Telefonica’s Wayra startup hub couldn’t have been a better choice for Women in Wireless London’s first panel discussion. Wayra was started in South America, and is so-called because the word means a change of breeze, or a change of direction. There has been a great deal of attention of late around the question of women in the boardroom. Promoted onto the agenda by the publishing of a government review, the Evening Standard and then the BBC have both taken a stab at answering one of modern life’s most pressing questions: ‘why aren’t there more women in top jobs?’
This panel went some way to offering an alternative. Voted for by the audience at the Women in Wireless launch back in April, it appears many women want to be their own boss. Chaired by Olivia Solon, Associate Editor of Wired.co.uk and one of TechCrunch’s 100 Tech Women in Europe, but with her magazine confined to the ‘men’s interest’ section of WHSmith, she knows only too well what it’s like to be a woman in a bloke’s world.
She was joined by:
Michelle Gallen – co-founder and CEO of Shhmooze - the people discovery app for professionals- and TalkIrish.com an Irish language learning platform
Michelle likes straight talking, dark chocolate and Irish whiskey. She had delivered a project for the BBC ahead of schedule and under budget, “it rocked”. Would she get a bonus? No. “I hadn’t a thing to go to and I walked”.
Claudia Dreier-Poepperl – founder and CEO Addafix – a caller ID service
Claudia wasn’t happy for a long time. The startup she had been a member of since day five had been acquired and acquired again. She was in the UK. Its HQ was in the US. “If I can put all that energy in to make somebody else rich – I can try for myself”.
Muriel Devillers – LUMU Invest – a provider of seed funding and mentoring
Muriel Devillers “married had children and then had a divorce… I thought I had to do something”. She went on an adventure and started four pirate radio stations. She is now a business angel, advising and supporting startup projects.
Yael Rozencwajg – founder and CEO YOPPs Digital Media
Yael had a ‘typical life’ and was well-known among Paris nightclub scene. After two years, she decided to earn money from it.
Sabrina McEwen – communications executive for Hiyalife – a platform to co-create your life story using memories, a Wayra startup
Sabrina went from a corporate to… a funkier business, but still corporate… and had a difficult boss. She wasn’t intending to join a startup but hasn’t regretted it one bit. At Hiyalife, she is surrounded by “passionate people who want to succeed… interesting and full of ideas”.
Olivia: So you’ve got your idea on the back of a napkin… what do you do next?
Muriel: It’s not an easy one – I was travelling the world for over five years looking for the disruptive ideas. I listen. When I say ‘wow’ I’ve fallen in love with the idea. I get into the team to push, open my network, make you work.
Michelle: There was a gap in the market. There were 59 million people with an Irish passport and I was leaning Irish from 40 year-old books… Perhaps I wouldn’t sell my house… But today you can test your assumption. If you’ve got 50 people signed up… go for it.
Claudia: I had to find techies, to test whether the task was a yes, no, or a possibility. They have to be on the same wavelength, can you trust them? Perhaps find them from a previous job. Can you build something, a prototype without any funding? You don’t need a big amount of funding to get you through that. The further you get, the more impressed any business angel will be.
Olivia: Once you had launched – what was the biggest misconception about having a start-up?
Yael: Don’t be afraid of failing. Don’t worry about the money. The idea, the project has to be the main thing at every step. I strongly advise you to make mistakes – we learn after making mistake, misunderstanding the marketplace and failing.
Claudia: Everything takes about 10 times longer than you think – time, energy, money, contingency is never enough. Over the years you become more relaxed about that – four weeks waiting on a contract from a big corporate is like four years for you.
Muriel: Invest your own money – this is showing in your guts that you believe in it. Use crowd funding – especially when you start. Friends and family support will show you are right and boost you to go further.
Michelle: No one tells you about maternity leave when you’re starting out on your own.
Sabrina: But there is actually lot of support.
Olivia: So what about the pitch process? What’s the worst pitch you’ve seen?
Muriel: 27 slides, loads of numbers. The best way to pitch? Please show me your guts. I don’t care about slideshares. I need to feel the love in three, four, five slides – don’t ever put your speech on it.
Olivia: How do you get a work/life balance?
Claudia: You don’t. You have to force yourself to stop – travelling all the time is bad for your health.
Michelle: 9am-11pm and then drinks gives me five hours in the week to see my baby. I want my friends to call me out on it.
Yael: You need time management – take distance from your project and see your friends.
Olivia: Studies show that men are better at multi-tasking. No?
Muriel: We are multitasking!! Pregnant, working… To risk and invest, I think we do it better.
A lot of VCs are male but business angels are mostly women. When you believe in it you go for it. We know how to push it to minimise the risk.
Olivia: Woman in tech – more men than women – advantages/disadvantages?
Yael: In tech, there is a big opportunity for women to reach the men’s table. Keep in mind – women have the power to connect and support each other. We trust in ourselves, focus and bring our self-confidence.
Muriel: I am a woman in a man’s world. The financial world. And I disrupt that. I shout. I put my fist on the table. What I want to see is teams build projects together – men and women together – we have qualities and men have qualities. We can approach it from 360 degrees.
Why do we get married and have children? Because we are complimentary – in your children, you integrate your qualities together.
Claudia: It depends on the situations. There are always so many men at tech conferences. If you are trying to sell something, I love it!
Muriel: There are now more than 60 per cent women studying tech in universities.
Michelle: There are no queues for the toilet when you’re a girl in tech! You can start doing the ‘I’m the only girl in the village’ bit. Try not to analyse - just be. Support everyone and call them out on things. When guys say ‘you have to have balls’, I say ‘talk to me about guts and I’ll show you them’.
To the audience.
My start-up isn’t working…
Michelle: I spent my 20s having really crap relationships. I was late to the party when it came to settling down. Be slutty as a startup – split up, lose it. You say it’s your baby, but it’s not. You wouldn’t be so precious about it.
Muriel: Branding is 60 per cent of your budget. There are co-working spaces all over the world – be together as much as possible, all you need is a place with a table, wifi, people to talk with and that’s all.
Do women think big enough?
Michelle: If you’re going to put the hours in, you have to care about it. If you’re ironing, you go for it, same if you want to be the next Facebook.
Claudia: The business has to be scaleable.
Muriel: Dream global before dreaming local and you will succeed. Make us believe in your dreams.
Yael: The world is not open to you; you have to open the world.
Olivia: One tip for the future?
Michelle: Always do your pelvic floor exercises and never fake an orgasm
Claudia: If the others can do it you can do it
Muriel: Believe in your dreams
Yael: Live them
Sabrina: Don’t bother convincing the non-believers