Kianda founder on being a woman in a male-dominated sector


4 Nov 2020519 Views

Derya Sousa. Image: Kianda Technologies

Derya Sousa talks about the birth of her tech company and her journey to become ‘a female entrepreneur in a man’s world’.

Derya Sousa’s background is in IT consultancy, specialising in user experience. She is now the co-founder of Kianda Technologies, a business process automation platform that, according to Sousa, helps business users to create enterprise technology, with or without coding skills.

“There isn’t enough IT talent out there to meet the ever-growing digital transformation demands. Business users have to wait months or years when they need to create new systems,” the Dublin-based tech entrepreneur told Siliconrepublic.com.

“Our automation technology inspires business users, knowledge workers to address their digitalisation needs themselves without writing a single line of code.”

Sousa said she grew up admiring her father and his work as an electrical engineer, always wondering what a life in tech would be like. However, she said she faced obstacles like many girls and women entering the world of STEM.

‘Despite being a woman in a male-dominated sector, I have excelled at each stage of my meandering career’
– DERYA SOUSA

“Although I had developed a clear interest in tech and computer programming in particular, and although my confidence as a young woman and in my own ability had grown somewhat, the work available to me would mostly be around graphics design,” she said. “Looking back, perhaps it was thought to be more ‘suitable’ to a young woman like me.”

After a few years working in graphic design, Sousa got the break she was waiting for and began working as a java developer, though it was still not easy.

“Although I had strong and desirable skills, I had a permanent feeling that somehow, I was not supposed to be doing what I was doing. In some way, I did not belong, like I was unwelcome, feeling the constant need to prove myself. Looking back, I can now identify this as having imposter’s syndrome and that is actually common in women in tech.”

The birth of Kianda

Sousa moved to Ireland with her husband in 2007, but long before that they had ideas about starting their own tech business. “We had our first start-up attempts 16 years ago in Portugal – which was a ‘computer doctor’ type of thing. We would go from house to house to fix broken computers and help people to solve their problems of how to use their computers.”

After that, Sousa said they both spent most of their professional time constantly building similar solutions across a number of companies. “Having seen the struggle they go through to create new systems or maintain existing ones, we knew that there was a real need for a flexible and intuitive way of building business applications – a way that would promote and accelerate digital innovation in businesses, regardless of employees having IT skills.”

In mid-2016, they both quit their jobs and started Kianda with support from their Local Enterprise Office in Fingal.

“A business Priming Grant in 2018 supported us with our capital expenditure and expanding our team, [a Technical Assistance for Micro Exporters] grant in 2018 helped us to participate in a European tech conference, and also a Business Expansion Grant in 2019 to 2020 supported us with our further growth and hiring new staff,” Sousa explained.

“Working with the Local Enterprise Office Fingal and their exceptional team made hiring and growing our business easier for us.”

The power of ‘a girl with a mind’

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While Sousa has faced challenges throughout her career, she also named a number of highlights. “Achieving the prestigious scholarship abroad to complete my master’s degree. Time and time again being selected as employee of the month.

“Having the bravery to make the radical decision to move into difficult career paths – an entrepreneur, and at that a female entrepreneur in a man’s world. Empowering and teaching both my daughter and my son through action how powerful a girl with a mind can be,” she said.

“All moments which I earned and, despite being a woman in a male-dominated sector, I have excelled at each stage of my meandering career to get me where I am today.”

However, Sousa added that none of these achievements compare to the feelings she gets when Kianda gets a new customer or receives great feedback.

The effects of Covid-19

Like most businesses, Kianda had to adapt quickly during the Covid-19 pandemic, with all team members going remote and a shift in focus to help its customers create digital apps overnight.

“Subsequently we had to find new ways to acquire new customers,” Sousa said. “Prior to pandemic, as an enterprise SaaS our customer acquisition depended greatly on offline connections, face-to-face meetings with decision makers, which we have paused until deemed safe to do so.

“Now we have switched all our efforts to online customer acquisition, increasing our digital marketing efforts and optimising our online presence.”

She said there has been a noticeable slow-down in decision making, which is understandable, but the company sees this big change and move towards digital operations as an opportunity.

“Most of our existing customers upgraded their use of Kianda significantly to allow them expand the use of the platform across their entire companies,” Sousa said.

“Digital transformation is a ‘must have’ and essential for many organisations that are looking to strive and not only survive. Businesses have realised how important it is to use technology for their day-to-day interactions rather than relying on paperwork, emails or spreadsheets.”

She added that the biggest lesson she has learned is that anything can happen and there are no guarantees. “We need to be prepared and act very quickly. If something that used to work before does not work any more, we have to be proactive and be in a position to react fast to avoid greater losses.

“As a small business and as company owners, we can implement changes swiftly and adapt to new things easier compared to larger businesses. Staying inactive in some kind of business cocooning mode wouldn’t be a wise decision even when the times were uncertain.”

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