Women in tech: Optimism abounds despite roller-coaster experience
There is a sense of optimism among Danish women in tech although the corona crisis has been a roller-coaster ride for some of the entrepreneurs in our panel. Here is what five of them have to say about their experiences
A few weeks ago, Towards No. 1 brought you a cluster of stories about some of Denmark’s leading female tech entrepreneurs. They talked about bringing more diversity to the tech sector and seeing diversity as more than a gender issue. Meet the entire panel here.
That was for International Women’s Day in early March and was an attempt to check the pulse of women in tech.
Back then, few had even the vaguest idea that countries across the globe would be turned topsy-turvy by the great lockdown that was then triggered by coronavirus.
So, what happened to our panel members?
Forced to rethink the business
Towards No. 1 has been in touch with five members of our panel. Some have been hit hard, others have paradoxically benefited from the crisis. Several of them have been forced to rethink their businesses. But they all still share a sense of optimism.
For Marianne Haahr, Executive Director of Sustainable Digital Finance Alliance, the crisis prompted an immediate downscaling of her organisation due to the impact on fundraising activities.
“The one aspect of my work which has been impacted the most is fundraising. That’s because face-to-face contact at some point is necessary to build trust in a relationship. So, we’ve scaled down as much as possible and reduced operational costs to a low level,” she says.
Used to online meetings
Sustainable Digital Finance Alliance is a global organisation working to explore the potential of blockchain-based finance solutions. Meetings were held online even before the crisis, so at a very practical level the reality of video meetings has been merely business as usual.
“None of us live in the same country. So it hasn’t changed how we organise work in our team, as we’ve continued to work in the cloud and through online meetings on various platforms, all depending on whether those team meetings are with China or the US. Our board meetings are also digital, as we have one board member in China, one in Zimbabwe and one in Switzerland,” she says.
Core customers shifting attention elsewhere
Marie Lommer Bagger, CEO and founder of Measurelet, saw her core client base – the hospital sector – suddenly having to focus its attention elsewhere.
“We quickly met with the board (online of course) and agreed that if we couldn’t go to hospitals to test and sell, we should put more resources into product development. And we should spend more time optimising our procedures and making funding applications,” she says.
At the same time, Measurelet changed its focus somewhat. Measurelet’s core business is offering automated products for measuring the fluid balance in patients, both input and output. And the automated process makes the products more hygienic.
“We thought we actually had a solution to save time and improve hygiene in hospitals, which helps both staff and Covid-19 patients. So we made an instructional user and installation video to train staff and patients without having to go into any hospital,” Marie Lommer Bagger says.
Preparing for post corona
The main challenge has been the complete change in focus for the hospital sector all through the corona lockdown. And that situation still persists, she feels.
“There is a form of post-traumatic shock where I am sensing that the staff need to recover somewhat before they will feel up to tackling major changes. That’s something we have to adapt to and try to tackle in a sensible way.”
“We are now preparing how to do our marketing material post the coronavirus and explore which agendas we fit into – such as how our products can help the healthcare sector become more robust in similar situations.”
All sales activities put on hold
Sara Roy-Bonde from the Miheroo platform, which connects expatriates and domestic helpers in a safe and easy way, has been facing major challenges due to the corona lockdown. Besides her own staff having their lives turned upside down, with homes-schooling and looking after younger children, sales have also suffered.
“We have therefore had to put all sales activities on hold. We expect it won’t be until at least after the summer holidays before we see the companies we were contacting back in operation and somewhat more normalised circumstances, so Covid-19 has delayed our commercialisation efforts by at least six months,” she says.
For Sara Roy-Bonde and the rest of the founding team, a major challenge has been the fact of having several activities that are overseen by only one person.
“For instance, I’ve had overall responsibility for all marketing, but since I also have a husband who was sent home to work full-time, a small boy to home-school and two toddlers (for whom I have yet to find nursery places, by the way), I’ve only been able to deal with the most pressing issues,” she says.
Working with children’s voices in the background
But the team have also embraced the new challenges, which has made everything easier.
“We’ve been good at accepting each other’s challenges. There’s been nothing but helpfulness, support and understanding that we’ve all had to lower performance, working odd hours, getting delayed and always having children’s voices in the background. We’ve also been really good at slamming the “emergency brakes” and reprioritising our development and marketing activities to respond to this new reality,” she says.
Customer growth at Qvest
For Qvest, the corona crisis has actually set off an unprecedented boom. In the beginning, there were different reactions, to be sure – some saw a huge opportunity, while others were worried. But these contrasting reactions created an energy, co-founder Pia Lauritzen says.
“The different reactions created a lot of energy which went in two directions: One that focused on looking for and developing new concepts and ways of positioning ourselves – including new partnerships. And one that focused on doing everything we could to help our clients get through the crisis as well as possible – and staying relevant to all the companies we were dealing with before the country shut down,” Pia Lauritzen says. Both of these directions have turned out to be successful pathways.
Both of these directions have turned out to be successful pathways.
“April was full of meetings and sales – and actually, April 2020 delivered the best sales numbers ever in Qvest’s history,” Pia Lauritzen notes.
The calendar blanked out overnight
For Lisa Dalsgaard, Founder and CEO of GoodiePack, the corona crisis has been an emotional roller-coaster.
“The first thing we felt was the entire ground shifting beneath us. We had major plans to expand abroad, we had trade fairs we were booked to go to in several parts of the world, and I was meant to have gone to New York. Suddenly my entire calendar blanked out overnight,” she says.
GoodiePack is a subscription-based platform for companies in the experience economy. Many of the clients pay upfront, so any losses triggered by the crisis have not appeared yet.
“Instead it will hit us after this initial phase of the crisis, as our projected growth and new customer growth won’t be as expected – especially next year when our customers will have already ‘paid this year’. That’s tough on a business which had just hired a killer team to go and conquer the world,” she says.
Doing good for the industry
The team had to find new things to do, and they have not stopped since. They reached out to their customers, showing them how to use the system to quickly inform their guests about the situation and offering them free text messages. They also made explanatory videos and created solutions that any company can use to support its customer relations.
And then GoodiePack took the controversial step of doing something unexpected.
“Instead of calling to disturb potential clients who are struggling themselves at this point, we decided to spend our time on a Pay-it-Forward initiative – to make a difference to the entire hotel and tourism industry just by helping them out without getting anything in return. We are putting all our efforts into fighting for the survival and success of the industry and those of our clients who are the hardest hit,” she says.
Right now, the most important issue for her is helping each other to ensure a strong future for everyone.
“Looking back at 2020, I would like to be able to look myself in the eye and say that I did EVERYTHING I possibly could to fight, help and make a difference to the hotel and tourism industry that’s been hit so hard,” she says.
What is the most important thing you learned from the crisis?
Lisa Dalsgaard, Founder of GoodiePack.com: “The most important thing I learned from the corona crisis is being put to the test right now. I do believe that, as a company, you sometimes just need to think and act from the heart!”
Pia Lauritzen, Chief Methodologist and Founder, Qvest.io: “That we can do far more than we think. Together. And that it’s not a problem to respond differently to pressure. It might even be an advantage.”
Marianne Haahr, Director, Sustainable Digital Finance Alliance: “One important thing I’ve learned is that even when we are growing as an organisation, our set-up needs to be able to scale down fast. We’re used to funders having shifting priorities. Covid-19 is a crisis that will make our green tech agenda more mainstream, and it’s our hope that it will open up more opportunities for rethinking how we invest in nature. Covid-19 has shown that contagious diseases are closely related to how we choose to manage our environment.”
Marie Lommer Bagger, CEO and Founder, Measurelet: “Keeping calm and dealing with the situation without letting it stress you out, and instead seeing the opportunities and the learning that a situation like this can also give you.”
Sara Roy-Bonde, CEO and Co-Founder, miheroo.com: “An important thing I’ve learnt is that it’s really important for start-ups to have a finance runway of 18 months. No matter how sure you are that the commercialisation will go well, it’s important to have an alternative.”