“My mission to rewrite the rules”
By Fati Gorezi
Ishtar Touailat is the Head of “Innovation Incubation” at ‘Tieto Data-Driven Business’ and “Founder and CEO” of ‘Startup Bootcamp’ and ‘Women in Business Accelerate’. She is a gamechanger in business who has worked hard to ‘pay it forward’. As a multi-award-winning entrepreneur, she was awarded Sweden’s most ‘Powerful Business Women 2018’, ‘Future Female Leader 2018’, ‘Sweden’s Super Talent and Top influencer 2017’ by the business magazine ‘Veckans Affärer’, ‘IT Woman of the Year 2016’ and ‘Sweden’s Top Innovation Talent 2015’. Her vision is to create a world where everyone is equal. She believes that we need to have an equal amount of men and women in leading positions, working together to create better value, more innovation and working towards making nations more competitive in the global market. She is passionate about women’s empowerment and her latest success ‘Futuristas’ is to educate women in technology and IT.
Tell us about your background, how you got started in business and where you find your motivation?
I was studying Sociology when I founded my first Company. Most of my Companies and projects have been to help other people. I’ve helped over 14,000 entrepreneurs to start their own Company and learn how to create a business from an idea within one month. It was a course I created and ran for over seven years and that also became the biggest entrepreneurial course in Europe. What I didn’t learn in school was that as an entrepreneur you can impact and help more people and that’s always been my goal. I’ve always wanted to help people and make a difference. While I was studying, I also worked as a refugee co-ordinator against human trafficking.
I’ve been at the bottom in society, without any social or financial support and without any network or anyone believing in me or supporting me. There are just two outcomes from where I’ve been and where I come from – it either creates a force within you – or you become completely passive. When you become passive you give up before you have even started, and it looks and feels impossible to succeed. You have all the odds against you and since that’s what you focus on, it creates anger within you. In my case I built grit, I created a force bigger than myself and that created a huge belief in myself. I’ve always felt that I could do anything I decided to do, and I believed that I could beat the odds even if I had to work harder than most people in order to succeed. I believe most entrepreneurs have a “pinch of crazy” within them. We believe things even if all the odds are against us, we don’t really care about what people think and we walk around and speak about things that don’t exist – yet!
Everyone should be in business to create value for others! If I had focused on my odds or listened to other people, I wouldn’t be where I am today. If you listen to others you lose focus – and focus and speed are two huge factors that you need to succeed. I call it ‘GRIT’ – to work hard and consistently towards your vision and goal. Everything you do in your daily life must be aligned with your goal, with your vision, with your target. The smallest decisions make the biggest difference.
I never expected everyone to understand so you have to let people go if you have to. Don’t listen to “small minded” people. Believe in yourself or give up on yourself. To make a difference to others you need to start with yourself. No matter where you come from – nothing is impossible. You need to ask yourself, ‘who am I’? ‘Who do I want to be in this world’? And that should fuel all your daily actions.
What is the most important thing for an entrepreneur?
An entrepreneur is someone identifying a problem and then creating a solution. The most important thing is to add value to other people. My second company, that I ran for seven years, became Europe’s biggest entrepreneurial course and we trained over 14,000 entrepreneurs. We spoke about the basics of creating and running a Company and we trained them in knowing the mindset of an entrepreneur and the innovation process, because that’s where most people fail.
- Number one: You need to identify if it’s a real problem that you want to solve. Is there a real need or is it just a coincidence?
- Number two: You need to package your hypothesis to a solution; a value proposition that is crystal clear for the identified customer. Who is your target group? Who could be your users? Go find your paying customers.
- Number three: Invest time and energy to build a diverse team and you need at least three “characters”:
- Hipster: This is usually the Founder that communicates the vision and gets the team on board!
- Hacker: This is the one creating the system and process.
- Hustler: This is the one who is out there and selling the big vision to the crowd and getting things done.
And yes, I’m a hustler!
What kind of projects are you involved in right now?
I’m the ‘Head of Innovation’ at Nordics largest IT company, ‘Tieto’. I’m working within the data driven business unit and our mission is to build data driven businesses within Artificial Intelligence and IOT – the ‘Internet of Things’. As the head of ‘Tietos AI & Data Incubator’, I am on a mission to help Companies reach their full potential while they have an impact on society with their technology. I’m actually the only woman in Europe who is running an AI incubator where we are building AI Companies. Also, I have just launched my seventh company. I’ve lived my whole life with a dream to build schools globally. Then it hit me – what prevents me from doing it right now? Nothing ever stopped me before. So, then I created ‘Futuristas’.
Futuristas started in September and it’s a series of lectures covering three modules: ‘Innovation’, ‘Emerging Technology’ and ‘Disruptive Business’. Our vision is to bring these pieces of knowledge to any woman, no matter where in the world she is. Therefore, the entire course will be available as a digital live stream, with unlimited numbers of tickets sold. We choose to donate all tickets fees to ‘IT Boot Camps’ in East Africa in collaboration with ‘Help to help’. I want to do it in a new way. Next year we will not only finance IT-bootcamps in Kenya, Uganda, and Tanzania but we will also run entrepreneurial boot camps for women in India. I’m working right now on finding smart micro-loans for these women to build their business independently.
It’s important to remember that when you support a girl, you support a family, a home, their future children and a community. That’s the real legacy I’m trying to create, beyond doing and beyond myself. Because the real impact and empowerment is who you empower, who you inspire everyday – and everyone can do that if they are aware of their authentic power. Your authentic power can never be taken from you. It’s not your looks, money or network. Your authentic power is when your personality serves something bigger than yourself. When you are able to align with who you are and who you want to become in this world, with what you actually do in the world. That will empower you from the core and will also empower everything you want to achieve in life.
Business is changing through innovation in technology and management. Preparing for what lies ahead is crucial when striving to stay on top. With ‘Futuristas’ we choose to level the playing field by bringing important knowledge of the future to our females all around the world. We unite women of all ages, backgrounds and occupations as well as giving them the opportunity to ‘pay it forward’. We want women to take the power and lead the way. We’re boosting females through their skills and knowledge. Bringing them tools, disrupting the future, and rewriting the rules one ‘Futurista’ at a time.
You were awarded ´Future Female Leader 2018´. What does ‘leadership’ mean for you?
Great leaders are those who create the right conditions where everyone can thrive. You should always stand up and behind your team. The only way is to let people be free to fail. Create an ‘inclusive’ atmosphere where everyone has the prerequisites to do his job, failing and learning along the way. Hustle and work with them, and stand up for them when they are questioned. Values and purpose encourage me in my own leadership. It is important to be driven by a purpose. A purpose that is bigger than us because we are trying to achieve something bigger – whether you work with technology or not. The purpose needs to be at the core of the Company and the culture. So, you need to communicate your vision and engage the team, so that they work towards that vision. That will also engage your employees and attract talent. First and foremost, this will also make you keep your talent because value and purpose driven leadership affect your employee’s wellbeing and thus creates better results. Meaning, it’s an advantage to be competitive when you have a purpose driven and inclusive culture that will also make your organisation or business more innovative. Future labour will choose their tribe and leaders, and that will be value driven leaders first of all.
Also, try to create competitiveness by giving the team freedom as well as a diverse and an inclusive environment. The anatomy of the future leader is a combination of IQ, EQ and XQ: In order for you to be in the front line, be bold and brave to let people fail and experiment. Achieve agility that will make your business agile and lean. That’s the secret sauce. As a leader, as a team player and as a business. Innovation should be part of the daily business, so visualise, communicate and create structure for others to dare to experiment- and remove hierarchies. I believe that leadership in the future must be innovative, inclusive and foresighted to address challenges and create change!
What are the five things that a female entrepreneur should focus on?
Besides everything I already said within leadership, I believe the following is really important:
- Have a crystal-clear vision on what you want to achieve
- Design an action plan on how to execute and reach your vision
- Take care of yourself like an elite athlete
- Surroundings – Friends, Family, Fools
When you have a crystal-clear vision that you can see, feel and communicate, that’s when your entrepreneurial venture really begins! Without a vision and a plan, you are unable to execute, run and scale your business. Entrepreneurship is an elite sport and if you are in the game to stay, you need to take care of yourself. To take care of your body and energy means to sleep enough hours, eat right and exercise regularly. You can’t sleep four hours, skip meals and never move your body and think it will work in the long run. Take care of yourself, fill yourself with energy and good nutrition because that will give you your ‘GRIT’ and that will make you differ from others! A refreshed mind will give you the ability to be innovative and find clarity in your work towards your vision. Energy created from a healthy lifestyle will help you be on top and target your customers problems in a new way that will make you competitive and relevant.
In order for you to stay on top of your game you need to have the right mindset and that’s something you need to train. Talent, “financial muscles” and network are secondary – but mindset is the primary key for success. Be sure to have the right mindset as without that you will never achieve anything. Last but not least, surround yourself with people that “do more” than you in different areas. They should be more successful than you are, be better, smarter or work harder that you do. They don’t need to be more successful – but they need to be more motivated and more inspired than you are – whether it’s in business, self-development or other areas.
If you spend time with someone more motivated than you are – that will create motivation within you that will make you work even harder. Motivated and inspired people will inspire you to look at the world differently, which will empower your mindset even further. Most of my friends are not successful within business but they are successful within life in different ways and that inspires me to always be and do better for myself. That is the biggest enabler of happiness. To always thrive to be the best version of yourself!
You always speak about solving problems for others, ‘paying it forward’ and thinking about others. But you also communicate that you need to focus on yourself and not listen to what other people think. How do you find the balance of giving and receiving?
This is a balance between long-term and short-term thinking. You need to find a way to navigate these and you need to accept that you will always make people disappointed in situations where you can’t meet others expectations. In order to create your big vision and solve real problems you need to be selfish with your time and energy. Don’t ever think that you are making one person disappointed if you invest one hour in your business or on yourself to be able execute your vision. You may be solving problems for many others.
This in one of my biggest lessons. My first years I spent all my free hours – of which I didn’t have many – to mentor, coach and support others one-on-one. I gave up the time I needed to re-charge and instead said ‘yes’ to too many “just a coffee” requests. The biggest advantage over intelligence and talent, is focus. Without focus we will not stay on top of the game – and that will eventually make us lose our speed. My daily decisions will affect my long-term results. It’s crucial so I need to be focused! Like I said before, entrepreneurship is like an elite sport. The first person to pass the finish line wins the game and that person is always very focused!
Today I pay it forward by running different businesses where I impact larger groups globally on a daily basis. But I still mentor and support my community in a more time efficient way. My agenda is equality, diversity and inclusiveness, three simple words that mean so much.
You have done several projects to help women and you have also been a Speaker at the ‘Global Woman Club’ several times. Why is this a passion of yours and what is your experience of Global Woman?
I do it because of equality – my vision is to create a world where everyone is equal. I come from an ideology where I believe that we need to have an equal amount of men and women in leading positions, working together to create better value, more innovation and working towards making nations more competitive on the global market. Diversity, inclusion and equality are connected to better result, innovation and competitiveness. This is why female empowerment is important and I will not stop until we are all equal. I will empower women and work on questions until we all are equal. My life mission is to create equal conditions for all human beings. What I like about ‘Global Woman’ is that it is diversity, including all ages and we all learn from each other. The younger generations of women come with new views, knowledge and new perspectives and can also teach older women.
What does the future hold for you?
The future holds everything that I’m creating and working for today. Meaning I can see my future because I’m creating it and taking responsibility for it. The time has come to rewrite the rules.