(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.
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