Strong Women in Business - Dominique Fisher on Harnessing the Power of Change
We recently marked International Women’s Day by celebrating our Founder and CEO, Dominique Fisher. As she continues to pioneer in the tech space she still manages to make sure she gives back to the community through her businesses and mentoring approach! Her journey is unexpected and completely inspiring to any young woman looking to make a name for herself.
Where did your journey begin? Tell us about your area of study. How did that influence where you took your career?
I did a Bachelor of Arts Hons. (Public Policy) at the University of Sydney. I was lucky enough to have Professor Henry Mayer, as one of my lecturers. He was fun, crazy and an absolute giant intellectually! His passion was understanding that potent mix of media and politics - he introduced me to the world of influence - to see it, to understand it, to use it and never fall victim to it. There was a group of us (made up of various generations of Syd Uni students and graduates) who were referred to as “Henry’s children” - we have all gone on to have careers in and around media and technology!
My Honours thesis was focused on the “public inquiry process that led to the creation of a national satellite system for Australia”. It was a highly political decision that was to have major implications for the Australian media moguls at the time - Packer, Murdoch and Fairfax families - who absolutely controlled the media in Australia. I had already well and truly been bitten by the tech bug that has stayed with me to this very day.
Tell us about your first exposures to technology; specifically satellite technologies and the development of Australia’s first online trading network. How did this come about and what was your involvement?
Australia chose to launch a series of satellites (two in 1985 and one in 1987) that would enable television to be broadcast into remote and regional areas across Australia for the first time. It was a very exciting time for anyone fascinated by the power of media and enabling technology! My interests have always been in the place where technology and public policy meet - i.e. how do you regulate and ‘control’ new technology (before it’s launched) when the public policy makers do not even understand the impact of its implementation until it’s too late?
It's hard to believe, but at pretty much the same time around 1983, US researchers were developing what would become internet protocol (TCP/IP) that enabled a web of networks to become the world wide web. Computer scientist, Tim Berners-Lee, invented the World Wide Web (www) in 1990 that we know today! I was already fascinated by new technology and witnessed the explosion and power of that new technology - hypertext, browsers, HTML, Flash, URL, HTTP… new concepts, new words, new possibilities. This would enable people to communicate irrespective of where they were - the possibilities are endless!
At the same time, I was running my own business, advising people on how to manage the media. I laugh now at how insane that was - I was in my early 20s instructing senior executives of major corporations on media presentation and management, and they listened to me! I had my first child in 1988 (John Edward, my co-founder of Paddl Co.) and realised that having worked for a corporate for 3 years (AUSSAT, Australia’s satellite system) I would never return to the corporate world. I wanted the freedom to be with my son and work when I wanted to and chase the endless possibilities offered by technology.
My personal passion has always been food and cooking and great wine. I already knew I was an entrepreneur (a trait I inherited from my father and his ancestors) and was running a publishing company at the time that led me to the publishing of ‘The Australian Food Finder’. It was very obvious to me that producing a huge book that weighed 2 kilos was not sustainable - it costs a fortune to print and send to the 73 countries that it sold into!
The solution? What if I could use the WWW to share information - better still if you could buy and sell on that network … and then FoodTrack was born! Again, this was against a background of the first e-commerce site (Amazon) in the early 1990s and the start of domain name proliferation, they were all B2C... I thought why not B2B? I tried to do a deal with AT&T and IBM (what was I thinking?) at the time and they thought I was mad - so I sought funding and did it myself! That's when I became a tech entrepreneur - in the mid-1990s.
Did you always think you’d be in the ‘tech-driven innovation’ and ‘commercialisation of new technology’ space?
Yes I really did. To me it was the most exciting game in town … you could create new ideas, new businesses, new opportunities … innovation has been part of my core. My timing was perfect - my career began as the tech revolution began and I have been part of it ever since! I love finding new ways of doing things, challenging convention and striving to find better ways to create opportunities. I have done it my entire professional career - this has meant having to convince a lot of people along the way that what I wanted to do was not too ‘crazy’ which has also helped hone my convincing skills!
From there, you launched ‘EC Strategies’, a consultancy that worked with commercial transactions for organisations in the tech space. Was this your third solo venture?
That's another whole story! No, I had already had 4 separate ventures before EC Strategies was formed. I ended up working for OzEmail - as VP of ECommerce or OzEcom in the late 1990s (by then my second son Peter Andrew was nearly 6 and I was ready to go back to the corporate world) - it was an insane time again. Trumpet Winsock (was a tech spec that enabled Windows to access TCP/IP) was the flavour of the period and a time of rapid growth. Malcolm Turnbull was Chairman of the company and pretty soon it was sold to MCI Worldcom. That transaction enabled me to leave OzEmail and take my OzCom division with me - in 1999 EC Strategies was formed on the 1st April! EC stood for ‘e-commerce’ and was the start of a B2B consultancy advising and deal-making for clients all over the world - CommerceOne, Intelysis in the US, and other e-commerce companies in Ireland, South Africa, Canada, Australia, China, UK and more. The internet was becoming ubiquitous and the world of commerce needed to embrace it - to find new markets, drive sales and drive out costs. This was a whole new playground of opportunity for me.
We’ve seen rapid technological change over the last two decades. How has this impacted your career and ventures?
Every new technology is another 1000 opportunities - the choices have been endless. I have found helping business understand how to harness the power of technology is my sweet spot. Helping them see the opportunity and convincing them to give new ideas a go. Understanding their pain points and growth opportunities and matching that to technology enablers is definitely my gig!
Tell us how CareerLounge began and how this evolved into Paddl Co. - what was the vision here and how does the Paddl platform effect change?
CareerLounge was formed out of John’s frustration at uni and the choices he had made. The technology that coincided with his career beginnings was the arrival of MySpace and Facebook. He believed there had to be a better way of people making career choices and had an idea to use a Facebook-like application to share information and empower young people, rather than having to rely on an out-of-date career counsellor for advice. He too was an entrepreneur and impatient for change!
After many, many months of discussion, he finally convinced me that we should have a go at trying to bridge the gap between education and employment. That was 11 years ago now… 4 products later (all in the same space) Paddl was born out of years of experience of what not to do! He led the product development and I led the business development.
We finally realised that what creates that gap is that the two parties in an employment transaction actually do not know how to assess each other. Graduates do not know what experience they are supposed to have to attain what job or career and employers don't know how to assess someone with no experience.
Paddl.com is redefining how to attain, capture, share and present experience to enable better communication and insight between parties who want to meet and work together.
It sounds like you’ve had very important influences early on. Do you mentor other women in industry? Is this important to you?
I have been very lucky to work with many amazing people throughout my career. More men than women but that is changing. For years I have been the only woman in the room and it’s very exciting to see more women prepared to take risks! That's what tech and being entrepreneurial is actually all about. I have mentored lots of women - convincing them to back themselves and not feel like they have to apologise if this crazy world that I love is not for them. We are still in the minority but it's slowly changing. Women do business differently... not necessarily better but different.
You’ve proven female entrepreneurs are most definitely capable of great things when they set their mind to something! What advice would you give to women either starting out their career or looking for the next big step?
The best advice I can give women is to stop saying “why me?” and start saying “Why Not?”
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