The startup queen

Tell Belinda York that she is a high achiever blitzing it in a male-dominated industry and she laughs pleasantly. York admits that if she stopped to think about it she'd probably agree it was true, but thinking about herself in that way is not high on her list of priorities.

Instead of going out and getting a part-time job like most 20-year-olds, York decided to start her own design business to "fill in" university holidays. "I was looking for something to do to make a bit of money and I knew some contractors in the area," says York. "I guess I got a little bold."

York sports a cavalier spirit that can, and does, take her into anything. Seven years after starting her "fill in" business she sold it at a profit and moved fearlessly overseas into sports management, selling the concept of indoor softball to the US market. The venture was a success and after two years she made the decision to cash out and come home to Australia.

The connection between designing and softball? There is none. "It's about having that ‘have a go' spirit," says York, laughing. "It's about being entrepreneurial and not daunted by anything but knowing that if you've got a good idea you can just go out and climb whatever mountain it is. It's a matter of taking one step at a time up that mountain. You might take a couple of steps back but as long as you limit them to small steps, you [end up] going forward."

York demonstrates a potent combination of proactive problem solving and common sense which has carried through her career. When she arrived back in Australia from the US, she set about reinventing herself. "After playing so many roles I looked around and asked, ‘Well, what am I?'. I mean, I had worked for myself for 10 years and now I needed to go out and get a job."

York was referred to Graham Pickles at Tech Pacific for a sales and marketing position and promptly had to admit to him that she knew absolutely nothing about computers. "I had practically never turned one on," says York. But her business savvy won out. The day after the interview York had the job and so began her illustrious IT career.

"I managed the Borland business till 95 and it was a very exciting and interesting time," says York. "It was when the high growth opportunities were just starting to take off, and Borland was positioned as third or fourth largest PC software company in the world. Windows wasn't even around yet and it was very heady days in terms of our growth and the whole dynamics of the industry at the time."

From Tech Pacific, York moved to Avid Technology to market its film and video production products. Most recently, she has worked for Onyx Software within the CRM space.

"I take each of these [new jobs] as progressions to the next goal," York says reflectively. "I look at where I sit now in the Internet space and really, that is where the industry's going. In my career, I have been able to get into [industries] at ground floor level when markets are on sharp rises, which is very fortunate. To develop market opportunities for each of those companies [I have worked for] is really a core element for where I sit today."

And where York sits today is on a mountain of hard-earned knowledge of how to play the business game and play it well. "The hardest thing about startups is that you're just into everything at once," she says thoughtfully. "From day one with FairMarket I had a live client. I needed to step out into the market and start [assessing] major opportunities and [developing] relationships. I had to look at staff and office space, phone systems and furniture; it was all bunched together and juggling [it] is challenging stuff."

York assures me flatly that the "gender thing" has never been an issue. "I never saw it as a big thing but then I never looked for it," she says. "I put my head down and worked very hard to ensure that I had the runs on the board and really that's what counts in peoples' minds. When I started stepping out further into the industry and becoming part of industry boards, people were offering me positions because I had created my own credibility. You can't ask for credibility, you have to earn it and when you get to that point I think the female thing doesn't come into it at all."

York believes that her success is based on being able to pick up the ball, whatever it may be, and run with it. "I have a memory [of myself] at 10 years old saying that I wanted to be in business," she says. "I didn't even know what that meant then. I don't know where it came from but I just made this statement that I wanted to be a business woman. I think I have got there not by [any] real design, because I was originally looking for a career in the creative arts, [but because] things have just fallen into certain spaces.

"I love startups. FairMarket is my fourth in the technology industry and sixth in 20 years. I just love the idea of creating the environment, the team, and then bringing that together, getting a clear vision of the market opportunity and putting all the pieces in place. I think that is one of the most exciting things. I probably should write a book on it." York pauses before adding: "It will have to be my retirement venture."

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