Meet Mikaela Jade – tech founder, proud Cabrogal woman & Verve member
Any business owner, freelancer or founder will know how nerve-wracking it can be to leave behind a stable salary to forge your own path. No one knows that better than Mikaela Jade, the founder and CEO of the award-winning tech company, Indigital.
Back in 2014, Mikaela made the decision to step full-time into her cutting-edge tech business, on a mission to develop innovative ways to digitize and translate knowledge and culture from remote and ancient communities.
Harnessing the power of augmented reality, Indigital has grown to become Australia’s first Indigenous Digital Skills training program. Today, Indigital connects some of the most remote people on earth with Elders across Australia using pioneering digital tech. But her career journey has come with a few roadblocks and bumps along the way.
We sat down with Mikaela to dive into her money story, how her relationship with money has shifted over the years, the challenges she’s faced raising capital as an Indigenous female founder and what a wealthy life means to her.
Unpacking Mikaela’s money story
We kicked off our conversation with Mikaela by diving into her money story and how her relationship with money has evolved since becoming a self-employed entrepreneur.
“My money story is a complicated one. I grew up without a lot of financial education on how to manage money and how to make money. I didn’t have to worry about that for a really long time as a public servant as I was working in the government getting a salary every week. I was just doing what I think is the right thing to do with money: to save a little bit for a house deposit or for a car or whatever you want to do.
I didn’t really think too much about money. I guess the big money moment came for me when I decided to start a business and had to start thinking about how to play the game of money, which meant learning the rules of the money game. That’s taken quite a while I have to admit,” reveals Mikaela.
“I was really frightened of money when I came off my salary. I had to figure out, ‘how do you get clients? How do you manage the money in a business?’. I’d been a grant assessor on the Commonwealth, but I hadn’t actually managed to get grants for my business. So learning all the ins and outs of money and governance was a really steep learning curve for me.
I couldn’t put a lot of time into it at the start, because I was trying to do this side hustle thing, and also be a public servant at the same time. But then I decided to take the jump out of the public service and go full time into my business, and that’s when I really started looking around for resources that would help me understand how to not be scared of money.
Money’s always a hard thing for my community to talk about. Even now, I was just talking to an Elder and I asked ‘what’s your rate?’, and she told me, ‘I don’t really like to talk about that’. So there’s this intergenerational concept that it can be a bit shameful to talk about money.
I was looking for resources and people that I could tap into and that I knew were really successful with money. I’m a scientist, so I know I just had to work out what the formula was to make money work for our business.”
For Mikaela, the moment that shifted her attitude towards money was this: realising she could use money as a way to drive change in the world. She picked up a copy of “The $1,000 Project” by Canna Campbell and “The Barefoot Investor” and started to dive deeper into how to use money as a tool for positive change and impact.
The challenges Mikaela’s faced as an Indigenous female founder
We know female founders face an uphill battle when it comes to securing VC (venture capital) funding. In 2021, less than 2% of VC funding went to all-female founding teams.
Unfortunately, for Indigenous women invested through VCs this figure is even lower. Mikaela knows these challenges all too well.
“My journey with investment has been terrible. I’ve been working in cutting-edge technologies for around 10 years now and I’m a female, Indigenous person, often living and working in regional and remote communities. That combination of who I am and what I was doing seemed quite intangible to investors.
I was told that I was too high risk at the start when I was trying to raise money, so I had to go about it in a really terrible way (through business loans) to get my first minimum viable product up. I would never recommend that to anyone. Especially when you’re in research and development mode, you didn’t have any incoming customers to service loans. So that’s why I had to stay in my full-time job for so long. It was really difficult.
I still haven’t really considered any investment in my business, in a standard kind of scale up way. We have been lucky in that we’ve been able to generate our own revenue and we’re growing relatively quickly. But I know with an injection of capital, we could go really quickly.
But I’m also a little bit worried about doing that because the kind of work that we do is relational. And we are cultural. And, you know, speed is not necessarily a good thing when you’re working in the sector that we’re working on,” tells Mikaela.
However, Indigital has secured some investment through the SheEO program, giving Mikaela a taste of what funding could do to grow her business.
“What’s really interesting is Indigenous women are creating incredible businesses and one of the fastest growing types of business. So there seems to be a really significant mismatch between what investors are willing to invest in and the rate and the quality of women in business, particularly Indigenous women in business.
I think that gap would need to close significantly before I would confidently step in there and say, ‘investment is something I want to do’.
I think the other part of this is that there’s a cultural load in working with other organisations. A lot of the time, but not always, you’re trying to upskill your potential investor in cultural matters before you even close anything so that there’s a really long tail of work that gets done. That’s unpaid work and it can be time consuming and frustrating.”
What a wealthy life means to Mikaela
“Always health. I had a little brain bleed last year, so I spent some time in the stroke ward in the hospital. There’s nothing like sitting in a hospital bed for a week wondering what’s potentially been taken away from you.
So I think, wealth to me is health to start with. The other part of wealth, for me, is freedom. That’s the freedom to buy time and to invest in experiences. I tend to put my money into travel and creating opportunities and experiences for the family.
I took my daughters, my partner and my stepson to New Zealand, just before COVID. We did a 54-kilometre hike around Lake Waikaremoana. So wealth is really about creating those memories with us,” shares Mikaela.
Mikaela’s top piece of financial wisdom for other women
“I wish I’d known more about compound interest and saving from when I was a kid. We’ve put that in place with our kids now, and I really can’t wait for the day when they’ll reap the benefit of us doing that.
But also, just get educated and don’t be scared of money. It’s not a scary thing, once you start to understand it and understand the leverage that it creates for you, your business and your life.”
Are you a Verve Super member? We’d love to hear your story. Send us an email and let’s chat: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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