Interview With Rebekah Campbell, Zambesi Founder & CEO

01 November 2017

One of my favourite things to do is sit successful and inspiring women down, before picking their brains in a relentless fashion until they ask me to pls stop. Today I got to grill the lovely Rebekah Campbell, who is the founder and CEO of Zambesi.  

Zambesi is a group of founders and leaders from high growth technology companies who like to share knowledge. They run exclusive face-to-face one-day workshops each limited to 12 participants and are designed so that every learner can interact with the expert, learn from peers, and walk out with practical skills and a plan they can implement immediately.

So here’s what the incredibly switched-on Bek had to say…

Tell us about the career path that led you to your current job?

I started out managing bands while I was at university. I was helping a little group from Brisbane called ‘George’ led by singer Katie Noonan. We had a big hit album in 2003 and so I set up my own independent music company called ‘Scorpio Music’. We launched the careers of quite a lot of big artists including Matt Corby, Evermore, Lisa Mitchell, Operator Please, Van She and several others. In 2010 I developed a website to help bands better promote concert tickets. This was my first foray into tech. The platform worked OK and I ended up selling it to Future Music who still run it today. I then decided to switch completely to tech and built a product called ‘Posse’ which eventually became ‘Hey You’ – the app you use to order coffee. Hey You now processed around 22,000 transactions every day and continues to grow. I’d always wanted to build a business that had a social impact as well as being a good business so last year I started thinking about the challenges we are about to face as the nature of work changes. People are going to need new skills and constantly be up to date with the latest changes in technology. Formal education is too long and too slow to keep up. I developed Zambesi because I think education can best be delivered by a marketplace that enables experts to share their skills.

Tell us about your job now, what does an average day or week look like?

At the moment I’m starting out all over again. At the very beginning, the entrepreneur does everything themselves so my days right now are very hectic! I usually start at 5.30am and answer all the email enquiries that have come in overnight. At 6am my 1-year-old daughter gets up and I give her breakfast and get her ready for pre-school. The rest of the day is spent speaking with experts, creating content, developing new programs, lots of digital marketing, taking meetings and setting up partnerships. I’m writing this on a plane to Melbourne to take my first round of capital raising meetings.

What do you like most about your job?

I like having a purpose behind what I do. I thought (briefly) about joining a corporate before launching Zambesi but I realised that I’m actually not good at working on problems that I don’t care about. I think it must take a huge amount of discipline to go into work every day and work on problems that you aren’t passionate about. I admire that kind of discipline a lot because I don’t have it! The coolest thing about running Zambesi is making amazing educational experiences available to everyone. We give people access to experts they wouldn’t normally be able to learn from in a small-group full-day format. And because we’re a marketplace rather than an institution with fixed overheads we can offer programs at affordable prices. The best thing about my job is the energy and passion I’m able to dedicate to it because I feel like it really matters.

What are your non-negotiables in maintaining work/life balance?

I get my daughter ready for pre-school every morning between 6 and 7am. My partner drives her there and picks her up and I try to be home for some quality time between 5.30 – 6.30pm. I often work again after that but it’s important to me to have some focused ‘Eve time’ each day. If I’m travelling (like today) or have events on int he evening then sometimes weekday time isn’t possible. My weekends are non-negotiable family time. And I try to take regular holidays to remote places without mobile coverage and wifi. It’s really important for families and partners to have uninterrupted time together. I think this actually provides personal stability and grounding that makes it much easier to persevere through the emotional rollercoaster of building a business.

If you only could give young women one piece of advice about life and their career, what would it be?

There are many things. One that’s less obvious is to build and treasure important long-term relationships. It took me quite a long time to recognise the value of the loyalty and trust you can only build by working with people for a long period of time. Don’t dispose of people if they let you down once or even twice. No one is perfect. When you find a good person to work with, really cherish that relationship. People with strong relationships do better at business.

What qualities did/does your best employee have?

I look for three core values in team members. Firstly they have to be givers, not takers. Businesses and teams exist to serve their customers and the community. I try to install a culture where everyone is constantly searching for how they can better serve. My second mantra is ‘Seek first to understand’. I look for learners, not teachers. People who are hungry to listen and understand before sharing their opinion. The third is resourcefulness. In a startup, we’re all on a mission. A really hard mission! I look for team members who are like James Bond and can find a solution to every problem, turn every ‘no’ into a ‘yes’ and smash through any barrier to achieve our mission.

Lastly, what’s the best thing you’ve ever done for your career?

My proudest moments have been watching an individual or a team develop into something special and know themselves in a way they didn’t before. I’ve hired lots of people across three businesses so far and there’s probably seven or eight who’ve really stood out. Perhaps they joined as an intern or straight out of school. We give people opportunities to stretch as far and as fast as they’re capable and it’s amazing to see someone go from a shy inexperienced newcomer to a superstar leading a team of people. One of my proudest achievements would be discovering a young designer named Anna. She joined Posse as an intern two days per week and worked in retail at David Jones the other days. She was very quiet but incredibly talented. Within a month we’d hired her full-time and 6 months later she was our lead designer. We worked closely over three years and her beautiful reserved personality blossomed into one of the most unique, fun and talented leaders I’ve met. She was eventually poached by a company in San Francisco and now leads a major design team for AirBNB in the US. I feel so blessed to have played a role in her life.