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Tips for taking the leap into tech entrepreneurship

tech entrepreneur, start-ups

Surgeon turned entrepreneur Stephanie Eltz shares her tips and advice on becoming a tech startup founder based on her experience launching Doctify, an award-winning review platform delivering trust and transparency across healthcare.

Have you been thinking about launching a startup but don’t know where to begin? I know the feeling.

I had my light-bulb moment while working as a trauma and orthopaedic surgeon. It happened when I urgently needed to speak to a specialist about a mole I thought was cancerous. Despite working in the healthcare industry for many years, I found it challenging to source the right professional. At that moment, I realised just how beneficial a digital feedback platform would be to the industry.

I didn’t know much about entrepreneurship or running a business back then. But the idea of solving big problems in healthcare through its digital transformation inspired me to take a leap and launch Doctify, a healthcare review platform.

Here are my top tips and advice for anyone looking to become a successful tech entrepreneur based on the experience I have gained going from surgeon to the startup co-founder of Doctify.

Determine product-market fit

Starting and growing a business isn’t easy. It’s a challenge with many ups and downs. That’s why it’s essential to achieve the right product-market fit before committing yourself to a new adventure.

Before launching Doctify, my co-founder Suman Saha and I struggled to find the best care for ourselves and our families, despite working in the industry. This helped us to spot a gap in the market. We knew that there was a need for technology to be better utilised in healthcare in order to better connect doctors and patients, which motivated us to pursue our vision. Thanks to our experience in the industry, we knew that we were addressing a valid problem in healthcare and that Doctify was the right solution.

Getting the right product-market fit has allowed us to achieve our long term goals, grow our team and expand into five different markets.

Work closely with your clients

From the very beginning, we have maintained a dialogue with healthcare providers and patients. This has given us the ability to continue enhancing our platform in ways that are most valuable for our audience. It has also allowed us to keep our competitive edge.

It’s so important to take the time to connect with those who are using your product or service. Try to understand their pain points and find the right solutions before spending months or years developing something that isn’t valuable. User experience sessions, customer interviews or surveys are fantastic ways to engage your clients and identify their needs.

Don’t compromise your business strategy

When launching a business, it’s important to have a clear focus and work on what will bring you closer to your mission and vision. At the beginning of the entrepreneurial journey, it’s easy to get caught up in trying to please everyone – your family and friends, pilot customers and angel investors. They may suggest ideas and different solutions, and you might feel that you need to change your product to make them happy.

At Doctify, we always knew we wanted to build greater trust and transparency in health and social care, and over the years, we have remained focused on ensuring that no patient is left unheard. Having this clear goal has enabled us to build a platform that has helped over 50 million patients make the right choices about their care.

Stop waiting for the right time

The “perfect time” doesn’t exist so be brave, take a leap and learn along the way. It’s easier said than done, but launching a tech startup is a never-ending learning experience, and with the right support network around you, you will quickly learn all about running a company.

When Suman and I decided to launch Doctify back in 2015, we were both NHS surgeons with no business background. We got involved in mentorship programmes for beginner entrepreneurs to learn more about transforming our vision into reality. We connected with like-minded people who continue to support us whenever we face a new challenge. Networking with other entrepreneurs and learning from their experiences will help you enhance your skills and grow both personally and professionally.

Build your team wisely

First-time entrepreneurs often think they need to recruit people with exceptional experience. And while this experience can be worthwhile, it can also be beneficial to hire people based on their potential, not their CV.

The startup world is different to the corporate one. It’s collaborative, innovative and focused on growth. Build up your team so that it is filled with people who are passionate about pushing your business forward.

Charlie Rosier

Inspirational Woman: Charlie Rosier | Early Years Educator & Tech Entrepreneur

Charlie RosierEntrepreneur, innovator, mother. Wanting to change the world and democratize access to Early Years Education for ALL children.

Executive MBA scholar at WBS; specialising in Strategic Marketing, Big Data and Digital Innovation.  Proven founder; over the last decade I’ve built multiple businesses from start-ups to globally recognised, award-winning brands. As a passionate and driven leader, I have built teams across numerous markets including; London, Hong Kong, Shanghai and Kuala Lumpur.  More recently, with Cuckooz Nest, I have driven innovation in the child care sector and have been featured in multiple publications from Forbes magazine to BBC News. Babbu is my latest venture, set to launch summer 2022.

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

I am the eldest of four girls, and mother to one – so am a passionate advocate for women.  My professional background is a little ‘Jack-Of-All-Trades’ having completed a Law Degree then moved into Real Estate development, then investment, which took me overseas to Hong Kong for several years.  In 2013, having always had an entrepreneurial spirit, I started my first company where I led teams across HK, Kuala Lumpur and China.  In 2016 I started my second business in London, and then a few months later my daughter arrived.  On the back of this, my interests changed dramatically, no-longer about Real Estate, but Early Childhood development.  Driven purely by my own experience, I opened London’s first fully-flexible, Pay-As-You-Go nursery and workspace.  Witnessing first hand how the interactions you have with your child in those first few years, go on to have such an impact on their later life, I wanted to make Early Years Education more accessible – simply by making it flexible.  Two years later, I realised it would need to be digital if it was to truly have an impact.  So in 2020, fuelled by a Pandemic which had transformed the way education is delivered and consumed, I started working on the idea for Babbu – A Digital Nursery™ open to everyone!

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

As evident by my answer above – NO!  I am a firm believer in education, and that we should be life-long learners.  Since studying Law I have also completed a MSc in Project Management and am currently studying a part-time Executive MBA.  My career from 2008 – 2018 was very opportunity-led.  I think because I ‘fell-into’ Real Estate, I let myself be carried along in that sector.  I guess it was only becoming a mother, that I found my ‘purpose’.  Since then I have been much more strategic, considered and visionary in my career approach.

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

When attempting something new, it’s always going to be a challenge.  I think my strategy to overcome any challenge, has always been to face them head-on.  Unfortunately, I thrive off a challenge, I am geared to find solutions.  I love a win: win.  This isn’t to say I am not sometimes overwhelmed by the task ahead, or sometimes filled with self-doubt.  However I personally find surrounding myself with Can-Do people is very helpful.  There’s always a way around, as long as you stay focused on what you are trying to achieve and believe in what you are doing, I think you’ll find a way to overcome any challenge.

What has been your biggest career achievement to date?

I feel grateful to have had many, and also to those people around me that remind me to celebrate them!  Starting a business from scratch, convincing investors and employees to jump on board, generating revenue, customer satisfaction, working for yourself – these are all things I would consider ‘success’.  Then you have the other things like press coverage, awards, speaker engagements, which all add to that feeling of being ‘proud’ about what you are doing, or at least being validated.  However my biggest achievement is my current venture – in the space of 12 months I have learnt an insane amount about the world of Tech, AI Machine Learning, etc. I also believe we can have a transformational impact on society, not many people are fortunate enough to be able to say that about what they do.

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

The same thing all people say, I’m sure!  Hard work, determination, a bit of luck.  I also think that my love of learning has helped me tremendously as I am unafraid to say ‘I don’t know’, and to ask the question(s).  I am also extremely stubborn, tenacious, ambitious and unafraid of failure.

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

Find good mentors, who you can ask stupid questions of.  Read. Network. Try & Try Again.

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

I think, or at least hope, we are moving in the right direction as a society (certainly here in the UK) towards gender equality in the workplace.  There are several issues which hold women back, as an example the cost of childcare which is a huge barrier to women in work; but also sadly things like ‘Imposter Syndrome’ which can negatively impact women.  Looking specifically at Women in Tech, I think it’s partly to do with the perceived image of the tech sector, but more importantly not promoting STEM in the Early Years or in Primary education.  Sadly I think the industry needs to do more to promote successful women in the sector, to give mentoring opportunities, and get involved in Early Years education, so parents and carers know how to develop these critical skills.

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

I think the same rules apply to any women in business.  Create a space where they can be heard.  Build a network of genuine support – mentoring, coaching, training etc. and recognise gender bias in the workplace.

There are currently only 21 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?

Invest in women.  As a female founder, I am all too aware of the bias from investors when it comes to raising venture capital.  Women are equally talented, ambitious, creative, visionary, strategic etc – but without the means to get a seat at the table, this can all fall by the wayside.  We need to remove gender stereotypes from birth, we need to champion equal access – to education, to support, to investment, to opportunity.  We need to talk less and do more.

What resources do you recommend for women working in tech?

Women Who Code, Mother Coders, Girls In Tech, Women In Tech, She Too STEM, She Talks Tech, Her STEM Story, Women Tech Charge, We Are Radikl, Tech Ladies, We Fund Women. There are so many resources, but I would also strongly recommend reaching out to successful men and women and not being afraid to ask – for an introduction, for investment, for advice.  I’ve actually been amazed by the support that is out there, if you look for it.

How to balance your work and personal life as a rising tech entrepreneur

Balance scale, Balance, work life balance

The tech world provides remarkable opportunities to those willing to embrace its complexity, as we’ve seen throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.

People fired or furloughed due to the tough conditions have turned their talents to the online world, finding ingenious ways to succeed and achieve remarkable career reinventions — but the intense pace of internet business takes its toll, and solopreneurs can risk burnout.

If you’re growing your brand as a tech entrepreneur and inching closer to your goals, you need to keep going, but you mustn’t do so in a way that threatens your long-term prospects. In short, you need to balance your professional life and your personal life, ensuring that you find enough free time to stay comfortable without taking your foot too far off the gas.

In this post, we’re going to offer some tips for how you manage this. Let’s get started.

Stick to a rigid schedule

Burning the candle at both ends can feel like the right thing to do when you’re just starting out and eager to prove yourself, and results can back that up: bursts of intense activity can really get your operation moving. But you can’t keep them up. If you don’t proceed with great caution, your working life can bleed over into your free time, leaving you working almost all the time.

To ensure that you don’t overwork yourself, you should lay out a strict schedule and stick to it. That means stopping work at your assigned time and getting away from your computer so you can get your mind off work. You only have so much creative energy, and you need inspiration from outside of work to refresh your ideas. Working 24/7 will quickly exhaust you.

Clearly delineate your finances

When you’re busy coding a website or trialing new software solutions, the last thing you might want to do is pore over profit margins, yet it’s absolutely vital that you do so. Running into negative cash flow can be enough to derail even a promising business. It’s all but impossible to run an effective online business without stacking up small payments: you need hosting, plugins, themes, task management tools, accountancy software, PPC ads, etc.

Now add in all the other payments you make for non-business purposes, and you’ll have a length list that can cause you no end of headaches if it gets too unruly. After all, work expenses must be viewed differently from a legal standpoint, and it would surely be exhausting to have to go through all your payments at the end of a month in an effort to sort them.

This is why you need to delineate your finances from the start. Accountancy software will surely help, but splitting your payment methods will be invaluable: every entrepreneur should apply for credit card cover as a matter of priority because they can get special business-account rates and they’ll need a dedicated account if/when they form a company. If you’re not sure how to approach splitting your finances, you can go online for help with a credit card application.

Outsource when appropriate

One of the reasons why becoming an entrepreneur is so exciting is that it takes the shackles off your potential. No longer do you need to answer to a boss and pursue only the ideas that get approved. You can do what you want to do and follow whatever path you prefer, however unorthodox it may be. This instinct to exert full control is powerful, but it can be corrupting.

The danger arises when you stay in control as your operation grows. One person can only handle so much work before they’re spread too thin, and trying to handle everything yourself will ensure that you start to run into problems. Outsourcing is the right way to go. You don’t need to hire any full-time employees — you can simply take advantage of online freelancers.

Make time for social activity

We mentioned sticking to a rigid schedule so you have a set amount of time to spend on non-work projects, but how should you use that time? You could relax by watching streaming media, playing games, or reading books. And those are certainly great ways to recover from hectic days of entrepreneurialism, but they’re missing the secret ingredient: social activity.

During the pandemic, many people have been highly isolated, and it’s left their personal lives unsatisfying. If you’re bored outside of work, you’ll end up being bored inside of work. Due to this, you must make time for social activities. Do whatever you can to spend time with friends, whether it’s online or offline. This will give you some much-needed contrast.

This isn’t easy, of course, as your friends may be busy when you’re free — but don’t just give up if you can’t find the right timing. If nothing else, you should consider meeting up with other entrepreneurs. That way you can share business advice in an informal atmosphere, giving you work inspiration but also allowing you to wind down.

About the author

Alistair Clarke is a copywriter who loves to delve into all matters technical and practical. When he's not working on content, he's dabbling in everything from design to development, or carefully nurturing his beard.

If you are a job seeker or someone looking to boost their career, then WeAreTechWomen has thousands of free career-related articles. From interview tips, CV advice to training and working from home, you can find all our career advice articles here


Raising funds as a tech entrepreneur

women-in-finance-Jessica Jackson, Investment Director at GC Angels, offers advice to female founders seeking funding to grow their business and stresses the importance of understanding the options that are available.

Raising investment for the first time can feel daunting. For many, securing finance, be it through debt or equity, is completely new and it can be difficult to understand the options, let alone make a call about which is best for your business and its needs.

The Alison Rose Review highlighted that awareness of, as well as access to funding are the two most common issues faced by female entrepreneurs, whether running a start-up or an established company. It also reports that female-led businesses receive less funding than those headed by men at every stage of their journey – but why is this? The report argues that women typically have higher risk-awareness compared to their male counterparts and are more cautious considering financial products. Women typically don’t have the same professional networks that male entrepreneurs benefit from, and are therefore less likely to know other entrepreneurs or to have access to individuals and organisations that are in a position to support them as they navigate the complex finance landscape.

Although the review states that it is difficult for female founders to find the right support in accessing finance, it’s important to know that there are a plethora of organisations and networks working cohesively to advise female founders. One such example is The Knowledge Transfer Network. Part of Innovate UK, they are actively working to support female business owners through its Women in Innovation programme. The network consists of universities, funders and investors who facilitate idea sharing, and encourage founders to embrace opportunities to innovate and scale to the next level.

Whilst it’s advisable to tap into any networks or organisations, the first point of call should be to gain an understanding of the different types of finance and which situations they are best suited for. This will help you make your own financial decisions and provide clarity on what you should be seeking.

Debt finance

This type of funding works in the same way as debt in everyday life – if you want something immediately but don’t have the required funds, you can take out a loan and pay it back later. In business, that funding could make a huge difference in striking a deal with a major supplier when you need to scale up on your stock levels for example. Debt is a great option: it’s quick access to finance which can increase working capital, allowing you to invest in growth. The downside is that the loan will accrue more interest the longer it takes to pay off, but hopefully the benefits of being able to grow your business quicker will far outweigh the costs of taking out the loan.

A good example of this is YourZooki, a premium liquid supplements brand our Debt team at GC Business Finance has worked with recently. The firm took out a £150k loan in February this year in order to invest in a new warehouse and create four new jobs. This was followed up with a second £150k loan in June, after the company had doubled its turnover in just four months, which has allowed it to increase its stock levels to cope with unprecedented customer demand.

Grant funding

Unlike a loan, grant funding does not require repayment. This type of finance is often overlooked by entrepreneurs as it can sound too good to be true, but it’s definitely worth checking your eligibility for business support. The Government website offers a useful tool to help business owners identify the various different grant schemes, which can be filtered by region and sector. It’s also worth discussing your options with your Local Enterprise Partnership or Growth Hub – you can find yours via the LEP Network.

An institution we work closely with is Innovate UK, which provides government grants to helps businesses “develop and realise the potential of new ideas, including those from the UK’s world-class research base”. This year, Marion Surgical, a company building a next generation suite of surgical simulators through virtual reality, received backing from Innovate UK alongside an investment from GC Angels. The funding allowed the company to invest in new projects, as well as create five new jobs.

The Knowledge Transfer Network is also a partner of Innovate UK, and is working hard to help female entrepreneurs with start-up grants, of which applications from female business owners has increased by 70 per cent since 2016.

Equity finance

Equity finance is the process of raising capital through the sale of some shares in your company in return for cash. The money can then be used to take on more staff, purchase equipment or invest in product development, which can in turn increase the value of your stake in the business without the worry of having to pay off loans and accrued interest. This can be useful for startup businesses which have not yet turned a profit but are showing signs of rapid growth – much like many innovative technology businesses we are seeing emerge today. However, the only downside is that you will no longer own the entire stake in the business, but there is real value in bringing an investor on board as it allows you to tap into their knowledge and expertise – they want your company to grow just as much as you do!

We have backed many excellent women founders with equity funding, and it has allowed them to take their businesses to the next level. In January this year, GC Angels co-invested as part of a £260,000 equity funding round in Immersify Education, a Salford-based EdTech start-up. The company provides learning tools for university students using augmented reality, interactive animation, gamification and personalised learning. Whilst the founder, Chloe Barrett, had launched a research-driven pilot across eight universities, she required capital to build out her development team and prepare her product for the market. Following the investment, the company is now targeting an official launch in the 2020/21 academic year.

Stories such as Immersify Education show what founders can do with the right funding behind them; all the more reason why it’s staggering to see that only one per cent of venture capital funding in the UK goes to all-female teams. GC Angels is striving to invest as equally as possible into entrepreneurs with funding ranging between £100,000 and £2m. Not only because it’s the right thing to do, but because it is estimated that up to £250bn could be added to the UK economy if women started and scaled their business at the same rate as men.

If that doesn’t inspire you, then you could always attend our events in Greater Manchester. Before the COVID pandemic, we hosted regular ‘#LaterPitches’ and ‘We Smash Barriers’ events – something I am keen to restart once social distancing guidelines are relaxed – providing ambitious women with the opportunity to hear and learn from other successful female business leaders.

If you are a job seeker or someone looking to boost their career, then WeAreTechWomen has thousands of free career-related articles. From interview tips, CV advice to training and working from home, you can find all our career advice articles here

Inspirational Woman: Ekaterina Voronkova | Tech Entrepreneur and Advisor

Ekaterina VoronkovaEkaterina has 8+ years of experience in digital technologies and she is alumni of Deloitte Digital UK where she led large-scale digital transformation for private and public sector clients.

Before joining Big4 she founded and sold her own successful eCommerce business and launched several eCommerce for multibillion retailers from scratch on one of the most challenging market with 11 time zones with same-day delivery capability for some of the regions. Throughout her career she did a lot of advisory work and mentoring for various startups in Russia, Belorussia, USA, UK working in FinTech, RetailTech, eCommerce fields with AI, RPA, Digital Twin technologies. She is now continuing her advisory work and building her own start-ups that promise to disrupt UK tech market.

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

I graduated from Top-5 Russian University MGIMO with honours and hold BS in Commerce and MS in International Economics. After graduation I wanted to use my knowledge in Commerce to create a new product on the market and founded a start-up, a pioneering premium merchandise online-store in Russia in 2011. Russian eCommerce market was emerging at that time and there were no benchmarks, so I had to invent processes from scratch, including technical integration of eCommerce platform, tackle logistics etc. I ran it for almost 5 years brining innovative ideas that became eCommerce industry standards and successfully sold the business in 2015.

My expertise was recognised by multibillion euro retailers that invited me to build their eCommerce presence in Russia. As a Head of eCommerce, I helped them to successfully launch from scratch 5 online-stores and developed their marketing strategies.

In parallel to my work, in 2017 I started advisory work with several digital technology start-ups. For example, I helped one of AI-based RetailTech start-up to develop a back-end logic to process 40 key data points and give recommendations to its customers about the clothes they are likely to buy (the core idea of the start-up is to give recommendations on sets of clothes a person would most likely like using AI technology). It was a crucial point of the success of the start-up.
Another example would be the help I provided to one of the start-ups that was soon after acquired by ServiceNow – the company I saw among those supporting WeAreTechWomen community.

In 2018, I got a job offer from Deloitte Digital UK and moved to London after living all my life in Moscow. I had no fear to move (a lot of people asked me if I had any  ) though I had just a couple of people I knew there. Instead, it was a real excitement for me, and I knew that in the UK I would be able to unlock my potential to the fullest!

In Deloitte Digital I worked on large-scale projects for public and private sector clients delivering solutions in RetailTech, FinTech, eCommerce with technologies like RPA, digital twins to name a few. I am not a programmer and was always responsible for delivery of innovative digital platforms and applications or for ideation and business logic for those. The most recent project I had was for the largest public sector client and connected with a delivery of a digital platform enabling key workers to register for Covid-19 tests using RPA technology behind it.

I have now left Deloitte Digital to pursue my own start-up ideas. One of the start-ups I have founded and developing now, Easly, a SaaS eCommerce platform, is designed for grocery retailers, and utilises AI, ML personal recommendations, speech recognition technology for voice-based search, camera product scan technology, NLP and RPA technologies as well as the latest GPT-3 technology. It is truly innovative, and I strongly believe that it will disrupt UK RetailTech and revolutionise online shopping experience. Another one is an online-platform selling online-courses aiming at changing people lives for the better.

I still continue on with the advisory/mentoring for some of the start-ups and really enjoy it. I feel real joy in helping people and driving technology sector.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

Not always. I founded my first start-up and was making my first steps in digital while experimenting. Also, technology sector was just emerging in Russia at that time in 2011. I got clear about my future career after I launched eCommerce for several multibillion retailers on Russian market. I understood that I want to expand my experience and learn about other technologies. I realised that I enjoy creating something new, solving challenging problems, innovating. I started advising/mentoring some of the start-ups and joined Deloitte Digital to get experience with various technologies and projects. Now I am planning to continue my advisory/mentoring as well as put in life several of my start-up ideas.

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

When I worked with retailers, I launched eCommerce for, I had to convince absolutely non-technical top management to take a certain direction. It was quite difficult as in Russia bias about women in technology are even more obvious.

What has been your biggest career achievement to date?

I like to think that there were several career achievements equally important to me:
- set up my own business and created industry benchmarks not knowing anything about technologies when I started
- launched eCommerce for multibillion retailers on the most challenging market
- created several innovative solutions on the UK market for public and private sector clients

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

I am a real fighter, I never give up and I try as many time as needed till I finally get what I want. It is difficult to fail, but what is important is to accept the situation, reflect on the it and take another chance. Another thing (sorry, in my case there are usually two things that are major factors) is the people. If you want something, open to communication and help people they will always want to support you and it could be a key to fulfil your dream

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

Read about new technologies, solutions, start-ups, make connections with people in technologies, not to be lazy to help others. It is not about university you have graduated (though Harvard, MIT and Stanford are hands down the places of power), but the experience and knowledge you get as technologies are constantly evolving. Technologies are about innovation.

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

I can see some bias with regards to women working tech and women leaders. I think the best solution will be to help each other out, be one supportive family. It is not easy to excel when you are alone and stay apart from others. Ladies who are just starting their career in technologies or women wanting to make a career change will be much faster progressing if we can tell them about our experience. Books, formal lectures, etc. are good, but what is most valuable is the experience.

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

These could be women communities, competitions for women, special nominations, etc. Equity should be introduced in place.

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?

I think not all women know how fun it could be to work in technologies and that you don’t need to be of a very technical mindset. There are a lot of creative roles, so technologies are not only about programming. Moreover, not all the founders of successful start-up worked in technologies before they set up their companies. I would have made women aware of that.

WeAreTechWomen has a back catalogue of thousands of Inspirational Woman interviews, including Professor Sue Black OBE, Debbie Forster MBE, Jacqueline de Rojas CBE, Dr Anne-Marie Imafidon MBE and many more. You can read about all our amazing women here

Alicia Navarro

Inspirational Woman: Alicia Navarro | Serial tech entrepreneur & Founder, Skimlinks

Alicia Navarro

Alicia Navarro is a serial tech entrepreneur and founder of the highly successful content monetisation platform, Skimlinks and new ‘deep work-as-a-service’ platform Flown.

Throughout her career, Navarro has won numerous enterprise awards including the EveryWoman in Technology Entrepreneur of the Year Award and the WCIT’s Female Entrepreneur of the Year Award. She is also committed to mentoring young people pursuing careers in technology.

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

I’m a Spanish- and Cuban-blooded, Australian-born-and-bred, and UK-based serial entrepreneur. I was the founder of a content monetization startup called Skimlinks which I started in my living room in Sydney and turned into a global multi-national startup used by most large online publishers in the US and UK. Skimlinks was acquired earlier this year (during lockdown!) and now have started my next venture, Flown (join the waitlist at www.flown.com) which is about offering the ideal mental and physical spaces for ‘deep work’.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

Does anyone?! I mean, I’ve daydreamed a lot about what I aspired to do, but it changed every few years (sometimes every few weeks!). The thing with tech and entrepreneurship is you can’t really plan that far ahead, because there are so many variables, and the world is changing so fast. All you can really do is imagine a set of possible end destinations, and then be on the alert for opportunities that come your way that help you get there…. But also be open to opportunities that take you placed you haven’t even imagined yet.

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

I think the biggest challenge - particularly in retrospect - is how hard it is to escape your bubble. When I was in a corporate job, my world was all about getting that next promotion, which added the word ‘senior’ to my title, but very little else. I worked long hours and gave up on social events just to get on top of my email in a job that would only ever get me to be a little more senior in a corporate. But when you are in that world, it feels perfectly normal to aspire to slightly higher in a hierarchy of quite banal work.

It took escaping the corporate world and getting into startups that I realised how limiting that corporate world was for me. Startups are a place where you can experience enormous personal growth, and feel like your days are spent in the pursuit of something worthy.

What has been your biggest career achievement to date?

Taking my startup idea 12 years ago and turning it into a significant and beloved company.

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

Knowing how to hire the right people with the right skills to complement my skills. And investing in relationships.

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

Well, it depends what areas of technology. Engineers… put effort into your Github profile and personal passion projects. Sales & Business Development - read voraciously all the startup and scaling sales content that is out there (particularly the content put out by some VC firms, like A16Z and Openview Partners). For becoming a founder, try out for one of the many incubator programs, like Entrepreneur First, Zinc and Wayra.

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

For women generally, definitely not, particularly in startups. The challenge comes for women that may want to also be present mothers, as although the work is increasingly flexible, it is still demanding and stressful. It is also this for fathers, of course. So it becomes a personal choice… but it is difficult for anyone to be an engaged and involved primary care giver *and* an early stage founder.

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

Adopting flexible work hours, so working parents can accommodate being present and active parents too.

For women who are not parents, the only other challenge I see sometimes is women aren’t as good at negotiating or talking themselves up… so encouraging mentorship programs for young women is probably the best way for women to learn how to speak up for themselves.

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?

I’ve not experienced this statistic personally. Certainly there tend to be more male developers, so perhaps there is something early on that socialises men to be more in this profession than women… I’d like to see more film and TV shows cast the female protagonist as an engineer, and have it be a totally normal and unironic profession for the female lead to have, that might make a difference.

10. What resources do you recommend for women working in tech, eg Podcasts, networking events, books, conferences, websites etc?

Frankly, firstly, stop thinking of yourself as a woman working in tech. Then, read everything that anyone working in tech should read.

WeAreTechWomen has a back catalogue of thousands of Inspirational Woman interviews, including Professor Sue Black OBE, Debbie Forster MBE, Jacqueline de Rojas CBE, Dr Anne-Marie Imafidon MBE and many more. You can read about all our amazing women here.

Charly Lester featured

Inspirational Woman: Charly Lester | Co-Founder & CMO, Lumen

Charly LesterCharly Lester is co-founder and CMO of Lumen.

Lumen is the first app-only dating platform for over 50s.

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

I'm co-founder and CMO at Lumen - the dating app for over 50s. We launched last September, and already have over 1.5 million users worldwide. Six years ago, I fell into working in the dating industry when my dating blog '30 Dates' went viral. I ended up working at The Guardian as their dating editor, then at Time Out as their Global Head of Dating. My first business - The Dating Awards - launched in 2014, an industry awards for the online dating industry. The Awards started in the UK, then spread to Europe and the US, making me one of the leading voices in the sector. After 4 years running it, I had tried and assessed most dating apps and websites out there, so when my co-founder suggested we launch a dating app for over 50s, I jumped at the chance to create a product which directly tackled the issues I knew consumers faced on other apps.

I run all of Lumen's marketing, and a huge part of that is tackling the way society views over 50s. It’s a demographic people haven't designed apps for before and they are extremely undervalued and misrepresented. I spend a lot of time trying to make our brand and our advertising as 'pro-age' as possible.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

Haha, never! I did Law at university, a Masters in Broadcast Journalism and then I went into banking (after a few gap years travelling!).  What I love about my career is that it has shaped itself, and I have ended up designing a role for myself which suits me down to the ground. As I look back at what has got me to the position I'm currently in, there are so many skills I picked up from other jobs which are so useful to my role at Lumen. We've launched the app in five countries so far, and every time we launch, I have to do interviews on live TV. Who knew my TV journalism experience would come in so handy?

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

When I launched my first business I didn't have any female friends who ran companies. I didn't know anyone else who had taken on that risk, and I can genuinely remember really doubting my abilities.  There were lots of ups and downs involved with running a business for the first time, but I wouldn't change any of it because I learned so much along the way and realised what I'm capable of. Probably the biggest challenge was other peoples' preconceptions and fears. My own parents died when I was a teenager, but my friends' parents have often worried about my decision to step away from a 'traditional career path' and take risks. There have been many times when they haven't really understood what I was doing, and have told me as much. I had to learn to understand when to listen to other peoples' concerns, and when to take them with a pinch of salt.

What has been your biggest career achievement to date?

Appearing as a judge on the final of The Apprentice when one of the candidates designed a dating app was a pretty big career high. I also spoke at the Oxford Union in a debate about the existence of true love (my debate partner was the creator of Love Island!) - probably the most daunting evening of my life! And thanks to Lumen at least three couples have already married, hundreds live together, and hundreds of thousands of people have met - that's a pretty amazing feeling to know you have quite literally changed someone's life.

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

I always break things down into small steps. In my spare time I run ultramarathons and Ironman triathlons, and a huge part of that is breaking something huge and unmanageable into small steps. I know how to pace myself, and I never let the final goal daunt me. That's the same attitude I apply to business. No matter how slowly I'm moving at times, I'm always moving forward.

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

Find mentors you admire and trust. When I first started working in the technology team at Time Out, Ellie Ford was Head of Innovation. She is one of the most inspiring women I know, and about 10 years older than me - Ellie is so intelligent and I learned so much from her. Knowing who to go to to ask vital questions - including what to do with my career when my role was made redundant - was a huge part of my career progression, and five years later I can still hear her words of advice.

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

When I look at the teams at Magic Lab (Lumen's parent group) there are still departments which are heavily male, despite us trying to hire as equally as possible. Women and equality are really high on the agenda, however tech companies still need to have women in the hiring pool in order to employ them. Part of the issue is educating women that certain roles are for them just as much as they are for men. The barriers start right at ground level - treating little boys and little girls exactly the same. Making them understand no hobby is gender-specific, and neither is a specific career. And then helping women to ask for progression and the salaries they deserve when the time comes for that.

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

I was at a talk recently by Caroline Criado Perez and she was saying that it's not just a case of getting women to ask for the pay rises or promotion they deserve - if that's not the way most women behave, why not adapt the way pay structures and promotions work to better accommodate female ways, instead of accepting the 'male way' as the norm.

There needs to be total transparency in all companies about peoples' salaries - this is where our 'Britishness' has let us down - because the women still bear the brunt of our desire to be discreet and not talk openly about money.

I also think we need to be more flexible with work arrangements, not just to accommodate working parents returning to work - but also to get the best out of people. I for one know I get far more done working on my sofa at midnight, than I do sitting in an office at 8am.

There is currently on 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?

Teach coding to all children from age 11 - mandatory. My dad was a computer programmer and I am so gutted I didn't learn to code from him when I was a kid. It is such an incredibly valuable skill and would certainly change a lot of women's job options after school or university.

What resources do you recommend for women working in tech, eg Podcasts, networking events, books, conferences, websites etc?

I've just finished reading 'Invisible Women' by Caroline Criado Perez. That, and 'Lean In' by Sheryl Sandberg, is impossible to read without stirring up your inner feminist! I used to try to attend a lot of Women in Tech events, but now I also try to encourage as many women to attend events for everyone.  There is nothing more depressing than turning up at a tech conference, and seeing a panel of all white men on a stage.


Launching a new platform


Article provided by Emma Sayle, Founder and CEO Killing Kittens, Safedate and Sistr

The very essence of our online lives – from social media to personal banking- has been built on successful tech platforms, yet so many platforms struggle to deliver on their investment, with an estimated 50 per cent of all UK start-ups failing. 

As women still only represent a significant minority of these start-ups – not to mention only a third of all entrepreneurs in the UK – launching a new tech platform as a woman can be an even greater challenge.

Researching, planning and timing are the cornerstones of a successful launch. First, you need to push aside assumptions and perceptions about what you think your users want and find out exactly what the need is, who is going to use it and why users would want to engage with it.  Take a step back and make sure you have allowed for enough time to research and understand your target audience. It is all too easy to trip up on preconceived ideas that have been badly tested, if at all. Consider that you will feasibly have more than one audience for any given function, and not all users will access the platform in the same way. Ensure that you have considered how your platform will appeal to different user groups.

One of the biggest failures people make when launching tech platforms is not giving enough time to this crucial research stage, as they are often caught up in the pressure and excitement to get the platform up and running.  When we decided to build our Sistr networking platform for women to connect to other women in business, we already knew we had a loyal customer base of clients who recognised that we were 100 per cent committed to female empowerment.  However, we still invested in an initial soft-launch to check our proposition with a smaller group of users. By choosing a niche area like this – in our case it was a group of loyal customers - you can retain a much stronger sense of control instead of trying to launch too broadly in an effort to capture every type of audience.  This is where thinking smaller can really pay off in the first stages of going to launch; you have to be absolutely clear about who you want to attract to the site.

Businesses are only going to know what their audience really wants if they have invested time talking to them in the first place.  Allow plenty of time to really engage in some serious networking to find out what it is that interests them and where that gap between wanting it and having it lies.  We spent over six months talking to our audience but it was worth every minute of the investment because we had 700 members signed up within two weeks of the soft launch.

The importance of this open communication is just as vital after the launch as it is beforehand.  Customer feedback will be the DNA of your platform as you move forward, helping to keep it as user-friendly as possible and with relevant content and easy functionality. We have now surveyed our initial members to find out what they think of the Sistr site and the type of content and services they would like to see in the future.

It is this feedback loop that will ensure the continued relevance of the site to our users. The reciprocal nature of our networking platform meant we not only had to attract women to the site who wanted mentoring and support, we also had to ensure that women offering advice and mentoring ( all for free)  saw the value in giving up their time to others. Getting this balance right between user and provider is another critical success factor for a platform’s longevity.

Not everyone competing in the tech industry is from a traditional tech background and women more than men have long been unrepresented in this area.  My own background was very much off-line, having originally developed Killing Kittens as an events business, so launching into the highly competitive sex-tech industry was a huge learning curve for me. But for every woman who is out there trying to do it, there is a woman somewhere who has already stepped in those shoes and knows exactly what you are going through.

Much more still needs to be done to attract and encourage more women in enterprise whether it is setting up their own businesses or having the confidence to launch a platform.  Things are slowly starting to move in the right direction, thanks in large part to the wealth of knowledge and experience that female networking groups can offer their peers, something which I am extremely passionate about as an integral part in helping women achieve greater representation in business.

This type of supportive infrastructure means greater access than ever before to experts who can help support women with all elements of their business proposition; from helping them develop and perfect their business pitch to putting them in touch with a variety of investors and different funding options. Evidence has shown that a supportive network and peer support have been proven to positively influence the success of new businesses; hopefully as we move forward with greater representation in the tech sector, many of those businesses will start to be female-led.

Emma Sayle featuredAbout the author

Emma is the Founder of Sistr, a platform that enables professional businesswomen to network, offer advice and mentor each other.

Find out more at sistrapp.com. You can also sponsor Emma and the rest of the Sisterhood for their Channel Swim.

Lisa Goodchild featured

Inspirational Woman: Lisa Goodchild | Founder, Digilearning

Lisa GoodchildI come from comparatively humble beginnings.

I grew up on council estate in South East London, raised by a single mum that struggled with mental health issues. Don’t get me wrong, I wouldn’t change a thing as it made me who I am, and I appreciate that my mum tried her best to drag us up, but it was tough.

We had no choice but to quickly learn about the realities of life, as hustling, crime, drugs and violence surrounded us and it looked like that was on the only option open to me. I burgled a house and sold drugs as a kid, as well as avoiding school. I always knew that I wanted more out of life though, and I was determined to fight and claw my way into earning it. I wasn’t interested in being handed anything. I wanted to prove – to myself, and everybody else on that estate – that it was possible to overcome adversity and make something of yourself.

I credit a lot of my success to being influenced to attend university, where I gained a First Class honours in Digital Media. Fast forwarding from there, I built an agency that worked on selling early ecommerce systems to major, world-leading brands like Ted Baker, Panasonic and MotherCare. I also gained £250k in investment and grew one of the UK’s leading digital female brands, Aigua Media, as well as mentoring women to enter the male-dominated world of technology.

Unfortunately, success always comes with side effects and I realised that I had no interest in the politics and backstabbing that were becoming associated with the agency. I walked away, with my worthless shares – and Digiwoo was born, a social media agency that has been going strong for over ten years now.

I was also lucky enough to be chosen to take part in the Marketing Academy, which was life-changing. The real eye-opener for me was attending the Living Leader bootcamp, with the amazing Penny Ferguson. That helped me realise that I was destined to build something to help young people, and help the next generation enjoy some of the opportunities that were not open to me when I was their age. I had my youngest child five years ago now, and my best friend and business partner Sarah Wilson had twins at the same time. That gave us all the motivation that we needed to change the approach of digital education and children’s entertainment for our young people. Digilearning was born.

We created Digilearning as a revolutionary way to teach children and young people about the opportunities digital has to offer. If adults want to sharpen their digital skills and get involved, they’re welcome too! We have a range of books, hold Digihack open days, and we are developing our #Edtech platform.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

I’d love to claim that I’m a type A personality and everything is progressing as part of a master plan, but that’s really not the case. I’m a firm believer in following my heart, as that ensures that I’ll be passionate about what I’m doing. That approach hasn’t let me down so far, so I think I’ll stick with it! I am particularly passionate about helping the underdog, and the opportunities that can be created for underprivileged children using digital.

One thing I will say is that I have always wanted to change the world, though. I’ve never been one to sit idly by when I see something that I consider to be an injustice. I remember visiting the headteacher’s office when I was 8 years old, asking for an explanation as to why I couldn’t join the school football team. I didn’t get a satisfactory answer, so I vowed to create my own, girl’s only team. That part of my character has always driven me.

Attending the Marketing Academy did change my approach a little. I now create a vision board of what I would like to achieve in the year, and I have a 2-year plan that is regularly updated. That is not just career-focused, though. It covers everything that I want to achieve in my life.

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

Yes, there have been many challenges. That’s life, after all! If something is easy, it’s probably not worth doing. Personally, I love a challenge to sink my teeth into. When I look back, what felt like problems at the time always seemed to develop into opportunities.

My background was arguably the first challenge I had to overcome. Growing up on a council estate with the experiences I had, I didn’t – and still don’t – talk, dress or act like the many people you meet in the business arena. I make no apologies for that, and I’m not going to change who I am to conform to somebody else’s ideals.

I also happen to be female in the tech space, which is never easy. Women are often underestimated in this industry. I try to own it, but I’m human. Sometimes I get scared to the bone, and wonder what I have agreed to! That’s when I take a deep breath, remember that I am in this situation because I have worked tirelessly for it, and own the moment as best as I can.

I also love the sheer shock and surprise on people’s faces when I tell them that I run my own business, and work with some of the biggest brands in the world - and always have done throughout my career. Every time a woman walks away from me meeting thinking, “if that South London girl from a council estate can do it then so can I”, I consider it a win.

What has been your biggest career achievement to date?

Gosh, my biggest career achievement... that’s tough, it’s like choosing a favourite child! I recently got to take our Digilearning books to Jamaica and visit three local schools while I was there. The young children in attendance were immaculate in every sense of the word. They had hardly any resources, one fan on the wall, no computers and limited books. In fact, two of the three schools were literally shacks.

Despite having such limited facilities, especially compared to British education standards, their beautiful little faces started to glow as they watched me read our Digilearning books. We also met with Prince Charles in Barbados, and will be holding a Digihack with the Prince’s Trust International, which is a massive opportunity to really make a difference. Watch this space and get in touch if you could like to know more.

Alongside the UK, the Commonwealth is hugely important to Digilearning. We need to help as many young people rise up using digital as we can. Technology can help the next generation have the lives they deserve, and we believe we can make a massive impact.

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

People. I can never explain the gratitude I have for the many people that have helped guide and push me along the way. I’m not saying that they all did so intentionally, and they didn’t all necessarily guide me in the right way. However, I can say that I learned something important from each and every one of them.

Without these people, I have no idea if I would be the person I am. That’s the advantage of growing up the way I did. We may not have had much in a material context, but what we did have were countless characters in our lives. These are the people that provided me with skills that money can’t buy, and to people that grow up in less-than-ideal circumstances those life experiences are like gold dust. I can comfortably talk to anybody now, and that ability has provided me with so much success.

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

Find the area you love, and dedicate yourself to it whole-heartedly. If you’re interested in Artificial Intelligence, learn everything you possibly can about that that. Make sure that you’re speaking about it to everybody you encounter, including on your social media channels, and the rest will follow. Become a thought leader in the field that you love, and the career will follow. That’s only going to happen if you’re an expert in one subject, though. Knowing a little about a lot will only get you so far.

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

Yes, there are barriers for everybody in one way or another. In particular, however, women working in tech face more –isms than any of us have time to list. June Sarpong explains a lot about this in her book, Diversify. I advise you get a copy!

To overcome these obstacles, we need to stand together and speak up. There are now more support groups for women in tech now than ever before, and we do not have to think we are the only ones with these experiences.

Look at the recent #MeToo campaign – we have all thought that we were alone for too long, and now we know that’s not the case. Women in all industries must speak up, and stand united. Only then will we overcome these barriers.

More and more women are showing interest in tech, and they need to be encouraged instead of deterred. That means creating a more welcoming environment for everybody. Let’s stop making excuses for the industry, and force change. It’s an evolve or die situation, and I firmly believe that we can all evolve!

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

I believe they must take massive steps, and start forcing the situation. We have been speaking about equal pay at length, and to be honest I think we’re all bored with it now. The time for words has passed, and we all want to see some action.

I mean, seriously. It’s ridiculous that we still need to push the issue. I believe that Iceland has moved in the right direction, as over there it’s now illegal to pay women less than men for the same job. I’m not willing to wait another 100 years for that to happen in my own country though, and there is no way I will allow my daughters to.

There is currently on 15 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?

We need to start the education process earlier than we currently are. That means getting into schools, and engaging girls about the possibilities of tech at a pivotal stage.

We really need to start from the root, and this is our main mission at Digilearning. Once we educate girls (and boys – female empowerment doesn’t have to equal male oppression, we just want to be treated fairly and equally!) from a young age about the myriad of opportunities digital has to offer there will be no holding back.

Digital needs to be the fourth pillar of education, alongside Maths, English and Science. It’s vital that the education system accepts that we are moving into the Digital Age, whether politicians like it or not. Education is currently stuck in the Victorian times, and values and beliefs need to be changed to reflect life in the 21st Century.

What resources do you recommend for women working in tech, eg Podcasts, networking events, books, conferences, websites etc?

WeAreTechWomen, Super Soul Sundays podcast, Gary Vaynerchuck, The Drum, LinkedIn, the Cannes Lions Conference (you don’t need to get the big conference ticket for this– Google, Facebook and The Girls Lounge all have amazing events in Cannes for the festival you can attend for free), events hosted by The Marketing Academy and of course the book Diversify by June Sarpong.