People didn't take me seriously as a young woman in tech
A promising teen tech entrepreneur has revealed the astonishing level of ignorance she has faced from older people in the sector.
Lydia Jones, 19, is one of our ’35 under 35: Ones to Watch’ entrepreneurs and the brains behind the HallHang app which is connecting students with similar social interests.
→ Jones will be taking part in our 'Entrepreneurs 2.0: The Next Generation' pitching event on Tuesday 18th September. Book now
Jones has been developing apps since she dropped out of school at the age of 15. Her previous ventures include motivating fitness app FitFlash, which she founded when still at college, and the Trooops app, which matched users around the world through hashtags and their social DNA.
She has spent time in accelerators including Entrepreneurial Spark in Liverpool, SparkUp in the Liverpool Chambers of Commerce and Ignite in Sheffield.
Yet earning the respect of investors and other people who could provide assistance has proven difficult.
“It hasn’t been an easy journey. My big problem was that investors wouldn't take me seriously due to my age,” she told BusinessCloud.
“I'd also try and organise meetings with marketing people, developers, designers – anyone who I needed to ask for advice – and they wouldn’t show up.
“For a long time people didn't want to listen: they didn’t reply to emails and, if I was five minutes late for a meeting, they'd say they had to go somewhere else.
“I think it was because of a mixture of things but mainly being young and being a woman in tech – it amplifies everything.”
She was offered a scholarship for the BOS (Business of Software) Conference in Boston, Massachusetts, last year and the feedback she received convinced her to pivot the idea behind Trooops to become HallHang.
She says that businesspeople in the UK should look to San Francisco for inspiration on how to deal with young people.
“If you spend time in San Francisco, the young people are really listened to, compared with the UK,” she explained.
“Boston was B2B – making money off software by selling it to other companies – but in California it’s more B2C. They understand that these ideas are not going to make money for three years but see the value in building up a really strong user base.
“Adoption of that mindset works nicely with the younger generation because the investors invest personally in the vision of young people, who are doing tech in a different way because they’ve seen new emerging technologies and what they can do.
“In the UK they ask what they’re making out of it straight away – and if you say you're not going to get a return for three years, they don't want to sit down with you at the table.
“Sometimes the older people can't keep up with the innovation of the younger ones, but they should still listen to them and try and understand them.”
The idea for HallHang came to Jones while visiting her girlfriend at university. She says that many students end up socialising and living with people on their degree courses rather than people with similar interests.
The app uses GPS technology to introduce users to student-hosted events around their halls of residence, such as movie nights and games nights, and has already been incorporated by all three universities in the Liverpool city region: Liverpool John Moores University, the University of Liverpool and Edge Hill.
Jones works remotely as a product specialist at South of England-based artificial intelligence firm Amplify Life AI to fund the marketing for HallHang. She is heavily involved in developing for mobile, AI and Amazon Alexa, and also runs thelydperiod podcast covering product, growth hacking, UX, AI, mobile and voice talk.
She also receives support from the Liverpool City Region Activate programme, which allowed her to enlist the expertise of the Faculty of Engineering and Technology and Liverpool Business School – both part of LJMU – to gather real-time market research data via data mining techniques developed by Dr Carl Chalmers (pictured above).
Dr Chalmers told us: "Lydia approached Activate with a fantastic idea but did not realise how wide reaching and impactful the technology could be. We meet many companies who don’t realise the true potential of their ideas.
"Bringing together the expertise of both academics and research developers through Activate provides a greater understanding of how the company can best leverage their innovation."
He added: "We provided knowledge exchange on how to process the data for topic modelling, sentiment analysis and to make predictions using machine learning.
"These tools and techniques will aid Lydia in developing her application while helping her to realise the true potential of her idea."
Jones said the Activate programme has been beneficial after the "constant letdowns" she has suffered and that she is now in demand as a speaker at events.
She added: “As a young woman trying to make your way in tech – and especially when you have your own start-up – you have to be resilient. When someone says ‘no’ to me, I’m in their face and querying why they’re saying it.
“You've got to question a lot of people and, while it may be daunting, you've got to do it to get some answers.”
HallHang is available on the App Store and is currently undergoing software updates to incorporate flat verification, geolocation and group chats to expand to more universities across the North.