Eliane's LugassyEliane Lugassy is CEO and co-founder of Witco. After studying business law and obtaining a degree from ESSEC, she began her career at Rothschild & Co in Paris on Mergers and Acquisitions.

She accompanied several real estate projects, including the sale of the “Cœur Défense” building.  In 2016, she left finance to create Witco an application that improves tenant experience in all buildings while facilitating their management. Offices, residences, coworking and co-living. Witco adapts to all types of properties thanks to flexible technology and personalised support, and will be critical to businesses as WiFI is.

Tell us a bit about yourself, background and your current role

I studied law and passed the Bar before going to business school and graduating with a Masters in Corporate finance. I started my career at Rothschild & Co investment bank where I worked in mergers and acquisitions, and I left to start Witco in 2016. I am the CEO of Witco, and the proud solo female founder of a tech company.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

I could never have planned how things turned out, because I didn’t know anything about entrepreneurship when I was younger and I wouldn’t have know where to even start. I wasn’t even groomed to get into business school and think about “unconventional” career paths.

But I’ve always been very ambitious, I have it in my veins. So at every step of my education and career, I’ve always looked for ways to challenge myself to the highest standards.

I worked hard to get into Rotschild as a young graduate because it was one of the best investment banks. But I also quickly figured out that my path in investment banking would limit my opportunities at some point because the more time you spend there, the more difficult it is to leave (you’re so well paid, and it’s a specific mindset, a specific work culture that isn’t easily transferrable to other industries).

I also had the chance of spending 6 months in Boston and was surrounded by brilliant entrepreneurs who had all graduated from MIT, and they inspired me tremendously. So after 3 years at Rotschild, I decided to leave and start my own company. I could take this risk not thanks to family money but because I had saved a lot instead of living as lavishly as my salary allowed at the time. I was also naïve I guess because the way I got into entrepreneurship and founding a tech company is a complete case of “I didn’t know it was impossible, so I did it”.

Have you faced any career challenges along the way and how did you overcome these?

I can think of 2 big challenges : the first was that I didn’t have a co-founder to start Witco with, and starting a company is a hard and lonely adventure. Most the people I knew back then were working in very safe, prestigious jobs in law or finance and were quite risk adverse. I’m proud of where we are today, but it would have been a lot easier if I had had someone with a complementary expertise next to me at the start.

The 2nd biggest challenge is that I feel a lot of founders (at least in France) had a head start because many were groomed to go to top business schools, had rich networks, and sometimes even a roadmap into entrepreneurship. I have been learning all of this on my own, step by step and sometimes feel like I “lost” some time, even if no education and experience ever amounts to nothing.

What has been your biggest career achievement to date?

Definitely building Witco and seeing how far we’ve come. “It’s still day 1” but I’m proud of the important steps we’ve passed and of the amazing team we’ve built to power Witco onto its next phase of growth.

What one thing do you believe has been a major factor in you achieving success?

Resilience. I was never handed what I wanted, I always had to work hard for everything I desired. I’ve always aspired to the best I could possibly get, so I never had any other option than keeping my head down, working hard, getting back up again every time I failed and trying harder.

What top tips would you give to an individual who is trying to excel in their career in technology?

Be resilient  and be obsessed about your subject. Centuries of wisdom about achievement say nothing else : work hard and you can achieve anything.

But also opportunistic: keep a close eye on the market to catch emerging trends.

Finally, get your hands dirty and ask questions: if you want to be credible, you have to be curious and willing to learn any chance you get.

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Do you believe there are still barriers for success for women working in tech, if so, how can these barriers be overcome?

Oh yes, the glass ceiling is real! The tech world is not diverse, neither is the entrepreneurship and the VC worlds. But I don’t think that’s entirely the system’s fault: I think women hold themselves back a lot too. Obviously that’s also because of the way we educate girls. I advise women to not waste energy to fight the system from the bottom and save this energy to build their company. Instead they should learn how to adapt to the system: they shouldn’t limit themselves and believe STEM education/tech careers/entrepreneurship is not for them. They should also learn to be as confident as men to sell their story and their project. Women also need to learn the system’s code and language: when you’re doing a funding round, you have to make sure you’re going to make the investors confident in your chances of success. And they might have a very specific profile for a founder with potential, so learn how to behave and speak to fit that profile. And when you’ve succeeded, you can start changing the system from the top 

What do you think companies can do to support and progress the careers of women working in technology?

Be intent on introducing as much diversity as possible in your teams and management positions. Countless studies prove how diversity impacts business positively in more ways than just the top line. I also believe mentorship is very important to make women grow and be able to rely on a support system that’s going to make them stronger and more confident.

There are currently only 17 per cent of women working in tech, if you could wave a magic wand, what is the one thing you would do to accelerate the pace of change for women in the industry?

I would change how girls are educated, not only in school but also by society. I would make sure boys and girls are educated the same way. This is to me the biggest obstacle to women’s success in tech but also in any industry or position of power.

What resources do you recommend for women working in tech?

My number one source of inspiration is podcasts: I’m obsessed with them and listen to many different ones constantly. On my industry, on entrepreneurship… About networking, I wouldn’t recommend so much networking events but rather to force yourself to organise 2-3 meetings per week with interesting people outside of your immediate network to broaden your perspective, help you analyse things differently…