Danielle Owen Whitford, the Founder and CEO of Pioneera spent more than 2 decades working for large corporations, across Telecommunications, Finance and Insurance. She loved helping customers and developing people to lead, which led to the realisation that she wanted to work with companies that had their people at the centre of everything they do.
Unfortunately, Danielle suffered a rather unexpected burnout in 2016…
“In hindsight, it shouldn't have been unexpected as the signs were there physically and mentally but I ignored them all. I just kept pushing myself harder and harder until I couldn't anymore.
I felt like a complete failure at the time and was ruthessly beating myself up for not being able to cope.” - Danielle Owen Whitford, CEO of Pioneera.
WHAT WERE THE SYMPTOMS?
Exhaustion, no self-care, poor nutrition, no motivation, headaches and irritability.
“I was so used to being tired, that I didn’t realise I had gone beyond that into total exhaustion. I hardly slept, wasn’t eating the healthiest of foods and had no time for exercise or anything other than work and children. I worked late every night and was getting headaches and a constant feeling of nausea. I’m sure I was quite cranky too!”
Danielle ended up having to take time out to reflect on how this had happened.
“I intended to take a year off, but after 6 weeks I started to recover and was curious about how this had happened to me AND how could I have prevented it. I found, for me, that some simple, easy work was better for me than doing nothing. I was lucky that I could work casually for the rest of the year to aide my recovery.
It was this burnout period that made Danielle realise she wanted to help others before they reached the same crisis mode, saying “I remembered seeing emails from people that would cause me concern. I would instinctively reach out and help that person. I wondered to myself if someone had done the same, could my burnout have been avoided?”
Hence, the concept of Pioneera began to come to life…
HOW PIONEERA HAS EVOLVED
The original concept was to create a tool that could function as a “spell checker for stress.” If everyone had the software on their phone, for example, it would be used and accepted as spell checkers are. This could democratise real-time and personalised help.
The initial technology came to life when Pioneera entered the She Starts program:
“I had the “spell checker” concept in mind and a few weeks later, I went to a VogueCodes live tech conference where Nicola Hazell, from the SheStarts accelerator, was talking. Her vision for supporting non-technical female founders to build technical solutions felt like it was pitched directly to me! So I approached her, we had a coffee, and a few weeks later Pioneera entered the accelerator.” - Danielle Owen Whitford, CEO of Pioneera.
To this day, Pioneera has the same vision to be widely accessible and frictionless for users, however, the functionality has pivoted to provide broader organisational assistance.
THE AI BOT “INDIE” WAS BORN
The bot Indie was born in 2019. The first MVP was called something else that didn’t quite resonate with users. A group brainstorming session with other business leaders helped the team land on the perfect name:
“I was explaining to other business founders how my daughter Indie, who was 12 at the time, had called me on my poor work habits after my burnout recovery. Even after everything I had learned about my recovery back to health, I had unknowingly slipped back into the same pattern to meet a deadline.”
Indie said in a very pragmatic voice “Mum if you meet this deadline, will you work like this again?” and I was floored! All of the other founders were too in hearing the story! It was unanimous that our bot should be called Indie.”
We want AI Indie to do what the real Indie did for Danielle. To help people see what they are missing, so they can course-correct and thrive.
BEHIND THE BUSINESS NAME
It’s simple! We are Pioneering a new era of work.
ADVICE FOR FUTURE FOUNDERS
Danielle was like most first-time founders, worried about making mistakes. It didn’t take long to realise that mistakes are a necessary part of the journey and that in reality, most founders are also “winging it.”
“It's hard in the early days. It was just me and the CTO trying to build this big thing to help the world. The early stages of any business are tough because you’re constantly iterating and testing what works (and finding out the hard way what doesn’t work). It's a rollercoaster and a good lesson in resilience!” - Danielle Owen Whitford, CEO of Pioneera.
Stop worrying. Be bold. Be laser-focused…
…And most of all, remember to laugh!