Business

OneShift founder Gen George on promoting gender diversity, solving problems and resilience

“Sometimes you have to run blindly at the wall and hope you get through it.”

Gen George was 16 years old when she got her first taste of entrepreneurship.

She had been working as a babysitter in her local area and interest had increased to a point where the young Sydneysider had too many clients and not enough time.

So George decided to form a babysitters’ club where she would source other nannies for the parents, and take a cut from either side.

It was a savvy business for a teenager, but George never saw entrepreneurship as a career path or that as a jumping off point; it was just a way to make a bit of money.

“Looking back on it that was my first exposure to entrepreneurship, but I didn’t really think about it that way – it was more about solving a problem,” George says.

Now, more than a decade later, George is the successful co-founder of two thriving startups, an entrepreneur that is leading the way for the next generation of Australian female entrepreneurs and a regular speaker at events around the world.

Credit for all photos: OneShift/Skilld.
Credit for all photos: OneShift/Skilld.

George launched OneShift in 2012 as a platform to match people with jobs. The startup now has over 700,000 users, 40,000 businesses onboard and has scored a $5 million investment in 2013. On the back of this rapid growth, the now-26 year old launched a partner service called Skilld for businesses to find staff.

The OneShift story begins with a gap year in the south of France.

After attempting a year at university studying law and property development, George says she quickly realised it wasn’t for her, and opted to get away from at all and take a gap year.

While trying to find work and seeing the struggle of others in her hostel to do the same, she quickly zeroed in on an idea.

“I was trying to find work that suited me, and I scored a job but it didn’t start for a month,” she says. “The whole hostel that I was staying in was in that situation too. You had ridiculously talented people waiting for a job to start.”

So George decided to go down to the local cafe and offer up the talents of the chefs from the hostel immediately, so the business could get consistent, local staff.

“That’s where it all came together,” George says.

Just like the babysitter business when she was a teenager, it all revolved around solving a problem she was faced with.

“It’s always about solving a problem, being selfish and trying to solve your own problems,” she says.

When she finally launched OneShift in 2013, the Australian startup ecosystem was virtually unrecognisable to what it is today. It was still far away from the mainstream and from the interest of politicians, and co-working spaces were mostly unknown.

“Fishburners started at pretty much the same time as us,” George says. “Startups and entrepreneurship are becoming a career path but that’s only happened in the last 12 to 24 months.

“We were just doing what we were doing rather than going out there and saying, ‘I’m going to be an entrepreneur’.”

This was a time when gender diversity in startups was even worse than it is now, and Gen George has helped to pave the way forward for women in the tech and business sector. She’s helped to form Like Minded Bitches Drinking Wine, a supportive group with well over 3,000 members, and now leads the Australian branch of Women in Tech.

George also is heavily involved with the local startup sector in general, through mentorship at the MURRU Indigenous Business School and Springboard Enterprises.

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While she says she hasn’t encountered any blatant sexism or obstacles in her way because of her gender, George says that the general culture is finally changing, and diversity in all its forms is being embraced.

“Five years ago I’d get calls saying, ‘oh, you’re a girl running a business, that’s nifty’, and now they’re like, ‘hey, we like your business, you’re doing something cool’,” she says.

“I think more people are aware of it than previously and people want to make a change. Having more diversity is only a win-win for everyone.There’s a momentum of women starting businesses – they’re all out there and they’re doing it.”

To help close the gender gap in Australia, she says that it’s crucial to increase the visibility of other successful female entrepreneurs and begin early with the education of the next generation of founders.

“Unless you can see what’s possible, you don’t really get that momentum of mass market,” George says.

“Education is a huge [issue] for the startup and entrepreneurship thought process.”

While still only 26, George has a wealth of experience in building a business, and says the great test of an entrepreneur is how they recover from coming up against a serious challenge.

“You keep coming up against a wall, getting knocked over, and then getting back up again. That’s the biggest asset for any startup founder – getting up again,” George says.

“There’s been a lot of battering and bruising along the way, but… sometimes you have to run blindly at the wall and hope you get through it.”


Denham Sadler

About the Author Denham Sadler

Denham Sadler is a freelance writer. He tweets at @denhamsadler.