According to my mother, I was destined to become a CEO. Not just because she is a feminist and held high ambitions for her only child, who happened to be a girl. But because of the constant feedback she received from my pre-school explaining how bossy I was in organising the other kids in the playground, to which my mother retorted, “that’s not being bossy that’s leadership skills” (#sorrynotsorry #girlboss). And she was right. Today I am the CEO of FlexCareers, a digital marketplace that connects progressive employers with candidates looking for flexible work, essentially changing the way that careers work.
So how exactly did I get to a place where I didn’t know I wanted to be?
About 6 years ago I had somewhat of an epiphany that I wasn’t meant to be where I was. So, where was I? After finishing my university studies, I entered the professional space traversing numerous industries and loving the world of human resources, learning and organisational development. I even did a masters to further advance my career opportunities. I loved working with and leading people, making a difference. My roles often focused on shifting cultures to being more engaged, flexible and inclusive – even though at the time that exact terminology may not have been used but that was essentially the gist. Leadership was also a big focus, not mine but creating great leaders, especially women. However, it wasn’t enough – I wasn’t making enough of a difference and I started to think about other options: what if I wasn’t working in corporate land? what if I wasn’t bound to a career path of a Global role? I didn’t know the answer, yet.
It was around this time that I had been asked to interview for a senior global head of role in Australia. This epitomised all that I had been working so hard for up until that point. Despite getting down to the final two for the role I decided it was not what I wanted, despite where the last 15 years and 6 + years of study had got me to. I never believe anything is a wasted experience and knew it would all still be valuable but in a different way. I just didn’t know what.
I began to think, read, write and talk to people. What really made me jump out of bed each day? What made me tick, get excited, energise me? Making a difference on a large scale – but how to translate that into a job? Although it took about a year to really put it all together, I realised that there was an equation to answer my question: What am I good at (what are my skills, capabilities and experience)? + What am I passionate about? + What does the market need? If I could find an intersection of all 3 then I would have my answer – and I did.
My first foray into the entrepreneur space was when I was 13 making scrunchies (hair ties) … all handmade and the venture went well until they went out of fashion. My next venture was pre-made bows for gifts at the age of 15. Again, a great idea for a school-aged kid and did well in many shops in numerous suburbs until the same thing came in en-masse from a big competitor.
I realised that I wanted to focus on entrepreneurship for women.
Not because it was popular but because it gave a true path for women to achieve economic empowerment globally. Social justice and gender equality are my passion and I could see in the corporate land at the time there really wasn’t enough or much flexibility afforded to women with children let alone anyone who wanted it for any reason. And this was a massive barrier for women to fully participate and advance in the workforce. Thus, Launch Pod was born. I developed a program for both individuals and accelerator programs that would give women the knowledge and know how on how to become a successful Entrepreneur.
Launch Pod was going well when I received a note from one of the co-founders of FlexCareers asking to meet for coffee to discuss the position of leading the business. I had heard of them, but they were less than a year old at this stage with a handful of clients and a small-ish database with some revenue. After meeting with the two co-founders, Marko Njavro and Joel McInnes, I was intrigued and could see their dream. It aligned with mine. Here was my opportunity to make a massive impact on changing the way careers worked not just for women but for everyone – and the key was the robust technology that underpinned the business. It was the missing ingredient from my business. So, I changed gears and haven’t looked back.
Admittedly at the time, I did question my ability to run a technology company. I had worked in tech companies and understood the tech space well and I had also been a leader in many roles however the two had never crossed paths in this fashion. I realised that I needed to make a bold decision and follow what I knew in my gut was the right move. Today we are a multi-million-dollar company with a community of over 100,000 people and work with great clients like Lendlease, Macquarie Group, EY, Lion, Medibank, Westpac, Google … and have built up the team to 15 people with a massive 2019 (and beyond) planned and ready to take off.
Being an entrepreneur is hard work – make no mistake.
There are long days, hard discussions, lots of rejection, countless pitches to investors, lots of travel (which sounds glamorous but it’s really not). I work every day. We are growing exponentially month on month, running hard and scaling fast. But I love what I do. I jump out of bed every day excited to see what the day brings, what new challenges will be presented, problems to solve and wins to be made. I love working with my team, each of whom brings such a depth of knowledge and experience that contribute directly to the success of the business. They are just great people and we have great fun even though we work hard. I also have great flexibility to be present to my 2 wonderful children and be the best mother I can be to them whilst still running FlexCareers. And although I don’t see my friends and family as much as I would like to, it’s quality time when I do.
Being a female CEO of a technology company is a rarity – most of my kind are male and wearing hoodies (in the start-up/ scale-up space and although I am not one for stereotypes, this is quite a pervasive one). I embrace this rarity and make it a positive thing. I don’t try to join the boys club (which used to be something I thought I needed to do in my younger years) but now I embrace my femininity and strength, leading with both my head and heart, wear super high heels (even though I am already 6ft1ich) and don’t own a hoodie….I don’t wear-t-shirts to work but encourage each of my team to dress for their day and embrace their individuality.
Being an entrepreneur isn’t for everyone, it takes guts of steel to be able to manage the high level of stress and pressure knowing that you only have so much money to achieve a great deal, keep investors/ clients/ community/ co-founders/ my team happy, close deals, keep the lights on, grow the business every day and ensure its sustainability. But I wouldn’t have it any other way.