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Boss Ladies, Part Two: The Kiwi women thriving in the business industry

With May being Female Founder month, we thought it fitting to shine a light on some incredible Kiwi women who are kicking-ass in the business industry.

This week we chat with Preno co-founder and CEO, Amelia Gain, and Sharesies co-founders Brooke Roberts and Sonya Williams about bringing a business idea to life and why there should be more females in leadership roles.

Amelia Gain, Co-founder and CEO of Preno – boutique accommodation management software company 

Amelia has a background in IT but took the leap to take over a luxury hotel at 23-years-old. She then managed to turn the hotel around to be profitable and even received a nomination for the world’s best hotel. Her challenges while running the property sparked the inspiration to launch a software as a service business for smaller, independent accommodation businesses.

What was it like taking over a luxury hotel at only 23 years old?

Not only did we take over a luxury hotel but we undertook the massive task over opening a bar and restaurant as well.  

I think being so young led to us having a lot of confidence going in. It also gave us the energy to fully commit to working ridiculously long hours to achieve our vision for The Spire. 

The first six months were an absolute blur as there was just an absurd amount to do and we truly threw ourselves in the deep end. We loved it and managed to build a passionate and fantastic team delivering a great experience to our guests. 

We were also very lucky to have the support of the local legends that call Queenstown home.

How did you become interested in IT?

I went to the University of Otago, studying Economics. I was a bit lost as to what I wanted to do but my father got me into a book that was looking ahead at future economic trends (this book is old now). I read it in a day and I immediately knew I wanted to work in IT, using tech to solve problems or improve life.  It’s exciting and challenging.

I then transferred to CPIT (now Ara) to do an ICT degree. We took over the hotel while I was completing my degree and eventually I decided to just focus on one and I chose The Spire. I brought the same mindset to running the hotel, improving systems, and testing new things for iterative improvements. 

What stage is your company at now?

We’re a team of 14, all based here in New Zealand, including the developers. We have a product that we’re super proud of, solving some of the problems plaguing the tourism industry, and we get to help 7000 hoteliers globally in over 25 countries. We’ve got an amazing product in the market, helping hoteliers save around 10 hours a week. 

Looking ahead we’re continuing to speed up growth and release new and exciting features into our product. Our vision is for Preno to be the autopilot for running any small to medium-sized accommodation option. 

What are your thoughts on Female Founder month?

It’s been great to see more and more females succeed in the tech industry. However, there will always be room for more and I want to encourage young people to explore their options. Studying IT and being the CEO of a SaaS company wasn’t my dream at first, but now I can’t imagine my life any different. 

Brooke Roberts and Sonya Williams, Co-founders and 3EOs of Sharesies –  wealth development platform.

Brooke and Sonya are co-winners of the Westpac Women of Influence Awards 2020 and founders of New Zealand’s most popular investment platform Sharesies. Sharesies has seen incredible customer growth over the last year and has launched both US shares and AU shares.

How did Sharesies come about?

Sonya: The idea for Sharesies came about around October 2016, at the time the media was filled with “Millenials spending all their money on smashed avocado on toast”. But the reality is that house prices were rising, and it was becoming unattainable for most people to get into the property market. I then started talking about this with some friends and colleagues Ben, Leighton, Brooke, Richard and Martyn (who ended up becoming the 6 co-founders of Sharesies!). This was something we really cared about, so made it our mission to create the most financially empowered generation, through giving someone with $5 the same investment opportunities as someone with $500,000.

Brooke: I started a business in High School and loved it. While at university and throughout my early career, I’ve always been really keen on social enterprise and the idea that business can be a force for good. Leighton and I were keen to start a business together and both of us have a background in finance and marketing. We heard Sonya’s idea and we rallied behind it as we really wanted to see people being more equitable when it comes to money. We dove into Sharesies full-time and haven’t looked back.

How did it feel to be a co-winner of the Westpac Women of influence awards?

Sonya: It was first such a buzz to be nominated alongside Brooke and our friend Jessie Wong from Yu Mei. Also to be in such great company with the wonderful wahine across so many different industries and then really special to be able to share the win with Brooke. The win was definitely on behalf of people who have helped support me in my career and in life, the Sharesies co-founders and the entire Sharesies team – who work hard every day to create more access and build confident and motivated investors.  

Brooke: This recognition, we receive it on behalf of our whole team and the community around Sharesies and each other. We know we haven’t got here alone and have had so much wonderful support from friends, whanau and others who shared their wisdom and spent their time and energy to help us along our journey. Because of that, I was chuffed to be recognised with Sonya for what we’ve been doing together at Sharesies. We had a lovely time at the awards event meeting women from all over Aoteraroa making big impacts in their communities.  

Do you think there should be more women in leadership roles?

Sonya: Of course! For many reasons, not just women but broader diversity in general. Change often happens first through observation or information, and the more diverse your perspective and experiences the more varied the observations. If I hadn’t recognised that I was feeling left out of financial services and wanted to invest, I wouldn’t have seen the opportunity to change it. There are many more gaps, opportunities and problems that need to be solved—your difference in perspective is a superpower!

Brooke: Yes! There is still a way to go for there to be equitable opportunities when it comes to leadership roles. It does feel like there is more momentum and willingness for this now, which is great. There are so many studies that prove it’s great for businesses and society too. 

What are your thoughts on Female Founder month?

Sonya: I’m all for encouraging and highlighting women in business. If this helps encourage more people to feel like they can give it a go then I’m all for it! If I’m honest, my hopes are for a future where it doesn’t need to be its own thing, that diversity becomes mainstream.

Brooke: I don’t think I had come across it before, so I assume it’s a new thing. This is a good initiative as more recognition and funding needs to go to female founders. I know some venture capitalists are really aware of this and are making time for this. There’s a really strong and growing network of female founders in Aotearoa. There are so many amazing female founders that we’ve met on our journey and it is amazing that we are able to provide so much support and guidance to each other.

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