The pressure to succeed

Written by Lana Weal on the 6th of September, 2018

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This is a guest post from SheStarts alumni, Danielle Owen Whitford.

Danielle is the founder and CEO of Pioneera which uses AI to predict and prevent workplace stress. And she knows a thing or two about pressure…


“Be careful what you wish for….lest it might come true” – an old Chinese proverb we’ve all heard.

It’s also how I’d describe my life right now.

Using my career to support others

I’d spent more than 20 years in large organisations, leading people and teams. For most of that time, I was the only, or one of very few female leaders. I never considered I couldn’t do something because I was a woman, yet I was acutely aware that not everyone felt the same way. I was raised by a strong feminist mother and have six younger sisters.

We were always taught we could do anything we wanted, so that is how I faced the world.

As my career grew, I realised I had a responsibility to pave the way for other women and other minority groups. I took this responsibility seriously. I led diversity committees, I mentored and promoted women and I found talent where there didn’t seem to be any. I did it because it was the right thing to do and as a consequence, I always had high performing teams. Many of those woman have gone on to have successful careers of their own.

Entering the startup world

I left the corporate world to start my own business. It’s a AI startup called Pioneera that predicts and prevents workplace stress. This was largely in part to help others avoid the burnout that I suffered a few years ago.

Danielle speaking about burnout on That Startup Show.

Danielle speaking about burnout on That Startup Show.

To bring Pioneera to life, I competed with 500 other applicants to secure a place in one of Australia’s top accelerator programs SheStarts powered by BlueChilli. Director of SheStarts, Nicola Hazell told me this would be a game changer for me, and it certainly has been. I recently had the opportunity to speak about startups, stress and burnout to a big audience on That Startup Show.

Women in tech

I love running my own business and being CEO. But I’m also acutely aware that I have a responsibility in being a woman in technology. SheStarts is specifically for non-technical female founders and its designed to bring more women into tech.

“You can’t be what you can’t see” – SheStarts Director, Nicola Hazell.

Nicola says this regularly, that’s why a documentary, media promotion and a huge amount of support exists, to succeed. This has fast tracked my business in an extraordinary amount of time. I am very grateful to be part of it.

This profile and focus also brings with it a fair amount of pressure to be successful. Because success is not just about my company Pioneera, it’s not about the pilots we’re running with large companies like ANZ and it’s not about myself.

Success now is about encouraging other women to move into areas they didn’t dream of before, so we can create the sort of society where we’re all equal. To truly lead by example.

Danielle at the Google for Entrepreneurs announcement

Danielle speaking at the Google for Entrepreneurs announcement with other female founders.

This isn’t that different from my corporate career, except now I’m leading a startup, based on doing things completely differently from anything else on the market.

The stakes are high. The risks are high, but the rewards will be even higher.

Danielle pitching on graduation night

One of the biggest rewards for Danielle was doing her final SheStarts pitch on graduation night.

I am no stranger to pressure and I’ve honed some techniques to manage pressure over the years.

Here are my top tips to manage pressure:

  1. Don’t take it all too seriously. We can get caught up in all of the hype and attention. I remind myself this is one of many things in my life – I am also a mum, friend, daughter, sister, partner etc etc….
  2. You don’t have to carry the world on my shoulders! Yes it’s true, I am leading by example and so are many others, so we can share the load, so find and support other amazing women, as I do.
  3. You don’t have to be a superstar to help others. I regularly mentor and coach people at all stages of their career and I will continue to do that regardless of how my startup performs
  4. Have fun!! Enjoy what you do and have fun with it. I LOVE running a startup – I love that I meet new people everyday, I love that I am learning every minute and I have the flexibility to work and live how I choose.

Making it work for you

You can let the pressure get to you, or you can be grateful everyday that you have the experience and luck to be in the right place at the right time and can help others. I choose the later – gratitude and a healthy dose of fun!