Women in Tech

Women in Tech: Fiona Church, Co-Founder of Trendspek

Welcome to our Women in Tech series, a tribute to pioneering women breaking boundaries in the technology sector. Today, we’re honored to spotlight Fiona Church, a trailblazer whose unique journey from the cockpit of an aircraft to the heart of tech innovation exemplifies the spirit of perseverance and adaptability. Fiona is the co-founder of Trendspek, an Australian innovation offering the world’s first Precision Asset Intelligence software.

Having trained her eyes on the skies from a young age, Fiona faced and overcame the challenges of navigating a male-dominated aviation world. These experiences in the skies, from agile decision-making to adapting to rapid changes, underpin her entrepreneurial spirit and influence her approach to tech innovation. Her journey is a testament to the belief that diverse experiences lead to unparalleled insights and that skills developed in one sector can catalyze groundbreaking advancements in another.

Join us in this enriching conversation with Fiona Church. Dive deep into the world of asset management technology, uncover her aviation-inspired approach to software innovation, and gather valuable insights for aspiring women tech leaders from her remarkable journey.

Hi Fiona, great to have you here with us today! Your background is unique and impressive, transitioning from a commercial pilot to the co-founder of a leading Precision Asset Intelligence software company, Trendspek. Could you share how your experiences in aviation informed your approach to tech innovation and contributed to the development of Trendspek?

I set my sights on becoming a pilot from a young age. As a young woman in a male-dominated industry, this goal came with certain obstacles that needed to be navigated. 

When you are flying, you need to be prepared to change course, make a new plan to cater to external factors (like weather or emergencies) and adapt and evaluate. That experience has been invaluable to me as a tech founder. 

The history I had as a pilot – making fast-paced decisions, staying calm and keeping things in perspective, in addition to identifying and solving problems — is the foundation of an entrepreneurial spirit. These are skills I have drawn on and continue to draw on throughout every step of my career path, and in building our business every day. 

When my co-founders and I recognised the challenges the asset management industry was experiencing when it comes to condition assessment – dangers including people hanging from great heights, and the inadequacies of individual photos that completely lack broader context – we knew we had a unique skillset to find a solution.

Initially, we launched a company dedicated to capturing that data in a new and innovative way that really drew on our skills as pilots – just as pilots of drones, rather than commercial aircraft. This reduced the need for a lot of people to be on site, and rather than capturing a hundred or fewer photos, it delivered hundreds of thousands of data points that gave a much more detailed view of a structure, with full context. 

The challenge then was how asset managers could use all that data. Identifying that problem is essentially what sparked the development of Trendspek. We created the software solution that took those data points and turned them into highly detailed 3D models. 

As a woman who has made significant strides in traditionally male-dominated industries, you’ve certainly broken some traditions. What advice would you give to other women interested in following a similar, less-travelled path? 

Don’t be afraid to follow your passion, regardless of whether it’s a male-dominated field or not. There will always be challenges no matter what career you choose, so believe in yourself and go forward with confidence!

Throughout my career in aviation, there were times that challenged me, particularly when the ‘old guard’ made the road for female pilots more difficult. Although this wasn’t always a pleasant experience, I always remained strong in believing in my own skills, knowledge and experience. I didn’t let those negative influences phase me, and in some ways, it made me even more determined to perform better. 

When it comes to tech, there are so many new opportunities opening up, for women and for everyone, so this is an exciting time to be in the industry. 

You’ve hinted at the array of opportunities awaiting women in the Australian tech space. Could you talk a bit more about these prospects and how you believe women’s unique viewpoints can make an impact?

Alongside being innovative and finding an edge, I think a diverse range of thinking is the key to being successful in the Australian tech industry. Having voices from people with different backgrounds brings empathy, new ideas and evolved approaches. 

Women in this field are highly adaptable, and can bring diverse perspectives and user-first problem-solving to the table. Harvard Business Review research reveals that businesses with women in senior positions are more profitable, more socially responsible and provide safer, higher-quality customer experiences.

Right now, there are amazing opportunities for women in tech across so many fields. In our own space, we are seeing more developers, more SaaS specialists, more customer experience, user experience roles and AI specialists – and this extends across health tech, property, finance, travel and so many other fields.

Balancing a demanding career with personal life is a hot topic for many, and given your journey from being a commercial pilot to a tech entrepreneur, you seem to have navigated it well. Can you share your secret to maintaining this balance?

I try to be realistic about assessing what’s happening now and what’s ahead and not expecting to always have a perfect work/life balance. Right now, as a founder of a rapidly-growing company, achieving full balance is near impossible. But I know that working hard now is a worthy trade-off as it will set me up for a much better balance in the future.

Each individual needs to honestly set those expectations for themselves – what do I need, what do I want to achieve, what am I willing to give up to achieve it? The idea that you can have everything – while it can be really inspiring to women – can also be a trap we fall into that makes us feel like we then have to actually try to have everything. Set your personal path based on your own goals and values, not what the world tells us we should have.

Your rise from Chief Controller to Director at Hoverscape and now a co-founder at Trendspek is remarkable. Can you share a few anecdotes about this journey, and perhaps some insights you gathered along the way that shaped your role at Trendspek?

One of the key learnings I have from my time in business is to not be afraid to continually push yourself out of your comfort zone. 

Changing careers or roles means you need to constantly adapt. Coming from a technical background, it was a steep learning curve to understand how to approach enterprise sales, as an example. However, being curious, constantly open to learning, and surrounding yourself with others who can help fill those experience gaps and be mentors for your personal and professional growth, is very important. 

Another key aspect that has shaped who I am in business is my interactions with people. It’s said that managing people is the biggest challenge of any business, and fostering a supportive, open and collaborative team culture is something that is very important to us at Trendspek. Treating people well and giving them the opportunity to share their ideas and feel valued sets the right foundation for team success.

You’ve had a front-row seat to some stunning tech advancements, both in aviation and now in asset management. Do you see any similarities between piloting a long-haul aircraft and steering a tech business in this fast-paced, evolving industry?

There are certainly similarities between piloting an aircraft and heading up a tech business.

Risk mitigation is relevant in both aviation and business. You’re always assessing risks and taking action to move forward safely and effectively. In aviation, you need to be ‘ahead of the aircraft’ (know what’s coming) and similarly, when building a business, you always need to be aware and even preempt risks and potential threats. 

CRM (Crew Resource Management) is what we call the ‘soft skills’ of working in a team. In aviation, it’s critically important to have great communication, a common understanding of what the plan is and foster the right dynamic between team members to make sure there is a successful outcome. These soft skills are equally relevant for business, particularly in the quickly evolving tech industry.

Whether it’s flying a 747 or leading a business, taking a bigger perspective and staying  ‘out of the weeds’ will make sure you keep your eyes on the horizon and keep the big picture in mind. 

As a role model for many aspiring female leaders, especially in the tech industry, what’s the one piece of advice you wish you’d received when you were starting out?

Trust your gut instinct. You can take advice from others, but always make sure you follow your own instincts first – they are usually right!

Lastly, representing Australian innovation on a global stage must feel incredible. How does it feel to carry this mantle, and what’s your vision for Trendspek as a showcase of Australian tech prowess?

It’s incredibly exciting, especially creating and leading a completely new and purpose-built software category. People have often described Trendspek as a ‘no brainer’ – tech that clearly brings benefits, but just needed someone with the vision to bring it to life. But like all disruptive technology, there are often many barriers to overcome before the technology becomes mainstream. 

We are seeing this happen now, and it’s a fantastic feeling to see Trendspek’s leading Precision Asset Intelligence platform being adopted by some of the largest companies in the world.  Our vision is for Trendspek to become the new status quo for building infrastructure inspections globally, improving safety, efficiency and reducing risk for asset owners and engineers.

About Author

Hey there! I'm Hao, the Editor-in-Chief at Balance the Grind. We’re on a mission to showcase healthy work-life balance through interesting stories from people all over the world, in different careers and lifestyles.