Profiles

Our Inspiring Fifty: Profiles showcase the amazing female leaders and role models we uncovered. Through summary profiles, in-depth interviews and first-hand accounts, we bring to life and make accessible what it truly means to succeed in the technology space. Whether a CMO, developer, entrepreneur or CEO; we hope the Profiles programme serves as an invaluable platform from which insights and wisdom are shared. In addition we hope readers explore the challenges and rewards of a career in technology.

SOPHIE V. VANDEBROEK, CHIEF TECHNOLOGY OFFICER, XEROX

Make Smart Choices, Lean In, and most importantly Lean Out!

It is such a great honor to be one of Europe’s Inspiring Fifty Women in Technology. Here is my journey. Thirty years ago my husband and I moved to the United States from our home country Belgium. During my studies our first child was born. I then briefly worked at the IBM Research Labs where our second child was born. Having two children and a job seven hours from home was difficult. So I joined the Xerox Research Labs in Upstate New York where my husband was working. Our youngest child was born shortly afterwards.

For the last decade I have been Xerox’s Chief Technology Officer. In this role I have the privilege to lead the Xerox global research labs which include labs in Europe, Canada, India and PARC Inc. in the USA. What I love most about my role is collaborating with amazingly creative and entrepreneurial people from all over the globe. Together we co-innovate to create the future of work, the future of healthcare, the future of cities, the future of energy and more with the goal to make our clients successful and to make a difference to the world.

My top career tips come down to three straightforward concepts:

  1. Make Smart Choices regarding where you want to spend your time.
  2. Secondly, as Sheryl Sandberg says, Lean in and dedicate your time to those choices.
  3. But most importantly, Lean Out everything else: say no, simplify, and outsource.

My biggest challenge is to find time to do everything I want to do. So I have to make smart choices. Making smart choices is very personal. Let me illustrate what they are for me.

  1. I love my work. Early in my career my dream was to be an expert in microelectronics. This dream became true early on. Then my dream became to lead Xerox’s world-class global research organization. I am lucky, this dream became reality a decade ago.
  2. With no doubt a much higher priority than my work are my three kids. My dream was to make sure they became happy, confident, resilient and caring adults.
  3. I could not achieve these two dreams if I did not take care of my physical health and my emotional happiness. I dedicate time to exercise, to sleep and to eat healthy. When the kids were little I was lucky that my husband was also my best friend as that simplified things.

So in order to find time for my work, my kids, and my health I needed to lean out everything else. We simplified and we outsourced.

Simplify: My husband and I lived in a simple home and took simple vacations such as camping trips. We did not keep a large circle of friends, we planned free weekends and we skipped most mandatory niceties.

Equally important was to outsource. We had no family in the USA that could help. We asked our sitter to take care of many things. She did our laundry, cleaned our home, and went grocery shopping. If someone shops for you it is less expensive since only the essentials are bought. My husband loved cooking farmacias similares viagra. By simplifying we found the money to outsource. We found balance.

But then the balance broke. My husband died suddenly twenty years ago. Our three kids were under eight years old. My dream for them remained the same. It just became much harder to achieve. I also wanted to keep my dream at work as work was my shelter. I considered for a moment to give it up and move back to be with our family in Belgium. That would have disrupted the remaining constants in my children’s lives. I also needed to find even more time to cover the huge gap my husband left.

So as you might have guessed, very quickly our sitter learned to cook. I got rid of things that required time to maintain and that do not bring happiness. I cut down the time of work meetings and said no to many requests.

I found a balance again. The years passed and I made a couple truly wonderful girlfriends. However, life was very lonely without a partner. My now husband and I lived six hours apart when we started dating. After six years we married and moved in together.  I am blessed with three additional amazing children. All six are young adults now and are starting their own independent lives. My dream is becoming a reality. I am so lucky I got a second chance. And, yes you guessed it, my new husband is also an amazing cook.

To hear more about Sophie’s smart career tips, view her YouTube clip here

DR SUE BLACK, CEO AT SAVVIFY, MENTOR AT GOOGLE CAMPUS FOR MUMS

First Published on Huffington Post

Career and Life Advice for Women In Tech

What did you want to do when you were five years old? I wanted to be a driver of a big red London bus. I thought that would be the best job in the world. As I got older my thoughts changed slightly.

When I was twelve my world fell apart. My mother died from a brain haemorrhage. Now it was just the four of us, my Dad and my younger brother and sister. After a year my Dad remarried, we moved away and started a new life. It was not a good life. I left home as soon as I could at sixteen, moved in with my friend’s family, left school, and then after a year moved to London on my own.

I worked for 3 years, then got married. I had three children by the age of twenty-three. Unfortunately at 25 my marriage broke down, I became a single parent with 3 small children. We moved to a council estate in Brixton and our lives began anew.

 Once we had settled in and I’d found a school and playgroup places I spent a year studying maths at Southwark College. To my surprise I came joint top of the class with my friend Lorna. Spurred on by my success I applied to study computer science at the local university, London South Bank, and was accepted.

The first year at university was hard. I dropped the kids at school and rushed to classes in the morning, then left at 2pm to pick them up from school. It gradually got a bit easier over the years and I finally gained a BSc (Hons) in Computing Studies, I then applied and was accepted for a PhD in software engineering.

My PhD was hard but fun. Before I finished I applied for a lectureship, I applied and got the job. I had a salary for the first time in many years. To celebrate I threw away all our clothes with holes in them, and bought us all new outfits. Finally I was providing properly for my children and taking us all out of poverty.

Carrying out research for a PhD in computer science and going to academic conferences I was very much in a minority as a woman. I had several unpleasant experiences, a couple which left me feeling absolutely mortified. I then went to a “women in Science” conference in Brussels. It was incredible. I came home and set up the UK’s first online network for women in tech called BCSWomen which has now been running successfully for fourteen years.

In 2003, while I was Chair of BCSWomen I went to a meeting at Bletchley Park the place where the codebreakers worked during the Second World War. Their work shortened the war by two years, potentially saving twenty two million lives. I found out that thousands of women had worked there during the war and determined to get an oral history project launched to capture their stories. At the launch of this project in 2008 I found out that Bletchley Park itself had financial difficulties. I started a campaign to save it which took several years and involved thousands of people, but was eventually successful. I’ve written a book about the campaign “Saving Bletchley Park” which will be out in November 2015.

At home: I had another gorgeous daughter in 2004, twenty years after having my first daughter. I highly recommend a twenty year age gap between children, it provides you with great babysitters. I have also now met a wonderful man that I adore.

At work: I became a Lecturer (Professor), Senior Lecturer, then Reader at London South Bank University. In 2007 I became head of department at the University of Westminster. I worked there for three and a half years before moving to an honorary position at University College London.

Much of my time now is focused on running my charity #techmums which is all about teaching tech skills to mums in disadvantaged areas. I want to help mums and their families, especially those living difficult lives on low incomes – as I was 25 years ago, to have the benefit of a tech education.

I also spend a lot of time writing and public speaking. I’ve spoken at lots of interesting places from the the United Nations in Geneva to Brazil and even on a soapbox on the South Bank of the Thames for Soapbox Science. I’ve been named one of the top women in tech in the UK and Europe. It’s all a far cry from a couple of decades ago.

My Career and Life Advice
That was a very quick run down of my life and career over the last 50 years! With that in mind, here’s my distilled advice for a successful career + life:
1. Follow your passion – If you don’t you will ultimately be disappointed
2. Trust your gut instincts – no one in the world knows what’s best for you more than you do
3. Work hard, but not too hard – family and friends are important, don’t neglect them
4. Ask for help – don’t be scared to ask, and if you are, do it anyway
5. Don’t give up – shit happens, if you want to finish the race keep jumping the hurdles.

This is such good advice I think I’m going to start following it myself…

MARINA TOGNETTI, FOUNDER AND CEO OF MYNGLE

From Corporate Ladder to Entrepreneurial Rollercoaster

First published on Huffington Post

When I graduated from University it was an era when entrepreneurship was not cool for academics and climbing the corporate ladder was the thing to do. Consumer marketing had become my religion and Procter & Gamble was the bible back then, so it wasn’t a big surprise to friends and family that I started to work there. I really enjoyed corporate life, but I also liked all the other beautiful opportunities that were not on my career path.

The more years I worked in big corporations, the more “distracted” I got. There was the move to Holland for a boyfriend, the raves of the 90’s, the year sabbatical to travel the world, then write a book and of course the, now looking backwards, inevitable and ultimate “distraction”: starting my own company.

In my last job working for a boss at eBay we had just acquired Marktplaats for 235 million euros. The internet was flourishing and was changing so many industries. I wanted something for myself, and it did not take me very long to figure out what I wanted. Something with internet, something with education and travel… I thought: “How hard can it be? I am an ex BCG consultant and have an INSEAD MBA … I can do this.” I just need to do for myself what I have been doing for others for many years.” I had a vision and a plan……. I just needed to implement it.

 Boy, was I naive….. Entrepreneurship in reality turned out to be very different than corporate life. We launched mYngle as a marketplace, and very soon found out, that something was wrong. We were spending so much on Google Adwords, but we were not growing fast enough. Something had to change.
I had always learned since my first job to ‘listen to the customers.” After asking them, they they told us: “we want quality”. We followed that wish and started to adjust our services for the people that had the highest ”need” for them. That brought us to a position where companies more than consumers were interested in the services we were offering.

We listened carefully to this newly found target group to understand what they wanted. We implemented everything they wanted over the last 3 years. Step by step we moved away from our initial direction into a completely different one.
And it worked. It was difficult to let go of the initial idea, but necessary.
Letting go of old ideas and constant adaptation to customers proved to be our key to success. That is how we have evolved into a different company that is now widely successful.

So if you are ready to take a ride on the entrepreneurial roller coaster, I have the following tips for you to make the ride more enjoyable:

1. If you don’t succeed at first, try again (and keep on trying)

As an entrepreneur, you have to believe that there is always a way to solve a problem, to move forward, to go further, no matter what. If you believe that, there is (almost) nothing that you cannot achieve. Keep on trying, and if the hurdle seems to high, or the goal too ambitious, split it in smaller steps.

2. Don’t stick to the plan
What I did not know when I started, is the huge difference between “The plan” and “Reality”. You learn about strategy at school, you write long term plans in corporates, but that is not how a start-ups work. We tend to get attached to our initial ideas and well-thought plans, because change is often difficult, and inconvenient. Keep on evolving till you get it right. Change is an essential part of being entrepreneur.

3. Talk to your customers (and listen)
This can never be stressed enough. Everything you do should revolve around your customers. You, as founder, have to listen to them (not your marketers, or sales people, or…). Make it a habit. Read the surveys and the mails they send to CS, talk to your largest clients regularly, go out selling yourself. When you start, as well as when you are a billion dollars company. It is one of mYngle core values, the first and most important.

4. Stop comparing
Not all start-ups are successful over a fortnight, not all of us are Mark Zuckerberg. In fact most are not. The stories you read about the few that ”got it all” are rare exceptions of a very different reality. Stop comparing yourself with anything you see around you. Also, women in particular tend to do injustice to themselves. If we are not perfect, we feel we are not good enough. This is particularly damaging as entrepreneur, as you have to deal with uncertainty and take many leaps of fate.

5. Learn from mistakes, yours and others’
Making mistakes is good as long as you learn from it. Sometimes however, the price of those mistakes can be really high. Find a mentor, surround yourself with the right experts, so that you can learn also from the mistakes that others have made before you.

I would be interested to hear about other experiences with entrepreneurship, whether similar or totally different. Share your comments here below. Thanks!

JUSTINE ROBERTS, CEO MUMSNET AND GRANSNET

Building Mumsnet – From the Dotcom Crash to a Sustainable Business

First published on Huffington Post

As the CEO of a business started by, run by and (mostly) staffed by women – a fairly rare thing in tech – I get regular requests for advice on starting up and getting on. Mumsnet, in internet terms, is a rather slow developer; we’re fifteen-and-a-half (the half is very important, as all teenagers know) and in the first few years, our current monthly totals of seven and a half million users and seventy million page views would have felt like a very odd dream.

It’s hard not to feel a tiny bit fraudulent when giving advice; as Mumsnet’s early business trajectory was so – frankly – flat, I’d be hard pushed to genuinely recommend that anyone try to emulate it. That said, it worked – and while our story is very much a slow-burner, it also features things like dotcom crashes, working out of back bedrooms, and very small children; in other words, elements that an awful lot of women will have to contend with in the search for their own sustainable businesses, large or small.

The idea for Mumsnet came about following a disastrous family holiday; my twin daughters had just turned one, and we all needed a bit of R’n’R. Sadly we chose the wrong destination, in the wrong time zone, at the wrong resort with, frankly, the wrong children. If only, I thought, we could have sense-checked our decision before we shelled out a small fortune. What if there were an online network of parents, some of whom would already have worked out that that particular resort wasn’t remotely child-friendly, and that toddlers and jetlag are a really bad mix?

And what if you could also tap into that hard-earned parental wisdom about more than just holiday destinations? What about teething, and sleep and schools and mothers-in-law? Once home I checked out the competition, and found a plethora of parenting websites, but none with the real experts – other parents – at their heart. A bruising trawl for investment funds allowed me to quickly collect the full set of ways in which money men can say ‘thanks, but no’. (Some of them kindly offered me posts in their own outfits; others suggested the idea was great, but not with me at the helm.) I wasn’t helped by the fact that the dotcom bubble was well and truly bursting and some shiny new internet brands (anyone remember Boo.com?) were toppling like nine-pins.

So with a small amount of seed investment from a good friend, I retreated to my back bedroom with a new business plan, and more ‘organic’ approach. Not having to worry about investors’ ROI was an unexpected and significant bonus, allowing us to prioritise our users ahead of making any money. Though it took years before we were of sufficient scale to attract big brands to advertise, nonetheless the site flourished as new users found their way to it in droves, mostly through word of mouth and some helpful press attention. And because we had so few costs, we were able to plough on despite the absence of any real revenue. What matters so often in business (as in life perhaps) is not so much the strength of your ideas, but the strength of your resolution to persevere when the going gets tough.

So what have I learned?

1. Being a successful businesswoman has nothing to do with looking like a model, and random people’s opinions about you personally are neither here nor there. There’s a shortage of women at the top of the tech industry, and sexist abuse from online trolls is just one of the reasons. Another is our collective failure to get younger girls interested in the tech side; it took me ages to appreciate that hard coding is an incredibly creative tool. (Not that girls can’t necessarily get interested in hard coding for its own sake, of course.)

2. If you want to run your own business, you need to like hard work. Remember Debbie Allen’s speech in the opening credits of Fame? It’s like that, but without leg-warmers. Or fame.

3. Be clear about what’s important, and – unless the answer is ‘cash’ – don’t be pushed around too much by your bottom line. If you can cover your costs and pay staff on time, you’re doing OK. Success is a long-term project, and decisions that maximise your profits today could be undermining your business’s fundamental reasons for existing.

4. At some point you may need to throw caution to the wind, so try to recognise that time when it comes. In retrospect – and because of our shaky start with the dotcom bubble – I was over-cautious when it was time to expand.

5. Listen to users and pivot if necessary. Your first iteration may or may not be the real deal; as Mumsnet users always say about birth plans, ‘don’t get too attached’. The web means immediate and constant feedback; this can feel challenging (spot the euphemism) but try to see it as an amazing free focus group – so long as the people you’re listening to are your core audience.

LINDSEY NEFESH-CLARKE, FOUNDER AND MD of WOMEN’S WORLDWIDE WEB (W4)

Aspiring Female Entrepreneurs: Never Say Never

First published on Huffington Post

I’m looking at photos from the recent opening ceremony of our brand new IT training center for girls and women from the tribal zones in Pakistan: shyly smiling girls and women nervously caress the keyboards of brand new computers. Living in a region with a female illiteracy rate of approximately 90%, not one of them has ever touched a computer before. Our local team in Pakistan works hard, under unthinkably harsh circumstances, to protect girls’ and women’s human rights, particularly the right to education. In 2012, a 24-year-old member of the team was assassinated on her way to work, a few months before Malala Yousafzai was shot. In 2013 our team’s offices were bombed. And last year we had to relocate all of our colleagues from their home villages because of militant death threats, which are ongoing.

This IT center has been a long time coming. But here it is. I look at these photos and think, “Never say never”.

Whenever I hit a setback in my work or am feeling perilously out of my comfort zone, I think of these women and girls and my colleagues in Pakistan. Or: the women survivors of sexual violence in our programs in DR Congo. Or the girls who live in cemetery-slums in the Philippines and are participating in our IT vocational training program. Every day, countless astonishingly brave girls and women, from Afghanistan to India, Cambodia to Cameroon, are overcoming obstacle after obstacle, even risking their lives, to get an education.

The courage and resourcefulness of these girls and women help me put things in perspective. They remind me why I set out on my own entrepreneurial (ad)venture. They humble yet embolden me: “Courage is not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it”.

If you’re an aspiring entrepreneur:

1) Embrace your fear; push beyond your comfort zone

I sometimes think my experience bears out the definition of an entrepreneur as “someone who jumps off a cliff and builds a plane on the way down”! A vertiginous rush of emotions, pressure and constraints (on time, resources, finances) is par for the entrepreneurial course. Fear of starting, fear of failure, fear of risk: fear is a corollary of entrepreneurship. The way forward is to accept fear, befriend it. Learn to fail forward, always stretching your capacities.

2) Let passion be your compass

The high you get from doing work that you’re passionate about is your reward for taking the entrepreneurial risk and jumping off that cliff! Our team has unabashedly adorned the W4 office with feel-good posters. Next to the espresso machine: “Do what you love and love who you do it for, and the rest will come naturally.” Make passion your baseline. There’s a vast amount of grind in creating a start-up. Inevitably, there are phases crammed with intimidating challenges and choices, doubts, exhaustion and feeling frankly fed up. Trust your intuition: gauge the passion factor every step of the way and it will guide you through the bleakest moments.

3) Create a strong, supportive network

There’s no such thing as individual success. Surround yourself with a supportive network — of friends, family, team members, investors, mentors, advisors, role models — people on whom you can rely for advice, resources, constructive criticism and support. As you take the first steps towards your vision, you’ll meet powerful naysayers — and there are plenty more along the way. What makes your entrepreneurial adventure meaningful, gratifying and ultimately successful is the people you share it with. They can coach you and help you to be your own best ally. They can inspire in you the strength to remain Chief Believer when the ride gets rough.

4) Remember it’s a marathon, not a sprint

When I set out on my entrepreneurial journey three years ago, my work was dramatically all-consuming. I was soon struck by the imperative to pace myself. As in running a marathon or mountain-climbing, the importance of pacing oneself cannot be overstated. Burn-out lurks around the corner. There’s great truth to the saying, “Patience is the supreme art.” Or, as I’ve come to redefine it: there are different shades of impatience, so embrace constructive, creative impatience. Don’t dwell on the distance ahead, but instead acknowledge your accomplishments, persevere, keep moving steadily forward.

5) Mentor and be mentored!

At a recent conference about female social entrepreneurship in Europe, one of the female participants exclaimed, “I need to know that there’s another generation of women coming up behind me — mentoring is important!” There’s a dearth of women in tech and a pile of obstacles facing female entrepreneurs. Women are underrepresented in corporate leadership. And yet, meanwhile, the correlation between women’s empowerment and sustainable socioeconomic progress across the world has been proven. Everyone should be passionate about helping other women up the economic, corporate and entrepreneurial ladder!

Lindsey Nefesh-Clarke is Founder & Managing Director of W4 (Women’s WorldWide Web), a crowdfunding platform dedicated to girls’ and women’s empowerment around the world.

Lindsey was recently named as one of the fifty most inspiring women in the European technology sector by Inspiring Fifty. Inspiring Fifty is a pan-European programme that identifies, encourages, develops and showcases women in leadership positions within the technology community. The aim is to inspire a new generation of female leaders and entrepreneurs across Europe and indeed worldwide, leading the charge to affect meaningful and durable change.

Laura Jordan Bombach, creative partner at MrPresident, co-founder of SheSays

Only The Brave

Published on Huffington Post

You might say I’ve been:
Brave to dream of being a creative director having never studied advertising, or design
Brave to be a vocal woman in a sea of men
Brave to have been making and coding innovative work for 20 years
Brave for starting SheSays and CANNT Festival.
Brave for sticking to my principles.
More recently, brave for starting my own agency in a climate where networks are squeezing the life out of the indies.

But it doesn’t feel like bravery when you love what you do, and have a powerful and visceral vision of the future.

I’M BRAVE BECAUSE I’M IMPATIENT FOR CHANGE, and believe you MUST be the change you want to see in the world.

 This drive to make things better is the principle that has driven every decision I’ve ever made. The reason I started my first agency while still at uni and the reason I’ve thrown myself headfirst into the unknown, over and over again. It’s the reason I still actively make work rather than just bring home a mega salary for sitting in meetings about meetings.

Creating positive change is my own personal measuring stick of success. Be it for a client’s business or for the people on my team, my mentees or for a greater social good.

It’s the process through which I’ve learned to trust myself and my decisions, and push so hard for bigger, hairier challenges.

When I was diving into my own experience for tips to share, I realised that all of my successes came down to pushing forwards with this open, positive attitude, and not closing myself of through ego or insecurity. But stepping forward with some feeling of bravery instead. So if I had one key piece of advice to share it would be:

DON’T BE A DICK

Be brave.
Get off your high horse.
Don’t ask anyone to do anything you wouldn’t do yourself.
What is that about?
Roll your sleeves up and get working.
You can do better.
DON’T BE A DICK

Scare yourself every day.
If you’re reaching every goal then you’ve set the wrong ones.
Be vulnerable. Fuck up. Learn.
Fuck up again. Learn some more.
It makes you strong and interesting.
Don’t rest on your laurels or your celebrated work from 2006.
DON’T BE A DICK

Never compromise your ethics.
A principle isn’t a principle until you lose money on it.
That knot in your stomach is telling you something and you need to listen.
You all have your own moral compass, but you know in your gut when you’re doing the wrong thing.
You know when you’ve crossed that line.
Stop. Leave. Set up your own thing.
Or just speak up.
DON’T BE A DICK

Be a rainmaker.
Build a culture of creativity and trust.
Set a vision for the future with the people you work with.
Make stuff happen. Be an open door.
Collaborate.
Inspire a little bit more bravery in everyone you meet.
DON’T BE A DICK

Trust yourself.
Have an opinion.
Let go of the self doubt.
You’re certainly not the best, but you’re not here by accident either.
You won’t be found out as a fraud.
Make decisions – anything is better than limbo.
Do the hard things first and create some space to make work better.
DON’T BE A DICK

Make brave work.
Not work that’s measured on awards but work that creates change.
Not work for your own gratification but things that move people to action.
Things of value. That make life better, funnier, easier, more joyful, more interesting, more curious, more clear, more simple.
DON’T BE A DICK

Be human.
Don’t put something out into the world that stereotypes, objectifies or debases, for the sake of a smirk or a cheap gag.
You are responsible for setting the vision of the future for others.
What they aspire to, who they admire.
Don’t make people feel ugly, worthless or empty for the sake of trying to fill that hole with a product.
DON’T BE A DICK

I’d love you all to finish reading this a little bit braver.
Trusting in yourself a bit more.
Collaborating.
Working with compassion.
You just need to say it as you see it.
DON’T BE A DICK.

Laura Jordan Bambach was recently named as one of the fifty most inspiring women in the European technology sector by Inspiring Fifty. Inspiring Fifty is a
pan-European programme that identifies, encourages, develops and showcases
women in leadership positions within the technology community. The aim is
to inspire a new generation of female leaders and entrepreneurs across
Europe and indeed worldwide, leading the charge to affect meaningful and
durable change.

Alice Bentinck, Co-founder of Entrepreneur First

Taking the Plunge

Published on Huffington Post

It was never going to be easy to leave my career to start a startup, but luckily McKinsey & Co, my then employer gave me a little push.

No, I wasn’t fired, they had a graduate programme that encouraged you to explore different opportunities after two years. As I was planning to leave I knew this was my chance to start a startup. It was something I had always wanted to do, and always planned to do, but I also realised it was very easy to put it off. Would there ever be a time where I felt I had enough knowledge, connections or skill to build a startup? Simply, no. And I almost did put it off.

The time is now

Just as I was signing a contract to join Google, my best friend from McKinsey, Matt Clifford, called me. Would I join him to co-found Entrepreneur First? Immediately I said yes. I knew it would be something I would regret if I didn’t. Since then I have never looked back. There are so many pluses to working in the startup community and although it can feel hard to consider leaving your corporate job, I promise you, that the benefits far outweigh any of the excuses that are preventing you from taking the plunge, I’ve tried to outline a few below.

Total football

If you are looking to expand your skillset, there is no better place to do so than a startup. When a team is so lean, it requires people who are willing to learn and eager to help out with projects and execute. You could find yourself working on marketing, product or on putting together investor decks- and you need to learn how to do these things, fast. It’s what my co-founder Matt calls ‘playing total football’. You are able to take on the role of another team player seamlessly.

Challenge yourself

In many ways starting up gets harder as you get older, and at EF, we find that the drive of young founders can be an asset. Work out what steps you can take to make founding a startup happen. And don’t forget that this needs to be something you can see yourself working on for the next ten years at least. On average it might take a startup around that amount of time to IPO… if it is successful. Startups are a long term game and you need to be fully committed.

Mission led

When Matt and I started our company, we wanted to change the way that people considered their careers, particularly after our own experiences. If there is a problem that you are passionate about fixing, perhaps in the industry that you are currently working in, your domain expertise and knowledge of the sector give you unique insight into finding the right solution.

Don’t wait

If you’ve ever wondered whether you should start a startup, now is the time for a fierce conversation with yourself. If you believe that at some point in your life you need to be a founder, now is the best time for that. You will never have enough knowledge, contacts or expertise to make you feel ready. The founder community is so open and friendly and there is a tonne of support on offer. Most people will wait until it’s too late. Will you?


Alice was recently named as one of the fifty most inspiring women in the European technology sector by Inspiring Fifty. Inspiring Fifty is a pan-European programme that identifies, encourages, develops and showcases women in leadership positions within the technology community. The aim is to inspire a new generation of female leaders and entrepreneurs across Europe and indeed worldwide, leading the charge to affect meaningful and durable change.

Janneke Niessen, Co-founder and CIO of Improve Digital, co-creator of Inspiring Fifty

"If She Can See It, She Can Be It." The Importance of Female Role Models in Tech

Published on Huffington Post

During my entrepreneurial adventures there have been many occasions in which being a woman was the exception. There are not a lot of women in technology. Nor are there a lot of female high- growth entrepreneurs. My business partner at Improve Digital Joelle Frijters and I have been confronted with prejudice, stupid questions, offending assumptions and people being surprised that we are women.

It’s the reality that when people picture a successful entrepreneur that can build and scale a business, they picture a man. It’s also the reality that women themselves often assume certain things are not achievable or possible. A British documentary maker summarised this perfectly: “If she does not see it, she can’t be it.”

And that is why role models are so important. Role models are key to changing perceptions. The effect of Marissa Mayer and Sheryl Sandberg have not gone unnoticed across the globe. When more and more women are seen in the top of organisations and running high growth technology businesses, the more this will be regarded as the standard and a perfectly normal, and logical, path to choose.

That’s why Joelle and I started the initiative Inspiring Fifty, to celebrate role models across Europe and shine a spotlight on them to ultimately bring positive change in female leadership and the perception towards it, especially in the technology industry.

But it isn’t just women already building their careers we need to reach. It’s also the future generation. And that’s why I’ve also just launched Project Prep, a novel with the aim to engage and inspire 10-14 year old girls and young women, highlighting how real, how exciting, and how cool setting up your own tech business can be. While Project Prep has just been published in the Netherlands, I hope to publish it in the UK, US and other markets later this year.

Many of the Inspiring Fifty fabulous role models have already kindly shared their top tips on Huffington Post to help inspire women to build a successful career in tech. Here are some of the things I’ve learned along the way as a female tech entrepreneur:

1. Think bigger

Don’t put limitations on yourself or you will never give yourself the chance to achieve something really big. Think big – and ask yourself ‘why would it not be possible?’ When I launched Project Prep for example, I thought it would be fantastic to have the support of Queen Maxima of the Netherlands. Some people laughed at my idea as impossible – but I never once thought that and on the 17 June I walked into the Palace to greet the Queen and present her the first copy of the book. My ‘big’ idea got me there. And now I need to find publishers in the UK and US, but I don’t doubt I can do it. Not for a moment.

2. Have fearless ambition

See your idea as successful, and go ahead and do it. Don’t think too much about the reasons why not to do it and act on the reasons to do it. Have courage in your idea and don’t listen to anyone who tells you it’s not possible. When we launched Improve Digital, people thought we wouldn’t be able to compete with the big US players. But we just started anyway. And proved them wrong. Of course the challenges, and knowing things could go wrong at any time, was sometimes scary, but also incredibly exciting.

3. Fake it till you make it

Think about how you want to be perceived, rather than what the reality might be. For example, you could decide to wait to announce a product to the press when it is fully out of beta, or you could do it earlier. The reality is probably the same -but the perception is different. Being the one who launches a new product to the market first will make you seem bigger. It’s not about lying, it’s about timing, messaging and how you present yourself.

4. Celebrate your success

Many people focus too much on the end goal. An exit is of course important, but it can be a long road to that point and if you don’t celebrate all your small wins, it won’t be easy to hang in there. And when the exit does happen, you’ll look back and realise it’s all the small things that made the experience so great. Whether it’s a new client, a new release, moving into a shiny new office – there should always be champagne in the fridge, as there is always something to celebrate.

5. Work really hard

The reality is building your own company is really, really hard work. But what sets entrepreneurs apart from others is the ability to persevere against the odds. They hang in there pushing for their dream to become a reality when everybody else would have given up already. And yes, the grass often seems greener on the other side which can be tough. But it probably isn’t greener – it’s just the PR department saying so (see point 3 on ‘faking it’).

6. Be inspired

And last but certainly not least – have a role model who you can look up to for inspiration. They might be someone you know who mentors you personally, or it could be one of our Inspiring Fifty women across Europe. We all need a role model, no matter at what level we are. My personal role model is Neelie Kroes – and watching how she works has driven me for years. And rest assured these women will have all faced the toughest of challenges to get to where they are, but what makes them inspirational is they kept going. And who knows? One day you might find yourself named as one of the most inspirational women in European tech yourself. And then I hope you will share your story of success with those who are inspired by you. I wish you luck on your journey.

Inspiring Fifty is a pan-European programme that identifies, encourages, develops and showcases women in leadership positions within the technology community. The aim is to inspire a new generation of female leaders and entrepreneurs across Europe and indeed worldwide, leading the charge to affect meaningful and durable change.

Claudia Helming, Founder and CEO of DaWanda

Setting Up Your Own Business? Here Are the Lessons I Learned

Published on Huffington Post

For my first job I did a paper round in the small village I grew up in. The paper had only 30 subscribers, but I got paid per copy – very profitable! I learned quickly that I could make even more money when ringing the door bells and delivering the newspaper personally. People tipped me very generously for this service. That was my first business lesson: A successful business model consists of basics and add-ons, extra services.

After my Romance and Tourism studies I started working in an Internet company. Ever since, I have wanted to be part of this economy that bears such an incredible potential. Still, it took quite a few years until I went into business for myself. When my business partner Michael and I developed the idea for an online marketplace for handmade and unique items, many people thought we’d gone nuts -a business based on self-made items sounded crazy at that time. But we believed in DaWanda, proceeded anyway, and time has proven us right. But even if we hadn’t succeeded – it would have been the bigger mistake not to start my own business, not to take the opportunity (and the risk). Doing something and failing is an experience, which allows you to learn and to grow, and it is not the end of the world. However, regretting not having done something will haunt you all your life.

Along the way of founding your own business, you will make many mistakes – some will have a bigger impact, some won’t – but they all teach you a lesson. So, what I learned during that time is:

1. Believe in your idea.

Of course, it is important that your idea successfully passes a reality check, and that you get feedback from others and critically analyze your business model. But there will always be people who don’t get it or are not brave enough to think offbeat. Don’t let them get in your way, think positive and believe in your idea!

2. Don’t wait for something to happen.

If you want to do something, just do it yourself. Don’t wait for somebody else to smooth the way for you. You may think that politics should facilitate entrepreneurship and create helpful programs for founders. But with DaWanda I learnt that an online marketplace makes it easier for women to go into business than any political initiative we have seen so far. So, just do it!

3. Networking

Feedback and input is very important – from your friends and family, other entrepreneurs, mentors or potential users. So start building up a network and help each other -almost all founders are facing similar problems and you can gain a lot of insights when talking to fellow entrepreneurs and exchanging thoughts. There are many startup industry events where you can get in touch with the right people. Or when you’re based in Berlin, just hang out in Mitte ; )

4. Stay hungry, stay foolish.

Michael and I were gift shopping in Moscow when we developed the idea for DaWanda. We were not able to find nice Christmas presents and not satisfied with the Matryoshkas we tried to paint ourselves. Inspiration comes from the strangest places and situations. So, be open-minded. Keep on learning and broadening your mind. There are always ways to optimize your business, offer additional services and make your company the best in its field – or just become a serial entrepreneur!

5. Dare to do it!

Don’t let the fear of failing petrify you. As American author H. Jackson Brown Jr. put it:” Be bold and courageous. When you look back on your life, you’ll regret the things you didn’t do more than the ones you did.” With a lot of effort and input from experts you will be able to develop a great business model and decrease the risk of failing. Still, there is no guarantee. But I think the biggest mistake is not daring to follow your dreams.

Claudia was recently named as one of the fifty most inspiring women in the European technology sector by Inspiring Fifty. Inspiring Fifty is a pan-European programme that identifies, encourages, develops and showcases women in leadership positions within the technology community. The aim is to inspire a new generation of female leaders and entrepreneurs across Europe and indeed worldwide, leading the charge to affect meaningful and durable change.

Louise O’Sullivan, Entrepreneur, mother, passionate advocate for the female agenda, technologist, board member

What Can Gender Parity Ever Do for Us?

Published on Huffington Post

Stephen Pinker in his epic tome, The Better Angels of our Nature, cites feminisation as one of five key elements contributing to the decline of violence in the world today. I am not here today to talk about the decline in violence, that is for another blog, but I do want to talk about why feminisation is deeply relevant to my industry of tech and telecoms.

These industries form the foundation for the world of the future whether we like it or not. Technological progress will not be reversed, however much you want peace from the constant communication, tweets, FB updates and Whatapp messages. Technology and telecoms will just progress and we will evolve and adapt accordingly. It will be the landscape of future minds and we need to take care of it.

Today, these industries are still dominated by men in decision making positions and we have an almost immovable statistic of 20% female representation, which reduces substantially as you move up the decision making and management chain.

So how do we open the doors wider for more women to take their place in the industry and therefore influence the future? I don’t have the absolute answer, but from my experience I have a few nuggets that I keep close in helping me keep on.

1. Don’t be put off

Technology is the landscape of the future. Its application will reach into every aspect of our lives and our childrens lives. People sometimes see this as negative, but I see it differently and part of my argument for more women in tech is predicated on this subject. We need to be at the table to influence the decisions made about how technology touches our lives whether it is through legislation, data security or technology design. You don’t need to be an engineer in this landscape but you do need to be passionate about making a difference for the betterment of the future.

2. Know the data

There is ample evidence to support the value and benefit that gender parity provides to organisations. Evidence that profitability, productivity and corporate governance all benefit from a more gender balanced environment. Melvin Konner’s recent book, Women After All explains how and why this is the case. How industry and the corporate world to date has suffered from not utilising the full benefits that the complement between male and female thinking can facilitate and how misleading and dangerous the misperceptions of women has been and that it must be changed. These industries NEED more women at the table.

3. Back women

I often get shouted back that ‘it is about the best candidate for the role, not their gender’. I challenge this point of view in so far as there is a statistically imbalanced representation of women to choose from therefore there is currently an argument that positive gender discrimination could act as a lever to reset the dial for women and fast track parity. I also question the basis for which a ‘best candidate’ is measured. These tend to be male biased bases and therefore it’s invariably difficult for women to compete when the heuristic pushes for male like qualities.

This is about resetting the dial and of course there will be women who turn out to not be right for the job, but then, history has revealed there have been a great many men in roles who are ‘not right for the job’.

4. Don’t be afraid of being pilloried and vilified

The corporate world is predicated on a very masculine conduct, this is less a criticism and just a statement of fact due to circumstance. Bullying is a norm. Sex and War by Malcom Potts and Thomas Hayden, offers an excellent insight as to the evolution of this behavior in human society. I have seen many men being, what I call, bullied but what fascinates me is how they react. They get angry but accept it as par for the course. Women approach this in a different way. We don’t accept bullying as tolerable behavior. ‘Sexism’ is bullying by another name. Calling this behaviour out is unpopular but will change the dial, and not just for women.

5. You don’t have to ‘man up’ to be a successful female

Being subjected to bullying and sexism forces women to feel the only way to beat it is join it. This behavior is known as ‘manning up’ in order to be accepted. Gender parity is not about adding more females to the corporate world in order to propogate masculine behavior, it is about diluting the masculinity with feminine traits and utilising the complement of them.

My final word, is to men. This debate is heavily weighted to the female agenda because of the imbalance today. At no point do I think we can do without men or that women are better than men. This is about PARITY, not superiority.

Louise was recently named as one of the fifty most inspiring women in the European technology sector by Inspiring Fifty. Inspiring Fifty is a pan-European programme that identifies, encourages, develops and showcases women in leadership positions within the technology community. The aim is to inspire a new generation of female leaders and entrepreneurs across Europe and indeed worldwide, leading the charge to affect meaningful and durable change.

Neelie Kroes, Special Envoy, Start Ups NL. Formerly Vice President EU Commission working on the Digital Agenda

My Message to Female Entrepreneurs: Embrace the Fear and Take the Plunge

Published on Huffington Post

I have failed many times in my career, but I have also succeeded. And I have definitely learnt more from the former. My belief is this: with every failure in your career, you gain experience and understanding that will benefit you in the future. To fail is to learn. It is a positive.

Yet there is a European attitude to failure that is troublesome and affects many would be start-ups. In my current role as special envoy for NL Start-Ups, and while previously working for the European Commission’s Digital Agenda, I have met many potential digital entrepreneurs, often women, who have shared with me truly awesome, innovative ideas for a business. Yet something holds them back – they are just too afraid to step out of the comfort zone and try.
They are worried about being judged if it doesn’t work out. They are worried their CV will look weak if it features a series of short-term ventures. They are of course worried about the financial implications.

In my role in the Netherlands, I’m working actively to develop and unlock talent and innovation, and support start-ups who need encouragement to overcome their challenges. As part of this, I want them to learn that failure is simply another word for experience.

If it is only fear that holds you back, then I say embrace the fear and take the plunge. There is nothing more exciting and rewarding than starting up your own business. Startups represent the entrepreneurial and innovative spirit that knows no boundaries, nor waits for what lies ahead. Startups create the future themselves. Be a part of that.

And when you do try, here are my top tips:

1. Never Give Up

Like I said, there will be times when you fail. Or nearly fail. But be creative, be fearless and try, try again. During my career, I have heard ‘no’ from people who I needed to hear ‘yes’ from, and I have made mistakes that set me back. But it always made me more determined and more resourceful and with that you gain confidence and success. Think of any of your female role models – I guarantee you that these women will all have heard ‘no’ at one point in their careers, but they will have fought against the odds and worked even harder to achieve their dreams.

2. Keep dreaming and follow your dreams

And with that in mind, believe in your dreams. Trust yourself and your gut feeling, and when the road gets rocky, look ahead at the end goal and visualise your dreams becoming a reality. Be the person you want to be, and follow the business path you really want. And to help you get there, surround yourself with staff, partners, investors, family and friends who will support your dreams.

3. Develop a thick skin

You will of course come across people who won’t support your dreams. You will have the door closed in your face many times – you might even unfortunately come across people who don’t take you seriously because you are a woman. You’ll need to develop a thick skin because these ‘nay-sayers’ will always exist. But that’s ‘their problem, not yours’. You simply have to learn to navigate around unhelpful people to find a solution. Focus on those wonderful supporters of yours instead. Ask for their help and believe in their encouragement.

4. Take risks and push the boundaries

If you have started-up your own business, well congratulations because that makes you a risk-taker. And that is good. But now you need to keep on taking risks because otherwise you will never push the boundaries. Be innovative. Always. Your business will need to evolve, and that might mean introducing new ideas, new staff, new technologies, new partnerships, new financing and so on. All these come with risk, but they also all come with great rewards if played right.

5. Help other women

And finally. There is a special place in hell for women that don’t support each other. Don’t find yourself there. Take everything you learn, and be willing to share and mentor others. You aren’t the first woman who has felt fear and needed support in their careers, and you won’t be the last. Please share your start-up experiences and be proud of both your successes and failures and what you learnt from them, and you will help a future generation of entrepreneurs. And that feels good.

Neelie was recently named as one of the fifty most inspiring women in the technology sector by Inspiring Fifty. Inspiring Fifty is a pan-European programme that identifies, encourages, develops and showcases women in leadership positions within the technology community. The aim is to inspire a new generation of female leaders and entrepreneurs across Europe and indeed worldwide, leading the charge to affect meaningful and durable change.

Baroness Joanna Shields, Life Peer in the House of Lords and David Cameron’s Digital Advisor

Send the Elevator Back Down

Kevin Spacey recently said, “If you’re lucky enough to do well, it’s your responsibility to send the elevator back down”. After working in the tech sector for a quarter of a century, this quote summed up perfectly why in October 2012, I left my executive job leading Facebook’s international expansion and operations in Europe, Middle East, Russia and Africa to serve in government. I felt then, as I do now, an immense personal responsibility to inspire the next generation of young people to embrace digital technology and entrepreneurial culture, with all the incredible experiences it has to offer.

Technology has the power to be a great leveller. The Internet represents opportunity on a mass scale and it empowers equally for all those who want to take advantage of it. And yet, when it comes to the question of women and their place in the sector, this rule does not seem to apply. Indeed, oftentimes it is quite the opposite.

Despite the fact that the digital revolution is a driver of equal opportunity, women currently fill less than 20% of tech jobs in the UK. One explanation is that there are simply not enough women applying for these roles and even fewer young girls studying science, technology and programming in secondary school.

In 2014, only 15% of girls across the UK selected computer science for their GCSEs. When it comes to the A-Levels, enrolment in tech related education was lower still, despite an 11% rise in overall students taking computing – research by Ukie found that nine out of 10 students were male. These figures show that far more needs to be done to encourage young girls to equip themselves with the skills they need to thrive and succeed. But that’s not all.

Let’s face it, when it comes to girls, our industry has a PR problem. This is not just an issue we are facing here in the UK, but a global problem that needs tackling. Tech is for whatever reason, not appealing to enough young women as a career opportunity. Clearly this isn’t because tech is boring – some of the most interesting issues of our time are being solved through technology and digital innovation but to get more young women interested in joining the digital revolution, we need to debunk a few myths. These myths are contributing to the exclusion of talented people who might otherwise be incredible assets for our industry.

The fact is that to have a successful career in tech, you don’t have to be amazing at maths or love science. This might sound like heresy as indeed for some technical paths, top-notch skills in these disciplines are essential, but for others, creativity and ideas are what differentiates good from great.

Another pervasive myth is that a career in tech means that you will be sitting in dark corners for endless hours debugging lifeless lines of code. In fact, with so much open source code available for use, the foundations of our digital landscape are becoming an increasingly accessible commodity. A premium is placed on what value you can add to standard blocks of code to make them come alive. It’s much more likely that this process, including developing new features and products, will be done in collaborative ‘hackathon’ environments, with teams of people working together on everything from debugging to the creation of breakthrough innovations.

It’s no longer merely the logic of pulling together lines of code. Inspiration and ideas play a much more pivotal role. And let’s face it; there is no shortage of women with great ideas and with the desire to make a big impact. It’s a fact that the most productive and successful product development teams are gender balanced and include women in key leadership positions but we need more.

So, how do we transform these attitudes ands start making real progress? First and most importantly, we need to facilitate a better awareness of the great opportunities the tech sector offers. Girls need more support and mentoring and we need successful women sharing their experiences on a mass scale. We need to raise familiarity around tech careers and help counteract the negative perceptions. We should champion existing role models within the industry and set up initiatives that create positive and encouraging narratives around their journey.

Programmes such as the pan-European ‘Inspiring Fifty’ started by two wonderful female entrepreneurs, Janneke Niessen and Joelle Frijters from the Netherlands are a vital step forward in sharing the experiences we need to draw more young women into exciting tech roles. These organisations are identifying, encouraging and showcasing women in leadership positions in the tech industry.

I recently had the privilege of hosting the Inspiring Fifty at 10 Downing Street for a rare conversation and mentoring session during International Women’s Week. It was truly moving. The state dining room was full of Europe’s most accomplished and digitally savvy women tech stars; founders, entrepreneurs and business leaders representing over three decades of technology development and innovation. They all had one thing in common: the genuine desire to share and to support one another. Each participant delivered a truly unique perspective on our shared experiences as women in tech.

We also invited a group called Girls in Tech to join us and we matched the Inspiring Fifty with their aspiring younger counterparts in a speed mentoring session making sure that each mentee had at least four mentor sessions. The day culminated with a photo taken together in front of the famous No. 10 black door. It was truly one of the most fantastic days I can remember.

I believe strongly that it is the responsibility of women across the globe that have achieved success in the digital and IT sector to give something back. We can capture the imagination of young women and give them the confidence to believe they can create the great tech innovations that will define our future.

Through increased mentorship and by actively trying to create the conditions in which enterprising women can thrive, we can ensure that future generations of aspiring female tech entrepreneurs have the support they need to achieve similar success – and most importantly, in greater numbers.

Quite simply, we must send the elevator back down.

Baroness Joanna Shields serves as Prime Minister David Cameron’s Digital Adviser and a conservative life peer in the House of Lords. She is a dual American-British citizen, Chair of Tech City UK and non-executive director of the London Stock Exchange Group

Joanna was recently named as one of the fifty most inspiring women in the European technology sector by Inspiring Fifty. Inspiring Fifty is a pan-European programme that identifies, encourages, develops and showcases women in leadership positions within the technology community. The aim is to inspire a new generation of female leaders and entrepreneurs across Europe and indeed worldwide, leading the charge to affect meaningful and durable change.

This article was first published on Huffington Post

 

 

Corinne Vigreux, TomTom co-founder, Managing Director of its Consumer business

Running Your Own Business Is Exciting, but Not for the Faint-Hearted

It seems fashionable to romanticise entrepreneurs. Business professors celebrate the disruptors who dare to break the rules. Politicians praise the new job creators. Glossy magazines drool over their fabulous, exciting lives.

In my experience, I can honestly say, there is nothing romantic about running your own business. Starting and growing a business from the ground up is hard work. The early years are tough when there is little job security, massive financial risk and a non-existent social life. No wonder entrepreneurs are often called the “crazy ones.”

But despite the pressure, it is a real privilege to be able to do something you love every day. I get to do some pretty amazing things and meet some truly amazing people. And I get to do my own thing. Entrepreneurs tend to challenge convention, and I am no different. Being my own boss is incredibility liberating and empowering.

And when it all comes together, it is pure magic. There is nothing quite like the feeling you get when you see your ideas, turn into products that put a smile on people’s faces.

My own experience has taught me that to be an entrepreneur you need humility, resilience and courage. This is especially true when your business is focused on technology. You must have the courage to believe in your idea when others think you are crazy. You need the resilience to deal with the up and downs that will inevitably come.

My TomTom journey has been something of a 20 year rollercoaster ride. In the very early days, I set out to establish the TomTom brand, growing TomTom from four to 50 people. Then I went on to lead sales and product strategies, growing the business from 42 million to 1.8 billion in just a few short years. Next came a challenging time where we had to find new growth areas, keep innovating, all the while controlling costs. I must admit, it sometimes felt as though I had been put on the high spin cycle of a washing machine for a very long time!

I am very proud of all that we have achieved at TomTom, not least that we are one of only a few successful consumer technology companies to come out of Europe. And today, our business is returning to growth. I am very excited to be launching new products in new areas.

My advice to anyone starting their own business:

1. Follow your intuition above all. Everyone you speak to will have an opinion. Keep in mind that you know your business better than anyone, so when people give you advice always try and understand what motivates them.

2. Make sure you have a good team with complementary skills. You will probably share some of the most intense experiences of your life with these people – the ups and the downs. Choosing your business partner is as important as choosing your life partner, possibly more important.

3. Make sure you don’t run out of cash. Planning is key. Whatever idea you have, you need to be able to finance it.

4. There is nothing romantic about being an entrepreneur; it requires a lot of hard work and soul searching. The greatest reward is to do something that has not been done before. But you need resilience, drive, energy and courage to make that happen.

Follow on Twitter: @CorinneVigreux

Corinne was recently named as one of the fifty most inspiring women in the European technology sector by Inspiring Fifty. Inspiring Fifty is a pan-European programme that identifies, encourages, develops and showcases women in leadership positions within the technology community. The aim is to inspire a new generation of female leaders and entrepreneurs across Europe and indeed worldwide, leading the charge to affect meaningful and durable change.

This article was first published on Huffington Post

 

 

Sarah Wood, Co-Founder & COO, Unruly

Mind the Gap: Five Tips for Women to Power Up Their Tech Careers

It’s been a roller-coaster ride growing Unruly from a three-person start-up into a video ad tech company with 200 people, 15 offices and revenues of $43m last year.

Along the way, I’ve encountered remarkable generosity, toe-curling misogyny (being mistaken for a hooker at an international reception for technology CEOs) and plenty of sage advice from founders, authors and seasoned women in tech. This post is a brilliant opportunity to say thank you to all the people who have shared their thoughts with me over the last decade. Here are five top tips that I hope will stand you in good stead!:

1. Choose your company carefully – and I mean “company” in its broadest sense #

Make no mistake, the people you choose to be your life partner, peers or co-founders, have the power to make or break your career. The judgments and decisions you make in your personal life can have profound repercussions on your professional life.

A husband who shares the childcare 50/50 or a co-founder who doesn’t resent your flexible hours can help with the logistical and psychological pressures of being a working mum. And if you’re entering a business as an employee then choose the company with the greatest of care: does it have a good track record of promoting women internally? Are there senior women already at the top and are there initiatives in place to help the next generation of women succeed?

2. Build the team, trust the team, enjoy the team!

Great products and great companies aren’t built by great individuals – they’re built by great teams and this is especially the case in agile, fast-moving tech companies where coders, UX engineers, designers, product managers, business development, marketing and sales teams have to work closely and across functions in order to ship product quickly and compete in competitive market conditions.

eXtreme Programming practices have helped the whole company at Unruly to build a collaborative, learning environment, where our programmers code in pairs, we use mobbing to transfer knowledge quickly across a team and we believe that eXtreme communication is the key to success!

3. Step up to the plate

Gotta admit it, I’ve always wanted to use this expression with a straight face. It’s so cliched it never fails to make me chuckle when I hear it bandied about on The Apprentice (It took me a while to work out that it’s a baseball analogy rather than a Charles Dickens’ Oliver Twist analogy!) but it’s seriously important advice for women in tech. Why? Because there’s no ability gap between men and women working in tech; it’s the yawning confidence gap that stops so many women putting themselves forward, accepting responsibility and benefiting from the valuable experience of leading, winning, and, yes, failing.

4. Ask for help and offer help

If you’re working in a high-growth tech company, with new products, features and markets constantly coming on stream, there’ll be plenty of moments when you feel out of your depth. That’s not a problem – as long as you’re prepared to ask questions and seek the help you need. Chances are, there’ll be plenty of other people feeling the same way too – how can you make your expertise available to them? Q&A pages on the wiki, family-style dining in the kitchen, show and tells in the clubhouse are some of the ways we share knowledge at Unruly.

5. Power Up your Network

You are not alone. There are many other people at similar stages in their tech career, asking the same questions, experiencing the same self-doubts and anxieties – they are your power up! I experienced this first-hand with a regular Tech COO meet-up where I met many amazing tech founders and two inspirational leaders in particular – Divinia Knowles (President and CFO of Mind Candy) and Pete Smith (co-founder of Songkick and Silicon Milk Roundabout). If you can build a sense of cohort and shared mission and support each other as you grow, the rewards will be more than financial, more than professional – you’ll have built meaningful friendships that bring a sense of shared purpose and belonging.

And a sneaky 6th tip

If anything you’ve read above strikes a chord, think how you can act on it right now. You could try asking “why?” in your next team meeting; set up that coffee date you’ve been putting off; buy some Krispy Kremes to celebrate your awesome team. Success needn’t be measured in terms of crossing chasms or taking leaps of faith; success comes from taking a thousand smaller steps with travelling companions that make the journey worthwhile.

Sarah was recently named as one of the fifty most inspiring women in the European technology sector by Inspiring Fifty. Inspiring Fifty is a pan-European programme that identifies, encourages, develops and showcases women in leadership positions within the technology community. The aim is to inspire a new generation of female leaders and entrepreneurs across Europe and indeed worldwide, leading the charge to affect meaningful and durable change.

This article was first published on Huffington Post

 

 

Camilla Ley-Valentin, CCO and Co-Founder, Queue-it

Five Tips for Future Female Tech Entrepreneurs

As an entrepreneur, I am considered a “late bloomer” as I co-founded my first company, the online queue system Queue-it, five years ago in my late thirties. While the choice to delay entrepreneurship certainly carried its financial disadvantages (I am the main breadwinner in my household), it allowed me to co-found my company based upon the cornerstone of the extensive business experience and network I gained while working in the industry prior to our launch.

I often wonder why I don’t come across more female entrepreneurs in the technology industry; while the general gender bias in the IT industry still exists, it’s getting more attention and scrutiny now – but the female entrepreneurs are still few and far between. I believe the world needs more female founders in technology – so I wanted to share a few tips especially for future female tech entrepreneurs:

1. Base your first start-up on a field that you are comfortable with professionally

Starting a company will bring on many general business challenges that you wouldn’t have even imagined existed, so my recommendation is to make sure that the core of your offering is based on a few elements of technology, concept, business area or other idea that you are thoroughly familiar with. In the case of Queue-it, my co-founders and I had worked in the software development industry for years, which meant that we started with a well-developed software system, confidence in the business plan and model, as well as (most importantly) an extensive personal network, which helped us get those first critical customer references.

2. Forget the “good girl competency check list”

Generally speaking, it is my experience that women – more so than men – have a tendency to want to match all requirements for a new job, a promotion, or starting a business up front, before they apply for the position or found the company. For start-ups, this list is unfortunately an endless one. It is therefore pointless to strive to fulfill all the requirements in advance; you just have to get started and ask around when you come across challenges which are new to you.

3. Establish an advisory board or a board of directors

Be realistic about which areas of the business you and your co-founders will be requiring external help to handle. Some areas may be outsourced (e.g. bookkeeping and graphic design) to consultants, whereas others may rest better within an advisory board or a board of directors made up of people who possess complementary competences to those that you have available in-house. It may seem hard to ask your business connections for this contribution to your success, but I have been very surprised about the willingness and interest in helping that my connections have displayed. I think you will be, too!

4.In a gender-biased industry, you will be faced with discrimination and gender-based resistance – pick your battles and make the best of sticking out

As a woman operating in the vastly male-dominated IT industry, you will occasionally be confronted with various degrees of discrimination – explicit or between the lines. While this is certainly no pleasure, my best advice is to brush it off and focus your energies elsewhere – in other words, pick your battles. Chances are that the individuals behaving this way in a business environment are not worth your time and will bring no business or mental value. Instead, try to focus on the positive consequences of “sticking out in the crowd” – examples of this would be that people are more likely to remember you (and your conversation), and you are more likely to be included in social events in connection with business meetings. Who cares why you were remembered or invited in the first place, if it opened a door to a business advantage? The final business deal will never happen if your value proposition is not relevant, but you need to first get your seat at the table to even present your value proposition to begin with.

5. Take the power
A few years ago, working for a large company, I participated in a meeting for about 50 female leaders within that company. The presenter asked us the question,”Do you have power?”  Four of us raised our hands. Four! This is lousy, because as a leader – and as an entrepreneur – you must accept that you have power, and you cannot hesitate to use that power in the situations that call for it. I will leave you with one of my favourite quotes by American actress Roseanne Barr, who put this very precisely:

“The thing women have yet to learn is that nobody gives you power. You just take it!”

This article was first published on Huffington Post

 

 

Andera Gadeib, Founder, SmartMunk & Advisory Board Member of ‘Young Digital Economy’

We caught up with Andera at this year’s Web Summit to talk about her experiences and passions working within the technology sector.

Andera is an online enthusiast and serial entrepreneur. Her Internet career started early in 1995 when she set up one of the first 30 commercial webservers in Germany as part of a student project. She has worked with global Blue Chip-companies such as Unilever, Danone, BASF and Bayer, and has won several awards innovation and entrepreneurship.

She is actively engaged in improving the education system towards more self-efficacy, entrepreneurship and early digital literacy.

Anne Ravanona, Founder & CEO, Global Invest Her

get funded faster

We were delighted to catch up with Anne Ravanona at Web Summit to talk about Global Invest Her, a global platform which demystifies funding and equips female entrepreneurs with the tools they need to succeed.

Janneke Niessen, Co-Founder, Improve Digital & Inspiring Fifty

Advice for my younger self: It’s about style and substance

Janneke recently wrote an article for The Guardian giving some words of wisdom to her younger self, if only her younger self would have listened…

I am fairly certain that young Janneke Niessen would not have listened to any advice from her older self. When I started out in the tech industry, I went on gut feel and was perhaps a bit stubborn in that respect. That is somewhat universal for all entrepreneurs, I suppose, and while, yes, it led to some mistakes, every one of those mistakes served to make me a stronger person. It’s important that we accept that mistakes will be made along the way and that sometimes failure can be an acceptable (albeit unpleasant) outcome. I have learned far more from failure than success, and with each setback, I became a smarter entrepreneur and better leader. As Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, “Our greatest glory is not in never failing, but in rising up every time we fail.”

Whether ‘younger me’ wants to listen or not, there are three pieces of advice that I have to offer, all centred on one common theme: how you present yourself to the outside world. Over the years, I have learned – in big ways and small – the importance of appearances, both for myself and the businesses I have helped build. The impact that the perceptions you create have on the outcome of an endeavour is profound. That is hard-won knowledge, and something that is much, much clearer to me now than it was in my youth.

Content, knowledge, dedication – all of these are critical to success. But all of that substance must be delivered with style. Confidence, passion, and just a little bit of spin can make your end goals that much easier to achieve.

Public Speaking: Learn It, Love It, Live It

I would urge my younger self to seek speaker training much earlier in her career. The benefits would have been huge. While I didn’t exactly shy away from the opportunities that were presented to me, I was never overly confident – and I certainly didn’t push myself out there. When I did find myself expected to speak eloquently on a panel or as a keynote, I would be, quite frankly, daunted, and the nerves would begin building up in the days before.

I have given a few speeches in the past where nerves turned a good presentation into an average one; my words rushed in an attempt to just get the chore over and done with. Admittedly, I could be jealous of those who spoke really well on stage, wishing I could be them, but at the same time assuming you had to be born with that talent. Then in early 2013, something changed. I was attending a tech conference in Amsterdam, and I asked the event organiser why there were so few women on stage. His response made my blood boil. “Women are generally bad speakers,” he said, straight-faced. This was my trigger moment, and from that day forward, I vowed to first, prove him wrong by becoming a more confident, inspiring speaker myself; and second, at every turn, strive to correct the gender imbalance that’s so pervasive in the tech sector.

Step one was seeking professional training. Not only did this give me the confidence I needed, but the simple tips and tricks I learned endured, ensuring that I was always ready to present with conviction. Skill led to desire, and more speaking opportunities followed. This in turn boosted my profile, and a virtuous cycle set in.

All of this culminated in one of the proudest moment of my career – my very first TED Talk. Sadly, though, the gender imbalance still remains in the wider tech arena, but now I understand part of the solution:  I urge more woman to come forward and just own that conference stage. It’s yours for the taking, ladies.

Fake It ‘til You Make It

I have learned over the years that being too modest will not do you any favours as an entrepreneur, neither for the business your building nor for your career as a whole. “Fake It ‘til You Make It” is a commonly used catchphrase that basically means to imitate a confident state in the absence of actual confidence. I’m not suggesting one be disingenuous or lie, but instead to remember the simple truth that there is no bravery without fear. In placing emphasis on one thing (exuding confidence) over another (being fearful), you can have a dramatic impact on the way you experience the world.

I learned this the hard way, in a sector where my European business was in direct competition with big US tech companies. I would spend months with my team driving new innovations; building, testing, refining, and retesting, all to ensure it was perfect before market launch. The main problem? My US competitors would beat us to the punch, announcing their intention to launch a similar piece of tech (sometimes before even building it!), effectively stealing our thunder and making us look late to the party.

I was too worried about being right and perfect. Today, I would tell my younger self to be much bolder, to have the confidence and conviction equal to her passion and intellect. Always stay true to yourself, but remember that, more often than not, perception becomes reality. Much of the world’s perception is within your control, so much more than you know.

Be Your Own Advocate

I wish I had a better understanding of how the media worked when I launched my first company. To have a fighting chance, you must positively own your image in the industry and in the relevant trade media. Optimist that I am, I had naively assumed that great work would be noticed automatically, “cream rising to the top,” and all that. Was I ever wrong about that!

More often than not, the media simply want a good story, readers want to be made to feel smart, and the shelf-life of any article is so short that sometimes it seems like only the hyperbolic and sensational have any staying power at all.  I’m not advocating you be crass and cynical when approaching the press – quite the opposite.  You simply must be smart and active in promoting what you do. I would have chance meeting with journalists at events, but instead of providing a big picture snapshot of how my company could change the world, too often I would get bogged down in tech jargon and what excited me as the geeky technologist. The journalist would fall asleep, and my opportunity would be missed. It’s so important to grasp what the media are looking for. Simply put, they want a smart person to tell them a concise, compelling story. So make sure you are prepared, and don’t waste their time.

Perhaps most importantly, never, ever be afraid to have an opinion. Stick your neck out every once and a while, stir the pot, be controversial or contrarian. Not only is it good intellectual exercise, it’s almost always entertaining.

This article was first published on The Guardian

 

 

Diane Janknegt, Founder, WizeNoze

TECHNOLOGY IS SO MUCH MORE THAN BITS AND BYTES

Interview with Diane Janknegt, Founder at WizeNoze from Inspiring Fifty on Vimeo.

Diane founded WizeNoze in 2013 after a long career working in the technology sector, including 13 years at Microsoft. WizeNoze develops technology for children in the 2-12 age group. Her mission is to make great content accessible to children and to enable them to discover new and exciting information on the web.

Diane spoke to Inspiring Fifty about the challenges and highlights throughout her career, why she chose to start her own tech company, and why more women need to see technology as a tool to change the world and realise their vision.

Svenja de Vos, CIO & Director of IT, Tele2

Working in tech challenges me to keep on learning and improving myself

Svenja joined European telecommunications company Tele2 in 2002 and has since been active in many national and international roles within the group. In 2013 Svenja was named one of Inspiring Fifty’s most inspirational women in the Netherlands. Svenja talks to Inspiring Fifty about the opportunities and challenges within tech, and why Michael Schumacher is her inspiration.

What was it that first attracted you to a career in technology?

The challenge. IT is a relatively young industry, which means that you can hardly keep up with the pace of developments. This challenges me to keep on learning and improving myself. I think it’s important to never stop learning new things.

 

What have the highlights and challenges been during your rise up the ladder at Tele2?

The highlight is definitely the diversity of opportunities that I have received working with Tele2. This company does not judge people solely on their track record, your capabilities create the opportunities and possibilities you get. Sometimes this means that you are dropped in the ocean and have to learn to swim quickly. If you make it to shore, you’ll get a new and even more exciting challenge. A few examples have been setting up Tele2 Croatia from scratch, positively changing the results of Tele2 Austria and the integration of BBned in Tele2 a few years ago.

My main challenge was and still is to maintain a good balance between work and my private life. But I don’t regret any of the things I have done and the choices I’ve made. And I notice that keeping this balance is getting easier whilst I am getting older.

 

You have implemented the ‘Agile Scrum’ working method in the departments you have managed. Can you tell us a bit about this, and the success it achieved?

Scrum breaks with the traditional process, in which you have an IT department building systems and applications. Once the system is ready the business has to deal with any possible flaws or mistakes, without the possibility to make any last minute changes. But with agile scrum the development teams of IT are working in close collaboration with the business. Building together enables us to offer exactly what our customers need. The new method has also brought down the time between IT-releases from once every two months to once every three weeks. Drastically shortening time to market for new products and services.

 

What do you think is the biggest issue for women working in the technology space?

Women too often think that they have to do everything by themselves. That they have to prove that they are capable of doing the task at hand. So basically what is blocking women from going forward is their own conventional line of thought.

If you ask me you should never have the feeling that you’re competing against someone else, the challenge is to always try to improve yourself. Giving it the best you can, learning every day from the experience you come across and the people you meet. For example I challenged myself last year to walk the world’s biggest walking event ‘De Nijmeegse 4-daagse’. And for sure there were people faster, but I was proud because I pushed my own boundaries. Achieving a goal of which a few months in advance I did not think I could make it.

 

Who have been your role models throughout your career and why?

Truth said, I’ve never really had any role models in my professional life. However I do have a real hero which is a great inspiration to me. That is the most successful Formula 1 driver in history, Michael Schumacher. He is the equivalent of the good, bad and the ugly in one person. The three basic principles he lives by are: discipline, absolute focus on your goal, and you cannot win alone, but need to surround yourself with the best possible team. This is what I try to do every day.

 

What advice can you offer women looking to rise to the top in the IT industry?

This might sound like a cliché, but always stay true to yourself. If you have to make choices, don’t just go for what’s best for your career. Pick the things you enjoy the most. When you have fun doing your job, you’ll for sure excel and new opportunities will meet your path.

 

Lastly, what are you working on right now that excites you?

Building a new telecom provider from within an existing one. We are currently rolling out a completely new mobile network. This means much more than just putting several thousand antennas in the ground and on rooftops.

We have approached this project with a clean slate, looking for a way to offer our customers the best user experience possible. IT plays a crucial part in making this a reality. Rethinking every possible step that a customer’s wants or has to take and then creating a new system landscape around this journey.

Once again I am in an amazing ride which challenges my team and myself to make the impossible possible.

Sonja Bernhardt OAM, CEO, ThoughtWare

The potential for change is about shifting to creating a culture of ‘curious, creative and clever people’

Inspiring Fifty talks to Sonja Bernhardt, a serial technology entrepreneur and author of  ‘Women in IT in the New Social Era: A Critical Evidence-Based Review of Gender Inequality and the Potential for Change’. Sonja is arguably one of Australia’s highest profile women in IT.

What was it that first attracted you to a career in technology?

There have been two life events that were key triggers for my chosen career.

The first was in the mid to late 1980s. I was a divorced single parent and knew I wanted to and needed to provide for my two children and myself, and I therefore required a ‘good’ job that would give me a solid income.  Firstly, I returned to university to further my education, and then by chance I was lucky to stumble into a role I thought was Human Resources, but turned out to be a consultant for a company selling HR software.

I instantly LOVED IT and have remained in IT ever since.

The second was in 1999 when I was made redundant from a large technology company. I knew that I was good at what I did and that I had no control over the redundancy situation; as such I decided that I never wanted that to happen to me again. So within a few days I had set up my own company ThoughtWare, which is today an award winning software development house that creates Governance, Risk, and Compliance solutions in the e-health space.

 

You have been a big campaigner in encouraging women into the tech sector, what progress have you seen over the years since you first started out?

Yes, I sure have been an activist in this field. At one stage I measured the amount of time I voluntarily gave to ‘the cause’: it consumed three quarters of my weekends and one quarter of my income earning capacity. But like everyone who is passionate there is an internal fire that drives you on and on.

“Attraction, Promotion, and Retention” has been my catch-cry and that of many passionate activists in this field around the globe for almost three decades. Yet to date the secret of attracting females to study technology and to enter technology careers, navigating suitable promotional pathways, and retaining women in technology industries has not been found.

There have been truckloads of programmes and projects delivered by buckets and buckets of mega passionate people. However, they have resulted in little to no upwards progress in terms of statistics of females taking up tech studies, entering IT careers or remaining in IT careers.

In fact statistics have even reversed over those years.

All is not grim news though, as today we are looking at a world where technology itself has contributed to huge changes. Those changes have worked to eliminate or drastically reduce previous barriers (real or perceived), as well as facilitating a new generation of interest groups that have sprung up on social media.  Thus making pathways easier to access and almost eliminating the need for the traditional approaches.

 

Some of the initiatives you have been involved with – including ‘Screen Goddess IT Calendar’ – have been dubbed ‘controversial’, can you tell us a bit more about these? Did they work?

Specifically with the Screen Goddess calendar it worked to unite the passionate volunteers involved, and helped to bond people in a united cause where many of those friendships remain today. However while it might have generated interest and encouraged some individuals, it did not ‘work’ in terms of attracting statistically more women into technology studies and careers.

All of my individual projects were immense fun to work on. Screen Goddess is my personal favourite, despite the backlash I received and even a Denial of Service (DoS) attack on the server by people who disagreed with the approach, as well as costing $25,000 of personal funds.  My second favourite is Doing IT Around the World, where I gathered together technology and science role models across every continent, including Antarctica, and put together a diary of a typical day in their lives (all the same day – 11 August) plus a pictorial profile and interview with each role model.

What I know now, and have covered in my book, is that at the time such projects generally seemed successful – those involved almost always received positive feelings and satisfaction, and there was anecdotal evidence of some shifts, such as a few women who reported being inspired to take up a career. However no significant impact has been made. Sadly that is typical of the entire field across the past 30 years of intervention programs and projects.

 

Why do you think there is such a gender imbalance within technology specifically?

The short answer is that it simply reflects different average interests between men and women. Of course that is a controversial view – but one supported by the facts in the literature if not the theories.

Historically there have been strong gender-based barriers to women, but they were generations ago. If you read what are claimed as barriers today, you would think women were so timid they would be scared off from a career they love if a man looked sideways at them or they saw a picture of a fat nerd eating pizza. That is not only insulting to women, it flies in the face of the characteristics of girls and women who are interested in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) fields, notably self-confidence and a view of barriers as things to be overcome.

So my literature review and original research in this field has led me to propose that the chief problem is that the topic is fundamentally flawed:

  • It assumes that the “natural” state of the number of women engaged in technology studies and careers is a “problem” that needs “fixing or correcting”; and
  • It layers a gender lens over the ensuing discussions, research, and actions.

This matters because the way we perceive a topic determines our responses to it.  To date the responses to the lower numbers of women in technology (and other like fields such as science and engineering) have been gender-based approaches. Those responses have failed. They will always fail, because they miss the point.

Research now reveals that most women in IT are there because they were interested from an early age.  It’s not that women can’t do IT, nor that they don’t get it.  It’s just that to select IT as a career they need to be MORE interested in it than other areas, and most women are more interested in other fields.

So it’s fundamentally an issue or personal interest not gender.

 

Your new book ‘Women in IT in the New Social Era’ was published earlier this year, can you tell us a bit about it? What is the potential for change?

My book turns the research and past approaches to this topic on its head. I have adopted a hard, factual, reality-based approach that directly states where failures have occurred and what has been wrong. I have a style where I like to ‘poke’ and state some obvious facts that people usually try to deny/hide from, and I use that style in the book. I propose some completely new recommendations that have never been said before, that are in line with our fast paced industry.

I realise some people may initially disagree with my findings and conclusions. However, I hope that they approach this with an open mind and look as deeply as I did into the facts, past their own theoretical preconceptions, and realize that it really is time to stop.

In the end I believe that my book almost gives people the okay to finally say what they have been thinking but never dared articulate. I have been personally surprised at the number of women who I’d feared would be resistant to my conclusions but basically said “Spot on!”

You can see a video here that outlines the themes, research results and recommendations.

The potential for change is about shifting to creating a culture of ‘curious, creative and clever people’ where we recognise that women are unique individuals. It is by promoting the idea that it is the individual who matters, the individual who thinks and has talent, which will one day mean people are judged as individuals on their own merits, not according to prejudices based on gender or ethnicity. It is not up to us to decide what other people should be interested in. But it is up to us to do what we can to empower all individuals, whoever they are and whatever their interests are. To let them choose their own path, not the path someone else thinks they should.

 

Who were your role models throughout your career and why?

Being who I am and what I do, I can’t go past Hedy Lamarr, a famous 1940’s Hollywood actress but also inventor of frequency hopping that is used today in mobile communications. As well as Grace Hopper, Rear Admiral in the USA Navy who basically taught computers to ‘talk’, and after whom it is speculated that the computer term ‘bug’ was coined.

Ada Lovelace, the first programmer in the world, is up there as well, however as a distant historical figure she played less of a role for me.   I have pictures of all three at my work desk.  All of these women overcame barriers and demonstrated tenacity, resilience and creative intelligence.

 

You have enjoyed great success in your career, and have received various awards in recognition of your work. If you were to give one piece of advice to women aiming for the top in technology, what would that be?

My advice is relevant across all career and life choices: Know yourself – know what you like and why you like it, understand why you react and think the way that you do. Choose your career consistent with that and you will both succeed and very importantly you will be happy.

I have secondary advice as well, which is do not measure your success by the perceptions of others. What matters is what is important to you. The classic career rise to the top may not be success measure for you, designer clothes may not be your success measure.  To me being happy and inspired are my success measures.

 

Lastly, what are you working on right now that excites you?

Now that the book is finished I am focusing on 3 things:

1) My 11 year old daughter, by my delightfully happy second marriage, (my other children are now over 30 years old and I have grandchildren) is a bit of a geek and has her own youtube channel to show children how to use minecraft, plus she is writing a Minecraft book for children.  It excites me to see her progress and to feel the pride that brings to her and myself.

2) My husband, a biotechnologist, has commenced crafting science fiction books – they are philosophically sound science-based thrillers.  Supporting him in this endeavour is a thrill.

3) My company’s growth – I love having my own firm and being able to offer opportunities to people who seek genuine life flexibility, and more specifically to be able myself to offer jobs for females who are coders.

 

 

Hanna Aase, Founder & CEO, Wonderloop

Watching Oprah as a child inspired me to think about how I could connect the world

Hanna is a Norwegian based entrepreneur and social media pioneer. She specialises in knowing what´s next in social media and has recently launched Wonderloop, the world’s first video-profile platform. Hanna talks to Inspiring Fifty about her mission to connect the world, and her inspiration, Oprah.

You recently launched your new venture Wonderloop, can you tell us a bit about it? What was your inspiration and what is your long-term ambition for the platform?

 The idea is inspired by my own life growing up in a small town in Norway. I never felt as connected to the rest of the world as I wanted to be. As a child watching Oprah on TV, it inspired me to think about how I could connect the world together like she did; how everyone could give like Oprah did, and essentially, how to scale her. My conclusion was that people always want to see who a person really is before making a real life connection, professionally or personally.  If anyone in the world can see another person with a click of a button, it does not matter if you live in a big city like New York or a small town in Germany. Wonderloop gives everybody in the world the opportunity to have a voice and a face and I believe that it will dramatically change the ways in which we make things happen.

 You launched Wonderloop in New York – why the decision to launch in the US instead of Europe? Was it easier to get funding in the US?  

 We wanted people in the initial user base to be vibrant; people who do interesting things, and are socially and internationally minded in order to create a social community. We launched in New York to give us a great initial community on the app.

Getting funding for an iPhone app is, without a doubt, easier in the US. In the US, an iPhone app can potentially turn out to be a billion dollar company. In Norway we don’t have any history of an iPhone app that has been launched and developed into a successful international tech company. So investors are naturally not trained to think around the special business models that apps have.

 You launched your first social media company in Norway at the tender age of 24. What was it that attracted you to a career in the tech space?

 I played a lot of video games growing up as I was just happier doing it than hanging out with friends. It´s maybe not the healthiest – to spend so much time gaming – but it was without a doubt what lead to me becoming skilled within IT and knowing how software works.

Then when I got my first job at Center For Entrepreneurship at my hometown Univeristy I saw that Facebook had arrived and I started using it to promote our activities before it was socially accepted at the work place. And those activities received a great response, even though I was given a hard time for it. Of course, some years later it was in the mandatory communication protocol to use social media, but I was able to see early on what would and would not be effective. Also, I have lived alone since I was 14 so I have always lived an entrepreneurial life as long as I can remember. I thought starting a company when I was 24 was late.

 What were some of the main challenges you faced when starting out (and how did you overcome them)?

 Finding good developers was definitely a challenge, and also paying for them before I had any investors on board. It´s all a chicken and egg game. To solve it my grandmother took out a loan, and then I took out a huge lone myself, risking it all. It´s not recommended, but for me there is nothing more I want to spend my life on than this, so there’s no option but to do what it takes without even knowing if it will work.

 What is the tech start-up scene like in Norway, and how does it compare with the rest of Europe?

 In my opinion Norway struggles with a mix of the system, and the government itself, not having enough knowledge about the start-up world; they have problems knowing what – and what not – to invest in. Also, the culture among the people is not always of an entrepreneurial high note. We need to believe more in ourselves and what our companies can do; have higher goals and support each other more rather than think it´s weird when one is not living the more traditional life.

It´s hard to hire for this reason as most people like going home from work at 4pm, and also see it as work and not a passion. When hiring for a start-up you want people who badly want to be a part of something that may help change the world. We were grateful in the end to have the support of the Norwegian Government, and to also hire an amazing girl from Norway…which we actually found through Wonderloop! This support makes us even push harder to show that a Norwegian start-up can set it´s mark on the tech world.

 Who have been your role models throughout your career and why?

 I haven´t really had anyone, except for Oprah of course. But I’m impressed by some of the bigger profiles in technology that continue to innovate, even when they could have stopped years ago. It shows that the reasons behind why we do what we do is deeper than it might appear in the media, and that has been great to see when following their careers.

Needless to say I don´t think Mark Zuckerberg is given enough credit for what he has done. I think for others it´s hard to imagine sacrificing one weekend off. Mark has sacrificed just about 10 years focusing on work and building a product and company.

 What advice can you offer other women who are looking to start their own business?

 To start your own business you have to realise that sacrifices have to made to do so, or you don´t want it enough. Simple as that. Which is okay. But then just don´t complain about not having your own company.

Starting something new is harder than anything, especially when it´s a tech start-up as you then have to build the technology as well as building the company; it´s like starting two companies at once. So of course some uncomfortable changes are inevitable; from time spent with family and friends, to what you spend your money on. If it’s not uncomfortable then you would already be where wanted to be.

 Any advice for young girls who may be considering a career in technology but don’t know where to start?

 I would start by attending events and conferences as you could say it´s the easiest way to learn from great speakers and other attendees. Then try to meet them outside of the conference to ask their advice on the things you are most interested in. Also, if you’re interested in starting your business, it’s often a good idea to gain some experience in the field first, whether bypassing university and heading straight into the job market, or post-university.

Lastly, what are you working on right now that excites you? 

There is nothing besides my work with Wonderloop! It is my everything at the moment. But I´m excited that my grandmother is still doing well, despite being away from her most of the year. And that I have found love in many ways in the US.

 

 

 

Kathryn Parsons, Co-Founder, DECODED

The world of technology holds so many opportunities – particularly for women

Kathryn is a multi-award winning entrepreneur and co-founder of London based tech start-up DECODED, which teaches people how to code in a day. Kathryn talks to Inspiring Fifty about digital literacy and the online revolution.

You started your career in marketing and advertising, how did that transition into starting your won tech company?

Technology, entrepreneurship and languages, how they co-exist and are mutually beneficial have always been something that fascinates me.

I started this exploration at Ogilvy where I worked across all group companies in digital media and technology. In 2007, I left to set up my first business, a digital innovation and creation company.

It was here that I met my co-founders who come from a mix of media, advertising, tech, coding and entrepreneurship but were all united by a mission to demystify the languages behind the screen.

It began with a mission impossible. In 2011 the idea that anyone would want to learn to code, let alone that you could teach people in a day was considered ridiculous. However we saw a need, a fundamental disconnect between the ‘specialist programmers’ who build the digital world with code and the management that commissions sites and apps but can’t understand the language they are made from. Decoded was established to help fill this gap.

It was from these grounding values that Decoded and Code in a Day was created – to spread digital enlightenment to the masses and empower anyone to feel like they could be part of that world.

 

DECODED has seen massive success since it launched in 2011. Tell us a bit about the journey, have there been any big challenges along the way?

Decoded has been a pioneer in the global zeitgeist around code education. This started with our ‘Code in a Day’, and we have since trained thousands of people stretching from start-ups to CEO’s of multinationals. A huge range of businesses have come to us across technology, entertainment, retail, fashion and government, from Google to Swarovski, from Disney to the IMF. Our clients are global and as well offices in London and New York, we’ve work across Europe, Asia, Africa and the Middle East.

But behind the business, there is a movement, a principle that I’ve held for a long time – that digital literacy is not just nice to have, but a need to have for businesses and professionals today.

I always say code is a leveller. Technology is affecting all of our lives, jobs and industries. The economies that feel it are the ones that are surviving. At Decoded, we create an environment where people feel they are willing to give coding, data and technology a try, be inspired, learn how to better communicate and be more creative – both in work and everyday lives.

I am passionate about these skills being learnt in schools and wholeheartedly welcome the introduction of coding to the curriculum in September – a real game changer for the UK’s digital future.

Our next mission impossible is to challenge businesses to take on the digital dark arts of data, future technology and cybercrime.

The next decade will be defined by the application of the online revolution to the physical world – versionless hardware, the democratisation of production processes.

R&D and patenting new ideas within businesses will be revolutionised and understanding data is essential in terms of staying ahead of this change. This is the type of challenge we see every day at Decoded. Super-smart people wrestling with the implications of rapidly evolving technology on their business.

We take businesses and professionals on this journey; allow them to understand what goes on behind the screen and how this impacts their operations.

 

You have previously acknowledged that the number of women in technology is worryingly low. Why do you think there is such a gender imbalance within technology specifically?

The number of women in technology is worryingly low, however in my experience the appetite among professional women to become digitally literate is reassuringly high. We’ve had hundreds of women at Decoded and it’s a real 50:50 split between both sexes.

It’s been an incredible experience witnessing the empowering effect that acquiring digital skills has on women at Decoded. We really are in the midst of a revolution, which is also an opportunity to break down some of the traditional hierarchies that rarely put women at the top.

The world of technology holds so many opportunities – particularly for women. The web is one of the most democratic tools ever created; its open-source approach has and will continue to enable the unprecedented growth of businesses and ideas. I believe it forms the foundations for demolishing traditional corporate hierarchies and replace them with concepts that work better, and are more rewarding for all.

 

Who have been your role models throughout your career and why?

My co-founders have been a huge support and I would absolutely put the success down to our collaborative approach. We’re all very different – with different background and ideas but Decoded is better because of this. We challenge each other every day and it is good to bounce ideas off of them too.

Aside from my co-founders, I’ve used mentors including Mel Exon who has been trailblazer in creating a new world in the advertising industry in her role as Managing Director, BBH. It was Mel who was the first to send the entire agency through Decoded – a tipping point in the creative industries thanks to her 100% belief in the trilogy of art, copy and code.

 

What advice can you offer women who are looking to start their own business?

Technology is a tool for empowerment. You can set up your business and it could take over the world in a year’s time. If you set up your own technology business as a woman you don’t have to navigate that old legacy of business. There’s the opportunity to create your own culture. Having more female founders is really important as they will take women’s issues to heart and they will also want to hire more women.

And believe in yourself!  Be confident you can and will succeed.

 

Any advice for young girls who may be considering a career in technology but don’t know where to start?

There are certain myths around coding. People presume you have to be a guy, geeky, good at maths, and have an engineering background. But actually I think what makes a great coder is someone who is creative, likes problem solving, is patient and collaborative. These are not solely male traits. Women don’t see technology as aspirational, but it’s actually very empowering to have that vocabulary – that language and knowledge.

Technology skills are hugely important for the future of the UK PLC – companies are willing to pay around 20% more on average for skilled, technical employees – so the need is there – no matter what industry you choose to work in…we just need to plug that need with home-grown talent.

 

Lastly, what are you working on right now that excites you?

We’re taking digital literacy one-step further with cyber security and future technologies for businesses and professionals. We have a strong belief that these issues need to be addressed by innovative and forward thinking businesses today to enable them to lead, or continue with their competitive edge in the future.

With collaboration at our core, we’re working closely with clients on bespoke data projects in addition to long term transformation programs, demonstrating the power and possibilities behind data and allowing businesses to be 100% literate and functional in this enlightened new world.

There are a number of really exciting and innovative projects coming up. We’re bringing the power of code to the masses by open sourcing our online code education platform. This will empower all educators around the world to bring technology alive in the classroom and potentially enlighten millions if not billions worldwide!

 

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