Vicky Brock

I am co-founder and CEO of Vistalworks, which has built intelligence software and risk profiling tools to help governments, banks and enforcement agencies tackle online illicit trade and cybercrime.

I’m currently based in Tallinn, Estonia, leading our fast growing EU business, and also head up the UK company, which has a tech and data team based in Scotland. My day-to-day challenges are (I assume) pretty normal for a tech CEO – building team, ensuring product and business strategies are executed and fit for purpose, funding and growing the business in a sustainable and ethical way, balancing going fast with the necessary level of process to function well, keeping focussed on the mission while scanning the horizon and not missing important detail.

Vistalworks is my 5th tech start-up. Previously I founded and led Clear Returns, a retail technology firm named Top Tech Start-up In Europe by the European Commission, and co-founded a web analytics firm that was one of Google’s very early analytics partners. I was named Inspiring Woman of the Year by Scotland Women In Technology and Scotland’s Most Inspiring Business Person at the Entrepreneurial Scotland Awards, won Innovator of the Year at the 2014 FDM Everywoman in Technology Awards, and is currently one of the UK’s Top Female Tech Leaders, as named by Business Leader Magazine.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

Not once. My entire life’s career plan can be summarized as: 1) Get out of Norfolk 2) Don’t starve/die/fail/run out cash 3) Don’t accept any cr** or let anyone take my CEO job title ever again.

No one in my family had any exposure to business or entrepreneurship, so I didn’t recognise what I was (which is a test-tube grown start-up entrepreneur). Nor did I have a route map until fairly recently, I just made it all up and learned on the way. Though my Dad was a plastics engineer in a factory that made bottles, so I did have hands on exposure to machines and factory production lines. My Dad bought my first computer – an Acorn Electron – which must have cost a huge amount. With that, I had the tech and computing skills long before I had any awareness that these were in some way useful or might lead to a career.

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

We all face huge and horrible challenges in a lifetime; I most certainly have. And for the very biggest one – where I felt there was nothing left that I could do within my open company that would better the situation – I had to learn when to walk away and to say no and mean it. I did learn for myself that failure isn’t the worst thing that can happen. There is life and work and an identity and a career after failure, and you will never be as scared of anything quite as much again once you have lived through that. For me, it turned out the long term, grinding fear of failure was worse and more toxic than the actual category 5 hurricane type experience of living through it.

What has been your biggest career achievement to date?

Bouncing back from a career and start-up disaster that had got me to the point of wanting to die, and that had left me losing all sense of who I was. And ultimately learning from that in a really positive and constructive way (after crying non-stop for about a year) so that the next product, team and business I built was infinitely better as a result – and I was a better person along with it.

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

It has never really occurred to me to be nice – I have always felt time was running out, so I am horribly relentless and I fight hard and keep fighting (sometimes for too long).I keep pushing on and innovating until I make what I want to happen a reality. I am aware that is not many people’s definition of success, or even of good company, but my goal was always economic independence and the freedom of opportunity to follow my own path. I hate being told what to do. In fact, being a tech entrepreneur is probably the only thing I am capable of doing. (I have been told by a head-hunter that I am unemployable).

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

Forget perfection, and instead split your time between being reasonably great and making sure the right people know just how amazingly great you are. Find trusted amplifiers to champion how great you are. Don’t assume the CEO/boss intuitively knows how great you are and how much you deliver – specifically tell them. And definitely don’t be modest (no one else is).

If all your energy is going into being perfect and working harder than anyone else, the critical aspect of being seen to be great will get missed, and you are at much more risk of others claiming your credit. As a CEO I absolutely do not tolerate anyone claiming other people’s success – it is one of the deadly sins -but I do still really need people to realistically amplify their own achievements, otherwise how am I meant to know?

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

There are unfair barriers to equality and success that should not be down to women to fix – yet here we are!

Personally I aim to be the CEO, stay the CEO, create better conditions for all, inform and influence those in state power if I can, and pull other women up alongside me. If you have power then you can and should change the problem things – like pay disparity, macho ad hoc salary negotiations, anti-flexible working, the woman expected to do the team admin, the assumption tech women don’t know what they’re talking about or must work in marketing, the assumption that my very good product that definitely exists and has paying customers is wildly inferior to the imagined product some wanna-be entrepreneur has in his head. The basics….

Being in charge and fixing and absolutely not tolerating the basic stuff is a very good way to overcome at least some of those issues. And personally, I wouldn’t invest in, work alongside, or be on the board with any CEO who wasn’t committed to that.

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

Grow up, get a grip and stop being scared of half the population? Or in more filtered terms, grow up, get a grip and start facing meaningful financial and legal consequences of their mis-management, toxic culture and poor leadership.

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?

Stop trying to fix the women, and instead tackle the problem of over promoted, over paid and under qualified men. Especially in leadership positions. And make governments listen, legislate and enforce – because asking predators to set their own standards and guidelines has a track record as long as the whole history of time for not actually working.

What resources do you recommend for women working in tech?

I tend to read and listen to “other stuff” when I’m not working. My absolute favourite is Mike Duncan’s Revolutions podcast, which is a deep dive into some of the most important revolutions in history – the English Civil War, the French Revolution. I’m currently on episode 65 of the Russian Revolution. Making space in your brain for history and philosophy is a wonderful thing – I still regularly reread Sophie’s World, a novel about the history of philosophy by Jostein Gaarder. My absolute favourite business book is “The Goal” by Eliyahu M. Goldratt, which turns the management theory of constraints (my daily world) into an enjoyable and enlightening novel.