Danielle Newnham is founder of The Junto Network, author of Mad Men of Mobile, and another book about female innovators and entrepreneurs in tech – (working title Women on Top). She was on the founding team of apps agency ubinow, recently bought by Havas WorkClub. She is an advocate of women in technology and regularly speaks at conferences, in addition to having co-founded the female empowerment fashion company, Tease and Totes, alongside her twin sister, Natalie Bardega.
“…It doesn’t matter if you are a kid in your bedroom or a mum working at night – technology allows us all to work and have impact. So I really believe the opportunities for women and all genders, races, socioeconomic backgrounds etc. in tech are endless…”
Danielle, we spoke to you and your sister Natalie about Tease and Totes back in April. For those who missed it, please can you talk us through your career to date and what got you interested in tech?
When I was a kid, I had no idea what I wanted to do. I was bright and I remember telling my mother when I was really young that I didn’t want to die having only done one job. I also said I didn’t care what job I had as long as I was the best at it. She cried and we moved on.
By the time it came to choosing what to do at university, I still didn’t know what I wanted to do but remember being impressed by my brother’s friend Waj, who was studying PR. He was very confident and seemed like he would make a great salesman – I thought these were great skills to have in any jobs so I chose PR and went to Bournemouth University.
After graduating, I decided to write a book and went to work in the music industry for a company that managed bands, record producers, and DJs. Not being a fan of grotty clubs or drugs, I moved on to the more glamorous world of fashion and worked with David Reiss for three years before finding my calling in tech in 2006.
I knew nothing about start-ups but was looking for a) a new challenge and b) to have an impact, so a recruiter suggested I visit this new start-up in Covent Garden. She said there was very little she could tell me about the business because it was very new; in stealth-mode. Her exact words were it’s very, “Cloak and dagger, no website or contact details but the job has lots of variety and pays really well.” She gave me the address and I was somewhat shocked to turn up for the interview and find Stringfellows..! Thankfully, the start-up was actually based in an office block next door … the rest, as they say, is history.
You noticed that there was a real problem of visibility around women in tech, so you decided to change this. What initiatives have you worked on and how have they shaped your thinking about what’s possible for women in tech?
I have been working in tech for ten years and the visibility of women has always been a problem. I think the same can be said for a lot of industries and there are many reasons as to why this is.
Focusing on what can be done is what is important to me though so I try hard to increase visibility of female role models in tech via the book, weekly interviews with awesome women on the Tease and Totes blog, and by supporting other women (Tease and Totes has created a GIRL POWER T-Shirt with all proceeds going to the Worldreader charity).
I grew up with a gutsy mother and grandmother so I have always known that anything is possible for women. I also think technology is an incredible industry to be in because it has the potential, like no other, to really create a truly diverse workforce – it allows anyone anywhere to start a business and that is extremely powerful.
It doesn’t matter if you are a kid in your bedroom or a mum working at night – technology allows us all to work and have impact. So I really believe the opportunities for women and all genders, races, socioeconomic backgrounds etc. in tech are endless.
How does the tech sector need to change (if at all) in order to attract more of the brightest and best women?
There are many ways it can improve but personally, I think the single most important thing we can do is make the amazing women already in tech more visible. You’ve got to remember in years gone by, women were an integral part of the tech field – it is a combination of culture, confidence, and courage which has helped reduce the numbers over the years and that can all, and should be, addressed.
We should educate young girls so that they know they can be whatever they want to be – once you have confidence in your dreams and ability, it’s quite a bit harder to have it knocked out of you! We should also put systems in place to address sexism in the workplace. I have come across jerks in all the industries I have worked in so I don’t consider this a tech-centric problem.
I also think we all have a part to play in making women more visible in order to attract others – that includes press actively covering women, investors actively investing in women and existing women in tech shouting louder than some of the boys in order to get heard.
I also think some integral changes such as Debbie Wosskow’s recent suggestions including a crèche in Tech City would also help. Luckily, Eileen Burbidge has just been appointed Chairwoman of Tech City and therefore think these changes are more likely to happen, and that is a great thing.
You’ve talked about the importance of side projects alongside your ‘day job’. Why does this approach work so well for you and how can we all use these to develop ourselves and our careers?
As I mentioned in the talk I gave on the subject, when we started our apps agency in 2008, we had to do side projects in order to get work! We had made the fatal mistake of working with lots of agencies who of course wanted to take the credit for all our work, which meant we had nothing to show prospective clients. This put us in a difficult situation so we started working on side projects to showcase what we were capable of. That worked really well for us and I think lots of other companies now do the same for the same reason.
As a concept, side projects have been used in the tech industry for many years with Google being famous for its 20 percent time allowing staff up to one day a week to work on side projects. Twitter also started as a side project.
Allowing staff to work on their own projects often teaches them new and useful skills which has a great impact on the company. It also allows staff to find creative outlets and work with colleagues they might not normally work alongside. In terms of skills and culture, it’s a great thing to have in your company, but, like anything, it has to be introduced and managed correctly to ensure it works well and everyone gets the most out of it.
For me, it also became a crucial part of my life when I had a kid. When my son was weeks old, I decided to write a book about mobile entrepreneurs and so I worked on it at night. On a very personal note, I feel like it saved me from a postnatal depression, and from a work perspective, it kept me “in the game”, so to speak. It also taught me about a whole new industry I knew nothing about (publishing) and ultimately it reignited my passion for learning and sharing inspirational people’s stories, hence I set up The Junto Network to do just that.
What advice would you give to female tech entrepreneurs?
Also, integrate yourself into networks where you can learn and inform. There are loads of fantastic female focused meetup, mentoring, networking and investing groups now. You can learn about some of them here. I also believe there is no better time for women to enter the industry.
Thirdly, if you are not already on Twitter – get on it. It will open whole new avenues to you – I have met, made friends, and done business with a number of great tech people as a result of being active on Twitter.
What are your predictions for the hot new trends in tech that we should all be looking out for?
I am most fascinated by three areas at the moment: drones, bitcoin and education – specifically how we use technology to bring education up to date and available to all.
Who are your tech heroes and why?
Many but Sal Khan of Khan Academy, Dame Stephanie Shirley, Duane Jackson, and Elizabeth Holmes are up there – nothing is more inspiring to me than those who have used tech for the power of good – whether it be to turn their lives, or the lives of others, around for the better.
What is next for you?
I am working to get the second book finished ASAP as I want to share these awesome stories with the world, and hopefully inspire more girls and women to enter this great industry.
We have got some very exciting plans in store for Tease and Totes next year including an event with incredible female speakers, all of whom have achieved great success in their fields.
Finally, and imminently, I am launching The Junto Network, which includes a series of filmed one-on-one interviews with inspirational tech founders and innovators, as well as a start-up related podcast and extended network including events. One thing I have found in start-up life is that when you first start out, it can all get quite overwhelming and just listening to, and learning from, what others have gone through before you can really help.
I also believe education is broken and that the tech industry can fix it. At its most basic, I think we can make a career in tech more accessible and inclusive if we find new, improved ways of teaching entrepreneurialism to people who might never have considered it previously. And that’s my goal – to reach out and support those people who have so much potential and I know will thrive in the tech sector.
You can also read Danielle’s first Womanthology interview here.