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Sinead Mac Manus is the chief executive and co-founder of Fluency, a digital skills learning platform that connects young people with work opportunities. She grew up in Dublin and attended University College Dublin, training as an urban planner.
Ms Mac Manus worked for five years and then decided to make a career change, retraining as an arts manager at Birkbeck, University of London.
After a decade working in the arts, she taught herself digital skills. Now living in London, UK, Ms Mac Manus enjoys yoga and drinking craft beers.
Who are your business influences?
I am really influenced by entrepreneurs and businesses that combine doing good with making money. As a social entrepreneur myself, I know how hard it is to balance the two, but I think that it should be a major goal of every business. Particular people I love are Sophi Tranchell MBE, the managing director of Divine Chocolate, and Baroness Martha Lane-Fox, who has done so much for women in technology and getting the UK online.
Your worst business decision?
I think my worst business decision has been getting caught up in the start-up hype of having to raise money fast. I think a start-up can raise external cash too early which puts huge pressure on the business. If I was starting Fluency all over again, I would keep it as a side project for years until we figured out how to make it work financially — and then raise.
What do you enjoy most about your job?
At the moment, I am full-time in the classroom delivering digital skills training to unemployed young people as part of the BBC Make it Digital traineeship. There is nothing better than taking someone with limited digital skills and an interest from zero to hero in just five weeks. Knowing that these young people can change the trajectory of their life by embracing a tech career is incredibly rewarding.
What do you find most difficult?
That’s easy! The constant rollercoaster cycle of cash flow gives me sleepless nights.
What is the best piece of advice given to you?
A wise start-up founder once said to me: “Never get too attached to the highs and too depressed by the lows, because when running a start-up, each day has a bit of both.” This is so true. Each day has its great moments, like getting an email from someone who got a job. But each day also has challenges. Trying to see Fluency as a marathon rather than a sprint is the way I deal with it all.
What is your favourite business book?
There are too many to pick just one, but Srikumar S Rao’s Happiness at Work is still one of my all-time favourites. Using life lessons from ancient wisdom and business, he shares ideas for creating more happiness in your work. I like it as it combines my favourite things — yoga and Buddhist teachings, productivity and mindfulness, in an easy-to-digest way with lots of storytelling.
“Observe yourself as you go through the day. How often do you start a task only to set it aside as something else grabs your attention — email, Twitter notifications, Facebook requests, instant messages, colleagues dropping in? Try turning off your cell phone and shutting down the communication functions on your PC unless you absolutely need to be connected. Many of the distractions that sap your energy just disappear.”
Which websites/apps would you recommend for businesswomen?
I use Evernote everyday for saving interesting things I find around the web; Buffer for scheduling my tweets, and Google Maps for finding the best cycle routes around London. I am also a huge fan of Google products and we use Gmail and Google Drive in the office religiously. We also started using Slack for team communication a few months ago and love it. My co-founder lives and works in the Midlands, so it is a great way to stay in touch.
What has been your best business trip?
I recently went to India for a two-week trip funded by the British Council, which was amazing. They took 40 tech entrepreneurs whose businesses were at various stages and took us on a start-up tour of Mumbai, Bangalore and Mysore. It was exciting to find out more about the tech scene in India and I really got a sense that India is poised to take over the world. With more than 1.2bn people and a rise in smartphone usage, there is so much potential for start-ups to create massive businesses there, especially in the areas of consumer apps and education.
If you could do it all again, what would you do differently?
Nothing really. I am currently on my fourth career since university and do not regret any of the steps I have taken to get here as I would not be here today if it wasn’t for the past. I always tell my young people that where you start in life doesn’t have to dictate where you end up, so get going on something and you will figure the rest out along the way.
What is your alternative career plan?
I’m already doing it. Myself and my life partner Alex are building a number of businesses on the side, including developing very high-end apartments using his incredible talents as an architect and artist. We also have an entertainment brand and community called Fox and Badge that runs fantastic parties and events in London (I am the Fox). Life is good!