Anne de Kerchkove - High Res

A self-proclaimed ‘tech start-up addict’, Anne has personally invested in over twenty-five new tech companies, and has set up and invested in three early-stage tech funds throughout her career.

Anne set up and managed her first company at the age of just seventeen. From there, she pursued a career in business and finance, later progressing to a management consultant role within the tech industry and leading five tech start-ups to profitability.

Her current role as CEO of phone and messaging conversation platform, Freespee, focuses on the use of Artificial Intelligence (AI) to enhance the customer journey and increase the human element to customer service.

Being such a key figure in what has historically been a very much male-dominated industry, Anne’s passion and belief in diversity across all levels of an organisation has been a driving force throughout her career. She is personally invested in actively inspiring and coaching women to join boards, and in helping men and women from all backgrounds to develop the skills needed to succeed in fair and equal environments. Today Anne mentors over ten founders a year, continually re-investing into the next generation of talent and innovation.

Tell us a bit about yourself, background and your current role

I am the CEO of Freespee, a leading communication platform that creates and enables conversations between brands and their customers.

I mentor over ten founders a year, as a way of giving back to our start-up community, and am one of the few female executives in the UK to sit on two public company boards in the tech and gaming space

My career began at 17, when I set up my first company – a travelling theatre troupe – whilst studying at McGill university. I then went on to a career in finance before progressing to a management consultant role within the tech industry.

Over the last 15 years, I have helped lead five tech start-ups to profitability and IPO. I don’t have a pension plan or big savings: I reinvest all my money into the next generation of talent and innovation. I have personally invested in over 25 new tech companies and set up and invested in three tech early-stage funds.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

Not at all! I studied business at university because I thought it made sense, but quite honestly it bored me to tears. Then I became a banker; it was a fantastic learning experience and I was surrounded by great mentors, but I knew deep down it was just not something I would ever be passionate about. One mentor in particular noticed that I was always asking too many questions; he realised I was not fascinated by finance, but by what we were financing. He transferred me to a new project and innovation financing division, which was amazing. I then quit banking with his blessing and support and went on to pursue a career in management consultancy within the tech industry.

Since then I have known that as long as my path stays aligned with innovation, it is heading in the right direction. It is important to follow your passions and to do what you’re good at – and what you know how to make an impact with.

Have you faced any particular challenges along the way and if so, how did you deal with them?

Within the tech industry, we face challenges every day – from cashflow to growing so fast that you don’t recognise your own employees! No matter what the problem is that you are facing, it is important to take perspective on it, remain level-headed and stay calm.

If you could change one thing for women in the workplace, what would it be?

One thing that I feel still needs addressing is the gender pay gap. Unfortunately, it seems to be the case that those who shout the loudest are those who are most rewarded – and unfortunately it tends to be men that do the shouting. Pay should be based on results, and businesses should embrace a culture that not only celebrates performance, but also builds confidence in women to go for those bigger, higher-paid jobs.

How would you encourage more young women and girls into a career in STEM?

There is a lot of misconception around these industries. Growing up, I was under the impression that computers were for boys – a myth that must be broken very early on. It is vital that we have the right role models in school  to achieve this. Girls learn faster when they are younger, so it is important that gender neutrality is embedded as early as the age of eight to ten, rather than when they are making educational choices that will affect their careers at 13 to 15.

How do you feel about mentoring? Have you mentored anyone or are you someone’s mentee?

I’d say, do it! My own experience of mentoring others has been amazing. To be able to debate and talk through things with your mentee and help them to make impactful change to their own careers is extremely rewarding.

As I was growing up I was lucky enough to be surrounded by strong female role models. Although I didn’t realise it at the time, my mother, sister and grandmother all shaped my behaviour and attitudes.

There is a myth that mentoring will take up a lot of time, but I can say that even if you are catching up just once a month, you will see a change after a single session.

What has been your biggest achievement to date?

It is difficult to pinpoint a single achievement; I like to think of my whole life as an achievement! Being happy at work, keeping my team motivated and being in the position to motivate and encourage other people are all important things to me.

What is your next challenge and what are you hoping to achieve in the future?

Gender diversity has been a major driving force throughout my career to date and I hope to continue to actively encourage women to join boards, and help both men and women from all backgrounds to develop the skills needed to succeed in fair and equal environments.

As a leader in tech, I believe that to make things change, you must start from within and lead by example. Only then can you really make an impact.

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