Image: tec_estromberg / Flickr Image: tec_estromberg / Flickr

Sometimes in business it can feel like you’ve created a monster. The company you started has gone from a good idea to a daily, unending, uphill battle: what Ben Horowitz called the Struggle in his exceptional book The Hard Thing About Hard Things.

The Struggle is when you wonder why you started the company in the first place. The Struggle is when people ask you why you don’t quit and you don’t know the answer.

In Boston, two people who know better than most about the struggle came to remind us of the rewards IF you can make it through to the other side.

It helps to have started a business in something you love. At Boston Biotech Week, Steve Wozniak, the co-founder of Apple and the man who developed the first personal computer, was just as joyful, playful, curious and enthusiastic as ever.

His advice for this generation of entrepreneurs: “You know in your heart what you like doing. Do that.”Engineers like solving complicated problems, so get them on board in a new company as quickly as possible, Woz the wizard told us. Hire people who have built stuff – started programs and finished them. Engineers don’t necessarily have to have lots of degrees, what they do need is a history of invention.

Apple was lucky in that its first investor, Mike Markkula, was a professional, in Steve’s words, who helped two kids (Woz & Steve Jobs) to build a professional company. Core to that professionalism was marketing, which Mike initially led while teaching Steve Jobs his first lessons in marketing. Second was business strategy: inventing products that made money and were elegant and simple.

Steve Jobs always focused on making products more human, particularly as he didn’t understand the technology.These days, the engineering genius behind Apple is still playing with technology: he has a Raspberry Pi at home, he’s checking the features on the latest iPhones and androids. To Woz, real innovation must be easy to use.

Regrets, he has none: He’s still happy that he has a good brain and can figure things out. He’s a great believer in giving people time to be curious and room to explore their creativity. Curiosity can lead to random behaviour, so let people play a little.

On the other side of town, Susan Windham-Bannister, the founding CEO of the Massachusetts Life Sciences Center shared how the state of Massachusetts has benefited from a visionary investment of US $1 billion from 2008-2018 in life sciences.

The big bet has paid off. Employment growth in life sciences has been growing rapidly and leading the state out of recession.

For Susan, inspiring the next generation of women leaders in life sciences has kept her passion burning. Female executives in the C-suite were significantly less likely to be contacted for boardroom positions than men. “So it’s not what you know,” said Susan, “but who knows what you know.”

Sponsorship of upcoming female leaders was crucial in reaching the highest positions in industry. “We are role models for women in STEM, but today there are just not enough of us in the boardroom,” she said.

And reaching the top meant more than just competency skills. Leadership skills had to be developed by always being involved (being a mentor and being mentored); being brave, realistic and being a sounding board.

A panel discussion, including Toni Hoover, director of strategy, planning & management for Global Health with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation shared tips on how they’d developed their own careers with a lot of help, both at home and at work. Develop your own informal board of directors was the common theme: you can’t do it on your own. Women who have it all, have help!

By Julie Walters, founder of Raremark, and winner of Best Investment in a High-Growth Woman Founder at the UK Business Angels Association.