7 Leadership Lessons from Female Executives

Let the advice of these successful women, who have beaten the odds to found incredibly successful businesses, inspire you in your own career.

1. Amy Chang, Accompany: Set unreasonably high goals

In 2013, Amy Chang co-founded Accompany, a database platform that provides insights into Fortune 500 executives and other senior decision-makers. She served as the company’s CEO until earlier this year when Cisco announced it had acquired Accompany for $270 million.

In a recent talk at Stanford, Chang detailed one of her secrets of success she uses to motivate herself and her team: setting “unreasonably high” goals.

“When somebody pushes you so far beyond what you thought was possible and forces you to think at another kind of level of ambition than you would have by yourself, I actually think that’s a really good thing to experience,” Chang explains. “And it makes you deeply uncomfortable for a little bit, you have no idea how you’re going to do it, but that’s how you grow. That’s how you witness your most massive jumps and growth.”

2. Sarah Leary, Nextdoor: Learn from everything

Nextdoor, a neighborhood-level social network, was co-founded in 2008 by Sarah Leary. Ten years later, the company has now reached unicorn status.

It wasn’t always easy to raise money for Leary and her team. But being rejected didn’t discourage her—quite the contrary. Everything is a learning experience, an opportunity for growth.

“The entrepreneurial journey is all about how you respond to adversity,” Leary says. “Feedback is a gift. It is important to listen, understand why it’s been given, and decide how to respond.”

3. Melanie Perkins, Canva: Dream big, but start small

With a $1 billion valuation, Canva, an intuitive graphic design platform, is Australia’s lone unicorn. The company was co-founded by CEO Melanie Perkins in 2012.

Perkins encourages other entrepreneurs to dream big—but understand that in order to ultimately get to where you want to go, you first need to start small.

“My biggest piece of advice for any entrepreneur is to solve a real problem,” Perkins says. “If you find a problem that people care about, then it will make every other aspect of running a business much easier.”

4. Michelle Zatlyn, CloudFlare: Hire a diverse team

In 2009, COO Michelle Zatlyn and her team founded CloudFlare, a web performance and security company that improves website speed and protects sites from things like DDoS attacks. Today, CloudFlare is valued at $3.2 billion.

The rapid growth of CloudFlare can be attributed to the company’s approach to hiring.

“We hire people who have deep expertise in specific areas of our business. But we also hire people who have a huge thirst for curiosity, who are very smart, who fall in love with the mission and say ‘I will work very hard to make it happen,’” Zatlyn says. “You need both—breadth and depth—to build very successful businesses.”

5. Julia Hartz, Eventbrite: Learn to ask for help

Eventbrite, an online ticketing platform, was founded in 2006 by CEO Julia Hartz and her husband Kevin. It’s valued at $1 billion.

Hartz’s secret to success? Not being afraid to ask for help.

“It’s easy to think that you need to be ‘Superwoman’ and that you’re expected to try to juggle everything on your own,” Hartz says. “My mom always instilled in me that it was braver to ask for help when you need it.”

6. Adi Tatarko, Houzz: Fire fast

Houzz, a home improvement platform, was founded in 2009 by CEO Adi Tatarko and her husband Alon Cohen. Today, the company is worth $4 billion.

After raising money, Houzz hired a lot of people so they could scale quickly. They understood how important people were to the success of their company, so they invested a lot of time and energy into the recruiting process.

“When you invest so much in the hiring process, you get more attached to the people, and it becomes difficult to admit when someone is no longer a good fit,” Tatarko says. “When someone is not a good fit, it’s better to let go sooner rather than later. In earlier stages, I really struggled to let go and move on. But ultimately I learned that hanging on was more detrimental to everyone involved.”

7. Katia Beauchamp, Birchbox: Reach out to strangers

Founded in 2010, Birchbox offers a beauty product subscription service to more than 1 million customers.

Because neither had a background in tech or beauty, CEO Katia Beauchamp and her co-founder, Hayley Barna, had their work cut out for them if they wanted to grow Birchbox. Beauchamp had a unique approach to making the right contacts in the industry.

“I cold-emailed every CEO of the beauty industry you can imagine,” Beauchamp explains. “And it worked.”How do you get someone to open a cold email? Keep it brief, include a compelling subject line, and ask for something that’s hard to say no to, Beauchamp advises.