Jessica Manins: boldness, balance and bravery

Jessica Manins grew up in the New Zealand tech startup world. Her passion for forward thinking leadership, innovation and vibrant communities brought her to the Bizdojo as the Wellington Regional Manager.

Prior to the BizDojo, Jessica spent eight years working at StarNow, an NZ startup with a global community of over three million members. Having led their Australian Market entry, managed their Digital Marketing, Business Development & Customer Service teams she’s been a key member of the Senior Leadership Team driving strategy and growth.

Her love of performing arts has seen her produce an award winning music video and appear in a number of independent NZ Feature Films. Jessica has spent time working in London, LA and Australia, but Wellington is where her heart is and she is passionate about supporting its startup community.

Growing up, what kind of career did you want to pursue?

I was determined from a young age to be an actress and spent most of my youth pursuing film and theatre opportunities. A chance meeting with some Kiwi tech entrepreneurs in Prague during my OE led me to take on a customer centric role at Wellington startup StarNow. I was hooked. The tech and digital world fascinates and excites me. Anything that is focused on solving problems for customers using simple, elegant technology is my thing, and building awesome teams and helping to get the best out of people is what I love doing.

Who inspires you?

I’m inspired by anyone who takes a risk to create a life based on their values. Bold, courageous people who are not afraid of change. At the moment I’m inspired most by the residents that surround me in the the BizDojo. Determined entrepreneurs — many trying to make the world a better place.

Who (apart from you) is most surprised by your achievements?

I surround myself by people that believe in me. Positive people that are never surprised just full of support and bottles of bubbles when the time arises. I think you need to question your support circle if you’ve got people that doubt you or are surprised by what you can achieve.

How have women helped shape your success to date?

Growing up in New Zealand where women have been leading figures in our history has been fantastic for me. Plus, all the women in my family are hardworking, kind and ambitious. When you grow up with good work ethics, and when the female figures in your life support your dreams, you truly believe you can do anything. This has definitely shaped my path.

I’ve also found Wellington to be a great place for female leaders to emerge. Women like Melissa Clark-Reynolds who have taken risks, created multiple companies while raising children and still finding time to support other young entrepreneurs is pretty inspiring. When you see people like her doing it, it gives you a boost to keep going.

Lastly, the Board of Directors for StarNow was chaired by Lorraine Witten, a woman who has truly inspired me to continue on my leadership journey. Strong, smart and business savvy.

What qualities do you most admire in a female colleague?

Supportive and trusting. Females who don’t feel threatened by other females, who embrace our differences and who look at how to leverage each other's skills to be creative and innovative.

What's the key to successfully balancing work and life?

This has always been a tricky one for me. I have a two-year-old son, a big job and lots of personal goals. Trying to find time to do them all is a challenge but I try to set realistic goals based on my workload and expectations of those I’m working with. If I know that I’ve got a big project (like building the biggest coworking space in New Zealand) then I’m honest with my husband about what they will mean for us as a family, but I always make sure it is time bound.

Taking care of my health and wellbeing is a big focus for me this year. I’ve started to bike into the city to work which means I don’t feel guilty if I miss my lunchtime gym session and I have zero guilt over that 7pm glass of wine.

Being honest with yourself and what you can achieve is my number one tip. I think we often put too much pressure on ourselves. Trying to be it all to everyone. I hate letting myself down.

If you had an afternoon to yourself, how would you spend it?

In bed. I have the most comfortable bed and a beautiful glimpse of the South Coast ocean. Lying in bed reading a book with no pressure to do anything makes me happy.

Who do you regard as your mentor?

I have a group of super inspiring females who I meet with monthly. Each of these women mentors me in some way and it’s been the best thing I’ve ever done for my career. I was also very lucky to work for eight years with Cameron Mehlhopt, the CEO of StarNow who taught me so much about running a successful technology company.

What personal attributes have you used to overcome adversity in your life?

Courage. Honesty and embracing vulnerability have all helped me get through tough times. I’m generally a positive person and this certainly helps when you’re faced with challenges.

If you could make one change to women's lives, what would it be and why?

No abuse. So many women are in abusive relationships and it scares me that it’s so rife in our society.

What is the hardest part of your job?

Apart from if the wifi goes down… it’s trying to balance my time at work to ensure I can deliver the best experience possible for our residents. For me that includes personal one-to-one time understanding who they are, their goals and challenges and helping to connect or direct them to help their businesses grow. Balancing this one-to-one time with all the other operation and growth expectations is the biggest challenge.

What advice would you give to someone aspiring to success in your field?

I’m a bit of generalist when it comes to my skill set but I’ve always been 100% customer focused in everything I do. If you always put on a customer lens in your work and consider ‘do our customers want this?’, ‘did they say they want this?’. ‘is this a problem for them?’, and how will our customers be more successful?’ — then you’ll be on the right track.

And don’t be afraid to speak up and be yourself. Having confidence in an often male dominated business can be a struggle, but we need to hear different opinions, to challenge our perceptions of things and embrace diversity.

As one of my favourite writers, Dr Seuss, said, “be who you are and say what you feel, because those who mind don’t matter and those who matter don’t mind.”

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