Kate Kendall on surviving the Silicon Valley “brofest”
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The founder and CEO of The Fetch – an online community for professionals to share and discover what's happening in their city – has already learnt plenty of lessons since starting her business in 2011.
The Fetch – which is delivered in a bi-weekly email digest and daily via its social feeds – shares events, news, jobs and local profiles that are relevant to its subscribers across all different industries, including the digital and creative sectors.
After quitting her job and selling all of her belongings, Kendall launched The Fetch in Melbourne, which has since expanded to eight different cities, including San Francisco and London, with two more to be added before the end of the year.
"I still classify it as a start-up in beta mode, so I guess it's been fairly flexible and it's grown quickly," says Kendall.
Now based in both Melbourne and Silicon Valley, Kendall is often the sole woman at industry events amongst what she describes as a "brofest".
"I never really used to see gender. It was only really in the last four to five years working in start-ups and technology that I really started to almost become a bit of a feminist and say, 'This is not fair'," she says.
Something Kendall learnt quickly was to stand her own ground and say what she believes in.
"You have to be much more assertive," she says. "When I started out I wasn't used to speaking out and embracing conflict. That was something I had to learn ... I think as women we're often too conditioned to thinking it's about being nice.
"I think a lot of women aren't confident enough. It's often not an innate thing, we're just taught to be certain ways ... Once they're through that we see a lot of women thrive."
With no business plan to begin with, growing The Fetch has been about "one foot in front of the other" for Kendall.
"I think a lot of new businesses and start-ups get lost with too many ideas but not enough execution," she says. "I always say doers are better than talkers."
And putting one foot in front of the other has worked.
In the last five months The Fetch has grown by 70%, has 65 people working within its network and now reaches close to 30,000 professionals.
Named as one of the Top 100 Influential People of 2011 by The Age Melbourne Magazine and one of the Top 10 Female Entrepreneurs by Startup Smart, Kendall has also managed to prove her doubters wrong.
"What I have found frustrating is that people kept offering me jobs all the time and they still do," she says. "I've found it frustrating to prove the vision and to say this isn't just me and the enewsletters. It's a start-up, it's growing, it's a serious thing and I'm committed to this."
While Kendall isn't new to the start-up world, having consulted on two web startups before launching The Fetch, she concedes that the last two years have been a "massive learning curve".
"While you're bootstrapping it's good that we have revenue but it's definitely – as all entrepreneurs will say – a massive pay cut," she says.
But despite the pay cut and the volatility that comes with life as an entrepreneur, Kendall says she couldn't go back to her previous life of commuting to an office.
"I love working from home. The inner introvert in me just loves that quiet time to really get through stuff," she says.
"Especially for women, if you have children, I think sitting at a desk between a certain amount of hours just to appear like you're getting what you need done is just not how a lot of us work. It's an industrialised notion of the workplace that was created to help manufacturing, but it's not helping creativity."
Kate Kendall offers her top tips for surviving a start-up
- Don't be afraid of what people think: "You have to forget your ego in what you're doing. Focus on creating something that will resonate with people and really simplify everything. Don't get caught up in the 'what-ifs'."
- Ask why: "Ask yourself why each time, five times. Then you can see that a lot of the stuff we do is a waste of time and not relevant."
- Have purpose, confidence and belief: "At the end of the day, realize that you are going to do some stuff and to do that, sometimes there will be conflict ... To get stuff done you really just have to go for it."