It was 25 years ago, almost to the day, that I started as a young woman in the technology industry.
At the time, I was an ambitious, vibrant, enthusiastic technology marketing specialist keen to make my mark on the world. Everyone was so inviting back then and always ensured that I had the support needed to learn as much as possible about the industry and build life-long networks.
I was safely in a box. I was woman in the technology industry that did marketing and public relations.
Fast track to today, it’s a very different story.
I stepped outside my lane, used the knowledge I had gained over the years and my creative brain to do something that I thought was possible.
And it was.
Robotic Marketer – The Big Idea
I saw an opportunity to use the knowledge and skills that I had gained over two decades in the industry to come up with a solution that was AI-powered, fully utilizing the machine learning that was available through thousands of marketing strategies to automate a manual and ineffective process of developing a marketing strategy.
Like any smart entrepreneur, I tested the concept by having the Queensland University of Technology develop a prototype. This was an incredible process that allowed us to prove the concept.
From there, I employed a bunch of technology professionals including python operators, data scientists, machine learning experts – to work as a team to redevelop the prototype as a smarter, faster and more effective software.
My role was clear, I was the solutions architect. I wrote every single line for the data entry of company information and explained in detail exactly what I needed this knowledge to do. Remember, I have been in the technology industry for a long time and I knew the basics of what various technologies do. I used this knowledge and my skills in marketing to feed my team the information needed for them to build code.
When the first marketing strategy popped up in my inbox, I was so pleased with myself. In fact, I would say that it was the first time in my life that I felt like I truly accomplished something.
I had an idea and I followed it through.
As I traveled the world, I found sophisticated global companies like SAP and Oracle to be incredible to deal with. They were excited by the technology and were keen to use it in their businesses especially for their Channel Partnership programs.
They not only liked what they saw, they were as passionate about the output and outcomes as I.
A great partnership was formed and we continued to build out global companies that use the technology in their businesses.
When I went to events, people were interested in the technology. But I have to say that I was shocked to see the faces of people when I said I owned the company and was the founder.
A Woman in Technology
Each and every time, the person on the other side asked if I had a company that was my partner or if there was a man who owned the company with me too. At first, it was water off a duck’s back, but after the tenth time, I became frustrated and a little disheartened.
I was constantly asked how I funded the business to which I would answer “my own money” that is until 12 months ago when I took on an investor who now owns a minority of the business. He’s the best!
The strangest situation once occurred at a venture capital event not too long ago. As a smart businessman and former NFL player, the natural assumption is often that it is his company. It is – that part is true, but as the “brain” behind the business in addition to being its founder, Robotic Marketer would not be here without me (and my team).
As we left the event that day, he mentioned that he noticed how they talked to him more, almost mocking my contribution to the conversation on artificial intelligence and trying to catch me out on my knowledge. They failed, and I took pride in that. But, it did leave me a little bruised.
From that moment on I became all too aware that it was hard for men and sometimes women to believe that I had built this phenomenal global company.
The highlights of getting a valuation for the company and winning deals became overshadowed by the fact that in the real world, people found it hard to believe that this company was built by a woman.
The real kicker was when I had an introductory call with a third party supplier to Government who was employed to evaluate companies for government grants.
Not only did he talk over me for the entire 43 minutes, but he was also condescending and plain rude.
After out meeting, he then sent me an email stating:
- “You should join an incubator” – I have over 10 employees in the company and it’s running just fine – thank you!
- “You should consider the R&D Grant” – I informed him in the few times that I had a chance to speak that I was already the recipient of the R&D Grant.
- “You should work with a university to get endorsement for the technology” – As I mentioned to him in the first 5 minutes, not only had a prestigious University built the prototype, they had endorsed the fact that it is the first in the world and it would take years for another company to get to our stage in development.
The list went on.
I got off the phone and cried.
I was crushed. He hadn’t listened to anything I said and as he said during the conversation, he didn’t think we had a product. Let’s get this straight… not only have we got a product, but also a full sales pipeline of very interested customers.
I knew having a tech start-up would be hard, but I never thought that I would have to overcome the biggest hurdle of all and that is being a woman.
My glass is half full, but I have found that the constant rejection in various ways to be really hard to handle, mostly at the hands of men.
Women in fairness ask the same question as to whether I have a man as a partner, but they are more subtle in their approach. This is more often than not followed by, “Is this your family’s business?”
For 22 years in business, I have been the biggest supporter of men. I refuse to talk at International Women’s Day because we don’t have International Men’s Day, and I will use my voice over and over again to support men so that they are not sidelined.
I would go as far as to say only a handful of times have I been treated poorly because I am a woman – in my life until I started a technology company.
The Road Ahead
I won’t give up and if anything, I am determined to prove myself. But life is hard enough without having to fight for your seat at the table because of your gender. The world needs more women as leaders and they need to support women who are doing innovative things in areas that are world-leading.
This won’t stop until more people speak up and voices are heard. The road will be bumpy, but my plight to continue on this path with Robotic Marketer is one that I intend to finish, but along the way, I will bring women with me and I will make a point to ensure that other women entrepreneurs are not treated so poorly.