Sunday, 21 December 2014

Our Year in Review

Our year in review

It’s been a mega year and it’s hard to believe that Two Square Pegs only began in July this year. I’d like to share with you some of the highs and the lows as well as the milestones from our journey over this period.

Growing and achieving in 2014

So far we have registered over 250 people to Two Square Pegs. We’ve connected with 45 businesses, built an amazing pool of experts, matched people and created twenty jobs in small businesses for ongoing work. It’s been an exciting start.

Two Square Pegs moved from an idea through start-up to growth since finishing the Founder Institute in August. The Founder Institute provided an all-important kick-start to refining and designing the business idea and the Founder Institute graduates have been a great community to be part of.

Growing our team

I love my team and I’m so fortunate that these talented people have come on board! Many of you have already met John Field, our business advisor, who has been intimately involved in helping start-ups and small enterprises diagnose their business needs.
Behind the scenes we have: Luke Stephenson, web developer extraordinaire; Bridie Walsh, communications advisor, Parag Kandekar, our finance person and introducing Peter Smyth who will be taking care of operations and managing projects in the new year.
The team has also been supported by a number of contributors and partners making valuable contributions — thank you to all involved in big and small ways. Special mention to Matt Allen, Carolyn Tate, Richard Meredith, Bambi Price, George Siosi Samuels, Sally Gatenby and Anna Reeves for their support.

Events and in the media

Collaborations have been instrumental in developing and connecting people and businesses. We ran an event in conjunction with Startup Victoria to run a wonderful event involving 300 start-ups and 12 Two Square Pegs experts were on hand to offer advice.

We were also fortunate to be shortlisted in The Australian Centre for Social Innovation (TACSI) grant for Innovation in Aging. We were taken through their 2 day workshop with TACSI providing useful information for developing a social enterprise that addresses the issues of ageing in the workforce in Australia. We then pitched Two Square Pegs to a panel in early November.

Whilst we did not win we are pleased to congratulate SeniorPrenuers, Test Kitchen and Boomers Power the Community who we expect to contribute significantly to improving the wellbeing of people well into the future. We will also share some of lessons learnt from pitching our social enterprise in a later blog.

StartupSmart Daily featured an article on Two Square Pegs. Plus I was interviewed on This Week in Startups Audio (TWISTA) for a radio podcast that will air in February.

Some of you might be interested in how my father inspired me to start Two Square Pegs. Watch the “Do you have a TED talk in you?” video where I share my vision.

Building community and diversity

It has been so exciting to be connecting with like-minded experts and businesses. We keep meeting innovative and socially minded people who are transforming the way business and work is done.
We’ve had the chance to meet many of you to hear the challenges you personally face as a business or a mature expert. There are so many opportunities to create more inter-generational conversations in the workplace that benefits everyone.

Businesses shared the three main areas they struggle with: sales and marketing, technology and finance. There are mature experts who can solve these issues, with strong knowledge in these areas. The challenge facing both businesses and experts is staying up-to-date with the rapid changes in technology — this is something we all need to be upskilling on, even the savviest of tech-heads.

What to expect in 2015

Our first collaborative learning event Connect, collaborate and grow will be run with The Slow School of Business on 29 January 2015. Especially for businesses, you will help set up your goals for 2015 and be connected with people who can help get you there.

Two Square Pegs will also be working with the Boroondara Council small business community to connect them to experts who can support their business growth and success. This is a trial that we hope will benefit both.
Expect more events throughout the year, regular tips and tools for experts and businesses in our e-newsletter that kicks off in January. Sign up to keep updated.

We are looking forward to matching more experts into roles and helping more small businesses grow into successful companies in 2015.

Ageism and employment: roundup

Ageism and employment: roundup

By Janice Formichella

When it comes to discrimination, ageism is one of the few "acceptable" forms in the workplace today claim some. Older workers face greater challenges than younger employees when it comes to competing for roles due to prevailing attitudes and stereotypes that prefer youth.
Mature workers face enormous struggles that are largely misunderstood, especially when trying to gain employment later in life or attempting to make transitions in their careers.
The good news is that, slowly, more awareness is being raised about the benefits of retaining employees over the age of 50. Plus there is increasing advocacy about the diverse challenges older employees face.
There is opportunity for senior-aged workers and their advocates in this movement of awareness. Workers and businesses need to start asking: how will the issue be approached, where will the conversations take place, and importantly, who will be the thought leaders and trailblazers?
The time to address these questions and frame the discussion is now. People continue to age and live much longer whilst the need for employment is increasing giving rise to more and more attention to the older workforce in the west.
Here is a small sampling of the conversations taking place:
  • How do we combat ageism? Lucy Handley, of the organisation High50 suggests one place to start is to examine the various ways employers have fought sexism, and utilise those tactics to retain women over 50 in high-leadership positions. (Huffington Post)
  • It's no secret that one challenge faced in battling ageism is representations of older individuals by the media. BBC may be emerging as a thought leader, as they "attempt to address" the lack of senior-aged news presenters. This effort on their part is combined with their admission that it is a wrongly held belief that viewers prefer seeing younger people as newscasters. (Bidness ETC)
  • Older female workers fear discrimination, and few speak up about it. The irony? Post-menopausal women feel a greater sense of freedom and may have even more to offer employers in their later years, if employers can learn to understand their needs. (Sydney Morning Herald)
  • A seemingly obvious consequence of sexism is a growing number of female baby boomers who have been prevented from saving enough to support themselves through retirement. Compounding the issue is the barriers to work older employees are facing. The result is increasing poverty among older women. (The Star Observer)

Tuesday, 19 August 2014

Five things I learnt from FI

Five things I learnt from Founder Institute

Today I'll be graduating from the Founder Institute (FI) entrepreneurship program. I'm super happy about this as it’s been four months of hard work to prove that I can create a meaningful and enduring technology company.
The company I've created called Two Square Pegs is developing a web platform that makes it easier for mature professionals to find meaningful and flexible roles in small businesses that need their skills and experience. Social good projects have been a particular passion of mine for a while now.
FI is a particularly tough incubator program and typically less than 50% of people graduate. In actual fact of our cohort from Melbourne, only eight from the 26 who originally started will be graduating.
As a result, I wanted to share some of the things I learnt throughout the program.

1. Back yourself

There is no way of graduating from FI if you don't back yourself or your idea. The FI schedule is tough, miss a class, miss a group meeting or miss an assignment and you'll be lumped with a special assignment (with a crazy amount of work) or potentially be asked to leave the program.
As a result, throughout FI many students dropped out due to work commitments, whether through increasing workloads or being sent overseas/interstate on assignments.
This taught me that if you aren't ready to leave your job or make some sacrifices, or work hard, are you really serious about your idea or being an entrepreneur?
To quote another FI student Jo Sayer who writes in her article Lessons learnt at the Founder Institute in Melbourne:
“It is intentionally tough. But so is the real world. Each week you spend about 8 hours in classes and group work, and an additional 15–20 hours on your weekly assignment. The program runs after hours, so you can still have the pleasure of your day job at the same time. Most of the people who leave the program do so because they don’t want to work that hard or they can’t keep up.”

2. Lack of time isn't always a bad thing

FI sticks to a pretty rigid schedule with classes, group meetings and assignments each week. The regular and tough deadlines for the FI assignments created an environment where you had to go out and “just do it”.
What I've learnt and am still surprised by even now, is how much work I have achieved in such a short space of time by simply “putting it out there”. You also become creative in solving problems, just because you don’t have the time to do things in a conventional way. It’s definitely a high pressure environment, but if you can stay calm, it leads to some great solutions and hacks.

3. It’s about the people and network around you

I’ve learnt as a founder that people are one of the most important aspects in ensuring your success. There are so many mentors, peers and people who helped me out by providing advice or filling in surveys or even referring the idea to a friend.
No one makes it as an entrepreneur without the support of a wider network of people who believe in what you do. Find those people, stay connected and make sure they know you appreciate them.
I wouldn't have made it to this point without the help and support of advisors, mentors, peers, family and friends — many thanks to you all. Thanks as well to Matt Allen and Sebastian von Conrad for all their hard work.

4. Get feedback early and often

The perfectionist in me would always cringe at having to show incomplete pieces of work to my peers or mentors. Especially knowing I could do so much better. I also had to explain why it was at that stage of “incompleteness” which I dreaded initially. However I learnt to get feedback early and often.
This created a process which made my work so much better for two reasons. I could get feedback on the different directions I could take in completing the task as well as a feedback on the idea for my proposed solution. This saved me time and resulted in better work.

5. Find time for other relationships

In the early months of the FI program I found myself working crazy hours. At one point, I worked two days straight without sleeping after receiving a special assignment. About two-thirds of the way into the program, I found the stress really getting to me. I wasn't getting enough sleep, worked long days testing the business and felt the pressure to constantly deliver great results in my FI work and other work commitments.
After a while my shoulders and neck became really tight and then… painful. I could relieve the pain temporarily through exercise and giving myself some down time to relax by reading a book or watching a movie. However, even these solutions which had always worked in the past, were becoming less effective.
One thing I realised was that, I had neglected friends and family. My thinking was that I would catch up and see them after the course was finished, as I was “too” busy. Fed up one weekend, I decided to stop working and start reconnecting. The interesting thing was that after a weekend of just doing ordinary mundane things with the people I care most about (like cleaning, babysitting and having dinner together)…. the pain disappeared.
It stayed away as long as I stayed connected to those I cared about. As a result, I made sure to schedule at least 2–4 hours a week catching up with friends and family thereafter, even if it meant I missed some key events,that I didn't get certain pieces of work done or a certain amount of exercise in.
I learnt a big lesson, about how not to burn out. For me it’s to stay connected to other relationships in my life.

Tuesday, 12 August 2014

The age of ageism

Ageism is rife in a western society that elevates and fetishizes youth, leaving our wisest counsel in business and experienced business know-how outside of the picture. When the experts are unable to meaningful contribute – both business and the mature worker loses.
Many corporations replace their mature professional staff with younger staff each year, keeping just enough of the experience and knowledge they believe they need at the top of the management hierarchy. Middle aged, middle to upper management is often made redundant to make way for younger managers with “new” job titles, who move into the same role until they too reach their expiry date.

To be clear, ageism in the workplace is illegal but that doesn't seem to be stopping certain employers and especially not the ones in the ‘tech world’. Lisa Eadicicco from Business Insider recently reported that in a rather lengthy Hacker News thread, numerous software developers voiced their concerns about what happens once they hit age 30.

The fact is ageism is mainly about reducing perceived costs. Although older people have more experience in general, they also have families, earn higher salaries, and are less likely to put in crazy hours. Additionally, businesses wonder if these mature workers who are 20 or 25 years into their career are ‘tech savvy’ enough, and if they have kept their skills current and updated.

In The New Republic, Noam Scheiber who writes about ageism in the ‘tech world’ quotes a 40-plus developer whose department consists mostly of 20-year-olds

“People presume an older developer learned some trade skill five to ten years ago and has been coasting on it ever since.”

From a capitalist perspective why would you pay more money for someone willing to work less hours at the perceived same level of work. Think about it, this is not so different to our consumerist attitudes of “upgrading” our products. So too are corporations upgrading to a new model (aka younger worker), with all of his or her shiny new technology skills.

There has been a social move toward a task-based workforce from a relationships-based workforce over the last three decades. This is creating high-unemployment for the 45 and over whose skills are perceived as “outdated” and whose accumulated knowledge and experience are minimalised. If this trend continues, will we see people considered redundant at 35 as technology continues to shape all industries?

In a Forbes article by Krisztina Holly, people who start businesses when they are older (those 50+) have a higher rate of success due to their experience and networks. In fact there are twice as many successful entrepreneurs who are over 50 than those under 25. She writes:

“More experienced leaders tend to have deeper networks, experience managing teams, and better business savvy and skills for delivering on their vision.

“We must create an environment that encourages experienced talent to recognise new business opportunities.”

Are we creating a scenario where businesses are missing out on opportunities or are perpetuating problems because the experts are no longer a part of meaningful conversations?

Ultimately making money means building good connections. Good connections involve people with the experience, know-how and wisdom to make things work.

The question is, do companies agree?