The Experts

Fi Bendall
+ About Fi Bendall

Fi Bendall is chief executive of The Bendalls Group and a Westpac/AFR 2015 100 Women of Influence, who was described by CEO Magazine as 'The CEO's Secret Weapon'. An expert and pioneer in digital strategy, she has over 23 years’ experience in the digital and tech sectors.

What’s your business plan for blockchain?

Monday, May 27, 2019

When a new and potentially transformative technology comes into view, it will commonly divide observers into three broad camps: ardent believers, dismissive non-believers, and the wait-and-sees. One of the most famous examples of this is of course the information superhighway, or as we refer to it now, the internet.

Back in the innocent, early days of the internet, as hard as it is to believe, many people thought the internet would at best become something like a global electronic bulletin board for academic papers. Aside from a visionary few, not many saw its commercial or even cultural potential.

Arguably the most cited example of the non-believer perspective is a semi-famous article from 1995 by an academic named Clifford Stoll. To be fair, Mr Stoll was not totally dismissive of the internet, but he did display a now-unfortunate degree of cynicism about just what the internet could become:

Visionaries see a future of telecommuting workers, interactive libraries and multimedia classrooms. They speak of electronic town meetings and virtual communities. Commerce and business will shift from offices and malls to networks and modems. And the freedom of digital networks will make government more democratic.

Baloney. Do our computer pundits lack all common sense? The truth in no online database will replace your daily newspaper, no CD-ROM can take the place of a competent teacher and no computer network will change the way government works.

Today, we see similar screeds about other new technologies, especially blockchain, which has become maybe best known as the underlying technology for cryptocurrencies like bitcoin.

As with the internet, blockchain has its boosters, naysayers and neutrals. It is at a relatively early stage of development and most people are still getting their heads around what it actually is, let alone what it could become in 5, 10, or 25 years’ time.

But many more entrepreneurs, startups, big companies, and even governments are seeing the massive potential of blockchain beyond bitcoin, cryptocurrencies and even banking and finance. Just as the internet moved beyond its initial adoptee community of academics, cyber pioneers and computer enthusiasts, blockchain is emerging from the shadow of bitcoin.

Just in the past couple of months, these organisations have been testing ways to incorporate blockchain into their operations and value chain:

● The Bank of Canada and the Monetary Authority of Singapore successfully completed a digital currency swap using blockchain.

● PepsiCo’s pilot project incorporating blockchain into its digital advertising yielded a 28% improvement in advertising efficiency.

● Amazon Web Services has made its Amazon Managed Blockchain generally available, allowing businesses to connect AWS accounts as nodes in their own blockchain network, with Amazon overseeing the management and maintainenance of the overall network.

The sober perspective on all of this is encapsulated by this quote from experienced tech venture capitalist Todd Hixon:

The bottom line for entrepreneurs: don’t expect Blockchain to change the world anytime soon. Blockchain architecture faces an uphill battle in many large-scale applications. Major near-term impact will be limited to a few markets with lower transactions volumes and higher importance for security and direct end-user control of personal data: medical and personal financial records are possibilities. Much of the currently-vigorous activity in the Blockchain world is option-buying or pure speculation.

As with any new wave of technology, there will be winners and losers. There will be those who brave the risks and go all in on blockchain, only to find they’ve backed the wrong horse, while others will seemingly stumble into good fortune.

But it’s vital for any entrepreneur or business to be thinking about the possible scenarios and at the very least investigating the ways in which your business could utilise or benefit from blockchain. So what camp does your business fall into? Believer, non-believer, or wait-and-see?


We need 21st Century thinking for childcare

Thursday, May 23, 2019

Regardless of who is in power, childcare is one of the biggest policy challenges facing the government. It’s a complex area with lots of moving parts and numerous stakeholders. It’s also an emotive area because it involves the care of our children and has a massive impact on the finances of so many Australian families. Successive governments have tinkered with it to varying degrees of success and failure.

Most parents will tell you that childcare, despite the rebates and government subsidies, is still an onerous financial burden. For many women (and it’s mostly women), being able to access childcare means they can return to work but will come out financially only marginally better off than they would have been staying at home. 

For others, it’s just not worth it. These are the women who drop out of the workforce entirely, leave careers, and end up paying the ‘motherhood penalty’. They fall behind in lifetime earnings, retire with less super, and often find it extremely difficult to return to the workforce at anywhere near the level they were at upon leaving to have a child.

Of course, parents are crying out for affordable childcare. But they also want quality. At the moment, most parents would tell you they are happy with the quality of the care, but at what financial cost?

Does the government drop regulatory requirements and open the industry up to more competition, putting the big operators on notice, or does it continue to pump subsidies in the vain hope of keeping prices for parents down?

Or does the government need to find a disruptive solution that manages to tick all the boxes for children, parents, childcare centre operators and childcare workers?

The depth of feeling on this issue has been palpable during the federal election campaign. In parent and community groups on social media, opinions and views have run hot. One of Australia’s best-known ‘mummy bloggers’ Adele Barbaro catalysed much of this passion in one of her Facebook posts:

The discussion thread that followed her post was packed with parents sharing their experiences and talking about the choices they’ve had to make. It’s hard to summarise or pick out specific comments because they each tell their own story, but the overwhelming sense is that many parents feel they are being gouged by the operators, who seem to up fees when subsidies to them are increased. There was also almost universal respect from the parents who posted for the childcare workers and educators looking after their children, with the general consensus that these people were still not being paid enough for the great work they do.

Beyond the immediate and important concerns of cost and quality, it’s also essential to consider the long term ramifications of childcare as an educational service that is preparing our children for schooling and, indeed, life. Children absorb so much in those formative early years. There is a strong social and economic argument to be made that quality, affordable childcare lays the foundations for future academic success as well as socialisation.

In addition to this childcare enables women to either return to their careers in a full-time or substantive part-time capacity, which means businesses don’t lose these talented women from their ranks, and these women can continue to develop their careers. That’s a massive win for women as well as the economy.

Other countries are grappling with childcare too. In many ways the US is even further behind than Australia, the UK and Western Europe. As columnist Matt O’Brien writes in the Washington Post, “At this point, it seems pretty clear that our 20th-century institutions are failing our 21st-century seems like the fact that our educational system wasn’t set up with dual-earning households in mind is a big part of the problem.”

Like the US, policy discussions in Australia on childcare still seem to be stuck in a 20th Century mindset. We’ve seen so many industries overturned by new ideas and disruptive thinking, why not childcare? What can the government learn from the innovations in platform business models that have occurred in areas like transportation (Uber), accommodation (Airbnb), and entertainment (Netflix, Spotify)? Can any of these lessons be applied to the childcare industry?

At the moment, the main thrust of the debate about how childcare provision can be improved runs along the old regulate vs deregulate axis. This is largely what came out of the Productivity Commission’s Childcare and Early Childhood Learning inquiry from 2014. But are we missing something in this puzzle? Do we need a more radical approach to fix this problem? What would a truly customer-centric approach to childcare yield?

There are definitely worse places to start than by listening to what consumers want from a service. Maybe the best thing the federal government can do about childcare is to listen to the likes of childcare consumers like Adele Barbaro and other mums and work from there.


Election 2019: What’s in it for female entrepreneurs?

Monday, May 13, 2019

Unfortunately, there has not been a lot during this election campaign from either of the big parties addressing the main problems facing female entrepreneurs. However, on the bright side, there are positive signs that issues like better and more affordable childcare and tax breaks for small businesses are on the agenda at this federal election. If you take the time to look at the policies, there’s worthwhile offerings from both sides.

But is there much for women in business?

Having combed through the policies published by both the major parties on their websites, the only reference I could readily find to female entrepreneurs or women in business was in the Liberals’ Small Business pledge: “The Morrison Government is determined to increase the number of female business leaders.” 

Somewhat ironically, the party itself seems to have trouble increasing its number of female political leaders.

The policy continues concerning the LNP government’s ongoing commitment to “supporting 55,000 young women to become entrepreneurs through the Future Female Entrepreneurs Program” and the Boosting Female Founders fund, which “provides access to early stage capital and entrepreneurial support to launch businesses of high-growth potential.”

The Coalition government has done a poor job of selling itself to female voters. While a number of the women in the LNP cabinet have worked diligently and productively in their respective portfolios, they’ve been badly let down by people in the party who are having trouble dragging their knuckles into the 21st century.

The Liberals’ ‘women problem’ (should really be considered a man problem…) has badly tainted its brand in the eyes of female voters. Losing both Julie Bishop and Kelly O’Dwyer, among other female MPs, has led to even more scrutiny about the Morrison government’s commitment to women within its ranks, as well as its engagement and understanding of women out in the electorate. 

That’s not a good sign considering the basic fact that a little more than half of the voters are women. Obviously, that’s not the only consideration women will take into the ballot box, but it will sway more than a few, and if the result is close, that could make all the difference.

Labor has certainly made itself a far more attractive option for many women, sheerly because as an organisation it has received and read the memo that women want to see more women in leadership positions.

At a time when women are flexing their muscles and demanding a fairer deal, that will put the ALP in a very strong position. Even women with a preference for the Coalition government’s economic policies and track record might well be thinking that maybe a few years in opposition would force the LNP to rethink its approach to attracting women to the party and keeping them. 

I could find no mention of women in the ALP’s small business policy, though it did feature a photo of a woman as its main image, which is better than nothing I guess.

To Labor’s credit, they have a strong policy directed at closing the gender pay gap. Among the raft of actions they plan to undertake is to “enforce gender-equitable government procurement processes.”

There is no more detail on this aspect of the policy, but it is an area that has received a fair amount of attention in the past few years from public policy wonks and women’s business advocates. Opening further access to government contracts for women-owned businesses would be a big win for women, but of course, the devil is in the details, which we don’t get at this stage.

(For an in-depth dive into ‘gender smart’ procurement policies relating to the Australian context, have a look at ‘Australia Case Study: Can Smart Design of Government Procurement ‘Buy’ Increased Women’s Workforce Participation?’ by Australian trade diplomat Louise McSorley in the ‘Gender-smart Procurement Policies for Driving Change’ paper published by Chatham House.)

The ALP also has an extensive list of promises attached to its National Strategy for Gender Equality. Again, the policy rhetoric hammers at the Achilles’ heel of the Liberals, which has been their failure to elevate and nurture female leaders: “Women’s representation and equality just isn’t a priority for the Liberals. After six years in power, the Liberals have taken no serious action on gender equity and they never will.”

This is a pity for the LNP government because it contains men and women who have done good work in advancing the cause especially of women in business. In truth, I think the LNP has missed a real opportunity at this election to double down on its work in developing initiatives to help Australia’s female entrepreneurs and business owners.

The recent Rose Review into female entrepreneurship in the UK highlighted several excellent policies and initiatives carried out by Australian governments in advancing women’s businesses. The review also showed that the UK is starting to take women in business seriously, with the UK government exploring ways it can create a better environment for female entrepreneurship. 

So many Australian women are now starting or running businesses. Some are doing it so they can have better work/life balance and flexibility, others because corporate Australia does not recognise their talents and skills, and still others because they want to create a better life for themselves and those around them. They all have the dream of running a successful business. This should have been manna from heaven for the Liberals, a home run in the making.

As it is, instead of bolstering the good work they have done with an even more comprehensive package directed at the more than half a million women business owners (504,838 according to the 2016 census data), they’re struggling to make their message heard because of a party culture that mostly excludes and alienates women.


Does Australia need a co-ordinated female entrepreneurship policy?

Monday, May 06, 2019

With Brexit hogging the headlines and taking up almost all the political oxygen in the UK now for nearly three years, it might be hard to believe much else is getting any attention.

However, last year the UK Treasury commissioned the Deputy CEO of NatWest Holdings and CEO of the Royal Bank of Scotland’s Corporate, Commercial & Private Banking business, Alison Rose, to lead an independent review of female entrepreneurship, The Alison Rose Review of Female Entrepreneurship.

The resulting report was recently released, along with the government’s response, and many of its findings and recommendations could easily be applied to the Australian context. Would it be valuable and prudent for the next Australian government to commission its own review looking into how better to support female entrepreneurs?

The Rose Review findings shone a light on the fact the UK has fallen behind other developed countries in encouraging female entrepreneurship, especially in comparison to best practice peer countries such the USA, the Netherlands, Canada and, indeed, Australia.

As the review states: “In 2017, only 5.6% of UK women run their own businesses, compared to 15% of women in Canada, almost 11% of women in the US, and over 9% of women in Australia and the Netherlands… This puts the UK in the bottom quartile for female entrepreneurial activity compared to these best practice peer countries with similar characteristics.”

The UK’s also-ran status is a problem because the review also made clear the potential benefit to the UK economy that could come from improving the business ecosystem for women: “Up to £250 billion of new value could be added to the UK economy if women started and scaled new businesses at the same rate as UK men. Even if the UK were to achieve the same average share of women entrepreneurs as best-in-class peer countries, this would add £200 billion of new value to the UK economy.”

While the argument for gender parity is of merit in itself, for the more economically hard-headed among us, there is also a lot of sense in empowering women to do well in business. With the rising economic might of China, India and others, the old guard of developed nations needs to be thinking about empowering all of their citizens to become more productive if they are to remain competitive in the global economy. One way to to do that is to tap into the latent entrepreneurial talent of women.

The review focused on three critical areas of "opportunity" for remedying the UK's laggard status on female entrepreneurship and helping women in business:

  • Increasing the funding directed towards them;
  • Greater family care support; and,
  • Making entrepreneurship more accessible for women and increasing support locally, through relatable and accessible mentors and networks.

All three are common sense areas that come up time and again in the literature on female entrepreneurship, as well as anecdotally when talking to women in business. In addressing these areas, the review put forward eight recommendations, or initiatives, “which can be taken forward immediately by the private sector, though all would benefit from public sector support.”

These initiatives are to:

  1. Promote greater transparency in UK funding allocation through a new Investing in Female Entrepreneurs Code
  2. Launch new investment vehicles to increase funding going to female entrepreneurs
  3. Encourage UK based institutional and private investors to further support and invest in female entrepreneurs
  4. Review existing and create new banking products aimed at entrepreneurs with family care responsibilities
  5. Improve access to expertise by expanding the entrepreneur and banker in residence programmes
  6. Expand existing mentorship and networking opportunities
  7. Accelerate development and roll-out of entrepreneurship-related courses to schools and colleges
  8. Create an entrepreneur digital first-stop shop

The government’s response to the review has been positive, with the Exchequer Secretary to the Treasury, Robert Jenrick, expressing a desire for the UK to catch up to its counterparts internationally.

“I want to see the UK matching, and then surpassing, some of the best-performing countries for entrepreneurial gender parity, such as France, Canada and the US. This requires a 50% increase in the number of female entrepreneurs or an additional 600,000 female businesswomen, and will take persistent efforts from the private and public sector,” he said.

The UK is playing catch up. The Rose Review and the government's response acknowledge the systemic issues holding back women entrepreneurs. As the review points out, more needs to be done.

From an Australian perspective, it's encouraging that the review cites Australia as an example of one of the countries leading the way for women-owned and led businesses. Several Australian government policies and programmes are mentioned, including many that have benefitted the SME sector more broadly, as well as women.

These policies have helped foster women's business activities in Australia, but we are in danger of hitting a plateau where female entrepreneurs keep banging their heads against the same walls of poor access to capital, networks and information. It might be time for the Australian government to commission its own Rose Review, one which looks specifically at what can be done to overcome these systemic problems.

There's no doubt the Australian federal government, and some of the states, have done many good things in this area up until now. But a comprehensive review would allow us to take stock and develop policies and plans that would ensure Australia stays among the best practice nations for female entrepreneurship, and truly activates and empowers women to make an even more significant contribution to the economy in years to come.


Gender lens investing sharpens the focus on women’s businesses

Monday, April 29, 2019

The digital investment platform Ellevest, launched two years ago, announced a $33 million funding round at the end of March. The round was led by Rethink Impact and PSP Growth, and included some very high-profile names as co-investors, including Pivotal Ventures, the investment and incubation company founded by Melinda Gates; PayPal; Elaine Wynn, co-founder of Wynn Resorts; and Eric Schmidt, former executive chairman of Google and Alphabet; and Mastercard among others. 

Led by Sallie Krawcheck, Ellevest is a US-based fintech company created to help women achieve their financial potential through modern, low-cost investing. Its primary focus is on tapping into a large number of women who are looking for a low-cost way to start investing their money.

A former Wall Street banker, Krawcheck started Ellevest because she was shocked by the number of women who were not preparing themselves properly for retirement.

As she told The Sydney Morning Herald in an interview last year, “Society tells us that money is a man's thing.”

“At school, research shows boys get better grades in maths for the same answers. In magazines, there are 16 different ways to have a smoky eye but when it comes to money it's either not there or we are infantilised. It's ‘Are you a Samantha or a Carrie with money?’”

“Eighty per cent of us will die single and we will retire with two-thirds of the money of men… We live six to eight years longer; we have less money.”

Alongside its quest to help women attain financial security, Ellevest also places a significant emphasis on ‘gender lens' investing, which it offers to its clients as part of its product mix. 

“Our approach to gender-lens investing also includes investments that get money directly into the hands of women, in companies that advance women, and in companies that make products that impact women’s lives or provide services that benefit women most,” says Ellevest’s Chief Investment Officer, Sylvia Kwan.

If you've never heard the term ‘gender lens investing', you're not alone. It's a fairly new phenomenon that has only popped up over the past decade. But it's fast moving from the margins of investing to becoming a much-sought-after option, especially for those investors interested in ‘impact' investing, which focuses on investing in companies that make a measurable, beneficial social or environmental impact alongside a financial return.

Partly because of its star-studded funding round, Ellevest has received a fair amount of media attention, but it's not the only player in the space. Gender lens investing is gaining traction in the US, with a myriad of funds and vehicles popping up, from retail-focused through to angel investment and VC funds. Even the big banks and investment houses are getting on board, with the likes of Bank of America GlobalWealth Management and Goldman Sachs both actively pushing their female-focused investment vehicles.

“We're hearing more about gender lens investing today because there is a growing interest among consumers and investors to support gender equality as a fundamental human right,” says Jackie VanderBrug, the Managing Director at Bank of America Global Wealth Management and a thought leader in gender lens investing.

As VanderBrug points out, there has been a surge in concern from a sizeable number of investors about issues like gender equality and better access to capital for female entrepreneurs. Women consistently cite access to capital as one of the biggest hurdles they face in starting and growing a business.

Gender lens investing aims to help narrow the widely acknowledged gender funding gap, which is perhaps best illustrated by the fact women-led ventures in the US received 2.2% of the $130 billion total in venture capital money invested in 2018. That kind of figure is replicated in many other studies and findings as well.

While it has not developed to the same extent yet as in the US, gender lens investing is starting to make inroads in other countries, such as the UK, Canada and Australia. In Australia, NAB dipped a toe two years ago when it issued $500 million of ‘gender equality’ social bonds, with the proceeds of the issue refinancing loans made to businesses that have a gender equality citation from Australian government body Workplace Gender Equality Agency.

Many of its advocates emphasise that gender lens investing is as much about opportunity as it is equality. "People said impact investing is really hard and you're making it harder by imposing a limitation," says Jackie VanderBrug. “This is a lens and not a limitation. A gender lens helps you see opportunity and mitigate risk.”

Talking about her investment in Ellevest, Melinda Gates said the market was not meeting women’s needs across many areas, including financial services. “Women’s lives and realities are different than men’s, and I think we’ll see more and more of a demand for products designed to reflect that. This is an important market opportunity that Ellevest is well positioned to tap into.”

With women expected to control 75% of discretionary spending globally by 2028, and an increasing number of women asserting their right to economic independence and security, gender lens investing is well-placed to become a more prominent feature in investment circles over the next few years. Investing in women's businesses makes a lot of sense from a social perspective, and investors can expect that it will make them a lot of dollars too in the years to come. 


Are you an autonomous or controlled entrepreneur?

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

Do you get up in the morning motivated to work on your business or is the prospect of making money what gets you through the day? That’s the fundamental difference between autonomous and controlled motivation.

We’re not all lucky enough to do what we love. Sometimes you have to work at something that doesn’t set your heart aflutter, and the motivation could be to make money or gain experience – until you can do what you love.

As an entrepreneur, though, it helps to know what motivates you because you’ll need it as fuel on your journey. On some days you’ll need to check back in with the ‘why’ that’s driving you to do the ‘what’. You’ll need the touchstone of what’s motivating you to keep you going through the tough times.

Professor of Psychology at the University of Rochester, Edward Deci, has done decades of work on motivation theory, which is encapsulated in Self-Determination Theory, which he has developed with his academic partner Richard Ryan, a Professor at the Institute for Positive Psychology and Education at the Australian Catholic University in Sydney.

According to Deci, when we think about the classic ‘carrot and stick’ idea of motivation, we’re talking about controlled motivation, which comes from either an external source or is something we might impose on ourselves as a way to get ourselves to do something.

“Controlled motivation refers to doing something in order to get some reward or to avoid some punishment. It means doing something because you’re feeling pressured, demanded, obliged to be doing it,” Deci says in this video.

In contrast to this, Deci says “autonomous motivation describes or names what you’re doing when you’re feeling a full sense of willingness, volition and choice, whatever the activity is. If you’re doing it with a real sense of interest, enjoyment and value, then it’s likely that you’re autonomously motivated.”

“When people are more autonomously motivated their performance, their wellness, their engagement, all of those things are greater when you’re autonomously motivated than when you’re controlled in your motivation.”

Deci says all human beings have three essential psychological needs: competence, relatedness and autonomy. To be productive and psychologically content individuals, we need to satisfy these needs. What we do for work plays a big part in this.

I’m lucky enough to enjoy the work I do. I’ve been an entrepreneur and business owner now for more than two decades, and I love the daily ‘grind’ of working in and on my business. I’ve been thinking recently about what it is that gets me through the long days of working on my business, The Female Social Network. The answer is that it’s a combination of factors.

At an intrinsic level, I find my work stimulating and enjoyable. I’ve always been an amateur psychologist and a lot of the work I’ve done over the years has been thinking about consumer psychology and how that applies to marketing. The curiosity I have for my work is a great motivator. Without that interest, I don’t think I could have persisted for as long as I have. Having that interest helps me to fulfil the need for what Deci characterises as competence. My engagement feeds my sense of competence. 

Another factor, and one that relates more directly to becoming an entrepreneur and business owner, is the need I have for autonomy in my work. You see this streak of independence in a lot of entrepreneurs; many of us are typically ‘square pegs in a round hole’. We don’t tend to fall in line easily, and we don’t always make the best employees!

Being an entrepreneur is partly about creating your purpose and setting the parameters for what you do. You try to craft your role in a way that makes best use of your interests and skills. The likes of Richard Branson, Steve Jobs or Jeff Bezos are probably exceptional examples, but it’s hard to imagine any one of them settling into roles defined for them by others. A tolerance for ambiguity and some risk is also a common trait among entrepreneurs, pointing to a need to satisfy our sense of autonomy and self-determination.

A third strong motivating factor for me is the social purpose behind TFSN, which is to support and empower female entrepreneurs. Again, I see this as being driven by a combination of motivations.

As a female entrepreneur, I’ve spent years pushing against the tide and seeing other women do the same. I can recognise my struggles in the struggles of the women I’ve got to know who have also embarked on their journeys as entrepreneurs. Being demeaned, discounted and ignored are all things almost all women in business have felt at some point. It hurts, but it also sparks something in me that makes me get up, get out there and keep doing what I’m doing.

There’s something in that which goes back probably to my childhood, growing up in a place and time when girls were expected to do what they were told and keep a lid on their ambitions. I think most of us feel that as women. Like men, we have an internal drive towards self-mastery and personal autonomy, but unlike men (generally speaking), we’ve too often and for too long had limits placed upon our capacity to fulfil our potential. Being able to help women and work on something like TFSN satisfies a sense of purpose and relatedness. 

As an entrepreneur, it’s worth thinking about the ‘why’ in what you do. Certainly, some people can make a go of a business even if they feel very little engagement or autonomy in what they are doing, especially if there is an endpoint built into their business plan, like a flip-around or quick exit of some sort. But to grow a business over any reasonable period requires motivation that comes somewhere from within, coupled with a purpose that resonates with that motivation.

It’s worth asking yourself how well you are satisfying your psychological needs as an individual and an entrepreneur. “When people feel competent, when they feel related to others, and when they’re feeling a sense of volition they will be autonomously motivated, and the positive consequences will follow from that,” Deci says.

As I’m experiencing in my business, when you get your internal motivation lined up with purpose and the relevant external motivators, you almost inevitably reap the benefits in both an individual and business sense.


Women’s wealth is more than cosmetic

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

In fitting with her media profile, Kylie Jenner received an avalanche of publicity when Forbes recently announced that, at 21, she has become the youngest ever self-made billionaire, two years younger than the previous title holder, Mark Zuckerberg.

Zuckerberg and Jenner represent the peak of two quite distinct brands of American aspirational role model in the 21st Century: the world-conquering computer geek and the social media influencer/entrepreneur.

In some ways, the two roles are symbiotic: the likes of Zuckerberg have created the social media platforms that have enabled the likes of Kylie Jenner and her sisters to build personal brands, reach massive audiences, and sell tons of product. Think of Zuckerberg as the pick-and-shovel guy and Jenner as mining for social media gold, especially on the Facebook-owned Instagram, as well as YouTube and Snapchat.

Another world-conquering geek Kylie Jenner owes some gratitude to is Tobias Lütke, the German-born founder and CEO of eCommerce platform Shopify, which Kylie Cosmetics has used for its outrageously profitable online shopfront since 2015. So Kylie’s success is truly a case of Beauty and the Geeks!

There’s no doubt Kylie Jenner has become a very powerful face for her brand, Kylie Cosmetics. She has an astounding 129.1 million followers on Instagram and is, of course, one of the younger members of the Kardashian-Jenner clan. She’s following in the footsteps of her sisters Kim, Khloe, Kourtney and Kendall in parlaying her good looks, social media savvy and family connection into a personal fortune that’s estimated to be worth $1 billion.

It’s also worth looking at the influence and power Kylie’s mother, Kris Jenner, wields in the success of her daughters.

The 63-year-old matriarch has been building the family’s profile and wealth for well over a decade now. Back in the mid-2000s, Kim Kardashian was Paris Hilton’s sidekick, not the main attraction. That all changed when Keeping Up with the Kardashians debuted in October, 2007. Kim soon eclipsed Paris in the celebrity and social media stakes, and her sisters have subsequently rode her coat-tails to varying degrees of success. As their ‘momager’, Kris Jenner has turned her family and children, including Kylie, into a lucrative brand.

However, look beyond Kylie Jenner and you’ll find other stories of what it takes to become a self-made female billionaire in the US. Not quite as glamorous, and a few decades older than Jenner, at numbers one, two and three on Forbes’ list of self-made billionaires are women who have made their fortunes away from the media spotlight.

Housing supplies is not exactly as glamorous as cosmetics and Insta-fame, but it’s how Diane Hendricks has become America’s richest self-made woman, with Forbes estimating her personal value at $4.9 billion.

The Wisconsin billionaire owns ABC Supply, which is the largest wholesale distributor of roofing, siding and windows in America. The Hendricks story is like a Main Street small business fairytale. She started the business with her husband Ken in 1982. The privately held business now has an estimated annual revenue of $US9.3 billion.

Then there’s Marian Illitch, who cofounded the Little Caesar’s pizza chain in 1959 with her husband, Mike. The couple started franchising Little Caesar’s in 1962 and the chain now has more than 5,000 outlets around the world. Over the years, Illitch Holdings diversified into food services, hotels, casion and sports businesses. Forbes estimates her personal wealth at $US4.3 billion. 

And if you’re looking for a female tech entrepreneur who hasn’t received as much recognition as some of her male counterparts, it’s hard to go past Judith Faulkner, the founder and CEO of Epic Systems.

After completing her Master’s in computer science in the mid-70s, Faulkner wrote the software that would launch her company, Epic Systems, in 1979. A true startup success story, Faulkner started Epic in her basement with a $70,000 investment from family and friends. The company is still privately held even though there has been speculation it is an acquisition target for the likes of Apple or Google. It’s estimated that just over 50% of the personal health details of all Americans are held in systems powered by Epic’s software. Forbes has estimated Faulkner’s personal wealth at $3.57 billion.

Hendricks, Illitch and Faulkner show that women can achieve success in all kinds of fields. No one should begrudge Kylie Jenner’s success, but it’s worth highlighting the stories of self-made women that might not be as glamorous, or attract the same level of media attention.


Digital is more than sprucing up your website

Monday, March 11, 2019

There's still a perception out there that digital transformation is about things like having a website, maybe creating an app, and having some social media activity going on. It's not only small businesses that have a constricted view of digital technologies, but some big companies are also lagging, according to a report released late last year by the Office of the Chief Economist.

The report’s finding is that Australian businesses could be doing a lot better:

Despite the potential benefits, the rate of adoption of digital technologies across Australian industries is uneven. Companies across all sectors have a significant way to go in adopting technology to realise the full potential these technologies can bring.

Of course, digital is about a lot more than just websites and Facebook pages. From cloud computing to the Internet of Things and blockchain, the scope of digital technologies continues to grow. Think about the myriad ways you can now pay for goods and services, through to the options businesses have for real-time and global collaboration tools. Revamping your website or using chatbots for customer service are fine starts for your digital journey, but Australian companies could be doing a lot more. 

The biggest misconception most businesses have about digital is that it is a thing rather than a way of thinking; that it’s about adopting new tools rather than new mindsets.

As the IBM invention and innovation leader Lindsay Herbert points out in her book Digital Transformation, “Real digital transformation isn’t about getting your company to use a specific set of new technology; it’s about your company’s ability to react and successfully utilize new technologies and procedures — now and into the future.”

The distinction between things and thinking is crucial, especially for smaller businesses on a budget.

Even though big businesses often have the budgets to spend on expensive digital products, it doesn't necessarily mean they are effectively transforming the way they do business. If the mindset stays the same, the tools become add-ons that might create productivity gains within sections of the company but are never fully integrated as part of a comprehensive digital model.

Smaller businesses may not be able to spend as much as their bigger counterparts, but by adopting a digital mindset, they can think about their business in an entirely new way, a digital way rather than an industrial way.

This is why tech startups have become so potent in some industries. By thinking digitally, they have been able to rethink business models, supply chains and customer service. They have been able to upend the expectations of customers. They've been able to change the game while their competitors have laboured under the apprehension the rules had stayed the same. It's become a cliche, but Tom Goodwin's words from 2015 hold:

Uber, the world’s largest taxi company, owns no vehicles. Facebook, the world’s most popular media owner, creates no content. Alibaba, the most valuable retailer, has no inventory. And Airbnb, the world’s largest accommodation provider, owns no real estate. Something interesting is happening.

Many companies are still struggling with these ideas, stuck with hoping they can buy their way to digital transformation, or that sprucing up their website or building an app is what makes them a digital business. It's not.

Don't let your ideas about digital transformation start and end with a website revamp or creating a new app, instead think about digital in broader and more profound ways. Once you embrace digital thinking, you start to see new possibilities, new ways of doing things, and new ways to serve your customers better.


How femtech could revolutionise women’s health and wellbeing

Tuesday, March 05, 2019

Endometriosis afflicts about 10% of women globally. It can be a debilitating condition that causes severe abdomen and pelvic pain for sufferers. These are the ways some women explain what endometriosis pain feels like:

      “[I] was laying on the floor shaking and vomiting the first few hours.”

      “Like my uterus is sitting on a bed of razor blades.”

      “A pain that burned my entire body.”

      “Like someone is taking a cheese grater to my cervix.”

      “It feels like my intestines are being strangled.”

Endometriosis is not a new disease. It has been recognised as a medical condition since the 1920s. However, it has historically attracted very little research funding. It was only last year that the Australian Government established a national action plan with $2.5 million in funding to combat endometriosis, the first government funding of its kind for the disease.

Endometriosis is but one of the overlooked and underfunded conditions that effect women. US federal government research funding sits at about $7 million annually, a paltry amount. That’s one of the reasons why it has been so difficult for medical practitioners to quickly and effectively diagnose it in sufferers. It’s not a very well understood condition.

According to Endometriosis Australia, it takes on average between 7-10 years for the disease to be properly diagnosed.

“This is due to girls and women normalizing symptoms as well as doctors normalizing symptoms when women do finally seek medical assistance. Early diagnosis and treatment reduce the long term impacts of endometriosis and frequency of invasive treatments and fertility treatments,” Endometriosis Australia states. 

However, things might be changing, as investors slowly wake up to the profit potential of women’s health and wellbeing. While government funding gets the ball rolling, it is the venture capitalists and private investors looking for innovative and disruptive solutions who might hold the key to problems like endometriosis.

Market analysis firm Frost & Sullivan estimates the women’s healthcare market will be worth around $50 billion by 2025. Its research shows that 80% of household healthcare spending is done by women, who are often the Chief Purchasing Officers of the Household and make healthcare decisions for not just themselves, but also for their dependants like spouses, children and elderly parents. Big companies and investors are finally realising women are the key decision-makers when it comes to healthcare and that women have specific healthcare needs themselves.

In the past couple of years especially investors have started to show a marked upturn of interest in ‘femtech’ healthcare startups. Pitchbook data estimated that 2018 was a banner year for investment in women’s healthcare startups, with around $400 million going into women’s health focused companies.

The term femtech was coined in 2016 by one of its chief proponents and innovators, Ida Tin, a Danish entrepreneur who is a co-founder of Clue, a menstruation tracking app. Femtech is about bringing the capabilities of technologies, including digital and biotech, to the women’s health sector. The main areas of focus for femtech startups are period care, pregnancy and childbirth, aging and menopause, fertility management and sexual health.

Drilling down into each of these areas, one can find all kinds of opportunities, from fairly simple products like sexual health information apps through to far more complex propositions like tampons that also act as a diagnostic tool for conditions like endometriosis and possibly even cervical cancer.

NextGen Jane is a Californian startup trying to develop the diagnostic tampon. It’s been a tough road, both scientifically and financially, for the company as it has attempted to develop its product and attract investors.

As one of its founders, Ridhi Tariyal, told the MIT Technology Review, there’s still a stigma attached to women’s healthcare. She says the advice she received about pitching for venture capital was “try to look as little as possible like what you really are—a woman-led company utilizing female biology to advance health care for half the population.”

Old attitudes die hard, especially when men continue to dominate VC firms. 

However, the simple fact is that women are looking for ways to live healthier, longer and more painless lives. Many of the health concerns and conditions of women, like endometriosis, have been ignored for too long. Women are feeling more empowered than ever before to make their voices heard on such issues and are demanding better. Women are also beginning to flex the financial clout that demands attention from investors and corporates. Investment in femtech is one small sign women are starting to be heard.


How women are driving the reinvention of General Motors

Monday, February 25, 2019

Women in the US are now making more than half of all car purchases, so as consumers they have a big say in the auto industry. 

However, women have not featured prominently in the executive ranks of this male-dominated industry. So the appointment late last year of Dhivya Suryadevara as General Motor’s Chief Financial Officer was a talking point for many. GM now has five women in high powered executive roles, including another its CEO, Mary Barra. The appointment of Suryadevara means GM is the only major US car maker in history to have both a female CEO and CFO. 

Alongside Barra and Suryadevara in key roles at GM are Kim Brycz, senior vice president, Global Human Resources; Alicia Boler Davis, executive vice president, Global Manufacturing; and Pam Fletcher, vice president, Autonomous & Electrified Vehicles.

What’s doubly impressive about the lineup of women in the GM executive ranks is that Barra, Boler Davis, and Fletcher all come from very strong STEM backgrounds. That’s not to diminish the achievements of Brycz and Suryadevara, but it is extremely rare to see women occupying these kinds of roles in the car industry. Most commonly, women are found in the marketing and HR roles of the executive suite. The fact women like Barra, Boler Davis and Fletcher have risen through the ranks shows GM is working hard to remove the glass ceiling for women in the company.

Certainly the plaudits have come thick and fast for Barra since she took on the CEO role in 2014. As Business Insider surmised: “Barra is arguably the best CEO the company has ever had, steering the ship post-Chapter 11, dealing with a massive ignition-switch recall as soon as she sat down in the big chair, and making tough business calls, such as selling Opel, GM’s money-losing European division.” 

Barra has had a lot of work to do in restructuring GM and rebadging the car maker as relevant in the 21st century. A big part of that program has involved shifting resources across from the historical emphasis on big gas guzzlers to smaller models, and now to electric cars, with plans afoot to position Cadillac as its lead electric vehicle and as a challenger to Tesla. Pam Fletcher has played a big role in bringing GM up to speed with electric vehicles.

GM’s promotion of women into executive roles is matched and supported by its board, which is rare among big industrial corporations in having six women out of 13 directors. GM was also named as the number one company for gender equality in the world last year in a survey conducted by Equileap.

According to one statistic, women make 62% of all new car purchases in the US and women make 85% of all car buying decisions. That’s a remarkable statistic. But does having women in key executive roles help GM sell more cars to women?

That’s close to impossible to answer. Women might see GM in a positive light because it has a female CEO and other women in its executive ranks, but for a major purchase like a car, most women will still make their decison based on cost and value.

But what GM does have is the input from at least five women in key decision-making roles on what other women might want from a car maker. And that has to count as an advantage in a ferociously competitive market with so many female buyers.



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