Julie Trell discusses the importance of diversity
Julie Trell is an American woman who moved to Australia in 2017 to pursue two opportunities in the Australian startup ecosystem: working as head of the now defunct accelerator Muru-D, and to bring SheEO to Australia. SheEO is a global organisation founded by Vicki Saunders with a unique model: women and non-binary “Activators” contribute a monthly payment which is pooled together and given as a 0% interest loan to women-led “Ventures” selected by the Activators. As well as contributing capital, Activators also act as mentors, lending their expertise, Mentioned and networks to help the Ventures grow and succeed. In her conversation with Adam, Julie discusses the unique SheEO business model, as well as the importance of diversity within the Australian startup ecosystem.
Julie Trell bio: https://about.me/julietrell
Julie Trell on Twitter: https://twitter.com/julietrell
Julie Trell: I’m Julie Trell, an American woman on Gadigal land, Sydney, Australia. I came to Australia four years ago to take over from Annie Parker, running muru-D, which was Telstra’s accelerator. And while I came down here, I helped bring a fund down here called SheEO, which is a new way to move capital to, for, by, with women and non-binary entrepreneurs working on the world’s to do list.
Adam Spencer: So what is your day made up of now? In terms of the split between SheEO, Playful Purpose and what else have you got going on?
Julie Trell: Sure. Since my role was made redundant at muru-D, I’m currently doing my own startup consulting, playing called Playful Purpose, where I work with founders and business people on how to do more play in the world in which they work, which is really about communication, collaboration, co-creation and creating safe space.
Julie Trell: So I do that ad hoc as well as building up and growing the SheEO network in across Australia. So we have over 500 women that have gotten involved and they’re called activators where they’re activating their capital buying power expertise and network. And the fund, it’s a zero interest loan fund that gets loaned out to women led and non-binary led ventures. So we have close to $800,000 in this fund that’s going in and out.
Adam Spencer: So I know you were involved in setting SheEO up in the States, was it or was it in Canada?
Julie Trell: So Vicki Saunders, who’s the founder. She started it in Canada and I just loved how she was disrupting this investing world and getting capital to women and changing minds, the mindset of companies and ventures and solutions that we should be investing in.
Julie Trell: So I just loved how she was doing things differently and I just wanted to get on board and help her with this new way of thinking of new way of business, new way of investing and I helped launched it in the US and having that experience and then the opportunity to come down to Australia. I said, I’m going to bring it down to Australia.
Adam Spencer: Did you move to Australia with the intention of bringing SheEO up here?
Julie Trell: When I got the job offer to work with muru-D and I saw my predecessor, what Annie Parker had done launching Code Club. If she was going to be able to do this venture on the side, I wanted to bring this down to Australia. The other reason was New Zealand had already launched SheEO. So I figured, let’s be collaborative antipodeans and do this together.
Adam Spencer: When did you first get involved in the Australian startup ecosystem, what year was it? When did you come down here?
Julie Trell: I came down in 2017. So the ecosystem was already well on its way. However, it was well behind where I was coming from in the Silicon Valley, US ecosystem.
Adam Spencer: From your perspective, what is the major difference?
Julie Trell: Well there’s a smaller market for one. So my history was I had met Mark Benioff in 1998 and he knew he wanted to start a company that was going to sell software over the web, which was crazy back then, we were still getting AOL on CDs and he also knew he wanted to bridge the digital divide, which I was a teacher back then.
Julie Trell: And I said to him, if you’re going to deal with kids in technology, you need to hire teachers. Don’t just be a company that gives away money. So in 2000, I moved out from Atlanta to San Francisco to help start the Salesforce Foundation in this new startup world. There were a hundred employees at the company.
Julie Trell: And I just grew up then the next 12 years on thinking big and taking chances and taking risks and not being afraid and having a leader that was so visionary, where it was a really safe space. When I got to Australia, there was a lot more fear and there was a lot more aversion to risk. And so I found that to be a big difference and as well as the investment landscape of VCs having that fear as well with really challenging terms, a lot of the times with the investing in the startups, which constrained the startups, I’m really thinking big, taking risks and trying big things.
Adam Spencer: From what you’ve seen over the last 3 or 4 years, what do you think the Australian ecosystem does really well?
Julie Trell: I think they’re learning and growing and listening to one another, a lot of times when I would take the field trip from Australia to San Francisco, they saw how the ecosystem up there was very collaborative, supportive, willing to introduce a network. And then I found when the founders with the companies that I was with, when they would come back, they were inspired. They took what they learned and they were ready to apply it. So I do think that there is, once they see and experience what is possible, they’re willing to take those risks.
Adam Spencer: What do we have to do to get it to 50-50 in terms of equality, in startup land?
Julie Trell: Okay, so what do we need to do? We need to have diverse people that are making the investments, that are making the decisions. We need to have it, it’s not just women, there’s also like indigenous. There’s people of disability, neuro all of those diversity things.
Julie Trell: So we need to have more inclusive people that are making the decisions that are writing the checks and a lot of the work that I’m doing now with Playful Purpose and the concept, what I call the other AI applied improv is listening to the differences and accepting different gifts and as offerings as what the solutions to problems that we have, and not continuously doing it the same way we’ve been doing it.
Julie Trell: The systems that have been set up are set up by the people who set up the systems. And so we need to take a step back and it’s not a zero sum game and organizations like SheEO are helping to move the capital in different ways, in new ways that where it’s inclusive, where everyone can make decisions.
Adam Spencer: What drives this passion that you have for making these opportunities available to everybody?
Julie Trell: I just, the disruptiveness trying things new and I’m going to throw out the word innovation, because again, the systems that have been set up have been set up by the people who set them up and they’re not supportive, or they’re not inclusive of the women that are solving problems that might not be the next unicorn, but they’re solving problems in the community that are making the world a better place, not necessarily the bank account bigger.
Julie Trell: Part of the process of getting funding, standing in front of a table of five experts and pitching your idea where there’s such a hierarchy and a status of the founder who’s down there and the investors that write the checks where it needs to be more democratized, which is one of the ways what SheEO does is the women that have contributed their capital, the activators get to select companies that they want to invest in, that they want to see to get this funding.
Julie Trell: And we come down to five and it’s a very democratic process. The process of applying in and of itself is 10 questions. Write like you speak to someone, the people that are reviewing it are everyday non investors and making those selections.
Adam Spencer: Yeah, can you tell me a little bit more about SheEO and that process of getting an activator on board? Is there something in particular that you look for?
Julie Trell: Yeah well, anyone can be an, any woman, any person identifying as a woman or non-binary can become an activator. And so they contribute $1,100 or $92 a month. So there, that’s how the fund is made and then ventures who are applying need to be women or non-binary entrepreneur, 51% owned. The 51% of the company needs to be owned by women or non-binary. And they need to have a minimum of 50K up to $2 million in revenue from a product in market. So that’s the criteria.
Julie Trell: The way the process goes, so we have hundreds of women applying and they fill out these 10, very simple questions. The activators then review the questions and they decide, yep. Send this person, send this venture to the next round or no, and they can add feedback to it. Once they go through the second round and five ventures are selected, the founders of those ventures go onto a retreat. They get coaching, they get to know one another. They get to learn about each other’s businesses and then they decide how the funding is divided.
Julie Trell: And there’s two rules, it can’t be divided evenly and it can’t all go to one person. Now remember it’s a zero interest loan. So you take what you need and it’s over five years, zero interest. And the venture founders really then become exceptionally collaborative and making sure that everyone in that cohort is successful.
Adam Spencer: Does any other model like this exist?
Julie Trell: No.
Adam Spencer: How was it developed, it’s so unique.
Julie Trell: Vicki was seeing what was happening, where women were pitching to investors and looking for unicorns and they have to be these unicorns and making sure there’s a 10X return when she felt, and she saw these ventures that were solving the world’s problems and making a difference in community where it was both a social impact as well as a financial return on investment. And she wanted to make it so that it was fair. And it’s a lot of these practices have to do with Indigenous history and culture.
Adam Spencer: Can you take me back to day one in terms of how you got involved with SheEO, I don’t think we touched on that yet.
Julie Trell: I actually met one of the ventures that was, I was in a program called Think, one of the ventures, a founder says, you can’t tell anyone, this is a secret surprise that we just got selected as one of the ventures. And she shared how she was saying it’s this new model where we were selected. We get to divide the money. And we’re really excited and, oh my god, I have thousands of women that are backing me in not just finances, but in support.
Julie Trell: And just so meeting one of the ventures, seeing how, the network and it wasn’t just about capital. It’s not just about capital, was being supported and it was just completely new model. And I also see with the ventures, there’s less stress in there. They know that they can reach out. They know they can be vulnerable and be authentic and say, I’m having trouble here. The pandemic has just wiped out all of my funding and there’s other women that will literally roll up their sleeves.
Julie Trell: It’s like, here’s a loan or I want to take equity in your company, here’s an investment. And it’s just a very new, break the rules kind of model. I think the other reason I like it is, I like to color outside the lines and this is, there’s a new structure and we’re still figuring out how this works.
Julie Trell: You’re still throwing spaghetti and seeing what works, but I’m also seeing it’s this incredible community. And it’s funny, some of the women who are in it, they’re like, this is a women’s network for women who don’t like the women’s networks.
Adam Spencer: Can you tell me a little bit about just your opinion of corporate accelerators? Are they important, where do they fit in to the ecosystem?
Julie Trell: I think corporate accelerators have a lot of potential with the right backing and visionary people in the company for what they can do. So when muru-D was started with Annie Parker, it was really wanted to grow and infuse the startup ecosystem. Cause I don’t think there were many accelerators back then and their mission and their vision was to find tech companies to help them be successful. Now, these tech companies did not have to have anything to do with telecoms or Telstra, and that was intentional.
Julie Trell: So at the start, and I think that was fun. That was great. Creating a new sandbox, all this play. Long-term given where we are now, it was really challenging. And so, with the right visionaries at the corporates, with the right understanding of how it’s mutually beneficial for founders, ventures, the corporate, the corporates customers and the ecosystem, that’s the triple home run.
Adam Spencer: What year did muru-D start in Australia?
Julie Trell: 2014, I believe.
Adam Spencer: And when you say challenges, what kind of challenges are you talking about?
Julie Trell: Telstra was making a lot of cuts. Corporate accelerators are cost centers, and it’s also a long tail game where you’re not going to see the return on investment. So Telstra did make financial investments in the startups, which add another layer of complexity. That return on financial investment, that’s not why you go into making these accelerator. It needed to hit a lot of other points such as, how can customers use them? How can the company benefit, which wasn’t the intention set up at the beginning, which was a great learning curve.
Adam Spencer: You said you met one of the ventures for SheEO, and that’s how you got involved. What happened then? Did you like reach out to the leadership team at SheEO and say, hey, I’ve got this experience, I really want to help.
Julie Trell: Yeah, so Adam my life has been a lot of serendipity. I actually happened to run into Vicki Saunders or I had met her a year prior. And I caught up with her again with some other ideas that I wanted to create. And it just, you know, I went in to sort of talk about one thing and then here I got sucked in to helping follow, be a follower, which in a sense is a leader for SheEO for what she was doing. So it was, there’s a lot of serendipity.
Julie Trell: It’s serendipity on how I got down here, I say that I was, how did I get down here for this role was serendipity flip-flops and a love letter to Mary Poppins. My predecessor, Annie Parker wrote the job description, was the title was, looking for someone to fill my flip-flops.
Julie Trell: She wore flip flops everywhere. She’s English, so that’s why she calls them flip-flops and not thongs. Had it been a title, looking for someone to fill my thongs, very different outcome. But anyway so, I thought, oh, this is really interesting. And she was told that to write a love letter to the next person she wanted to fill her role.
Julie Trell: The job description was very authentic and heart centric, looking for someone that has a gravitas to work for corporates, someone that’s more concerned about the success of others than their own personal gain. Someone that knows the startup ecosystem, like this is really interesting. I want to have this conversation.
Julie Trell: And then when I got to Australia and I read the Telstra job description, it was very different. So kind of like when the kids were writing the letter of who they wanted for Mary Poppins, when Jane and Michael wanted their nanny, they wanted a Mary Poppins and Mr. Banks wrote something very different. So language and purpose has a lot to do in this ecosystem. It’s what I’m talking about is changing that mindset, the behavior of how things have been done to making them different.
Adam Spencer: This is a question that I ask everybody, if a brand new found to come to you tomorrow and you could give them one piece of advice that would increase their chances of success, what would you tell them?
Julie Trell: Well, without hearing what the problem is or the challenge is or what they’re trying to solve, I would say play more, exercise your growth mindset, have fun.
Adam Spencer: Is there anything else, anything that I’ve missed that’s important to either the SheEO story, the Playful Purpose story, the muru-D story, anything that should be included in this series that I haven’t asked about?
Julie Trell: SheEO is really changing the way capital flows and giving women and non-binary entrepreneurs and non-entrepreneurs, a chance to change the world and how business is done and who should be funded. So they’re focused on the SheEO ventures are all, somehow self-defined focused on the Sustainable Development Goals. We say they’re working on the world’s to do list.
Adam Spencer: Yeah I love that line. We’ve come a long way over the last 3 years, how do we get to that 50-50?
Julie Trell: Yeah, I think we need to start letting others step into roles that were not, that they might not think they’re in. So here’s a story, also, I was very hesitant to take the interview with Annie because I had this voice in my head and people will hear me talk about her name is Beatrice, my imposter voice that said, who are you to run an accelerator?
Julie Trell: You’ve never been a founder yourself. I was early days at Salesforce, that was my early, that was my startup world. And what do you know about Telstra and Australia? And so I went to sleep, but I had dreamt about living down here and then I remembered there was a Harvard Business Review article about how men will accept jobs, where they have 2 of the 10 qualification and women need to have at least eight or nine. And so I said, I’m going to continue this conversation. I’m going to still, I’m going to have a conversation. See what happens.
Julie Trell: And I’m going to trust myself and believe in myself and listen to what other people say about me, at least to my face, accepting that I am capable. And I think we need to start championing others and be champions of people where we see that have the capability. Julie Trell: One of the tenants of improv, which I call the other AI and Playful Purpose, so one of the tenants is make others look and feel good. And if we continue to do that and encourage others to take roles that they may not think that they’re right for, but we see something in them, let’s do it. So making others look and feel good is the next pandemic that I want to start, no vaccine required.