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christie whitehill

In the Mind of the CEO: Christie Whitehill, CEO of Tech Ready Women

Women in tech entrepreneur shares story on lessons from a failed start-up

Christie Whitehill learned the hard way how to start a tech company, and now teaches other businesswomen skills to avoid similar financial and emotional angst.

The founder and chief executive of Tech Ready Women and the creator of the Tech Ready Program has global plans for her business, and is already in talks with Australian universities and a major (unnamed) media organisation.
 
 
TGF: Why did you start Tech Ready Women?

I’ve been in the tech business for nine years and I was always the only woman in the room at networking events. And, being a non-tech founder, I made a lot of mistakes, including very expensive ones building technology, having to throw away code, hiring the wrong developers and the wrong team members in general.

I thought there needs to be programme that helps founders, particularly women, because we’re very under-represented in this industry.

TGF: Tell us about your first tech experience.  

I was 25 when I started my business in 2011, it was a dating website called Fancy My Friend that involved friends recommending their single friends.
 
We did what most non-technical first time founders do; we Googled ‘website developer’. We ended up hiring someone in India, and, as you can imagine, two non-technical people trying to tell someone across the other side of the world how to build technology….it ended up quite disastrous. So fast forward, I then created a dating app called Fancied. This was pre-Tinder. I raised $300,000 in seed funding…. but by the time we launched and we were getting traction…Tinder hit the market. So, a lot of lessons, a lot of heartbreak.

TGF: Tell us about Hatching Lab.

The team that I had formed with Fancied were really experienced, fantastic developers, we started working [as Hatching Lab] with entrepreneurs … to give just trusted genuine advice. Then we started working with corporates; we built EY’s R&D tool “Ready” which is now being scaled globally.  So, in my career so far, I’ve worked on about 30 technology builds from idea to execution. I don’t code but have learned a lot about how to hire the right people.

TGF: What’s the business model of Tech Ready Women? 

Tech Ready Women is, at the moment, a service-based business. We’re an education company. [Other] programmes in the market are taking equity from businesses at a very early stage and I didn’t really want to do that.  I just wanted to charge a fee for service, so it’s clean: come and learn.  It’s a skills based programme, it’s very hands-on, practical learning but also paired with mentors; product managers, developers, designers, investors. We introduce them to the start-up community, as a first step into the industry, but meeting the right people giving them the right advice…so they don’t spend years on one idea wasting time and money on something people might not want to buy.

TGF: What’s your definition of a tech business?

I would describe a tech business as any business that uses technology as a way to scale and operate. Some might argue against this, but I would even call an e-commerce business a tech business because it’s built on a technology platform; that’s where your customers are transacting. Today, [even] banks are calling themselves technology businesses, and they have to move quickly, because that’s where the customers are.

TGF: Who does a Tech Ready Women course?

Typically the women who do our course are women who are coming out of corporate, they’re dissatisfied in their role, or they’ve seen something in their industry, a problem that they want to solve, and they want to solve it but they’re not sure how. We also have women coming from maternity leave.

TGF: Have you clocked up any successes?

We have lots of successes. We are very early stage, so even a pivot where someone says ‘That’s not a good idea, I’m going to do something else', that’s a success. We’ve also got revenue-generating businesses like Blaise McCann from Hear us Roar, she’s now profitable and she completed our programme in 2017, and a few have gone on to get into the advanced accelerator programmes.

TGF: What about men, can they do the course?

The [tech] space is very male dominated. The men are welcome to do the [digital] course, and 50% of our mentors are men, very supportive male champions, they are represented, just in a different way. Women are so under-represented in this space, there was no community. I wanted to create that community.

TGF: Where do you begin when you’re teaching tech start-up entrepreneurs?

Typically we start at the idea validation point. We focus on going out and speaking to prospective customers. I can’t tell you how many people don’t actually do that. They typically go ‘I’ve got an idea, I’m going to go build it.’ You want to go straight into solution mode. We try to take the entrepreneurs back to: What is the problem you’re solving? Is it a real problem? Is it a big enough problem? So we focus on ‘problem-solution fit’ as we call it in start-up world.

Then we go onto market discovery: How big’s the market? How can you make money? What’s the value proposition? What’s the business model going to look like?  You can’t have all those nailed down in 10 weeks, but it’s a process, and we give them the tools to be able to keep iterating on the process, and to keep validating as they go.

TGF: What would you do if you had your time over again with your first tech business?

Validate, validate, validate. I would have educated myself a lot more first, and not just jumped straight in. I’ve got one of those personalities, a typical entrepreneur, when I’ve got an idea I just want to go for it. I would have slowed things down a little bit.  I would have educated, validated and slowed down.

TGF: What’s your vision for Tech Ready Women?

I’ve got a global vision; currently we are in talks with universities, expanding what we’re doing working with universities in Australia, and eventually throughout the world.  I’d love to create a connected space so women in Australia could launch their businesses internationally.  We’re working on some great partnerships at the moment, with universities and media companies.

Christie’s GREAT EIGHT, answers to our eight getting to know you questions:

Recommended book:  The Breakthrough Experience   by Dr John Demartini.  He’s my mindset guru.  

If you could co-author a book with anyone in the world who would it be, and what’s the book title? It would probably be with neuroscientist and mindset coach Dr Joe Dispenza, and be on mindset tools and skills for entrepreneurs.  

Best piece of advice you can share?  If speaking to business leaders and business developers, it’s always working on your personal development. It’s just so key; mindset, mental health. We all experience the ups and downs of running a business and it can be really tough.

What's been your lowest moment, and how did you recover from it?  I think with Fancied, that was my lowest moment in business, I felt like the biggest failure. I wasn’t expecting it, I had such high ambitions for it, and it was my first experience in business. At the time I found who my mindset coach is now, and worked through it quickly, and balanced the perception on the perceived failure, which was really just a big learning opportunity, so now I’m grateful because it led me on my path.

How do you relax?  Spending time with family (I have a two and a half year old), spending time with my husband, going out to nature.

What’s a fun fact that’s not widely known about you?  When I was younger I wanted to be a Park Ranger!

What do you think is the secret of success?  Defining your own success and never measuring it against other people.

What is your prediction for 2025?  Tech Ready Women will be in five different countries. 



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