women in business

Twin Twinterviews

The Twinterview is nothing new.  I did my first one for the @IoDNI back in 2013.  Having a limited number of characters in which to answer a sometimes quite complex question is good discipline.  Many of my readers will already know Susan Hayes Culleton – the Positive Economist.  Susan is a Dublin based entrepreneur, a published author, an accomplished speaker & legendary MC & like me a constant traveller, an investor in teenagers and young people, a fellow IIBN board member and a firm supporter of everything #GlobalIrish

Susan and me 1

Susan Hayes & Mary McKenna at the IoD NI conference in March 2018

Susan & I know many of the same people & over the years have made numerous introductions for each other across the globe BUT apart from occasionally speaking at the same events, we’ve never actually worked on anything together.  I was therefore delighted (and I must admit a tad nervous) when Susan contacted me about being the subject of her September Twinterview.  A lot of people enjoyed this live on Twitter but others have mentioned to us since that they missed it – so here’s the text below where we cover startups, collaboration, business failure, career paths, business mistakes, travel & much more.

SUSAN’s TWINTERVIEW WITH MARY:

SH Q1 – What separates startups from scaleups?

MM A1 #Startups in my eyes are still finding their way, seeking their niche, pivoting, testing the water; #scaleups know where they’re going & have the pedal to the floor. Need different animals at the helm as you move from chaos (fun) into order (boredom?)

SH Q2 – What characteristic(s) do you look for in a business collaborator (in the broadest sense of the word)?

MM A2 Collaboration is always where the magic happens, as many big cos are finding in working now with #startups – BUT – identifying collaborators & partners can be one of the trickiest parts of business & can take you from top of the pile straight into court – honesty is a good start

SH Q3 – What connotations do you associate with the term “business failure”?

MM A3 Many, many good people fail in business; the really good ones see that experience as a stepping stone & have another go better equipped next time around. In Ireland failure is seen as negative; not so much in the US. Success in life is more important

SH Q4 – What did you do differently in your 30s in comparison to your 20s when it came to your career?

MM A4 My career path is straightforward but weird – partied right through my 20s (networking?), went back to school in my 30s & qualified as an accountant (shhh – don’t tell anyone), then started my first business at the age of 43 – have never looked back since

Susan and me palace of west

Networking together in 2016 in the Palace of Westminster with people we met in the queue!

SH Q5 – Tell us about one mistake you avoided.

MM A5 It would be easier to tell you about the hundreds of mistakes I’ve made! The one I’ve chosen might be controversial but it’s electing to #bootstrap as a #startup rather than take investment – getting to your own revenue at lightning speed trumps finance (handouts?) every time

SH Q6 – How can hunger for business success turn from aimless energy to a strategic vision?

MM A6 If you’re serious about starting a business you’ll have measurable goals & one day the talking stops & action starts … you have to pee or get off the pot. Never forget that once you’ve thrown that dice it’s v hard to turn back – weigh up if the #entrepreneur life is really for you

SH Q7 – How do you always maintain relevance?

MM A7 Curiosity helps. The tech world moves at pace. I work hard. I network & read constantly. I’m out & about a lot & meet a lot of people – like a shark – always moving & looking for the next interesting snippet – lol. I can’t imagine being behind the times – it’s what I fear most

SH Q8 – Many people would agree (I’m first on that bus!) that you’re a role model. What’s your gut reaction when you hear that?

MM A8 My shyness makes me squirm but then I remember the importance of women & girls having tangible, real, touchable, available role models – especially in #tech & #STEM – & I carry on doing stuff way outside my comfort zone because we are still few – though our numbers are growing

SH Q9 – You travel LOTS and LOTS and LOTS! How do you keep it interesting?

MM A9 I lead a blessed life with lots of variety. Living on Ireland’s #WildAtlanticWay in #Donegal means everywhere involves travel. People are what interest me – people & opportunities. I only wish someone would invent healthy packed lunches for travelling businesswomen. Travel = writing

SH Q10 I agree with you about the healthy lunches! Salad bars, frozen yogurt shops and artisan producers certainly have improved the situation but yes, it’s difficult to be always good!

Complete this sentence: Work Life Balance is….

MM A10 “Work life balance is … sensible & necessary but grossly overrated. Life is life. If you don’t love your work enough then do us all a favour & do something else” And that’s a wrap for today’s Twinterview folks – I hope you enjoyed it as much as @SusanHayes_ & me 🙂

Susan and me 2

At the IIBN conference in Dublin in November 2017

Anyway – we enjoyed that first one so much that we decided a rematch was in order, this time with me posing the questions to Susan.  We were more in the swing of things second time around & had learned from our mistakes – so for the second one we did a bit of advance advertising and we kept all the questions & answers in a single Twitter thread – which made it a lot easier for latecomers to find & read.  In this second Twinterview we cover when you should say yes or no to offers, the place networking plays in business, how to become a published author, how to be an excellent event MC and what it’s really like to work with your husband.  Here we go.

MARY’S TWINTERVIEW WITH SUSAN:

MM Q1 OK – ready to go – You have a lot of plates spinning Susan – author, entrepreneur, pundit, expert MC & more. What’s your personal elevator pitch in your own words?

SH A1 I’m the “Positive Economist”, a speaker that always focuses on what you CAN do, CEO of @becksearch, our evolving knowledge management business that we started this year and co-founder of @savvyteens focusing on careers, communications and confidence in teenagers.

MM Q2 – With such a varied portfolio & skillset, how do you decide what to say Yes to & what to say No to?

SH A2 Starting off, I said yes to everything (like #SavvyWomen) and that was the right thing to do. Today, I say yes to what I feel that we can do really well. I also say yes to what we can learn a lot from or what can be a great experience for our teams. That’s a #GlobalIrish mindset.

MM Q3 Love it Susan – I say Yes to far too much – next question will be interesting for many of our readers – You sometimes work closely with your husband. What are the pros & cons of doing that?

SH A3 Sincerely, it’s all a pro. I’ve always worked with @ArdleCulleton, even before we were going out together. We can share the highs, the lows, the lessons, the achievements. He is my mentor and I wouldn’t have it any other way. Our Friday board meetings are my fave time of the week.

MM Q4 Ha! I’ve heard tell of the Fri board meetings with @ArdleCulleton manys a time – Some people say they can see the value of #networking but they don’t have time for it. What’s your view on this? (looking forward to this answer!)

SH A4 There is no such thing as “having time” for it. Networking is building relationships, with your clients, stakeholders, staff, influencers, leads etc. It’s what we do as business people all day every day. It’s not just power breakfasts! I’ve learned a lot from how you’ve done it.

MM Q5 And a related #networking question – Do you have any stories about specific amazing things that have come to you from your network that you can share with us?

SH A5 So, SO many! I will never forget my first @IIBN conference where I met you Mary. That one day launched everything we’ve done in the UK, the work I’ve been privileged to do with @dfat and the #GlobalIrish and the #Brexit event I did in #NY with @maryannpierce. It was lifechanging.

MM Q6 The @IIBN conferences are completely unmissable – the next one is 8/9 Nov in Dublin folks (tickets here) – Susan – a lot of people will be wondering about this – How did your first book deal come about?

SH A6 #PositiveEconomics – the economics textbook was a fellow author’s idea and we rang the four publishers about how to get started. We wrote the “Money & Banking” chapter and by that Christmas, we had a contract! Our next one will be out in 2019. (My experience of #blogging helped).

MM Q7 So pleased you mentioned how #blogging benefited you Susan – here’s a related question that will be of interest to anyone out there who’s thinking about trying to get published – Is it worth the time & pain of becoming a bona fide published author?

SH A7 Absolutely. AB-SO-LUTE-LY. In the case of “The Savvy Woman’s Guide to Financial Freedom”, I wrote it as if I was having a good chat with friends and giving #SavvyWomen some advice. Lots of people have commented since that their reading experience has felt like that #DreamComeTrue

MM Q8 I heard @tulster speak about women’s freedom & knowledge of personal finance at 2017’s #Inspirefest – You’re the best all day conference MC I’ve ever seen Susan. Anyone who attends the @IoDNI conf in Belfast will agree. What are your tips for others hoping to improve?

SH A8 Thank you so much Mary! Be interested … in everybody’s story. Listen hard. Your job as an MC is to be the glue that binds the event together, to be a problem solver and to manage the energy in the room. Put those things right at the centre of your focus.

Susan cartoon

Susan caricatured in March 2018 – it’s pretty good!

MM Q9 And no requirement to be able to compose poetry on the spot! Yes – there’s no doubt prep is everything in business & probably life – here’s the next one – Be the best or it’ll do/it’s good enough – which of these approaches are you most a fan of & why?

SH A9 The latter and then the former. You have to learn, test and tweak by trying a product or service out with real people. No hiding behind useless perfection.  You have to get market research and sometimes that comes in the form of rejection.  After that, it HAS to “be the best”.

MM Q10 Hell yeah – also great advice for software developers – I love your practice mentioned in your #TEDx talk of writing down the biggest achievement of your day so that you can easily look back at progress. Where did you come up with the idea & do you still do it yourself?

SH A10 It’s a variation of something I’ve learned from @brianbuffini. Most progress is incremental and unless we enjoy the small things along the way, our levels of resilience to absorb the tough stuff may not last. I always reflect on serendipity and the actions that really mattered.

MM Q11 Ooh – must check out @brianbuffini – I can’t wait to see your answer to this next one – Do you ever procrastinate & if you do, how do you combat it … or if you don’t, what advice would you give to those that do?

SH A11 I used to until I learned about “tagging”. Tag something that you procrastinate about with something you never question. For example, I have a call with @vveurope every Monday at 4pm and then I started tagging that with going to @DCUSportsWellbe . An exercise habit was formed!

MM Q12 No doubt it’s worth investing time in creating good habits! OK Susan – we’re getting thru these well – You’ve achieved an incredible amount for someone who’s still in their early 30s. But do you have any advice that you’d give to the you of 10 years ago?

SH A12 Expect GREAT things to happen. We often worry about what could go wrong, but my Mam responds to this often with “what if it goes right?”. Synchronicity often has wonderful surprises in store. Work on the small steps and be open to the big ones.

MM Q13 Paying attention & being open will always generate rewards – 3 more questions left – What would you like to be doing in 10 years time?

SH A13 I want my mind to be so much further open, my portfolio of business ideas to be so much further advanced, and my network to be so much more diversified than I could possibly have imagined or dreamed today. The hashtags #SavvyWomen #GlobalIrish should mean so much more by then.

MM Q14 I’m glad you mentioned business expansion – would you like to tell us more about your new venture @BeckSearch

Susan Sinead me

Breakfast in the Westbury Dublin last year with Sinead Crowley

SH A14 I’ve been so fortunate to have had breakfast with you and @Scrowley88, chats with @denisemcquaid, invaluable insights from @irelandinnz and the connectivity of @gaaasia. Person-to-person #km accelerates careers & businesses. I’m passionate about making that happen #WatchThisSpace

MM Q15 Watch this Spaces are my favourite! Last question for you is this Susan & I’m sure anyone who knows you will be wondering the same – Do you ever relax & if so what do you choose to do with your free time (business planning doesn’t count – lol)?

SH A15 I do. I really do because “being kind to yourself” is a true competitive advantage. I love spending time with family and friends. I love to read and immerse myself in international cultures. I love simply being alive and being aware and sharing it with @ArdleCulleton!

MM Exactly the answer I expected to receive from you @SusanHayes_ & I knew that @ArdleCulleton would be the recipient of the last words!

Phew – we covered a lot of ground in those 25 questions.  Some priceless little nuggets in that exchange, even if I do say so myself.

I hope you enjoyed participating in our Twinterviews or reading the transcript if you missed them.  If you’d like Susan or I to help you with anything you know where to find us.  Any questions you have – as usual post them up in the comments & we will do our best to answer.  Thanks everyone!

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!