Be daring – we dare you

On Tuesday, 27th of November the Digital Advertising Women’s Network hosted the fourth of their annual four-part series off free inspirational talks at Oath’s offices in Holborn. In 2019 the theme for dawn was ‘Investing in You’ and the evening’s five panelists came ready to share specifically on the topic of being daring and what it’s meant to them.

First up was Ally Owen, Founder of Hoxton United and Brixton Finishing School for Digital Talent, Head of Partnerships, SCA 2.0.

“I started my career as a PA to a one-armed publisher,” she said, in what has to be the most unusual opening statement at a DAWN event to date. She explained how she worked in ad sales for The Guardian, Hearst and the Mail Online amongst others. A single parent, she said she had the first of her three, life-changing epiphanies whilst at The Mail.

“In my family we have one rule: don’t fund Nazis,” said Owen. “You may now realise I was working with someone delightful called Katie Hopkins,” she said to groans from the audience. Owen explained that she ended up taking redundancy and then working for free for three months at Refugee Action.

AdWords and NABS awarded her a scholarship to do a Google course during that time. And she realized, “Epiphany one: people are shit at digital.” She didn’t realise this would lead to her current career at the time.

Her second epiphany occurred whilst she was working with ‘How the Light Gets In’ – a festival in Hay. “Hilary, the chap who runs it, only took the type of grads who got a 2.1 from Cambridge or Oxford,” said Owen, explaining she’s still not sure how she weaseled her way in becoming head of communications. And she realized just how hard it must be for the average young person, often with no leadership from any adults in their lives, to know where or how to make a start in life.

“Here we are, about to enter Brexit, in turbulent times yet we are surrounded by natural resources: our youth,” said Owen. “So, I practiced my own socialist values and at the agency I started, I took on a 16-year old school-leaver. As the apprentice was on her way in on the first day the organizer rang me and basically warned me that the young woman had an attitude problem.”

Owen explained how mad that made her – the one person who should’ve been advocating for this kid was already disparaging her behind her back.

“So, we were using office space at Soho Works beneath Shoreditch House,” said Owen. “Pug after pug, tat after tat, you can picture the vibe. And this young woman comes in – what she must have been thinking I don’t know. And yes, she was offhand. I asked her if she’d had anything for breakfast and no, she hadn’t. And that led to my third epiphany.”

Owen said she sent the apprentice off to the communal kitchen – in communal work spaces, there’s a load of food provided.

“For whatever reason, she chose this ridiculously crunchy cereal. And she took a bite, in open plan, pug and tats-ville. And it was so loud. And she just froze there with fear.  Afraid to chew.”

Owen explained that her epiphany was the so-called millennial attitude is just a mask for fear – kids need a chance and some help and direction. And that’s how Hoxton United was born. It’s a purpose-driven digital ad agency that also supports The Brixton Finishing School, a bridging digital course that helps school-leavers be placement ready.

Out of time, Owen then shared her top three pieces of advice with the audience.

“Firstly, be relentless and single-minded (lots of brave face, faking it until you make it moments),” said Owen. “Secondly, have gumption. Believe that you’re going to know what to do and have the energy to do it when the time presents itself. Thirdly, get rid of anybody toxic in your life. Immediately.”

Next up was John Pritchard, founder of Pala Eyewear.

Pritchard founded his company two-and-a-half years ago after leaving behind a career in advertising. It is an ethical eyewear brand that supports projects in Zambia and Ghana.

“The definition of daring is a range, it depends on the person,” said Pritchard, “For me this has been an adventure.”

Pritchard said he used his time on the train to and from Brighton to plan the launch. The idea started with the purpose first – 95% of people in many countries can’t access eyecare.

“I found my cause then retro-fitted my brand around it. The concept is similar to Tom’s, the shoe brand,” said Pritchard. “When you buy something for yourself, something is also given to people in less fortunate circumstances. I had no background in fashion nor eye ware. But you find a second or third-person removed and it grows through various people,” said Pritchard, explaining how his idea drew in key people who helped guide it into being. “In our world we can easily find people to help us market.”

“My bravest moment was approaching my now investor after an event,” said Pritchard. “Basically, I door stepped him for 15 seconds to pitch our concept. It was a ‘Sliding Door’ moment. Somehow, when it’s your own brand you don’t even think twice about doing those sorts of things.

“The other challenge for me, as a creative person, was engaging the other side of the more detailed, disciplined portion of the brain. It’s hard to make time for your health and mental health outside of work,” said Pritchard, explaining that he has to force himself to take breaks and pace himself.

“Sustainable fashion may still take a long time to overtake fast fashion,” said Pritchard, as he discussed the challenges he has faces as a social entrepreneur. “I have to accept a very tight budget for the company and live on a tight budget for myself personally. It does – or can – take time away from friends and family. I could still be five years away from profitability – but this is a long-haul proposition.

“Passion encircles the whole project. I get no better thrill than visiting in Africa – three weeks ago I was visiting the women weaving the cases for the glasses in Ghana.”

Pritchard finished by sharing his top three pieces of advice for the audience.

“If you’re going to do it, be passionate. Passion will keep you interested for years. Secondly, find and build in discipline. Finally, if a ‘Sliding Door’ moment presents itself, grab it with both hands.”

The third panelist was Mollie Pearse, Head of Financial Services Marketing, EMEA at Facebook and Marketing Academy Scholar 2018.

Pearse began her with a sidebar of sorts. She said the previous two speakers had reminded her of an excellent Ted Talk she wanted to recommend. The talk focused on the importance of teaching bravery rather than perfection, and how this is particularly key for young women and for learning to code, for example, which requires a great deal of trial and error.

Then, her talk began in earnest.

First, she polled the audience to ask if anyone was agonizing over taking a leap of faith on something. Many were. Pearce revealed that she was born with ‘huge energy’ and set loose in the garden and given extra projects at school as she was perpetually done early. She said her parents harnessed this by bringing she and her brother up in an ‘outdoorsy environment’ and involving them in plenty of sport.

She studied sport science at university which she said had great appeal, as she was encouraged to test and analyze all sorts of physical activities. She joined the rowing club as a Freshman with no prior experience and began to test what she, personally, was capable of.

Pearce said she would define daring as coupling curiosity with being brave and then daring to take action. For her, bravery came about when a love of Zambia, work and sport collided.

“When your purpose and homelife collide, that’s when the magic happens,” she said.

Pearse explained that by the end of her first-year rowing, she had been made Captain. She signed a contract and suddenly realized she wasn’t allowed to do anything else. However, at the same time she heard about a project happening in Zambia – where students served as coaches, bringing sport to struggling communities to enrich children’s’ lives.

She knew she wasn’t technically really ‘allowed’ a year off from rowing to pursue this but was absolutely determined to go. However, her rowing coach was on the selection committee which may have led to her only be offered a spot as first reserve. Undeterred, she went along to the training camp.

The man who set up the charity designed it to empower people in their life choices through education and sport. During the training, everyone stayed in halls of residence and her room was next to the founder’s. Mollie said she would often walk and talk with him on the way to the sessions. In the end, he spoke up for her – assuming she was a full member of the chosen team – and off she went.

“I don’t consider myself brave or daring,” said Pearse, “I just say yes. I have learned more life skills from coaching children on fields and dusty tracks to play netball and football just by diving in and taking what’s there and going with is.”

Pearse spent every university summer in Zambia and loved every minute. However, she suddenly realized as her degree was finishing that she may have missed a trick: her contemporaries had spent their summers doing internships in big businesses and lining up work for after graduation.

“I didn’t have a plan,” said Pearse. “So, I set up a personal training and sports massage business just to do something and see what could happen. Through serendipity I met a wonderful woman and ended up working at HSBC.”

Her professional life evolved from there – and her passion for sport continues alongside it. Pearse just competed in the European Championships for triathlon aged just 32.

She finished by sharing her top three pieces of advice with the audience – especially those who had raised their hands at the beginning of her talk to indicate they were considering taking on a challenge of their own.

“Firstly, know who and what gives you energy (to keep you going through the inevitable troughs). Next, read Legacy (by James Kerr, of The All Blacks) then you’ll know what I mean when I say, “Go for The Gap”. Finally, learn from your failures (Pearse said she is a firm believer in ‘Kaizen’, the Japanese philosophy of learning and progressing).

The fourth speaker was David Kapur, Founder and Co-CEO of ourscreen and elevenfiftyfive.

Kapur told the audience that he set up two different businesses in 10 years, during which time he had three children and his business partner had two, yet he doesn’t consider himself brave in his everyday work. Interestingly, he said he’d always thought of himself as optimistic and durable, rather than brave.

Kapur launched an agency called elevenfiftyfive – which providing deep understanding and insights around how audiences are behaving with film – and offered consultancy for festivals, filmmakers, studios and brands. Some of his most notable work has included the launch of Secret Cinema, Stella Artois Film Club and the Little White Lies app and film club.

Whilst that was ongoing, he also found himself considering how experiential and digital had not yet truly changed cinema.

“You still have to go to the cinema, at exact times and watch whatever’s on,” said Kapur. “What if cinema was on demand? Our Screen is a platform that is connected to the majority of cinemas and allows them to crowdsource listings.

Kapur shared the top three times during which he felt he was most brave with the audience.

“Setting up the business itself was brave,” he said. “Then, raising 500k to build the tech to support Our Screen – whilst the other business was ongoing- was brave. And managing to exit an investor from a large PLC when their ethos was no longer in line with the business was definitely brave.”

Kapur shared that he had to organise a management buyout to get rid of the investor. And all this at the same time he and wife discovered they were expecting twins to add to the four-year-old they already had.

“I was leaving a train station once and was given a card,” said Kapur. “It said, ’what will you be doing in five years if you keep doing what you’re doing now?’. That always stayed with me. And I shared that question with other people. In fact, my good friend took that idea and went and founded ‘Frame’ fitness.

“Because I’m a film guy, I have to end my time with you with some quotes,” said Kapur. “Here are some that I hope you’ll find valuable:

  • “Do interesting things and interesting things will happen,” said Sir John Haggerty.
  • “Don’t look at the trees.” Kapur said that he was told this when he was doing some difficult snowboarding and kept on hitting stuff. His companion said to stop looking at the trees as he was directing his attention there, but rather to look at the gaps.
  • “Stop trying to hit me and hit me,” from The Matrix.
  • “It can’t rain all the time,” from The Crow.
  • “Rules are for Fools,” according to a poster at his office.
  • “I like it. What is it?” asks a poster by artist Anthony Burrill.
  • And, finally, he told the audience to always remember, “One day we’ll all look back at this and laugh.”

The final speaker was Cate Murden, Founder at PUSH Mind and Body, who is also a coach and speaker.

“I worked in media for 16 long and drunken years,” said Murden with a rueful laugh. “But over the years, media changed. And I changed. And I found a bit of discomfort between the industry’s values and my own. I ended up being signed off for stress from multiple sources. I suffered from anxiety quite badly – and I knew the job just didn’t feel right anymore.

Murden said she could see similar disillusionment happening to loads of people around her. That insight led her to a totally new career. Four years ago, she started a corporate wellness company with the idea of improving the quality of people’s work environments.

“I had the idea, but didn’t quite know where to start,” said Murden. “The most important thing I did was to use the crisis. Yes, a crisis can be an impetus. In crisis you can’t go back to a safe place – use that freedom. So, I used my contacts and network and that’s what I did.”

Murden went on to advise the audience to ask themselves the difficult questions and to face their real answers.

“Do something that is right for you. Understand what you stand for and what your values are,” said Murden. “They are a beautiful expression of your personality. You must do things that bring you happiness. Too often we ‘just do.’”

Murden then explained more about her business.

“We are ourselves about to relaunch our proposition. We live in genuinely unprecedented times. It’s so hard to keep up with everything. If we as individuals struggle to keep up with all the change, companies really, really struggle.”

She talked about how tiring and unhealthy a toxic work situation can be. “You can’t out yoga a bad boss,” she said, which got a loud laugh from the audience.

“We recently changed our model – now we are helping teams manage the company’s behavior, which is what’s really giving out the stress. Red flags are going up everywhere in our industry and people are breaking. We want to help.

“That’s our purpose. And pursuing that purpose is exhausting,” she said laughing. “Apologies to my team!”

With that, time ran out and the panel drew to a close. The session ended with a huge round of applause from a very appreciative audience before a Q&A which was then followed by networking and drinks (kindly provided by our host, Oath).


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