Michelle Mannering has a keen interest in driving entrepreneurial culture and pioneering Melbourne’s esports industry. Having founded several tech companies she sits at the forefront of Melbourne’s science, tech, esports and startup scenes.
She has run many hackathons, is an accomplished MC, speaker, and facilitator and you’ll often catch her at an event or speaking on stage. Right now, she is working on the next epic venture – Raine Scooters.
Here she chats to us about what it’s like being a woman in tech.
Was there a significant turning point when you decided to become an entrepreneur?
Not really. I sort of just fell into this role. I started out working at an amazing company, Carlton Connect who’s building Melbourne’s largest Innovation Precinct. Through this work I began running hackathons, creative workshops, engaging with startups and entrepreneurs. I was so involved in what I was doing and learning, the Director of the Melbourne Accelerator Program (Melbourne University’s startup accelerator), said to me “Mish, by the end of this year (2015) you’ll have your own startup”. I almost didn’t believe him; I had not a whole lot of time on my hands, I didn’t have super awesome ideas, and I didn’t think I was smart enough. But sure enough, by the end of 2015, I had my own startup!!!
I guess looking back, the turning point was just being involved in whatever I was doing at the time.
Initially, what difficulties did you face?
There’s always lots of things to overcome. Initially, it was how to juggle work and startup. No one should ever just leave employment to jump into the startup world without ensuring your startup is profitable, or at least on its way to profitability (ie. You have some money, or some product etc). That, or you have a LOT of money from previous employment etc. So often you’ll need work and do startup stuff on the side. It can be difficult juggling all the things including sport and staying healthy. Everyone faces this challenge and often you’ll think (as I did) you’re indestructible and won’t experience burn out. But it eventually catches up to you.
Who or what was integral to you overcoming these hurdles?
Understanding it’s okay – and in fact – needed, to spend time to yourself, for your own health and wellbeing. Often, we think this is detrimental to the company, but it’s the other way around. If we don’t do these things then we are putting the company at risk since we’re more likely to go down and if we go down (as the founder/s) then so does the company. The key to overcoming these is to then act on it. Take time to yourself and encourage your cofounders to do the same.
If anyone has read Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, you’ll know habit number seven is “sharpen the saw”. This means take time out to renew yourself, to re-energise, to think clearly, and then to come back with more purpose. This helps both yourself, those around you, AND your company!
You have founded several tech companies, was it a conscious decision to stay in that industry?
It’s just such an exciting industry to be a part of! I’ve always loved technology; from pulling apart computers when I was younger to tinkering with IoT devices. Almost every company is now a tech company. Even if technology isn’t the solve product or service, everything is driven by technology these days. So, I would say EVERY business is a technology business.
What I like the most is deep tech or hard tech: automotive, IoT, AI. Some of these sound super cliché, but remember I said every company is a technology company these days. Therefore, connected devices play such a critical role in society. It’s the intersection of hardware and software which I find so fascinating, and something I’ve always enjoyed. I think no matter what I do, there will always be this aspect of technology I default back to.
What would you say are the top three skills needed to be a successful entrepreneur?
Drive, persistence, and passion.
If you aren’t driven or motivated to do something it will never get done. You need to have a reason for doing something, and it must be better than “I want to be famous” or “I want to be rich”. These things don’t help you get through the tough times and long nights, of which there can be MANY.
Persistence is key to achieving what you want. Yes, you need to have motivation and a REASON for doing something, but then the persistence is what makes it happen. You need persistence to find your way around the “no’s”, to succeed where others haven’t, and to defy the odds to get where you and your company need to go.
Motivation will give you some sort of reason for doing it, but then there’s the next step. It’s the passion. If you aren’t passionate, and I mean REALLY passionate then you really won’t get anywhere. Passion for what you do and create help make you successful. People see this passion and they want to be a part of it. You just need passion for the right things. If you’re solving a problem, fall in solve with the problem not the solution. This will help you pivot when needed. If you’ve got a product you are now selling, be passionate about the experience it brings to people, not just the product itself. Passion is seen by others and they want to come on the journey with you; no matter if they are cofounders, employees, mentors, investors, or customers. This key element will make you successful in any business, as an entrepreneur, and as a person!
Why do you think there are so few female founders in tech?
A lot of it comes back to schooling. What was taught at school? What was acceptable at school? What was available at school? Many young girls haven’t chosen STEM careers in the past because they didn’t know it was an option. They were told to be nurses or secretaries, or “girly” jobs. Things like science and mathematics weren’t “girly”. If young girls don’t choose these in school, there’s a very high chance they won’t do these subjects at high school, and therefore university or college, and therefore won’t go into these careers.
This is very much changing and there’s much more focus now on showing young kids all the options. It’s not about pushing more girls into STEM, it’s about showing them that science and tech IS an option if they want to take it. There’s nothing wrong with young girls choosing to be nurses or secretaries or teachers. These are all noble jobs and highly valued. But there IS a problem with young girls thinking those are the only career options for themselves.
If we take this a step further there’s less women in technology careers because of the above, therefore there are going to be fewer female founders in tech.
But even outside “tech” companies, there are still very few female founders. This is due to several reasons. Some of these include women not being respected in their positions and therefore it’s hard to be leaders. Others are concepts like the male dominated industries women are often working in. It’s also harder for women to find investment due to many stereotypical ideals many investors hold; they see it as a risk to invest in a female founder because they can go off and have children (men can as well. There are plenty of men out there looking after kids and being the stay at home Dad; it’s just the way society sees these roles). Women are typically quieter spoken and don’t often stand up for what they want or deserve. It comes back to the three key elements I mentioned above: drive, persistence, and passion.
Women must show more drive and persistence to get what they want because of society’s stereotypes. But we’ll all reap the rewards once we get there.
Do you have any advice for the next generation of female founders in tech?
Just go for it! If you are told no, look for a way around it. Find the people who will help you. Find the investors who will support you. There are plenty of programs for women these days; female only lawyers, women only investor portfolios, female founder programs, female founder groups. There has never been as much support now to be a female founder. The statics show companies with female founders are more likely to be successful than those companies with male founders. So, go show them!
Plus, just find your people – both male and female. I’m lucky at Raine Scooters we have such a great support for one another and throughout our wider community through our team, investors, partners, and customers. Once you find your people, stick together.
Excluding yours, what company or business do you admire the most?
There’s a few I really admire, but I love Envato. I love the way to two founders – Cyan and Collis – started working in their basement and built it up to be a global business. It’s one of Australia’s unicorns and doesn’t just have a female cofounder, but founded by a husband and wife team which is just awesome. Now, Cyan Ta’eed is onto making chocolate, which I think is amazing! So it’s not so much the company I admire but the people. If I had to pick a company, then I’d be bias because I’d pick GitHub. It’s such a great company with awesome culture around diversity, creativity, and making the world a better place!