Adelaide entrepreneur Nari Jennings, who started working at the young age of 13, was head-hunted straight out of university at 19 years old. Since then, she has formed her own successful businesses, including Captioning Studio, which is about transforming accessibility technologies for people with disabilities – as her family have genetic deafness.
Her latest venture is co-founding Peepable, a video search engine start-up, with the beta launch around the corner.
I got to speak to her about her incredible journey so far.
Can you tell me a bit about the businesses you’ve started?
Peepable (http://www.peepable.com) is my latest startup. It’s a video search engine that is a quick and convenient way to find video content across the net. We will shortly be launching our beta version and we can’t wait to share it with the world.
In 2004 I founded Captioning Studio, an accessibility company. Coming from a family with genetic deafness, I developed a passion for accessibility after seeing the Puccini opera ‘La Boheme’ at age 16. It was the first live performance I’d ever attended and I was so moved by the experience that I wanted to find a way that my family and friends who were deaf could enjoy live performances too.
This vision led my co-founder Alex French and I to create Captioning Studio, with a view to revolutionising accessibility technologies for people with disability around the world. In 2011, I’m proud to say that Captioning Studio won the Australian Human Rights Award for Business and in 2012 it received the Australian Federal Government’s National Disability Award.
What was it like to start your own business, particularly as a woman?
Exhilarating, daunting and liberating!
In one of my earlier career roles, I worked for an organisation with a male-dominated management structure. It was my first taste of gender bias in the workplace, and it served to strengthen my resolve to start my own business, which I did in 2004.
In the beginning, Captioning Studio was simply two founders with a grand vision and a gigabyte full of new ideas to revolutionise accessible technology. We wanted Captioning Studio to set new standards in the industry by developing technologies and methodologies that challenged the practices established by the big multinational players. We truly believed in our vision, as we still do today, and that has carried us through even the toughest of challenges, and enrolled and inspired others to support us on this journey.
How did you get to where you are today?
It would be fair to say that determination has always been one of my strong points.
At age 13, I volunteered some of my time out of school hours each week at the local newsagency, where I learnt the basic principles of running a business. It was this experience that placed me at the front of the employment queue when I was old enough to be officially employed and remunerated. It gave me the flexibility to choose the part-time employment I wanted during my school and university studies. This meant I had the opportunity to work part time for an interior design company and then an upmarket department store, meeting and learning from a wide range of people.
When I graduated from university, I was headhunted by my first full-time employer and I moved interstate to take up the position. Such was his faith in me that within six months of my appointment, and at the age of just 19, I was promoted directly from a trainee role to a management position.
I have always listened to my intuition to guide me in the choices I make and the people I surround myself with. Listening to, and trusting, intuition has served me well.
Underpinning all of this, of course, is my vision for a more accessible world.
What do you do to stay motivated and inspired?
IKEA Founder Ingvar Kamprad once said: “Divide your life into 10-minute units and sacrifice as few of them as possible in meaningless activity”.
While my days are not quite as compartmentalised as Ingvar’s may be, I do set myself daily and weekly goals. At the start of each week, I know exactly what I want to achieve. There’s nothing like blitzing your list to keep you motivated.
I also plan for solitude time. As Albert Einstein said: “At least once a day, allow yourself the freedom to think and dream” – and it’s often in these moments that my best thinking is done – whether it’s taking a stroll along my local beach, doing regular yoga practice or simply sitting in a cafe.
Above all, I am blessed to be pursuing my passion.
I believe that disability is not about a person’s impairment or differences. It’s actually about barriers. And once barriers are removed – for example, by installing a wheelchair ramp, or by making an event accessible through sign language and captioning – disability ceases to exist because we are all included; we are all equal participants. This passion to open up the world to everybody is also the guiding motivation behind Peepable. There is so much amazing video content in the world that just can’t be accessed, because we don’t have the tools or platforms freely available to search and share it.
It is a truly wonderful thing to be surrounded by, and inspired by, like-minded individuals and organisations who willingly take steps to be inclusive. There is nothing more motivating and inspiring to me than knowing that we are contributing to a more inclusive world.
How do you define success?
I believe that success is about pursuing your purpose, and this is where happiness lies.
As Ralph Waldo Emerson so beautifully wrote:“Life is a journey, not a destination”. So why not spend your life doing what you love, and use that to make a difference?
Did you have any great mentors along the way that made a difference to what you’re doing now?
Yes, at every step of the journey there have been people who have encouraged, supported, guided and inspired me. Some put an astonishing amount of faith in me when I was young and inexperienced, challenging me to believe in myself. I will be forever grateful to them for that.
What’s your top piece of advice for young women in their first or second job
Firstly, learn as much as you can from every experience. Observe the people whom you most admire and aspire to be like in your workplace or industry. Don’t be afraid to talk to them, to ask their advice, to learn from their experiences.
Above all, follow your passion and never compromise on your values. As Steve Jobs so famously said: “If you do what it is you love doing, you’ll have never worked a day in your life. Know your values – what you stand for and what is acceptable to you – and stick by it. If you are true to your values, decisions are easy.
Follow Nari on Twitter: @narijennings
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