolova, co-founder of Escreo © Escreo
Elena Nikolova, co-founder of Escreo © Escreo

Elena Nikolova is co-founder of Escreo, a five-year-old startup that turns walls into whiteboards through a “magic” paint. The mission of the company is to help companies enhance their office environments and turn them into spaces for creativity and productivity. Therefore, the company recently started working on new lines of products too. Elena and her two co-founders Iskren and Yasen met during an entrepreneurship exchange program in the US several years ago and liked each other as a team before they came up with the product they would be working on. Of course, the three have faced different challenges while developing and trying to fund their product and business. Elena, who’s mainly responsible for the marketing of the company, is a community person, she often participates in mentorship programs – both as a mentor (e.g. in Teenovator) and a mentee, makes sure to share different opportunities with the local ecosystem and also is one of the most active members of the Female Entrepreneurship Bulgaria Facebook group. Here’s how she experiences being a female co-founder and entrepreneur:  

Have you ever experienced any challenges related to the fact that you are a female entrepreneur?

No, not really. But I think we should generally promotе entrepreneurship as a path for younger women in our community and society.

What are the main challenges you face in the development of your venture?

They are mostly related to the factors affecting our business development and the team behind the business. The challenges are changing with the years, and one needs to be flexible and shouldn’t forget about the big picture, otherwise, it’s too hard to stay motivated. Indeed, the fact that there’s gender balance in our team is quite helpful for it allows us to include different perspectives on the problems we have to deal with on a daily basis. 

My experience as an entrepreneur has helped me to develop my soft skills and thought me not to make rushed decisions, but also to trust my intuition and emotions, instead of putting them aside. This is very much related to self-confidence and confidence in own abilities and skills – something that women tend to develop a bit later on in their careers. 

Do you communicate on a regular basis with other business owners? Who and what are the usual topics?

I mostly talk to my two partners Iskren and Yasen. We usually discuss our strategic moves, plan participation in big events, offering new products, and also human resource challenges.

Do you think female entrepreneurship networks are important and why?

Developing your own business is a specific life path you choose, I wouldn’t even call it a career path. You face different challenges and often have to come up with survival strategies on your own. When more people share common problems and dreams and talk about it, it’s much easier to find also common solutions as an ecosystem and as a community. It’s important to be part of such communities and networks to gather feedback, but also to get inspiration that will allow you to further develop your business. Personally, for me, entrepreneurship is a way of living and I believe that the more people, especially women, get in touch with it, the better for the Bulgarian economic and societal development that would be. If more ladies are brave enough to experiment, to take risks, and to believe that they have solutions for existing problems, instead of complaining and get disappointed with the reality, this will have a direct impact on their own wellbeing but also on the whole society. 

What’s your superpower?

My superpower is communication.

Have you ever faced the dilemma of family or business?

My firm belief is that there shouldn’t be a separation. It’s not adequate to separate family from business, having in mind the burnout everyone trying to climb the corporate career ladder is experiencing, in some cases, multiple times. Yes, it’s easy to slip and focus only on the development of your business, because that’s where your actions have the most visible and quick impact. But I also don’t believe that people should be working 12-13 hours a day to be successful. On the contrary, creativity requires space and time. 

Which is your biggest failure?

Probably the one that is yet to come. And all the small failures along the way are related to my fear of conflicts. This is something I will have to work on. 

 

Teodora Donkin, founder of Donkin & Partners Law Firm: My Challenge was to realize not every client has to be won at any price

Teodora Donkin © Private archive
Teodora Donkin © Private archive

Teodora Donkin is a lawyer and founder of Donkin & Partners, a law firm for startups. Our mission is to help startups, scaleups, VC funds and entrepreneurs solve their legal cases and change the world. After 5 years of working for other law firms, and based on the gained experience (both negative and positive), Teodora was already able to visualize ​​how a law firm should work, what should be the quality of services provided, client relationships, employee relations, etc. So, she decided to create a new generation law firm that can meet the needs of startups, young people, and innovations. Thus, two years ago, Donkin & Partners was born. Teodora is also part of the entrepreneurial network ABLE, so her strong connection to the startup ecosystem is not a coincidence. 

What are the challenges that you are facing in developing your business and what helps you in that?

The challenge is to be able to focus on specific clients and to realize that not every customer has to be won at any cost.

How many other business owners (regardless of the gender) do you interact with on a regular basis? What are the most common topics of these conversations?

I meet with business owners on a daily basis and what I am seeing is that more and more young people are taking the initiative to start their own businesses. The topics are various because both businesses and people are different, but what I like most is the freedom of communication, the lack of taboo topics, and the satisfaction after every productive and enriching conversation.

Why do you think it is important (or it may not seem important to you) to have a community of women entrepreneurs?

In today’s digitalized society of innovation and social media, people are becoming lonelier. That is why I strongly believe that the more communities there are, which encourage real communication, not digital, the more that leads to positive results.

Regarding the community of women entrepreneurs, I think it can contribute to look at the success from a different perspective (from that of men). Such a community can initially foster new understandings of how to do business and be successful.

 What is the superpower that helps you grow your business?

Diligence.

 

>>> Want to get to know more female entrepreneurs? Here it goes to chapter 2. 

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