On a Mission to Eradicate Sexual Harassment
Metta Space is on a mission to eradicate sexual harassment from the workplace and allows companies to be compliant with the Whistleblowing Directive. It is a deep-tech solution that facilitates reporting at the workplace for employee application and puts resolution first in the case management solution for employers. An NLP algorithm further allows for the creation of a safe and healthy culture with the detection of sexual harassment in real-time.
What is a typical day at Metta Space like?
Eleanor: I am an early bird, and my peak working time is probably from 8:00 AM to 2:00 PM. As I get hungrier, and the day goes on I have noticed my productivity decreases so I usually do something energetic to get it back up.
We aim to have half a day of meetings and half a day of "proper work". We also have specific tasks arranged for specific days. This is because if I'm coding, I need to sit there for 12 hours straight and code. I can't have two hours and then do something else because I'll run into a bug.
A usual workday is 08:00 AM to 10:00 PM, so being a founder is a little different from normal work. I like to think of the golden triangle of sleeping, working, and socializing. I consistently try to hit all three. It is hard work, but I have a lot of fun doing what I do.
Helena: I would say every day is different. We meet with people in different time zones, which also massively affects meeting times. As founders, you're doing five things at once in different areas of the company. I could be doing anything from financial modelling and tech stuff to business development and general research. In between meetings, at the moment, we are also participants in a couple of accelerators. It is a lot, but as Eleanor said, we try to balance it out!
How did you come up with the name Metta Space?
Helena: We Initially called it Moodita, which comes from a Pali word that means "feeling joy for the happiness of others". We had a little bee as our logo, symbolizing the queen bee community working together. Then we found out that (a) people associated it to being moody, and (b) in Spanish, it meant a little girl who cannot speak.
Eleanor: Which means we couldn't have been farther from what we were trying to achieve!
Helena: Some people thought that was the whole point, as if we were pointing out that women cannot speak up about harassment, so we decided to scratch that completely.
We chose Metta Space. 'Metta' is also a Pali word and 'Space' came from the fact that we are creating a safe space - our platform is one place where you can do everything cohesively. 'Metta' can also be connected back to meta data, so those two things came together.
Eleanor: 'Metta' means loving and benevolent in Pali. It is still on the same lines of happiness and creating a benevolent space. And it gives us a bit of a tech edge as well. I think it sounds a bit rock and roll, to be honest.
What has been your driving force?
Helena: Definitely seeing that not only sexual harassment is a big issue, but that people do not speak up about it. Both Eleanor and I are quite extroverted, so when it comes to dealing with these issues, we don't have a problem turning around and telling you off. But we realized that a lot of people don't. The unfortunate issue is that people do not have a voice, or platform to report sexual harassment: they are not comfortable or safe to report it. So, when we researched this further, the scale of the issue dawned on us, especially in companies where the procedures in place were not effective.
We started doing focus groups to understand perceptions and attitudes towards reporting. There are a million reasons why people do not report, and they are all really justifiable – not being believed, fear of repercussions, the behavior escalating or being branded as someone who's overreacting.
We took everything we learnt, analysed it, and tried to come up with a solution to give people a space to report and feel safe and supported.
What goals did you set when you started Metta Space?
Helena: The goal starting off was simply wanting to do something - we had no clue what or how. I said to Eleanor, "we need to do something to change this." She said, "Yeah, let's make a WhatsApp group." I said, "No, no, we need to go big." We then signed up to our university's Venture Lab, with no idea of what we were going to do, except that we wanted to help people.
Eleanor: We wanted to make the women around us feel comfortable in speaking up after their sexual harassment experiences and ensure that everyone has their space to speak up. We also realized it had to go farther than just reporting. So, we wanted to create a community of individuals who could support one another.
What are your goals right now?
Helena: We realized there isn't enough data – not up to date numbers or statistics about harassment, so we are pushing for a data-driven approach. We want to collect and create as much data as possible and to raise awareness.
Eleanor: Collecting data around reporting, case resolution, and natural language processing. That gives us a holistic approach to dealing with sexual harassment and we've become not just reactive, but more so proactive and preventative.
Helena: We want a workplace environment where people are respectful to each other, where women feel heard and believed. We recognize issues such as fake reports, but statistically they're so low compared to actual cases that never get addressed. We simply want people to not feel alone when they are dealing with sexual harassment.
What was the most challenging part about starting Metta Space?
Eleanor: Although we have encountered challenges, they never felt like challenges we could not overcome, just slight blips in the way. Our biggest challenge was raising investment from outside of our network. We have a fantastic network of individuals who have become our first investors, but we wanted to try to find investment outside our network.
That was really difficult, and I think it links to it being harder for women to get investment. There is lots of data showing that women never raise as much as Men. And adding the fact that we're addressing a topic like sexual harassment made it hard. That's why Helena and I are quite stubborn when it comes to that – we do our research and try to be more "aggressive" in our financial approach.
Helena: I think one of the challenges was to understand what we want to do and what we can do to help with the resources and technical capabilities we have. We try to narrow our focus to do a couple of things at a time.
We also have to constantly adjust our financial model because even when we think they are reasonable and based on assumptions, we probably need to push them a bit more. Women, me especially, tend to be more conservative with financial figures than our male counterparts. So, it's a challenge but also satisfying. We're also often competing in these all-male panels – for example we competed in a fintech/legal tech pitch competition a while ago and were the only female founders in the entire competition.
Eleanor: People know of meritocracy, but mirror-tocracy is when investors invest in people who look and remind them of themselves. If you have white men investing in other white men, it's bad for business. Whenever we have a meeting with a VC, we ask them what their portfolio looks like, how many women they have on their team, and how many women they have on their portfolio. They often say they have zero, or maybe one.
What is something that you have learned about yourself starting a business?
Eleanor: Helena makes me a better person, but I knew that all along! And secondly, I have no balance in my life. We talked about the golden triangle. I have to be going out all the time and I have to be working all the time. Which means I don't get much sleep.
Helena: I have given up on the social life aspect of the triangle. I really need my sleep since I'm completely incompetent if I don't sleep enough. But that's why it is a good balance between the two of us. She socialises, I sleep.
We are realizing there are a lot of things we need to learn. We are doing so many things that we have never, ever done before. All of a sudden, we have to worry about taxes and accounting. We have also become way nerdier than we were before. We thought we were cool but now I like memes about Excel. University-me would be embarrassed.
Also, the resilience to push forward. A lot of start-ups tend to fail after six months and people have said it is quite impressive that we are still on it, working and trying. That's definitely something that shows as well – our determination.
You mentioned resilience and determination, what advice do you give to other entrepreneurs who are starting up?
Eleanor: I honestly think confidence – thinking you can do it. We would not have done this if we doubted ourselves. It is such a big mission that for us, it does not matter how or when we do this, we just want to help people. If we start seeing a positive impact, we'll be happy with that.
Also, ask more of people than what you actually want because you usually meet in the middle. Be assertive.
Don't underestimate how much people want to help you. We have 52 ambassadors who help us so much. We have fantastic advisors helping us with financials, tech, and HR. That's expertise that we just personally don't have.
Helena: You don't realize how supportive people can be. Within our network, people are so excited about what we are doing, and they want to help in any way they can. That has definitely been something that was exciting for us to see. But as Eleanor said, you need to actually ask for help. And people are really, really, really willing to help if they believe in you and what you are doing.
Eleanor: Worse case, they will say "sorry no".
What are you working on right now?
Eleanor: Our ambassador program – it is super exciting. People that help us with anything including networking, speaking up against sexual harassment, speaking about our work at Metta Space, as well as very specific tasks like researching and writing some articles. It has really increased our online presence.
Helena: We are finishing the product development of our Beta app, which is really exciting. Our software developer, Nora, is a machine. As we mentioned, we're also doing two accelerators and working towards getting our first customers, proof of concept and finding the right people to speak to in a company. And we are in the process of raising our angel round.
We are at the stage right now where everything is happening very quickly. It is an exciting time for us!