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Female Entrepreneurs In Tech And Beyond Vol. 2: 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 Mariya Raskovska, Karina Karagaeva and Olga Vassilevska.

 

Mariya Rashkovska, co-founder of Questups and ProductTank Sofia: Don’t work alone, always have at least one partner

Mariya Rashkovska © Emil Rashkovski
Mariya Rashkovska © Emil Rashkovski

Mariya Rashovska is one of well-known names in the local tech ecosystem. An experienced product manager and tech enthusiast, Mariya could be linked to several ventures. Currently co-founder at Questups, a startup that helps other software companies develop successful products, and co-founder of ProductTank Sofia, Mariya has male partners in both projects. At Questups, Mariya is helping IT companies develop their own products through consulting, training, and by giving them access to selected sales and marketing experts. ProductTank, the Sofia chapter of the global NGO of the same name, was started locally 5 years ago, has around 2000 members and conducts annual reports on the emerging product manager career path. 

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

Almost my entire career is in the software industry, which is a male-dominated sector. I have often been the only one or one of the 2-3 women in a team of 10-20 men. I have not faced any challenges in this regard – on the contrary, I have learned a lot from my colleagues, and I think that the different approach and way of thinking of whether female or male enriches both sides.

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

Questups is still a very young business – only a few months old – and currently the main challenge is to build trust and a brand. On the other hand, we are still in the process of figuring out exactly what type of company is our “ideal customer” and in the searching process, other interesting opportunities appear, and it is very easy to deviate from your long-term goals. In such moments, my partner Dimitar and I are corrective for each other – we generally take turns in reminding one another what exactly we are doing 😊 At ProductTank Sofia, my partner Diyan often brings fresh ideas or a different approach, which saves me from moments of monotony. So, my advice is – don’t work alone, always have at least one partner 😊

Why do you think it is important (or it may not seem important to you) to have a community of women entrepreneurs? How often do you talk to other women running their own businesses?

We don’t communicate as often as I would like because everyone is busy with their businesses 😊 I have close friends and more distant acquaintances who run own businesses and in a perfect world, I would like them to know each other because they definitely do a lot of valuable and interesting things. Whether it’s important to have a community of female entrepreneurs I don’t know, but it’s great to have role models of both genders. The fact is, however, that I definitely admire women who manage to be super successful not only in business, but in the family, and at the same time, they are bright personalities. One wonders “how do they do it?”

What is the superpower that helps you grow your business?

Interesting question. I would mention two superpowers – perseverance and empathy for the clients. Persistence helps me to put in the amount of work that takes to reach the goal without giving up. Empathy for the clients allows me to get into their shoes so to understand their problems in detail and thus to choose the best solution. If I don’t have a solution to their problem, I don’t undertake the task.

Have you ever faced the dilemma of family or business?

I think every woman faces this question. For many years, I have thought that a woman shouldn’t choose and could have everything. I still believe it and work in that direction, but things are different in theory and in practice –  the balance is very fragile. The truth is also that we are not robots and we must have time for ourselves as well, which is another variable in the equation.

 

Olga Vassilevska, CEO of MW LOGISTICA: It took me six years outside my comfort zone, but the male world is no longer strange to me

Olga Vassilevska © Private Archive
Olga Vassilevska © Private Archive

Olga Vassilevska is a CEO and a majority stakeholder at MW Logistica, a 10 years old transport and logistics company with an annual turnover of over €1M. She took over the family business after her father, the founder of the business, passed away unexpectedly, and although a third generation in the freight business, she continues what he had started without any support, advisor or someone to count on.  Seven years later the company is developing quite well, with a double increase in the turnover and profit, and steady growth of the team. Olga’s focus is on team development, and today she has two partners to count on – the German freight forwarder Emons Spedition and her business development manager Daniel Yordanov.  

Olga is also one of the most active members of Tuk-Tam, an organization dedicated to helping well-educated young professionals find their way back to the home country, and runs different spinout initiatives within Tuk-Tam

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

Challenges are mostly related to the development of the team, motivation or building a self-motivation model for everyone in order to avoid micromanagement as an approach.

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

The transport industry is highly male-dominated. Over time, I learned how to communicate effectively with people, and the male world is no longer strange to me. But this took me six years in an area outside of the comfort zone, strong will, and hard work to gain expertise and confidence in myself and my role.

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

I communicate regularly with other business owners. The topics are always related to the difficulties in developing a team, building trust in people, but often the topics are about the lack of business loyalty. As entrepreneurs, we are all equipped with resilience, diligence and a willingness to sacrifice (in terms of the comfort you lose as an owner), but challenges with the team remain an ongoing issue.

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

The community of women is a platform for support and sharing. There is great power in telling about yourself and hearing the stories of others like you. This connection leads to new opportunities, but also a sense of attachment and support.

What’s the superpower that helps you develop your business?

Flexibility, stubbornness, sensibility. 

Have you ever faced the dilemma of family or business?

My experience, with two children who have 1.5 years difference in the age, shows that a career is fully compatible with parenting if we build a supporting system, mainly in the face of our partner, but not only.

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

My lack of confidence always finds its way in a situation of insecurity.

 

Karina Karagaeva, co-founder of Human Business Studio: Doubting myself is both one of my most valuable teacher and my most treacherous mental barrier

Karina Karagaeva © Private Archive
Karina Karagaeva © Private Archive

Karina Karagaeva is co-founder of an agency for corporate and business consulting, which main focus is on the people in a company. She started the company in 2018, together with her partner Nina Vladimirova, with the mission to have an adequate dialogue with businesses about management and working people “beyond corporate cliches and buzzwords printed on the walls of the office”, and to create an environment where teams and employees can be creative and adaptable to the constantly transforming businesses. Karina’s company has completed projects with some of the biggest companies on the local market such as VMware, Siemens, ABB, Scale Focus, A data pro, and has gathered experience on what it feels to be a young woman running a consultancy business and trying to change perceptions of corporate clients. 

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

Yes, all the time! (laughs) Indeed, I have very often been the youngest woman in a room with ten other male managers, who I had to train how to think and act differently. I often face enormous egos and sometimes even outright rudeness based on stereotypes. 

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

I think having such networks is of key importance, because we, as women, can only benefit from sharing our challenges and ideas with like-minded, and have the support of other women who are navigating themselves in a similar context. The sense of cohesion is a basic need for us to function, this is even more important because we are organized to connect more within a group. If we manage to reduce competition that is imposed by the male way of thinking, and start to understand “success” as a result of working together and supporting each other, will help us bond as a community, which based on my observations is very important for the development of female leaders. 

What’s the superpower that helps you develop your business?

Self-awareness, courage, humility.

Have you ever faced the dilemma of family or business?

Yes. I was recently faced with this choice, which brought me a break-up and a new path for me, which I will have to walk on my own for some time. (smiles) 

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

My biggest failure is my own insecurity, which sometimes gets in the way of my most ambitious goals. Doubting myself is both one of my most valuable teachers, helping me to always have a reality-check when it comes to my skills and abilities, and my most treacherous mental barrier at times when I just have to jump before I am fully prepared.

 

>>> Did you read the first chapter? Meet another three inspiring female entrepreneurs. 

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