In the first of our #SheFounders series we talk to Heather Delaney, founder of Gallium Ventures! Read on to hear her insights on the support available for women in tech, why diversity is so crucial for the industry, her work mentoring early stage Startups and much more!
How did you get into the tech world and tell us a bit about your company Gallium Ventures?
Having been born in Silicon Valley, the heart of the tech industry, I was always surrounded by family and friends who were in the tech world whether that be coding, creating or being part of bigger companies such as Apple. In school we had to learn how to code, although if you asked me to do it now, I’d struggle. It’s not like riding a bike, you need keep it up! I always had a passion for gaming and I can fully admit, as an adult I still love it.
My career has taken a few different turns which I think is healthy, as it means when you finally go into your forever career you have a whole range of experiences you can tap into. My background is in traditional technology PR, although I found my passion in product development and creatively solving problems. That’s when I combined my two passions and founded Gallium Ventures. We get approached by around 10 to 15 companies a week, some of them might be in the crowdfunding stage, launching a product or need help with global creative campaigns. Due to our team having different personal interests, I tend to ask them who likes the companies approaching us, who gets it and if we’re not passionate about it, we won’t do it. Having a diverse range of clients from wearable tech, education, IoT, cryptocurrency, and more it allows us to stay engaged and interested.
We met through DevelopHer a non-profit community dedicated to bringing women in tech (WIT) together. What other support is available for WIT like yourself?
I absolutely love what DevelopHer are doing for the WIT community and their virtual events during this new normal have been a great way to keep the community engaged with one another. It’s a safe space for all involved to share concerns, get advice and expand our networks. Particularly in the UK, that sense of community for WIT has been missing for a while so initiatives like DevelopHer are vital. Typically, these non-profits are built out of frustration from one or two women which is both amazing and sad to see. Having recently spoken at a WIT event in Dublin, it was so exciting to be around like-minded women where you see real honesty and open discussions around building a company and concerns over fundraising failures due to gender or ethnicity. These issues are incredibly important to discuss publicly because of the high number of people feeling underrepresented and alone and allow those present to realise they are not alone and can gather advice from those paths you follow.
You were born in the land of technology (Silicon Valley), having founded companies in both the UK and the US tell us how both experiences compare?
They vastly differ! From a business owner perspective, it’s far more complicated to create a company in the States due to complicated bureaucracy and paperwork whereas in the UK it’s a far smoother process. I am a strong believer in a healthy work life balance, which is one of the reasons we are based in London instead of San Francisco as it means we sit in-between the time zones of our clients. In the mornings we’re working with companies in Asia, in the afternoon we’re talking with media and clients in Europe and finally we are the first thing the United States wakes up too.
In the US an employee can often feel like they are in a bit of a rat race due to the pressures of work, long hours and having health care linked to your job, which complicates working somewhere you love vs somewhere which covers you and your family health costs. It simply adds a layer of stress to a job which can be overwhelming.
Diversity is crucial in the tech industry. How do we become more diverse as a community?
I know a lot of companies that have implemented blind recruitment which is a great way to diversify the workforce, but at the same time the fact that they need to go to the extent of hiding the age, name, education of an individual itself is quite telling. Diversity can be seen as a box ticking activity when the reality is having a diverse group of employees brings a wider range of creative ideas and allows a real sharing culture. If an industry has a diversity problem, then posting jobs in the same industry websites will likely continue the trend, so companies need to look for talent elsewhere, whether that be universities, apprenticeship programmes, LinkedIn, or through other programmes. This isn’t just a technology industry problem, but one which can be seen across industries from PR and marketing to medical and engineering.
It’s important for us at Gallium Ventures to have a team who come from all walks of life and bring their views of the world into the company, which is why we have always naturally hired quite a diverse group of people. When a company has people with different backgrounds, ethnicities, and lifestyles it means the creative ideas are different and can apply to wider audiences. This also means employees eyes are opened to things they never imagined. We work with clients all over the world creating PR and marketing campaigns so when you have certain demographics that are underrepresented it can hinder what you produce as a business.
Tell us about your experience with mentoring and helping Startups get funding.
Over the years I’ve mentored a large number of companies and worked with various accelerator programmes to help drive innovation and support those in need, and I absolutely love it! I fully admit I am a bit of a workaholic, so the fact that I’m mentoring in my free time just makes sense as it’s hard for me to see that as work. I’ve supported FounderVine over time and it’s incredible to work with them as they support a diverse set of founders and creatives which have these brilliant ideas but might not have the resources, knowledge or experience to really jump start their business. As a mentor I am able to really make a difference at an important time in their business journey. It may be that I’m simply offering my advice or sending them some of my contacts within the industry, or it may be that I’m lending them my expertise feeding back on their business model and suggesting some changes e.g. adjusting target market. Whatever happens you leave knowing you have helped someone.
Can you tell us about some of the barriers you’ve faced during your career?
There’s definitely been a number of hurdles I’ve had to overcome throughout my career, and I feel one thing that has set me apart is I tend to find them quite amusing in some of the absurdity. I’ve had experiences where I’ve walked into an important meeting and would ask a question only for the CEO to answer my younger male intern. You have to say to yourself, there’s no point worrying because if that’s their attitude you don’t want to work with them anyway! It is times like this that you need to remind yourself the power is within you, and you have the ability to say “As the final decision maker, I’m going to say no” and explain why.
Early on in my career I had people take advantage of my openness and willingness to help others as I am a firm believer treat others the way you want to be treated. At one point I was giving free consultancy to large companies and other PR agency founders which they would then take forward. You have to gain that confidence to say “if you want my help, you’re going to have to reimburse me for my time”. I believe a lot of young women and those in the BAME community find it difficult to assert themselves and ask for what they deserve as they spend so many of their early years just proving themselves equal to their peers.
Most of us can sometimes feel like we’re winging it and that imposter syndrome can kick in. What advice would you give to people in the tech industry that are just starting out?
I feel like I’m winging it all the time! I am however very vocal about this and my team will often hear me say things like “I’m going to try this because it feels right to me”. Over time you learn to trust your decision and your gut. I do find that a lot of us feel that imposter syndrome, however I tend to see that it’s the women who speak up about how they’re feeling once they feel they are amongst equals. You have to realise that nobody knows what they’re doing, that’s the whole point of work. No one is given a promotion because they’re already working 100 percent at that level, it’s about allowing them to skill up and having the room to fail. I always say every failure is a case study. I prefer people to fail spectacularly so when you try again you know exactly what road not to go down. I worry about people that have only seen success because the moment they experience any kind of failure its’ not their fault, it everyone else’s.
Only 1 in 3 entrepreneurs in the UK are female. As a female founder yourself is there still a lot of progress to be made?
I believe we have made progress and everything is a step in the right direction, but if you look back to the not-too-distant past, women were often forced to pick between work and family. The marriage bar in Ireland was only abolished in 1973 which means we are only now seeing the fruits of women entering the workforce now coming into the c-suite.
Today’s generation are told they can be anything they want to be, and kids today are learning to code at a really young age, so I think this will lead to a spike in women in STEM in the next 10 years as the barriers even I had as a child have been chipped away at a rapid rate. There is however a long way to go. Female founders are still massively underrepresented and if you look at who is being funded from VCs it’s not the female founders. What needs to change is where the money is coming from. A lot of women are having to boot strap their ideas and businesses which is great because they retain control but at some point, they need to be given support and scale.
What would you say to your 18-year-old self?
Silly things like “you only need one slice of brownie not the whole pan!”. On a serious note, I would say just keep doing what you believe in and keep true to yourself. All of the negative experiences you will face in your career are necessary to make you who you are today. I have seen the underside of different industries which has given me the opportunity to help prevent the same things happening to someone else. I always say if five-year-old you thinks you’re doing well then, you’re just fine! Are you treating people well? Are you happy and healthy? Everything that’s happened in 2020 has shown us not to sweat the small stuff.
Finally, have you got any leadership advice?
I was told early on in my career that I was too friendly with those that I was managing and that I needed to ‘act’ more like a manager. I think there is sometimes a misconception that if you’re friends with your team you can’t be taken seriously, which is ridiculous. To be a successful manager you have to stand in someone else shoes to understand their needs and drive, so empathy is important. If your team have too much on their plate you need to be aware of this so you know when to support them and their struggle. Over the years I’ve built up little tricks that help me manage teams, for example when you work with the same small team every day you start to recognise their musical tastes and I secretly have a playlist that I create for each of my employees. If I notice that one of them is a bit stressed, I’ll change the music to their playlist. You can see their mood instantly lift and sometimes if I’m lucky I might even get a little bop and shoulder dance out of them as you watch the stress melt away! It’s the subtle things which really make a difference.
Since the pandemic everyone’s worlds have become very small and a lot of us have felt extremely isolated whether you realise it or not. My team and I usually have our Monday video sessions where we catch up on work, but during lockdown I implemented one-hour open mic sessions which are audio only (so you don’t have to brush your hair). Sometimes we chat about work, while other times we don’t even talk as we work away on our own things. For these quiet periods it’s simply the sound of someone else typing on their keyboard which people find comforting as you feel like that person is there with you, and it’s that feeling of connection which so vital right now.