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Women on Top in Tech – Marija Butkovic, Co-founder of Kisha Smart Umbrella & Women of Wearables

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(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.)

Today’s interview is with Marija Butkovic. Marija Butkovic is a business, PR and marketing consultant who has worked across a range of projects in different industry sectors, including legal, journalism, IoT, tech and fashion.

She is a co-founder of Kisha Smart Umbrella – a wearable tech startup behind the
world’s smartest fashion tech umbrella, and Women of Wearables – an initiative that
supports, connects and empowers women in wearable tech, fashion tech, IoT and
VR/AR. In both businesses, she also performs the role of a digital marketer and PR
strategist.

women-wearables_logo


What makes you do what you do?

I always wanted to create an impact, not only for myself and people I’m close with but for a much bigger community. It took me some time to find a perfect project/idea that clicks all the boxes, but then again, nothing is perfect, it only has to be perfect for us, right? Entrepreneurship was a way to go for me. It allows me to be creative which is a must-have in anything I do, whilst bringing diversity in my everyday life. I would say that anyone who has the itch to challenge a status quo and change things, needs to try his or hers luck as an entrepreneur. I honestly believe that our future can and will be changed by entrepreneurs.

How did you rise in the industry you are in?

I started my professional journey as a lawyer and wasn’t involved in the tech industry at all for many years. In 2013 I became a startup mentor in one of Croatian startup incubators as well as a tech journalist. This allowed me to gradually switch from more traditional legal background to a tech one. As many entrepreneurs, I never felt strong enough to take a plunge and leave my day job for something less stable and risky. And then I moved to London (2014). My team and I set up our business Kisha and created world’s first smart fashion tech umbrella which got me into the world of the wearable tech industry. At that point, I was hooked and I knew my journey is definitely set to be entrepreneurial one. While working in Kisha, I soon realized how wearable tech industry suffers from a lack of women, not only female founders, but also product and UX designers, smart textile designers, and entrepreneurs in general. At this point, my co-founder Michelle Hua and I decided to change something which was the very reason we founded Women of Wearables (or just WoW). Women of Wearables aims to inspire, support and connect women in wearables, IoT, fashion tech and AR/VR industries. We are not only building a community of women in these industries and connecting them with each other, but we are also offering support, mentorship, workshops and visibility.  So far, the interest has been overwhelming with women from India, US, UK, Canada, UK and many other countries in Europe and Asia.

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)?

In full honesty, I somehow cannot imagine myself working only on one single project at the moment. 9-5 working hours was never my thing. Yes, this means that as a startup founder you have to be prepared for endless to-do lists, wearing multiple hats, as well as many sleepless nights, but it goes with the territory and I wouldn’t change it for anything.

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

I never got the chance to have one, but I do have people I admire too. An inspirational woman like Dr. Sue Black here in UK, who is an amazing woman and a role model; and Jenny Lee, one of the most respected and valuable self-made tech investors in China. And then, there are everyday people I meet in the tech community in London that are best examples how persistence and focus can get you anywhere you want.

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

First of all, you have to be prepared for endless learning. Learning never stops. Reading a lot, talking to more experienced people in the industry, and sometimes learning from other people’s mistakes, is what makes me and my team evolve and grow. I’ve been fortunate enough to work with some amazing people in Kisha, who not only have been my coworkers but my friends. Same goes for Women of Wearables, Michelle (my co-founder) and Rachael (our assistant) are people I couldn’t imagine to be without in my professional life at the moment. I think it’s really important to work with people that make you a better person. I know it’s not always the case, but I honestly think that you should like and respect people you work with as much as possible. It goes without saying for co-founders. Only then you’ll be able to transfer that work and company culture to other people you bring into your team.

Do you consciously or unconsciously support diversity and why?

Consciously, as much as I can. Wearables industry is still men dominant sector, which is a general reflection of the male to female ratio in tech. Wearable tech teams are very often run by men, they hire male designers and developers, and implement technology that is most appealing to men. What this means is that ultimately they’re not addressing a huge chunk of their potential customers – women. This is why In Kisha, our Head of Design is a woman on purpose. Companies should be interested in building a community with an equal amount of female employees as male. That starts with the kind of company culture you foster. The other issue is that people don’t always know where to look to find female talent. Throughout the hiring process, companies need to be careful not to discriminate anyone, including men, but there are female tech groups that ought to be approached as part of the hiring strategy. Technology corporations and conference organizers have a duty to ensure there is a diverse range of speakers (including men, women and people from different backgrounds) to allow equality and opportunities for everyone. Although we are the women-in-tech organization, we welcome everyone into our community as participants and speakers, because this problem cannot be solved without everyone participating. We also need more female role models. You cannot be what you cannot see. So I’m hopeful that we won’t need as many women-in-tech groups in the future because gender equality will have been reached. Same goes for diversity in general.

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

Be professional, kind and compassionate, and ask others for same. And stay humble.

Advice for others?

In 2017, Women of Wearables will deliver workshops in London and Manchester to girls between the ages of 11-18 to make their own wearable and e-textiles projects. This encourages more girls to enter STEM by equipping them with the skills they need to reduce the gender gap in the wearables industry. It also shows them how intangible skills such as coding can be converted to making a tangible product. Only by collaboration and education can we empower more women to participate in tech. Our aim is to create opportunities for women in this industry to connect with each other and help ensure not only their businesses and ideas succeed, but for the wearables industry to succeed.


To learn more about Women of Wearables, please see http://www.womenofwearables.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

Benjamin Kwan, Co-Founder of TravelClef

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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

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Entrepreneurship

Before you enter a Startup or before you choose your founding team or new hires read, “Entering Startupland” by Jeff Bussgang

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Before you enter a Startup or before you choose your founding team or new hires read “Entering Startupland” by Jeff Bussgang.

Jeff knows how to spot and groom good culture, as the book session was held in Zestfinance a company he invested in and now, “The Best Workplaces for Women” and for “The Best Workplaces for Tech”, by Fortune.

These are the questions during the Book Launch.

How to know if a hire including the founder is Startup material?
Jeff says to watch for these qualities.

First, do the hires think like an owner?
Second, do the hires test the limits, to see how things can it be done better?
Are they problem solvers and are biased toward action?
Do they like managing uncertainty and being comfortable with uncertainty? And comfortable with rapid decision-making?
Are they comfortable with flexible enough to take in a series of undefined roles and task?

How do we know if we are simply too corporate to be startup?

Corporate mindsets more interested in going deep into a particular functional area? These corporate beings are more comfortable with clear and distinct lines of responsibility, control, and communication? They are more hesitant or unable to put in the extra effort because “it’s not my job”.

If you do still want to enter a startup despite the very small gains at the onset, Jeff offers a few key considerations on how to pick a right one.

He suggests you pick a city as each city has a different ecosystems stakeholders and funding sources and market strengths. You have to invest in the ecosystem and this is your due diligence. Understand it so you can find the best match when it arises.
Next, to pick a domain, research and solidify your understanding with every informational interview and discussion you begin. Then, pick a stage you are willing to enter at. They are usually 1)in the Jungle, 2) the Dirt Road or 3) the Highway. The Jungle has 1-50 staff and no clear path with distractions everywhere and very tough conditions. The Dirt Road gets clearer but is definitely bumpy and windy. Well the Highway speaks for itself, doesn’t it?

Finally Please – Pick a winner!

Ask people on the inside – the Venture Capitalists, the lawyers, the recruiters and evaluate the team quality like any venture capitalists would. Would you want to work for the team again and again? And is the startup working in a massive market? Is there a clear recurring business model?

After you have picked a winning team and product, how would you get in through the door?

You need to know that warm introductions have to be done. That’s the way to get their attention. Startups value relationships and people as they need social capital to grow. If you have little experience or seemingly irrelevant experience, go bearing a gift. Jeff shared a story of a young ambitious and bright candidate with no tech experience who went and did a thorough customer survey of the users of the startup she intended to work with. She came with point-of-view and presented her findings, and they found in her, what they needed at that stage. She became their Director of Growth. Go in with the philosophy of adding value-add you can get any job you want.

And as any true advisor would do, Jeff did not mince his words, when he reminded the audience that, “If you can’t get introduced you may not be resourceful enough to be in startup.”

Startupland is not a Traditional Career or Learning Cycles

Remember to see your career stage as a runs of 5 years, 8 or 10 – it is not a life long career. In Startup land consider each startup as a single career for you.

Douglas Merrill, founder of Zestfinance added from his hard-earned experience that retention is a challenge. Startup Leaders to keep your people, do help them with the quick learning cycles. Essentially from Jungle to Dirt road, the transition can be rapid and so each communication model that starts and exists, gets changed quickly. Every twelve months, the communication model will have no choice but to break down and you have to reinvent the communication model. Be ready as a founder and be ready as a member of the startup.

Another suggestion was to have no titles for first two years. So that everyone was hands-on and also able to move as one entity.

Effective Startupland Leaders paint a Vision of the Future yet unseen.

What I really enjoyed and resonated with as a coach and psychologist was how Douglas at the 10th hire thought very carefully what he was promising each of his new team member. He was reminded that startups die at their 10th and their 100th hires. He took some mindful down time and reflected. He then wrote a story for each person in his own team and literally wrote out what the company would look like and their individual part in it. In He writing each of the team members’ stories into his vision and giving each person this story, it was a powerful communication piece. He definitely increased the touch points and communication here is the effective startup’s leverage.

Douglas and Jeff both suggested transparency from the onset.

If you think like an owner and if you think of your founding team as problem solvers. Then getting transparent about financials with your team is probably a good idea. As a member of a startup, you should insist on knowing these things
Such skills and domain knowledge will be valuable. There is now historical evidence of people leaving startups and being a successful founder themselves because they were in the financial trenches in their initial startup. Think Paypal and Facebook Mafia.

What drives people to enter a startup?

The whole nature of work is changing. Many are ready to pay to learn. Daniel Pink’s book Drive showed how people are motivated by certain qualities like Mastery, Autonomy and Where your work fits into big picture. Startups do that naturally. There is a huge amount of passion and the quality of team today and as it grows then the quality of company changes.

The Progress principle is in place, why people love their startup jobs is not money rather are my contributions being valued? Do I see a path of progress and do I have autonomy over work and am I treated well?

Find out more about StartupLand on Amazon

And learn from Zestfinance

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