Marija Butkovic is digital marketing and business consultant who has worked across a range of projects in different industry sectors, including legal, journalism, tech, IoT, wearable tech and fashion tech.

She is a founder and CEO of Women of Wearables – first global organisation aiming to support, connect and mentor women and diverse groups in wearable tech, fashion tech and IoT.

Marija has been featured in major tech and business publications such as Forbes, TechCrunch, The Next Web, Huffington Post and many more, and regularly appears as a public speaker and panelist on conferences, meetups and corporate events. In 2017, 2018 and 2019, Marija was selected as one of the Most Influential Women in UK tech by Computer Weekly. She has also been included in the Top 100 Influencers on Gender Equality and Diversity and Top STEM Entrepreneurs by Onalytica.

She regularly writes and blogs on topics of wearable tech, fashion tech, diversity, startups and entrepreneurship. She collaborates with startup accelerators and incubators in London and worldwide on delivering help as a startup mentor and advisor and is also a STEM ambassador.

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

Although my background is in legal (I was a corporate lawyer for eight years before I got into tech), I now work as an independent business, marketing and innovation consultant, startup mentor and advisor, delivering marketing workshops to startups and freelancers in tech space, and I’m very proud to collaborate with several incubators and accelerators not only in London but also globally. I’m also a STEM ambassador, blogger and public speaker.

Some of the challenges I faced during my entrepreneurial journey – lack of women, lack of trust in women as founders, and a general lack of support when it comes to women in this specific industry led me to co-found Women of Wearables (or just WoW, as we call it), an organisation that supports, connects and inspires women in wearable tech, fashion tech, IoT, VR, AR and STEM in general. Our mission, first and foremost, is to encourage more women and diverse teams to participate in building hardware and software products as designers, product managers and developers or to be founders of their own companies, which will create more jobs for women in STEM. WoW currently has a growing community of more than 20k+ female founders, products and UX designers, developers, smart textile designers, executives and managers, all working in wearable tech, fashion tech, IoT and VR/AR industries, in more than 30 countries.

Currently, we at WoW are focusing on two key topics that our community is mostly interested in: one is FemTech and HealthTech, since digital health market is expected to reach $536 billion by 2025 and women’s health accounts for only 4% of the overall funding for research and development for healthcare products and services. This is something that has to change, half of the world’s population are women and we certainly cannot be niche. Women’s health has been a taboo for too long, and the only way we can change perception and bias towards it, is to talk about it and raise awareness. Did you know that, on average, it takes 7.5 years to get a formal diagnosis of endometriosis – a condition that can cause crippling period pains? Or that 58% of the women affected by symptoms of menopause said that this sometimes caused them problems at work? Neither did we, and that’s precisely why we think it’s time to remove the stigma around women’s health, especially reproductive health and start doing something about it. Through this particular events series we will connect our global FemTech and HealthTech ecosystem, help founders grow and scale their businesses and enable easier access to funding by connecting them with the right investors and partners. First event is this series is already scheduled for the 18th of September and we would love WeAreTechWomen community to join us!

Another very important area for us at WoW is education and empowerment of women around topics of money, personal finances, investment and fundraising. Only 5.6 per cent of UK women run their own companies and women launch businesses with 53 per cent less capital on average than men. It’s estimated that boosting female entrepreneurship could add £250bn to the UK economy (according to The Alison Rose Review of Female Entrepreneurship, March 2019), and it’s just a no-brainer for us that this is something we all need to encourage and support. If anyone from your community is interested to join us, our first panel discussion Women Investing in Women is scheduled for the 25th of September and we have four incredible women who will be discussing all things entrepreneurship, diversity and inclusion!

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

I actually never did that. Before getting into tech, I was a corporate lawyer and stayed in that industry eight years before moving from Croatia to London. I think that the only plan you can have is only to work on something that makes you happy and fulfilled and go with the flow.

So how it all started? After graduating from the university and spending eight years working as a legal professional, I realised there must be something more creative, fulfilling and challenging than what I was doing at that time. And I also wanted to create more value and make more impact in my day job. My transition to tech has been gradual, so I first started mentoring startups and writing for tech and business media titles, before I decided to quit my day job and pursue my career in tech. I don’t know if it was serendipity or just a combination of circumstances, but in 2014 I moved to London and co-founded Kisha Smart Umbrella, a wearable tech business with five of my friends and co-founders. I instantly fell in love with wearable tech, an industry that has great potential of beautifully merging the visual with tech, and to enhance our daily lives at the same time. And then, in 2016, Women of Wearables happened. I think once you find your focus things start happening by themselves, it’s like a domino effect. Today, WoW communities are spread across five continents with chapters in 10+ cities and we indeed have a global footprint, something that happened completely organically and without me ever planning it.

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

Many, actually! 🙂 I would say that anyone who has done such a drastic career change like me and every early-stage business goes through the same set of challenges, starting from imposter syndrome (I don’t have a diploma in tech, can I really do this?-mindset), to assembling the right team, to fundraising, to promoting and raising awareness about your brand, you name it, I’ve gone through it all. But I’ve also been lucky enough to work with some incredible people as my co-founders in both businesses, and without them it wouldn’t be possible to stand where I’m standing now.

What has been your biggest career achievement to date?

I don’t know if it was my work in WoW or with startups, but I’m very proud to have been featured in some of the major tech and business publications such as Forbes, TechCrunch, The Next Web, Huffington Post and many more, and in 2017, 2018 and 2019 selected as one of the Most Influential Women in UK tech by Computer Weekly. This means a lot to me, because sometimes we need that recognition from outside to confirm how much impact and value we create for our network and community.

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

Persistence. Hustle. If you really want something, you’ll find a way to do it. Women are built to be strong, that’s just the way we are. Money should never be the first and main reason you decided to start your business. Money just comes as a byproduct if you execute it properly. Also, being kind and compassionate to other people always pays off. What goes around, comes around.

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

It’s not easy to completely change your career as I did, but it’s perfectly doable. For anyone who is just starting out or want to get to that next step in their career, I would advise to just trust what your gut tells you and focus on something you are really passionate about. You’ll find your purpose when you find the answer to your “why” question. Always ask why. Also, find out what are the hard skills you can use in the industry you like (in my case that’s wearable tech) and build on that. Remember to always learn from more experienced people and mentors, but believe in yourself; you have already achieved more than you think. Last, but not least, enjoy the journey. It’s all about the journey, always.

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

Conscious and unconscious biases and stereotypes are one of the biggest barriers in tech in general, not only towards women. We all have them. Women also tend to hold themselves back sometimes, for many reasons. When I first started in tech, I mentioned I had that imposter syndrome, since I didn’t have a degree in tech, and it seemed to me this was a prerequisite to succeed. Also, a lack of female role models. This is particularly important for young women who often think they aren’t good enough and are afraid to ask for a pay rise or a promotion. Seeing a woman above them in the organisation structure greatly helps to eliminate those doubts and raise confidence. Someone really smart once said: “You cannot be what you cannot see”. That’s so true.

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

I never got the chance to have a mentor myself, but I learned a lot from people I mentored and met along my professional journey. In a city like London you meet amazing people almost every day and some of them really inspire me in my everyday life and work. Finding a mentor, especially within the company or organisation you work for can be of a great help for your career.

Also, flexible work is extremely important and should become a norm. This has become clear to me even more ever since I became a mum. Being a mum shouldn’t exclude you from having a successful career in tech or business and vice versa.

There is 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?

Give women more funding. Biases and prejudices are limiting our ability to see clearly. When we look at the evidence and research, we see that investing in female founders is extremely profitable. The business case for funding female founders is simple—female founders outperform their male counterparts. A recent study from Boston Consulting Group evaluated 350 companies that had been part of the MassChallenge program. The study revealed that, for every dollar of investment raised, female-run startups generated 78 cents in revenue, whereas male-run startups generated only 31 cents. As we might expect, women outperformed their male counterparts despite raising less money ($935K versus $2.12M). This data is consistent with several other studies.

What resources do you recommend for women working in tech?

Books have always been a great resource of knowledge for me! I’m currently reading Emilie Bellet’s – ‘You’re Not Broke, You’re Just Pre-Rich’ book and it’s perfect if you want to equip yourself with more knowledge on how to deal with anything from investment to better managing your personal finances. Events that our WoW woman Lu Li from Blooming Founders is running are also a great resource for anyone who wants to elevate their career in tech. And of course, WeAreTechWomen Conference is a go-to place for anyone who is either just starting out their career in tech or is an experienced techie. Education and learning is something you should never stop doing if you are a woman in tech. And to be honest, you just can’t. 🙂