Starting her career in corporate banking, Michelle Battersby was just 22 when she began managing her own department, but it didn't take long before she was ready for something bigger, which came in the form of Bumble, the US dating app focused on empowering women that hadn't yet launched in Australia. After one conversation with Bumble's founder, Whitney Wolfe Herd, in a meeting room at her CitiBank office, Michelle was in. She quit her job the very same day and started the daunting task of launching a company in a new country as Bumble's Country Lead, before being promoted to Bumble's Associate Marketing Director of Asia-Pacific. Now, with the addition of Bumble Bizz - a social networking app - and Bumble BFF - an app dedicated to helping women connect and form friendships, Bumble well and truly is a market leader, establishing itself in Australia as far more than just a dating app with clever marketing strategies, such as their International Women's Day campaign with Lorna Jane, Kristin Fisher and Sarah Holloway, created to encourage women to celebrate their achievements.
With an epic job travelling the world for a company made with equality in mind, a down-to-earth attitude and, not to mention, style to boot, it's official, Michelle is my ultimate girl crush. Below, she shares what it takes for women to get to the top in the workplace, the best piece of career advice she’s ever received and the biggest challenge she’s faced in her working life. Take note (I sure am).
Could you please tell us a bit about your background?
I studied a Bachelor of Arts majoring in sociology and management and at the end of it, I had no idea what to do, so I went straight into a Master’s degree studying human resources and industrial relations. I loved that degree and it was really when I found my groove and enjoyed the content. It was the first time I really applied myself academically. I was lucky enough to get an internship at CitiBank in my final semester and went into corporate banking for four years working as an HR generalist, managing my own departments within institutional banking. That involved a lot of people management - investigating disciplinary issues, redundancies and hiring.
How did Bumble come about?
I'd been working in banking for about four years and I started to look around and realise that while I was good at my job, I wasn’t passionate about it. I knew it wasn't something I wanted to do for the rest of my life, so I started to explore other options. I came up with some strange ideas, including running my own exercise program on the side or becoming a blogger. I don’t think that I would be any good at those two options but it led to me speaking to the right person. A friend of mine referred me to Whitney, who was looking for someone to launch Bumble in Australia. I never had heard of Bumble before and I had never used the app, but I believed in everything Whitney was saying. I think one of the best things about Whitney and Bumble is that we had a very clear mission from the outset and we never strayed from that. I got a bit of advice from my parents and I ended up quitting my job that day and becoming the country’s lead for Bumble. Whitney and I had this strange connection, I wish I could explain more clearly, but I had this huge gut feeling. I knew it was going to be big. I just knew that it was going to work and that I wanted to be a part of it.
What was your first goal and how did it work?
My first task was to hire a team. I knew I needed people younger than me to help tap into the university scene, normalise the idea of being on a dating app and break down those stigmas. The first 5-6 people I asked all said no, which showed the awareness of Bumble in Australia at that time. When they declined, I remember thinking “You’re going to watch this and wish you'd all said yes”. I found some amazing people and one of those younger people was Charlotte Fleming, who is one of our marketing managers. We worked really hard and did a lot of gorilla marketing in the beginning. Once I had someone like Charlotte, who was a lot younger and aware of what was ‘cool’ at university, our first task was to throw the best party your friends had ever seen.
Have you ever done marketing before?
No. I had never studied marketing but I felt like I really got the brand. If you’ve got a great brand, clear brand vision and a great product, and you are the demographic, it’s not hard to sell. I’ve also always believed in everything that I’ve said.
Why is Bumble is different from other dating apps?
Bumble is a social networking app with three modes. You can use it for dating, friend finding with Bumble BFF and Bumble Business, which is for business networking. On Bumble, women make the first move. Women have to initiate the conversation when they’ve been matched with a man and ultimately Bumble is reverse engineering traditional gender roles and norms and trying to put an end to misogyny.
What does your role require day-to-day?
I’ve recently been promoted so now I oversee all of our marketing initiatives across the APAC region - we're in Australia and New Zealand and are about to launch Bumble in the Philippines and Bali. So, a lot of travel domestically and internationally. My involvement is more strategy based - how and where we are going to spend our time and money and what events and partnerships we’re going to be doing. In Australia, I’ll be stepping out of the day-to-day and overseeing more of our national awareness campaigns. A big part of my job is making sure the quality is always there and we’re being consistent with our messaging.
What advice would you give to women wanting to climb the corporate ladder?
I always say this, but trust your instincts and learn what that gut feeling feels like. Sometimes we're aware of our gut screaming of us, but other times we can overlook those little moments because our mind gets in the way. In the beginning at Bumble, I was a little hesitant to trust my gut because I hadn’t studied marketing before, so I kept second-guessing myself. One way to mitigate that risk is to find a mentor who is a little bit more experienced than you and can give you advice from a different perspective - that is invaluable.
Who do you look up to?
One woman who is actually a mentor of mine is [former marie claire publisher] Jackie Frank. We worked with Jackie for the launch of Bumble Business. I really, really respect her because she’s worked in a female-driven role but she’s also done things that have made an impact in Australia, such as lobbying the government for paid parental leave and same-sex marriage. For a while, I did feel like I was running this ship with a team and it’s hard to ask for advice from people who are reporting to you, especially when my bosses are all overseas. It was great to have someone in the country who I could talk to.
What is the best piece of career advice you’ve ever received?
It was actually from Jackie. She said to me, “You can have it all, but not all at once”. As women, we put a lot of pressure on ourselves and it's important to just be aware of your current focus and to not put those huge expectations on yourself.
What would you do differently the second time around?
I really value the fact that I work in a company that is female-led and I feel very supported by the women who are more senior than me. I don’t think it should ever be underestimated when you find someone who does genuinely want you to succeed. A lot of the times you can be tempted by money or title and I think if I could give my younger self advice, I would say there are more important things than that. You should definitely value team.
What is your top interview tip?
I would make sure you really love the role and that you can explain why it's right for you. Don’t be afraid to put yourself forward and speak up about why you’re the right person for the job. Sometimes women can be a little hesitant to speak up about their success and something that they’re proud of, but a job interview is the right time and place to put your best foot forward. Don’t feel like you’re being arrogant because if there’s ever a time to be arrogant, it’s in a job interview.