WiTT held our 2017 Women Tech Entrepreneurs panel session on 15th November, kindly sponsored by Bird & Bird at their London offices. The panel comprised Kerri-Lynn Hauck, Founder of DYRNAN; Pip Jamieson, Founder and CEO of The Dots; and Virginia Gardiner, CEO and Founder of Loowatt. Audrey Mandela, co-founder of Multimap, took the chair.
Each panel member briefly described her business and her journey to becoming an entrepreneur.
Kerri explained that she had always been involved in entrepreneurial companies. Her early career was spent as a VC and also mentoring start-ups. She was keen to become actively involved but couldn’t find a company that she liked enough. She then got hacked, which made her very angry, so she decided to look at the problems of privacy and the protection of privacy. Her current company, DYRAN, founded in 2013, is not a privacy company but an enterprise software company. Its focus is cyber risk identification, data misuse and corporate security, and one of its major clients is the MoD. Although she is the founder and is on the board she does not currently manage the company and has brought in a full management team to do this.
Pip was proud to tell us that Forbes has mentioned her company, The Dots, as the next LinkedIn for no-collar professionals! She did Economics and Maths at Uni and then worked in the Civil Service for a while. She also worked at MTV and became interested in the creative industries when she was working at Nickelodeon. She founded the company in 2014, having realised that there was no network linking creatives. The Dots provides an alternative to the more corporate LinkedIn, and allows students, graduates and experienced creatives to share their portfolio work and promote themselves online to companies.
Pip told us that she had originally set up the company in Australia but has now moved to London. The company is growing rapidly with 100,000 members and 4,000 companies using the site in the UK — while the site is currently “London-centric”, Pip said that she wants to expand internationally.
Virginia explained that she is a design engineer interested in innovation. Her Masters degree led her to design a new type of loo! She told us that only 27% of toilets today are linked to a sewer system and where they are not linked to a sewer they clearly are a potential environmental threat. Many have no access to water and in any case loos use too much water. The toilet she has designed does not use water or chemicals and the waste product is recyclable. It is clean and odour-free and is being used both in developed environments (e.g., festivals, theatres) and in third world underdeveloped countries. She has attracted backing from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
The panel’s introduction was followed by an extensive and highly informative Q&A which provided honest and practical advice and experiences.
Kerri-Lynn Hauck, Founder of DYRNAN; Pip Jamieson, Founder and CEO of The Dots; Virginia Gardiner, CEO and Founder of Loowatt, and Audrey Mandela, co-founder of Multimap, panel chair. Photo courtesy of Sarah Turner.
Q1 – Each panellist was asked what were the main challenges that they faced as an entrepreneur?
Pip: I started my first company six years ago in Australia with a co-founder who was ex-MTV. We set up a large professional network for creatives. I moved to the UK to scale the business but my business partner was nervous about risk capital, having just started a family and so we had to split the partnership. I exited the Australian business and acquired the global rights for the software platform we had created. I re-invested in the UK – basically starting the company from scratch again. With hindsight I would have been better off without a co-founder and we should have had a grown-up conversation about lifestyle versus global dominance before we started!
Kerri: The key challenges for me are all about people, including myself. The challenge for me was to know my own limits. I also had a third baby, which was a surprise! I realised that, as the company matured, I couldn’t just wing it. So I brought in a new Executive team, although the new CEO had been an adviser to the company, and particularly the CFO, for a couple of years. We also changed the company name and its positioning, focusing on the enterprise rather than the individual. These were all major challenges. A further challenge to note was the length of time to get to the point where I feel we are moving forward on a successful footing.
Virginia: The key challenge for Loowatt is the management of people slush! Other challenges included:
- Testing the machinery
- Getting people to join the company as it sounds rather unattractive to begin with, but the counter to this is that once they join they stay!
- It has been a long road, which is a challenge. We have been four years in development and two years to commercialise the product
- Finally it’s challenging trying to balance the first-world commercial opportunity with the third-world need. They require very different approaches but I want the company to do both.
Q2 – When you were looking for investment, were you treated differently because you were women?
Kerri: At the angel stage I have not experienced any problem. However, at the VC stage yes, it is a barrier. I have used my co-founder, who is a man. Things would be easier if there were more female VCs.
Pip: It is certainly harder if you are a woman founder. I am just doing a raise. My COO is a man and I find that he gets talked to, not me. I am actually mentoring a VC at the moment — you might call it reverse mentoring. The problem is that VCs are looking for a street fighter, with swagger. They like someone who is dogmatically stuck on their vision; someone who will throw out an idea if it does not fit their vision. A woman is more likely to reflect on an idea even if it does not fit and that is seen as a weakness by VCs.
Virginia: If there is a trend to more women investors it could lead to a change in global leadership! Virginia said that she has been able to get funding from both the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and Innovate UK as well as from Angel Academe, an angel group focused on women-led businesses and women investors.
Audrey: It is worth noting that all three of these businesses have been able to raise funds from Angele Academe — so the focus on women entrepreneurs and women investors is certainly working in these cases.
Q3 – What are the key issues when attempting to scale-up your business and how much of your business is likely to be outside the UK?
Virginia: The key thing from my point of view is not to rush, although equally, global is the key. As well as the UK, we are looking at Continental Europe and the US as well as the third world. With the Gates Foundation money we will scale into the third world but for the commercial side of the business we will do the UK first to get this right.
Pip: 30% of our business is already outside the UK and the investment we are raising is to increase our international footprint. I have found the Mayor’s Office Programme very helpful. The UK is a very large market for creatives, with New York the second largest. We have thought about a presence in Silicon Valley but the talent is too expensive so we will leave the tech part of our business in the UK. However, we are worried about the effect of Brexit on this.
Kerri: The US is a huge market for us but for us it is a credibility game. We sell to the MoD here and the equivalent in the US will be a big ask. However, our UK clients will help to push this for us and we already have one pilot client in Washington, so we are hopeful.
Audrey then asked for questions from the floor
Q: A question for Pip – Who do you see as competitors?
Pip: We do see LinkedIn as a competitor even though they are not ideal for creatives. We also see a number of freelancer sites… but we are not a job board; we are about creating a professional community.
Q: How do we nurture female talent in the tech industry and navigate the bias against female founders?
Pip: it is a question of confidence; we deliberately want to make our company female friendly. I am a great hugger and it is important to make people feel wanted. It is important to find a network of investors that you like and who are female friendly
Kerri: We also need to help young people understand the opportunities — Sherry Coutu’s Founders4schools initiative is one of many that are trying to crack this problem.
Virginia: Silicon Valley is a hot bed of bias, but many people are not conscious of this. There is a strong bro-culture in the industry which is why female entrepreneurs are so vital.
- A question specifically for Virginia – how do you balance the first-world festivals opportunity with the third-world requirement?
Virginia: It is not just events that provide the opportunity in the West. There is increasing concern in the West about water usage with toilets and so we have been able to get grant funding to develop these markets with the water industry. For a small company the balance is difficult but the technology for markets, the first world and the third world, is the same which helps significantly. It is fascinating selling toilets for use backstage by movie stars vs. use by some of the poorest people on earth!
Q: Another question for Virginia – How do you deal with such a taboo subject as poo?
Virginia: We are evolving the brand as we go along. I often think of a quote by Henry Miller: “Taboos after all are only hangovers, the product of diseased minds, you might say, of fearsome people who hadn’t the courage to live and who under the guise of morality and religion have imposed these things upon us.”
We find it too risqué to talk about poo but we can easily talk about environmental issues, green issues, etc., and that is how we get around this.
Q: In terms of Brexit – what would be your advice to Theresa May?
Pip: We need to be able to access European talent with no barriers. We need to be the tech hub of Europe.
Kerri: In one sense Brexit is good for us as the more British we are the better because of the types of clients we serve. On the other hand there is a real shortage of tech talent in the UK so you need to look elsewhere for this.
Pip: Lisbon is a possibility in terms of where you can put a tech hub as there are lots of good people there. Some can be outsourced but the innovation side of a tech business is not outsourceable.
Q: What have you done in your companies to ensure diversity – do you think quotas are a good idea?
Kerri: Not enough – I am the only female!
Pip: This is one of the reasons I started Dots. At MTV it was mostly men and they were all mates — this can be very dangerous as you need variety. For example, if the engineering and design team are all male they will programme and design things the way they think is good. This may not work for a woman. Research has been done on how people search: women like drop-down menus, men like free search. If you design with only free search you are increasing the unconscious bias. Since a good proportion of the people that use The Dots are women, we need to be careful. So at The Dots we are training female engineers, 60% of the workforce are women and 60% LGBT. And to answer the question on quotas I believe you should set internal quotas if you can.
Virginia: We are male dominated because of the type of business we are but we are keen to get more diversity into the business … although I don’t think that quotas would work for us.
Q – Each panellist was asked to tell us what were the worst and best moments and what advice they wold give other entrepreneurs (including Audrey, who was the co-founder of Multimap, an internet mapping service, acquired by Microsoft in 2007).
Worst: We were told by a VC that we should offer either B2B or B2C services — we did both at the time. Luckily we ignored the advice (forfeiting his interest in investing) and when the going got tough we found that when the B2C business became difficult B2B was growing and so we survived.
Best: People, particularly finding good talent.
Advice: Put a good staff option plan in place so everyone is rewarded if you’re successful.
Worst: We used a family accountant who was not up to the job. I had to completely restructure the company, so you need to find good advisers who can really help you.
Best: It’s about values not culture, solutions not problems and remember that one bad apple can be very damaging in a small company.
Advice: Give people more than they thought you would and they will pay you back handsomely. It’s not about winning; it’s about getting the job done.
Worst: Taking too much advice – women are listeners and it is easy to get distracted.
Advice: Don’t wait around too long to get a perfect solution – go for it.
Advice: You must apply a filter to advice – make your own filter, have confidence.
There is a great deal of obfuscating of information. You need to get transparency plus a belief that you can understand everything in business. I knew nothing about starting a business but you can learn – and you need to put a toe in everything.
Pip Jamieson, The Dots
Nothing great was ever achieved without passion, collaboration, tenacity and a lot of hard work. Pip is the Founder of The Dots, best described as ‘LinkedIn for the creative industries’. An entrepreneur with a distinctive marmite laugh (you either love it or you hate it) Pip is a native Brit who has spent the last 13 years immersed in the creative industries, including executive roles at MTV Australia and New Zealand. Named as one of Australia’s top female entrepreneurs, Pip has had an extraordinary start-up journey from quitting her dream job at MTV, sinking her life savings into co-founding her first venture in Australia – which she quickly grew into the leading professional networking platform for creatives in the region – to exit and then launching a further improved offering here in the UK. The Dots launched in the UK late last year and has already attracted the UK’s leading companies who have joined the site to promote their brand, attract clients and hire talent – some of which are BBC, Vice, Spotify, TATE, Net-a-Porter, Facebook, Wolff Olins, Pentagram, Universal Music, Twitter, United Visual Artists, AKQA, Condé Nast, Twitter, V&A, W+K, Guardian and many more. Pip is on a mission to connect 1 million creatives and freelancers to commercial opportunities by 2018, helping build a stronger, more profitable and diverse creative sector. Pip lives on a houseboat with her husband in Kings Cross, London.
CEO and Founder, Loowatt
Virginia is the original inventor of Loowatt toilet system. Prior to starting Loowatt in 2010, she spent seven years working with award-winning product and design companies including Dwell Magazine, and wrote for publications including Metropolis and The New York Times.
Virginia holds a joint Masters in Innovation Design Engineering from the Royal College of Arts and Imperial College London and a BA from Stanford University in Comparative Literature.
Kerri-Lynn Hauck is DYRNAN’s founder and visionary. While her early career was spent in venture capital and merchant banking, her love of entrepreneurship led her to work with like-minded investors to buy, build and exit exciting companies. She has previously worked on over a dozen companies with three notable IPOs.
Kerri-Lynn finds scalable opportunities and the right pieces of the puzzle to take businesses to the next stage. With astute timing, she identified cyber risks, the misuse of data and the lack of corporate security as a key opportunity and founded DYRNAN in 2013.
Co-Founder, Multimap; Chair, WiTT
Audrey Mandela is chair of Women in Telecoms & Technology (WiTT), a networking group for women in the sector. She also runs Mandela Associates, which provides market research and consulting services for select clients in the telecom, internet and geographical information sectors.
Audrey was Co-Founder of Multimap, one of the world’s leading online mapping providers, where she acted as the company’s corporate counsel and marketing director, and was a board director. Multimap was sold to Microsoft in December 2007.
Audrey was formerly Senior Vice President, International, for the Yankee Group, one of the industry’s leading IT research firms. As Senior VP, Audrey was responsible for managing the Yankee Group’s research, consulting and sales activities in Europe, Latin America and Asia.
Audrey is also a member of the steering committee for the Global Board Ready Women initiative; a board director for Wedu, a charity that mentors and supports young women leaders from underserved communities in Southeast Asia; a member of Angel Academe, an angel network that focuses on investments in women-led businesses; and an NED for Clear Returns, an award-winning and innovative SaaS company; its returns intelligence platform enables retail clients to boost profits by reducing the costs and impact of returns.