Leading tech entrepreneur Annette Muller on success

Annette Muller
Annette Muller/ Supplied

Annette Muller – one of Forbes’ top 10 Female Tech Founders to Watch in Africa, chats to us about being the leading lady in a male-dominated industry.

Despite efforts to bridge the gap of gender inequality in the workplace, the tech industry is still very much male-dominated. According to the Women in Tech website, only 23% of tech jobs are held by women in South Africa and out of 236 000 ICT roles, women occupy 56 000 of them.

One lady who decided that she was not going to allow society to dictate to her what her career path should be just because she is a woman is Annette Muller.

In 2011 Annette decided to start her own tech business called DOTNXT which serviced clients such as Nedbank and Graham Beck. Following the success of that company, she started another tech company called Flexyforce – a cloud-based platform that allows companies to create and manage a flexible on-demand workforce, and book and pay preferred freelance suppliers.

Not only does she have two successful tech businesses which she started, but she was also on Forbes 2014’s list of 10 Female Tech Founders to Watch in Africa.

We caught up with her to chat about being a female in the tech industry and what has been her secret to success.

Not a lot of females go into the tech space, what made you decide to venture into it?

I have always been attracted to the technology business from a very young age. I believe it may be the element of scale. I enjoy big thinking, galaxy/universe style. My dream is to eventually work on something like SpaceX alongside leaders like Elon Musk. The infinite possibilities to create solutions to drive humanity forward enabled by technology is what keeps me alive and kicking. I also really like the commercial models and figuring out ways to scale globally.

Just a couple of years ago, it would have been impossible to operate at a global scale, and only a select few entrepreneurs managed to scale businesses to that magnitude. Today with technology and the internet, it is almost naive to not think globally, as the world is getting flatter and our markets are becoming more and more location independent.

What do you enjoy the most about your job?

The freedom to create, follow my purpose & design my life the way I want. It is not really a “job” for me, it is more of an adventure I choose to go on while here on earth.
And of course, the part that brings me a lot of joy is all the amazing people I get to meet along the way, from all walks of life, in all corners of the world.

You were listed by Forbes as one of the 10 Female Tech Founders to Watch in Africa. What is your recipe for success?

Surrounding yourself with people more successful, inspiring and smarter than yourself, and of course, the good old basic of what you put in is what you get out. There is no such thing as “overnight “success. You have to put in the hours, hard work and personal development is required.

What are some of the challenges that come with being a woman in the tech business, especially with it being so dominated by men?

I always get asked this question, and I have to remind myself that “I am a woman in tech.” I don’t really see gender. To me everyone is equal, and I don’t really look at it from that perspective.
However, I have of course noticed that there aren’t many women around and I believe there are various reasons and variables that have contributed towards this.

Having said this, the challenges I experience are what I believe are “normal challenges “and not specific to my gender.

Have you ever been mistreated or received unfair treatment in your career, just because of your gender?

Maybe I have had to work a little harder to be taken seriously, but that I believe was mostly because of my age (I started my first consulting business DOTNXT when I was very young).

Again, it is difficult for me to say, as I don’t stand under a gender label,

I have a strong belief that you are the way you perceive and treat yourself, I don’t allow anyone to mistreat me and certainly won’t stay quiet about it. I hold my power and space for myself to be the best leader and contributor I can be, irrespective of my gender.

There are of course certain structures, and inequality of compensation and various policies we have inherited from the industrial age, but as an entrepreneur, I create the business environments I want to operate in and create the systems that works for what I stand for and believe in.

So, I am sure this is more common for women who are employed, and I am hoping that by creating equal business environments, not only for my business ventures but carrying that example to other businesses I can contribute to bringing more equality, diversity and flexibility to the workplace.

What are the most important attributes required to become a successful woman in the tech industry?

I believe one of the key attributes is self-confidence. You have to first believe in what you are doing and why you are doing it. That will carry you through a lot of the other challenges on the road.

Specifically, being a woman, I think it is also about finding your voice and owning it.

Early on in my career, I perhaps aspired to be like male mentors or role models I respect commercially, however, I had to learn to discover and carry my own voice, bring my femininity into the boardroom and that is really where the magical contribution happens.

By not trying to be or operate like a man or a woman for that matter but bringing your own unique diverse thinking and perspective and ways of doing things, irrespective of your gender.

What do you hope to see change with regards to women in the tech business in future?

Firstly, equality in compensation. It really makes absolutely no sense for men to earn more than women simply based on gender. That is something that I don’t even understand and can’t believe is still happening in this day and age.

Secondly, the biggest change I think is in current business structures, processes and policies. Something I am particularly passionate about is flexibility, and creating structures where women have the freedom to choose how they want to work, that works best for them being wives, mothers and community leaders.
Simple changes in how businesses operate, which was previously set up in the industrial age before women really entered the workplace, can bring a lot of productivity and healthier workforces all round as the lines of the roles that women and men play at home become more and more blurry.

Thirdly, change in leadership as more females enter leadership roles. This does require a change in mindset to be open to experiment and see how different kinds of leadership can be deployed in the workplace. There is no right or wrong but being open to new ways of leading can open up new opportunities for various corporations and smaller enterprises.

What advice would you give to a woman considering a career in the tech industry?

Firstly, do not choose a career path based on your gender. Try and figure out what you are passionate about, and what you good at. Where those two overlaps, is where you will find the biggest joy at work and it doesn’t have to be fixed.

One of the benefits of working in this era is that we have the flexibility to change. Skills requirements are changing so rapidly that you can have multiple career paths and various expertise you may conquer in one lifetime. So, don’t be scared to change. It is okay to experience and experiment with various things and enjoy a non-linear career of the future.

Educate yourself, you have all the information at your fingertips, saying “I don’t know“ is just not going to cut it. Google it. Learn it. Listen to podcasts. Do online courses.

Network. You are literally a Facebook or LinkedIn message away from anyone you admire or respect, reach out and build the network of people you need to surround yourself with.

Be flexible. You have to be able to adapt and flow with the currents in this new world, opportunities live behind the doors you are scared of.

Travel. You have to see the world, experience different markets and expose yourself as much as possible. Getting out of your immediate environment is what will open up your mind. Save the money. Eat less, socialise less, shop less! And invest money in gaining experience of how the world works.

Get a coach. If you serious about your career, get a coach. You will need to develop emotional intelligence, leadership qualities and abilities to collaborate and communicate across different cultures, religions and personalities in the future. Learning these softer skills is what will separate high performers from lagers in an ever more technical and automated, location independent future of work.

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