By Danika Gagnon
Vicki Saunders is a successful entrepreneur, and an enthusiastic mentor and advisor to the next generation of change makers. But above all, she is a leading advocate for entrepreneurship as a way of creating positive change in the world. Ms. Saunders is the founder of SheEO, an initiative that supports women who leverage their talents, strengths and passions to create businesses that build new models, new mindsets and new solutions for a better world.
Q. You’re a strong advocate for the financing of start-ups, especially ones that have a positive impact on the world. What tips can you give to entrepreneurs who are looking for financing?
A. There are so many unique and interesting funding opportunities today. You just need to decide what kind of business you want to run, and build strategies around that. However, the most important and desirable thing for a business to focus on is revenue, rather than raising money from someone else. That can get challenging if you’ve picked an investor who doesn’t have the same values as you do.
Q. What would you recommend for people who want to support entrepreneurs but don’t necessarily have money to invest?
A. Be radically generous with your time. In general, I think people are very giving. People love to help if they have something to contribute, so it’s our challenge as entrepreneurs to ask. You need to get out there and ask for help because there are a lot of people willing to support you.
Q. Why do you think corporate social responsibility is important and more prevalent than ever, and what kind of value does it add to a business?
A. The phrase I use is “meaning is the new money.” If you don’t have meaning in what you’re doing, it’s incredibly hard to attract people, talent and customers to your company. If you’re not doing something in your process that is good for the planet, or good for the people, then it’s really challenging to differentiate yourself, your product, or your service from all the others. I think the most advanced companies today have what they’re trying to create in the world, beyond just their products, at the core of their strategy. Any business that is doing that is so much more successful.
Q. Entrepreneurship can sometimes be glamorized; what are some of the harsh truths that anyone considering launching a business should know?
A. It’s incredibly tough to be an entrepreneur. If you had any idea of what you were getting into when you started, you probably wouldn’t do it. You have to wake up absolutely passionate about the problem that you’re solving. If you’re not, I would say do not do it. It’s so tough, there are so many ups and downs, and if you’re a person who is addicted to any sort of stability, this is not the world for you. I know that entrepreneurship is super-hot right now, but very few people actually become billionaires from it. There is a risk profile that is attached to entrepreneurs that is quite unique.
Q. What would you say to new entrepreneurs who are looking for a mentor?
A. The first thing I always like to say is to make a distinction between an advisor and a mentor. Advisors really work on the business, and the mentor works on the person. For me, mentorship is very much like a dating situation: you have to kind of fall in love with each other, you have to share the same values, you have to be invested in each other’s success, and for me, mentorship goes both ways. There’s a type of learning that happens; it’s not just someone imparting their experience on others. To find a mentor, you actually have to do the work. You have to get out there, knock on doors. Look at who inspires you and reach out; who knows, maybe they’ll have a coffee with you.