Interviews – Technology – Glenda Stone

Glenda Stone is the founder and managing director of Busygirl.co.uk, a website for businesswomen. An energetic, exciting character, she moved to the UK from Australia two years ago, accompanied by a passion for bringing women online

What is Busygirl?
Busygirl is a network for women founders of tech-driven businesses. We launched on 8 March 2000 [International Women’s Day]. Its purpose is to support, encourage and promote women starting or developing technology-driven businesses. We provide services such as a business directory, an electronic marketplace, and business advice.

What makes Busygirl unique?
When people think ‘websites for women’ they think dieting and dating, so it’s very different to have a site that’s business-based rather than consumer-based. Our other difference is our events. We run monthly business forums that attract around 150 women entrepreneurs, supporting our online community in an off-line environment as well. Membership is free, unlike most networks where you pay a fee.

What is the aim of the forums?
Through the network women can form powerful partnerships, learn more about technologies, branding and marketing and how to raise finance. And although the forums are for women, we don’t exclude men because we don’t want to exclude business opportunities.

What kind of women use Busygirl?
They tend to be aged around 27 to 45, have already achieved a certain degree of success within their careers and are now looking to start their own business or move into a tech-driven business. They also come from a predominantly corporate background, particularly the finance industry.

They are also characteristically busy. On a recent questionnaire a lot of members said they don’t read glossies because they don’t have time. The community supports them in their hectic lives – it allows them to be upfront with their need and serves that need with minimum time-wasting.

How does the site make money?
At the moment we make pockets of money from joint venture royalties, for example, advertising the website design training that we run. But you can’t just have lots of small pockets, you need a large revenue stream to sustain the business and at the moment we’re in discussions about what that will be next year.

What’s your role within the company?
Founder, chief poobah! A sort of visionary – I see opportunities and I focus on where we need to go and how we’re going to get there. It also means defining what’s not going to get us there. It’s easy to get distracted.

What’s the best part of your job?
I love being in a position where I meet dynamic, inspirational women. They have personality and motivation, and they all have a story.

What’s your story?
I was offered the job of heading up the women’s business unit in Westpac [one of the chief Australian banks]. I thought, ‘This is your dream job but you’ve only done bits and pieces of travel and you haven’t been to Europe yet and you’re 32, is this really as good as it seems? Or is there something outside there that you haven’t found yet?’ The sensible thing was to take the job, but something was saying, ‘take a leap’. So I did take a leap; I went travelling through Europe for three months by myself. At the end of it I was in Greece and I met the man of my dreams who was holidaying with some friends. That was in September 1998. By the next Valentine’s Day we were married!

What was your first job?
I was a primary school teacher, which is where I got experience in community building in a sense. Then I got tired of knitting hats and finding lunchboxes, and I went into consultancy, educating prinicpals and developing literacy and communication. A couple of degrees later, I took a role in the Queensland cabinet office as coordinator for women’s information technology and later women’s economic policy.

What inspired you to set up busygirl?
My brief at the Queensland treasury was to bring women online, and when I migrated to the UK, I saw an opportunity to do the same here, but not for government, for myself. The UK was considerably behind Australia and the US in terms of internet usage 18 months ago.

What has been the highlight of your career?
Being fortunate enough to be in a position where I can effect change on a grand scale through other people.

Why are strategic alliances so important in the new economy?
It’s not hard in e-business to come up with a range of partnerships, but you have to determine how valuable each is. Partnerships can help increase leverage and exposure if you’re a start-up, and if you’re a larger business they can help you expand your customer base. However, you also have to recognise if a partnership’s going stale, and jump out of it as quickly as you can.

What are the main challenges faced by women in e-business?
The UK has a longstanding culture of patriarchy, and there is still a stigma over women’s credibility in raising finance – even in the United States less than 4% of venture capital goes to women. But that’s slowly starting to change.

Men are more risk-taking and they’ll throw their hat in the ring, where women try to complete everything to the nth degree. That can work against us because we like to be completely prepared before we pounce. Wendy Tan [of moonfruit.com] says if you waste time trying to get things finalised and perfected you might miss the boat.

Are there any particular skills that women can bring to the dotcom arena?
I think women are great at – I refuse to use the word juggling, because I don’t think they juggle – balancing various elements of their life and their career. In fast-moving tech-businesses that balancing ability is crucial.

To what extent are women managing to break through the glass ceiling?
In the City it’s especially hard for women to break the ceiling because there’s not a critical mass of women in senior positions and that’s going to take some time. So women are being smart about it. In organisations that are particularly patriarchal in their corporate culture, they think, ‘Do I stay here, try to be like a boy and climb the ladder? Or do I find something that’s a bit more fulfilling, make a sideways move and find new ways of getting ahead?’

What’s the most important quality for a female internet entrepreneur?
Entrepreneurial sounds obvious, but I mean really entrepreneurial – you have to be focused on what you’re doing, why you’re doing it and how you’re going to move ahead. You also have to have a personality and you have to be able to get on with people. There is absolutely no room for egos in this line of work.

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Business, interview