Just ask Claudia Chan.
After a nine-year stint at the helm of entertainment company Shecky’s, Chan launched S.H.E. Globl Media, an education platform designed to help empower women leaders.
She also organizes the S.H.E. Summit, an annual conference where big-name speakers like Chelsea Clinton and Sallie Krawcheck share advice on everything from managing money to balancing careers with motherhood.
We sat down with Chan, 39, to hear about the strategies she’s used to get ahead in her own career—and what advice she'd pass along to women with similar ambitions.
Think of it as a pep talk from someone who's already blazed some pretty impressive entrepreneur trails.
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LearnVest: Let's start at the beginning. What inspired you to become an entrepreneur in the first place?
Claudia Chan: “I was blessed to have an entrepreneur parent to learn from—my mom. She came over from Taiwan, and opened up a Chinese restaurant in New York City with my dad back in the 1960s.
Growing up, my mom had the most unwavering perseverance and work ethic. It was driven by a survival instinct—everything revolved around growing the business and finding financial security for my brother and me.
She’d often tell me, ‘To own your independence, you have to own your own business.' I internalized that lesson, and understood how being an entrepreneur could not only empower me, but also anything I cared about.”
What other priceless advice did you glean from your mom?
“She taught me how important it is to value and cherish your relationships.
Because she came to America without a college degree, or being able to speak the best English, she relied a lot on acquaintances and friends to get ahead—from landing a new lease for a restaurant to finding the best schools for her children.
And she didn’t just emphasize the value of relationships in the present. You never know where people will end up, and how you can mutually benefit from each other down the road—so hold onto them forever.”
How do you know which relationships are the most important to maintain?
“You become the company you keep, so choose the relationships you want to nurture wisely.
In business, you need a tribe of really good friends who support you—people you can call on. Often, it’s not your best friends from college or the people who were your bridesmaids, but the people in your industry.
So align yourself with those who have similar values or goals, project positive and supportive energy, and have qualities you look up to or want to learn from.
Be proactive about asking them for help when you need it—and also be generous to support these members of your tribe.”
Why is it so important to speak up when you need help?
“I’m surprised at how many women don’t like to reach out and ask for instruction or referrals. As humans, we are meant to ‘do’ in collaboration with others.
If you're not asking for help, you're cutting yourself off from oxygen. If women can remember this and put in the dedicated effort to identify what they need help with, and who to ask, they will get farther—faster.
For example, if I need advice or a sounding board on anything from marketing tactics to professional introductions, I'll assign the names of people I can ask for help—and document them next to the project or tasks on my to-do list. It’s mostly people already in my tribe or who have the potential to be, based on their backgrounds.
I’ve learned that most people want to be helpful. If they're non-responsive when I ask, it’s often that they’re just busy—so I try to make the request an easy one!”
"Think of yourself as the only person running in your race. Sure, other people are running, but they're headed for different destinations. Focusing on them is not only a waste of energy but it disempowers you."
What's the hardest part about running your own business?
“Sometimes it’s just about staying in the game. It can take several years to get off the ground and feel established, so the key is perseverance.
When my own perseverance starts to wane, I reconnect to my purpose by reminding myself how critical women's empowerment is for our society, and how I have to play my part alongside others to enact change. That’s what gets me reinvigorated.”
Are there any common pitfalls, in particular, that female entrepreneurs tend to run into?
“It can be hard not to live in comparison to others. I used to be that kind of person. But while perception is important, it can be unhealthy too.
We worry about how ‘together’ we are, how successful we seem. But success is not ‘winning.’
Instead, think of yourself as the only person running in your race. Sure, other people are running, but they're headed for different destinations. Focusing on them—and then feeling bad about being behind—is not only a waste of energy but it disempowers you.
So do what’s right for you in the personal and professional areas of your life, and align your actions with that purpose.
For example, social media is a great tool for learning, community-building and promotion. But if you catch yourself feeling inadequate because others have greater engagement or more followers, shift your thinking to 'How can I learn from them?' And remember you are growing at your own pace, according to your own timeline.”
How do you feel about friends going into business together?
“That scares me! There’s a lot less structure because of that personal relationship—and it’s not as easy to be objective. It’s like being married.
So be clear up front about your roles and the separation between personal and business. Have ‘therapy’ sessions beforehand and anticipate various scenarios. You need to know what the other person wants—even years down the road.”
What's the #1 advice you would give to someone who’s about to take the leap into entrepreneurship?
“You are most clear, productive and strategic when you are feeling good, happy and healthy, so create a radical self-care plan. Eat breakfast. Move every day. Get sunlight. Take breaks.
These things help you create the best version of yourself, so you can then go out and tackle all that you do for your career, family and finances.”