The road to becoming an entrepreneur isn’t easy. These 18 female founders share the hardest and most rewarding moments of the job — and why the journey is worth it.

Whitney A. White
Whitney A. White is the founder of Take Back Your Time, a hands-on coaching program for high achievers.
  • Dreamers & Doers is a networking community of female entrepreneurs, creatives, and change-makers. Many of its members quit their corporate jobs to start their own companies.
  • It's not easy to build your own company — that's why founders and small business owners dedicate most of their waking hours working towards creating their products, services, or solutions.
  • For these 18 women, the sacrifices were worth the outcomes, especially when they were able to take back their careers and shed light on problems they're passionate about solving. 
  • "No matter how hard you struggle and how many times you may think about giving up, that feeling of seeing how far you've come is priceless. It makes everything worth it," said Kelsey Specter, founder of Wild Side Design Co. 
  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

Shark Tank investor Lori Greiner once said, "Entrepreneurs are the only people who will work 80 hours a week to avoid working 40 hours a week." There's a lot of truth built into this quippy quote.

Quite often, startup founders and small business owners are willing to go the extra mile because they are working on a product, service, or solution that they are passionate about. Even when times are tough and work weeks stretch into 80 hours (or more!), the rewards along the way usually surpass the challenges.

For the following 18 female leaders, their entrepreneurial journeys have certainty not been without trials. However, as you'll see from their reflection, the good ultimately outweighs the bad — and quite often the "bad" is actually a catalyst for transforming their businesses into something game-changing.

Read more: The founder of the Girls' Night In newsletter built her subscriber list to 170,000 people in less than 4 years. Here are her best tips for growing a loyal audience.

1. Lauren Doyle
Lauren Doyle.JPG
Lauren Doyle.

Founder of The Booster Club, a platform to help brands reach their consumers with 1:1 connections.

What's hardest: Learning how to balance and highlight the value my company provides with the worth that clients perceive. A few years ago, I took on a client in the fitness industry that pushed one project far out of the scope of work and demanded time that should have gone to other clients and business development. After a big project, the client abruptly canceled the contract, didn't live up to the terms, and refused to pay over $20,000 in fees and $10,000 in expenses.

While working hard and assuming the client was acknowledging it, I forgot the importance of clearly explaining and highlighting the real value we were providing — a very expensive and valuable lesson!

What's most rewarding: I love when I get to work on a project that lets me hire people with dignified and expansive work opportunities. Learning from my mistakes and finding ways to pivot the business to best help my clients and my team is a constant focus. Also, it's important to remember that potential is unlimited.  

2. Adero Miwo
Adero Miwo
Adero Miwo.

Founder and CEO of FairFare, a personalized direct booking, intelligent ride hail marketplace app. 

What's hardest: I think the obvious answer would be fundraising, but the hardest part for me has been finding a good, strong cofounder. People seem to have good intentions but are not clear on the work required and the patience needed for a successful venture.

What's most rewarding: The most rewarding part has been accomplishing goals like scoring big corporate partnerships as a small angel-funded startup when larger, well-funded companies were not able to — that's mainly due to creativity, networking, and perseverance. I don't really believe in no's. I view them as "not at the moment's."

3. Rachel Abramowitz
Rachel Abramowitz
Rachel Abramowitz.

Founder of Keepler, a new behavioral theory-driven dating app that helps users build self-awareness and reframe their beliefs about dating online and off. 

What's hardest: Dwelling in the "not-knowing" and relying on shifting data and intuition to make the next decision. Nothing about the entrepreneurial journey is guaranteed, and while there are best practices out there, adapting them as best you can for your business is always both an art and a science. 

What's most rewarding: Learning how to mine each decision — productive and not-so-productive — for lessons that might pertain to the next decision! Building a team with a leadership style based on my authentic self, and learning to be vulnerable when asking for feedback on my leadership skills. I find that I'm good at creating the environment in which my team can succeed — if I show that I trust them to do their best work and give them what they need to do it, they come up with incredible solutions!

 

4. Yewande Faloyin
Yewande Faloyin
Yewande Faloyin.

CEO of OTITỌ, which partners with organizations, business leaders, and high achievers to reach their next level of success.

What's hardest: Gaining the courage and confidence to put myself out there in a new way. Having been in corporate for over a decade, I had an idea of who I thought others expected me to be. Going out and now saying that I was a leadership coach, a business owner, and a speaker felt scary, which led to me overthinking and stalling on moving forward.

I had to overcome my impostor syndrome to move forward, and when I did, it was pretty anticlimactic. What had felt like a huge barrier ended up being a non-issue, and I realized that once I knew who I was and what I wanted, the rest would fall into place. 

What's most rewarding: Stepping into who I truly am to create something that I'm 100% passionate about. This has enabled me to have the type of impact that I want, and I see it every day when my clients talk about the breakthrough they have had and the impact it's having on their lives. On top of all of that, that dynamic nature of entrepreneurship means that I'm constantly growing and challenging myself, which just makes the journey all the more exciting and rewarding. 

5. Katharine McKee
Katharine McKee
Katharine McKee.

Founder of Morphology Consulting, a digital commerce consultancy that is increasing revenue and profitability for companies who sell goods online.

What's hardest: All the pieces that are not your personal skill set that still need to be done, and done with excellence. Learning where to pay for expertise, even in the short term, and where to just figure it out has taken a lot of time and some false starts. In realizing your dream, it's wild to see where a lot of the time-consuming work goes, given that we tend to move through our own skill sets with ease. I've never been one to take admin or creative professionals for granted, but I definitely have a new appreciation for all of the talent it takes.

What's most rewarding: Helping people and seeing their businesses grow. I've always loved a clean system, and that is its own reward, but watching people achieve growth and profitability through their application is such a great feeling. It feels like unlocking a secret.

For a long time, my clients were enterprise businesses. That's really my sweet spot in terms of building interlocking, efficient systems, but in the era of COVID-19, I was able to take on some smaller projects with smaller businesses, and it is deeply gratifying to help a person or small team with a problem that can change their business. Particularly in ecommerce, it's systems-driven, so doing something wrong can be catastrophic, but amazingly, doing it right has immediate positive effects.

6. Mimi Kalinda
Mimi Kalinda
Mimi Kalinda.

Cofounder and group chief executive of Africa Communications Media Group (ACG), a consultancy offering bespoke, culturally-attuned communication and public relations services. 

What's hardest: For me, it's believing in yourself and having the courage and fortitude to take the leap to actually start the entrepreneurial journey in the first place. The other challenge was finding people who believe in you, understand your value proposition, and share your visions enough to partner with you over the long haul — be it as an investor, client, or business partner. 

What's most rewarding: Having impact is hugely rewarding for me. As communicators, we are able to positively shift perceptions and behaviors by telling compelling stories that make a difference, shatter negative stereotypes, help influence policy for the better, and help contribute to development, particularly around the issues facing Africa.

The fact that this is done with a team that includes strong, capable, and driven young people who I can help mentor and offer learning opportunities to is also extremely rewarding. 

 

7. Julie Fogh and Casey Erin Clark
Julie Fogh and Casey Erin Clark
Julie Fogh and Casey Erin Clark.

Cofounders of Vital Voice Training, a voice, public speaking, and communication consultancy focused on amplifying under-heard voices.

What's hardest: In 2017, we were an NYC duo, but Julie had some life circumstances that necessitated an immediate move to the West Coast. Although we had intended someday to be bicoastal, this was certainly not the way we envisioned it happening. We had to pivot immediately and drastically to make sure the business stayed intact during the transition and beyond.

What's most rewarding: This situation forced us to adapt to a whole new market and a whole new way of communicating, but we eventually learned our system and rhythm for meeting virtually, and we began to make connections and build our community in San Francisco as well as NYC.

Silicon Valley has welcomed us — we've loved getting to know the different concerns for individual and corporate clients. We didn't know it at the time, but this unexpected transition turned out to be quite the PhD program, preparing us for shelter-in-place orders.

8. Fernanda Carapinha
Fernanda Carapinha
Fernanda Carapinha.

Founder and CEO of Women Entrepreneurs Global, the first full stack startup studio by and for women founders around the world. 

What's hardest: Managing tech teams has been very challenging, Raising capital is incredibly time-consuming (needlessly so). The search is ridiculously inefficient. Lastly, managing the stress.

What's most rewarding: Architecting your own path to success, investing in your mission, and working with people you love and admire. 

Read more: 3 women leading the zero-waste movement reveal how they're managing to change the world while making a profit

 

9. Kelsey Specter
Kelsey Specter
Kelsey Specter.

Founder of Wild Side Design Co., a full-service creative studio for conscious brands.

What's hardest: The thing nobody prepares you for about being an entrepreneur is just how lonely it can be sometimes, especially when you're facing new obstacles. There's no guidebook or boss to give you the answers, and oftentimes your friends and family won't understand the pressure and emotional roller coaster that you're on.

Everyone is quick to share their successes, but the truth is that for every win that's made public, there are countless moments spent fighting alone in the trenches that will never see the light of any blog post or newscast.

What's most rewarding: You know that feeling when you're hiking up a steep mountain, and you're sweaty and exhausted and your legs are burning and you finally get up above the treeline and catch a glimpse of the view? That's the best part about entrepreneurship — no matter how hard you struggle and how many times you may think about giving up, that feeling of seeing how far you've come is priceless. It makes everything worth it.

10. Lauren Weiniger
Lauren Weiniger
Lauren Weiniger.

Cofounder and CEO of Safely Health, a digital healthcare marketplace focused on testing and verification of STDs, and now COVID-19.

What's hardest: The hardest part of being an entrepreneur is the sacrifice. Starting a business is like having a baby — you miss birthdays, weddings, travel, and sleep. There is no such thing as "work hours," as you are a full-time parent to your company. Without the right support network, that can get very stressful and lonely. 

What's most rewarding: Growing your team. At first, you're wearing all the hats and trying to be the master of everything. But when you start hiring brilliant people who are better than you at specific tasks, a lot of the stress is relieved, and things start running more smoothly. The whole team is greater than any individual, and watching my team enter a flow state has brought me a lot of joy. 

11. Ada Chen
Ada Chen
Ada Chen.

Founder and CEO of The Cultivate Method, a modern marketing method for small businesses and entrepreneurs. 

What's hardest: A few weeks after I left my corporate job and started my entrepreneurial journey, my dad was hospitalized in the ICU. As his primary caregiver, I had to balance being on call 24/7 to make decisions about his care and navigating the healthcare system, while also making time for myself and my fledgling business. During this time of personal struggle and stress, building my business plan and getting my website launched seemed almost impossible. 

What's most rewarding: When I talk to my customers, they're always so excited to hear about The Cultivate Method and the free resources I've created for them. Teaching them and convincing them that they are the best people to grow their business through marketing is extremely rewarding, and it makes all of the hard work worth it.

12. Melissa Priest
Melissa Priest
Founder and CEO of Alexandretta Transportation Consulting, which moves business forward by significantly decreasing their transportation expenses.

Founder and CEO of Alexandretta Transportation Consulting, which moves business forward by significantly decreasing their transportation expenses.

What's hardest: We were expecting to come to $1 million in revenues in 2020. Due to COVID-19, we had our revenues drop 65%. We did not receive government loans, but we have made it. Re-building will happen, but it was a huge setback.

What's most rewarding: We are the very first female-owned company in our industry in the US. That still gives me chills. And we donate 1% of our profits to humanitarian and environmental causes, which brings me profound joy.

 

13. Melinda Wang
Melinda Wang
Melinda Wang.

A multi-hyphenate serial entrepreneur, cultural producer, deal lawyer, strategic advisor, social impact investor, and founder of MW Projects.

What's hardest: For me, both the hardest and most rewarding part of being an entrepreneur is being entirely self-motivated and self-directed. There are some days when it doesn't feel like the creative juices are flowing, or a project has been delayed, or the usual synergies within my teams aren't happening, and it takes a good amount of discipline to get myself back on track and lead others past any setbacks.

I think the key to that discipline is remaining mission-driven and always keeping the long-term goals for my companies, clients, and collaborators in sight.

What's most rewarding: Being able to say to myself that "I created that product" or "I helped my client achieve its audacious goals" or "I made that thing happen" — all on my own terms — is incredibly rewarding. Some highlights on this journey have been curating socially engaged art exhibitions that highlighted new perspectives, revitalizing a historically important art nonprofit, advising a company that recently went public, and negotiating a milestone agreement for a client that creates the framework for their mission for the next 10 years.

Those kinds of achievements are what motivate me on those difficult days and inspire me to dream bigger and do better.  

14. Lauren Foundos
_Lauren Foundos
Lauren Foundos.

CEO of FORTË, which enables gyms and boutique studios to launch premium digital fitness experiences with proprietary streaming technology and digital platforms.

What's hardest: Fundraising. I was once asked by a man in a room that I was pitching, who didn't know me and never heard me utter a word, if I would be willing to step down and have a real CEO run the company. I was asked who the numbers guy was despite having a very successful career on Wall Street for a decade. All of this was quite surprising to me, as these people would say these things as if I wasn't five feet away from them.

The amount of funding that goes to female-founded companies is minimal, but I didn't let these encounters get me down, and I am proud to say that I've raised millions of dollars since inception.

What's most rewarding: Discovering a whole new meaning to the importance of loving what you do. When you are building a company that makes people's lives better and makes them healthier and ultimately happier, it's beyond fulfilling. When I was working on Wall Street, no one told me that I made their life better, and now it's a common occurrence. It makes late nights and endless work much more enjoyable to know that you are helping people and fitness companies grow their business.

15. Anna Szpunar
Anna Szpunar
Anna Szpunar.

Founder and coach of The Entrepreneurial Soul LLC, which specializes in Energy Leadership and transitions for executives, expats, and entrepreneurial souls.

What's hardest: The most frustrating part of my journey was in the formalities of setting up my business. There are many contradictory advisors out there, and there doesn't appear to be a "go-to" place for independent people wanting to set up a business.

What's most rewarding: The people I've connected to on my journey. First, the coach community I joined when I took my certification with iPEC is still a prominent source of support for me, and the coaching industry across the board is a magnificent group of people. I also belong to Dreamers & Doers, a private network of entrepreneurs and trailblazers, where I've met amazing women and formed great friendships.

Most importantly, though, I'm honored to have coached some truly inspirational women leaders who keep me inspired, proud, and motivated to continue growing with them through my entrepreneurial journey.

16. Whitney A. White
Whitney A. White
Whitney A. White.

Founder of Take Back Your Time, a hands-on coaching program for high achievers to get on a clear path to achieving the goals that truly matter most to them. 

What's hardest: Years ago I started my innovation firm, Afara Global, while still working full-time in ecommerce. There were times when I worked a full day and then was up all night working on projects for my business. I reached a point of constant fatigue where I wasn't in control of my time and, on top of that, my business wasn't making any money because I was focused on all the wrong things.

What's most rewarding: In the midst of the darkest moments of my life, I decided that I was going to rebuild my life, but this time I was going to build it exactly the way I wanted it to be, not the way that everyone was telling me it should be. I set out to run my own thriving business that gave me the flexibility to be a super-involved mom and have the financial freedom to travel and take vacations whenever I wanted, and that's exactly what I've done.

I took the principles that I used in my own life to create Take Back Your Time, my signature coaching program, and through the program I've helped clients improve their lives, leave jobs they hated, start new businesses, and live the life they longed for.

Read more: How the millennial cofounders of feminine-care company Blume raised $3.3 million in funding in just one month

17. Eleonora Barbieri
Eleonora Barbieri
Eleonora Barbieri.

Leadership and career coach for senior and mid-career professionals driving change.

What's hardest: Leaving a successful corporate career that gave me so much and that I had worked really hard to create. As a first generation college student who struggled financially for a part of her younger life, I felt ready to do it when I got clear on what my real next dream was and I had built a good safety net — but it was still scary! Getting help to achieve clarity and being honest with myself made most of the difference, as well as working to avoid comparison traps.

What's most rewarding: For me, doing something that I'm naturally drawn to and that has an impact on issues that held me back and that I saw holding back so many capable and smart people, especially through my years working in organizations. Being there with someone as they become a more powerful leader because they can bring more of themselves into a room, or overcome blocks and get the success they deserve, has been one of the most rewarding feelings.

18. Sophie Alcorn
Sophie Alcorn
Sophie Alcorn.

Founding partner of Alcorn Immigration Law, serving exceptional technology professionals at rapidly scaling companies in obtaining visas and green cards.

What's hardest: Oddly enough, my successes have come with this overwhelming and omnipresent feeling that I'm unworthy of the journey and path I'm on. I've had to constantly remind myself that I'm worthy of everything that I have earned, and I deserve all the accompanying accolades. But on a positive note, being sensitive to the unworthy feeling has also made me acutely aware of the likelihood of trials and failure, which makes the journey feel that much more rewarding.

What's most rewarding: There are few things more rewarding than the satisfaction of when things come together exactly the way we planned. I love to see the surprisingly different ways it came to fruition. Through my work, I'm able to take a person's idea and turn that into an exciting reality. That ripple effect boils over to my own successes, and it is oh-so-rewarding to experience.

 

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