'Advice to my 22 year old self' was the title of our most recent event in Scotland, a collaboration between Ingenious Women Scotland and BCSWomen Scotland, and it proved to be one of our biggest events to date. We heard from two entrepreneurs who shared the lessons they would go back and give themselves at the age of 22.
Vicky Brock, CEO and Co-Founder at vistalworks, had a very clear plan when she was 8. She wanted to go to London. She had many plans to get there – plan A was to go to university, plan B was related to musical theatre, and so on – and however she would do it, she definitely would! And she did. She became a machine, learning fast, not learning deep, and did indeed get herself to London to attend University. Vicky become very good at being half an hour ahead of everyone else, and her first recommendation was more isn’t always better – enough to get by is good enough.
Point 2 was to “do less, tell more”. She suggested 70% of your time being spent on the ‘doing’, with 30% on ‘telling’ how well you did it, and what you achieved. Working hard is no guarantee of success, and only working hard is definitely not going to bring success. She was clear to state that it’s not about being obnoxious but about selling your work, output, ideas.
For Vicky 22 was actually quite a dark time. When going through University she hadn’t prepared for ‘what next?’ but did eventually find work in theatre. Her next lesson was “So what? Who cares? Why?” She recommended working smart and being efficient; do the least amount of work you can to get the results you need. (Although those of us who know Vicky a little know that despite her claims of being lazy, we know she works very hard indeed.) I was particularly struck by her comment about not trying to please everyone: “if you do try you’ll fail and destroy yourself in the process”.
In that theatre job, Vicky put herself forward for a role that she wasn’t particularly well qualified to do; but then neither was anyone else; and surely she couldn’t be as bad as anyone else. So, she thought she might as well give it a go. And she did. And she fell in love with data.
Lesson 4 was that it’s perfectly ok to walk away. She hadn’t realised it was ok to walk away from a job you don’t like (particularly when previous generations in our society had had jobs for life). I was struck by “work rarely loves you back”.
Vicky then repeated something we heard from Dr Sara Shinton at an event in May last year and shared it as point 5: “Create your own opportunities”. Put yourself out of your comfort zone, go networking, say ‘yes’ – after all, what’s the worst that can happen? You don’t always know where an opportunity will lead, but it’s likely to be positive.
Vicky finished with “You will fail. Fail fabulously.” Reframe failure as practice. And don’t be less of yourself for anyone. And we think you are fabulous Vicky.
Next up was Sarah Lee, Director of Hot Tin Roof and Co-Founder of Ping Go. Sarah started her career at an all-girls school, which, whilst this can have some peculiarities, meant she has felt on a level-playing field with men in tech as she knew many young women who were good at STEM subjects.
Her first lesson was not to believe the naysayers, particularly if you believe something with gut instinct. This was related to personal experience, rather than a business decision, where she and her boyfriend at University got engaged after 3 months. And 30 years of marriage later it was most definitely the right decision. She talked more about her personal life and made that a key point: Take time to enjoy your life. Seize the moment, be with the people you love.
Sarah looks back on University thinking she could have made more of it, but also made it clear that nothing in life is a waste of time because you can learn from everything. She ended up in a role that meant she was bored, frustrated and unfulfilled, but she also worked with some great people, and learned to budget, hire and fire, and run events – all key to running her own business now.
She took a leap to a role as Editor of an in-house magazine – she really wanted it, even though it was new. It was great. Sarah was allowed to fail – although perhaps not twice! They were allowed to try new things and had a manager that encouraged growth. From this she said “Jump in at the deep end. You can swim.” It’s exhilarating. Don’t overthink.
Getting made redundant from a PR agency was a shock, only 9 months into that role, and although she had ideas about setting up her own, she wasn’t sure she was ready yet. So, Sarah joined another agency and very quickly realised she wasn’t learning anything new. It was time to go, and time to start! From this, “believe in yourself – don’t lose your confidence.”
17 years later, Hot Tin Roof is most definitely a success. Now she’s jumping into the deep end again, establishing a new venture – Ping Go – with 2 co-founders joining her. She’s learned she can’t do it alone, and needs other skills, and just more time. Tenacity is one of her strengths, and she believes that is truly going to make Ping Go work. As Sarah concluded: “overnight success takes time”.
There were a few key points in the panel discussion after too:
- Amplifiers are key. It’s not always easy to blow your own trumpet, and sometimes you are not in the right audience to do so. Find allies who believe in you and can amplify you, even when you’re not around.
- Vicky felt it’s far easier to build a big company than a small one – aim big with your ventures.
- After some discussion it became clear that sometimes we forget the lessons we’ve learned! And that’s ok too.
If you didn’t make it along to the event – and even if you did – we hope we get to meet you at a future one.
About the author: Sharon Moore is BCSWomen’s Deputy Chair and leads the ever-increasing BCSWomen activity in Scotland. She has a passionate team that makes these events happen and is always happy to welcome more to that team – the more of us the more we can achieve!
About #IWScot: Ingenious & Enterprising Women is a programme that empowers women in STEM roles to take control of their professional development and careers. The programme was founded by Janet Wilkinson and Sara Shinton. It is now national and Ingenious Women Scotland ran for the first time in 2018. Tweets about the programme typically use the hashtag #IWScot.