Female Founders: Livette Dikalenko of Exquisite Art On The Five Things You Need To Thrive and Succeed as a Woman Founder
An Interview With Candice Georgiadis
Learn how to delegate and guide — As someone who spearheads a business, we often take on much of the workload ourselves. This is a big no-no as, eventually, it will result in burnout and loss of motivation. It’s essential to learn how to trust your team so that you can effectively delegate roles and responsibilities. Similar to the leap of faith we took when starting our business, we need to take that small leap of confidence in the people we work with.
As a part of our series Why We Need More Women Founders”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Livette Dikalenko.
A self-made businesswoman passionate about bringing the art of international status to Singapore, Livette Dikalenko is the Founder of Exquisite Art. This online art gallery aims to give artists, especially those from Central Asia, a platform to sell their one-of-a-kind work internationally. Shortly after this move, Livette’s boundless entrepreneurial spirit guided her to conceptualise Exquisite Art. This online art gallery aims to give artists, especially those from Central Asia, a platform to sell their one-of-a-kind work internationally.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to know you better. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?
It all began when I lived in my hometown of Almaty, Kazakhstan. Kazakhstan possesses a diverse cultural tapestry, so I interacted with people from many different nationalities, learning and celebrating the traditions of others from an early age.
These experiences drove me to pursue a degree in International Economic Relations from the University of International Business, Almaty, Kazakhstan; having always been fascinated by different cultures and geopolitics, I felt compelled to centre my studies on this interest.
I pursued roles in logistics and sales before deciding that I needed something more; I wanted to weave my passions into my career. I love art. I love culture. I love the possibility of connecting people from different cultures and the possibility of discovering something new.
With this, I took a massive leap of faith in 2016; encouraged by my love for Singapore’s cultural values and burgeoning art scene, I decided to uproot my life and settle here. Then, I founded Exquisite Art, an online art gallery, to showcase art’s beauty and rich culture worldwide.
Can you share the most exciting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
The pandemic was an exciting time for Exquisite Art. People relied on the internet (more than ever) for connection and discovery. As such, we saw an influx of new customers visiting the Exquisite Art website and more artists contacting us to learn more about the platform and how they could work with us to showcase their works to a broader international audience.
I spent many hours speaking to all sorts of fascinating people from around the world, and many of the artists currently showcased on the Exquisite Art online gallery were discovered during this period.
Can you share a story about your funniest mistake when you first started? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
I thought telling my boss would allow me to choose who I worked with and decide my working hours.
However, like many entrepreneurs, I constantly prioritised work over play. I was not working fewer hours than I had been during my early career, as I was so focused on ensuring Exquisite Art was a success. However, I realised I needed to strike a balance to provide my well-being.
Lesson learnt: Finding out how to achieve work-life balance is tricky, but it’s also essential to ensuring continued success.
None of us can achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a person you are grateful to who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
Leaving my hometown and moving to a foreign country posed several challenges initially and was (naturally!) quite nerve-racking. However, I was delighted to find that Singapore’s art community is kind and generous, and many of the people I have met at various art fairs and exhibitions have become lifelong friends.
I also must share my appreciation for the incredible artists I enjoy representing. Without them, Exquisite Art would not exist, and I am grateful daily for the inspiration I find through conversations with these talents.
Okay, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the primary focus of our interview. According to this EY report, only about 20% of funded companies have women founders. This reflects excellent historical progress and shows that more work must still be done to empower women to create companies. In your opinion and experience, what is holding women back from founding companies?
It’s truly inspiring to see so many more female-founded companies, but, as you mention, much work is still to be done.
I believe there is a general lack of confidence when taking the leap and starting a business. However, as the number of female founders continues to grow, the confidence gap is closing as women feel inspired by the success of others.
Can you help articulate a few things that can be done as individuals, as a society, or by the government to help overcome those obstacles?
I feel we should continue to celebrate the success of all women loudly. As mentioned, there is inspiration to be found from successful female founders, so sharing experiences is critical.
Early childhood support is a passion of mine (more on this later), and I also think there’s a lot we can do to empower children from an early age to follow their hopes and dreams.
This might be intuitive to you as a woman founder, but I think it will be helpful to spell this out. Can you share a few reasons why more women should become founders?
Female founders are currently in the minority, so we must encourage more women to start their businesses. I’m a firm believer in the power of diversity. With contributions from people from different genders, races, and nationalities, society will become a much more powerful and harmonious place.
What “myths” would you like to dispel about being a founder? Can you explain what you mean?
Many people perceive that working for yourself means a free and easy schedule. However, it’s the opposite, as I find myself in constant ‘work mode’ even when I take much-needed vacations. Being a founder means being on call 24–7 whenever your company needs you.
The second myth is that entrepreneurs always fund their businesses with money from investors. This isn’t true. Most entrepreneurs, like myself, spend their hard-earned savings to start their businesses, taking a significant risk. This is one of the many reasons we are so dedicated to ensuring the company succeeds.
Is everyone cut out to be a founder? In your opinion, which traits increase the likelihood that a person will be a successful founder and what type of person should perhaps seek a “regular job” as an employee? Can you explain what you mean?
Not everyone can be a founder. Being a founder is not just a job; it comprises several roles and responsibilities; I would say it’s akin to being a parent.
Founders must be able to manage both themselves and their teams. They must be motivational, ensuring their team members’ continued passion, positivity, and well-being. Another important trait is sometimes accepting that someone else might do something different to you. Learning to recognize the strengths of your team is critical to success.
Finally, Founders require an unrelenting drive to continue waking up each morning with the determination to make a difference.
Okay super. Here is the central question of our interview. What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)
1. Learn how to delegate and guide
As someone who spearheads a business, we often take on much of the workload ourselves. This is a big no-no as, eventually, it will result in burnout and loss of motivation. It’s essential to learn how to trust your team so that you can effectively delegate roles and responsibilities. Similar to the leap of faith we took when starting our business, we need to take that small leap of confidence in the people we work with.
2. Sometimes, you must decide to put yourself before your business.
After founding your business, it’s normal to find that you always put your business first above yourself. However, it’s essential to make time for yourself sometimes, too.
3. Don’t be afraid to say NO.
It can be easy to feel as though you have to say yes to everything; however, much like making time for yourself, it’s essential to learn when to say no — be it to people, opportunities, or invitations.
4. Don’t expect your friends to be your clients and always support you.
Mixing personal contacts and business can be tricky. Starting your customer base from your circle of friends should never be your strategy. I like to draw a clear line.
5. Seek to understand before being understood
Different people have different standards in the business. What looks borderline okay to you could be perfect to someone else, and when trying to convince someone else to do things your way, you might meet a lot of resistance. Understanding customers instead of making them know you are so much more efficient.
How have you used your success to make the World a better place?
I strongly believe in giving back to the community and am privileged to be in a position to be able to do so.
I donate a percentage of sales from Exquisite Art to the Singapore Children’s Society, which focuses on protecting and nurturing children of all races and religions. Especially with Singapore being such a multicultural society, I feel that Singapore Children’s Society’s work is integral in ensuring continued happiness and harmony.
Established in 1952, Singapore Children’s Society continued to evolve its services to ensure it is supporting society in a relevant way and meeting the ever-changing needs of children.
You are a person of significant influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the most important number of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
I would create a place where youngsters can feel loved, be hopeful, learn, impress others with their talents, enjoy hobbies, and play sports. Society is changing rapidly, and I’m confident, yet slightly worried, about our children’s future. Children are our future.
We are blessed that some prominent names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the World or the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? They might see this if we tag them.
I would like to have breakfast or lunch with Larry Gagosian, who is, in my opinion, the top Art Dealer in the World and owns the Gagosian Gallery chain of art galleries. He has an excellent reputation for staging museum-quality exhibitions of contemporary art, and I would love to have the opportunity to speak to him about his experience and inspiration.
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.