Happy thoughtful young businesswoman with digital tablet in hand smiling and looking away in front of colleague at background

Female founders: Learning to let go when your startup takes off

Happy thoughtful young businesswoman with digital tablet in hand smiling and looking away in front of colleague at background

Article by Sara Teare, co-founder of 1Password

Today, 1Password is one of the world’s most popular password managers, valued at $6.8 billion USD with a global team of more than 800 people.

Yet when the company started out, back in 2005, it was largely run by just four people – the co-founders: myself, my husband Dave, and our friends Roustem and Natalia Karimov. While Dave and Roustem focused on building the product, I became a one-person finance and HR team overseeing all the crucial administrative aspects of managing a dynamic startup.

As the company has evolved, my role has transformed beyond recognition from how it began – especially as I’ve brought in more management, scaled my teams, and learned to delegate. Learning to let go is far from an easy thing to do, especially when you still remember the time when you knew the names of all your employees – plus their partners and their pets too! Here are some of the most important lessons I learned along the way.

Don’t be afraid to loosen the reins

It can be hard when you’re used to wearing 10 different hats and juggling so many projects, but learning to let things go and delegate is an essential skill. Going through that process and giving others the opportunity to lead is scary, but every time you do it, you get better at helping others succeed. People who join your business want it to succeed and grow, so trust in that passion and help them to grow as well.

I knew we’d found the right candidate to bring on as our Chief Financial Officer – Jeannie De Guzman when she asked me point blank during her interview whether I’d actually be able to give things up so she could get things done. She gave me a lot to think about, and I realized that by not letting go, I was holding others back from growing us to where we needed to be. In setting up our hiring process, I knew we were talking to amazingly talented people, and it was time to step back and trust in that process.

Don’t skip the small stuff

Often when you are building things, it’s easy to focus on the big goals and all the pieces that go into that. There are a lot of day-to-day things that need attention too though, and while making sure your filing cabinet of accounts receivable is organized doesn’t seem like fun, it is 100% not a task you want to put off “for tomorrow” because the pile only gets bigger over time!

Plus, as your company grows, you’ll bring in more team members and that means more people getting involved in certain functions of the business. So, the more organized you can be at the beginning – as a small team and as you’re growing – the easier it will be to handover and train new team members to understand, adhere to, and develop the systems and processes that you have put in place.

Step back but avoid becoming distant

My husband and fellow co-founder, Dave, always used to say my role at 1Password was to “keep the trains running on time” – and that certainly has been the case. More recently though, I’ve been able to step back more and more from the ‘station manager’ role to focus on the bigger picture: strategic planning, brand development, and providing advice and insight where needed – all while knowing that the fantastic team we’ve brought together over the last 17 years can more than handle the day-to-day.

My role now centres around ensuring that we stay true to the company’s founding principles amid its rapid expansion, while also playing a key role in our ongoing growth strategy. I don’t have any plans to ever step back from 1Password completely. The company we’ve built, and the incredible community of users and employees that we’ve brought together over the years, mean far too much to me for that. I’ll stick around making trouble for as long as I can!

About the author

Sara TeareIn 1Password’s infancy, Sara Teare made sure that all the legal paperwork was done, taxes were filed, and bills were paid – all so co-founders Dave Teare and Roustem Karimov could focus on the fun side of building a product. When Sara reflects on how 1Password has grown, she’s awed by everything she’s helped build with the support of 1Password’s loyal customers and employees. Working with a team of people who are passionate about what they do drives Sara’s excitement. Now, making it a point to be involved in several projects, Sara gets to keep shaping the exciting future of 1Password as it continues to grow.


Know any incredible startups innovating women's health? Apply for FemTech Lab's Autumn cohort!

FemTech Lab Applications open

Know any incredible start-ups innovating women’s health?

FemTech Lab are looking for ambitious and mission-driven femtech entrepreneurs for their 3-month accelerator.

The 12-week programme is uniquely designed around the specific needs of the women’s health technology sector.

The format is a hybrid between virtual and in-person sessions. The majority of the workshops and mentoring will be conducted virtually. There will be two intensive in-person bootcamps.

Applications for FemTech Lab’s Autumn cohort are now open. The application deadline is 10 July.

Let’s accelerate women’s health together so we can build a bright future for women.

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FemTech Lab

Oxford Heartbeat

How women-led digital health companies like Oxford Heartbeat benefit from accelerator programmes

Oxford Heartbeat Logo-17

Katerina SprangerBy Katerina Spranger

Katerina Spranger is the founder of Oxford Heartbeat, a startup that has been working hard to develop a new medical device software that makes brain aneurysm surgeries safer. In this blog Katerina shares the story of Oxford Heartbeat, her thoughts on the challenges she has faced as a female founder and the ways in which the DigitalHealth.London Accelerator programme has supported the company on its journey.

DigitalHealth.London Accelerator programme is now open for applications for the next generation of digital health companies to transform health and care. Find out more and how to apply here.

It is a difficult time for all of us, but COVID-19 has ushered in an interesting period where we are being pushed to explore new and imaginative ways of working.

The challenges facing our health and care sector have been exhaustive and as patients and clinicians have sought solutions, they have shone a light on the digital health sector. It is important to know that there is always support available to businesses who can help alleviate pressure on the NHS and make things safer for patients. I hope that sharing my story will prompt other startups working in digital health to consider the merits of participating in a programme, like the DigitalHealth.London Accelerator.

How Oxford Heartbeat was set up

The road to building Oxford Heartbeat to what it is today was quite a serpentine one. I studied computer science in Germany, specialising in Artificial Intelligence (AI) and robotics. As you might expect, the field I had chosen was very much male-dominated: I was one of just five women in an intake of 200 students. After graduating, I went on to pursue a DPhil (PhD) at Oxford University in Biomedical Engineering. This was a turning point for me as it was during my degree that I had the opportunity to observe complex surgeries for the first time. It led me to the realisation that technology has the radical potential to transform medicine.

I couldn’t help but wonder: how amazing would it be to turn the theoretical knowledge I gained during my PhD into an actual product that could resolve the biggest challenges of carrying out high risk, minimally invasive surgeries? However, I first needed to make sure that there was enough genuine clinical need in order to establish a sustainable business. I summoned all my gumption and started speaking to as many surgeons as possible – basically whoever was kind enough to give me their time.

Nine months and 34 surgeons later, I had finally acquired the advice, feedback and assurance I needed to make my first foray into the startup life. I knew technology could make brain surgeries safer. I began looking for funding opportunities and was extremely fortunate to secure a fellowship from The Royal Academy of Engineering, which supports early stage academics in setting up their own companies. Simultaneously, I obtained a grant from Innovate UK. Getting these two different types of institutional backing allowed me to get Oxford Heartbeat off the ground.

Facing challenges as a female-led startup

The road to setting up Oxford Heartbeat was rockier than anticipated because I am not a surgeon, but an engineer who is trying to innovate in a very specialised clinical field. I didn’t have enough specific knowledge about minimally invasive surgeries at the beginning of my academic career. This meant that some of the clinical feedback I initially received was negative. Looking back now, I realise that this didn’t mean that I was necessarily on the wrong track. Sometimes hearing “no” as an answer just means you either need to polish your line of inquiry, or gather more opinions to shape the way you think. The more I understood why people were telling me “no”, the clearer my business idea became. My advice to those who are considering setting up their own digital health startup would be: it’s never too early to start talking to potential end users and experts. The sooner you do, the faster you can cement a body of knowledge that makes you more confident about putting forth a structured line of inquiry about an innovation to other experts.

There are plenty of statistics to suggest that fundraising is more challenging for female entrepreneurs, including this article in the Financial Times. All the more so for solo founders like myself. I still have insecurities around equity fundraising, and genuinely believe that if not for the support of Innovate UK and our other grant funders, Oxford Heartbeat would not be where it is now. I am also constantly reminded that our business operates at a juncture between two very male-dominated industries: surgery and tech. I am used to it, but I wish it wasn’t the norm. It is only by challenging the norm and understanding the complexities of these two sectors that innovation can be realized. I believe that gender diversity can only benefit these fields, as different voices and ways of thinking are brought on board.

Working with DigitalHealth.London

The DigitalHealth.London Accelerator has offered us an excellent gateway to the NHS. For many, the NHS at a glance is both byzantine and intimidating in its structure and functions. We have been introduced to an invaluable network of experts, who gave us guidance in understanding the NHS and how it works. The Accelerator also assisted us in setting up a clinical pilot to test our product, which is something we have never done before. Their efforts have been immensely helpful because ultimately, we want our product to make complex surgeries safer, and reduce the burden on the NHS.

Lessons I learnt as the female founder of a digital health startup

I hope that some of the lessons I have learnt at Oxford Heartbeat will be useful to women wishing to build their own digital health startups.

First, it really helped me to work with our end users from day one. I envisioned that we would be co-designing our product with them, as ultimately we wanted them to get the most value out of what we were developing. There is nothing like the joy of knowing that you’re tangibly improving people’s lives and health.

Secondly, don’t be daunted by challenges. They are a normal part of the process and encountering them doesn’t mean that you are doing something terribly wrong. There is ample support around, an example being the DigitalLondon.Health Accelerator.

Lastly, being a woman in a male-dominated industry can be transformed into an asset. I try to think about the fact that not belonging to the majority has given me a unique perspective on things. Don’t second-guess yourself because there are other people who are happy to do it for you. Do what you dream of because if it doesn’t work you learn a lot – but if it does, the rewarding feeling you get is priceless.


WeAreTechWomen covers the latest female centric news stories from around the world, focusing on women in technology, careers and current affairs. You can find all the latest gender news here.

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WeAreTheCity and Made In Tech event: Unlock the power of social media | In pictures

WeAreTheCity recently partnered with Made In Tech to hold an event called Unlock the power of social media.

The event, on social media, was kindly hosted by Capco in East London and was supported by HostMedia.

Given the rise in the number of social media platforms, you might think it necessary to market your business everywhere. All social media platforms have a different purpose and audience.Made in Tech - Unlock social media event - WeAreTechnology IT Event(2)

In this meetup, speakers shared their expertise on how to use social media and discover the key to driving word-of-mouth marketing and brand awareness. When it comes to running a startup, spreading your brand awareness should be your primary goal.

Made In Tech is a non-profit community committed to creating and supporting ALL diversity within tech startup ecosystem. We meet every other month in Central London with high-profile speakers to support our cause and inspire Tech founders.

Speakers at the event included Christina Richardson, Co-Founder at Openr and Laurie Wang, Digital Marketing Strategist.

Richardson said when she started her business she “only had the power of word of mouth marketing.”

She advised those considering launching a startup: “You are only confined by the walls you build yourself” and to “build a tribe”.

According to Richardson social media is important to a startup as “target audience is the hardest thing to build.”

She advised: “Things will always go wrong. It’s your reaction that defines you.”

Wang said that it important to keep you company’s social media channel’s up to date: “People can create negative perceptions of your business if things haven’t been updated for several days.”

“You should have two to three social media accounts, to start with, and think of your target audience. Where do they hang out? What’s their age? Do they prefer visual content or articles?”

Wang advised: “Partner with influencers and share the social media coverage.” She noted that this could be an influencer, with a large following, who could upload a video using your product.