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Torie Chilcott won last year's Woman of the Year award at the FDM everywoman in Technology awards. She spoke to Workingmums.co.uk about women in technology, innovation and creativity.
Torie Chilcott is keen to encourage more girls to take up careers in technology and to see that technology is everywhere around them, from their phones to their computers, and is every bit as creative and exciting as things like music and fashion.
“Technology is in everything we do, but it’s pitched at young girls in a really boring way that puts them off,” says Torie, who co-founded Rockabox, a market-leading technology company.
“The technology industry needs people who can do coding, but it also needs creative types who can turn that coding into reality,” she states.
She recalls talking to a group of teenage girls on one occasion and they were saying they hated technology and engineering. “I set them a challenge to design an iphone that doesn’t get broken when it falls down the toilet, which many had experienced. It’s all about making technology relevant and accessible,” she says.
Torie was last year named Women of the Year at the FDM everywoman in Technology awards, with the judges agreeing that she was “inspirational, visionary and dynamic” and “an accessible role model to all women, demonstrating that you can start a career in technology at any stage of life”. Torie, who was one of the first successful TV executives to side-step into the world of digital, did not have a direct route into technology.
Before Rockabox launched in 2008, Torie worked with Simon Fuller at XIX Entertainment and before that as a lead creative with Fremantle Media. She took a career break in 2004 when her son contracted encephalitis and she wrote two books to raise money for intensive care equipment. She returned to XIX and worked on the Pop Idol franchise. However, she fell out with Simon Fuller and was fired, something she now describes as “the best thing that ever happened” to her.
She had met her business partner James Booth through a mutual friend and they had been thinking of doing an online project together. The mutual friend moved to the US and the project stalled. Torie and James, a serial entrepreneur who had recently sold his business to Google, decided it was a good time to set up a tech business together which would created branded online content. Rockabox, which recently received a £3m investment, aims to produce engaging video with extensive data and ROI measurements.
It has two strands: Rockabox studios and Rockabox technology. The two have evolved together as the content is dependent on the technology and vice versa. Torie is in charge of content and works with companies on their content needs, making sure it is fit for purpose. “We focus, for instance, on what might work on different platforms, how to pay for content and who the brand is trying to reach. Each platform is used for different purposes. Facebook is more about sharing content that is funny or emotional; Twitter is more immediate whereas tv is more when people relax,” says Torie.
She also advises on how the brand should be consistent across all platforms. Recently she has explored the use of computer gaming in e-commerce. It’s an area that will grow, but it depends on the demographic businesses are aiming at, she says. She adds that vloggers are all the rage at the moment, but mainly with a younger audience. The idea is that they can spread messages to their followers, but she warns that the brand will find it hard to control what those messages are. Torie works a lot with brands aiming at 40 plus year old women who tend to be time poor – they’re more likely to browse Facebook than watch vloggers on Youtube, she says.
Her ambition is to provide a service that enables brands, agencies, media owners, online publishers and blogs that use video playing technology to be highly successful in all measurement metrics and click to buy. She says it can be very challenging for businesses to keep up with technological advances since everything changes so fast.
“I really feel for marketeers,” she says. “Five or ten years ago there was just tv, print, radio and direct marketing to deal with. There were 20 things you could do. Now there are 2,000.”
Torie says she is very lucky that she has "a brilliant team" and that she set up the business with a partner. That means they share a bit of the load. She does long hours, though, and when she set up the business her youngest child was just starting school. She is now 10 and her son is 12. In the early days she had a nanny, but two years ago her husband was made redundant and was able to spend more time with the children. He’s just started teacher training so their lives are changing again. They have an au pair who is there in case of emergencies, but most of the time the children are with their parents. “You have to learn agility as a parent. Your lives can change on a sixpence,” says Torie.
She adds that she has heard her children talking about her work with pride. “It makes the price we have had to pay seem worth it,” she says. She used to work late and has done 22-hour stints back to back, but she realises that is unsustainable. “I do work late if I need to, but I try not to,” she states. “I realise now that it’s not about being a good sprinter. It’s about being a good marathon runner.”
She thinks she was chosen for the FDM everywoman in technology award for her “sense of honesty”. “I’ve experienced lots of things in my career. Some brilliant, some not so brilliant, but I’ve tried to make the most of the not so brilliant things. I believe that out of failure comes innovation and that everyone can be creative. Rockabox would not exist if I hadn’t been fired. I always like to see what I can do better and to innovate.”
She feels she is coming into her own in her 40’s. “I have all the experience and understanding I need to do my job and I’m young enough to be able to make the most of it,” she says.
*Entries for this year’s FDM everywoman in Technology awards are open from 2 September until 3 November 2014 and full details are available online.