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.


Remembering Lan, an ordinary woman …

blue sky

I have been privileged to know many inspiring women during my life. But the first of these influential women was my mother.

Lan grew up in a large and rambunctious Irish Australian family in Sydney’s inner west.  It was a time when ladies wore hats, gloves & a nice frock to go to town. Lan also grew up as a child of depression era parents, and knew frugal living first hand.  Not a wealthy family, but one with a love of books, words, talking and reading.

She also came to adulthood in the days of rock ‘n roll and jazz, and of dances at the old Sydney stadium.

In her youth access to education was largely the preserve of wealthy women.  For Lan and most of her contemporaries (pre-women’s lib) a girl worked until she married and then made a home and raised a family.  And, in some ways, her acceptance of those old conventional ways used to annoy me.

But, it was at her side that I learned important things – like the value of education and restorative power of a good laugh. On travels with her I saw economic inequity and its results first hand, and learned how one person can make a difference. She was personally active in helping people via the local St Vincent de Paul Society and had strong opinions about social justice to go with that personal activism.

She taught me how to make my own lollies and soap & did not mind when I made a huge mess.

During my terrible teen years we had stand-up fights, of the kind that only mothers and daughters can understand. But after all of that we became friends. She provided insight, support and an example to which I aspire in many ways.

Her sayings resonate in my head even today, in a kind of wise counsel. And her words in my memory resonate with a feeling of love, trust in my abilities and a can-do attitude.

Things like social justice, reconciliation, working to the best of my ability, helping others, and standing up for principles – these are all things I learned from Mum.

As a result of her influence it rarely occurred to me that there were things I could not achieve. Even though her own acceptance of a woman’s role from a different era annoyed me, she never imposed that on me.

Mum passed away when she was only in her forties, too young to leave a husband and five children. I miss her still and it’s her birthday today.


We take our freedom of speech for granted!


This news item from Techcrunch – hat tip to @jowyang for the link – makes me conscious of how precious are our freedoms of speech and association. People fought hard in the past to achieve those freedoms for us and we need to protect them.

Some bloggers in other countries are risking their lives to do what we take for granted – post opinions and news on a blog.

Check out the full story here.


The Poetry of D.H. Rumsfeld – Recent works by the secretary of defense. – A fabulous collection taken straight from the DOD website


On the Slate website Hart Seely has collected some of the truly classic poems of our time – they are taken from briefings listed on the Dept of Defense website.

The Unknown
As we know,
There are known knowns.
There are things we know we know.
We also know
There are known unknowns.
That is to say
We know there are some things
We do not know.
But there are also unknown unknowns,
The ones we don’t know
We don’t know.

—Feb. 12, 2002, Department of Defense news briefing

Glass Box
You know, it’s the old glass box at the—
At the gas station,
Where you’re using those little things
Trying to pick up the prize,
And you can’t find it.

And it’s all these arms are going down in there,
And so you keep dropping it
And picking it up again and moving it,

Some of you are probably too young to remember those—
Those glass boxes,

But they used to have them
At all the gas stations
When I was a kid.

—Dec. 6, 2001, Department of Defense news briefing

A Confession
Once in a while,
I’m standing here, doing something.
And I think,
“What in the world am I doing here?”
It’s a big surprise.

—May 16, 2001, interview with the New York Times

You’re going to be told lots of things.
You get told things every day that don’t happen.

It doesn’t seem to bother people, they don’t—
It’s printed in the press.
The world thinks all these things happen.
They never happened.

Everyone’s so eager to get the story
Before in fact the story’s there
That the world is constantly being fed
Things that haven’t happened.

All I can tell you is,
It hasn’t happened.
It’s going to happen.

—Feb. 28, 2003, Department of Defense briefing

The Digital Revolution
Oh my goodness gracious,
What you can buy off the Internet
In terms of overhead photography!

A trained ape can know an awful lot
Of what is going on in this world,
Just by punching on his mouse
For a relatively modest cost!

—June 9, 2001, following European trip

The Situation
Things will not be necessarily continuous.
The fact that they are something other than perfectly continuous
Ought not to be characterized as a pause.
There will be some things that people will see.
There will be some things that people won’t see.
And life goes on.

—Oct. 12, 2001, Department of Defense news briefing

I think what you’ll find,
I think what you’ll find is,
Whatever it is we do substantively,
There will be near-perfect clarity
As to what it is.

And it will be known,
And it will be known to the Congress,
And it will be known to you,
Probably before we decide it,
But it will be known.

—Feb. 28, 2003, Department of Defense briefing


Out and about – Robyn Henderson & Gordon Bell


In recent days I have been going out to various ICT industry functions in Sydney. Two of the speakers stood out from the rest. The first was Robyn Henderson who spoke at the FITT networking session, and the second was Gordon Bell who spoke at the AVCAL breakfast.

Each of these speakers is an expert in their field:

Robyn is a networking specialist, who has authored 9 books on networking and business building, self esteem and confidence building. Robyn has spoken in 10 countries, presents over 150 times each year and has never advertised – all of her work comes from networking and referrals and her website.

Gordon is a luminary in the ICT industry who was responsible for, amongst many other things, the PDP6 and VAX, and who is currently working at Microsoft as a researcher and indulging in the occasional angel investment.

Yet, what marked out these people for me was their passion and humility. Both are recognized as leaders in their field and yet each is willing to talk openly with people who share their passion. Each shares their learnings freely, and seeks to generate interest and growth in their area of passion. Most refreshing of all is their enthusiasm for both their area of expertise and for life in general. Perhaps Robyn summed it up best when she advised “Avoid keeping tabs on what you do for others: Give Without Expectations”.

F.Y.I. the host organizations for these events were:

Females in Information Technology and Telecommunications (FITT) is a network of women who have come together to encourage and support women and girls who want to reach their full potential in the information technology and telecommunications (IT&T) industry.

The Australian Venture Capital Association Limited (AVCAL) is the national association that represents the venture capital industry’s participants, promotes the industry and encourages investment in growing business enterprises.


2004 Commencement Yale Class Day Speech, by Ken Burns


Ken Burns makes some excellent points in this speech, I’ve picked out some highlights – click here to see the entire text (in PDF).

Now more than ever we in the western world should heed speakers like this. Ken speaks of a United States that has inspired many over the years. It would be a pity to see the US become that which it hates, forgetting it’s history and what has made it a great nation.

Nothing could be more dangerous than this arrogant belief, brought on and amplified as it is by a complete lack of historical awareness among us, and further reinforced by a modern media, cloaked in democratic slogans, but dedicated to the most stultifying kind of consumer existence, convincing us to worship gods of commerce and money and selfish advancement above all else.

Now we are poised to fight that war again, and perhaps again and again, this time culturally, where the threat is fundamentalism wherever it raises its intolerant head. The casualties this time will be our sense of common heritage, our sense of humor, our sense of balance and cohesion. The ultimate stakes, though, are just as great as those Abraham Lincoln faced–the Union and very survival of our country.
* * * * *
So, I ask those of you graduating tomorrow, male or female, black or white or brown or yellow, young or old, straight or gay, to become soldiers in a new Union Army, an army dedicated to the preservation of this country’s great ideals, a vanguard against this new separatism and disunion, a vanguard against those who, in the name of our great democracy, have managed to diminish it.
* * * * *
So what do we make of all this? Let me speak directly to the graduating class. (Watch out, here comes the advice.)

As you pursue your goals in life, that is to say your future, pursue your past. Let it be your guide. Insist on having a past and then you will have a future.

Do not descend too deeply into specialism in your work. Educate all your parts. You will be healthier. Replace cynicism with its old-fashioned antidote, skepticism.

Don’t confuse success with excellence. The poet Robert Penn Warren, who taught here at Yale for many years, once told me that “careerism is death.”

Travel. Do not get stuck in one place. Visit Yellowstone or Yosemite or Appomattox, where our country really came together. Whatever you do, walk over the Brooklyn Bridge. Listen to jazz music, the only art form Americans have ever invented, and a painless way, Wynton Marsalis reminds us, “of understanding ourselves.”

Give up addictions. Try brushing your teeth tonight with the other hand. Try even remembering what I just asked you.

Insist on heroes. And be one.

Read. The book is still the greatest manmade machine of all — not the car, not the TV, not the computer, I promise.

Write: write letters. Keep journals. Besides your children, there is no surer way of achieving immortality. Remember, too, there is nothing more incredible than being a witness to history.

Serve your country. Insist that we fight the right wars. Convince your government that the real threat comes from within, as Lincoln said. Governments always forget that. Do not let your government outsource honesty, transparency, or candor. Do not let your government outsource democracy. Steel yourselves. Steel yourselves. Your generation will have to repair this damage. And it will not be easy.

Insist that we support science and the arts, especially the arts. They have nothing to do with the actual defense of our country — they just make our country worth defending.

Do only, as Emerson suggests, whatever “inly rejoices.” Do not lose your enthusiasm. In its Greek etymology, the word enthusiasm means, “God in us.” Remember, most of all, that only love multiplies.
Ken Burns – Walpole, New Hampshire

Yale Office of Public Affairs