Connect with us

Entrepreneurship

Women on Top in Tech – Annette Muller, Founder at Flexy

Published

on

(Women on Top in Tech is a series about Women Founders, CEOs, and Leaders in technology. It aims to amplify and bring to the fore diversity in leadership in technology.)

Here is my interview with Annette Muller, Founder at Flexy. She has an inquisitive analytical mind coupled with a very active imagination, experience varied within the technology and finance industry. She is a natural entrepreneur and learned from spending time in innovation agencies, corporates, start-ups to exiting my first business DOTNXT and moving on to founding and currently managing Flexy, South Africa’s first on-demand-working booking and payment platform.


What makes you do what you do?

I am deeply passionate about the world of work at large, and how companies and people work together every day. How value is created and rewarded. I have always been fascinated by this concept and am constantly observing humans go to work, spending the majority of their lives and time doing so actually. And yet, a lot of discontentment all round. Seeing people stuck in traffic. Seeing people in a cubicle in a corporate, never smiling. Seeing people in front of a computer for hours every day. Seeing people who are “unemployed” and all they strive for is that cubicle or the salary that comes with it. And on the other side seeing companies constantly complaining about their people, not able to find talent, not able to keep talent or motivate them. It makes me want to shake it up, and flip the concept of “Employment” on its head.

So I get up every morning, with a mission to impact and change, in whichever small way, the way companies and people work together. The way the world of employment and earning money, which is the source of so many parts of our lives work. I want to enable freedom of work, and empower people to choose what they want to do and how they do it whilst earning what they need to live the lives they want to live! And ofcourse I love creating things, especially businesses and testing business models, so knowing I get to create products, systems, processes, new markets, technology and test business models every day is what keeps me awake at night.

How did you rise in the industry you are in?

I think I am still rising! It is a never ending journey 🙂

I started my adventure into the world of Technology at a young age, and besides South Africa being a little “behind” the rest of the world which can be a tad frustrating, and so many of my previous start-ups and initiatives totally failed due to being premature, I am grateful being exactly where I am right now. Perseverance, learning to fail and let go quickly, trusting your intuition and a strong sense of adventure is what kept me going and still does every day.

Why did you take on this role/start this startup especially since this is perhaps a stretch or challenge for you? (or viewed as one since you are not the usual leadership demographics)

I am not quite sure what that means, usual leadership demographics? I think women lead in many ways – perhaps not in business, but leadership is not just for business. So that didn’t really feel like a “stretch” to me. I took on this startup because it is exactly what I am supposed to be doing right now, it was never a question in my mind, I was always going to build and scale a business. Female or not.

Do you have a mentor that you look up to in your industries or did you look for one or how did that work?

Yes, I have mentors. And a big learning from my previous business was to have strong mentorship. Advisors. To really reach out and ask for help. No one can tell you what to do, or how to do it, but people with experience can tell you what is potentially coming around the corner and prepare you better to handle and deal with whatever comes your way. And that is the most valuable thing in having mentors. In terms of how it is a process, but for me it is all about the “trust spark” – I have to instinctively trust the person in front of me and feel a little spark to respect them as a mentor. But I have also learned, that gifts of wisdom comes in many shapes and forms, and it is really your own responsibility to extract value from every person crossing your path.

How did you make a match if you and how did you end up being mentored by him?

I like how you assume it is a “him” 🙂

I think my previous answer explains the “match” part, but one thing to add is that very practically – you have to reach out. No mentor is gonna find you. You have to reach out and say, “Hi, I would love to go for a coffee, I feel I can really learn from you and would love to meet up if you open to it”. You have to put yourself out there. And be okay with No, not everyone will have the time to give, but the right person will be inspired to help you along your journey.

Now as a leader how do you spot, develop, keep, grow and support your talent?

This is always a challenge, and definitely still a learning curve for me. But one thing I have learned is to surround myself with people way smarter than myself. And typically they are easier to spot than to develop, keep and grow! One of my key practices is freedom, right now we are really experimenting with how we run Flexy as a business. It is a full on-demand and remote team. With everyone working independently and carrying a lot of responsibility and individual accountability, where leadership becomes even more important. In my limited experience, I have seen that inspired, free and happy people generally perform the best. So we do what we need to at Flexy to ensure everyone is Inspired, free, happy and constantly connecting at a human level. A business is a lot like a family on a mission to me. So keeping it transparent and open is key for me. But as I said, this is definitely a part I am very much still learning about myself ever day.

Do you consciously or unconsciously support diversity and why?

Consciously support it! It has been proven that diverse thinking, backgrounds, beliefs, experiences, cultures together opens up opportunities and solutions to problems a lot faster and more effectively. And I personally enjoy variety, in all aspects of life, including the humans I surround myself with every day.

What is your take on what it takes to be a great leader in your industry and as a general rule of thumb?

I don’t think there is one general rule of thumb, and leadership again for me sits at a higher level than specific to an industry. But I do believe that one element specific to the technology industry is this concept of “Real-time and open source leadership”. For me that is something I consciously weave into my leadership style, everything happens in real time and the idea of “open source” transparency at all levels, no formalities in my camp! It is a new kind of leadership based on a new flat world we finding ourselves in, that isn’t the typical dictatorship style many of us have been exposed to over the years.

Advice for others?

Right now I am all about The Future of Work and trying to understand how companies of the future will manage their on-demand workforces. The world is changing very rapidly around us, and the next generation of people [ and machines! ;)] coming into the “workforce” will have very different expectations. Independence. Instant Everything. Flexibility. Variety. and most importantly a strong desire for Purpose.

My advice is to get up close and personal with your real skills, creativity, intuition, decision making, leadership skills because all the robotic jobs coming from the industrial revolution will be replaced with machines and robots moving forward. Previous industrial revolutions have shown us that if companies and industries don’t adapt with new technology, they struggle. Worse, they fail.

So Flexy2.0 is what we are hard at work behind the scenes right now, geared to launch in South Africa in late August – as the first on-demand workforce management tool that will make this transition for companies and individuals alike, from the industrial age to this new on-demand world we live in.


To learn more about Flexy, please see https://www.flexyskills.com.

I am a huge fan and cheerleader of Women Leaders — If you know of an AMAZING Woman Founder, CEO, Leader in Tech or you are one yourself — Write me here.
AMPLIFY Conscious Business Leadership with me.

Callum Connects

Andrew Schorr, Founder of Grata

Published

on

Taking a different route throughout his life, Andrew Schorr ended up in China and started several businesses.

What’s your story?
I moved to China after I graduated from college in 2004. English teaching was the easiest way to get there, so I looked on a map and picked a small town in Hubei, because it looked to be more or less in the middle of China. I was the only foreigner there.

Back then, everything was about the upcoming Olympics in Beijing, so I moved to the capital after my year of teaching. Pretty soon after arriving, I met the co-founder for all three of my companies. We decided to start a company together the first day we met. He has now moved back to the US and builds flight software at SpaceX.

Our first company, an online city guide, was re-purposed into our second company, GuestOps, a web concierge platform. We sold GuestOps to most of the major international hotel brands in China and still operate it. The genesis of our latest company, Grata came from looking at the intersection of hotels and WeChat in 2012, when WeChat was just starting to blow up. Grata expanded from hotels into a live-agent customer service console.

What excites you most about your industry?
Our thesis with Grata has always been that what is happening with WeChat in China is the future of messaging platforms globally, and as an international team building on WeChat, we would be well-placed to capitalize on that trend. It’s taken longer than we expected for the industry (and us, for that matter) to get there, but finally, we’re starting to see messaging as a platform to get better traction in other markets.

What’s your connection to Asia?
I’ve always been a bit of a contrarian. I grew up in Texas, where all my friends studied Spanish in school. I studied German for no reason in particular. I took a similar path in college: Chinese and Japanese seemed like languages that not a lot of people who look like me studied. I was one of only two students in my third-year Chinese class.

Concur conference in San Francisco, Calif., Wednesday, Oct. 2, 2013. (Photo by Paul Sakuma, Paul Sakuma Photography) www.paulsakuma.com

Favourite city in Asia for business and why?
Shanghai. I should live there, but Beijing has been home for so long. I take the night train down to Shanghai every two-three weeks to meet with clients. Domestic flights are way too unreliable here.

What’s the best piece of advice you ever received?
Don’t plan too far ahead; otherwise, you plan yourself out of good opportunities.

Who inspires you?
Has anyone said “Elon Musk” yet? Barack Obama would be another.

What have you just learnt recently that blew you away?
The gravitational waves recently detected from neutron stars colliding, were so subtle as to only affect the distance from earth to our closest star, Alpha Centauri (4.24 light years away) by the width of a human hair. Perhaps in another life or in the future, I’ll be an astronomer, but a telescope doesn’t do me much good in Beijing.

If you had your time again, what would you do differently?
When I give advice to students looking to get into entrepreneurship, I advise them to work for a post-Series A startup first and learn from a company that’s already doing things well. I learnt everything on my own, which is slower and you pay for your own education. If you work for a startup that’s small in the beginning, you risk learning bad habits.

How do you unwind?
I Hash! The Hash is a drinking club with a running problem. The Hash attracts good people from all walks of life and doesn’t take itself too seriously. It’s a great way to meet fun-loving people all over the world. It’s also how I met my co-founder, our first lawyer, and my girlfriend.

Favourite Asian destination for relaxation? Why?
Pulau Perhentian, Malaysia. A fantastic beach and where I first learned to scuba dive.

Everyone in business should read this book:
For business in China, Tim Clissold’s, Mr. China.

Shameless plug for your business:
Grata does WeChat contact centers for many top-tier brands in luxury retail, travel, financial services and hospitality. We started developing on WeChat before they even had an open platform. Grata provides the most value for large enterprises with complex routing and content demands for their contact centers.

How can people connect with you?
Check out www.grata.co or email me: [email protected]

Twitter handle?
My personal handle is @andrew_schorr and we tweet about messaging from the company handle @grata_co.

This interview is part of the ‘Callum Connect’ series of more than 500 interviews

Callum Laing is an entrepreneur and investor based in Singapore. He has previously started, built and sold half a dozen businesses and is now a Partner at Unity-Group Private Equity and Co-Founder of The Marketing Group PLC. He is the author two best selling books ‘Progressive Partnerships’ and ‘Agglomerate’.

Connect with Callum here:
twitter.com/laingcallum
linkedin.com/in/callumlaing
Download free copies of his books here: www.callumlaing.com

Continue Reading

Callum Connects

Benjamin Kwan, Co-Founder of TravelClef

Published

on

Making music to create a life for his family, Benjamin Kwan, started an online tuition portal and his music business grew from there.

What’s your story?
I am Benjamin and I’m the Co-Founder of TravelClef Group Pte Ltd, a travelling music school that conducts music classes in companies as well as team building with music programmes. We also run an online educational platform which matches private students to freelance music teachers. We also manufacture our own instruments. I started this company in 2011 when I was still a freshman at NUS, majoring in Mechanical Engineering.

I was born to a lower income family, my father drove a taxi and was the sole breadwinner to a family of 7. I have always dreamed of becoming rich so that I could lessen the burden placed on my father and give my family a good life.

After working really hard in my first semester at NUS, my results didn’t reflect the hard work and effort I put in. At the same time, I was left with just $42 in my bank account and it suddenly dawned on me that if I were to graduate with mediocre results, I would probably end up with a mediocre salary as well. I knew I had to do something to gain control of my future.

During that summer break, I read a book “Internet Riches” by Scott Fox and I knew that the only way I could ever start my own business with my last $42 would be to start an online business. That was how our online tuition portal started and after taking 4 days to learn Photoshop and website building on my own, I started the business.

What excites you most about your industry?
Music itself is a constant form of excitement to me as I have always been an avid lover of music. As one of the world’s first travelling music schools, we are always very eager and excited to find innovative ways to a very traditional business model of a music teaching.

What’s your connection to Asia?
I was born and raised in Singapore and I love the fact that despite our diversity in culture, there’s always a common language that we share, music.

Favourite city in Asia for business and why?
Hands down, SINGAPORE! Although we are currently in talks to expand to other regions within Asia, Singapore is the best place for business. I have had friends asking me if they should consider venturing into entrepreneurship in Singapore, my answer is always a big fat YES! There’s a low barrier of entry, and most importantly, the government is very supportive of entrepreneurship.

What’s the best piece of advice you ever received?
I have been blessed by many people and mentors who constantly give me great advice but right now, I would say the best piece of advice that I received would be from Dr Patrick Liew who said, “Work on the business, not in it.” This advice is constantly ringing in my head as I work towards scaling the business.

Who inspires you?
My dad. My dad has always been my inspiration in life, for the amount of sacrifices that he has made for the family and the love he has for us. He was the umbrella for all the storms that my family faced and we were always safe in his shelter. Although my dad passed away after a brief fight with colorectal cancer, the lessons that he imparted to me were very valuable as I build my own family and business.

What have you just learnt recently that blew you away?
You can not buy time, but you can spend money to save time! With this realisation, I was willing to allow myself to spend some money, in order to save more time. Like taking Grab/Uber to shuttle around instead of spending time travelling on public transport. While I spend more money on travelling, I save a lot more time! This doesn’t mean that I spend lavishly and extravagantly, I am still generally prudent with my money.

If you had your time again, what would you do differently?
I would have taken more time to spend with my family and especially my father. While it is important to focus our time to build our businesses, we should always try our best to allocate family time. Because as an entrepreneur, there is no such thing as “after I finish my work,” because our work is never finished. If our work finishes, the business is also finished. But our time with our family is always limited and no matter how much money and how many successes we achieve, we can never use it to trade back the time we have with our family.

How do you unwind?
I am a very simple man. I enjoy TV time with my wife and a simple dinner with my family and friends.

Favourite Asian destination for relaxation? Why?
Batam, it’s close to Singapore and there’s really nothing much to do except for massages and a relaxing resort life. If I travel to other countries for shopping or sightseeing, I am constantly thinking of business and how I can possibly expand to the country I am visiting. But while relaxing at the beach or at a massage, I tend to allow myself to drift into emptiness and just clear my mind of any thoughts.

Everyone in business should read this book:
Work The System, by Sam Carpenter. This book teaches entrepreneurs the importance of creating systems and how to leverage on systems to improve productivity and create more time.

Shameless plug for your business:
If you are looking for a team building programme that your colleagues will enjoy and your bosses will be happy with, you have to consider our programmes at TravelClef! While our programmes are guaranteed fun and engaging, it is also equipped with many team building deliverables and organizational skills.

How can people connect with you?
My email is [email protected] and I am very active on Facebook as well!
https://www.facebook.com/benjamin.christian.kwan

This interview is part of the ‘Callum Connect’ series of more than 500 interviews

Callum Laing is an entrepreneur and investor based in Singapore. He has previously started, built and sold half a dozen businesses and is now a Partner at Unity-Group Private Equity and Co-Founder of The Marketing Group PLC. He is the author two best selling books ‘Progressive Partnerships’ and ‘Agglomerate’.

Connect with Callum here:
twitter.com/laingcallum
linkedin.com/in/callumlaing
Download free copies of his books here: www.callumlaing.com

Continue Reading

Trending