Until I was asked to write a few words about my journey from Home Economics Teacher to tech startup, I hadn't stopped to realize what a journey it has been. Let's start with me now - a woman in the tech space. This is a space where women make up just 17% of IT and Telecoms professionals in the UK and only one in eight of the speakers at last week's Dublin Web Summit. And there I am, hanging out with the best of them. I am not going to mention that I only bought a smartphone last year.
Instead, at a point in my life when I should be thinking of retiring, not hiring, myself, along with my team at Sian's Plan are at the cusp of awesome life changing success (or on the edge of, well, nothing) because that's simply how tech start-ups operate. It's all or nothing and in between it's sleepless nights, 15-hour working days, endless networking, to-ing and fro-ing from one country to the next and major disruption to family life. Being in a startup is frightening and life imposing. So why did a teacher in a safe, pensionable job give it all up?
In the beginning
In my heart I will always be a teacher. It has always been seen as the perfect profession for a woman providing the ideal work/life balance for family life. I loved teaching, the students, my colleagues, and my subject, Home Economics. I also loved the security of a pay packet at the end of the month and the summer holidays. The discipline of set hours, daily timetables and carefully constructed curriculums also suited me.
When I started to teach Enterprise and Entrepreneurship as a second subject I remembered a world out there. EE was exciting. It was new territory and at the cutting edge of a world I had previously dabbled in during many summer holidays - like the time I opened a fabric shop, made tweed clothes and made pots of rose hip syrup to sell. On three occasions, I managed to get my Transition Year (when teens are about 15) enterprise projects to the National Enterprise Finals, with one project successfully being awarded Ireland's top prize for entrepreneurship. I must have been doing something right.
My inner entrepreneur
At the first opportunity I left teaching to fulfil my enterprising aspirations. Along with my husband, we designed and built a small guesthouse to the highest possible Failte Ireland standard. A cookery school was opened, which plans on helping recession hit home cooks to reduce their weekly grocery bills and reduce mealtime stress.
Sian's Plan is born
That's how I found myself immersed in the food tech space. I spent a year of creating the product (Sian's Plan Meal Plan in Colour) and concept in a paper based solution.
Then I realised that technology can aid families in eating healthily, saving money and cooking good food. And so I created a digital platform for my solution. I then spent months convincing grant agencies and investors that the project was worth backing. Vincent, my son understood my vision and risked his engineering career to come on board in September 2012. Just before that we had cause to celebrate when we were successful in winning Best Innovative Digital Solution for Home Cooking at the International Computer Cooking Competition in Lyons in France in 2012 (beating Yummly who had had $6 million investment).
There were setbacks but I learned to push on with the negative responses from whoever gave them. And took time to enjoy the pats on the back we got from many of our users who said their lives have changed so much since using Sian's Plan. Building a team of focused and well qualified young people to push boundaries fell into place reasonably effortlessly and now we have Vincent the CEO, driven and insistent, Fiona the COO, ambitious and persistent and Micheal Data Analysis, cool and consistent.
Two years ago I didn't know what a startup was. I had never heard of 1st round, 2nd round and Series A funding. I wasn't aware of Web Summits, pitches, apps and disappointments. I had rarely spent a night away from the family. Now, I am in Belfast during the week and Donegal at weekends. Leaning in and leaning together is working in our family.
What I have learnt is that I am as passionate about my life changing solution for home cooks now, as I was when I started. The startup world and investors have given me an opportunity to reach and help millions through my simple solution to help home cooks change their habits and attitudes to food and cooking. I could never have done that in the classroom. One letter difference between teach and tech, but not as far away from each other as I might have once thought.