Q&A with Emma Croston, Digital Transformation Consultant

Emma Croston is Brisbane’s fierce start-up enthusiast. Current working as a Digitial Transformation Consultant, Emma found success as a start-up founder, adviser and investor and boasts a wealth of experience across multiple industries whether it be media, travel or real estate. If that wasn’t impressive enough, on top of consulting and board work she even runs her own dog fashion label. We were lucky enough to chat with her about her impressive career.

Emma co-founded, grew and successfully exited the pharmaceutical software company Epic Digital, have held roles as Head of Digital, Marketing and E-commerce Director and now runs her own eCommerce business alongside consulting with organisations and boards to deliver digital transformations.

These are incredible professional accolades, but tell us, who is Emma Croston the human?

Take me away from the office and I absolutely love to have fun. Laughter is a must in my every day, most of the time I am laughing at myself. I love new experiences… Even if they are terrifying.  Recently I found myself alone, hiding under a small side table, in a tent, in the Serengeti at 3 am in the morning, armed with a whistle (that’s all they give you to fight off the wildlife), struggling with a bout of diarrhea (let’s just say I wasn’t leaving the table for anything), terrified that I was about to get caught in an elephant stampede! (I could hear them coming)….. Turns out they were zebras. That pretty much sums me up., I love adventure, even if it is terrifying, and my mind is always strategically thinking of the best option to minimise impact… hence the table!

What is something that not many people know about you?

I have short arms from my shoulder to my elbow, it makes doing selfies almost impossible. So if we are doing a selfie you have to take the photo!

What’s the most useless talent you have?

I can boil the perfect egg and I take it very seriously.

What are you currently watching/reading/listening to?

I am a big reader, and it can range from business, politics, psychology, theology and history. But I only read non-fiction. I am currently reading The Master Algorithm. But a must-read for everyone is Hooked by Nir Eyal.

Who is your professional inspiration, e.g Ruth Bader Ginsburg

I would have to say Winston Churchill, I have many of his quotes around my home. My favourite is “Success is the ability to go from one failure to another with no loss of enthusiasm”. I have had a lot of failures and I am enthusiastically expecting many more. 

Another one of his quotes that I love is “We shall not fail or falter, we shall not weaken or tire – neither the sudden shock of battle nor the long-drawn trails of vigilance or exertion will wear us down. Give us the tools and we will finish the job.” This is so true, I am a big believer that as a leader it is your job to provide your team with the tools to get the job done.

What’s on repeat with your work playlist right now?

I am so bad with music, I like what I like but I can never remember the names… or the tune… My last played is Elton John as I had to learn the words for his concert… and Madagascar soundtrack because my nephew and I have dance parties to “I like to Move It”.

What’s your most recommended Business/Marketing resource?

Find a book on Bill Gates reading list that interests you, read one every year. Do psychological profiling of your team – tech guys love this, Something like Strength Finder. I like Simon Sinek for a bit of leadership. TED talks are a good way to get a snippet of what is going on.

I was intrigued to learn that on top of your consulting and board work you also have a dog fashion label, Winston Manner. What have you learnt through the process of growing a niche brand like this?

With Winston Manner, I have learnt so many things by failing. I knew nothing about manufacturing, I knew nothing about pet retail, I knew nothing about foreign banking and I knew nothing about trading in America. And no one I knew had any knowledge. So I failed and failed again. I started with a robust pug and colouring in pencils. 

Firstly I would encourage anyone thinking to start a business, don’t just have a good idea, know something…. Or partner with someone that knows something… I had to learn everything the hard way, and most of the time that means dollars…. Through sheer determination and not willing to quit I overcame all of the obstacles and managed to crack major US retailers. With manufacturing offshore, go there, go there as many times as you need for them to understand your expectations and to develop a partnership, don’t just be another customer no matter how small your order is. 

You have to think big and start small, big thinking means legal and trademarks because you don’t know how quickly your brand will grow.

Back to your days at Epic Digital, how did this opportunity come about?

I met Cathie Reid doing the Australian Institute of Company Directors Course. She said she wanted to do something in digital health, I agreed that I would do a 12-week digital audit on her business.

During this time I was shocked by how manual the health care system was, especially from a safety and compliance point of view. I couldn’t walk away from it, I wanted to be a part of fixing it. So together we founded Epic Digital and built software that is used in many of the private hospitals around the country to improve medication safety and compliance.

How did you structure the Software team, and what have you learnt about optimal team design?

We had a vision of changing the way patient data and medication management was handled in both hospital and aged care. I needed to figure out how to make that happen. I knew from the start that I needed to approach this with a 10-year shelf life in mind… I had to build for the future.  The very first thing I did was get myself a right-hand man, that was my top product manager from New Corp, Trudy Worden. Trudy was excellent in user experience, so I knew she would excel in delivering the front end. Now I needed the back end and I was willing to outsource it to get the best architecture around. So we had two options, a company in Sydney or a company in Israel…. I chose Israel. This enabled us to control the user experience locally, whilst building with the latest technologies, some not yet available in Australia. The system was built to scale and to be extreme-agile……and its purpose changed many times before we got to the end product… It is still changing.

What tips do you have for other founders about growing and developing a high performing team?

Firstly as a leader, you come last, you work for your team. If they know that you are striving to give them the best tools, the best environment and the best opportunity they will give you their best. Look for people who don’t fit the mould and create an environment where they feel safe and included and you will watch them thrive. When people who have always felt like they never belonged start to feel valued and a part of a team they will work hard and stay loyal.  

There are different strokes for different folks. Create a team that is about accepting and celebrating the individual. This will mean different rules for different team members, but if you do it right there will be a respect for the different rules. It’s all in! If we are doing an overnight release and it goes wrong, everyone is involved. We win together and we fail together and we work around the clock together. Even though I can’t fix it, I will stay awake until the developer goes to bed. The leader must be the last man standing, not for credit but for support. Set the boundaries and give them freedom. Freedom creates empowerment which leads to ownership. This includes allowing them to fail. Give team members the opportunity to sit in the boardroom and present their work, allow them to see what you do and to learn from you. 

You had an outsourced team in Israel, how did that come about?

Cathie went on a trade mission to Israel and returned excited about the technology landscape. So I went over and met with a number of consultancy firms. I was very impressed with their approach toward architecture and cloud. At this stage cloud development stacks were very rare in Australia, Azure had not yet launched. I had to decide between a Sydney company or one of the Israeli companies. I remember the moment clearly because it was the biggest decision I would make and could be a very costly decision. I closed my eyes, took a deep breath and went and told Cathie we would go with the Israeli company. We set a dollar figure that we were willing to lose and walk away from the Israeli company if it didn’t work out. And off we went!

Do you have any tips on how to manage distributed teams?

You must bring the team together often. Relationship building is crucial. Every quarter I would bring members of the Israeli team to Brisbane.  During that time we would do an activity outside the office, go-karting, axe throwing, golf etc. I would also bring members from Israel on 3-month contracts to Australia to be embedded in the team. Some even relocated.

My CTO was based in Israel and I would keep him informed daily as to what I was doing and where things were at. We always had a united front. This ensured both teams were on the same page. I never made a decision without the CTO knowing about it first.

What is next for you Emma?

My current focus is consulting and helping businesses with digital transformation and helping startups get started. I do plan to build another tech business. I am currently entertaining two ideas, one in mental health and one in e-transactions. I currently have a passion for predictive analysis so I am looking to do something intuitive.

A huge thank you to Emma for chatting with us. If you’d love to read more Q&A’s head over to our blog, we will be sharing further business success stories so stay updated with our Facebook and Instagram.