Saturday, June 15, 2024

In Conversation With Ellinor Otter

An entrepreneur, mom, an advocate for gender equality, and much more, Ellinor Otter was the Co-founder of ‘We Exist’ – a recruitment firm that helps businesses attract, recruit and retain women and non-binaries in their tech & IT departments. But at the end of last year, she left We Exist and started her own company Ellinor Otter AB. Being her own boss, she will now continue to work with & for women, and the next step in her entrepreneurial journey is to invest in & coach businesses and women she believes in. She’s also an inspirational speaker who has lectured for Google & Microsoft about female empowerment, entrepreneurship, and gender equality within tech.

Ellinor’s Early Life & Career

While recalling her struggles in early life, she says, “I’ve not been to university; neither did I have parents who were entrepreneurs. So, working hard is just natural for me to achieve what I want in life.” Her drive to achieve goals against all odds is captivating.

Join us in learning more about Ellinor’s life journey, the challenges she faced along the way, how she overcame her hardships, and the daily choices that led to where and what she is today!

Can you share a glimpse of your childhood? And what were your aspirations back then?

I had a good childhood. I grew up in a suburb outside of Stockholm together with my parents. I was a very active kid and I played soccer, danced, played football, and sang in a choir. My parents were always supportive of me and encouraged me to try new things. When I was in high school, I moved to America for a year as an exchange student, where I continued to play soccer on an advanced level.

But looking back at my life, I’ve realized now that I always listened to what others expected and thought of me. It could be my family, friends, ex-boyfriends, or teachers. Now that I’m soon turning 30, I ask myself, “But what do I want? And who am I?” when I’m not influenced by everyone else’s thoughts or opinions?

What motivated you to quit your job and start your entrepreneurial journey?

I had a good job at a tech unicorn and was even referred to as the “Salesforce Queen.” But my “inner journey” started when I got back to work after my last maternity leave in February 2021.

Ellinor Otter is an entrepreneur who commits herself to being the best version. Apart from running her business, she also volunteers as a communication hacker at Women in Tech Gothenburg and has joined the board for the Front-end developer course at Medieinstitutet.

Despite being good at my job, it didn’t spark joy in me. I simply felt that optimizing a CRM system at a big firm was not my life’s purpose. So that’s kind of when my journey started, and then I also realized that I wanted to work with women since female empowerment and gender equality is one of my passions in life. And since I most recently had worked with tech, I figured I would combine working with/for women and within tech. I just wanted to do stuff that was true and meaningful to me. So, I quit my job and started a recruitment company for women and non-binary within tech & IT.

Meanwhile, I also started volunteering as a communication hacker at women in tech Gothenburg, a non-profit organization. And I joined the board for the Front-end developer course at Medieinstitutet. So, one can say I’m really in the middle of a transformation. And I keep asking myself what’s true and important to me?

Okay, you mentioned looking inwards and gaining self-awareness. Do you have some techniques for being more self-aware?

Well, I’ve pretty much stopped asking other people for opinions or advice, haha. For example, it could be as simple as asking my husband if a jacket looks good on me. Now, I don’t ask others. Instead, I just ask myself. Another example is that instead of calling my mom or a friend for advice, I try to sit on it for myself for a while first and trust my intuition. Especially being a relatively new mom, too, I try to trust my gut more and follow my own intuition – rather than asking other moms what to do. It’s very common to give importance to the opinions of co-workers or even strangers online.

For example; should I try this? Should I move? Should I break up with my partner? But the truth is no one else knows what is right for you. Especially after having kids, I can relate to this more, which is why I try to teach my kids that they have all the answers within rather than looking for external validation or answers.

Absolutely! The way one wants to live life should be entirely decided by oneself, of course adding value to the better part of the society. However, it’s also important to evolve as a person. Do you consciously bring changes in life?

Yes absolutely. And I change all the time. I have so many different phases of being Ellinor. I have traveled, lived, and worked in different countries around the globe, and all of that has taught me so much. I used to live in an expensive apartment, work at a fancy company, and have a nice salary. But when I started my inner journey a couple of years ago, I started to re-evaluate what I truly wanted in life. So instead of just keeping running on this hamster wheel, I started making some big changes to our life.

For example, we moved to a bigger but cheaper apartment, which gave me the freedom to live a “slow” life where I don’t have to work my ass off and have a busy hectic schedule just in order to get by and pay my bills. Instead, I can take it slower, spend more time with my parents, who are retired, pick my kid up early from daycare, and work where I want – when I want. And this is the phase I’m in now – who knows where I’ll be a year from now? I’m just going with the flow and enjoying the ride because I know everything in life is temporary.

What is success according to you? How do you define that you are successful in life?

Success for me used to be having all these nice things, and now success for me is being my own boss. Previously, success seemed to be having a fancy title at work, a bigger apartment, or a fancier car. But success for me now is to live authentically, do meaningful work, spend quality time with my family and design my own schedule. So being rich in life and love is important for me now.

So, when you feel completely low and unmotivated to move on, how do you come back from that phase of being stuck or not giving your 100%? And what are your sources of motivation?

I allow myself to be stuck and unmotivated. I have recently realized that I don’t always have to work, deliver and hustle. So now, if I’m low or feeling down, I allow myself to be that and to rest and listen to my body. I will spend time in nature, lay on the couch all weekend with no plans, go to our country house, spend time with my kids, and just allow myself to rest and embrace all the feelings of being low. I know it will pass and that I’ll get my motivation back eventually. I also listen to a lot of podcasts. Like, a lot. It gives me perspective on things, and it’s nice to be inspired by other people’s lives and stories.

I’m also very cautious with what I receive and absorb in day-to-day life. For example, I’ve filtered all my social channels and unfollowed everyone who gives me anxiety or makes me think that I should change. For example, when I open Instagram, Facebook, or LinkedIn now, I get a lot of inspiration from strong women, psychologists, gurus, and people who share good vibes only.

I agree; getting rid of toxic contacts is vital, both on social networks and in real life. Even while scrolling through our phones, the thoughts we put in our minds can impact our lives in unexpected ways.

Can you share how far you’ve come along in your journey about entrepreneurship? And what are your learnings so far?

Last year when I started to listen inwards and kept asking myself what I wanted to do with my life, I realized I wanted to work with women and in the tech sector. So, I crossed paths with someone who ended up being my co-founder of the recruitment company for women within tech. But after a few months of this entrepreneurship journey with her, I decided to start my own company in December and do my own thing instead. I want to invest in, inspire and coach companies and women out there. I’m open to coach, collaborate and join new projects so If you’re reading this and want me on board, feel free to send me a message!

As far as learnings so far, I have learned a billion things! I have really learned to trust the process and go with the flow. What is meant to be will happen, and it’s okay to figure it out on the way. You know, I never went to university; I didn’t have parents who were entrepreneurs. But I have this fire in me that is my grit, and I find solutions everywhere, and working hard is just natural for me to achieve what I want in life. Moreover, if it doesn’t work, I’ll do something else. So, I’m figuring out one step at a time and allowing myself to go with the flow. I never chase or force anything, instead, I am myself in every situation and I try to be as authentic and honest as I can on my social media and when I work on my personal brand. And I know the right opportunities, companies, and people will come to me.

What advice would you like to share with new entrepreneurs in the space?

If young women or entrepreneurs out there are thinking of starting sometime later in life, I’d say don’t wait! If you snooze you lose. Don’t think that you’ll start your business “sometime in the future” because then you will have more knowledge and more money. Instead, do it now! You’ll figure it out along the way, just like everyone else does.

Also: Be bold & courageous. And learn how to sell. You have to know how to sell yourself, your product, your pitch & your vision. You can’t expect your business to just magically be a success, you have to sell it. And if you’re not confident in selling; hire me to coach you haha. Or hire a salesperson for your team.

How can we embrace an entrepreneur mindset? What are the things that one needs to do to learn to be an entrepreneur?

I would say you have to have grit and a mindset that is “everything is possible.” And that you have to be really passionate about what you do. My best advice is to surround yourself with people who want to achieve the same things as you and cheer you on. There’s a saying that “you are like the five people you spend the most time with.” So take a look around in your life. Who do you spend time with? Do they lift you up or do they pull you down? If you surround yourself with people who doubt your abilities and are driven by fear, they might keep pulling you away from what you want.

But if you surround yourself with other people/ entrepreneurs who share the same goals, visions, mindset, and attitude, you will believe in yourself more and realize that you can achieve anything you put your mind into! I was so grateful and surprised to see the response when I shared the news about my company with my network. My DM was flooding with people reaching out to collaborate and help. It’s super important to have that empowerment and support around you.

How do you manage your time, especially with newborns around? What are the challenges, and how do you deal with them?

I have a 2-year-old daughter and a 1-month-old daughter, and it’s super fun but also extremely challenging! I have struggled mentally since giving birth in January earlier this year, and I was overwhelmed with going from having one kid to two. And I have had two babies during a pandemic, which was also a challenge for me. But I have a great support system and a very equal marriage. My husband and I both want to have a career and be present parents, so we share everything equally. It’s not like I do most of the stuff with the kids and around the house just because I’m a woman. Hell no, I refuse. It’s OUR kids and OUR home so we split everything.

I think being an entrepreneur is beneficial because I have the flexibility to work when I want. For example, I can pick up my daughter from preschool without feeling bad or worrying about what my boss or co-workers will think. But then, of course, you have to be smart about it financially. When I coach women to live their truth and have an authentic life, I never say, “Go crazy! Quit your job!” I mean, you still have to be financially smart about it and make changes so you CAN start to change your life. I also worked out my Plan B, just in case. I had everything sorted before I jumped and quit my safe job to become an entrepreneur.

Be smart, educated, and practical about it.

Yeah, you have to make real-time adjustments and find solutions to make the shift easier.

Otherwise, running your own company can actually be more challenging and draining than working for someone else.

I’m glad that your transformation to becoming an entrepreneur is going well and that you were able to quit your job in the first place. But there are a lot of women, especially in economically weaker countries, who don’t have the privilege to do that. So, what would you recommend employers in that regard to support working mums?

Employers can do a lot! They can start by asking women at their company: How can we support you? It’s really that simple. And vice versa, you can always go to your boss and ask how they can support you and what your benefits are. For example, I know some companies can help pay for IVF treatment. And you can also talk to other women/moms at the company. Think of ways how you can be strong together and support each other that can make a difference.

Some of us, especially women, feel guilty about rewarding ourselves. So how is that going with you? Do you reward yourself regularly or feel the need to achieve a milestone?

Ugh, I’m so sick of guilt! One part of my inner journey is that I’m trying to break free from guilt and shame. I’m trying to be more unapologetic in life and stand up tall and live my best life without feeling guilty about it. You know, us women tend to say sorry for every silly thing; “I’m so sorry my house is messy”, “I’m sorry I didn’t check my email while I was on vacation”, “I’m sorry, but I’ve got a question”, “I’m sorry I couldn’t pick up the phone.”

Now I have pretty much stopped doing it. For example: “No, I’m not sorry that my house is messy. I have two small kids; of course, it will be messy!” So, I’m trying to go away from feeling guilty all the time and just be fierce and proud.

I think I reward myself a lot and I am proud of who I am and my achievements, and I’m not guilty about it – why should I be?

Yeah, I think life can be much easier if we are more self-aware and find a balance between the things that drain us and things that fuel energy. So, on that note, what are the things that drive & drain you?

Toxic people drain me. Long events and meeting a lot of new people drain me, so I know that if I have a big event, I have to take a few days by myself to recover after that.

I have actually written a “joy list” on my phone with stuff that gives me energy that I keep updating, and I encourage everyone to do the same; it’s really a life hack! And it doesn’t have to be a “perfect list” with healthy good things such as: drink green juice, yoga & meditate.

For me, it’s:

  • Ordering my favorite food
  • Buy new plants
  • Take a hot bath
  • Watch a series on Netflix with my favorite snacks
  • Play my Harry Potter game on my phone
  • Spend a day alone without my family to recharge and think one thought without being interrupted

So if I’m in a funk or if I want to give myself some love and energy, I know what will help!

Do you think going to university is relevant these days? How did you land a job without having a college degree? Can you share some tips?

Well, it really depends. Of course with some professions it’s mandatory you have a degree and have gone to school. But in my case, it’s different. I really think it’s about having the right mindset. Being an ambitious and driven person has gotten me to where I am today. So, I really think the right mindset and grit can take you anywhere.

When I started working as a salesperson, they were looking for a senior salesperson with a lot of experience. I had never worked with sales before, but I was like: give me six months and I’m going to be the best saleswoman on the team. And shortly after that, I closed huge deals and was in the lead on the team. It was of course challenging at times without having worked in sales before, but I hustled hard and didn’t give up.

After a year, my sales team started using a new CRM system called Salesforce. I had some ideas on how to improve and optimize it, so I regularly went to the tech team with my thoughts and suggestions. Eventually, the tech team leader offered me a job in that department. So all of a sudden, I was working in tech! I then started a recruitment company within tech and ended up having meetings with some of the largest tech companies in the world.

I have also received offers from companies that wanted me to be their CEO, even though I have 0 experience! But they said they had followed my journey on LinkedIn for a few years and were impressed with my attitude & mindset and that they wanted me to fill the position.

And I have always been like this. Even when I was in high school, I worked 40 hours a week at a local grocery store and I ended up being the manager simultaneously as I was going to school (with top grades).

Some people might think I sound cocky or that I brag about my journey. But this is me, I have worked really hard and if I put my mind to something – I’ll give it my all (and then some.) And I’m proud of it!

Some people go to school, others don’t. I really don’t think one road is better than the other – it’s just different. And I want to emphasize that there’s nothing like a right or wrong decision in life; there are just consequences to your actions.

What is your definition of fun?

Good question! I used to dance, play floorball and soccer before covid. And I absolutely love music, so I would travel the world to go to hip hop concerts and techno festivals. But now, after having two kids in two years during a pandemic, life is a little different. It will be interesting now after the pandemic is over and life “goes back to normal” I guess I’ll have to rediscover what fun is for me now😊

You seem to mention your husband now and then. What qualifies as an ideal partner, in your opinion?

I saw this quote the other day, which I loved: “As an ambitious woman, you have two choices – have a supportive partner or no partner at all.” Being supportive of your partner and finding someone who supports you is the key. My husband and I always support each other, and if someone has a crazy suggestion, business idea, or goal in life, we just say, “yes, do it! Go go go go!”. We also communicate a lot which is a cliche but true. And we give each other space. It’s important for us to have our own lives and do our own things too.

We’ve lived in patriarchy for thousands of years, so I think it’s easy for us women to fall into the trap of asking permission to live our lives, not prioritizing ourselves, needs, dreams, careers, etc. Your partner should be your cheerleader. I think that’s super-duper important.

What could attract more women and young people in STEM fields?

I don’t think it has to be 50% women and 50% men. But I believe there are significant initiatives out there to attract women. Also, we never focus on 50/50 numbers in our recruitment company. We were focusing on how we make the women within tech stay at their companies. Even if it’s just 5% women at your company in tech, you need to focus on how to make sure they stay, provide the same opportunities and salary as their male co-workers, and make sure women are not being harassed at work, etc. I think a lot of companies are inclined toward attracting women. But it’s also important to retain women!

The gender pay gap topic is a whole new ballgame. It’s almost taboo to speak about salaries with your co-workers. Isn’t it time we change that and maintain transparency concerning wages irrespective of gender? What would you suggest for someone who is not so confident in negotiating?

When I coach women or talk about being unapologetic, it also means knowing your value. Instead of shyly requesting a raise and asking your boss “what do you think?” you have to say: “This is what I’m worth. And if you can’t pay me that, I’ll find someone that will.” Be the driver of your own life rather than sit there and expect your boss to make a difference. I think it’s also important to shift your mindset. For example, instead of thinking,” I’m a minority, I’m an outsider, I’m the only person of color or the only woman in this room” etc., start thinking, “I’m a unique sparkly badass Unicorn and a great asset to this team!” When you genuinely value and respect yourself, others will too.

What are some of your favorite books or quotes?

  • Glennon Doyle’s – Untamed
  • Rebecca Campbell’s -Light Is the New Black
  • Rebecca Campbell’s – Rise Sister Rise

These three books changed my perspective on life. They taught me to love myself and my body, stay grounded, live authentically, trust my intuition, and find my calling in life.

So, would you say that was the turning point in your life?

Well, it was when I got back from maternity leave last year. I attended a webinar where they talked about living your truth and being authentic. And I was like, oh my God, what am I doing with my life? And then everything changed. I sold my apartment, moved, quit my job, got pregnant, started my company, and nothing has been the same since!

What’s your final piece of advice to be successful in life?

Know your worth and listen inwards!

It was lovely talking to you, Ellinor. Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts with us.

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