Welcome to our Women in Tech series, where we interview inspiring women who are making their mark in the tech industry. Today, we’re excited to feature an interview with Paulwyn Devasundaram, co-founder of Medoo, and a regular guest here at Balance the Grind.
In this interview, we’ll hear about her journey in tech, the challenges she faced as a woman in the industry, her insights on company culture, and her thoughts on the future of tech and personal development.
Paulwyn has worked at some of the most successful tech companies in Australia, including Atlassian and Canva, and is now focused on building tools that support the coaching process with her startup, Medoo. She shares her experiences working in both engineering and leadership roles, and how those experiences have influenced her approach to founding and leading her own startup.
As a female founder in the tech industry, Paulwyn also discusses the kind of support she’s received from the industry, as well as what kind of support she would like to see for women entrepreneurs in the future. Finally, she shares her thoughts on the biggest trends and challenges facing the tech industry in the coming years, particularly in terms of diversity, innovation, and social impact.
We hope that Paulwyn’s story will inspire and empower other women who are interested in pursuing a career in tech, or starting their own tech startup. Stay tuned for more inspiring interviews with women in tech in our Women in Tech series.
Hey Paulwyn, welcome back to Balance the Grind! To kick things off, can you tell us what inspired you to pursue a career in tech, and what challenges did you face as a woman in the industry?
I love the feeling of building something valuable out of nothing. Which is what building software products feels like. Almost like you conjured up something out of thin air.
My first computer science lessons were reasonably early, when I was in year 4 or 5. I remember not being very impressed by what I thought computers could do at that point. It was only when I saw someone from a couple of years ahead of me writing incredibly complex programs that I understood the power of computers.
I grew up in India in the 90s and 00s, when the country was opening up to the world and embracing technology wholeheartedly. So we went from telephones being somewhat of a novelty to having mobile phones to having laptops and smartphones, emails and social networks in under 10 years. That’s an incredible amount of growth to be exposed to as a child and teenager.
So when it was time to go to uni, the path for me was quite straightforward (decided by my parents, like many South Asian kids haha): I wanted to study aeronautics engineering, but I was convinced to study electronics engineering instead. In the end, I enjoyed the computer science courses much more than electronics, so eventually I did a Masters in Computer Science at UQ, started working in tech and here we are!
You’ve worked at both Atlassian and Canva, two of the most successful tech companies in Australia. Can you share any insights into the culture and work environment at these companies?
I am so grateful to have worked at both of these great companies. I got to experience hyper-growth periods at both companies, which meant I was able to learn a huge amount in a short period of time. I think company cultures are often a reflection of the values of the founders. Thankfully, Scott, Mike, Mel and Cliff are some of the most down to earth people I’ve ever met.
I loved the culture at both places, despite the intense pains that come with hyper-growth. I think people often confuse the ‘perks’ like lunches and pool tables with company culture. But in reality the people that you work with day to day shape your experience of the culture.
I got to lead a big group of incredible humans, distributed across Australia, Philippines, US and China. They’ve inspired me in so many different ways, many are still my friends today and are the reason why I am building Medoo now. I think that speaks to the culture more than anything.
How has your experience working in both engineering and leadership roles influenced your approach to founding and leading your own startup, Medoo?
I discovered how powerful coaching models and frameworks are during my time as an engineering and business leader at Canva. Coaching helped me get past many internal blockers, and helped me manage my health better. Working with Canva’s internal coaching team, I helped launch a coaching program called Unstoppable Me which is still ongoing, and has helped over 70 engineers grow their careers over the past two years.
But, many coaches still use pen and paper, or email threads or a patchwork of other tools to deliver their coaching. This was such a contrast to the depth of tools we have as engineers, designers, marketers in tech. I wanted to build an equally awesome set of tools for coaches, so that they can help more people in less time, and help their coachees reach new levels of growth faster.
At Medoo, you’re focused on creating tools that support the coaching process. How do you see technology and software evolving in the coaching and personal development space?
There are so many personal development apps out there, but none of them have really clicked for me and many other people. I believe that that’s because the best and most lasting personal development happens in a collaborative process with a human (a coach, manager, therapist, mentor) helping. But if we look at software or apps that aimed at that collaborative process, there are not that many.
We’ve got many tools that help manage the business and admin of running a coaching or therapy practice, but almost none that are focussed on the craft of people development. I see this as a big opportunity, and one that we are filling with Medoo. New technology like large language learning models make it possible to take large amounts of fuzzy data and analyse & visualise them in different ways.
I’m very excited to use such technology to support human inner development. Technology is outpacing our inner development currently, which is not good. We need to develop and evolve ourselves, so that we can continue to ride future waves of technology. Otherwise we risk making ourselves irrelevant.
As a female founder in the tech industry, what kind of support have you received from the industry and what kind of support would you like to see for women entrepreneurs in the future?
The best support I have received so far is from other founders. Nobody understands the pain and grind of startup life more than other founders. I am so grateful to the many founder friends who have gone out of their way to offer advice, share experiences & lessons, and make introductions.
Many local funds have learning communities that are open to all founders and operators and they organise a number of events too. I think that’s a great way of giving back to the community. One of my favourite events is the Tropical Innovation Festival up in North Queensland. It is incredible. It’s run by a small team, but they punch way above their weight. Highly recommend everyone to go this year!
One thing I’d like to see more of is public and meaningful support from the government. Their grants are great, but the processes are mired in bureaucracy and don’t align with the realities of building a tech startup. At last year’s TIF, it was great to see Queensland’s Chief Entrepreneur and their office represented. That was the first time in my life a government official asked me ‘Tell me how we can support the startup community better’. I’d love to see more of that!
What do you see as the biggest trends and challenges facing the tech industry in the coming years, particularly in terms of diversity, innovation, and social impact?
I think we collectively need to think deeply about whether our current startup funding models work in a high interest rate, high volatility environment. More importantly, are they aligned with how innovation and creativity work in reality?
The creative process is messy. It’s never a straight line. In a more forgiving macro environment, there was more room to accommodate the messy realities of going from zero to one. My concern is that in this kind of environment where people are (quite naturally) feeling more fearful, the tendency is to fall back to what we already know.
What does this mean for funding ideas in underserved areas of the economy? What does this mean for underrepresented founders like me? For investors in a high interest rate environment, what is the reward for taking a risk on a startup, when the opportunity cost of not investing in safer assets is so high? We need to move away from simplistic hyperbole like ‘Great companies are built in tough economic conditions’, which doesn’t convey anything actionable, to having more nuanced, first principles conversations.
What advice would you give to other women who are interested in pursuing a career in tech, or starting their own tech startup?
- Believe in yourself. Trust me, you have the grit, resilience and learning abilities needed to do this.
- It’s a marathon. Pace yourself!
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