They say when one door closes, another one opens. As today, 23 November 2020 is my last day at Telstra’s muru-D, I reflect on my 3.5 years spent growing, playing, laughing and learning running the muru-D program and working with the hundred+ founders, co-founders, mentors, investors, and the ecosystem at large who’ve made me so proud to support them.
I feel enormous gratitude for the opportunity to pick up my life after 17 years in San Francisco and move down under to Sydney Australia in March 2017.
As I reflect on my exit and the many memories and impact we all made, I paused to write up ten of them some of the lessons I learned — videos and photos included.
1. The job that found me:
The job description I saw via a mutual friend in London that was posted on Facebook. Not knowing the well-loved and respected Annie Parker, nor the reputation of muru-D, I was nonetheless swayed by the job posting “Filling the Flip Flops”. I mean, I love flip flops! I later find out this was simply a “love letter” to her successor and I was drawn to a few of the descriptors:
• Wants to make a positive contribution to the startup ecosystem in Australia
• Cares more about founders and doing the right thing rather than about personal gain.
• Has gravitas and ability to influence in corporate environments
Truth be told, I wasn’t looking for another job back in “corporate” nor was I even looking to move halfway around the world. After a brief chat with Annie, I was nearly hooked, went to bed and dreamt of a life and job in Sydney. However, I woke up to “that voice” (#impostersyndrome) laughing at me saying “who do you think you are? You don’t have all the requirements listed nor copious experience to do that role! Having just read the HBR article: “Why Women Don’t Apply for Jobs Unless They’ll 100% Qualified” I told that voice to “quiet down” and I moved forward with the conversation, the interview in Australia and the rest is history.
Lesson 1: Take note of your imposter voice, ignore her, and press on with conversations. Don’t doubt yourself — you’ll be surprised with who shows up and what is possible
2. Rediscovering PLAY:
New job, new country, new me? Recognising that I now had a chance to not only get to work with entrepreneurs and ‘risk-taking’ founders, I too, had the opportunity to reinvent myself. I decided to bring more curiosity and play in my life and work. As I found personal delight, confidence and fun in the application of improv, I thought it would be relevant for startup founders. I encouraged the team and the founders to play and have fun while in the program. There were also opportunities to bring improv and play to the senior leadership team I was on. Collaborating with a fellow Telstra employee, we led the team through games at one of our offsites. I also renamed the event space where the founders worked to The Playroom. Memories from playing and the Playroom include:
Incorporating improv workshops during our US trips — learning the failure bow: #woohoo. (Learning to physically open up yourself to failures making it more ‘comfortable’ to take risks and try something new without beating yourself up)
We worked with Improv Theatre Sydney (ITS) and we made it into their promo video about Improv for Corporate environments!
Prepping for Demo Night takes a lot of effort. It can be anxiety-inducing, nerve-wracking and downright scary for some. I decided to make it fun and bring in ITS to help prep the founders through improv and our version of “Whose Startup Is it Anyway” as our redesigned rehearsal. The ITS team brought laughter and insight for the founders before they got on the big stage.
I had the proof that our founders were work-hard-and-play-curiously people when I received photos like this at 2am showing me they know how to have fun while working in the late hours of the morning on their business.
This photo is the iconic “Throne of Games” repurposed with the furniture we used in the playroom.
Lesson 2: You’re never too old to play. Play & curiosity will help find solutions, reduces anxiety, and provide much-needed laughs in high-stress environments.
3. Judging for Impact: Telstra Business Awards (Women’s & National)
I was honoured and privileged to be a Telstra Business Awards judge for the Telstra Women’s Business Awards for the NSW panel in 2017 and a national judge in 2019. I am proud to say the panel I was on for the NSW state winner (social purpose), selected Violet Roumeliotis, CEO of Settlement Services International who was also the woman who won the overall national award that year. Her community organisation and social business support newcomers and other Australians to achieve their full potential.
As a national judge in 2019, I feel slightly responsible for encouraging my fellow judges (including Kochie from Sunrise) to select the first-ever social change business (not-for-profit) to win the National award in the 27-year history! I was so proud and excited that Dignity, and the women behind it, Susanne Hopman and Deanna Shim, were selected as winners. About Dignity: Frustrated with the increasing rate of homelessness, Suzanne Hopman knew there must be a way to stop the problem from the outset. Her idea was Dignity, a charity focused on supporting people at risk of, or experiencing, homelessness by providing shelter, food, clothing, advocacy and education, to empower people to regain control of their lives.
Guess, I know how to pick ‘em!?
Lesson 3: You can (and should) do well while doing good and creating incredible social impact in your community. Look at and then beyond the balance sheet.
4. Oh what a Night(s): Showcase-D
Starting a company is hard. Doing it alone is even harder. Getting up on stage and explaining your company to an audience of investors, mentors, friends, and customers in under 5 minutes can be exceptionally challenging. The local and regional muru-D teams and founders put on quite a few of these Demo Days (we rebranded them Showcase-D) and every single founder successfully pitched and told their story beautifully; thanks to the coaching, practice and feedback from EIRs, mentors, and the muru-D staff across the five programs in Sydney, Singapore, Brisbane, Perth & Melbourne.
Check out some of the past Showcase-D events here:
Lesson 4: Practice makes for a perfect pitch, but an ongoing commitment to your business, customers, investors and product is what keeps you growing.
5. Show me the LEGO!
Selecting the right companies for an accelerator is not just about the product and services they are building — it’s also about the founders. As we changed all of our conference rooms to names of games to add to the ‘play’ theme, it was only sensible to incorporate them into our selection process when choosing the next cohort. Cramped in the tiny LEGO room, we asked founders to design a LEGO scene for how they saw the world in 5 years with their company in it. Disrupting the traditional ‘interview’ model, we were able to see how founders worked together, envisioned the future and were able to articulate their offering. And, it was fun!
Lesson 5: Create safe spaces to make it easier to take risks and try new things. LEGOs spark creativity.
6. Balance — a Work in Progress:
It’s no secret the stats of women-led ventures and investment to women is unfairly unbalanced. Women are 51% of the population, and yet they receive less than 3% of VC capital. And the stats are less for indigenous women and women of colour. In the program, we worked to create more balance in selecting the founders’ background, experience, age, and culture for the portfolio. While still a work in progress, we were able to accelerate over 25 women-led or co-led startups. That’s only 34% of the companies in the cohorts I worked closely with or with which I had part of the selection process. I’m proud we were able to improve these numbers, and there’s still room do to more!
Lesson 6: Still working on this one…
7. Baby Shark Tank:
In collaboration with the founders — many of whom were also parents, we created opportunities for them to hone their pitch to a wide range of audiences. We challenged a new audience, including 6–11-year-olds (their kids) who provided valuable, insightful and direct candid feedback — and we called this Baby Shark Tank. The practice allowed the founders to simply explain their company in the most basic of terms. Additionally, the kids asked thoughtful questions unique to what a typical VC might ask, prompting the founders to reflect on their delivery. They also had no fear of providing direct feedback and opinions. Not only was it helpful to the parent founders, but the young sharks also got a lot out of it as well. Here’s Tanē sharing his experience. And nice to see some other accelerators trying out this Baby Shark Tank experiment.
Lesson 7: Diversify your audience. Find your growth mindset. Listen and reflect through the eyes of a child.
8. Diversity, Inclusion, Belonging, and Balance:
This year I was asked to join Brilliant Collective Wisdom (BCW) as an executive coach. BCW is a Telstra national networking and coaching program around Australia. Participants are placed into groups of four with an allocated Coach and are required to present on a current business challenge to the group. The program is set up for participants to feel connected, supported and valued the safe space to discuss a live business challenge. My group involved a a mixed group of 1 man and 3 women at different levels, across different business units of Telstra. While it was a program for the people in my group to connect, learn, develop, and grow, I know I got as much out of it as they did.
Frustrated with that lack of balance in the group I was in, I reached out to the Diversity & Inclusion Council in Product and Technology and they welcomed me into their fortnightly meetings to discuss how to create more balance across the company, specifically in P&T. While it’s all a work in progress, I would like to believe I’ve left them with the inspiration to speak out more about inequities and make more marked impact in changing mindset and behaviour. I’m keen to see what they can do beyond vanity metrics.
Lesson 8: There are layers of privilege. Use yours to open doors, or create pathways for those who don’t have the same. Be an advocate where you can and SPEAK UP!
9. Launching Radical Generosity in Australia:
Thanks to the Innovation Fund and the commitment of the Telstra / CBA account, I have had the privilege of partnering with them and launching SheEO in Australia. Over the past two years, thanks to the financial and social support of these two companies they have enabled over 550 women to become Activators, raising over $667k\ in a perpetual 0% interest loan fund supporting 10 women-led ventures working on the worlds to-do list (aka Sustainable Development Goals) and opening a pathway for women to new ways of making capital flow to, for, by, and with women. Without this corporate partnership, the SheEO global network, particularly in Australia, would not be as strong as it is today.
Lesson 9: It never hurts to ask.
10. Garma Festival of Traditional Cultures:
Not more than six months in Australia, I had the honour of an invite to Garma in the Northen Territories. Garma is Australia’s premier Indigenous event, a celebration of the cultural, artistic and ceremonial traditions of the Yolngu people. (Once explained to me as the “World Economic Forum of Indigenous People of Australia) Arriving in this country with ‘tabula rasa’ when it came to understanding or knowledge of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture and history my eyes, heart and soul were cracked open over the four days I at this event. We camped at Gulkula, a significant ceremonial ground, remotely located 40 kilometres on an unsealed red dirt road, from Nhulunbuy in northeast Arnhem Land. With so much more for me to learn about this country, it’s culture and the inequities that still exist I’m committed to listening and collaborating and hope to make a difference where I can.
In addition to learning more about culture, the Uluru Statement From the Heart, doing some of my own weaving and buying my first indigenous art piece, I also had the opportunity to do some morning Tai Chi with actor Jack Thompson.
(Turns out Simon Baker and his son were also in the workshop)
Lesson 10: The Indigenous people are the owners and custodians of the land who are the first scientists, technologists and innovators who for thousands of years have been stewards of their culture and land. There is so much to learn from them on taking care of this land, holding space for our people (yarning circles), and appreciating their stories, art and culture. So much more to learn here! Final thanks
A Final Thanks
It goes without saying, the founders, the mentors, the investors, my fellow Telstra employees, and especially the many muru-D team members across the Australia and Singapore, (all too numerous to list here — you know who you are) have made a huge in impact in my experience, growth, and love of this country and ecosystem.
What’s next for me?
Like many during this pandemic, I finally got myself a COVID puppy after taking care of (and Instagramming) so many others. HerShee*, my chocolate parti-spoodle (*also a play on pronouns), and I will be taking “a little paws”, listening to the universe and finding fun, meaningful and rewarding work where I can work with innovative creative people, weave paths for more equitable opportunities for people, companies and communities and continue to play in the startup ecosystem.
If we’re not yet connected on LinkedIn, please find me there. Send me a personal request to connect!