In Conversation with Irene Ternes: On Pioneering Data Accessibility and Diversity in Tech

This interview is part of our Female Founder Spotlight Series. We sat down with Irene Ternes, CEO and Co-Founder of DataMonkey to talk about her journey. 

“Welcome Irene and thanks for taking part in Girls in Tech Germany’s Female Founder Spotlight Series! Please can you introduce yourself?”

My name is Irene, I’m the Co-Founder and CEO of DataMonkey, we’re a B2B SaaS company based in Berlin, Germany. Basically, DataMonkey is a platform that helps people who don’t work in the data team to quickly analyse and understand data. So the business experts that need to make data driven decisions but don’t have a background in data or tech.

Previously I studied Business Administration in Germany and Switzerland, I worked in IT consulting, in tech process and project management, also in scale ups… so yeah quite a varied background with a lot of IT / business intersection.

“Amazing, and what led you to founding Datamonkey?”

We founded DataMonkey because my co-founder and I both have backgrounds in scale-ups and consulting. We’d often see that in many companies – data and business people are somewhat disconnected. So, a lot of companies have a lot of data, but especially the business people who need access to this data don’t always get it.

There’s a need for them to have the data to make decent decisions in whatever their role is. They don’t have easy and convenient access to that knowledge, which already exists. So, we are building a platform to leverage – especially with the recent developments in AI – the data and the information which is already in the companies, to the business people who actually need them to make better decisions.

“Very cool. And what challenges have you faced as a female tech founder?”

The main challenge as a female tech founder, unfortunately, in Germany, is that we are a minority. So I have experienced that a lot. For example, when I go to networking events, especially pitching events, it happens very often that I’m the only female pitching at an event, or just a very few of us are female. And of course, you always see the news and the statistics about how small the amounts are that go from private VCs to female founders. These news and statistics can be quite intimidating. This is currently what comes to my mind when I think of being a female founder in Germany.

“Have you experienced that personally in the VC landscape?”

We haven’t fundraised from VCs yet. We have actually completely bootstrapped our company, also with public funding from the German state or from the European level. But we are in touch with different potential investors for the future already. We definitely see a gap. Within VC firms I have seen that on the lower levels, like the analyst level, there are more women. But the more the hierarchy goes up, the more male it gets. Obviously, it’s also a bit intimidating as a female founder, to basically only talk to male investors there.

“Why is it important to you personally, but also for the industry, to have different types of people working in tech?”

It’s really important to have different types of people working in tech, especially in the leadership roles, but also in any role that is related to the development in tech.

The current developments which are going on, especially in AI, are really shaping how the world will be in the future and how we will live and how we will work over the next years, or even decades. It’s important that we, as the people, the community, make these decisions – how we want to live and how we want to work together – by as many different people as possible to ensure that these solutions really fit for as many people as possible. We’ve seen already, for many years already, that diverse teams just bring better results. For example, McKinsey has done a lot of statistics on that, that in the end, diverse teams bring more profit and are better for your employees. It’s really important to have diverse teams on all levels, especially also in tech development.

“How have you seen the tech industry change since you started your career from a diversity perspective?”

I think I always had the privilege to work in rather diverse teams. I started in a scale-up where we had really impressive women in different leadership roles. I was working for four and a half years in IT consulting in a major IT consulting company, actually an American-based one, which had diversity as one of their core programmes. I really like that because it shows that it’s really important to make diversity your topic. If you actually really push for it, it helps. And also, if you bring this awareness to everyone. This is not the case in all organisations. Of course, I also saw, like a lot of tech companies which are founded by men and have basically the full leadership team made up mostly of men. But I think at least the awareness is growing, which is probably the first step.

“So, as a tech CEO and Co-Founder, how are you working to diversify your organisation?”

What I try to focus on in diversifying my organisation is closely aligning with my co-founder that diversity is relevant. And I’m really happy that my co-founder (he is male) also has the same priority. He also sees the value and the opportunities in diversity. And that’s obviously a great basis.

What we do is when we hire new people, we make diversity a topic, and that is not only gender – but that also means it can be culture, education, personality, or skills and strengths. So, for example, we’ve been discussing if we want to hire someone who is more introverted or more extroverted, and how that would shift the team in a better direction.

To be honest we are a very small team, so we also need to make compromises. Sometimes you cannot check all the marks on your checklist, but we try to focus on that and we try to find someone who will not only bring the hard facts or the technical skills that we are currently recruiting for, but also bring a kind of background and diversity and personality that brings the whole team forward.

“It’s always hard when you’re small, isn’t it? Balancing the desire for a diverse team with minimal budgets and urgent need for technical talent.

Do you have any advice for women, and also people from other underrepresented communities, who are pursuing a career in tech and even particularly starting their own tech business?”

For anyone who wants to start a career or even their own business in tech, and especially if you’re a female founder or come from an underrepresented community. You might have this broad vision that you maybe want to build over the next couple of years, but just make the very few next steps very specific. And that can really just be as specific as going to a networking event, or just spending a couple of hours researching your competitor landscape.

On the other hand, it really helps to connect with others – to see that, yes, you might be a minority, but you’re not the only one. So, you will not be the only woman, and you will not be the only one from a migration background for example, and it really helps to connect with others. It’s easier to connect offline if you live in a larger hub, like Berlin or Munich, for instance, where you can actually meet people at real networking events. If you don’t happen to live there, you can also use different communities online to connect.

I think there are great opportunities for women, such as here – Girls in Tech – and other specific tech communities. For example, Migrapreneurs in Berlin is a female founded community for anyone who has a refugee or migrant background. Seek out these networks and make use of them!

You can also just easily connect via email or LinkedIn with people who are a bit similar to you. Maybe someone who is a few steps ahead of you, and you can easily connect with them and ask them for feedback, and about their experience. Most people are happy to share their feedback and their thoughts with you! See how others are approaching a similar journey and learn from them.

“Great advice to finish on. Thank you so much Irene for sharing your journey with Girls in Tech Germany!”

Thank you for having me!

You can follow Irene on LinkedIn.

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