Dasha Romanowski

31 February 2018

Interview: Kate Pollard of Circle In

Circle In started as the passion project of Jodi Geddes and Kate Pollard, two working mamas who were frustrated by the lack of smart, practical and relevant advice available for working women with children.

Jodi and Kate worked on Circle In alongside their full-time jobs and parenting responsibilities until the project grew to a large enough scope for them to leave their corporate positions. After 18 months and over 1,000 conversations with working mums and experts, the online community is now a thriving one-stop shop for women seeking advice on how to navigate their career and motherhood at the same time.

In the spirit of our #WomenInTech competition, we caught up with Kate to have a chat about the business and ask for her advice to women startup founders. Here’s to strong women: may we know them, may we be them, may we raise them!

Tell me about Circle In. What is it, and what does it aim to do?

Circle In is an online career resource to help women manage their career through parental leave and returning to work. You can think of it a bit like the book What to Expect When You’re Expecting but from a career perspective. Circle In has tailored content for each stage of the parental leave and return to work journey, through ‘I’m thinking of having a baby’ to ‘I have just returned to work’. We have everything from how to tell your manager you’re pregnant to how to keep in touch while on leave and asking for flexible working.

We’ve set ourselves a big goal. We want to bring 50,000 women back to work with confidence in the next 3 years. We are creating a social movement and this is a new way of looking at parental leave.

What inspired you to start Circle In?

Jodi and I had two babies each very close together and were both on parental leave at the same time. She has two girls and I have two boys. On our second lot of parental leave, we were both frustrated by the lack of real and practical advice to support working mamas.

Having a baby is a huge change to adjust to and it can really impact on how you feel about yourself and your career progression. But there wasn’t much out there that really helped you navigate this transition and return to work feeling confident. After 18 months of talking to over 1,000 women and validating our idea, we launched our online community, Circle In.

What were you doing career-wise prior to Circle In?

I was working in marketing at REA Group (realestate.com.au). Prior to that I worked for several of the major banks as a marketing executive and management consultant.

What made you decide to take the leap and start your own business?

For quite a long time I was juggling part-time work at realestate.com.au, two small children and setting up Circle In. So I was basically working on Circle In on weekends and after hours for about 18 months. In the five months before we launched, Jodi had left NAB so she was working on Circle In full-time which enabled us to really get our business up and running. I will be forever grateful to Jodi for this.

Just before our launch at the end of October last year, I took the leap and left the corporate world. We were gaining so much momentum with Circle In that it needed both of us on the business full-time. Our passion project became our full-time gig!

What was the process like in establishing the initiative?

It’s a lot harder than it looks! A lot of people would think that we just launched a successful business. But to be honest, there have been so many ups and downs as we have continually redefined ourselves and refined our business model. It takes a lot of time and energy to get it right and make sure you are meeting a real need in the market. It’s a huge rollercoaster ride. But it’s so worth it!

What were some unexpected challenges you faced when establishing your business?

The basic set-up parts of any business can be so frustrating. Emails, domain names, rebranding, business name registration… The list is endless. It’s time-consuming and distracts you from the more strategic (and exciting) parts of building your business.

When you have your own business, it’s important to spend enough time working ‘on your business’ rather than ‘in your business’. But it’s hard to get this balance right, especially at the start, when you aren’t making any money and you can’t afford to outsource many of the basic repetitive ‘lower value-add’ parts of your business.

What’s been the proudest moment of your career so far?

Launching Circle In and getting 5,000 unique visitors to our site on day one! We were everywhere in the news, featured across News Corp publications and Women’s Agenda. One of my favourite moments was when Annabel Crabb retweeted us! We have a bit of a lady crush on her.

What’s the top piece of advice you would give to women wanting to start their own business?

You need to be solving a real consumer/customer need. Otherwise it will never be successful. And don’t be too in love with your solution. It’s important to test your business proposition frequently and then be prepared to pivot and sometimes pivot again and again until you get it right.

We had a different name, rebranded three times and changed our proposition from business to consumer before we launched. Our initial idea is very different to what we finally launched with. This whole process took over 18 months before we landed it!

Finally, what piece of advice would you give your younger self, knowing what you know now?

Always do things that align with your values. It’s amazing how much energy and passion you have when you follow your dream and you can see how you are truly making a difference in people’s lives.

Secondly, it’s so important to always be kind to everyone you meet. We’ve had some of the best opportunities come from connections that we’ve made through our start-up journey. It’s amazing how many people, and in particular other female founders, have been so generous to us along the way. It’s something that we’d also like to do with others who follow in our footsteps.

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