We are pleased this week to talk with Julie Pimodan, Journalist, Entrepreneur, Founder of Fluicity and MIT Laureate, to hear about her rich and interesting career but also her experience, feelings and views on the business world, how parity fits into this, her vision and the choices she had to make to get to the position she holds today.
Where and how did your career begin?
I followed Journalism Studies at the University of Brussels. During my Masters, I was particularly interested in two topics: the role of women in society and current events in the Middle East.
Without realizing it at the time, I choose a dissertation topic that would strongly influence my young career (I’m only 31 years old). The subject fascinated me and dealt with the role of the media in democratic processes by analysis of a 15-year archive of a feminist journal and its impact on the revision of the family code in Morocco.
This work was the foundation, firstly for the trips it led me to do around the area, then for my commitment to the cause of women through various media and finally because it made me aware early on, of the central role of the citizen for the evolution of democratic processes.
Was it an easy progression?
Easy no, but so interesting! I would say it was punctuated with a mixture of happy encounters, coincidences and risk taking.
It started when I left for the Middle East – as a reporter in an independent agency – where I spent a year producing economic reports on the region for the NYT and The Daily Telegraph. Then I decided to leave my first job to achieve one of my dreams: learning Arabic. I chose Yemen for its beauty, its authenticity and ancestral culture.
After two months of intensive studies, I met a local entrepreneur who was none other than the press secretary to President Ali Abdullah Saleh. His project was to create the first English speaking magazine in the country: Yemen Today. He suggested that I head it! I was 23, it was the opportunity of a lifetime, so I decided to stay in Yemen to launch my first entrepreneurial venture.
During the next four years; I oscillated between a journalistic role – for Yemen Today, but also as a freelancer for the BBC and Al Jazeera – and a management role with growing responsibilities and measurable impact. It was during this period that I solidified my entrepreneurial flair.
This was an inspiring experience because it gave me the impression of using the media to build bridges, bring foreign people together, create better understanding of cultures, and especially to break down prejudice.
Tell us about your first experience in business
Despite my journalistic soul, a part of me wanted to build: a team, an activity, a movement.
In 2007, with two Tunisian partners, we created an art and fashion magazine for women in the Middle East, Unfair Magazine. Abu Dhabi based and distributed throughout the region, it was geared to the modern Arab woman, an educated woman, polyglot, curious and resolutely proud of her roots. This experience was both the hardest and most formative of my career. It allowed me to understand business creation from A-Z, in an area especially unreceptive to female entrepreneurship, while enjoying extraordinary popularity thanks to our status of “UFO”.
In 2010 I joined Google, in charge of developing sales of online campaign management solutions, “DoubleClick” in the Emerging Countries area. I spent 4 years there with one and a half being in Istanbul. Working at Google Turkey in 2013-2014 was a particularly interesting experience. The city was frozen by political events, access to information was very limited with frequent cuts to Twitter and Youtube access. Due to the decline in business at Google, I started working at the same time as a volunteer for the Hello-Tomorrow, a global entrepreneurship competition that opened my eyes to the fascinating innovations in the field the “Smart-Cities” and “Civic Tech”.
Tell us more about Fluicity and how you created it?
Fluicity was created out of a synthesis between my media and technology experience. After more than four years at Google, bathed in the world of innovation and Big data, I was shocked by the result of the municipal elections in France in 2014.
Over 40% of us had not voted, and this in a context of mistrust and growth of extremist parties in Europe.
How could we care so little about the way our region was run, still the basis of our democracy? How in the 21st century, could a Mayor govern without having real-time access to the most reliable data: the opinion of these citizens? The idea was to put the effective communication methods used in the public sector at the service of local democracy.
Fluicity is a digital platform which aims to promote discussion between local authorities and citizens. Our mission is to reconnect the stretched link between local officials and citizens in French and European cities, in public space co-construction logic.
Your opinions and advice:
Being an MIT Laureate is a wonderful success, congratulations! Do you think winning this initiative and others like it, will help to improve the acceptance of women in high places and relegate sex discrimination in the past?
Thank you! Of the ten MIT laureates for the prize “10 most innovative under 35s France”, we were only two women, which is fairly representative of the business world today. Women are beginning to make their way, and many initiatives are created for it. For example, from September Fluicity will join Paris Pioneers, which specializes in hosting and support for entrepreneurs. It is thanks to the visibility of dynamic women entrepreneurs that attitudes are changing. Axelle Lemaire for example, is a minister whose commitment to women in innovation contributes strongly to changing attitudes. Still a long way to go, but we are on the right track.
What is your impression of women in business today? Are they still faced with prejudice or has that now changed?
I am a little biased on the issue, having lived seven years in countries where women’s standing is not the same as in France, and where I often lived caricatural situations. I remember a businessman from the Gulf, with whom I had an hour and a half long meeting without a single eye contact. The irony was that I signed one of the most important contracts of my career with this businessman.
In France, I have never felt discriminated against in the course of business. It is only a year since I returned but I feel that the fact of being a woman in the world of entrepreneurship can also be an advantage. Both in terms of media attention and for doors that are opened to you.
So what would be your advice to women who hope to progress in their career?
I was always encouraged to do what I loved. This taste for freedom is the greatest gift my parents gave me and for which I feel privileged. Choosing what you like most helps you persevere, which I believe is the ultimate quality for a successful entrepreneurial venture.
As women often we tend to do what is expected of us, from a seduction reflex to please those around us when, in reality, there is nothing more attractive than those who act according their own beliefs, their own values.
In my career I have never learned as much as when I took risks by following my instincts, without necessarily listening to others’ advice. It is this sense of fear, through this motion, this adrenaline that can truly liberate us and the most amazing things can happen.
What, for you, are the obstacles and prejudices that you might encounter as a working woman?
I think the most dangerous prejudices are more expressed in our fears as women than in the perception of those around us. Prejudice appears sometimes as fast as it fades, it can apply to anything and any person, an d must never stop our work, our enthusiasm and our passion.
– You can be a woman, sexy and an engineer, as shown by the #ILookLikeAnEngineer movement on social networks
– You can be a Minister and a mother, like our Secretary of State responsible for Digital, Axelle Lemaire
– You can be feminine while being a Managing Director, as shown by the CEO of the site AuFeminin, Marie-Laure Sauty de Chalon
– You can be passionate about new technologies and organic revenue (I am living proof !!)
So many examples around us prove this and I think that we must continue to value these examples and commit collectively to inspire women of all ages and all socio-professional categories to follow their dreams.
The future and changes in attitude:
Do you believe that there are more opportunities for women entrepreneurs than by following a more traditional path?
Entrepreneurs are exposed to more risk than in a more traditional salaried position. Opportunities are also more available: we, as entrepreneurs, create our own opportunities.
For women, it’s the same, except that the glass ceiling and salary inequalities in professional careers have no reality in entrepreneurship.
I would go even further; new opportunities may appear; more invitations to speak for events, more importance be given to projects run by women, more attention from the media, funding and specialized support … Everything is done to encourage women to become entrepreneurs.
However, as an entrepreneur we are often alone, more stressed and less balanced than when an employee. This applies to both men and women, and I think each individual is responsible for creating balance regarding work by imposing self-discipline, business culture, and a measure of sustainable performance.
Do you notice a difference in attitude between the different countries / cultures on this?
In my experience in the Middle East, I was confronted with social contexts where women were often less emancipated, less free than in Western countries.
However, for myself as a foreigner in these countries, these constraints did not affect me as much directly. In Dubai, for example, everyone is present for business. It is easy to raise funds, to build a network and occupy a place in society as a woman entrepreneur.
In Yemen, as a journalist, I was struck by the power of some women who, despite extreme poverty and the few rights to which they had access, decided to become entrepreneurs, to emancipate themselves at work and have a real impact by their action. These women were the more skilled for achieving their goals due to their conviction, without necessarily stepping outside the legal framework, and, while being respectful of their culture and their codes. Without knowing it, and in an ongoing effort to create value, they became a symbol of change for their country.
This lesson has given me a different perspective of feminism than I had encountered at university and still remains a source of inspiration for me today.
Former journalist and media group entrepreneur, Julie worked and lived for 7 years in the Middle East, including Yemen, United Arab Emirates and Turkey.
Right in the middle of the Arab Spring, this experience opened her eyes to the existing gaps between governments and their citizens and the important role of new technology in the development of democratic processes.
Julie then joined the giant Google in the DoubleClick team where for four years, she helped large companies analyse data from their users to improve their communication and decision making.
Julie is now founder and CEO of Fluicity, an innovative platform that uses technology and data analysis to bring the local authorities closer to their citizens. She recently received the Laureate of Best Innovators under 35 in France, awarded by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).
Connect with Julie on Linkedin
Checkout and like her video on Youtube