Catherine Barba, an iconic figure in the world of Entrepreneurship and Tech in France and the USA, readily describes herself as an entrepreneur, a doer. As a mother and an explorer as well: she likes to investigate, discover and learn new things. What interests her? It is looking ahead.
This is exactly what she is doing as the host of the Win20 Forum, which will take place from June 1 to 5. We asked her to tell us about this new edition and to share with us some insights about women entrepreneurship.
French Wink: What is the WIN20 Forum?
Catherine Barba: This is the 5th edition of an annual event dedicated to promoting women and diversity. We are a community of business people, entrepreneurs and students who are convinced that diversity is not only good for women. It benefits us all. We already know the first benefit : it is a guarantee of performance, of commitment inside the companies. It is also a pledge of innovation. What is unique about this forum is that it is highly correlated with innovation. When we surround ourselves with different people, experiences and profiles, we will be even better able to invent tomorrow -even faster than the others too-, to create companies that are not only profitable, but also aligned with environmental and social imperatives. Diversity, powers, innovation!
What will we discover during the forum this year?
This is going to be an online Forum for the first time. During five days, we are going to develop 5 topics.
Day 1 is about Confidence. Everything starts with self-confidence. There will be 2 talks with extraordinary women, who have had incredible experiences. One is in medicine, she is a famous immunologist and the other is an American entrepreneur, who will tell us their story. I find them incredibly inspiring.
Day 2 will focus on Fundraising. Is today a good time to invest? In the context of the current crisis, is there an accelerating effect in favor of equality or on the contrary we will take a step back on this subject? What do investors & women entrepreneurs say about it? Both in France and in the USA.
Day 3 is about Reinvention of companies. How are companies impacted by the crisis? There are some more in difficulty than others, like hospitality, retail, events, banks, beauty, luxury... We selected 5-6 companies whose leaders will tell us how they see the transformation of their sector. How do they intend to survive? And what is the role of diversity in this transformation?
Day 4 will cover Leadership. We have seen people lately -not just women- who are raising extraordinarily, like Andrew Cuomo (Governor of New York State). They stand out by showing their ability to get people on board, to communicate better, to create trust, to federate people. So it will be a collective reflection on leadership. What makes us more inclusive leaders?
The last day is about Change, which is linked to climate impact. The climate imperative is just as important as diversity. There are few talks on this subject, particularly with children, who will ask questions of the director of the Climate Museum, like what their contribution can be as citizens, as children. We all have a responsibility. So this is an opening on the other topic that concerns me a lot: sustainability.
To build this forum, I have taken all the subjects of my life that matter to me, that animate me. I invite people I met during the year, who have touched me, made me grow.
Usually the forum takes place in a beautiful suite of New York City, but this time, it will be online using Zoom. You have to register on the Win20 website and choose the discussions that interest you. All Forum content will be free.
What women inspire you the most?
First and foremost is my mother, because she is incredibly inspiring. She is a woman of strong will, action and very free. She is obviously a model for me.
Then amongst the women who will be with us during the forum, Virginie Morgon is an inspiration. She is the president of Eurazeo, who is managing $18 billion to invest in companies. She does private equity. Virginie is an incredibly gifted, precise, attentive person. Even though there are only few women in finance, she is a change maker and has an incredible courage.
The one that also impresses me is Maud Bailly, the CDO (Chief Digital Officer) of the Accorhotels Group. She is prodigiously smart, fast and concrete. Maud gets people on-board and does not forget to be funny. She is a first-class change maker too!
Did you grow up with images of strong women around you?
I come from a family where it is almost a matriarchy. I have been surrounded by women who handle a lot of things. By atavism, it is necessarily something that inspires me. I come from a family of very willed and courageous women who have gone through difficulties, but who have never given up and have remained attentive to others.
You are in a position that allows you to have a great overview. What do you see moving in female entrepreneurship right now?
There are more and more women who start businesses, who dare to raise funds, and have ambition. I am thinking, for example, of Mathilde Collin who will be a speaker at our forum. She is French and lives in San Francisco. She raised $90 million for her company called Front. There is another Michelle Zatlyn, an American, who did an IPO. Her company is valued at $8.5 billion and she is only 35 years old.
What I see happening is that more and more women around us are “doers”, creating big businesses, succeeding and financing as well. It is part of our new landscape. It is no longer exceptional. When I started working, there were no women entrepreneurs; there was no model; today, there are plenty. So it necessarily encourages us to do so. We feel more confident. This is what changes and it goes in the right direction. They are women who carry companies in finance, in tech, etc. Jobs that we imagined perhaps more masculine.
What mistakes do you see most often among women entrepreneurs?
I do not know if it is specific to women… The first mistake is to underestimate the importance of having a network, being surrounded by mentors, role models, associates or advisors. Thinking you can do it all alone.
The other mistake: getting into a project when you do not know anything about Tech. If you ever want to start a business right now, if you are not an engineer or a developer and you really do not know anything about technology, it is essential to have a partner who masters it. Today, it is the crux of the matter. Everything is digitalizing. And even more in the wake of the crisis, everything has shifted to digital.
Someone who would say “I would like to start a business” but having no customer knowledge, no data, no omnichannel, no tech stuff, I doubt it would make a very big company that can cover at least one salary.
What are the strengths you see in the women entrepreneurs, the ones you may have met or gone along with?
I am always careful not to polarize things by saying “men do this” and “women do that”, because that is actually not true. There are just trends, a little more visible.... I can just talk about women entrepreneurs that I know. They are incredibly intentional and hard-working women. They are prodigiously pragmatic, very practical, very empathetic. But it is typical for any successful entrepreneur. Maybe they also have this ability to be Shiva, to be multitasking and to remember that in the end, work is only work.
For an entrepreneur, success is complete if you have not sacrificed human and essential things, like family and friends. So you tend to be a bit schizophrenic sometimes.
Was this last aspect difficult for you, precisely?
No, because I chose my husband very well. It is only difficult if you choose him badly. He has to be a real partner. You cannot do it all by yourself either. If you have a very equal division of duties in the family, it works. It is even more than that for me, because my husband is a “stay at home dad”. So it is pretty easy.
What would your message be to help women get through their doubts and get started a business?
I think of this quote from Eleanor Roosevelt, “Do one thing every day that scares you.” I think that is a nice way of looking at it. When we do something every day that scares us, it means that we get out of our comfort zone. We start having audacity, to take risks. In fact, if we do it often, we realize that we have nothing to lose and it becomes a routine. Then the more things you do that scare you, the more you dare.
What was the craziest project you ever started that worked?
Without hesitation, my marriage! I think that 80% of people on my wedding day who had to say “it will never hold”. And we have been together for 19 years. No one would have bet on us.
You know Myline and Claire, the co-founders of French Wink. Can you tell us a little bit about them?
I have a strong friendship with them. I find that they are ultra-willing, determined, hard-working, precise women who go into details. They are not sprinters; they are marathoners. They have a tremendous endurance. And cherry on the cake, they do not forget the essentials: to be nice, to be careful with others, to be supportive. They are amazing women!
Click here to register to the Forum Win 2020 : https://www.win20.org