Paulina Tenner is an entrepreneur, an angel investor, a TEDx speaker and a founder of GrantTree. She is also about to launch her new book ‘Laid Bare: What the Business Leader Learnt From The Stripper’ which explores Paulina’s experiences in growing her business from two people to over 50, alongside performing as a Burlesque showgirl in her spare time!
Can you tell us more about your career journey to date?
I founded GrantTree with a purpose to help tech startups navigate the complex world of government funding. Since 2010 the team grew organically from 2 to over 50, and raised over 200m for more than 600 technology startups and scaleups using solely government funding schemes. GrantTree is also an open culture company which pioneered a self set salary scheme, and an empowering culture governed by holacracy.
While GrantTree was in its early stages I also began Burlesque dancing which allowed me to reconnect and reclaim a femine part of myself and use this to my advantage, enabling the mix of professional relationships with sexual empowerment. I decided to take this new found understanding of the feminine and the masculine and incorporate into my future endeavours in and out of business.
My career has expanded to becoming a seed investor and a start-up mentor, and I have been invited to feature as a keynote speaker at technology conferences worldwide.
I am now set to release my first book ‘Laid Bare: What the Business Leader Learnt from the Stripper’ a revolutionary and unapologetic book that reveals how leaders can create more authentic and transparent businesses. My aim is to help release the stigma and shame that many feel when they have desires that fall outside of what society considers the ‘norm’.
What has been your biggest challenge throughout your career?
When my company GrantTree was maybe five years old, a really good friend who was part of it at the time (and who even organised my hen do!) started a competing business behind mine and my cofounder’s back and started channelling our clients towards it! It was a really harsh betrayal of trust and friendship that took me a good few years to get over.
I also struggled at times with being a female founder in a male dominated space but mostly I chose to take advantage of being different and therefore memorable.
How did your experiences drive you to write your book ‘Laid Bare: What the Business Leader Learnt from the Stripper’?
My background and experiences as a stripper gave me insight and helped teach me lessons which have been able to relate to my professional life in business and more importantly shape me as the leader I wanted to become. I want to help women find themselves, as there is a new found confidence to be found when we embrace our bodies and sexuality. This does not have to be derogatory but instead viewed as a powerful trait to help women succeed in what is seen as a male driven territory.
With a successful career as a woman founder, what led you to become a showgirl?
Becoming a showgirl has had a huge impact on the woman I am today and happened by chance. When walking in Soho one evening, I passed by the Café de Paris and upon looking in, a burlesque show was about to take place. It led me to think to myself of the prospect of becoming a showgirl out of business hours. At present, the business was starting out but taking up alot of my time and energy so I was looking for an outlet to unwind and refocus. It was at that moment, I made the decision to pursue Burlesque and become a dancer. Why go down the route delving only into business when you can do both; Living the life of a successful business woman and an elaborate performer.
From your experience, why should more women be encouraged to become leaders?
This is an area I feel strongly about. The attributes women bring as leaders are powerful, enhancing the ability to utilise feminine and masculine sides of their persona. It led me to embrace my femine part, and adopt these attributes in the way I behaved and interacted ongoing. I began to feel more positive and open-minded, welcoming new ideas and insights which built my character. Sexuality and business are not usually condoned or mixed together, but actually the energies created by both entwined is a powerful combination. The connection to our sexual desires and being confident in our own skin enable us to take on our professional endeavours and succeed in the business. This new found energy will be a force to be reckoned with in the world of business.
What has been your proudest moment?
One of my proudest moments has been owning all that I am both as a founder and a stripper and “coming out” about it publicly in my TEDx talk in 2014. It’s then that I realised that our true power lies at the intersection of where different parts of our identity meet and interact. It was also such a relief to not be one thing during the daytime and quite another at night (even if it felt fun and sort of naughty for a while). Surprisingly, it also brought interesting business opportunities to me, such as the chairman of a prestigious panel of senior IT and engineering industry experts which influence the Government’s policy, getting in touch to invite me to join as a funding expert. I’m chuffed to this day as I must be the least experienced person on the panel!
What are three pieces of advice you would give our readers
-Believe in yourself – This is an attribute for some that will come with time and experience as we grow in life and also learn to love ourselves. Being comfortable in our own skin and confident in our abilities will shape your path forward.
-Building a support network – In business and in personal life, it is unrealistic to take on the weight of the world without support. Share experiences, triumphs and failures as these all shape your character as you continue to evolve and grow.
-Ambition – Having the drive and courage to succeed will take you far. Understanding the qualities you need along the way such as determination and resilience, to keep going when things might be getting tough and innovation to keep pushing forward with new ideas and continue on the path to reaching your goals. A