Success came early to Jenene Crossan. The Young Innovators judge tells Stacey Jones why working on her weaknesses has helped her to achieve so much.
For the average 15-year-old, contracting glandular fever, having to take a year off school when you are flying high and on the way to university success would be fraught with stress and worry.
However, not for digital extraordinaire and stepmother of three Jenene Crossan, now 37, who saw it as an opportunity to get ahead.
"I really didn't want to repeat the year. It was the perfect opportunity to get a job, some work experience and find out what I enjoyed before I went off to university. Well, that's how I sold it to my mother. She's only just forgiven me for not following through."
The art of persuasion is one of the many qualities that have contributed to Jenene's success and placed her as one of New Zealand's leading innovators in the digital space.
Jenene is coming to Tauranga next month to speak at the YIA Innovation Forum and to judge the Young Innovator Awards. Always ahead of the curve, she set up nzgirl.co.nz aged just 20 from her spare bedroom on a secondhand computer, at a time when content-driven websites were unheard of.
The site has gone through a number of iterations in its 16 years, currently as a social magazine curating fashion articles, beauty how-tos, videos and recipes from top NZ blogs. By the age of 24, Jenene was on to her second business, an online research company, which she sold just two years later to a major international research company.
"Being on the front foot has enabled me to have the career I've had but has also held me back in lots of ways. You need to seed the idea and wait for the market to respond, which takes time, money and lots of self-belief."
"Understand what your strengths and weaknesses are and work to constantly improve on them."
Her determination and passion have seen her become a finalist for the Women of Influence Award 2014, Women of the Year 2014, New Zealand Marketer of the Year and the international Veuve Clicquot Businesswoman Award.
Jenene is one of the judges of this year's Young Innovator Awards (YIA), a competition that asks secondary school students and young professionals in the Bay to come up with an idea for an innovative product or service with the supreme winner taking home a prize of $8500.
Established by the Priority One Instep programme, Locus Research and Woods Creative, the competition is in its sixth year.
The next day, August 7, at the YIA Innovation Forum she will address the Tauranga business community. All the profits raised from the forum are poured back into the awards for the following year.
"I am really excited to be involved in Young Innovator Awards and to speak at the Innovation Forum. I love that it is about inspiring the next generation of innovators, to get behind them and help circumnavigate some of the things that we did the hard way."
So what qualities does she believe are imperative to become a successful future innovator?
"I think resilience is key. My first job out of school was at an insurance company telemarketing to the elderly. I made call after call, no matter how many times people hung up on me. That's a good life experience."
Despite being young when she started out, Jenene was determined and saw opportunities in every direction, something she says is difficult for adults to do as they become more hardened by reality.
"I liken starting your own business at a young age to watching the kids fly past you on the skifield. They're unconcerned with falling over. It never crossed my mind that I mightn't succeed in what I was setting out on, even though it was hugely risky!"
Her latest project is Flossie Concierge, a convenience technology business connecting service-based businesses with consumers, in this case, businesses in the $1 billion hair and beauty market in New Zealand trying to connect with mobile-savvy customers.
With over 300 salons signed up in Auckland, Wellington and recently in Queenstown, the business is growing exponentially and already has over 14,000 women on their phone.
Paradoxically, if Jenene had to pinpoint her greatest strength, instrumental in her success, it is the ability to identify her own weaknesses. She counters these with continual self-improvement and surrounds herself with a team of people whose skill sets can bolster her weaker ones and vice versa.
"I have some great qualities that I was really lucky to be born with but, on the flipside, there are many things I am not so good at. I think the key to being successful is to understand what your strengths and weaknesses are and work to constantly improve on them.
"If you can have a healthy perspective on yourself you will succeed. If you dig your heels [in]and refuse to change, then life will be one dimensional for you."
With such a busy life, does she ever have time to relax?
"Ha, sometimes. My fiance is also a driven entrepreneur as the new CEO of Landcorp's JV Spring Sheep Dairy so it can often be a high energy combination. However, we have three beautiful girls and a very spoilt dog to keep our feet on the ground and remind us to switch off."
Tickets for the YIA Innovation Forum are available online at yiaforum.co.nz, held on August 7. The Young Innovator Awards submissions will be on display at Bayfair from July 27 for the public to vote on.