Jo White – a woman in a … startup

I am very privileged to know a number of truly remarkable and inspiring women who work in, on and around geek stuff. One of my notions for this year was to share some of their ideas and experiences with everyone.

The first woman who sprang to mind is Jo White (a.k.a. @mediamum on Twitter). She’s been a friend and an inspiration for a while now.

There are not many women who combine a career in journalism, a large family, activism for breast-feeding, postgraduate studies, teaching, co-founding a startup, and moving to the other side of the world. Jo has done all that and more.

Jo’s response to my idea was to say: “You have officially turned into the Andrew Denton of the internet. The ‘Are you happy’ question had me thinking for a few days.” (Being compared to Mr Denton is hardly the worst thing anyone’s said of me ;))

Her responses got me thinking and helped me to consider my own experiences differently. Here are the questions and Jo’s answers about how she got to be where she is now…

How/Why I’m doing what I’m doing now.
We moved to the US to pursue this company launch because of a few reasons. Firstly, I firmly believe that my children should see us working hard and really chasing dreams. They saw me do my undergraduate degree by distance education that took three years, and went to Queensland with me and saw me graduate. That kind of thing makes a lasting impression on kids. I want them to have big dreams, and put in solid work to attain them.

I also wanted to demonstrate to my husband the full commitment and faith I have in our ability to travel this path together. There are simply not many husband/wife startup relationships that are celebrated, and this was a massive move for us.

Finally, of course I would never have made this leap unless I firmly saw the vision behind the company itself. What we are seeking to provide the world with is a tool that will help everyone navigate the web, find credible information, and inform us all on what and who the best resources are on the web.

I want to really encourage everyone to create more content, and to make it the best content they can pull together, no matter what their space is. TribeVibe will really make that come together.

I have just written my Masters thesis on the strength of social media communities, and have been accepted the offer of a fully funded PhD position at Colorado University’s ATLAS program. I will be working in the EPIC Project Colorado Lab, researching social capital and other aspects of communication online as they relate to crisis informatics (disaster relief, information dissemination and communication).

I am also the Program Director for the 60 Weeks Program at Boulder Digital Works, connecting world leading graduate students in cutting edge digital with the best minds in all aspects of digital, innovation and business.

What is the best piece of advice you have ignored to get where you are?
I try to never ignore advice, however there is some I’ll give more weight to than others. Successful women entrepreneurs are people I really pay attention to, especially if they have had aspects of the journey I share. I turn into their biggest fans. There are not many of them.

There remains a view that startups are too risky for people like me – a mother of four. I also ignore the people who say you can’t manage a family, an academic career and a startup. What they’re really saying is that they can’t do it. Not that I can’t. And that’s okay.

Are you actually happy?
I stewed over this question for a while. I’ve come to the conclusion that it depends what you mean by ‘happy’. If you mean content, no I’m not. But I don’t think anyone who loves working in startups is ever content. Being content commonly relates to being stagnant.

But the people I know who are successful are insatiable. If they find themselves ‘content’ then they enjoy it for a short time, and begin looking for the next challenge. That’s me. I’m happy because I’m working towards something I know is enormous. I’m surrounded by the buzz and stress and pressure, but I’m completely absorbed in it.

There’s a lot of laughter and our home is always busy. My children have never said “I’m bored” and they don’t hear it from their parents. That’s a happy environment for me.

How many times they nearly gave up when things went wrong & what kept them going at those times?
I’m not a great quitter. I might feel like it, and spout about it to my closest friends and of course my husband – but I am really bad at throwing in the towel. It’s far easier to say “I’ve had enough” than it is to follow through and close it down.

Lots of people celebrate failure in the world of startups. I don’t. To me, failure is when you stop. Failure is when you allow a problem to be the brick wall that stops you. That’s not good. I see issues as the speed bump you found a solution to, or the lesson you learned to make yourself better. It’s only failure if you stop. I keep going because I like success.

What do you wish you hadn’t sacrificed to be such a success?
I don’t think I’d call myself ‘such a success’ – there’s a long, long way to go. But so far, so good. I have had numerous successes that are the result of hard work and strategic planning. I have learned so much since making the move to the US.

I wish I hadn’t sacrificed a certain amount of my own faith in my ability. It’s hard to explain but I think that the sense of security that comes with a regular job in an office with a company that’s been there forever gives you a sense of establishment and reinforcement of security, even though it’s in a comfort zone.

In a startup, that is never available for you. You’re always creating your own success, and the only affirmation you have is what you create.


What mistakes did you make and what did you learn from them?

Mistakes are plentiful. I am grateful that I have the opportunity to make them. (Sometimes, it seems, numerous times a day!) I am big on metrics and informal evaluation, and I use this in all areas.

I disengage from those people who sap my energy or frustrate me. I also surround myself with close friends whom I respect and learn from all the time, just by being around them – and whose personalities make me happy.

My biggest mistake has been to try to forge paths with people who were having negative relationships with me, and try to turn them around instead of looking elsewhere for positive relationships. I think I pretty much have that sorted now, but I learn all the time.

Also I don’t just trust lawyers and advisers, especially on things that are going to affect me and my kids rather than my co-founders and the business. I double check stuff, and on more than one occasion this has served me well.


Thanks to @victeach, @everydaycook, @150dominos, @silly_billy_boy, @lyrianfleming for their help with the questions.

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2 comments

  1. Rai says:

    I follow Jo on Twitter and had an idea of what she did, but wow, just realised the scope and extent of her work. Thanks Kate for giving me one more person to look up to and learn from! :D

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