Judges on Fire: Teresa Cottam, Chief Analyst, Omnisperience

In our Judges on Fire series of podcasts, we aim to let you get to know our judges a little better. They also get the chance to share their wisdom and tips about entering the Tech Trailblazers Awards. For our seventh outing we are connecting with Teresa Cottam, Chief Analyst at Omnisperience. Teresa is another of our judges who’s been with us since right at the beginning of the Awards.

In an enlightening discussion, Teresa shares her enthusiastic passion for the technology industry, particularly the mobile space which she focuses on. You will discover her top tips for entering the Tech Trailblazers Awards, the startup potential in the “new normal”, how the mobile communications industry is inherently diverse – except for women, and the commercial infeasibility of the internet-connected bra and hairbrush.

So, over to Rose Ross, Founder of the Tech Trailblazers Awards, as she interviews Teresa Cottam in our seventh Judges on Fire podcast.


Also available on:

Interview transcript

RR: Good morning, and welcome to the Tech Trailblazers Judges on Fire podcast. Im delighted to be joined by Teresa Cottam from Omnisperience, who has been one of our judges in the mobile category since the beginning. Good morning Teresa.

TC: Good morning Rose, and good morning to your listeners.

RR: Well its great that youve been able to join us, and obviously weve known each other since the beginning of the Tech Trailblazers, so could you give the audience a brief history of who you are, including some of perhaps your proudest achievements.

TC: Crickey, that’s a tall order Rose!

RR: The brief bits of it!

TC: I’m a telecoms industry analyst and I’ve spent most of my career as an analyst. I began working for Ovum as it was then known, it’s now part of Informa Telecoms Group, but it was Ovum back in the day. Then I had a brief interlude working for a dotcom, if you remember what those are everybody. It was basically a startup, so I have had experience of working for a startup myself, and went back to being an industry analyst working for a company called Chorleywood. We were then acquired by Informa, so all roads lead to Informa. Then I worked for an Analysys Mason, and after that I set up my own analyst firm, largely because I wanted to I suppose go off-piste a list bit, and analyse things in a slightly different way from the methodologies that some of the big analyst houses use. So, that’s been a lot of fun.

Initially, our firm was called Telesperience, and then we rebranded a few years ago and became Omnisperience, which is what we are today. We cover the telecoms space, particularly the telecom B2B space. So, we look at lots of different vertical markets and help the comms operators understand what those customers might need.

In terms of achievements, I don’t know! I’ve published quite a few things I’m quite proud of, I’m a judge for the GLOMO Awards, the Global Mobile Awards that GSMA run every year, which is quite interesting and sits alongside the work that I do with you Rose, so that’s quite an interesting awards to do. I suppose my greatest achievement is I wrote a book which I’m hoping is going to be published soon, and probably my knitting I think, I’m really into my knitting.

RR: Is that lockdown knitting, or is that already in situ knitting?

TC: Well, I do what I call ‘stress knitting’, some people go and meditate or whatever, and I just knit. I knitted twenty hats during lockdown, so yes I’m quite productive.

RR: So, youre ready for winter then.

TC: I am indeed, and so are all of my friends!

RR: A bit of a spoiler for Christmas presents I think that!

TC: They know what they’re getting this year.

RR: Excellent. So, youve talked a bit about your area of expertise. What are you seeing thats hot in the market?

TC: In the telecoms market things tend to be quite cyclical, and at the moment we’re just at the stage where we’re building out the next generation of networks, so that’s both 5G, which is coming to market at the moment, and Fibre to the Premises or to the Home, so full fibre networks. What this is going to deliver is massive amounts of capacity, and everyone is super-excited about that, but as usual in telecoms it’s reached that point of the cycle where we also need to think about how we monetise it. Unfortunately, and somewhat disappointingly, every time we roll out new networks we forget about this important fact until almost at the end. We have a sort of “Build it and they will come” mindset, and it’s not really good enough. We have to think about our customers, and what they actually need and want, and by meeting their needs then increase our own revenues, that’s really, really important.

So, at the moment we’re doing quite a lot of work at Omnisperience in terms of helping telecoms operators to understand their customers, and what their customers need. That’s both on the pricing-packaging-billing side, and also on the customer experience side which is the kind of experience that you want to deliver, what that next generation’s experience should be like.

RR: Very interesting that you should mention that. Ive just done a podcast for TechBritannia with Dr Ranulf Scarbrough who is doing a project to connect the Polynesian Islands to fibre, theyve just been laying cable out to LA and back to Australia.

TC: Yes, I think this is revolutionary, one of the fun things about being in the telecoms industry is that from when I first started to now, every single year there’s something new happening. You certainly can’t sit on your laurels, you are learning all the time, and almost what you knew five years ago is now obsolete, so you can’t stand still, nothing stands still. Some people get really get excited about the technology itself, and there’s a lot to get excited about, but for me I’m really more excited about what it does for people, economies as well.

When you look at the world and those of us that can remember 25 years ago, we think about what the world was like. We tend to forget that there was a time in which very few people had mobile phones, and now everybody’s got these incredibly powerful little computers in their pocket. Even in developing countries everyone is buying mobiles, even if they are lower spec mobiles, cheaper mobiles, and it’s connecting them to the world, to the internet, and transforming their lives as a result. It connects them to education, it connects them to work, it connects them to things like healthcare. So, it’s had an incredible effect on people around the world. I think that’s something that our industry is justifiably proud of, and it’s one of the great things about working in this industry is seeing how it transforms people’s lives.

RR: Particularly at the moment, were definitely seeing that life would have been very different for people going through the pandemic.

TC: Sure, how would we have managed this if we didn’t have the cloud, and if we didn’t have mobile phones, and we didn’t have broadband? If we think about when we were all a lot younger and these things weren’t there, we can’t imagine how we’d have managed. In fact for most people, although though there may have been some initial challenges, we did manage to keep going, and you really do thank goodness for those cloud apps, and the fact that although the connectivity might not be as fantastic as we would dream of, it did keep us connected and it did keep going. So, yeah we have been quite lucky in a lot of ways I suppose.

RR: Yes, absolutely. The likes of Zoom and other video-conferencing applications have been great for keeping people connected, who would normally spend time face-to-face, and perhaps those that you dont spend time face-to-face with, but you did want to see how they were getting on. And working as well, it has revolutionised the business diary somewhat! Where you can have back-to-back meetings, pretty much.

TC: As you’ll appreciate, part of our job as analysts is that we’re always looking to the future, and we’re looking at what’s coming, and trying to help telecoms service providers and businesses to understand what this means for them, and what they should do about it. So, we’re there to try to help them to navigate change effectively. Undoubtedly, the pandemic has really changed the working world, and the way people are living, and if you think about just the UK alone, you’ve seen millions of people all of a sudden en masse working at home, and a lot of them very reluctant to go back to work in a centralised fashion. A lot of businesses are also saying now that this distributed mode of working is something that they’re going to support long term, because it’s what their employees want. I think although home working isn’t a new thing it’s been going on for 20+ years, what we have seen is that a lot of the myths around home working, that people would just be sitting there playing with their children, watching TV, and not actually working have proven not to be true. People have been very productive, they’ve adapted to working at home, and it means they can avoid that thankless commute into the office every single day.

Yes, there are challenges with adopting a home-working mode of working, but most of them can be overcome, we’re all learning our way. Those of us that worked at home for a long period of time – I’ve worked at home for about 16 years, and we’re old hands at this, we know that there is a transition process, but there are solutions to a lot of the problems that have come up. This whole thought process led to us at Omnisperience, rolling out a new concept which is the Smart Lifespace, what we’re saying is that a lot of companies have traditionally sold into households, and that households are now not just a place where you sleep, and you might talk to your granny on the phone or something; they are a place where people are living, working, and playing, and the market has really, really changed.

So, those houses have now got lots of IoT devices cropping up in them, they’re also where we’re working – we’re not just working from home as in working for a larger businesses, we might be running lots of little businesses from home. A lot of people have got side gigs these days, and there’s lots of other services that we might now need within the home, that certainly wasn’t the case 20 years ago. So, it’s creating an enormous opportunity for innovation, and for companies to come in and address this new way of living and working that we’ve all entered into, and that the pandemic has sort of accelerated.

RR: Absolutely. So, from your perspective, youve talked a lot about the future, about innovation, and obviously thats what were all about isnt it at Tech Trailblazers, looking at whats coming down the pipe from a mobile perspective. What do you look for when youre judging entries?

TC: It’s hard to give you a recipe, but I have got some hints and tips. I tend to think quite laterally, so sometimes you’ll see the perfect piece of technology at the perfect time, and in my day job this is the case as well. Sometimes you see the perfect piece of technology that’s ahead of its time, and that can be quite frustrating because you know that this is something very, very innovative, but the market might not be quite ready for it. And sometimes you’ll see a really interesting piece of technology, where the people that have built it just don’t really understand what the market is for that piece of technology. They’ve built it because they’re technologists and they love technology, but haven’t really thought about the commercial aspects, what it’s suitable for. Or they may even think they know what it’s suitable for, but actually there’s a bigger opportunity to the side that they’ve completely ignored. So, a lot of my day job is about helping people to understand what they’ve got, what the potential is, and what they want to do with it.

When it comes to something like an Awards, my first point would be to say, when writing a submission, you have to think of the judges. So, we’ve got lots and lots of entries to read, you obviously want your entry to stand out, so that you can sell it to us. The first thing is get to the point, we see a lot of entries and they might be quite longwinded or wind about, they don’t get to the point and say what’s really special about what they have. That can take quite a bit of work, all of us can write a couple of pages on what we’ve got, or on our pet topic, but to then go and distill that into a paragraph is quite a hard thing to do, but it’s a really important exercise.

When you’ve done it, what you should do is then go and find some random person in your office, or someone who has got nothing to do with what you’re doing, get them to read it and tell you whether they understand it or not. Because sometimes we get so into what we’re doing, we’re not seeing it and explaining it in a way that outsiders can really understand. So, I think there’s an exercise that people need to go through in terms of explaining succinctly what they do, which will help those long-suffering judges who have got lots and lots of things that they need to read.

Always get it proofread, always go through and make sure that the English is right, because we’re not going to be impressed if the thing is written in really bad English, and hasn’t got any full stops and commas in the right places, and stuff like this. You might think that’s a really basic thing to say, Rose, but we do see quite a lot of submissions that are just very badly written.

I’m a great advocate for the highlighter pen method, maybe because I’m old. I would really recommend that you print out your entry, get a highlighter pen, and go over it and say, “What are the really important points here that I want to stand out?” Then look at it again and say, “And are they standing out?”, “Have I made the most of these points?”, “Have I written it in a way that these points are really pinging off the page? Do I need to do another rewrite?”

If you make an assertion, if you start to talk about your market for example, back those up with data. We live in the data age, but there is nothing worse than reading an entry that is just reading like marketing speak with lots of spin in it, and no facts. Because believe me, we get entries where they’ve really done their research, every point is backed up, and those are always going to stand out and be taken more seriously, than one that is just full of fancy words and marketing speak. As much as your marketing department might think they’ve done a good job, we’re not here to judge your marketing, we’re here to judge your products and your proposition.

Enthusiasm and passion always really stand out, so if you’ve got a founder who really understands why they’re doing this, that really does stand out more than if you’ve given it to some marketer, and they’ve written it but perhaps they didn’t really grasp what it was all about, or they didn’t have the passion of the founder. So, I think having that focus that you get from a founder is quite important as well in a submission.

Beyond that, what I’m looking for is something that is practical. You often get things that are great technology but you have to really think about who would buy this, and why. There’s a big common sense thing to this. If you haven’t explained in words of one syllable to me, why someone would want to buy this, then I’m going to have to try and figure that out, and I’m going to use my common sense to do that. So, I want to see a piece of technology that I can say, “Yeah, there’s a really big need for that in the market, I get it”. And if your product is something that’s a bit more complex, and perhaps a bit more technical and harder to get, then you really have to work hard to explain to me who is going to buy it and why, for it to stand out.

RR: Obviously, this year were closing relatively soon, 25th September, are you looking for anything in particular? Do you think things like the pandemic are going to be rising to the top as drivers for a lot of the new technology? Or do you think there are other factors in play?

TC: If the awards that come in are just application, application, about social business, I think that would be quite boring. I think there are some things that the pandemic will have accelerated that could be very interesting, so the whole working from home piece, as I said earlier, I think there’s some very interesting applications around that, and I would really like to see them. I think they’re very saleable, because I don’t think people are going to go back to five days a week working in a centralised office. I think there’s a massive market just opened up there and people that get into that market soon, I think there’s a big opportunity for them.

What the pandemic has also done is put new wings on some technology that looked like they were promising for a very long time, but really didn’t take off. We’re recording this podcast over Zoom, and video conferencing would be a great example of that, where we were all really enthusiastic about it, thought it was a good idea, and it’s been very slow to take off over a long period of time. But people have really been educated during the pandemic about the value of video conferencing, and now that’s a market that’s booming again.

A lot of things to do with the smart home will be interesting to see as well, if those are applications, we’re going to see some interesting use cases from those. One of the most frustrating things, I don’t know about you Rose, that I find about smart home is that we get very excited about having an internet-connected kettle, or an internet-connected light, but these things break, a lot. I’d be really interested to see something that helps me manage them better, and assure that those objects are working in the way that I would want them to. I’d be quite interested in seeing that as well.

RR: That might be a little more on the GLOMO side of things, Im struggling to see how we would get that into an enterprise tech environment! But yes, I think there will be an awful lot of that type of stuff happening. It is interesting the way we cant say hername, because shell start asking us questions, but yes it is funny when youre on a Zoom call and everybody starts telling their ‘A’ lady to do something, and then five voices pop up, going, Sorry, I didnt understand that!

TC: Our digital assistant is everywhere now, it’s in every room. I think though, from the security side of the awards, it’s brought up some really interesting scenarios as well, and those kind of applications are really interesting at the moment, which is how we assure and how we secure our smart home. One of the challenges that it’s brought is that with everybody working at home, we might have secured our offices very, very well, but all of a sudden our perimeters have just disappeared, our workforce is at home, and not just at home, we’ve got this ‘work anywhere’ sort of scenario that’s come to the fore, which is working in coffee shops, or train stations, wherever. When we finally get sick of working within four walls at home, we want a change of space and we want to go there, and that brings up a whole load of new security nightmares that businesses are going to have to try and tackle.

So, there’s a lot of new challenges as a result of the changes brought about by the pandemic, and it will be really interesting to see some solutions to them.

RR: The CSOs have probably enjoyed working from home, but it must be very hard when you’re used to having effectively a fortress to protect, where now everything is out in the wild.

TC: Yes, and we’re on consumer broadband, and we’re using consumer security packages, and consumer mobiles, and there’s all the consumer IoT, and those so-called smart objects that aren’t really that smart from a security point of view. So, yes there’s a lot of vulnerabilities there, and changes to the way we’re working. We’re talking about the UK now but we’ve got to remember that the world has basically started working from home, which brings lots and lots of challenges! I did a teleconference with a contact from Israel, they were sitting outside in the sunshine, you can hear all the birds singing, it was really quite idyllic. When people do that and we’re in the winter, or it’s raining here in the UK, it makes us quite jealous I suppose, but it just shows that the workplace has really turned inside out, and it’s wherever your workers are now.

There’s also a lot more temporary workers, and gig economy workers, not everybody is employed, and that brings in a whole load of challenges as well. From a mobile point of view we’re very much more mobile, and as I’ve said, we’ve got things like 5G just rolling out, and there’s a lot of unknowns around that. It’s a great platform for innovation and we want to see some innovation happening, but we’re really just at the cutting edge of that at the moment, particularly in the UK. So it will be interesting to see over the next few years how that enables and provides a platform for innovation in the mobile space.

RR: Definitely, and it’s interesting what you’re saying about the contacts everywhere, and you’re getting to see people most times in their home environment, which I find fascinating. It’s a bit like a business version of Gogglebox.

TC: It is, and you do certainly see a different side to people I think Rose, don’t you. But I think there’s been a humanisation gone on, which is very interesting when you contrast it with what’s happening in the technology world, because what we’re seeing is a lot of automation and AI coming into the market. Everything seems to be AI enabled at the moment.

RR: Absolutely, we’re seeing already entries in that, either with a slant of that or focused on that.

TC: Well these are brilliant things, and it’s great to have automation, and automation can do some fantastic things for us. You can over-automate, and you can have what I call bad automation, so sometimes people want to talk to another person, often because their query is very complex, and if they’re forced just to deal with some automated process that doesn’t accommodate that, then it can be extremely frustrating. I think there are limitations to artificial intelligence still, it’s getting cleverer and cleverer every year, but there are certain things that it doesn’t do very well, it doesn’t do empathy, it doesn’t adjust to very complex scenarios, because at the end of the day somebody has to train it and set up the rules, at least at the moment, as to what the AI can handle.

So, we still need human beings in the process, and I think the key is to blend the human, the AI, and automation, then you really are cooking on gas. I think the humans add some kind of secret sauce still, and I think what businesses really need to do is get the technology to do the heavy lifting, and save the humans where they add the value, where they add that human face to the experience, rather than expecting poor processes to be compensated for, or integrated by means of a human having to do it. Those kind of things should all really be handled by technology, and the person just there to deal with the things that they’re best at doing.

RR: Yes, I did have an experience with a mobile provider who had a WhatsApp group for customer contact, which was fine as long as you stayed within the parameters that they wanted you to stay in, which they were geared up for. As soon as you went off-piste it just got a bit ridiculous. But that said, they did bring it back because the guy actually phoned me up, so there was somebody else, there was an automated element to it, and then it then kicked in to a human being, so it was kind of a hybrid. Maybe that’s what we need isn’t it, as you say, get some of the staff that can be automated very effectively for efficiency sake, and then bring in the human touch when you need it.

TC: Yes, and I think mobilisation as well. So, most people are accessing things now from their mobiles, and not all applications work great on mobile, so one of the half-step challenges is to really get that mobile experience. We’re talking as ladies of a certain age, and I’m sure your audience will comprise of a lot of people of a certain age as well that has some history in the tech industry. But we’re also building for non-techies, for the elderly people who for most of their lives this technology didn’t exist, and they’re having to adjust to it. And we’re building at the other end of the scale, people who have never known anything but the mobile platform, and can’t imagine life behind it and believe it’s a human right to have a mobile with connectivity. So, when you think of the sheer scope of customers that we have now, it’s quite mind-boggling, and actually democratising technology, making it available to wider and wider groups of people, making it work very easily, I think is exciting, and I think it’s one of the next biggest challenges for this decade, so the maximum number of people can use it, can enjoy, and can benefit from it.

The experience can still be very clunky, you don’t have to invent the most advanced technology for it to be impressive. Sometimes you’re just making something that already exists work much, much better, and that is an innovation itself. We must remember that when we look back at the last 10 years, we think about the likes of Apple who didn’t invent a lot of technology, but what they did was they made technology work better for ordinary people. When they came into the market you were still getting a smartphone arriving, they weren’t even smartphones, they were feature phones at that point, we were still getting a phone arriving without it being charged, and rather than having that lovely unboxing experience and being able to use your lovely new toy, you had to go and plug it in for a few hours before you could use it.

RR: I remember it being 24 hours, it was a whole day!

TC: It was, and Steve Jobs realising that that was not a satisfactory experience, and sending out the phones with charged batteries so that people could use them straightaway, thinking about how people use mobile and making it work in a way that was easier, and more fun, and just worked more logically, that you didn’t need to have some sort of PhD in IT in order to be able to use these devices was a revelation. The last 10 years has really been fueled by that, but we’re not there yet, there’s still a lot of things that need to happen to create a more enjoyable mobile experience. So applications that deliver that, I think, are very interesting.

RR: So, obviously we’ve talked about the technology element of it, and you said yourself that you’ve been inside a startup, in the dotcom bubble time, and you’ve spoken to lots and lots of startups in all of their various phases, from a sort of probably conceptual, through to pre-IPO and post-IPO, and pre-exit to a sale to a large vendor. What would you say are your tips to them at the moment? Because I think we’re seeing an awful lot of, over and above the challenges that you face in a startup environment anyway, things are incredibly tough at the moment for many people, as you say remote workers, dispersed teams, the economic climate as we all head into recession as it appears, what would you say are some key points that you’ve picked up along the way, that may be helpful?

TC: If you’re a startup and you’re looking to grow at the moment, I think there’s a good market out there for you, and what we’ve seen a lot of in recent years is what I would call the outsourcing of innovation. So a lot of large companies don’t do as much internal innovation as they used to do, they don’t have the time, innovation is quite a risky thing to do. They prefer to go out and consume startups because then they know what they’re buying. So it’s kind of interesting in a way if you think about this sideways, you sometimes get a founder who sees their product and their company as their baby, and they have a very personal relationship with it. So I would counsel you to have a passion for it, not to start to see it as your child, as your offspring, because at the end of the day this is all about business. You’re wanting to take investment onboard so you need to share ownership of that product, eventually you’re going to want to sell it. Some founders find it very hard to let go because they’ve invested so much of themselves into it, they find it hard to take advice, they find it hard to admit that they might not be the best person to grow the business to the next stage.

So, I think right from the start you need to have a very practical view that this is a good idea that you have had, and that you are building, but your objective is to sell this successfully and make a lot of money, so that you can then live the life that you want to live, and that might include another startup, you might take the money that you have – and we see this quite often where you have serial entrepreneurship where someone will have a successful first exit, and then will either become an investor in other startups, or they will go on and found another startup. Often it’s the second or third startup where they’ve learnt along the way, and they have a much, much bigger exit the second or third time around.

But be practical, realise that this is an idea that you are guiding through these different stages, that you need external advice sometimes, you need to be outside the echo chamber. So, everybody internally might be telling you this idea is great and everything is fantastic, and sometimes you need someone to come from outside and tell you what’s wrong. I would call myself a constructive cynic, Rose, because I have to tell a lot of people that their babies are ugly. They all love their babies, they all love their products, they all think that their product in beautiful, and I have to come in and pick spots and tell them what’s wrong with it, and how they need to change it. I try to do that in a constructive way because I’m mindful of the fact because at the end of the day these people are putting their blood, sweat, and tears into this startup, and what they deserve to get is a successful exit which leaves them financially sound. So to do that we have to really look at this in the cold light of day and say, is this something that people will buy, and if not, why not, and how do we improve it? How do we make it more saleable?

So, that’s my biggest piece of advice, is be realistic, have a little bit of emotional separation as hard as that can be sometimes, because I do want you to be passionate about your product but you do have to have a little bit of… it’s a bit like that teenage stage I suppose where you’re separating slightly from your baby, and letting it stand on its own two feet, and you have to do that with a product as well.

RR: Well I know how that one’s going, because I’ve got a teenager and you’ve got yours of a similar age. We’re living that one right now.

TC: Yes, and it can be very difficult, and I think people underestimate the emotional impact of building a company, because you do put your life and soul into it, you have to have a passion for what you’re doing to put yourself through this amount of pain. As judges I’m very aware of that, but on the other hand there is no point in going down a rabbit hole. You do need to be creating something that you can extract value out of, that somebody else is prepared to invest in, or to buy from you. So, it is really important to sometimes stop and get that external perspective; are we doing this right? Is there something we’re missing? What would ordinary people think of this? Where would our market be? Someone that will ask the right questions and give you a different honest perspective.

By the way, that isn’t an easy thing to do either, it’s very hard to go into a room full of people, all of whom absolutely passionately love what they’re doing, and then to say, “Excuse me, I have a problem with what you’re doing, because… and this is what I think you should do about it”. So, please respect us as well when we pick spots; you should really challenge us and say, “You’ve told us what’s wrong with our product, but do you have an answer as to how we could improve it?” That is a comeback that you could have on us, and have an expectation to do that. But you do have to see the value as well, when you enter an awards scheme like this, one of the really valuable things you’re getting back from it hopefully is some feedback, and some validation, and some hints and tips for improvement, which should be very valuable to you.

RR: Just to round up, this is something that we have talked about, you and I, in the past, and obviously has become more and more of a topic in the business world that we both operate in, is around the diversity in the world of IT and in technology. What do you see that would be able to help facilitate that?

TC: I think in the tech world we don’t really have a problem in terms of ethnic diversity, at least in mobile because the whole world is involved in this. The amount of innovation I’m seeing coming out of markets like Africa is just unbelievable, and Asia is so far ahead pushing technology, extremely IT literate people there. So, I work in a globalised market, we don’t have a problem with ethnic diversity, the industry by nature is ethnically diverse, everybody is engaged in it, and the barriers to entry have decreased, very modest nowadays. So young people can pick up the tools and start to build something pretty easily.

I think where we do have a problem is getting more women involved in the industry. Technology even today tends to be something that is seen as a male preserve, and I am somewhat disappointed by the numbers of women that we see in the industry today. It varies according to the market, so you can go to some markets where there are relatively more women, but it’s certainly not 50/50. There are number of reasons I think why women are not entering the industry in the volume that we would like to see, and I don’t think it’s because the tech industry is making it difficult. I’ve got arms open waiting to embrace women into the industry if they choose to join it, there’s a shortage of many skillsets and they would be happy to take anybody or anything!… to fill some of these jobs.

RR: Or anything! It’s that level of diversity!

TC: Yes, they’re absolutely desperate to get people into some of these jobs, and go out and market to young people to come into the industry. We do a lot of work in terms of mid-career as well, trying to get people who have maybe hit a wall with their career and are bored, and give them the skills to come into the industry as well. So, we’re quite good at doing that, but I think it starts before they hit our industry in schools, that people get into a mindset, women get into a mindset that the technology industry is not for them. I certainly go out and a lot of other women do, and a lot of companies do, into schools.

I do try to breakdown this perception and explain that whoever you are, whatever you are, whatever your interests are, there is a role for you in technology, whether you just want to become a multibillionaire, well your chance of doing that in our industry is probably better than in most. Whether you want to travel the world, and you just love working with people from all over the world, it’s a great industry for that. Whether you want to do good, because our industry does an awful lot of good, both because we give money altruistically, but also because the tools that we’re building are really helping to do a lot of good in the world, whether that’s helping people to work their own way out of poverty, and to give people the tools so they can do that, or whether it’s helping the environment even. We’ve got a good track record, we’re moving to renewables en mass, we substitute for all that commuting so we’re helping there. There’s lots of things that we do that help the environment in this industry.

So I go through lots of different motivations and explain that you don’t have to be a coder to work in technology. There’s so many other jobs in this industry, and it’s trying to get those young people at a certain age, open their eyes, and get them to understand that if you’re neurodiverse, if you’re for example on the autistic spectrum, that we embrace you, there’s lots and lots of roles that people like that are brilliant at working within our industry that require people to concentrate on detail, and to be fanatical about detail. We have a lot of people that are neurodiverse within our industry.

So, it’s really about perception, I think we do sometimes think encounter sexism within the industry, but I must say, in my career that’s been very rare. I think most of the men that work in the industry that I’ve encountered would like to see a lot more women, and I think women bring a perspective that our industry vitally needs. I’ve seen so many male-led startups that have come up with technology that is just not viable. I’ll give you an example, I wrote about this a couple of years ago, there was a hilarious example of an internet connected bra that a man had come up with. I pointed out to him as a woman I really couldn’t see a market for it, and he looked very mystified. The reason is because it would have to be certified as a medical device because it’s so close to your body, and you’d have to really make sure it was safe. Also, the idea behind it, he was trying to do good, which was women can sometimes get into very difficult situations, in some countries can be at high risk of being sexually assaulted.

RR: Oh right, it was a personal safety device, rather than just a…

TC: Yes, I pointed out to him that you could be sexually assaulted without touching the bra, and that I was slightly worried that it might be sending messages to the police while you were legitimately engaging in something frisky, and that would be quite embarrassing. So there were a whole load of reasons why this thing wouldn’t work, not least because he hadn’t thought about whether it was washable, or not. So I think women can bring a perspective.

Another example would be the internet connected hairbrush, which was going to cost about $150, and I just didn’t believe that there were very many women that would want to go and pay $150 just to be told whether they were brushing their hair right or not. So, we can bring in some sort of practical cynical eye, which can stop you going down that rabbit hole and developing something that really there isn’t a market for, and to help guide you in a direction where there is some money and you can use your talents to better effect.

RR: I don’t think those two were really viable, but they have brightened things up in my world anyway!

TC: We have a collection called The Internet of Silly Things. I think because there aren’t enough women in the IoT world we do see this, these silly things, just because you can connect it to the internet doesn’t mean to say that you should. Sometimes you need someone to tell you that at an early stage, before you’ve invested too much money, time, and effort, producing something that there isn’t actually a market for. There’s so many things that it would be cool to connect the internet, so put your talents to good use, to something that will really enhance people’s lives. And more importantly, that people are prepared to pay for, because we’re not in a charity business here, if there isn’t a group of people that will pay hard cash for your product then you don’t really have something that’s commercially viable, do you. Somebody has to be prepared to part with their hard-earned cash for your concept, for it to be commercially viable.

RR: Yes, and even more so in the commercial world now where people are finding their budgets are going to be even more scrutinised than they were previously.

TC: Substitution applications would be interesting in this current market, so if you’ve got something that will help somebody, they spend a bit on money on whatever it is that you’re doing, to save a little bit of money somewhere else, then I think that would have legs at the moment, because I think from the autumn, from now onwards, as the furlough schemes disappear and the short-time working ceases, and people start to run out of credit, I think you are going to find large sectors of the community which are cash constrained, and therefore anything that is going to help save a bit of money for those people I think would be of interest.

Environmental things, as I said last year we were talking about the environment quite a lot, it hasn’t really gone away. It’s a little bit quieter profile after COVID, but we’re still looking at how we can do things that have a positive environmental impact. A lot of big companies, we must remember, have got environmental goals built into their business models now, so things like applications that can help save power, or we talked about the fact that a lot of homeworking technology substitutes for commuting, all those big centralised offices which are very power-hungry places, all those kind of things are very interesting.

The other thing that we know is true, is that we have an aging population in a lot of countries, so applications that support healthcare, support people being able to live longer in their own homes safely, all those kind of things are all very, very interesting applications at the moment with our aging population. We touched on earlier that there are some parts of the employment market where there are really big shortages in terms of skillset, so anything that helps enable us to find these in-demand skills, or automate some of that stuff to fill that gap, are interesting.

There’s just so much out there, I’ve got quite an eclectic take when it comes to technology, Rose. So I’m hoping to see something that makes me sit up and say, “I didn’t think of that, but actually it’s really obvious”. When you find an application where you think, “That’s really obvious, why didn’t somebody think of that before?” you’re onto a winner, because it’s already got a market, it’s just that nobody had noticed the gap. So, I’m hoping to see one of those this time around.

RR: Fabulous. Is there anything else that you’d like to share, perhaps about you… well obviously we know about the knitting now! …that you think would be good to share with our listeners?

TC: I think one of the things, I’m a woman so I have a different perspective on technology than perhaps the majority of male analysts do. I also live in the countryside, I live out of a main city and I find that a lot of analysts, a lot of technologists tend to live in tech hubs, or they live in big cities. I think when you come out into the countryside and you see ordinary people, everyday people, and their experience of technology, that gives you another perspective on the technology world. If you live in California for example, in Silicon Valley, or even the Silicon Roundabout in London, and all these other tech hubs, you’re surrounded by other technology enthusiast people that are very educated about technology, and have access to fantastic bandwidth, then I think you have a very different perspective than when you live outside in the countryside, in a place where you’re bandwidth constrained, and the majority of people aren’t very technology literate. That’s our mass market, those are the people who we have to convince to use our technology. So I think sometimes it’s really good to get outside our own bubble, to look at it from the perspective of other people, whether that’s older people, younger people, people of a different sex or a different culture, and get as many perspectives on what you’re doing as possible.

RR: Fantastic. Well, thank you so much for joining us Teresa, it’s always a pleasure to catch up. Some great insights there, some great things that I’ve not heard of before, this is what it’s all about. And we love having you involved, because you bring your own enthusiasm and passion for the world of startups in the mobile world, and in IoT.

So, thank you again for joining us on the Judges on Fire podcast from the Tech Trailblazers.

TC: Thank you very much for having me Rose.

RR: Yes, fantastic, and for our listeners, you can review what we’ve been talking about, we’d love your feedback. You can listen, obviously, to other podcasts both on the Founders on Fire, where we speak to the winners, and also to other judges, and also follow us on social @Techtrailblaze on Twitter, and you can find us as Tech Trailblazers on LinkedIn.

Thank you very much.