On building strong tech communities by Pauli Sosa

Pauli Sosa

I know Pauli as a lovely co-founder of MUV talks, a not-for-profit series of events that present 7 speakers talking about a particular theme. Their events are wonderfully organised and create an atmosphere of support. Most of the speakers are non-males and the topics range from milestone celebration to start-ups to change makers. Their mission resonates closely with ours on Kia Ora; hence, I am so excited to talk about Pauli’s journey on here! 

Pauli, a lot of people know you as a co-founder of MUV talks. Tell us a bit more about what do you outside of MUV? 

Besides MUV Talks, I’m the Community Manager at GridAKL / John Lysaght, which is part of the innovation precinct in Wynyard Quarter, Auckland. I’m passionate about business technology and connecting people, which is why I’m volunteering as Global Facilitator at Startup Weekend and also for Startup Digest as a Curator for New Zealand.

During my free time, I’m a hobby baker and lately I’ve got into crochet too.

Pauli’s community at the MUV Talks + Startup Grind event during Tech Week 2019

Pauli’s community at the MUV Talks + Startup Grind event during Tech Week 2019

The things you have experience in are probably not considered “conventional” for people outside of tech communities. What’s your background and how did you get into the world of talks, startups and community management? 

I discovered my passion for the entrepreneurial scene in 2011 when I got my Certificate in Business Development. Since then, I’ve had multiple roles in the entrepreneurial ecosystem in Córdoba, my home city. Some of my teachers were actively involved in entrepreneurial events around the city, which led me to getting involved with Startup Weekend, becoming a Global Facilitator which allowed me to travel a lot around Latin America. I was also part of the organiser team of TEDx Córdoba, part of the Córdoba Game Jam, and other great events related to business and technology.

Passion is contagious, and most people working in entrepreneurial ecosystems are always willing to help others. At the beginning I didn’t know anything about lean canvas, elevator pitch, kanban and other words that are so common when interacting with entrepreneurs. But ‘practise makes perfect’, and the more you get involved the more you learn.

In 2013 I got the opportunity of getting involved in the foundation of doingLABS, an incubator for technology based startups from the Blas Pascal University. Curating an incubator programme from scratch was one of my favourite professional challenges. In a period of 18 months, 3 successful cohorts were run, reaching more than 2000 entrepreneurs, with 21 startups selected for the incubation program. I learnt a lot about the startup journey and met a lot of inspiring entrepreneurs.

In 2015, I moved to New Zealand. I got involved with Startup Weekend Auckland, because I was familiar with it and that helped me to start building my network in New Zealand. I took every volunteer opportunity and attended every event I could. That helped me to understand more about Kiwis and how can I fit in this new country.

How and why did you co-found MUV? What do you think are some of the main contributing factors to it going strong for so long? 

Image generated with    https://imgflip.com/memegenerator    (caption: men, men everywhere)

Men, Men Everywhere

After organising and volunteering at a few events I started noticing the same pattern: most of the speakers and 90% of the attendees were men. Same thing in Argentina, same thing in New Zealand. So I decided to do something about it. I wanted to showcase stories from inspirational women and I wanted to build a community where women felt safe to share their story. That’s how MUV Talks was born. We choose to use ‘move’ or ‘muːv’ as an invitation to action, to move to the next thing, to move to something else. We wanted to create a space where anyone could feel safe, inspired and connected. Networking is essential when starting a business, which is why we added a few tools during the event that will make it fun and not forced.

Since launching MUV Talks in New Zealand, we’ve held fourteen events in Auckland and one in Tauranga. Thanks to the support of our sponsors and supporters, we have shared more than 100 stories, inspiring and connecting more than 1200 attendees. I still can’t believe everything we have achieved so far and I’m super grateful to everyone who is a part of our amazing community.

What were some of the not-so-obvious challenges and how have they changed from the beginning of MUV to now? 

Bringing a new event in Auckland was hard at the beginning. Especially getting financial support. The first event was funded by my co-founder Laura Kerrison and I. We did the initial investment because we wanted to make MUV Talks something special, not just another event with pizza and drinks. We believe that details make the experience.

Luckily, some attendees became sponsors after attending our first event, and thanks to them we secured our first 12 months of funding so we could organise 5 editions during 2016 and 2017.

MUV Talks Córdoba, 2014

MUV Talks Córdoba, 2014

What advice do you have for platforms / communities like Kia Ora that want to celebrate women & non-binary but still get males to listen in and be in the audience, be involved?

Just talk to people and ask for help. I know there are amazing humans outside with inspiring stories, everyday heroes with a passion. The best way to get to people is by word of mouth. Lots of our speakers are recommended by our community. After every MUV Talks we will send out a survey to our attendees asking for feedback and ideas for our next events. Listening to the community is very important; it will help you adapt what are you doing and to guarantee a good experience for your audience.

Involving people in the process of planning the event creates a sense of belonging and it helps to create a community.

If someone were to learn more or to want to follow in your steps, what would you recommend them doing?

I feel lucky and grateful for where I am today, but being honest it wasn’t easy. Here are some of my favourite learnings:

Always Ask For Help

You will be surprised how amazing people are when you ask for help. After some years of trying to do everything myself, I learnt that asking for help is not a sign of weakness, but rather it helped me to understand other points of view and how can I think about things differently.

Every piece of feedback I receive helps me to keep growing as a person and as a professional.

Just Keep Swimming

Keep going no matter what. Overcoming our own insecurities is key. When trying something new or getting into unknown territory, we can get scared and run away or just stop trying. Trust me, I have been there. My mum told me to never give up and to keep trying.

When organising our first event in New Zealand, I was scared that nobody was going to come, or that I wouldn’t be able to get the seven speakers. Despite these thoughts in my mind, we did it and it was a sold-out event!

Networking, networking, networking

I’m a people person and I feel lucky to be surrounded by amazing humans. Where did I meet these humans? Attending different events I was interested in, asking for introductions, volunteering in different types of events and internships. Thanks to volunteering at Startup Weekend, I got introduced to GridAKL and since then I have been in love with the building. 3 years later I got a job here and, even better, I get to work alongside the amazing community.

Focus On Collaboration Rather Than Competition

“If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” Anonymous

Let’s be honest, New Zealand is a small country. The market is not that big and there is a lot of international competition in the same target market. Competition could be intense.

Collaboration is essential when growing a community, and being able to work with others is an important part of being a good leader. Fortunately, New Zealand is really good at it! You can see collaboration everywhere. When doing business, most people are willing to get a coffee (vital entrepreneurial juice) to just hear you or give you some advice or feedback. Just don’t be afraid to ask.

Through MUV Talks, we’ve collaborated with events and organisations that share our values like Startup Grind, She#, and Basestation

Never Make Assumptions

I learnt this from The Four Agreements book by Don Miguel Ruiz. We tend to assume things all the time and, worst of all, to overthink. When we make assumptions, we misunderstand things, we take it personally, and we end up creating a whole big drama for nothing. Does it sound familiar?

Communication is the key to avoiding assumptions: just a simple conversation could help to prevent a big drama and maybe we can spend more time on finding solutions to move humanity forward, instead of creating needless problems and drama for ourselves.

Find your tribe 

“You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.” - Jim Rohn

I see myself as a ‘doer’ and this led me to meet different groups of people. I do my best to surround myself with people that are better than me in one way or another, as this diversity always brings out another layer of inspiration that adds to whatever I’m trying to achieve or  improve. I feel lucky to say that I had really good mentors who have helped me grow and become a better person.

So, always surround yourself with people you’re inspired by!

The GridAKL / John Lysaght Community

The GridAKL / John Lysaght Community

When looking from the outside in a lot of people’s lives seem full of amazing adventures, achievements and contributions, especially through online lens. None of us are fully immune to imposter syndrome and feeling like we are not doing enough. Do you have any personal experience with that feeling and what do you do to combat it?

I feel it all of the time! But it won’t stop me from doing what I love.

When organising events, I enjoy being behind the scenes. I prefer to be taking care of every detail than being on stage. I love seeing people enjoying the experience we have created for them. If they are smiling, I see it as a massive win.

To avoid feeling that we are not doing enough, we need to push ourselves outside the famous comfort zone and (again) don’t make any assumptions.

Creating MUV Talks took lots of persistence, hours of work and research and overcoming lots of “No’s”. To get the first event together took us about 4 months, compared to now when we need around 4 weeks.

Have you always known what you wanted to do? How do you choose what work / projects you take on?

I’m still not 100% sure what I want to do, but I have always been sure that I wanted to work with entrepreneurs.

Thanks to my partner’s encouragement, I looked for volunteering opportunities I was interested in. My second internship after moving to New Zealand was at the Lightning Lab programme in 2016. The role was similar to my role at doingLABS in Córdoba and it helped me understand Kiwi startups, what opportunities for entrepreneurs existed in the country and to know what the local entrepreneurial ecosystem looked like.

A few months later, I was invited to join the ZeroPoint Ventures team - one of my favourite teams ever. We wanted to create a virtual incubator to help Kiwi entrepreneurs to upskill themselves and their businesses. We ran a not-for-profit event which was an accelerated sprint programme to support the startup community. I loved working with the ZPV team, I learnt a lot!

What has been the weirdest or most memorable project you worked on? 

One of my favourites projects I had the pleasure to work on is ‘The Kitchen Science Book’. I was lucky enough to work with the Nanogirl Labs team to create a cookbook with a twist, where every recipe was a science experiment. The mission of the book as simple: “If you can follow a recipe, you can explore science.” 

The book is specifically created to make science easy and fun to explore at home as a family.

Leading the project was super fun. Working along with the NGL team, we managed to create a unique book all made by New Zealand talent. My favourite part was looking after the tester community. We had some testers around the world who will send us back feedback, photos and videos whilst doing the experiments. This helped us to understand how kids will respond to the experiment and we could tweak it if necessary.

Nanogirl Labs is a social enterprise with a mission to make science accessible to everyone. For every copy of the book purchased, they donate a copy to a community, school or family that would not otherwise have the opportunity to explore science in this way - just another ingredient to make it even more memorable.

What have been your key learnings in terms of creating value-driven culture whether it was through MUV talks or GridAKL or other ventures?

It’s all about the people for me. 

Creating a safe environment that people feel comfortable in is super important when building a community. There are a few tools that will help you on this, we use post-event surveys for MUV Talks for example. At GridAKL we have regular check-ins with our residents. 

By listening to people, you will learn what your community needs. You might think you know what people want but you won’t be sure until you ask. By asking, you make people feel comfortable and part of the culture - they belong and then they identify with the values of the organisation.

What are some of the cultural differences and challenges between New Zealand and Argentina where you grew up? What do you think some of the awesomeness that the culture of Argentina has that New Zealand doesn’t? 

In the start-up world, entrepreneurs have the same concerns, (perhaps Argentina was harder for finances), but most people have the same challenges setting up a business.

In terms of cultural differences, it took us some time to figure out basic things like where to go to buy things we needed and how everyday life works in New Zealand. A positive difference is that it’s much easier to save money in New Zealand and we have more disposable income. 

However, the benefits of Argentina were that you appreciate money more. Like an entrepreneur, you are bootstrapping and being careful about every cent you spend. Argentinian entrepreneurs are driven by providing for their family, whereas Kiwi entrepreneurs are usually starting their own business because they have the money and time, or can access it more easily.

Another positive cultural difference I’ve found is the willingness to confront each other in Argentina. Not necessarily in an aggressive way, but it allows people to take ownership of their ideas and it can make you more empathetic. 

And finally, whose story would you want to read about on here? 

I’d love to read about these inspiring ladies who I truly admire:

Lauren Peate - I love her passion for creating a more diverse world with Ally Skills.

Mel Langlotz - I admire the way she sees the world, she always finds opportunities to connect people.

Rachel Lewis - I admire the community she has built for women entrepreneurs in New Zealand.

Note: Big shout out to Laura Briggs who helped me to go through the questions and frame my answers ❤️

Elina Ashimbayeva