Becoming a leader of any company isn’t an easy task. It requires a certain personality: a lot of determination, the ability to inspire and strength of character and conviction.
Leading tech teams in the startup world is even more fast-paced and cutthroat. Leaders need to be dynamic, inspire confidence and lead teams that are adaptable and resource-savvy. For women in tech, the challenge is even higher. Women face barriers to leadership positions, having to deal with bias, discrimination and structural obstacles.
Estelle Roux is the co-founder and CEO of StellarUp, a knowledge-sharing and learning platform that allows people to connect, learn and grow. As a leader in tech, her vision is to help build diverse environments with people-first cultures.
StellarUp, founded in 2020, aims to boost mentorship. Its community solution helps organisations to connect mentors with mentees, help boost skills acquisition, share learning and drive all-important connections.
We chatted with Estelle to learn more about becoming an effective leader, which qualities leaders need to develop and to learn more about StellarUp.
Can you tell us about StellarUp?
I co-founded StellarUp, previously known as Mentorjam, with my husband Julian. As partners in both life and business, we have a shared vision for the company and a common goal for its future. Our journey started when we identified a gap in the mentoring software industry which we wanted to explore further. It led us to pitch our solution at WebSummit in Lisbon in 2018. The response was tremendous and during the four-day event, we received countless requests for demos – exciting and scary at the same time! We put our heads together, after which Julian spent several years dedicated to building our version 1 product, which we officially launched in 2020. Needless to say, we’ve been on an exciting journey ever since. Our partnership brings a unique dynamic to the company, with each of us contributing with our own distinct and complementary skills.
We rebranded as StellarUp last year. What started as a digital platform to build and scale mentoring programs for companies, evolved into something much greater that keeps progressing each day. StellarUp allows you to connect, learn and grow, giving the individual the power to own their own personal development and organisations the ability to deliver relevant and engaging programs. We believe that progress comes from learning through shared experiences and we are on a mission to help organisations deliver engaging and scalable learning and mentoring programmes on an individual and large scale.
What does StellarUp offer to users?
We provide an environment where our users are able to make better and more meaningful connections, this helps them explore relevant learning paths to further support their growth, and that brings progress!
Our three pillars are: connect, learn and grow. The first is all about allowing people to connect easily. The second, goes beyond sharing within the mentoring space. It is about sharing knowledge in a one-to-one or, one-to-many relationship. The third and one I personally feel very strongly about, is growth. Growth and development are both requirements for progress.
We too have learned from our customers over the last few years, and I would say one of the key learnings was what makes a successful mentoring or learning program. These are the ones rooted within a community. Adding-in community elements was absolutely key for us. We now serve a much wider customer group and not just those offering digital mentoring programs, instead we work with any customer with a sharp focus on providing a better learning environment for their users.
As a leader, which qualities have helped you build the company?
Grit and determination! I do not give up easily. I am also a glass-half-full person and will always look for the silver lining.
Another strength I would say is that I observe and listen, I work through things quietly in my mind, before I respond. When you build a startup, you juggle multiple projects and tasks, big and small, at the same time. Knowing when to respond fast and when to dial down the noise and think strategically is really important.
I also love helping people. If you look at the journey we took as a company and where we started – mentoring software – helping people is in our DNA. Personally, I have always loved helping people, especially when it comes to them achieving goals they did not think were possible.
What is the most important quality of a CEO in tech?
People often ask me this question and I think my answer applies to everyone, not just CEOs but to all startup founders. Resilience. Being able to quickly bounce back from setbacks, and then learn from that experience. Resilience is critical when building a business from the ground up. Anyone who tells you that running a startup is easy, is lying! It is hard, by far one of the hardest things I’ve ever done and I’d be lying too if I told you that there are never days I feel like giving up. But, I believe in our mission – we have a fantastic product and an amazing team and I love the challenges that come with building the most complex puzzle I’ve ever faced!
How would you describe your leadership?
I would say, I have more of a coaching leadership style – I am a great listener and quite intuitive. Following my gut is really important to me, contrary to what you would find in leadership books when talking about the leadership styles of successful Startup CEOs. A quality which I admire and aspire to the most is quiet confidence. I teach my children, as much as I can, to be confident and caring individuals, to listen before responding and to follow their guts. To be a role model or mentor for them instead of a boss who tells them what to do. A role model is to be attuned with one’s true self, to feel proud and aligned with who you are, your values and your vision. I also believe that being a role model is by far the most powerful form of education. I have a lot of admiration for people who make a difference and achieve things without having to scream from the rooftop. I am in awe of a more persuasive, collaborative and achieving type of leader. People such as Jacinda Ardern, Megan Markle, Michelle Obama and others come to mind.
Personally, I prioritise building relationships above anything else and my strength in this area stems from my ability to listen, understand, and respond to others in a way that they feel truly heard. I accomplish this by actively listening to the issues at hand and showing empathy for the challenges faced by those I am speaking with. My open and attentive approach allows individuals to fully express themselves and helps me gain a deep understanding of their needs. This understanding, in turn, allows me to effectively communicate and translate the solutions that I can offer into language that is meaningful to each person I interact with, whether they be investors, team members, or customers.
What piece of advice would you have for your younger self?
There is only one you – only you can do you! Don’t look at other people as look-alikes; sure, learn from experience, but at the end of the day you close your eyes and you need to be relaxed with the decisions that you’ve made. Think about where you get your energy from and make sure to prioritise moments for that each day. Having always put a lot of pressure on myself to do things perfectly (and that really gives me stress), the last piece of advice would be that perfect is a perspective. Your version of perfect is likely not my version of perfect. And finally, have fun, celebrate the small things and don’t forget to add a bit of glitter to your day.