To enable more and more ambitious women to forge new horizons in business, the entrepreneurial narrative must be rewritten to be more gender inclusive. Relevantly, media has a responsibility to challenge outdated stereotypes and raise awareness of trailblazing female entrepreneurs, some of whom fly under the radar.
After all, as Fiona Boyd, the CEO of not-for-profit Heads Over Heels, once told Dynamic Business – “You can’t be what you can’t see.”
With this in mind, this week we’re shining a spotlight on nine exceptional women who are making waves at the helm of high-growth companies and who have leveraged the Heads Over Heels network of influential industry and business leaders to amplify their results. The following entrepreneurs shared their aspirations in business as well as the secrets to their success:
- Zoe Pointon and Marta Higuera, the co-founders and joint CEO of OpenAgent – a real estate agent comparison service with 170,000 monthly users plus a line-up of investors that includes Westpac-backed VC firm Reinventure.
- Dr Dharmica Mistry, the co-founder of BCAL Diagnostics – a biotech startup that has is developing a transformative (i.e. simple, affordable and non-invasive) blood test to detect breast cancer early.
- Prue Gilbert, the founder and CEO of Grace Papers – an award-winning digital platform designed to equip women with tools and advice to manage their careers into parenthood and return to work with confidence.
- Deb Noller, the co-founder and CEO of Switch Automation – a cloud-based, IoT-enabled platform that provides facilities management professionals globally with real-time visibility into building performance to help them analyse,automate and control buildings in real-time.
- Katherine McConnell, the founder & CEO of Brighte – a home energy fintech that provides on-the-spot finance for home energy improvements, and whose investors include Atlassian co-founder and co-CEO Mike Cannon-Brookes. [See also: Atlassian co-CEO endorses Brighte with a lead role in the fintech startup’s $4m Series A round]
- Heidi Holmes and Lucy Lloyd, the co-founders of Mentorloop – a cloud-based, mobile-first platform that assists corporates, universities, not-for-profits and government with introducing and delivering a mentor program (or enhancing an existing one). [See also: “Companies underestimate the demand for it internally”: former Adage MD on mentoring]
- Natalie Goldman, the CEO of FlexCareers an online platform that matches job seekers with employers offering flexible work, and which boasts a community of 75,000 job candidates and more than 950 businesses. [See also: Ditch conventions, boost output: The CEO of FlexCareers on the power of flexible working]
DB: What are your success mindsets and strategies?
Zoe Pointon and Marta Higuera: One of the hardest things is saying ‘no’ to good ideas and remaining focused on what matters most. So, the most important mindset has been to ruthlessly prioritise what to work on, and more importantly what NOT to work on.
Our view, as an early-stage company, has been that growth in customers is the most important element – this mindset has led to strong growth in revenue and ultimately company value. We have been obsessed with growing our business and we have been growing at more than 100% every year since we started five years ago, which is a big indicator that we are bringing value to our customers.
This has meant there are other things we just don’t have the time or resources to work on, and sometimes that is hard because you are leaving opportunities on the table or having to work within systems and processes that are not perfect, but it is only by knowing what are the most important things to work on that you can break through against big competitors with a small team.
Prue Gilbert: It’s easy to get distracted by the enormity of the arena within which we work – gender equality. Establishing a singular focus on why we do what we do has been central to our success as a business.
For us at Grace Papers, this meant defining our vision for gender equality. We envisage a world where women can realise their full professional potential and care for their families without it coming at a cost. A world where men can be vulnerable, care freely and work flexibly. A world where women and men are equally responsible for the most important decisions in our world – at work and at home.
So, how to do we know when we’re succeeding? For us, it’s less about success in a traditional sense – we measure impact through our influence. For example, right now, we know we have the capacity to drive change in more than 30 Australian workplaces across corporate and government with a potential reach of 250,000 employees.
Dr Dharmica Mistry: Vision and focus. I believe maintaining a strong overall vision and mission has allowed us to continue to strive towards our main goal – a more accurate blood test for breast cancer detection, for every woman, everywhere. By remaining focused and putting all of our resources into the science, rather than other distractions, we have been able to develop a scalable, cost-effective solution.
Being vision-centric means that we have certain values and spirit, and we look to identify individuals that are the right ‘fit’, both in their skills and their ethos. The best strategy for us as a startup in the biotech space has been collaborations (both here and overseas). These have helped us gain resources and expertise that we would otherwise not have in house.
Katherine McConnell: An overwhelming belief that we are trying to achieve something that will help everyday Australian’s live better lives. We are helping businesses grow by giving them a payment tool which increases their sales conversions. Brighte’s affordable payment plan are helping Australian families access smart technologies such as solar which reduces their energy bills and gives them more disposable income. When you know you are doing something that will make the world a better place then no mountain can get in your way.
Deb Noller: A commitment to building the best team. Our people are the cornerstone of our business and we’ve worked hard to attract a diverse group. They’re not only at the top of their fields, but they value one another and are unquestionably committed to delivering an exceptional experience for our customers. We celebrate success not just as an organisation; it’s equally important for us to acknowledge the individual contributions that help differentiate us from other products.
Heidi Holmes and Lucy Lloyd: Since we started Mentorloop a little under 2 years ago we have been on a mission to make mentoring mainstream. For us, Mentorloop has always been driven by the fact that we 100% believe in what we are doing here, and that is making life changing mentoring connections available at scale. We’ve grown the business considerably in the last 12 months and now boast clients such as the BBC, Xero and the Australian Olympic Committee. We’ve also been able to attract a quality team and that’s because as individuals, they believe in what we are doing here too.
Natalie Goldman: Incredible resilience and continuous persistence, together with a clear focus, has been the essential mindset.
DB: What key learnings do you apply in business?
Zoe Pointon and Marta Higuera: As an entrepreneur it is easy to think you can do everything, but when we have hired amazing people into our team, they have driven huge value for our company. I think the best entrepreneurs are those who can find, inspire and enable an “A-Team”.
Dr Dharmica Mistry: Keep learning. You have never reached the point where you know enough and can afford to stop learning. Just as your technology or product keeps evolving, so do you. Keep asking questions, stay inquisitive, continue to grow.
Prue Gilbert: My most valuable lesson took place outside of the workplace, but it was central to my business today.
I went from lawyer and executive coach to leading a technology start-up. This was a big transition. It required me to return to work full-time to fulfil what I know is my vocation. But with three small children, what to do with them wasn’t so simple. My husband Ben took three months off to care for them. This enabled me to start my own business and over the past eight years, work flexibly and advance my career. I’m most proud that this means I’m financially empowered and not economically dependent.
This is what we work to achieve for all Australian women every day. Only one in 50 Australian men take parental leave, and only one in three eligible for Dad and Partner Pay from the government actually takes it up. However, we know that 60% of working fathers would like to work part time. We work with businesses and government departments to make this happen because we know that unless we afford men the same freedom to paid parental leave, flexibility and part-time working arrangements, women will remain absent from the top of corporate Australia.
Deb Noller: The most valuable lesson I’ve learned is to fail fast. At Switch, if something isn’t working we pause, analyse and adapt. Our culture is one of collaborative innovation, and that allows us to benefit from experimenting without risk of rebuke. Our company is a place where ideas are encouraged and creativity is applauded. Creative failure is simply a stepping stone of improvement and growth.
Katherine McConnell: I have learned that I can make tough decisions and still be a compassionate leader. That tough and kind can co-exist. As a leader you often have to make difficult decisions about people, products and strategy. Sometimes leaders chose the easy way and chose not to make any hard decisions, to the detriment of their business and their team. I want to be a leader that has the courage to act quickly and firmly and yet also has the compassion to be kind and sensitive.
Heidi Holmes and Lucy Lloyd: You’d think that the founders of a company predicated on people helping others would be naturals when it comes to asking for help, but it turns out not so much.
When you’re new to an industry, or for some reason feel like an outsider, or an imposter – you’ve got a burning desire to do it all yourself, to prove yourself without having to lean on others. But it’s the wrong approach.
We had the amazing opportunity to participate in the Startmate accelerator at the start of last year, and one of the biggest things we learnt from that experience is not only that people love to help, but that great people who have achieved awesome things, in particular love to help.
Having access to a range of phenomenal mentors and subject-matter experts has also helped us to better understand the nature of mentoring itself.
Natalie Goldman: I’m learning things every day from the people around me and my team, from mentors to other business owners from large companies to small companies. Learning from our mistakes and learning what to do next, learning is at the core of progression, and being open to that progression. It’s not about failure, it’s about the opportunity to grow and do something better next time.
DB: What are your ambitions as entrepreneurs?
Zoe Pointon and Marta Higuera: We are taking on one of the biggest and most broken industries – Real Estate. We are the team that has the best numbers and the most traction as well as the fastest growth, which has put us in a very unique position to enable our agent customers and help people buy, sell and manage property much more easily. If we continue to get this right, we are building a billion dollar plus company.
Dr Dharmica Mistry, co-founder of BCAL Diagnostics: To be build a business that is as revolutionary as our technology. That is, a forward- thinking company which is at the forefront; a company that leads with its ideologies and company values, not follows. As a senior leader, I hope that I can be open minded, approachable and set the tone for being a business which is adaptable to the world, as it changes.
Prue Gilbert, CEO of Grace Papers: I want to see parents empowered. This year, International Women’s Day comes on the heels of an unprecedented global movement for women’s rights, equality and justice. The 2018 theme, Press for Progress, continues the momentum that’s followed campaigns like #MeToo and #TimesUp. We’re in a moment in time where the world is poised to step into the next wave of women’s empowerment – feminism reimagined is here.
However, in order for women to be empowered, men have to be empowered too. This means being empowered to embrace the juggle of work and life without experiencing judgement, guilt or discrimination at work and in the home. This is what our digital coaching platform aims to do. It connects expectant and new parents with the information they need to make smart decisions about career and care. We instill confidence by providing practical support and motivation from our experts.
Deb Noller: As a female entrepreneur, one of my ambitions has always been to scale a global company and encourage other women along the way. I want to be living proof that even when you’re challenged with not one, but two male-dominated industries – in our case, technology and commercial real estate – it’s possible to succeed and make a meaningful impact.
Katherine McConnell: As Brighte grows I am increasingly aware that I have a powerful opportunity to positively influence and motivate other amazing female leaders. How I believe I can best do that is by encouraging others to harness their self-confidence. Sheryl Sanderberg famously wrote about how women are too inclined to focus on why they cannot do a job. Sometimes we need to drown out the ‘friendly advice’, ask ourselves what is the worst that could happen and take a leap of faith into the unknown. If I can give others that nudge, then I have gone part way in paying back the faith others placed in me.
Heidi Holmes and Lucy Lloyd: As a business, it is our ambition to be the number one mentoring platform in the world. As a female-founded business, we’re definitely aware we need more women in startups, both as founders and employees. There’s a lot of positive activity in the space, and we look forward to encouraging other women to take the leap as well.
Natalie Goldman: My ambitions are to grow FexCareers to be a massive international brand and continue having a big positive mark in the business community for women as well as people as a whole.