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Head of Consumer Segment, PayPal Canada

It’s been seven years since I co-founded The Peacock Parade, an exclusive members-only online store featuring designer apparel and accessories. Back then, as a female entrepreneur and visible minority, I seldom saw other women like myself in the startup community. Even today, women continue to be underrepresented in the small-business landscape, and they face considerable hurdles when looking to start or grow their business.

Recently, PayPal Canada released its Women’s Entrepreneurship study, exposing a significant gap in earnings between women and men, with businesses owned by women entrepreneurs earning 58 per cent less than their male peers. Findings also highlighted limited access to capital as a critical barrier to growth for woman-owned businesses.

With a deep and personal understanding of these challenges, it’s encouraging to see private- and public-sector leaders stepping up to support women’s entrepreneurship. Canada’s first Women Entrepreneurship Strategy, a comprehensive federal plan to help women grow their businesses through access to financing, talent, networks and expertise, was the centrepiece of this year’s federal budget announcement.

I’ve since left The Peacock Parade and have turned my focus to helping other businesses succeed. In my current role at PayPal Canada, as Head of Consumer Segment, I get to create better buying experiences for consumers and foster a diverse and inclusive ecosystem that empowers all entrepreneurs. From my experience starting out as a small business owner, to now helping others, there are some critical lessons that stuck with me that I feel every entrepreneur should know.

Diversity is a strength

In the early days of The Peacock Parade, we quickly realized that we’d need external funding to get our idea off the ground. Launching a company that requires outside financing is not easy, especially as a young female entrepreneur who is frequently pitching to a male investor from a different generation. Only 14 per cent of venture-capital funds are led by women, according to CrunchBase’s 2016 Women in Venture report. Starting a fashion e-commerce business that was viewed as fashion-first and tech-second only compounded the challenges we faced.

We were fortunate to meet investors who viewed us as passionate founders that were willing to go the distance on a concept that addressed a market need. But for every great investor, we encountered multiple individuals that minimized our business aspirations and defined us as having nothing more than a passion for fashion. Nothing could have been further from the truth. Starting a business is hard work and requires a level of dedication, perseverance and resilience that can’t be rooted in passion alone.

I remain optimistic about the future for women who are building incredible businesses across sectors. The Toronto venture-capital community is growing, and we are starting to see a material shift in attitudes toward female leaders in business, politics and within this community. But there is still work to be done. Women make the lion’s share of purchasing decisions yet remain underrepresented in leadership positions. The composition of most organizations doesn’t accurately mirror the composition of society, and that limits diversity of thought. At The Peacock Parade, we spoke directly to the needs of female consumers in a uniquely female voice that was relatable to our core demographic. This diverse perspective was our strength.

Harness the power of the digital economy

When The Peacock Parade launched seven years ago, our e-commerce-first approach was new in Canada. Today, an e-commerce site is the standard. People expect products to be readily accessible online, and business owners who recognize this are strategically positioned to reach a broader customer base and capture a slice of global e-commerce spending, which is expected to grow to US$4.88-trillion by 2021, according to Statista’s retail e-commerce sales projection worldwide.

The hurdles to setting up an e-commerce website are now significantly lower than before. There are several platform providers that enable a wide variety of businesses to set up beautiful online stores with little web development experience required. What’s more, PayPal’s 2017 Canadian SMB Landscape study revealed that businesses that sell online report higher revenues than those that do not.

Selling online is particularly lucrative for woman-owned businesses. E-commerce-savvy femmale entrepreneurs report generating up to 75 per cent more revenue compared to their peers who do not sell online, according to PayPal’s recent Women’s Entrepreneurship study. The growth of e-commerce spending led by consumer adoption and turnkey solutions has been transformative for female business owners.

Lean into your personal network

Tapping into the strengths and abilities of others from different corners of your network is one of the most strategic ways for businesses to scale their innovation and solve complex challenges. Working collaboratively with fellow entrepreneurs or partners generates the kind of energy that fuels growth, innovation and creativity.

Without question, there are going to be peaks and valleys in any entrepreneur’s journey. Fortunately, many of the barriers I faced when launching my business are now being recognized and addressed in an effort to reduce the hurdles entrepreneurs face here in Canada. With the support of public- and private-sector leaders and an abundance of tools and resources available, there has never been a more promising time for female entrepreneurs to start, scale and grow their businesses.

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