The world of startups and entrepreneurs is an extremely competitive place, where only the dedicated and driven survive. However, one of the most visible inequalities in this sector is a lack of female entrepreneurs.
To change this reality, it is important that there are continued efforts, activities, and programmes that will inspire teenagers and young women to become leaders, and learn not to fear what being a leader may entail.
With May being Female Founder month, we thought it fitting to shine a light on some incredible Kiwi women who are kicking-ass in their leadership roles.
This week we chat with Co-founder and COO of Kami, Alliv Samson, and LawVu COO, Sarah Webb, on the responsibilities of running a business and their thoughts on the industry’s representation of women.
Alliv Samson, Co-founder and COO of Kami – a digital classroom application
In the past year Alliv has rapidly scaled her business to reach a global audience, all while welcoming her first child into the world and working alongside her husband (and Kami CEO) Hengjie. Kami has transformed the modern classroom in more than 180 countries, and has a customer base of more than 24.5 million teachers and students globally.
Where did the idea for your business come from?
It started by solving our own personal problems by building a better annotation app when we were still in university. It has since evolved by building a better app to help teachers and students save time, work more collaboratively and interactively, while also saving them money and making their classroom more environmentally-friendly and sustainable.
How do you juggle managing your business and looking after your child?
She’s one now and the first year has been challenging. The biggest hurdle is not having enough time in the day. That said, I have learned to manage my time more efficiently, prioritise, and delegate tasks better since having my daughter.
What stage is your business at now?
We’re currently on our fastest and highest growth trajectory which started last year. We doubled in 2020 to now have a team of 45 people across the globe. We also just hit a significant milestone of reaching 26 million customers globally. It’s amazing to see how far Kami has come , even in the past year. While business is booming, we’ve got some exciting plans in the pipeline too.
What are your thoughts on Female Founder month?
I think it’s a great idea. Dedicating a month to supporting women in business and leadership will place focus on the matter and make it stand out from a very noisy and busy time.
We need to encourage the younger generation and show them that it is an option and opportunity for them, as well as nurture those who just started their ventures.
Sarah Webb, COO of LawVu – software for matter, contract and spend management for in-house legal teams
Sarah’s background is in engineering, with experience across a wide range of industries. At LawVu, she wears many hats, including having worked as the company’s CTO and head of people and culture. She’s aided LawVu in achieving an impressive three times more growth in 2020 alone, which has a strong portfolio of international customers including Nissan, Expedia, and Deloitte.
How did you get into engineering?
My very first programming experience was on an Amstrad CPC. I remember my dad bringing home a colour monitor to replace the original green monitor, and me sitting there copying lines of code from the manual to make the border colour change from pink to blue! I must have been about 8 years old.
In truth, it was actually a little bit accidental, I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do at college so I chose a single year course that covered a broad range of IT related topics, one thing led to another, and before I knew it I was doing a Bachelor of Science (Hons) in Computer Science.
I was one of just 3 female students on my uni course and sadly, the numbers have not improved much in all the time that has passed since then.
What has been the highlight of your career?
The first was back when I was leading the streaming development team at LOVEFiLM in the UK, where we pioneered online movie and TV delivery to Smart TVs and gaming consoles including the PlayStation and Xbox, which ultimately led to the company’s acquisition by Amazon in 2011.
However, the journey I am on now with LawVu is the highlight of my career to date, joining Tim and Sam in 2015 after moving my family from the UK to Tauranga. After a minor panic about what I had done to my career options, I realised that it doesn’t really matter where you are if you can find passionate people to build something with!
At LawVu, I’ve filled the role of CTO (and later COO) since day one, but I’ve pretty much done a bit of everything in that time. I’ve built an information security management system that stands up to a number of world class certification and compliance standards and I’ve grown our international team from 5 to 70+ amazing, intelligent, passionate and like-minded people. With this team we have shaped a brand new category of legal operations software and helped some of the world’s most prestigious brands turn their legal departments around. We’ve also managed to make the whole concept of legal software fun, with a brand that is now recognised and trusted worldwide with clients such as PwC, Nissan, Sky and Fonterra.
Do you think there should be more women in leadership roles?
All leadership, and all technical roles should be open to everyone and I think that for the most part they are. However, there is a lot more work to be done to make sure that young people are educated about the career paths available to them when they choose technology early on.
There are still far too many stereotypes associated with engineering and technology that prevent women from becoming engaged and growing a passion for what they could achieve in this space.
What are your thoughts on Female Founder month?
I think, won’t it be a fantastic day when there are so many of us that we don’t need to make it a special thing anymore. It’s great that there are so many passionate people out there, making things happen, creating change and solving problems.
Right now not enough of them are women, so it’s important that we have initiatives like this to inspire others. Whoever you are, of any gender, young or old, and from whatever ethnic background or family history, you can do this too.