Posted on September 16 2015
This week's Wednesday Woman is Joanna Montgomery, a technology entrepreneur who founded Little Riot and created the innovative 'Pillow Talk'- a product which connect couples in long distance relationships via their heartbeats. She is also England's Strongest Woman 2015!
Bardega: Joanna, can you tell us a little bit about your background. What you were like growing up and when did you get the entrepreneurial bug?
Joanna Montgomery: Well, my mother tells me I was a bit of a nightmare growing up; apparently I was your typical “naughty” child. I always liked to do my own thing, always liked to make things, and never liked being told what to do. I suspect these are all things that made me an awful child but serve me well now as a founder!
My dad also runs his own business so I grew up in an environment where you paved your own way. I’m not really sure when I caught the entrepreneurial bug but my mum always says it was “clear from a young age that there’s no way I was ever going to be able to work for anyone else”. I hope there’s secretly a compliment in there somewhere.
Bardega: What led you to start up Little Riot, and what is your vision for it?
Montgomery: I actually kind of started it by accident. I studied Interaction Design at university and what is now our flagship product, Pillow Talk, was my undergraduate project. It ended up going viral on the internet, and I started getting hundreds of emails from people who wanted to buy one, so I decided to start the company.
I never really set out to “run a company”; I set out to deliver something that people wanted, and get it into their hands. My ultimate vision is to really challenge and change the way people use technology to communicate - I think we can do so much better than sending each other instant messages via our smartphones.
Bardega: What are some of the setbacks you have faced running a startup and how did you overcome them?
Montgomery: I’ve probably experienced almost every setback you could! I’ve been running the company for five years now and, in that time, I’ve worked with six different engineering companies (all of whom failed to deliver), been screwed over by my investors, spent more money than some people earn in a lifetime - not to mention countless other mistakes.
I think the only thing that helped me overcome them was the feeling that I HAD to keep going; that I had to ship my product to all the people who wanted it. When the going gets tough, you have to remember why you started.
Bardega: What do you consider your biggest achievement ?
Montgomery: I compete in weightlifting and recently won the title of England’s Strongest Woman 2015. That is a rather big achievement, I suppose.
Bardega: Who/what inspires you?
Montgomery: I truly believe that you can be anything you want to be and that everyone is in the driving seat of their own life. That’s pretty inspiring. Also, at least once a week I watch a TED Talk over lunch which always inspires me ~ one of my all-time favourites is Why 30 Is Not the New 20 by Meg Jay; the talk really helped me approach my life in a new way.
I’m also lucky enough to be surrounded by lots of great people; my parents, my business advisers and a couple of key friends, all of whom constantly make me want to be the best version of myself.
Bardega: And what advice do you have for other women thinking about starting their own venture?
Montgomery: Just do it. Recently I was having coffee with a friend and, in passing, he made a comment which really resonated with me. We were imagining what it would be like to drop our lives and get on a plane to the other side of the world with no plan and he said, “The thing is, the world wouldn’t end”. And he’s right; human beings are exceptional and we adapt to any circumstance ~ no matter what happens, we work it out.
Whatever is holding you back from starting your own venture, disregard it. What’s the worst that can happen? Because I can tell you... the world won’t end.
Bardega: Finally what advice, if any would you give a younger Joanna?
Montgomery: Frame every so-called disaster with these words: “In five years, will this matter?"