Women in Tech

Good Things Can Happen if you only say Yes!

Two recent trigger events prompted me to write this blog. The first was this tweet last week from Sam Missingham (@samatlounge) “Women of the world, if you are asked to speak at an event or appear on a panel say Yes (especially if you don’t really want to)”. The second was seeing Carey Lohrenz speak at Dellworld 2015 & listening to her talk in depth about (generally) how women don’t put up their hands until they’re sure they can do 120% of what’s being asked of them. Carey (& I) think you should put up your hand when you can do 75 or 80% & figure the rest out from there.

Badass Carey Lohrenz addressing the Women in IT lunch at DellWorld 2015

I know this topic has been done to death a bit in recent years but I’ve never written about this from my own personal perspective so I thought I’d do that in case anyone finds it interesting & maybe it will encourage a few more people to be brave.

It’s about 2 years since I made the decision to exit from my startup/scaleup Learning Pool, sell my half of the business & go & do something else. As CEO of a small growing business your default position when presented with most decisions is No. It has to be. In order to focus on growing your business, meeting payroll every month & moving the needle significantly in the right direction you need to eliminate as much distraction as you possibly can from your business & your life.

You say No to most conference attendance opportunities, most business social and networking events (especially if they involve travel or an overnight stay) and most requests for you to speak at other organisations’ events. Unfortunately, when you’re in a place where you sometimes wonder if you could function with one or two hours less sleep at night, you don’t have a lot of time to mentor people inside or outside of your organisation either – the smart ones learn by running along beside you.

One thing I did manage to make time for as Learning Pool grew was speaking to students at local schools about careers in STEM, usually through Young Enterprise NI. As entrepreneurs, business owners or people with careers in STEM we all need to do a bit more of this.  The other was chatting to other entrepreneurs who were a few steps behind where we were – I knew from experience how useful this had been to us when we were in startup mode.

I guess the most extreme example of me saying No was the night (it was International Women’s Day 2011 – the 100th anniversary of IWD) when I received a late call from someone in government inviting me to join the Northern Irish delegation to the White House to meet President Obama on St Patrick’s Day. What was my response? I said “I can’t possibly – our year end is end of March & I’m too busy”. There was a brief silence at the other end of the line & then the very sensible person said – Mary – when someone asks you in 5 or 10 years time, what were you doing on St Patrick’s Day 2011 which would you rather say – that you met the President of the United States or that you were doing spreadsheets… I made the right decision in the end!

So – for the last 2 years I’ve been running my own private social experiment in which I try to say Yes to most things that are presented to me – within reason of course. Below are some of the positive things that have happened as a result (to date there have been no negative outcomes).

Sam Sparrow & me (& the Mannequin Pis) in Brussels May 2014 for the final of the European Social Innovation Competition

Sam Sparrow & me (& the Mannequin Pis) in Brussels May 2014 for the final of the European Social Innovation Competition

I said Yes to Terry Ryall, vInspired’s founding CEO when she asked me to help the charity launch Task Squad. This gave me the opportunity to work in a charity for the first time in my career & the insights that gave me have allowed me to since make a contribution in a number of different ways to how charities and not for profits can better benefit from technology. I also connected with an entire new network of people (including the fabulous Sam Sparrow), charities and funders and learned all about social impact investment. This eventually led to me meeting Sally Higham and angel investing in her software platform business for youth & sports clubs, Run A Club.

I said Yes to John Knapton when he asked me to join Northern Ireland Science Park in Belfast as one of their Entrepreneurs in Residence. As well as being a lot of fun, this has led to me formally mentoring one young entrepreneur for the past 6 months and offering advice & help to a number of other startups. Best of all, I got to meet Her Majesty the Queen in Buckingham Palace in June 2014 and on the same evening met Norwegian entrepreneur Ollie Gardener & 8 months later angel invested in her social learning platform, Noddlepod.

Meeting Her Majesty the Queen in Buckingham Palace June 2014

Meeting Her Majesty the Queen in Buckingham Palace June 2014

I said Yes when my colleagues at the Irish International Business Network asked me to run the SharkTank at our November 2014 conference in New York City and by doing so met wonderful Canadian entrepreneur & angel investor Kelly Hoey.

With my favourite co-conspirator Kelly Hoey before our SharkTank in NYC

With my favourite co-conspirator Kelly Hoey before our SharkTank in NYC

We had a lot of laughs on the day, found we have a lot in common & since then we’ve helped each other on a number of things and are on the road to becoming firm friends.

I said Yes when the Research & Educational Network Norge asked me to deliver a talk on the Future of Learning to 200 people in Oslo, even though I can’t speak a word of Norwegian and the prospect of doing something like this was terrifying. You can read more about my Oslo experience in a previous blog here if you’re interested. Suffice to say it turned out well despite my fears!

Prized selfie with Michael Dell taken at DellWorld 2015

Prized selfie with Michael Dell taken at DellWorld 2015

More recently I said Yes when Will Pritchard of AxiCom PR asked me to follow him back on Twitter so that he could DM me about something. Before starting my Yes experiment I could possibly have responded quite rudely to Will’s request. This led to me attending DellWorld 2015 as a guest of Dell, meeting tons of fabulous people, meeting Michael Dell who’s one of my all time top business champions and finally realising my dream of visiting Austin, Texas after 15 years of being too busy to attend SXSW. Michael Dell doesn’t really do selfies so I had to trade him a story. I told him how my friend Tim Ramsdale persuaded our employer CIPFA to buy a Dell server back in 1989, shortly after Dell had started up in London. Michael loved the story & the selfie speaks for itself. I later told another story to the Dell senior team. It was how when Learning Pool was 6 months old we were evicted from the flat in London that we were secretly using as an office. The final straw was when our nosy neighbour opened the door to a courier who was delivering 6 large Dell boxes to us. She rang our landlord to report us & we were immediately evicted. The guys agreed I should have told Michael that story too because he would’ve loved it!

I said Yes a couple of weeks ago when Dee Forbes rang me & asked me to speak at the Digital Week Ireland event that’s happening in Skibbereen 3-8 Nov – more details here. November’s pretty busy so I was tempted for just a moment to say No – but I thought to myself, why not. I haven’t been to West Cork for years & years & it will be so much fun and a good thing to do. Watch this space or come & join us.

Our wedding, July 2014 photograph taken in Glencoe

Our wedding, July 2014 photograph taken in Glencoe

Finally, on a personal note I said Yes when my partner of 23 years asked me to marry him in June 2014. We were married 6 weeks later in Fort William, Scotland on 21 July 2014, a joyous & sunny day.

I have literally hundreds of other examples, big & small. In the past two years my life has been enriched by the people I’ve met, the places I’ve been, the experiences I’ve had and the tons of new stuff that I’ve learned.

Not everyone has the same luxury of time that I do right now but I urge you to try this too, even if it’s just in some small way and especially if it’s something that takes you out of your comfort zone. Next time an opportunity presents itself to you & you find yourself about to say No, pause for a moment and ask yourself if you could say Yes instead. I promise you it’s worth it & I look forward to hearing about your experiences in the comments below.

I’ll leave you with a food-for-thought quote from Carey Lohrenz: “Too comfortable is a heartbeat away from being complacent, and complacent is a heartbeat away from being irrelevant”.  Take action & don’t let yourself become irrelevant!

Three is definitely a charm – my early stage angel investments

Today’s blog is a sister piece to last month’s “Angel Investment from this Rookie’s Perspective”. Last time around I wrote about what I was looking for in early stage startup companies when I was deciding which ones to angel invest in. This time I’m going to talk about what I liked most of all about the three startups I ended up selecting and investing in.

Before I begin, let’s recap on what my motivations are for angel investing in the first place. All angels will no doubt have different motivations. I am excited by the idea of putting something back in terms of helping some new early stage startups get moving. I wanted to use some of what I’ve learned starting and scaling my own businesses in the past to help a small number of other people get through their early growth stages less painfully than it was for me. After some thought in summer 2014 following my successful exit from Learning Pool, I reached the conclusion that I didn’t want to start another new business of my own and I knew I definitely didn’t want to work for someone else as a bog standard gun for hire (much as I enjoyed my 4 month sojourn in 2014 working with the vInspired Task Squad team – they’re doing really well – check them out) but I did want to carry on working.

This made the quest easier for me as I then knew that I was looking for companies where I could add value with some hands-on involvement and I also knew then that it was important for me to pay more attention to the founder/founding team as I was going to be working with them for the medium term. Let’s face it, in a startup the team or founder is far more important than the idea – ideas are ten a penny and most startups do pivot or at least swivel a little.

One surprising thing – I haven’t invested as part of any formal angel syndicate or group. I really thought I would but it hasn’t happened that way. That topic alone is probably worthy of another blog.

So what and who did I choose? All three startups are cloud based online platforms (a no brainer for me now that I come to think about it!), two of the three founders are female (this makes me very happy), all three founders share a number of important qualities and despite their differences they’re remarkably similar, two are companies based in England & one is in South Wales (disappointed that I didn’t find anything in Northern Ireland or Scotland this time around), all are involved with changing the way people do things – communicate, learn, organise. All three really care about their team culture as they grow and whilst they’re all focused on generating revenue and making profit, they all know that there’s more to life than making money. Finally, all three have a capacity to really scale quickly and without adding huge resource into the team.

First on my list is RunAClub headed up by fab founder and CEO Sally Higham. RunAClub has everything you could possibly need to run any sort of club or group, all simple to use, neatly packaged and stored in the cloud. Beautiful. Our customers so far are national sports organisations, local authorities, charities, community groups and individual clubs/groups. What do I like most about RunAClub? It’s such a useful product, everyone we speak to loves it and it’s so clearly scaleable. I love most things that truly save people time whilst remaining affordable and easy to use. As an investor, I like that RunAClub is scaling fast in its chosen core market but I also like that there are numerous other verticals for us to move into. An unexpected but very welcome bonus along the way has been that a really old friend has co-invested with me and this gives me a chance to work with him again.

RunAClub team last month in Sally's kitchen in Wiltshire - you don't have to be blonde but it helps!

RunAClub team last month in Sally’s kitchen in Wiltshire – you don’t have to be blonde but it helps!

I first saw Sally pitch at a Clearly So Big Venture Challenge event last summer. During her presentation she said – “what I really need in order to maximise RunAClub’s opportunity is another me” and that resonated strongly with me because I’ve been in that position so many times myself – so when she’d finished pitching I went straight over & introduced myself.

The RunAClub team is the liveliest and most can-do bunch of people that I’ve met in a long time. Their enthusiasm is infectious and I’m genuinely looking forward to spending time with them, growing a successful and valuable business.

My next is Captive Health. I love that I’ve known the founder Andrew Cockayne for years. He used to be one of my Learning Pool customers many moons ago and I’m so pleased that he’s become an entrepreneur himself and also that I can continue to work with him. Captive Health is the most mature of my 3 investee companies and in truth is more of a scaleup than a startup.  The company provides the health sector with a platform that allows richer interactions with and between their staff and their patients. Staff can access information and network within their teams when they’re on the move (only 40% of people working in a hospital have access to a desktop). Patients can use Captive Health to provide feedback and information about their choices and preferences. Hospitals love the products and we already have five as customers with many more in our pipeline.

At the recent PEN Awards in Birmingham with Andrew Cockayne & Leena Shaw of Captive Health & one of our progressive customers, Jo Wood of Ipswich Hospital

At the recent PEN Awards in Birmingham with Andrew Cockayne & Leena Shaw of Captive Health & one of our progressive customers, Jo Wood of Ipswich Hospital – I’m working on their footwear!

I heard Simon Stevens, Chief Executive of NHS England, speak at last month’s e-Health Week 2015 Summit. His opening gambit was “No industry has ever re-invented itself on the scale that the NHS needs to over the next 5 years without smart use of technology”. Captive Health’s product set offers the NHS some affordable tools with which to get ahead in dealing with their huge challenge and I’m pleased to be part of that mix.

Last but not least is Caerphilly based Noddlepod. Noddlepod is like a Slack for your learning communities. It’s a social learning platform that allows you to easily share your files and search for resources with the same degree of immediacy and familiarity. I met founder Ollie Gardener at a tech event in Buckingham Palace hosted by Her Majesty the Queen. Ollie was wearing Norwegian national dress. You can guess the rest. We’re very grateful to Neil Cocker of Cardiff Start & Matt Johnston of Digital Circle for allowing us to meet!

Noddlepod is my earliest stage investment of the three but it’s grown out of a number of years of considered reflection by the founding team on where learning is going next and Ollie has corralled some very experienced and well know global learning experts onto her Board including our Chairman Charles Jennings and fellow non exec Nigel Paine. Edtech continues to create frenzied excitement in the investor space and we’re encouraged (!) by the recent $1.5bn sale of Lynda to LinkedIn. Great that LinkedIn now has access to all that content but I wonder if they’ve thought about how to deploy it coherently to their millions of users?

With Ollie this month - outside my London Southbank "office" - having tea & more tea

With Ollie this month – outside my London Southbank “office” – having tea & more tea

Until LinkedIn or similar comes a-knocking, we’re focused on bringing Noddlepod to corporate universities and business schools worldwide. I love most that as a Norwegian, Ollie thinks way outside of the four walls of the UK in her growth plans and that she has a number of overseas investors and a pipeline already full of European opportunities.

So that’s my three. Exciting times. I’m certain I’ll prove all those people who advised me against making early stage angel investments wrong. As always I’m interested in hearing your questions, comments, observations. Check us out. Startups always need a helping hand and you all know it makes sense to work with small, growing businesses jammed full of bright, ambitious people with great tech – it helps our local economies and it keeps you sane.

Pitching for success – some lessons from the Demo Coach Nathan Gold

Nathan Gold the Demo Coach

Nathan Gold the Demo Coach

Last week I attended my first Tech London Advocate Women in Tech event at the Telefonica HQ in Piccadilly and what an event it was.  We heard from a number of interesting speakers (Nikki Watkins especially) but the highlight of the evening for me was listening to Nathan Gold deliver a 30 minute version of his longer workshop called “Pitching for Success”.

Nathan is a San Francisco based demo coach.  He spends his life getting people or companies prepared and ready for high stakes pitches.  He helps people make their pitches and presentations more memorable and more compelling & his specialism is doing this for people who are in situations where they cannot afford to miss or fail.  Wow.  Think about that for a moment.  No pressure Nathan.

Anyway – I’ve listened to a fair few of these sorts of presentations over the years and would class myself as a hard to please audience member as well as a bit of a cynic, but honestly – Nathan was fantastic & I learned loads & loads of new stuff.  I’ve checked with him & he’s happy enough for me to share some of his hints & tips with you. Having said that – my recommendation is to go & see him yourself if you have any opportunity to do so and accelerators/regional development agencies/investment readiness programmes – book him now to run a session for your companies – it’ll be worth every penny.

Nathan’s methodology includes a lot of stuff that many of you out there who are getting ready for pitches yourselves won’t like, for a whole number of reasons – but mainly because you are going to have to do some thinking & also some work. More on that later … We start with a useful mnemonic:

VP + (SAME)2

You need a killer value proposition.  As well as forming the basis of your elevator pitch you can use this for so many other things – so it’s worth investing however long it takes to get it right.  Nathan uses Steve Blank’s “We help X do Y by doing Z”.

Value Proposition Matrix from Nathan Gold

Value Proposition Matrix from Nathan Gold

If you’d like to brainstorm this then you can use a VP matrix (see photo). I can’t tell you how useful & important this bit is.  Half the people I meet can’t explain their business to me in less than 5 minutes never mind in a single sentence.  Keep in mind that you have to get to a place where you’re going to be able to pitch your entire business in an initial investor meeting that may be no longer than 10 minutes.  Brief and simple is good.

Before I move on, a word on elevator pitches. Nathan recommends that you have three versions – a 30 second, 60 second and 90 second elevator pitch.  I’d never heard this before but it makes perfect sense and it’s very useful to have these rehearsed & in your kit bag, ready to trot out as required.

Still related to explaining what you do, use a Simile – “A is like B”.  Use this when you’re explaining in more & more detail & people still don’t get it.  Nathan’s own version of VP + S is “I help people prepare for high stakes presentations by rehearsing them as if they were in a Broadway show”.  See how effective that is.  Even if you’ve never been to a Broadway show you can immediately imagine how much work goes into the rehearsing.  When he said it, I imagined a couple of founders standing in a room in front of Nathan, going over & over & over their pitch until every word & image had been scrutinised, every aspect of it discussed in full and until their delivery of it was flawless!

Or if it’s easier, use an Analogy “A is to B as C is to D” – to illustrate this Nathan used the example of a company in San Francisco who’ve launched an electronic surfboard.  They explain it using this analogy “We do for surfing what the chair lift does for ski-ing” – see how easy that is to understand now as opposed to wondering what on earth someone would use an electric surfboard for…

A Metaphor works like “A is B” and the last bit of the first SAME is Examples – use them appropriately & drop in an S an A or a M to bring them to life.  Remember – investors see a hundred pitches a week, plus all the stuff they look at online & on video via the angel networks.  Out of the thousands of companies they see pitch, they invest in a handful.  The hardest bit when you’re starting out is getting noticed & being given an opportunity to pitch.  You will make it easier for yourself if you’ve really, really thought about your VP & how that sounds to the audience you’re presenting to.

Onto the second round of SAME.  When you’re presenting – whatever it is – start with a Story.  Don’t jump straight into factoids.  As your company grows, make sure you collect and share those stories so that everyone in the team knows them and can use them.  Nathan uses a Story Matrix to collate and classify the different types.  I like this.  We collected stories for every occasion as we were building Learning Pool.  They’re so useful.  Everyone loves a story and everyone warms to a storyteller – as long as you’re honest, authentic and real!  In the Story Matrix use the same layout as the VP Matrix.  Your column headings are Company, Sales, Support, Me, etc & your Row headings are story types – so Success, Failure, Fun, Legends, etc. Legends are the stories that are really hard to believe but which you can prove if challenged!

Nikki Watkins

Nikki Watkins

The next A is Adjective, and it’s the one you should add to your job title when people ask you what you do.  As well as coach, Nikki Watkins describes herself as adventurer, evangelist, believer.  I know they aren’t adjectives but this A is about being more descriptive about yourself upon introduction so that you will be remembered.  Nathan used a nice example “I am an entrepreneur with the soul of a dancer” – the entrepreneur in question has a dance related business.

Next we get onto one which is great when talking to customers but not so good for hard nosed investors…it’s a sprinkling of Magic.
The final E is Enthusiasm and your ability to communicate the passion you feel for your product, service, idea, company, life itself.  If you don’t have this then don’t present because this is the number one ingredient in your presentation.

Anne Winblad as quoted by Nathan Gold

Nathan left us with a great quote from Anne Winblad of Hummer Winblad Venture Partners “If the CEO doesn’t appear to be a good communicator we don’t fund the company”.

I’ll leave you with a famous story. During a visit to the NASA space centre in 1962, President Kennedy noticed a janitor carrying a broom.  He interrupted his tour, walked over to the man and said, “Hi, I’m Jack Kennedy. What are you doing?”

“Well, Mr President” the janitor responded, “I’m helping put a man on the moon.”

Really think about your messaging, especially when you’re pitching.

Thank you for your insights Nathan and for sharing VP + (SAME)2 with me.  I hope everyone finds this as useful as I did.

10 under 30 – female fire starters to watch

My gift to you today is a list of the 10 young women under 30 in my own network that I admire immensely and believe are ones to watch.  This blog is loosely connected to my other posts on women in tech and is also a nice precursor to a couple of events I’m speaking at over the next few weeks (Create: 2014 at CultureTECH in Derry on 17 Sept and Digital Women Teacamp at the NAO on 9 Oct).

I don’t think anyone else out there will know ALL the remarkable women on this list so this blog will allow those that are listed to find each other and it will alert everyone else to their existence – so that you can all find and follow them.

The women on this list are very different from each other but there are a number of common threads that unite them.  They’ve all started something interesting of their own, or are poised to start something.  They’re all friendly but tenacious, busy but generous with their time, smart but hungry to learn more, successful but humble.

Anyway, without further ado and in no particular order, here’s my list:

Sheree Atcheson, Kainos

Sheree Atcheson of Kainos

Sheree Atcheson @nirushika
In her day job Sheree works as a software engineer at Kainos in Belfast. She founded Women Who Code UK as one of her many sidelines and she was one of the organisers of the Belfast Technology Conference earlier this year, attracting and engaging with speakers from the US and elsewhere. Sheree works tirelessly to promote STEM career options to younger people and she uses a quote on women in tech that I love – “in order to be in tech, you do not need to be a man, a “geek” or a “nerd”. All you need is to be interested.”
Sheree is an excellent role model for younger women and girls who are considering a career as coders and we’re working together in December at Queen’s University on just such a workshop.
You can find out more about Women Who Code UK & Sheree here http://womenwhocode.co.uk/tag/sheree-atcheson/

Serena McCrossan @serenamc
I worked with Serena at Learning Pool where she’s a Digital Marketing Exec.

Serena McCrossan Learning Pool

Serena McCrossan Learning Pool

Serena started her own business, Innov8 Marketing, in her final year of university when she was 21 and ran that for a few years. She wrote a very honest blog about her own startup experience that you can read here http://giveitsomesparkle.wordpress.com/2012/04/19/business-failure-is-never-fatal-a-story-of-bravery/ I like the way Serena managed to take the positives from her Innov8 experience and she’s definitely living proof that walking through treacle only makes you stronger.
Serena’s one of the most confident and self-assured young women I’ve ever met & she also knows more about SEO and web lead generation than anyone else I know. It’s great that she’s working at Learning Pool but a little bit of me wonders from time to time how awesome the next business she starts by herself will be.

Olwen Sheedy, PWC Dublin

Olwen Sheedy, PWC Dublin

Olwen Sheedy @OlwenSheedy
Where to start with Olwen! She’s the most organised person I know and a definite contender for the person who has achieved most, lived in the most places, knows the most people and is still well under 25. Hey – she’s even appointed her own “personal” board of directors. Isn’t that a cool idea – think of all the support you need in the various parts of your life & then slot people in. You don’t even have to tell them if you don’t want to!
I met Olwen when she was working for Enterprise Ireland in London, helping Irish businesses get a foothold in the UK market, but she already had a US track record under her belt long before she got here and she’s now joined PWC in Dublin. Olwen – London’s missing you already & I’m expecting great things from you.

Immy Kaur @ImmyKaur

Immy Kaur, Hub Birmingham

Immy Kaur, Hub Birmingham

Everything that Immy does is about using her own considerable personal energy to make positive change happen for other people and society. Her projects have all been deeply seated in social good and it’s remarkable to see such a gifted young person focus her energies in this way. The world would be a very different place if only there were a few more like Immy around.
In the short time that I’ve known her I can just tell she’s one of those people that gets things done very quickly without much in terms of resources – the best sort of person but one that’s in short supply.
She’s Co-Founder of Hub Birmingham – and I quote “Hub Birmingham is focused on making Birmingham more equitable, more democratic, more wondrous and a home for the 21st century. Made in Birmingham, Made by Birmingham, Made for Birmingham.” Keep on keeping on Immy – I can’t wait to see what you have in store for us when you’re the PM.

Charlotte Jee, ComputerworldUK

Charlotte Jee, ComputerworldUK

Charlotte Jee @CharlotteJee
Charlotte is senior reporter at ComputerworldUK covering government/public sector and how they use (and abuse!) technology. Like Elaine (see later) she gets to mix with and interview a lot of cool tech people in her job. Charlotte starting working whilst she was still at university, writing newswire (three-sentence ticker stuff you see at the bottom of Reuters screens) on the pharma industry for a couple of years.
I feel as if I’ve known Charlotte for years but that’s probably because she’s a networker and a party goer with her finger right on the pulse of government. I love that she calls herself a “government botherer” on her Twitter bio.
My hope is that Charlotte is going to collect lots and lots of scurrilous information about Whitehall personalities and then publish a no-holds-barred book for us all to enjoy.

Elaine Burke @CriticalRedPen

Elaine Burke, Silicon Republic

Elaine Burke, Silicon Republic

Elaine is a Dublin based tech journalist who works for Silicon Republic, Ireland’s awesome online source of technology news. She writes for traditional print media too and has authored a couple of chapters of a book coming out later this year on Dublin’s Silicon Docks. When she’s not writing about tech, she’s talking about it on the radio. Elaine was named Tech Journalist of the Year in the 2013 Journalism and Media Awards (also known as the JAMs).
We first met in real life when Elaine was interviewing me on camera about my views on women in tech. What a job as I hate being filmed. I was so impressed by Elaine’s thorough preparation, quiet composure and command of her technical team.
Basically Elaine has one of the coolest jobs in tech where she gets to meet lots & lots of tech startups, tech glitterati and even better, sample and review all the latest gadgets. I’m looking forward to seeing what happens when she starts something herself!

Sarah McBride, Create: 2014

Sarah McBride, Create: 2014

Sarah McBride @SMB_Business
Sarah is one of the youngest women on my list. I’ve worked with Sarah on the Create: 2014 conference that’s happening at CultureTECH festival in Derry on 17 September (it’s not too late to join us) and have been thoroughly impressed with her professionalism and level of ambition.
Sarah just got her “A” Level results this summer (I know she’ll hate me saying this but she got 4 As) and is starting at University of Bath next month. It’s wonderful to meet such a motivated young person and I have no doubt whatsoever that we’ll see Sarah starting her own business before too long.

 

Lyra McKee @LyraMcKee

Lyra McKee, Beacon Reader

Lyra McKee, Beacon Reader

Lyra is a Belfast based investigative and independent journalist. I first met her at a Barcamp in Derry back in 2009 when she was an achingly young startup founder & CEO but I was immediately struck by her passion and fire. At that time, Lyra had founded (and self funded with 3 of her friends) a startup called NewsRupt, an intermediary company that allowed news editors to bid on stories created by freelance journalists. I’ve since watched her get a number of her own ideas up and running as well as working in other people’s startups on the side to earn a bit of cash.
Lyra is full of great ideas and she’s forever rooting for the underdog. I know that one of these days she’s going to pull off something big. You can read her blog here http://muckraker.me/

Lily Dart, dxw

Lily Dart, dxw

Lily Dart @Lily_Dart
Lily is a graphic designer and front end developer for public sector web design business dxw. She describes herself as a “geek and feminist”. We’ve recently been working together on the preparation for the second #DigitalWomen Teacamp event that’s happening on 9 October at the NAO.
I first encountered Lily at one of the UK Govcamp events a couple of years ago and was impressed by her straight talking about what it’s like being a young female web developer working in a largely all male environment and her useful advice for other young women.
I love that Lily (like Charlotte) started working as a freelancer whilst she was still at university, earning money and building her network. We need more women like Lily in tech.

Emma Leahy @emsiememsie

Emma Leahy, Get Invited

Emma Leahy, Get Invited

I first met Emma when she was the Editor at Sync NI, Northern Ireland’s most respected technology, science and innovation magazine. I was bowled over by her energy and positivity. No wonder she was the person chosen to profile tech giant Steve Wozniak when he graced the Province with his presence and I will be forever jealous that she got to meet one of my absolute favourite entrepreneurs, Sir Tim Smit.

These days Emma is Marketing Manager for online ticketing and event registration startup Get Invited. The guys are going great guns and currently have almost 400 events advertised on the platform with gross ticket value approaching £3m – wow!

I’m always delighted to run into Emma at events because she has the sunniest personality and she knows all the best tech gossip!

Samantha Sparrow, Task Squad

Samantha Sparrow, Task Squad

Samantha Sparrow @SamRSparrow
I couldn’t write a blog like this without including Sam, even though she’s ever so slightly past 30 (sorry for telling everyone that Sam). Sam is a force of nature and a complete one-off. In my long and varied career, I’ve never worked with anyone else like her.
A lawyer and a social entrepreneur, Sam is the driving force behind Task Squad, a social innovation startup from national youth volunteering charity vInspired. Sam has worked in the 3rd sector for 10 years and daily brings to bear all the skills she gained as part of her legal training in a positive way to help bring about social change. For the first 4 months of this year the two of us met with hundreds of people across London and without fail, every single one of them said to me afterwards “Wow – she’s impressive!”

Sam’s a blogger (check out the High Tea Cast) and a Hoxton Radio DJ, she ran the London Marathon for 2 children’s charities this year, she’s a chatterbox, a multitasker, a visionary and a livewire with a heart of gold. Cross her at your peril!  If we had more people like Sam in charity innovation the world would be a very different place.

Olivia McVeigh @omcveigh15 & Shelly McVeigh @mcveigh_shelly

Olivia McVeigh and Shelly McVeigh

Olivia McVeigh and Shelly McVeigh

At 16 and 17 respectively these are the youngest women on my list and they’re also the ones closest to my heart as they’re my nieces. To say I’m expecting big things from these two is an understatement. They’ve just received their GCSE results and are starting out with A Levels next. They’ve both been brought up to believe 100% that they can do ANYTHING with their lives and that opportunity exists at every turn in the road. I have no idea yet what Olivia and Shelly will choose to do but I know it’s going to be huge – and for that reason I’ve sneaked them in at the end of my list.

OK – the eagle eyed amongst you will have noticed that I’ve listed not 10 but 13.  I hope I haven’t missed out anyone from my circle…

Please continue the conversation and make your own nominations in the comments below.

Women and tech – will it take us another 250 years?

I wrote a brief piece on women in tech back in March for the Belfast Technology Conference magazine.  The gist of it was something like this.

Elisabeth Vigee Le Brun, Self Portrait in a Straw Hat, 1782

Elisabeth Vigee Le Brun, Self Portrait in a Straw Hat, 1782

As a woman working in technology in noughties Britain I compare myself mentally to a female artist in the 18th century.  I believe we are similar sorts of pioneers in our chosen field.  At that time significant gender bias existed in the art world and women artists encountered difficulties in accessing training, selling their work and in gaining recognition.  Although the Royal College of Art began admitting women in 1837 it was into a special “Female School”, it wasn’t really until the feminist art movement started in the 1960s that women artists became more mainstream. Even now they are paid less than their male counterparts and struggle harder with appropriate recognition.

Elisabeth Vigee Le Brun is widely recognised as the most successful female painter of the 18th century.  She became an artist because first her father and then her husband were both painters.  Really it was the only channel available to women at that time.  In the self portrait above she’s having a bit of a tongue in cheek laugh at us – showing us her palette (the tools of her trade) but dressing herself in a completely inappropriate outfit for working in oil paint.  The same woman caused a scandal in the art world of the time by breaking with tradition and releasing a self portrait of herself & her daughter smiling open mouthed (showing their teeth) – imagine!

Many prominent women in tech today are there because of early encouragement by their parents or by an enlightened teacher and this is a story that I hear over and over again when talking to my peers and indeed younger women.

I thought the comparison with the art world back in March was a good one – and then yesterday I was at the Victoria & Albert Museum in London for the Disobedient Objects exhibition and this poster literally stopped me in my tracks.

Guerilla Girls protest at the Met Museum

Guerilla Girls protest at the Met Museum

In case you can’t read it easily, the smaller text on the poster reads “Less than 4% of the artists in the Modern Art sections are women, but 76% of the nudes are females”.  Hmm.  Maybe the art world hasn’t made that much progress in 250 years after all.

A lot of activity is going on and money is being spent across the world right now to fix the women in tech “issue” and make technology a more mainstream career choice for girls and women. Of course it makes a lot of sense, but let’s not be the generation that allows this process of transformation to drag on for 250 more years!

In this GCSE and A Level results month, encourage the young women you know to pursue exciting, creative and independent careers instead of dashing their dreams and pressurising them to study boring but safe subjects.

I usually stay away from this rather controversial subject but I’ve chosen it as the topic with which to relaunch my blog because the women in tech that I know and work with are all incredible…I just wish there were a few more of us.  As a final point it’s also worth noting that even back in the 18th century, Vigee Le Brun’s portrait commissions commanded a higher price than Gainsborough’s.

As always, your comments on my blog are most welcome and I look forward to seeing what everyone has to say on this topic.

Women – would you like to earn as much money as your male colleagues?

I was at #altukgc13 yesterday on the 5th floor of the Royal Festival Hall.  It came about thanks to Lloyd Davis & James Cattell who jumped into action following cancellation of UK Govcamp because of a bit of snow & the chaos that wreaks on the British public transport network (I note that even Buzz Aldrin had to take the train from London to Edinburgh on Friday and sit in standard class, although from the photos online he appeared to be having a great time).

One of the groups I joined discussed why it is that conference speaking platform slots are overwhelmingly dominated by white, middle aged males.  We had a lively discussion & generated some ideas.  One of the women in the group, the very fabulous & sadly ex-public sector Sharon O’Dea, has successfully managed to break onto the speaking circuit herself where she talks about technology.  Rare indeed.  Sharon agreed that she will write a blog with some tips for interested people on how they may do the same.  You can find Sharon’s blog at http://sharonodea.co.uk/

The discussion got me thinking that many of the reasons that women in particular don’t put themselves forward for speaking slots are similar to the reasons why women are so rubbish at either negotiating or improving their salary packages.  That was my driver for writing this blog.  When I was a younger person in a junior job it didn’t occur to me that there was a difference in outcomes of salary negotiations between men & women.  I naively assumed that everyone did as well as each other.  I knew I felt a bit uncomfortable having to wrangle with my MD in this way once a year.  Then one day in a team meeting a wonderful woman that I used to work with, Kirsten Gillingham (now Bursar at St Antony’s College, Oxford) challenged our MD about this inequality & made reference to the many studies that have been done showing that women are extremely unwilling to negotiate their salary and are financially disadvantaged as a result.  For me, merely becoming aware of this fact was enough to bring about a change in my own behaviour from that moment on – another reason for writing the blog as hopefully the same thing will happen for at least one person that reads it.

When you get to the stats they’re a bit alarming.  For new graduates, 57% of men negotiate a higher starting salary than the sum they are first offered but only 7% of women do.  In recruitment exercises, 90% of men immediately ask for more money when their offer comes through but over 50% of women accept the first offer.  Women earn about 75% of what men do in the same role.  I’m not talking about the public sector here or organisations where there is a transparent pay scale – although I will say that even then, you do still have a chance of negotiating a better deal when you’re joining the organisation.

So why is this?  What are the contributing factors?  I think there are probably a lot including:

  • women systematically underestimate their own abilities and performance
  • women underestimate their own value and the contribution they make to an organisation
  • women often aren’t used to negotiation because of the types of jobs they do
  • women probably care more about fairness
  • women are nervous & less confident of their position if they don’t have complete information – in this context specific salary information on other people is unlikely to be available
  • women don’t usually like conflict & will be extremely reluctant to threaten to walk if they don’t get what they want
  • at recruitment time, women may believe they’ll be able to improve their lot once they’ve started working & demonstrated their value to the organisation
  • perhaps women are more scared of losing the job offer than men are
  • maybe bosses treat this as a bit of a game and women don’t readily understand the rules
  • perhaps worst of all, success & likeability are positively correlated for men & negatively correlated for women – I can think of many occasions where I’ve underplayed my own achievements in order to be better liked or more easily accepted (we publicly put our success down to luck or help from other people).  So the male that negotiates a great package for himself is seen as an all-round great guy whereas the woman who does the same thing is seen as a hardnosed ballbreaker.

No doubt there are many more.

So how can you improve your salary negotiation outcome?

  1. By being aware that this is just how things are done.  It isn’t personal and you may not like it.  During the hiring process most company’s recruiters will start by offering you less than they are authorised to spend on the post.  It is perfectly acceptable for you to refuse that sum & state what your expectation is via a counter offer.  The negotiator will then often lowball you with another offer that is less than they can pay you.  Again – just stick to your guns & continue to counter offer.  Stay calm & polite at all times.  Don’t give any reasons why you want more money unless they really press you to.  Often they won’t.
  2. Be familiar with your industry metrics so that you know what’s realistic – it probably isn’t realistic to ask for £50k when you’ve been offered £25k – but who knows – dependent on your sector & skills maybe it is.
  3. Practice your negotiations with a friend or mentor & reassure yourself that your demands are reasonable.
  4. Remember that negotiation at its core is culturally masculine.
  5. Don’t be afraid to initiate a conversation with your manager about a salary increase – my own team is made up of males & females but inevitably it’s the men who will chance their arm and pitch to me the reasons why they deserve a pay rise, even when they aren’t due for one.

Ideally the process should be changed as there’s also a commercial downside & cost to behaving in this way.  No enlightened company will consciously operate like this as they will appreciate that in order to succeed commercially; they need a gender balanced and happy workforce who are treated fairly.  At Learning Pool we want our people to have the same opportunities and to be treated equitably.  We recognise the very large sums of money we spend recruiting and training our team members so it’s in our interests that they are content & stay with us for the long term.  There’s probably a special place in hell for managers who offer pay rises only at the point where their people threaten to leave.

When I was researching this topic last night I watched again Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg’s famous TED talk entitled “Why We Have Too Few Women Leaders” – it’s just shy of 15 minutes long & well worth a viewing or another viewing.  I won’t repeat what she says but she makes some great points that really made me think.  The link is here http://www.ted.com/talks/sheryl_sandberg_why_we_have_too_few_women_leaders.html

I sincerely hope no-one is offended by this blog post.  That isn’t my intention & those of you who know me will know that I thrive in a male dominated sector and industry.  There’s lots more that can be said on this topic and I hope many of you will start a conversation using the comment section below.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Some thoughts from Rosaleen Blair – entrepreneur, Dubliner and superwoman

Rosaleen Blair

Great female role model Rosaleen Blair speaking at an IIBN London event

As I’m sure the whole world is by now aware, I’m coming to the end of my first week living back in London.  Everyone I’ve met this past week or asked for help has been extremely welcoming and I’ve been fortunate enough to have been invited to a few really useful networking events.  Best of all, however, from the perspective of a newly arrived Irish entrepreneur in London has been the Irish International Business Network or IIBN as it’s known.  The link is here for anyone that would like to know more or find out how to join http://www.iibn.com/london/

I’m lucky enough to have been introduced to the original Wild Irish Guy himself, Damon Oldcorn, and it seems that once you know Damon, you don’t really need to know anyone else.  I’ve always found this to be a good strategy.  Bryan Keating was the first business person I met in Northern Ireland, he’s the exact same and it’s never done me any harm.

Thursday night’s IIBN event started with drinks & chat and it was very easy to circulate and get talking to a few people as everyone’s very friendly and open.  Everyone has an Irish connection even though many, like me, don’t have an Irish accent.  Don’t let that fool you! – they all know their Leitrims from their Letterkennys and their Dungloes from their Dingles.  Our diaspora is a beautiful thing.  There were bankers, recruiters, reps from private equity houses, lawyers, entrepreneurs, investors and no doubt many more besides.  If you’re Irish, in business and in London you need to join IIBN.

As part of the evening, our speaker was the charming and self-effacing Rosaleen Blair.  Rosaleen is one of those women who have achieved a helluva lot but doesn’t go around shouting that from the rooftops.  She just gets on with things.  Most of all, I liked the way she described the values her company operates by and I liked her statement of the 3 things she demands from people in her team and recruits against.  I’ve used these a few times already in conversation with others I’ve met this week but having chatted with Rosaleen on the evening, I don’t think she’ll mind.  They are as follows:

·         Trust – the members of a team have to really trust one another; of course this takes a bit of time

·         Collaboration – people need to be able & willing to work on projects with each other and to work hard to make that collaboration work

·         Sharing – Rosaleen hates it when people hold back knowledge & refuse to share it with other members of the team

I also loved what she said about encouraging a culture of “intrapreneurship” within your own organisation as a way of motivating and retaining the people in your team.  If anyone’s unsure what that means, it’s about encouraging positive aspects of entrepreneurial behaviour but within a large organisation.  It’s something we always tried to do at Learning Pool.

Rosaleen told us her story about how she arrived in London from Dublin in the 1990s, not knowing a soul but with a background in recruitment and having run a few small businesses in Ireland, believing herself to be fairly unemployable.  She went to work at Alexander Mann and over the course of time, persuaded her employer to allow her to try something new to fill a gap in the market and co-create adjacent services with clients (the first one being ICL/Fujitsu).  As it happened, she, working along with James Caan, became one of the early pioneers of what these days is known as RPO (Recruitment Process Outsourcing) and the rest is history.  In 2007, Rosaleen led her team through a £100m management buyout with the backing of private equity house Graphite Capital.  These days her company Alexander Mann Solutions employs 2,000 people working in 70 geographies and 42 languages.

Rosaleen also gave us some priceless bits of advice which I hope she won’t mind me passing on here to others:

·         When looking at which private equity house to go with, do some research and talk to some of the companies your main players have divested themselves of

·         As CEO, always keep your bank manager close & don’t give them any surprises; don’t pass that bank relationship off to someone else in your team

·         If your company is going to be working in some way with a private equity house, get yourself a CFO that has previously worked with a PE house, a CFO coming from a big corporate background won’t have the right sort of experience

·         Trust your own instincts and that of your team every day of the week over the advice given to you by external “experts”

Thanks Rosaleen, thanks IIBN and hello London!

 

Sherry Coutu – entrepreneur, investor, philanthropist, mentor & role model

Sherry_coutu

It’s been a while since I’ve told you about someone interesting I’ve encountered in my travels so this blog is all about Sherry Coutu, award winning entrepreneur and a successful angel investor.  She has the smarts (MSc with Distinction in Economics from the London School of Economics & an MBA from Harvard), the track record as a practising CEO (her first start up was acquired by Euromoney plc and her second was floated via an IPO in 2000 when Sherry was five months pregnant and it was later valued at $1 billion), a successful investment track record (she’s invested so far in over 35 companies, one of the most recent being Artfinder) and the network (she sits on the boards of LinkedIn and Zoopla.com as well as being an investor in two VC firms).  Are you impressed yet?  There’s a lot more.  Sherry also has 3 young children and aims to spend one day per week putting something back via philanthropic pursuits (she’s on the board of Cancer Research UK, a trustee at NESTA, a non exec at Cambridge & Harvard universities and she works with NSPCC on a programme for disadvantaged teenagers).  I suspect on the philanthropic front there’s probably a lot more.  I know for a fact on the professional front there’s an awful lot more.  Wired Magazine voted Sherry one of the 25 most influential people in the wired world in May 2011.

I hate to tell you this but Sherry Coutu is also very understated, very cool and very nice.  I met her first a couple of months ago when Learning Pool was selected as one of the 9 SME finalists in the Cabinet Office’s Innovation Launchpad competition.  Sherry has been the driving force behind this initiative which seeks to improve in a practical way government engagement with SMEs.  I snapped the pic accompanying this blog when Sherry was delivering her presentation last Tuesday to the 120+ civil servants gathered at BIS.  We’ve been lucky to have her input and insight into our Big Society School idea as part of the Launchpad process.

My favourite Sherry Coutu quotes that I’ve come across so far are “I think the most important question for any startup is “Is what they’re aiming for going to change the world somehow? Is it going to make it a better place?”” and about working in the technology space “it’s a great industry that we’re a part of … being able to peer into the future and to invest in things that are likely to change our world. … It’s a huge privilege”.  In one video interview she tells how her father waved a bunch of fibre optic cable at her when she was 5 years old & told her it was going to change the world.  Life is all about those moments, isn’t it?

I’ve always thought I was a decent enough plate spinner and until I met Sherry, I’d never been envious of another person’s career.  I now realise I can surely do more.  Sherry’s tutor at the LSE talked to her about considering becoming an entrepreneur…I turned down my place at the LSE when I was 17 because I didn’t feel ready to move to London.  I wasn’t brave enough.  I’ve wondered over the past few days about how different my life may have been if I’d grasped that particular nettle – but then I also got to thinking about all the good things I might have missed and I’ve concluded that life really is too short for regrets.  It’s only in Kurt Vonnegut novels that we should visit those forks in the road & examine different outcomes.

I’ll leave you today with another great Sherry Coutu quote “As entrepreneurs you’re either seeking to disrupt something, or as a dominant market player, you’re seeking to retain your position. You know, you have to ask yourself, “Where’s the puck going to be in 25 years?”  Yep – the gal’s still a Canadian!  Sherry – it’s been a privilege to get to know you.