Kristen is the co-founder and CEO of Highliner Technology, a platform which uses Artificial Intelligence and machine learning to provide personalised support and coaching for managers. She has a co-founder and 3 part-time contractors. The business is currently at MVP stage.
Tell us about your startup journey
When I registered for OneTech in Summer 2018, I was transitioning out of two years of full-time employment as COO of a deep tech start-up, which was closing its Series A round. I had applied for that role with the intention of gaining relevant experience so I could eventually have my own start-up. I was incredibly fortunate to make a pivot into the tech industry and to get the confidence and exposure needed for my start-up.
What does Highliner do?
Highliner uses machine learning and natural language processing to provide personalised support and coaching for managers. It creates behavioural change in the workplace by taking complex processes, like how you give good feedback, or how to be more empathetic in a team, and breaks then down into pieces you can practice, backed up with tools to become more effective. Our current focus is on frontline managers with lots of team members and we see huge opportunities in where this can go.
What is your background? Is it an advantage or disadvantage to you as a tech founder?
I’m an immigrant to the UK from the US, having recently attained dual citizenship.
A key difference for me, as an immigrant founder, was understanding British communication norms, and striking the right balance between confidence and asking for help. I’ve found walking that line is tough. When I moved here, I realised people are saying the same things but mean something completely different. I still have the challenge of being perceived as too forward and upfront.
However, I think it is important to say that there is a double standard where white immigrants from the US (and other English-speaking countries) are thought of as “ex-pats” and not immigrants. It is important for me to be clear that my privilege as a white woman from the US means I do not face the same amount of prejudice as many other immigrants.
What are the challenges you’ve faced, especially as an underrepresented founder?
There are challenges that all founders face. It’s hard running a start-up, and that’s universal. But, I think there are some additional challenges for underrepresented founders and being part of the OneTech community coming together, identifying and sharing those same experiences with each other has been really positive.
Despite the support I’ve had, I still feel the challenges of being an underrepresented founder in the sector. Women showing ambition inherently biases us compared to men. As under-represented founders, we have to be ten times better.
How has OneTech supported your journey?
I was part of the very first One Tech cohort when my startup was at pre-conception stage. So from the very beginning, it was a helpful extra push to make that leap.
Without OneTech I wouldn’t have joined the FastForward programme. It helped me add structure to what I was already doing and formalise my thought processes. The accountability and homework components kept me on track. I was already talking to users, and outlining my MVP, but I wasn’t thinking about minimum viable segment. It built my confidence both in my pitch and in my evidence base.
I also found great value in the way it offered a built-in group of people with whom I could share and revise ideas. There is time set aside to bounce ideas. I keep in regular contact with a lot of the founders from the programme and we provide a fantastic support network for each other.
What is your advice to other underrepresented founders?
One of the key things about being in tech is how network focused it is and how important it is to have a wide network from a fundraising point of view, but also from client and talent points of view. I’ve been fortunate that One Tech gave me additional access to a wider network than I already had. It’s provided me with the possibility to meet all of these people but also in very open community focused on supporting each other.
Also, don’t be afraid to ask for favours. It’s hard and I think people offer them less because they don’t want to be presumptuous. But at every step of my journey, someone volunteered a favour and they have been essential to my journey as a founder.