Our latest guest on Ten2Two’s Talking SME podcast is Louise Towler, Founder and Managing Director of Indigo Tree. In this episode we discuss Louise’s first steps into technology. We also chat about some of her advice for SME business leaders and her own journey as a female leader in technology and the STEM sector.
A bit about Louise
Louise is a technology entrepreneur and started her career in STEM as a software developer over 30 years ago. Today she is the founder and Managing Director of Indigo Tree, a digital agency, with a team of twelve, experts in WordPress websites using inspirational design, innovative technology and insightful data. Louise is driven by a passion for technology and business, and an enthusiasm to deliver the best results for her clients.
‘Being a Female Leader in Technology’ is just one in our series of podcasts where we talk about a wide range of topics. We talk with business experts, and also offer broad insights to help SMEs become more successful.
Jane O’Gorman (00:00):
Hello, and welcome to talking SME, our quickfire chat with business leaders. I’m Jane O’Gorman, director of Ten2Two, experts in flexible recruitment. And today I’m very pleased to welcome Louise Towler Founder and MD of Indigo Tree specialist, web design agency. Hi Louise, welcome.
Louise Towler (00:23):
Hello, Jane. It’s good to be with you today.
Jane O’Gorman (00:26):
Yeah, absolutely. How are you?
Louise Towler (00:28):
Very well, thank you.
Jane O’Gorman (00:30):
Good. Bit of a wild morning out there. I think autumn’s definitely arrived.
Louise Towler (00:36):
Jane O’Gorman (00:37):
Yeah. Anyway, it’s good. I think we need it. So, Louise, thanks so much for joining me. I think it’d be lovely. If you could tell me a little bit about what inspired you to follow your career path and the driver for setting up your own business?
Louise Towler (00:55):
Okay, well it was actually when I was really young, at the age of six, I loved reading and I read a ladybird book about Marie Curie and how she discovered radioactivity. And that was really what inspired me. I was absolutely fascinated by science and physics. I also read another ladybird book about Charles Darwin. So with a sample of two books, I had one male scientist and one female scientist, and I thought, oh, that’s good. I could be a scientist.
What I didn’t realize was that actually, it wasn’t so common, especially back in those days for women to go into science. But I really, really loved just having that curiosity about the world and how things worked. Then in my early teens, my parents signed me up for a computer course. At one of the local schools in the long summer holiday.
Louise Towler (02:00):
I sort of negotiated with my mother. She wanted me to do tennis in the morning and cordon bleu cookery in the afternoon. And I negotiated computing in the morning and cookery in the afternoon. I programmed my first computer. It was the size of a desk and I can still remember the first program I wrote, adding up all the numbers from one to a hundred. And the output came out of the computer on punch tape with holes in it. And I had to sort of decode the binary.
I can just remember how excited I was that the answer came out. I typed in these things one end of the computer and this answer came out the author. And from then on, I was hooked.
Jane O’Gorman (02:44):
Such a lovely story.
Louise Towler (02:48):
Yeah, I persuaded my dad to buy a BBC micro. Learnt to program that. Was still interested in maths and science and went on to study it at university. Well I studied maths and then, did computing as well. Then after that went into software development.
Jane O’Gorman (03:10):
And then setting up on your own, what was the driver there Louise?
Louise Towler (03:14):
Well actually it happened because, I’d been a software developer. I’d moved a little bit more into quality management and then I got married and had a couple of children and we moved to the United States for three and a half years for my husband’s job. When I came back, I didn’t have a job. I had two small children. I think the oldest was about six and then I had a two and half, three year old. So it was pretty hard to find work.
I didn’t want to go back to commuting into London. So I basically offered to help out at the children’s school with the school website. And after about a month of helping out with the school website, one of the teachers in the school came to me and said her husband had a business in the center of Berkhamsted and needed a bit of help with his website and would I be willing to help him? So I went along and had a chat with him and then googled on how to set up your own business and register as self-employed.
Jane O’Gorman (04:28):
Amazing, out of tiny acorns then?
Louise Towler (04:32):
Jane O’Gorman (04:34):
Gosh, well no doubt. You’ve had a number of highs and lows over the past number of years to get where you are today, as a successful female leader in technology sector. Can you describe some of these and how they influenced you Louise?
Louise Towler (04:49):
I think, the highs are very definitely when we hear from clients, how much a new website can change their business for the better. I find that really powerful, and some of those, organizations which are commercial businesses, we also work with local charities and that can be really powerful as well. Feeling that we’re genuinely helping people in the local community. And I definitely have that passion to want to help people and the way I can best help people is by providing them with a fast performant website that generates money or inquiries or whatever it is they’re wanting to achieve.
In terms of lows, I think the hardest thing is actually sometimes just running the business, keeping an eye on the cash flow, dealing with people and especially during the pandemic, just trying to make sure that everybody who works for Indigo Tree is, just well and feeling okay in the circumstances. And actually just making sure that we have a business that is sustainable and run in the best way possible because, it’s sometimes quite hard to know what the best approach is, but I now have a great team, around me who really support me in doing that and I’ve built that up over the years.
Jane O’Gorman (06:43):
Yeah. So I’m sure with that, as you say, there’s probably a lot of learning and now you’re in a very good place.
Louise Towler (06:49):
You don’t need a qualification to run a business. You can start it without knowing anything about finance, without knowing anything about employment law, without knowing anything about health and safety and how to do your VAT return. All those things, there’s no qualification, you can get. You just have to learn those things.
But my philosophy is that I just try and surround myself with people who are good at doing their job and leave me to be good at doing my job. Which is why I work with recruitment consultants. We have an HR consultant, we have a firm of accountants. So we have people who can really support us in some of those areas, which I’m not so skilled at and knowledgeable about.
Jane O’Gorman (07:38):
Yeah, that’s good advice and good tactics. As a female leader in technology, Louise, in what seems to be a male dominated industry? What do you consider the barriers in attracting women to STEM roles?
Louise Towler (07:55):
I think some of the barriers are around the way the industry talks. It can be quite strident and not always aggressive, but sometimes quite direct. A lot of developers, things are black and white. There’s not always shades of grey and that can sometimes put women off. Women are more collaborative. They’re less, in my experience, they’re less likely to want to take all the limelight. They just want to get on and do the work.
The other thing that, I think we’ve certainly noticed when we’re recruiting is the female developers will look at a list of qualifications or skills and unless they can tick off every single one and go, yes, I can do this, this, this, and this. They wouldn’t think about applying. They wouldn’t necessarily have the confidence to apply, whereas male developers.
Louise Towler (09:07):
They won’t necessarily lie about their skill set, but they’ll definitely be a bit more gung ho about, yes. Well, I know about this and I know about that without necessarily knowing it in as much depth. I think in general, females are less confident about their own abilities, but they shouldn’t be, we’re all learning. And actually what I’m looking for in any recruitment, for any role, is somebody who’s interested in learning and has the right attitude.
You can teach people how to code or how to do project management, but you can’t teach them how to be a good person and communicate well, that’s more innate, that comes from within. And actually females are very good at that in general.
Jane O’Gorman (09:56):
I agree, obviously. But that’s a very powerful message. What more do you feel could be done? I mean, obviously we’ve seen that and we see that in terms of, that confidence or that ability to put yourself forward, but what more do you think could be done to level the gender balance in tech?
Louise Towler (10:14):
I think that, right from a really young age, girls need to be encouraged to not view things as gendered themselves. You have parents saying, oh, maths is hard and boys tend to be better at maths and the same with the sciences. And I do think, children in general meet adults expectations. If you tell a child that something is going to be hard, they will find it hard. If you tell a child that a subject is more for boys, they will view it as more for boys.
And actually, I just think you shouldn’t be talking in that gendered way. You just need to make things non-gendered. Gender shouldn’t even come into it. I’m not defined by my gender. It’s a label that other people give me.
Jane O’Gorman (11:14):
What would you say then to encourage others, particularly women interested in tech?
Louise Towler (11:21):
I would just say to them. It can be really fun and not just the creative and the design side, but the actual figuring out how to solve problems, how to deliver something, certainly for websites. How do you deliver that page in the browser? That’s as beautiful as it can possibly be, as speedy as it needs to be with all the interaction and all the functionality that the client requires.
And that sometimes can be a really interesting problem to solve and solving problems, is genuinely fun, and there’s not always one right answer. Sometimes there’s a number of different answers and it’s working out the one that fits the best. So it isn’t always black and white and I genuinely enjoy solving problems. And that might be in code, that might be in business. It might be helping a client figure out the best way to say something or present it. And that’s what it’s about. It’s not just about, being in this male dominated industry of typing code all day.
The best developers are the ones who actually understand really well, how to put themselves in the client’s shoes or the client’s customer’s shoes, and then figure out what the best solution is. And I think women can be really good at that.
Jane O’Gorman (12:47):
Yeah, that’s really great and I think that puts so much colour on it, Louise. In terms of, as you say, not thinking about just the black and white but everything else that comes with that and the fun and the creativity that you know is part and parcel of the work that you do.
Louise Towler (13:03):
I still get a high, when I see a website that we’ve developed and launched. I still get that fission of excitement, even after hundreds and hundreds of websites, because it’s fun. It’s genuinely fun.
Jane O’Gorman (13:17):
Amazing. If you could give one, just one professional tip to budding entrepreneurs, particularly in your sector. And obviously you’ve had a great journey and it continues to grow. If you could give one tip, what would it be?
Louise Towler (13:34):
Surround yourself with people who are really good at doing what they do and concentrate on doing what you enjoy and can do really well. So don’t think of, of just trying to do it all yourself. Anybody who’s a budding entrepreneur should really try and get advice from the accountants and the solicitors and the HR people.
And just don’t assume that you can’t afford it because the cost of buying that type of advice in, versus trying to do something yourself, and then not necessarily doing the right thing can be big. It doesn’t make sense and also really value your own time.
So think about, if you can pay someone 15 pounds an hour to do something and you can charge yourself out a hundred pounds an hour, well pay them to do it. Yes, it’s a cost, but you can then spend your time doing the things that are of most value to your business. And then I think the other thing that I learnt really quite early on was, don’t be afraid to employ people who are better than you.
Jane O’Gorman (14:55):
Strong, strong advice and good words, Louise. That’s very, very useful. Thank you so much for joining us today and for this valuable chat, it’s been a pleasure talking to you.
Louise Towler (15:09):
You’re most welcome. I’ve enjoyed it as well.
Jane O’Gorman (15:11):
Great. To our listeners, I hope you enjoyed our talking SME. Look out for future episodes coming soon from Ten2Two experts in flexible recruitment.