Tania Walter is the CEO and Founder of Obzervr, a Field Service Automation solution that increases productivity for the mobile workforce, even as far afield as Antarctica! After years spent in the oil and gas industries watching scientists laboriously collect vast amounts of data using paper and pen, Tania’s aim is to shift companies to Obzervr’s digital solution. Obzervr is currently used by organisations for asset management, environment monitoring and field assessment and enables mobile workers to make decisions faster and more accurately, saving companies money. It can be used offline, with data syncing once back online.
Tania has a background in Information Technology, Commerce, Project Management and Economics. She started Obzervr in September 2014. At Femeconomy we love profiling tech entrepreneurs, especially those working in male dominated industries because we believe: if you see it, you can be it.
What was the “a ha” moment that lead you to create Obzervr?
To understand the aha moment is to understand where I’ve come from.
My earlier career was based in Africa where I was managing projects for oil company with high cases of fraud, and implementing mobile tech to control and track different liquid fuels in Southern Africa. We implemented digital technology on the tankers and their equipment to enable operational data to be linked back to the SAP headquarters (HQ) systems and the banks.
Flash forward to working here and I was working within the mining and coal seam gas sector implementing Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) solutions, and I realised that all the information from field was coming in on paper or being done manually. Equally, where some ERP solutions did have mobility solutions they weren’t very flexible and almost always made the field work harder as changes needed in field couldn’t be accommodated and were then done on paper anyway. I realised there wasn’t a platform that was generic that could plug into bigger systems or act as its own system to support and enable field operations and mobile workforces. I wanted to create something that could meet the many user cases for mobility solutions (environmental, property, aged care, agribusiness) providing rich information at the HQ level and ease of work at the field.
I came home one day and told my husband, “This is what I’m going to do!”. So I quit my job and here I am today.
What has been the most helpful in generating traction for Obzervr?
Traction is an interesting concept. It’s one of those things you often only see in retrospect. That said, it’s probably having a sound tech background to communicate the value proposition to potential customers. When you talk to engineering companies they don’t want to hear sales speak, you need to be able to talk their day-to-day with them. Equally important, is a vision of where your customer’s world is going, what the product can do and how it adds value in the future.
What are the next steps to scale Obzervr?
There’s not an event I don’t go to where I don’t ask someone “Would you like to invest in my company?” (laughs). Next steps for us are sales, investment and partnership.
If you were advising future female leaders interested in developing technology startups, what education or experience would you advise before going it alone?
Firstly, acknowledging it will be hard. Consider what support structures you have. Knowing that business is money in and money out. Knowing the basics of business are very important, in particular how money moves in the P&L etc. You absolutely need to understand what makes a business and how it runs. Incredibly important is having a specialisation in your area of business expertise. You have to be broad but also deep in your area. Knowing what gaps you have to fill helps when you start to build your team.
What I want to tell all women who embark on this sort of a journey – Don’t give up. Women give up too easily in my experience. Don’t be intimidated and leave. Many environments are male dominated, but it won’t always be that way with collective effort. It will never be any more balanced if you decide you can’t handle it and leave. If you choose to have children, then come back.
Women are responsible for making the change as much as anyone. We have more leverage than we think.
What advice do you have for managing an international team who are remotely located?
Understanding project management and holding people to milestones and tasks. Understanding the cultural requirements and the cultures they come from. Put processes and systems in place so that everyone adopts that system.
I once managed a project in Africa. The software team was in Israel and Denmark. I was in one part of Africa and rest of the implementation team were in another part of Africa. Protocols and boundaries for rules of engagement are very important. The team need to understand where they are going.
What has been the biggest challenge in your career?
Becoming a mother, but still having a desire to work. It’s a big juggle to learn how to balance being a mother, wife and then still wanting to build amazing tech, and an amazing business.
What has been your proudest moment?
At Obzervr we’re young and yet there have been many proud moments, some small and some coming home to me over time. Let’s say, building a viable product, having paying customers, being accepted to Springboard Female Founders (mentor program). Lately, having our software deployed with the GHD team in Antarctica, I’d say is pretty cool. I would also say, seeing the business I built and exited in South Africa still going strong.
Do you have any tips for women who are currently working in male dominated industries?
Whenever you consider, “I’m not good enough”, push it aside and do it anyway. Courage is not the absence of fear, it is feeling it and doing it anyway. Ask yourself, “Who I am not to do this?”. If it’s to be done, then why not you? I don’t want to say ‘think like a man’ because we’re women but there is much to learn from the way they deal with a confidence crisis.
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