Sophia MatveevaSophia Matveeva is the founder of Tech For Non-Techies, a learning community and media company. Sophia has contributed to the Financial Times, The Guardian and Forbes on entrepreneurship and technology, and hosts the top rated Tech for Non-Techies podcast.

She has also guest lectured at Chicago Booth and London Business School, and led the Blackstone x Techstars accelerator at the University of Texas at El Paso.

As a non-technical founder, she has co-created apps and algorithms that have been used by thousands, won App of the Day by Mashable, and were featured by Inc, the BBC and more.

Sophia loves helping entrepreneurs and has advised Chicago Booth’s New Venture Challenge and Microsoft x London College of Fashion incubator.

She holds an MBA from Chicago Booth, and a BSc (Hons) in Politics from Bristol. She speaks English, Russian and French.

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

I am a serial tech entrepreneur and I also teach technology and entrepreneurship to non-technical professionals. I’ve taught my Tech for Non-Technical Founders course at London Business School, advised at leading accelerators and also host the weekly Tech for Non-Techies podcast.

Despite running my second tech company, I don’t have the typical technology background. I began my career in financial PR working at Finsbury in London, then transitioned to private equity and got my MBA at Chicago Booth.

I knew I wanted to transition into tech, because that’s where all the opportunities seemed to be, but I had no idea how to do it. I launched my first technology start-up when I was at business school, so got into tech via entrepreneurship. This is probably the hardest way to do it, but it worked!

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

Many times! Many different plans!

I now realise that while having a plan is good, you also need to be flexible. What you want changes, unexpected opportunities arise and things that seemed desirable turn out to be mediocre. For example, I was dying to work in private equity. Once I got there, I very quickly realised it was not for me.

The business I run now, Tech for Non-Techies was the result of a happy accident, not a plan.  I was busy running Enty, my first company, and learning on the job as a non-technical founder.

I wrote an article in Forbes about my experience called What Non-Technical Founders Really Need To Know About Tech, and it reached a huge audience very quickly. That one article led to me being asked to speak and to teach. That has now turned into a growing  business, but it had no plan.

On the other hand, I had meticulous plans for other things, which didn’t work out at all.

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

So many I’ve lost count. At one point, I used to say to myself it had been a good day if nobody sued me and if I didn’t go bankrupt. There are fewer days like this now, but they still happen. But this is just part of entrepreneurship.

During the pandemic, Enty, my fashion tech business, faced huge difficulties as consumer demand plummeted. Our main product is an app where women get feedback from professional stylists. You can imagine how popular that was when we all sat locked up at home in our leggings!

Thankfully we’re discussing  an exit now, and I can’t say much more on that at this stage. The pandemic has certainly been challenging professionally and mentally.

The best investment I have made in myself is coaching and this has helped me stay sane and confident. I’ve worked with three different coaches now, who all have different energies and specialties, and am utterly grateful to them all.

What has been your biggest career achievement to date?

I’ve just finished being the lead instructor at the Blackstone x Techstars accelerator at the University of Texas (El Paso), and I absolutely loved the experience, so I’m going to pick this one. Whenever I teach smart students, I feel like a rockstar!

I taught entrepreneurship and technology, and coached 17 teams as they worked on their ventures. Now, some of those teams have gone on to get thousands of dollars in prize money, and invest in their businesses.

I’m so proud to have been part of their journey.. The work we did and the transformation I saw in the teams will stay with me for life.

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

Resilience. Simply getting up again and again after knocks, sometimes after devouring a tub of ice cream.

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

It depends what you want to do. If you want to work in a technical role, such as data science or programming, then you need to take the relevant courses and get qualified.

But, the tech sector is full of interesting opportunities for non-technical professionals. You could work in product management, user experience design, venture capital and so much more. In these roles, you interact with technical teams, but you are not writing code yourself.

This means you need to know how tech products like apps, sites and algorithms get made. You need to know the concepts, but you don’t need to write code yourself.

The key skill is co-creation: learn how to work with product teams to go from idea to live product, and iterate to turn it into a success. Once you know how to do that, all sorts of opportunities open up to you.

I cover these concepts in the course I teach and have been impressed by how people have used it to transform their careers. Some have gone on to create companies, others have used this knowledge for investing and yet others work in product management.

But, I do want to warn you that taking courses is not enough. You have to get involved in tech projects and put your knowledge to use.

You could do this by creating a simple product yourself and bringing it to market, or you could volunteer with a start-up in your spare time. Doing this will help solidify your learning and build your network: both essential for a career transition.

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

There are of course barriers. For example, in the UK, less than 1% of venture capital funding goes to women. Plenty of tech conferences are still full of manels (all male panels) and there is still a wage gap.

In my view, the best way to overcome this is by taking control, and not waiting for big companies to change. Too many smart women have been told to wait and be patient while male mediocrities get raises and promotions.

Start a tech enabled business, or invest in one, or grow your personal brand so you can’t be ignored. The more opportunities you create for yourself, the more one of them is going to work out.

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

As my hero Cindy Gallup often points out, women are over-mentored and under-paid. There are some simple things companies can do: pay women at the rate they pay men and publish their gender pay gap.

I would also like to see companies publish the number of non-disclosure agreements they sign and what proportion of the people signing them are women. If the proportion is much higher than the workforce, women at that company are being silenced.

This is an initiative I’m working on with some smart people and if you want to explore this idea, then get in touch.

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?

Increase the number of female partners in venture capital funds to 50%. Money is power, and right now, most women don’t have enough of either.

What resources do you recommend for women working in tech?

For networking in London, when things open up again:

Also, it’s not relevant to technology, but I have to mention it: Why Women Don’t Ask. This book genuinely helped me become a better negotiator and see the world differently.

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