The co-founders of start-up Just3Things left behind senior roles at Uber and OVO Energy to help businesses shake up their employee structure.
Kim Atherton was chief people officer at OVO while Erinn Collier worked as head of business at Uber but they took the plunge to start up Just3Things full-time.
Atherton had attempted to redesign OVO’s employee organisation after scaling to 2,000 employees. She was unable to find a platform to help remove the hierarchy of teams and place people into groups to work on different projects.
“Nobody knew who was in which team because the HR system didn’t show that and nobody had visibility of what other people were working on,” she told BusinessCloud.
Collier said: “When I met Kim I thought her passion around the problems faced was amazing and infectious. I felt the product was great for being such a young product developed internally, but what really resonated with me was that I spent all of these years working with some amazing clients and amazing partners and often there isn’t a shared understanding or aligning of why we were doing what we were doing.”
Since founding the business last year, the two have had their share of barriers as women in tech.
“It’s interesting how many people assume that Kim and I found each other and started a business together because we wanted to market ourselves as a female tech team,” said Collier.
“People used to ask Kim all the time ‘did you specifically look for Erinn or a female co-founder because that helped your chances today?’ when statistics actually show it isn’t helping at all.
“The reaction I have gotten as a woman when I switch from my normal speaking tone to what I consider to be a no-nonsense business tone is amazing – people will openly say things like ‘wow, you seem very upset’, where you can watch a man basically lose his mind in the boardroom and never get commentary.
“My response for the first few years was to believe that I was behaving inappropriately in some way but my husband had to tell me, you’re not doing anything wrong, they’re just super uncomfortable with the fact that you’re not your ‘regular self’.”
Atherton added: “I once had a male colleague take me aside and talk to me about a workshop about impostor syndrome because I obviously must feel really out of my depth in a senior role because I am self-deprecating.
“I said I was fine, but no one would say that to a man even though we all had a similar sense of humour in the team. He thought he was doing the right thing.“[Erinn and I] both have daughters and mine hasn’t seen the barriers yet, which gives me real hope that perhaps the next generation aren’t seeing as many barriers.“We need to start in schools, and positive role modelling is really key for young people.”
A recent report found that 93 per cent of European VC funding went to all-male founding teams.
“What we need to be doing is reaching out to people from different types of background, different socioeconomic strata or cultures, people who don’t fit this stereotype that we are eluding to of a typical entrepreneur that maybe has a slightly different risk profile, maybe went to a slightly different type of university programme,” said Collier.
“It’s not by accident that we attract a group of entrepreneurs from our own world as we’re hiring from a similar network and defining success in one way.
“Something we are really passionate about is it’s wonderful that we have these mid-30s white men saving the world with technology, but it would be fantastic if we could broaden the definition of success and show more women, people from different countries but also people from different point of views.”
Atherton said: “The stereotypical entrepreneur ends up sleeping for two hours a night, getting up to meditate at 5am before working until 3am and sometimes they are ‘never off’.”
Atherton and Collier spoke about the work-life balance they have struggled with for some time, but have felt that the entrepreneurial life has allowed them to be more open.
“We’ve been doing the juggling act for a while,” said Collier. “I say it’s slightly easier because of the ability to be so transparent.
“I don’t have to worry about saying I can’t do something, so it’s easier to not have to think about whether I have to make an excuse to someone, or if I have to hide the fact that my kids are crying because I’m leaving, we can be honest about when we feel guilt.”
Atherton said: “It helps that we’re both in similar stages of life. We work super hard but at the same time we don’t want to miss sports day, so I think that really helps because I don’t feel like [Erinn] resents me if I say I have to go to parents’ evening.”