I am incredibly excited to be joining Freespee as CEO.
It’s always wonderful to lead a very talented team of many backgrounds and nationalities.
What perfect timing: I join on International Women’s Day. I have worked hard over the last few years to promote diversity at all levels of organisations: mentoring and financing female entrepreneurs, coaching women to join boards and helping men and women from all backgrounds and skills succeed in fair and equal environments. Diversity is an essential success factor of any company. And anybody with common sense finally recognises that. But we still have a long road to equality of gender, ethnicity, backgrounds, particularly in the Tech and start up world.
I have a confession to make: I am a tech start up addict.
Over the last 15 years, I have helped lead 5 tech start-ups to profitability and IPO.
I don’t have a pension plan or big savings: I reinvest all my money into the next generation of talent and innovation. I have personally invested in over 25 new tech companies and set up and invested in 3 tech early stage funds. I mentor over 10 founders a year, as a way of giving back to our start up community. I am one of the few female executives in the UK to sit on 2 public company boards in the tech and gaming space.
I love it.
It’s as exhilarating today as it was when I started. In fact, its more exciting these days. AI, Bots, big data, UI/UX, virtual reality all enable us to create amazing new immersive and personalised experiences for customers in B2B and B2C.
I did not start up as a natural candidate for tech start ups. Both my parents were diplomats and far removed from tech businesses. But my brother was a child model and with his earnings at 8 years old, he bought our first apple computer. We played every game possible for weeks and then we took the computer apart out of curiosity. I was hooked from that day onwards. Our household was littered with decomposed computers and games over the years.
My mother always worked and made it to the top of her profession, having come from a very modest background where her schooling was stopped age 14. My sister and I had a natural role model at home. We never questioned whether we could be leaders. We thought all women were naturally designed to lead. My sister was fearless and left the house age 7 to pursue her career as a dancer. She became a prima ballerina and choreographer by the time she was 19. Role models are so important. They drive our behaviour.
At 17, I set up my first company: a travelling theatre troupe whilst studying at McGill university. That’s how I made money to travel around the world and live my passion for discovery and new cultures.
Then I became a banker…Can you believe it? In fairness, it was a fantastic learning experience and I was surrounded by great mentors. One in particular noticed that I was always asking too many questions. He realised I was not fascinated by finance but by what we were financing. He transferred me to a new project and innovation financing division. It was amazing. Our role was only to finance things that had never been done or created before. I was surrounded by entrepreneurs and innovators in small and large companies.
I quit banking with his blessing and support and joined the camp of the MAKERS.
I have never looked back. It is very important to understand your true nature and your passions and to work in an environment where you can embrace them every day.
At Freespee, we are at the Inflection Point: when a company has found its market fit with a unique and superior product and is facing double digit growth. It’s such an exciting time for us.
Our challenges will be to manage this hyper growth effectively:
We must stay true to our company DNA.
We must continue to recruit only the best.
We must continue to innovate to stay ahead of the curve.
We must continue to have our clients at the centre of everything we deliver.
We must empower our clients to have greater conversations with their customers.
We must continue to foster a culture of integrity and impact, of innovation and risk taking and a culture obsessed with our clients and their businesses.
We must continue to grow the diversity within our business and promote young talent from all backgrounds.
We must push forward the best engineers, the best sales people, the best customer service teams through constant training and empowerment.
We must drive a culture of joy and success amongst our teams and our clients.
We must create a culture where extraordinary things happen.
This is one of the biggest trends in tech currently across the world, pushing the boundaries to deliver the unimaginable. It’s not about a specific continent or country leading the start up scene. From Elon Musk taking us to Mars, to Xavier Niel creating the world’ largest incubator in Paris: great people are making extraordinary things happen. They refuse to believe in barriers and limitations. That’s the next generation of tech start ups and Freespee will be part of that.
Extraordinary requires risk. Risk requires diversity. Surrounding yourself as an executive or founder by people who think like you, who look like you, who come from the same school and neighbourhood as you, who share the same skin colour means you will never push the boundaries. Worse – you will probably create a culture of exclusion and inequality, whether you wish to or not.
Creating true equality in Tech firms will require us to be courageous and bold, to stand up for what’s right, to make our common voices heard. Change won’t just happen. We men and women leading the tech world will make it happen.
Anne de Kerckhove: Freespee’s new CEO joins us on International Women’s Day
"I have a confession to make: I am a tech start up addict."