For International Women’s Day 2019, we are celebrating the success of three of Australia’s top female innovators.
Mia Freedman started in magazines in her late teens, editing iconic titles Dolly, Cosmopolitan and Cleo for over a decade.
She made the switch to television but struggled to find her feet, and voice, in the male-dominated industry. Working as a columnist, she could see a gap in the market that mainstream media was missing – women.
In 2007, she began a blog called Mamamia and developed a devout following of women.
‘It started to build a strong following and an organic, large audience but I didn’t know how to convert that,” Mia says.
She met with several male advertising executives, genuinely puzzled by her audience. One saying, ‘Women, that’s an interesting niche.’
“And it’s like….more than 50% of our population buddy.”
Mia Freedman, Co-Founder of The Mamamia Women’s Network on the idea of women as a ‘niche’.
She teamed up with Co-Founder, Jason Lavigne, in 2008 and built Mamamia into Australia’s largest women’s media brand employing around 100 (predominantly female) staff. The Mamamia Women’s Network now publishes four websites reaching an audience of several million Australian women readers monthly.
As engagement in traditional media declines, Mia Freedman has adapted to the shifting digital landscape. She seems fearless, but like all successful businesses, Mamamia's power is in its ability to understand its users.
‘The amount of data that you have is astonishing in terms of understand your reader’s behaviour,’ she says.
In 2016 she launched her first podcast and now has millions of listeners, 21 different shows, 20 female hosts and is the largest women’s podcast network in the world.
Mamamia is the only commercial podcaster to have two shows in Apple’s top ten Australian podcasts of 2018 (Lady Start Up and Ask Me Anything) and two of the most downloaded podcasts of the year – Mamamia Outloud and No Filter.
Last year she founded a new platform called Lady Start Up, with the mission to help 20,000 women launch their own business by 2020. It includes a 6 week Start Up Activation Plan designed to take female-led start ups from idea to launch.
In a landscape where print media is struggling to adapt to the digital frontier or attract advertisers, Mia Freedman’s empire goes from strength to strength on the back of page-views, ad revenue and the diversification of media.
Former ABC breakfast host, teacher and comedian, Georgina (George) McEncroe created Shebah, an all-female rideshare service promising women safe transportation without harassment.
As a newly divorced, single mother, George was frustrated by the lack of reliable and safe transport options for her daughters. As only 10% of Uber drivers and 4% of taxi drivers are female, there was a lack of rideshare options that suited women’s needs.
“I wanted to create a way for women to earn a steady income on her own terms and in her own hours. I also wanted to help other women like myself have a reliable transport option to help take the stress out of their mentally overloaded and busy lives.”
George McEncroe, Founder of Shebah.
Launched in Australia on International Women’s Day 2017 Shebah’s service offers transport infrastructure and social support network for women and children.
The Company also donates 1% of every fare to multiple charities working with women and families. When you catch a Shebah you support women in business, women experiencing homelessness, women experience domestic violence and new parents struggling with anxiety and depression.
Shebah has completed over 20,000 trips and have over 800 active drivers on the road.
In a space dominated by one of the world’s most recognised, disruptive and financially-backed brands, Shebah’s success is an impressive example of the importance of identifying unmet user needs and gaps in the marketplace.
Many have suggested Shebah addressed a niche, but those who identify women (over 50% of the population) and children (the entire population) as niche do so at their peril.
Melanie Perkins, was teaching graphic design programs at University of WA in Perth and grew frustrated as programs such as InDesign and Photoshop took so long to learn the most basic functions.
She first tested her idea in a small scale, an online tool to design school yearbooks. Setting up in her mother’s front room Melanie borrowed money from relatives to pay for software designers to create the platform. It quickly grew into Australia’s largest yearbook publisher and expanded into NZ and France.
"I realised that in the future design was all going to be online and collaborative, and much, much simpler."
Melanie Perkins, Co-Founder of Canva
Realising the potential to scale the product beyond yearbooks, she pulled out of her degree at UWA and created Canva, a free online design platform, with certain designs available for a small fee or subscription. In 2010, at 22 years of age she flew to Silicon Valley to pitch her idea to multi-millionaire technology investor, Bill Tai.
It took 3 years to get a $3m investment, but in 2013 Canva was launched with former Google executive Cameron Adams joining Melanie and her boyfriend Cliff as co-founder.
‘This is an incredibly long period of time, and we had hundreds of rejections along the way. But I think that process was really helpful for us, because it meant that we had to refine our pitch, and really get our strategy down before we started. So when we landed that investment we were able to execute quite quickly and effectively," said Melanie.
Touted as the next Adobe suite or even Microsoft Office, Canva has since raised US$83 million in funding from investors including actors Woody Harrelson and Owen Wilson.
Today, it is the second Australian company to receive ‘unicorn status’ (name given to private tech companies valued at over $US1 billion), has 10 million users in 47 languages across 179 countries. Not too bad for a twenty-something entrepreneur who started in her Mum’s garage in Perth. For International Women’s Day 2019, we are celebrating the success of three Australian female innovators.
Each of these inspiring women created a successful business by identifying a gap in the market. They thought about what their user wanted (because they are the user), created what they needed and adapted it along the way. One thing is clear, anyone who is thinking of the female market as a niche, is missing the big picture.
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