Author, entrepreneur and founder Otegha Uwagba is on a mission. Since launching her company, , in 2016, she’s become a motivational force in helping female creatives work better. She's currently writing her second book after her first, a career guide, became a Sunday Times bestseller. And she's just been named on Forbes’ list. All by the age of 27.

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From the outside, Otegha appears to have self-assured success in hand. But building a brand is far from easy; hard graft and irregular cash flow is often edited out of the story.

Here, with refreshing honesty, she reveals what it takes to make it on your own, from the good to the bad and everything in between. Just don’t call her a Girl Boss.

Making the leap

After graduating from Oxford University, I fell into the world of advertising. I worked on campaigns at VICE and AMV BBDO. It was an interesting experience and I enjoyed it at points, but ultimately, it didn’t make me happy.

After almost a year at VICE, I made the decision to quit. Honestly, it was scary. Is this going to ruin my career? Will it look strange to have a gap on my CV? My plan had always been very traditional: work hard, get a promotion, get a pay rise, find a better role. But you don’t need to put yourself through misery because of a job, so I handed in my notice without knowing what to do next.

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That may seem like a brave decision, but my parents live in London so I was able to move in with them. That really worked in my favour. Of course, not everyone has that privilege — it’s much braver if you're paying rent and having to make ends meet. But it didn’t make me any less terrified.

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Danny Kasirye

Going solo

My time in advertising had taught me so much, from how to build communities and manage budgets to engaging an audience and pitching myself. A great network of contacts had evolved with connections that I rely on to this day. I’d absorbed so many skills without realising it and felt inspired to combine the things I loved the most.

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An idea had been growing for a while. I wanted to create an online platform that spotlights and supports creative working women who are figuring things out. I wanted it to feel modern and relevant, not corporate or stuffy. But with a demanding full-time job, I hadn’t had the time - or the guts - to focus on it. Now that I was self-employed, I had the space to get it off the ground.

"I spent hours working on the brand manifesto and becoming super clear on my strategy"

Plotting, researching, strategising... I spent the first part of 2016 deciding what I wanted the platform to be. I'm definitely a planner so it was a slow burner. I spent hours working on the brand manifesto and becoming super clear on my strategy. Then I was ready to launch.

Finding success

Women Who was originally a website of interviews with cool, inspiring women, but I quickly realised how it important is to have a real-life aspect. I also wanted to create some buzz around the brand so after many long days and late nights, I self-published my first book.

I released just 250 copies of and they sold out in two days. I was thrilled! And not expecting it at all. It’s now sold globally.

The book led to hosting IRL events where like-minded women from all backgrounds can connect face to face. I received hundreds of RSVPs, and they just kept on coming. It was insane. Women Who clearly caught the mood of that moment, and I was in the right place at the right time. I'm still astounded by its success.

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Women Who
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Becoming resilient

Being a one-woman machine has been the biggest challenge of building my own brand. I’m making 95% of the decisions all day, every day — and as much as I love the freedom, it can be exhausting. I've had to coach myself to use the struggles and criticism to drive me to improve.

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Danny Kasirye

Early on, I was so hard on myself and only saw the flaws. Now I’ve developed a thick skin and try to focus on the solution rather than replaying the problem. Just last week I found out an event I was planning had fallen through. Initially I was disappointed, but it’s important not to take setbacks too hard. It would have crushed me a few years ago, but I won’t let it stop me from moving forward.

Money talks

The term ‘Girl Boss’ is often associated with me, but I never use it. It’s become overly glamorised and doesn’t address the mechanics of how launching a business actually works.

I'm a big believer in having a financial cushion and am always aware of managing my finances. My parents aren't rich, so I saved a portion of every paycheck since my first job when I was 20. Those savings saw me through the transition to freelancing and allowed me to make my own ideas happen.

People now have a great perception of Women Who, but I haven't achieved a fraction of what I want to. As well as being a brand consultant and writing for various publications in order to keep me afloat, I’m planning phase two of the website and working on a new book that I can’t say too much about...

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Other than that, you never know what the future holds, and that’s exciting.

Otegha’s career rules

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Danny Kasirye

1. Tell your friends

If I hadn't told lots of people about launching my own business, I'd have sacked it off long ago. Without revealing too much, I spoke to friends and reached out to working women so that I felt accountable. It’s like making a New Year's resolution in your head — if you don't tell anyone about it, you let yourself off the hook. It's a trick I still use, whether it’s booking a venue for an event or sharing news on social media, so that I'm forced to see a project through, even when the going gets tough.

2. Stay focused

Setting too many goals can put a strain on your energy and if you’re exhausted, you’ll never get anything done. I burnt myself out by saying ‘yes’ to everything and trying to achieve too much. Agreeing to every opportunity meant I hadn’t made progress on my own goals. My advice? Try to be selective in the amount of work you take on and focus on no more than two big goals at one time. It’ll pay off in the long run.

3. Be true to yourself

Launching your own business isn’t something you just leap into. A friend of mine recently told me she wants to quit her job, not because she was unhappy or had a great idea, but because she wants a career pivot. She expected me to encourage her to be a 'hashtag girlboss', but it’s not the right path for everyone and it’s not a fast-track to success. You may just need a different role or to move to a different company. Be honest, and realistic, with yourself.

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Danny Kasirye

4. Know your worth

There’s a general reluctance to talk about money. Patriarchal society has conditioned women not to be pushy or assertive when it comes to asking for what we want and deserve. There's too much focus on likeability. I'm not saying be horrible, but if you're constantly concerned about people-pleasing, you'll never make yourself happy.

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Say, for instance, you've been offered a new job — you might think, 'I don't want to ask for too much otherwise they'll retract the offer.’ That's not true! People hate recruiting and if they've said yes to you, they want you. Chances are they won’t lead with their best offer so now is the time to negotiate. It’s about switching your mentality and not undervaluing your skills.

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Danny Kasirye

5. Believe in the power of networking

When I started in the business, I wasn’t hyper-connected, but I found strength in numbers. I researched a wish-list of women and asked to meet for a coffee. It's all about the right approach: be specific, don't send a long email, ask for half an hour of their time, offer to go to them or, if they’re busy, speak over the phone instead. Always show what the value of the exchange is.

Being proactive has opened so many doors for me. I’ve never applied for a job that I didn't have a personal connection to, whether it’s through a friend who works at the company or a connection who’s put in a good word. It's a really important aspect to cultivate and maintain. Then before you know it, you’ve created a network for yourself. That's invaluable.

SHOP THE LOOK


Otegha wears GANT's new collection. Dress for success with the iconic white shirt, .

Visit Women Who and discover Otegha's book .

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