Forbes Women’s Summit: “Financial Services Is Probably The Last Bastion Of Misogyny”

SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - MARCH 22: The Power of Product Sam White, Ava Matthews, Bec Jefferd, Isharna Walsh & Michelle Battersby with Felicity McVay pose at the Forbes Australia Women's Summit at ICC Sydney on March 22, 2023 in Sydney, Australia. Forbes Australia Women's Summit, presented by NAB Private Wealth.  (Photo by Hanna Lassen/Getty Images for Forbes Australia)

In a noisy, saturated market, what makes a powerful idea speak?

1700 attendees gathered at the ICC Sydney yesterday for Forbes Australia’s inaugural Women’s Summit; an epic incubator of innovation positioned towards a more successful, equitable and resilient future by the day’s rallying cry, “The Power of Now”. 

The agenda boasted an impressive line-up of industry heavyweights including business executive, activist and author, Wendy McCarthy AO, Tanya Denning-Orman (director of Indigenous content for SBS), and illustrious headliner Miranda Kerr (founder and CEO of KORA Organics).

“The Power of Product” panel brought together an assembly of business-savvy women hailing from the femtech, beauty, and insurance sectors, all of whom have found great success in turning their ideas into a powerful product.

Moderated by global head of entertainment at TikTok, Felicity McVay, and host for the day, Sam White (Founder and CEO of Freedom Services Group and Stella Insurance), Ava Matthews and Bec Jefferd (Co-Founders of Ultra Violette), Isharna Walsh (Founder and CEO of Coral) and Michelle Battersby (Co-Founder and CMO of Sunroom) discussed their path to entrepreneurial success, and the trends driven by female customers that helped shape it. Because in the creation of any product, service or brand, what is more powerful than understanding your audience?

From new gen sunscreen to dissatisfied sex lives, it was identifying the unmet needs of Australian women and gender-diverse people that unified these tales of product prosperity.

Dissatisfied sex lives? 

Indeed. 

Previously a Government Economic advisor and Boston Consulting Group executive, Isharna Walsh has created a revolutionary, course-based approach to better sex with her app, Coral. The platform came about at a time when Walsh’s interest in technology was running in serendipitous parallel with her own sexual journey. And she realised a huge market need. “Most of us are dissatisfied with our sex lives,” said Walsh. “And most of us want to feel more connected to our partners. And no one was addressing that problem. So I was really motivated to create a solution.”

During an exclusive discussion with B&T, Walsh elaborated:

“There was literally nothing like our business when it came to products for women. So I went on my own journey in relation to sexuality where I had to pull from a lot of different resources, I was reading books, I was doing courses, I was speaking to people. And that was really inaccessible, that was just because I was really motivated.

“I saw an opportunity to create something that really helps people evolve and improve in relation to formation of intimate relationships and really showing up in a genuine way. And that’s how Coral was born.”

When asked about how the public can use purchasing power as a mechanism of advocacy for women, Walsh commented: 

“What they can do is support women-owned businesses. And I think a big thing is also recognising when products have been designed by and for women as a female purchaser. 

“I mean, there’s so much in the world that’s not designed for us. So finding things that have been and being loyal followers and fans is really important.”

But in this world where women’s needs are so often overlooked in product design, the panel was an uplifting illustration of products that have been able to fill the void of their verticals.

Sam White, whose self-described, “incurable romantic” nature drove the development of her women-centric insurance product, Stella Insurance. “I think that the greatest love that you can share with somebody is to really see them. I think it’s really important for women to see themselves in all products,” said White.

“I like to say that financial services is probably the last bastion of misogyny,” White continued. “Over the years I suffered with all the things that any woman that’s worked in financial services will have done, inappropriate sexual advances, real difficulty getting funding, I kept going into rooms and look around, and I’ll be the only woman there.”

Motivated by her desire to overhaul the insurance product designed by these rooms, Sam began tearing away at traditional clauses that she felt didn’t “tend to think about customers from an emotional viewpoint”. White now employs over 250 staff with offices around the globe.

Ava Matthews and Bec Jefferd came up with their transformative skin-care-meets-sun-screen product, Ultra Violet, during their shared time working at beauty retail giant, Mecca. “We had a front row seat into beauty trends and what women wanted in their products. And we saw a lot of whitespace,” said Matthews. 

But having zero competitors had interesting implications when it came to developing their brand platform, SKINSCREEN(™). “It actually was quite a challenge in that it wasn’t insight-driven, it was really gut-driven,” commented Jefferd. 

“It was listening to the things that weren’t being sold and that weren’t being offered, and trying to piece those two bits of information together in what we were hoping to create, which is a new category around the SKINSCREEN(™).”

Michelle Battersby had an inverse experience in developing Sunroom, a content platform for female and non-binary creators.

Sunroom was conceived from the insight that brand deals and revenue share agreements are unreliable revenue streams for the 50 million people who identify as content creators. Sunroom provides direct audience monetisation for its creators, and alleviates them of the need to perform for an algorithm, as well as help the creators who aren’t in the line of site of brands and brand deals.

However, Battersby was met with the difficult challenge of needing to establish differentiators from the existing OnlyFans, an adult subscription service, as well as naysaying comments from male advisers who didn’t see the need for this product.

“If you’re ever met with resistance when you’re coming up with an idea, use that to refine your idea and to continue to validate it,” Matthew encouraged. “From those comments is actually where a lot of the fire and passion came.”

“And so we use those comments to really establish our differentiators, you know, how can we prove we’re not OnlyFans? We’ll build an app. OnlyFans will never be allowed on the App Store, because their content is too explicit. 

“Okay, we’ll build a screenshot technology so creators are feeling more safe to open up. We’ll moderate the platform with women and with women’s needs at heart,” she continued.

But of all the wise counsel given, one personal standout came from White, who took an epiphanic life lesson acquired as a teenager in the bathroom stalls of nightclubs: “nobody cares what I look like, they only care what they look like,” and applied it to diving head-first into business ventures. 

“Genuinely some of the best lessons I’ve learned in life have been after a massive fuck-up,” stated White; a lauded conclusion to another of the day’s powerful panels.




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