MYOB Women in Tech, part four: Beyond founder Jessica Manins on giving less of a f*ck

Forget the ingredients touted as necessary to make a little girl in the age-old nursery rhyme, What Are Little Boys Made Of? To be a woman business leader, you need to have more than a pinch of resilience and a dash of tenacity. This is because although the country has made big strides when it comes to inclusivity, there’s still work to do before true equality is reached. Take the recent 2019 MYOB Women In Tech Report, which found nearly half of the industry’s women leaders have personally experienced gender bias during their career, just a quarter of local technology businesses have equal representation in their leadership teams and only one in ten tech businesses work to actively address discrimination. Beyond founder Jessica Manins talks carving their career paths, overcoming personal challenges and finding grit.

  • Read part one in this series with Metia Interactive founder Maru Nihoniho here, part two with Banqer co-founder Kendall Flutey here and part three with Trade Me's Diana Minnee here.

‘Give less fucks’ is an approach Jessica Manins has carefully cultivated after years of trying to be everything to everyone. This subtle art is not something that comes easily to a self-confessed people’s person, who has carved out a career creating meaningful customer strategies for some of New Zealand's most successful brands. Instead, it was developed after both crashing through and leap-frogging hurdles that taught hard lessons on sailing the tide of change.  

This refreshing and candid approach to tackling what life throws at you is not unique in the business world and, in fact, The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck by Mark Manson and the Life-Changing Magic of Not Giving a Fuck by Sarah Knight have both topped best seller's lists across the globe.

It is in this spirit that Manins, the former director of PROJECTR, has embraced her latest venture with a large, extra-loaded side order of fun. She recently co-founded (and is CEO of) social gaming VR studio, Beyond, and playfulness is evident in every aspect of the brand.

"I have finally discovered that it is so important to keep the spirit of who you are, that has been my biggest learning and transformation on this journey,” Manins says.

The journey she speaks of is bound in the emerging tech scene she waltzed into after meeting the founders of StarNow at an audition when she was an actress. With a flair for bringing other people's stories to life, she quickly found her feet at the Kiwi start-up success story and was later named StarNow’s chief customer officer.

Like many other founders before her, she felt the urge to jump into the unknown and immerse herself in something she loved and could shape from scratch. Queue the next move to BizDojo, where she led the pioneering Collider programme in Wellington.

Not one to do things by halves and already familiar with the uncharted territory, she immersed herself in the VR, AR and MR space, using her polished people and PR skills to unite thinking and diversity of thought in a relatively new space.

It was during this time she experienced some of the hardest lessons in her career.

"I think up until this point I hadn't been truly challenged, and I felt real loneliness, and hard times, a lack of sleep – waking every two hours and going to work, and I was leading a team, and learning a new work environment and the relationships come with that. Everything isn't quite what it seems on the outside; I didn't know how I was going to pay myself and suddenly I'm putting myself out there – my personal brand, not someone else's.

"I also had people saying, 'Who are you why do you think you're qualified to be doing this?' and things like, 'I've been in the industry X number of years, who do you think you are?' That was hard."

While juggling a new role in the VR and AR industry and the torrent of people questioning her credentials, she also had to make time for a scenario she had not prepared for or was even considering as she mapped a new course.

"I’ve always thought I am a trusting person and that trusting is a good thing, but you know when you get that gut feeling when you know something's not quite right, and you don't listen to it – that's gotten me into some bad situations.

"There are [friends] going, ‘Are you sure?’ And then you're justifying things. It took me to some pretty dark times. You've made promises, and you don't want to break them, and you're loyal, so you put up with a horrific situation. I put up with it for way too long and later when you reflect, you go, 'wow I let that happen, I thought I was a smart person?' "

Since then, she has relied on her support network and Leading Ladies Wellington, the peer mentoring group she co-created with a group of other women in business looking for guidance, honesty and feedback. Seeking a group that would provide all these things was a challenge, and like most problem solvers, she simply created one herself. Three years on, the initiative has women all across Wellington sharing experiences, offering support and facilitating learning sessions.

 "Understand your why. I've always been values and purpose-driven – it's really important to me,” Manins says. “For ten years, my why was helping others succeed and then I realised it wasn't working for me anymore and I wasn't getting happiness. I needed to change and look at myself and what I wanted.

"It's okay to change your why. You don't have to have the same why your whole career. I want to bring joy to people, create fun products and content that makes people laugh. Life got very serious; my background was acting and comedy and, and so I decided last year that I needed to have more fun."

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