STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) topics have always intrigued me — and becoming an engineer was a dream from early childhood. Right from my undergrad in electronics and communications engineering in India, to my masters in computer engineering in the U.S., I was one of the very few women in an almost all-boys classroom who enjoyed rare topics like digital signal processing.
Moving to Silicon Valley added new dimensions to me, specifically innovation and entrepreneurship. The fascinating rise and fall of internet startups in the valley, and inspiration from an entrepreneurial husband all added to my launch as a tech entrepreneur.
Being a minority — a young, female Indian tech entrepreneur — I relentlessly spent the first three years building my first startup and knocking on the doors of almost every venture capital firm in the valley, until I raised my first round of venture financing.
Since then, it has been a tremendous ride as an entrepreneur with highs and lows, and lessons learnt — still learning every day both in life, and in business like drinking from the fire hose on various topics: teams, technology, products, market, customers, partners, relationships, community, giving, and more.
Here’s my advice for other female immigrant entrepreneurs who want to be successful.
1. Have purposeful ambition
Don’t be afraid to have ambitions, aim at the moon and beyond. Ambition invokes continuous curiosity, creativity, innovation, and adrenaline — the essential elements for entrepreneurship — desire to solve a problem for the world, in the most unique way, that is faster, better, and delivering more value than everyone else out there.
What strengthens ambition and creates success is a purpose. Purposeful ambition that is directed to impact the world and make it a better place takes entrepreneurship to higher levels. Most successful entrepreneurs — like Steve Jobs and Jeff Bezos — have pushed the limits and had unreasonable ambitions coupled with a strong purpose.
Inspire yourself with role models who have achieved success and reached the pinnacle. Do not have inhibitions or self-doubt whether you can make it to the top or not — most women tend to limit themselves. Entrepreneurship is a journey, and a continuous process of self-improvement that you will experience throughout.
2. Focus on continuous innovation
Entrepreneurship goes hand-in-hand with innovation — the ability to produce new ideas, provide better solutions, and pioneer new products. The most successful entrepreneurs are not simply the hardest working, they’re the most innovative. Innovation is the product of creativity and knowledge.
Most successful entrepreneurs like Bill Gates read a lot, and continuously expand their knowledge base in diverse subjects. Innovation, like for most entrepreneurs, is of great strength to me to sharpen our competitive edge, reinvent ourselves, and turnaround situations.
3. Pay attention to your relationships
Your relationships are fundamental to your success: family, management team, employees, customers, partners. Integrity, empathy, and trust are important elements of your reputation that need to be continuously improved all the time.
Behind every successful entrepreneur, there is a winning team. A good entrepreneur brings together the team to create the magic – inspire them, challenge them, appreciate them, and reward them.
I feel fortunate to have the asset of great friendships and goodwill of many team members, customers, and partners through years in this incredible journey. Value the time you spend with your business contacts, nurture these relationships for the long term, and inspire them with your positive energy and purposeful ambition.
Coming to family, work-life balance (or rather imbalance) — that is the harsh reality and especially for women, making it testing every day. Raising two wonderful children at the thick of my early entrepreneurial journey was not an easy balancing act, but a perfect storm of startup hiccups, working mom guilt, red eye travel, kids’ school work and out-of-school activities, doctors visits, the list goes on.
Looking back, it’s all been worth it — they are now inspired, ambitious, and grounded youngsters. The inner strength of having a great supporting and happy family gives all the boost for you and the entrepreneurial journey without big regrets. Pay attention to your family and give the best you can to love, inspire, and pass on the values of purposeful ambition.
This article has been edited.
Veena Gundavelli is a serial tech entrepreneur from Silicon Valley. She is currently Founder & CEO of Emagia, a software company focused on empowering finance operations at large global companies with AI, and Co-Founder of Solix, a big data information management solutions company. Connect with @veenaatapit on Twitter.