Molly Johnson-Jones, CEO and co-founder of Flexa

Inspirational Woman: Molly Johnson-Jones | CEO & Co-Founder, Flexa

Molly Johnson-Jones, CEO and co-founder of FlexaMolly Johnson-Jones is the CEO and co-founder of Flexa – a VC-backed startup making the future of work a reality for all.

Flexa verifies the flexible working policies of companies before allowing them to showcase available roles on the platform. This gives users transparency over what companies truly offer, enabling them to seek out jobs that are genuinely flexible. To date, over 300,000 people have used Flexa to help find their next role.

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

I started my career in investment banking and, though very different to the startup scene I’ve found myself in, that first role that led me to where I am today. From the age of 18, I’ve lived with an autoimmune disease – one which causes a variety of symptoms including pain and discomfort that can stop me from walking. During my time working in finance, my condition would regularly make it almost impossible for me to travel into an office, so I asked my employer to work from home one day a week. But flexible work wasn’t so commonplace at the time, and certainly not in investment banking. Ten days later I was sacked.

It was my partner (now also my business partner) Maurice who first had the idea for Flexa. He’d been lucky enough to work for a really flexible employer and, although ready to move on to a new challenge, couldn’t seem to find another company offering the same benefits. Through his experience and mine, we’d both seen how difficult it is for job seekers to access transparency information about how much flexibility a particular role will offer. For disabled people who rely on working from home, parents who have to fit school runs into the working day, people who work better outside of a 9-5 structure, and many others with different flexible working needs – that’s simply not good enough. And so Flexa was born.

Flexa is a platform which vets and verifies companies’ flexible working policies, to create transparency for people about what jobs really offer. After launching in 2019, it quickly gained momentum and soon became my full-time job working alongside Maurice and Tim, our third co-founder and CTO.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career? 

I could never have predicted how traumatically my first job would end. From that point onwards, I was much more open and enquiring about which jobs would suit me and what gave me a sense of purpose. I worked in some great roles in research analysis and strategy before throwing myself into running Flexa full time, but launching a startup is completely different to anything I’d done before. To start with, we were figuring everything out ourselves – I was designing websites, building marketing strategies, cold calling potential customers. It’s amazing what you can learn if you really need to! I’m a big believer in embracing the unknown and seeing what you can make of it.

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

As a woman with a chronic illness whose co-founder is also her partner, I face bias on three different fronts in the business world. I’ve found that it can be difficult to overcome people’s preconceptions about who I am and what I’m capable of, particularly when it comes to raising funding. We can’t change the system overnight, but until you get your business off the ground, my advice to other female founders would be (ironically!) to ignore everyone else’s advice until everyone’s telling you the same thing. Until then, simply trust in your own abilities and in the value of what you’re building.We spent far too much time listening to other people’s advice in the early days!

What has been your biggest career achievement to date?

My fight for flexible work has gained a fair bit of attention since that fateful day that I was fired. I’ve had viral social posts, multiple appearances on BBC news, been featured in all sorts of articles and even a spot on We Are The City’s very own conference in April! I’m so grateful for the platforms that allow me to share my story. But my biggest career achievement to date is definitely getting Flexa properly off the ground, building a brilliant team, and being backed by some incredible investors. Two years ago, I wouldn’t have thought we’d be here.

One Tech World Virtual Conference 2022

01 APRIL 2022

Book your place now to what is becoming the largest virtual conference for women in technology in 2022

FIND OUT MORE

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

Absolute refusal to fail, determination, and hard work. Plus, having Maurice by my side and vice-versa. Despite what people might think about going into business with your partner, having that mutual understanding and support to lean on has been the biggest help. It really works for us.

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

Don’t be afraid to acknowledge your shortcomings. When it comes to a field as vast and fast-paced as tech, you simply can’t know it all. I knew that Flexa was a good idea and that there was a real need for it, but equally I knew that my self-taught website design skills weren’t going to cut it in the long-run. Know your strengths and hire for your weaknesses. Push your limits, but don’t try to do everything!

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

For female founders trying to break into tech, gender bias entrenched throughout VC still controls cash flow. We need more women in VC and in the startup ecosystem for that to truly change. For women at all levels working in tech – or work in any other sector for that matter – expensive child care coupled with limited parental leave and 9-5 office-centric culture, often forces them to choose between having children or having a career. Flexible working environments could change that in a flash and the impact of that across the world of work would be huge.

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

Embracing and normalising truly flexible work is the single most important thing that companies can do to support and progress women in the workplace. Key policies such as letting staff start earlier and finish later, personal choice around working from home, and offering extended parental leave would transform the working lives of women.

But flexible work isn’t just a women’s issue – it’s everyone’s. Everyone works differently, so people need to have access to a certain level of flexibility in order to thrive. We shouldn’t be genedering a way of working that’s “different” to the norm. We should all be empowered and trusted to work in a way that allows us to thrive, regardless of genetics, circumstance, or demographics.

There is currently only 15% 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 mandate that VCs have quotas for their funds – certain percentages would have to go to female founders. There are so many inspiring leaders who happen to be women, but who are currently overlooked when it comes to funding. Quotas would accelerate the pace of change and pull more women into the space. This would shift the culture and make it a more diverse sector overall. It’s not a perfect solution, as quotas can lead to tokenism and tokenism can damage perception in the long-run… But I can’t see another solution that will make a difference quickly enough.

What resources do you recommend for women working in tech? 

Unpopular opinion: I think that reading solely for the purpose of making progress is overrated. Business books are helpful for some, but I prefer to learn new things by trying them out for myself, rather than reading about them. Trial and error has been the most valuable thing for me.

Having said that, I find LinkedIn has been incredibly helpful for meeting other founders, and learning what works in terms of personal branding, so I’d recommend spending some time connecting, chatting, and watching your feed on LinkedIn.