Posted on August 03 2016
This week's Wednesday Woman is the incredible Pip Jamieson, Co-Founder of The Dots, a professional networking platform for creative professional and companies. Read how she become a successful entrepreneur after quitting her dream job at MTV and starting The Dots.
Newnham: Can you tell us about your background - what you were like growing up? And what were you doing before starting your own business?
Jamieson: I’m an Antipodean / British hybrid; born in New Zealand but educated in the UK. My amazing Dad worked in the creative industries and I had this wonderful upbringing, surrounded by creatives – it was our shared passion and my family just assumed that I’d follow the same path.
However, my (slightly strange) rebellious nature led me to do an Economics degree - maybe I wanted to just prove I could make it on my own. To the surprise of my whole family (and to myself to be honest), I walked away with a top grade and was approached by (and joined) the UK Government as a fast stream economist. I joined the Government because I had aspirations to change the world but I quickly realised that an economist’s role in Government was primarily to produce results that justified political policy, not inform them.
So I jumped ship and followed my passion (the creative industries), working first for the Brit Awards in London then in various roles at MTV around the world. For ages at MTV, I regretted my Economics degree as it was completely unrelated to what I did day to day - but now I’m so grateful that I have a solid understanding of maths, business and finance; it’s been invaluable for running a business.
I was also really dyslexic as a kid, but thanks to my incredibly supportive mum, I grew to see my dyslexia as an advantage - it helps me see problems in a different way.
Newnham: How did you come up with the idea for The Dots and how did you turn it into a reality?
Jamieson: I started the platform because while I was Head of Marketing at MTV, I was finding it really hard to connect with amazing talent. At the same time my then colleague Matt Fayle, was constantly being asked by creatives for advice on promoting themselves online. What we realized, was that all these people and companies wanted their online presence to lead to something. So our vision was not only to create a platform that was easy for everyone involved in the creative process to promote themselves online – but more importantly to empower our community to produce great work by helping them connect, collaborate and commercialise.
So we quit our dream jobs at MTV, started working from home and put our life savings into building the platform; I guess the rest, as they say, is history.
Newnham: What were some of the earlier obstacles you faced building the business and how did you overcome them?
Jamieson: Scaling a business is an endless rollercoaster ride of highs and lows. I’ve made so many mistakes along the way, but hey I guess that’s what innovating is all about.
I think the one that has made the most impact on how I currently run The Dots is, in the past I made a couple of bad hiring decisions. The experience taught me that if someone in your organisation doesn’t feel right, it’s better to get them out of the business quickly, as one bad apple can quickly rot the whole barrel.
Company culture is now at the forefront of what I do. Scaling a business is hard, very hard. I found the trick to overcoming obstacles is to hire happy, positive people that naturally focus on solutions, not blame – it’s our first core business value. It’s an inherit characteristic that I don’t think you can teach and leads to a very productive and happy working environment.
Newnham: Diversity is important to you - what steps do you think we can take to redress the balance in business?
Jamieson: There is endless research out there, that diversity is good for business. A Harvard Business School study found that teams with workers from different backgrounds and experiences, come up with more creative ideas and methods of solving problems. A London Business School study found that more gender-balanced teams best promote an environment where innovation can flourish, than those skewed towards a particular gender. Work by McKinsey and Company found the most racially and ethnically diverse companies are more likely to have better than average financial returns. It goes on and on! But we’re squandering so much amazing female, LGBT and BAME talent because of the bias and the barriers that exist – I want to help change that so collectively we can create better work.
There are several things that businesses can do, to help readdress the balance. This includes ensuring that you have a more diverse funnel of talent applying for roles. It can be as simple as removing masculine words and non-crucial qualifications from job descriptions. Men can tend to apply for jobs they are interested in, while women are more likely to thoroughly read the descriptions and only apply if they feel they tick all the boxes. Paying interns is another important way to increase diversity amongst applicants, as juniors from non-affluent backgrounds are then more likely to apply. I’m also a big advocate of second interview diversity quotas. Sourcing a big enough funnel of talent might take a little longer upfront, but it pays off massively in the long run.
Another great policy, which I first came across while working with Facebook, is to encourage businesses to hire on the basis of 'shared values' rather than 'cultural fit'. Hiring people on cultural fit means that you tend to hire people you’d like to hang out with socially, which often leads to homogenisation. Shifting focus to hiring people on shared values acts like a glue to ‘connect’ the team and align them around shared goals.
Finally I think it’s important to recognise that unconscious bias does exist - It can often be a taboo subject but acknowledgement is the first step towards removing negative effects. I think that’s partly why there is so much heat around Kevin Roberts (Saatchi & Saatchi Executive Chairman) recent remarks as he failed to acknowledge the bias that a lot of people feel day to day. I’d suggested reading Facebook’s open source training on this called Managing Bias .
There are also several things we did on our own site to ensure that The Dots community is as diverse as possible. For instance, when we first launched, our sign-ups skewed massively towards white males. We implemented a policy that our featured section had to be half female and include at least 30% ethnic minorities. We saw a shift in the demographic of sign-ups almost immediately. We’re now tracking at over 61% women on the platform. I’ve received a bit of negative flack for that imbalance on Twitter, but given that the creative industries here in the UK is only 36.7% female and that LinkedIn has a whopping 79% male users, I’m quite proud to have a slight bias towards women. Eventually, as female and minority representation grows in companies across the board, unconscious bias will fade. It won’t happen overnight, but I won’t rest until it has.
Newnham: What / who inspires you and why?
Jamieson: I’m a huge fan of English author, speaker and international advisor on education Sir Ken Robinson who famously said 'Creativity is as important as literacy' in education, I couldn’t agree more.
As a society we’re woefully under prepared for the impact that machines and automation will have on our future careers. Soon machines will drive, serve customers, code, clean, do our accounts and legals, so what are humans still good for? Creativity! So if we want our children and grandchildren to have jobs, we need to nurture that most human of all traits - Creativity. I guess that’s what Sir Ken Robinson’s work (and the work we do here at The Dots) is all about.
Newnham: What advice would you give other women looking to start their own business?
Jamieson: I’ve seen so many businesses fail over the years - not because they didn’t have a great idea, an amazing team or the funding but because they didn’t have the right support at home. I’m blessed to have the most incredible husband. He genuinely loves what I do and enjoys nothing more than chatting about my day and helping me talk through problems. He’s my emotional rock, through thick and thin. If you're in a relationship, then getting your partner and family fully behind your vision is as important as getting your team behind the vision. This goes both ways, for female founders, as much as male.
Newnham: Finally what advice would you give to a younger Pip?
Jamieson: Don’t worry so much when you’re going through a tough patch - the hard times in business, and in life, are the times you'll grow most as a person.