Dream big and make it!
Queens of Tech Podcast
60+ questions with female influencers about their journey into STEM
Co-founder, VP & CMO
Claudia Rademaker is Vice President, CMO, and Co-founder of Dugga, a research-based digital assessment platform.
Claudia has worked internationally with start-ups, scale-ups, and international business development in various industries. She has worked as Asst. Professor, researcher, and lecturer at Stockholm University and Stockholm School of Economics. Her doctoral thesis was conducted at the Center for Media and Economic Psychology, Stockholm School of Economics. For her research, Claudia has been awarded the prestigious Wallander stipend from the Jan Wallander and Tom Hedelius Foundation, Handelsbanken.
In 2020, her company Dugga won the Microsoft Global Partner of the Year Award in Education. Within 12 months Dugga grew from having users in two countries to users in more than 120 countries worldwide.
After nomination, Claudia was selected to the first cohort of most promising female founders in Edtech by the Female Edtech Fellowship (FEF). As an active member of FEF, she is always ready to help others to scale and solve business issues.
In this episode, I’m very excited to welcome my guest tech queen Claudia Rademaker, co-founder, VP, and CMP of the Swedish Ed Tech company Dugga. Hey Claudia, I’m very happy to have you joining us from Stockholm Sweden today. Hur mår du?
I’m doing just great, thank you Jasmine.
Now let us dive into your journey into tech. Hope you’re ready for the Queens of Tech’s 60-plus questions.
I hope so too!
***FUN FACTS ***
- How would you describe your personality in three hashtags?
I would say #energetic, #curious and #innovative.
- How would you describe your life in three sentences?
A bully tomboy from the Netherlands who became a top model in Asia became an international entrepreneur of several startups before getting a Ph.D. Passionate about driving quality and equality in education.
- What kind of music stimulates and motivates you the most?
Music that sparks my spirit and joy so anything from Queen, Jimi Hendrix madonna, and Harry Styles.
- What’s your personal motto?
In the end, it’s not the years in your life that count, it’s the life in your years.
- What is your favorite book?
I would say “The Power of Now” because it doesn’t really matter how many times I’ve read it, it has always had a different meaning in different stages of my life.
- What is your favorite podcast?
Well now it’s this one, “Queens of Tech”, because of its mission and I really like the swiftness and format. I don’t really have much time, but this is a great format so it keeps it interesting.
- Mac or PC?
- Say something interesting about yourself that most people don’t know.
I’ve been an actress in a big screen action movie and killed the monster villain.
- What is your hidden talent?
I can speak backward because it’s fun.
- If you were going to write a book about your life what would the title be?
Dream big and make it!
- Where did you grow up?
Haarlem, the Netherlands.
- What was your dream job as a child?
I couldn’t really choose between becoming a computer programmer or an inventor of toys.
- What was your favorite subject in school?
Gymnastics or physical education.
- What was your least favorite subject?
- What would you say is your earliest memory of technology and the arrival of the internet?
I would say the early bulky computers from the 80s and the fixed milling machines.
- Which were then the three first technology gadgets you owned?
The early home computer was the Commodore 64 from 1982. I believe then the mobile phones Nokia Ericsson devices and also in the 90s these cool PalmPilot devices.
- Who was your female role model and why?
Nadia Comăneci the gymnastics champion, because I was really doing gymnastics when I was little and she won all-time goals.
- How do you think where you grew up and the school you went to and the generation you come from influence your education and career choice?
Well, I wasn’t so lucky with my first-grade teacher. This teacher bullied me since I had problems writing for example and would bully me in front of the entire class. What this teacher probably didn’t realize was that she legitimized bullying to my classmates and I was beaten up every day. I learned how to make myself invisible inside and outside of the classroom and so I felt stupid and ugly.
This has created a certain drive so I realized only recently that for the longest time in my life I had this drive to push myself to prove that I was not stupid and ugly. For example, I became a fashion model and became an entrepreneur and later I studied and got my Ph.D. I wanted to be the best teacher in the world and I think that because of the bullying in my early childhood in school when growing up. There has always been this drive to make a difference in the world of education so equal assessment of learning has always been something in the back of my head and no one’s grade should be based on one’s gender, skin color, etc. I found out that this is possible when combining modern technology and pedagogy by having these carefully selected functionalities and digital tools to help teachers and students anywhere in the world. Today I’m driving this mission and vision with Dugga, which is used by schools and universities worldwide and that feels pretty awesome I have to say.
- What did you study at university?
I have a bachelor’s in fine arts with a major in design. I wanted to be this fashion designer and so I did thereafter. I also have a master of science in business administration with a major in marketing. I was always interested in entrepreneurship and especially new product development like market-driven product development. Then later in life, I took a Ph.D. in business administration as I’m very curious. Being a researcher was like a dream job and on top of that being a teacher is about human behavior on the market and the transformation of usage of products in line with new technologies.
- Who, and what influenced you to get into your chosen field?
My own personal experiences as a child in first grade and the bullying in class.
- What professional roles have you had before that led you to the current one?
Fashion designer, movie actress, fashion model, head of sales entrepreneur, assistant professor teacher, and entrepreneur. O always sum it up as I’m an entrepreneur and co-founded Dugga.
- What does your company do, and what is your title?
Dugg is an all-in-one assessment platform for all types of exams, tests, quizzes, and assignments. It’s research-based and used by schools and universities worldwide. I’m the co-founder, VP, and CMO.
- How did you start the company, and what are your main responsibilities?
It started as a research project and quickly became a product that is being used worldwide by schools and universities. As the co-founder and CMO, I’m responsible for the best brand and all touch points of the user or customers. So a lot with brand and marketing strategies business models and product development.
- What does a typical work day look like for you?
Each day is a surprise. I always say it’s basically early mornings and late evenings. I’m getting better actually in self-care in the early morning.
- What do you love about your job?
To be able to build and expand something that teachers, students, and parents appreciate worldwide and to contribute to quality and equality and knowledge assessment. Also to take away all the drama and unnecessary stress with tests and exams and bring back the focus on learning. That is what drives me and what I love about my job.
- What is the best experience you’ve had in your role so far?
When we became Microsoft Global Partner of the year in education in 2020. That was a fantastic milestone for the entire team, especially during challenging times when we were all working remotely. We grew so much during those challenging times. Our team succeeded and Dugga expanded from users in two to over 130 countries in the world, and I’m still so proud of our team and the spirit of each team member, and the learnings that we got from that. It has enriched us tremendously. I would say so talking about the challenges.
- What is the biggest challenge you have encountered so far, and how did you tackle it?
Edtech is a male-dominated industry. For example, investors tend to invest nine out of ten times in Edtech companies that are led by male founders, and these are facts said but true. How do we tackle this? Well, you have to work harder and prove yourself over and over again once again. It’s the hard truth but you cannot give up.
- What do you wish everybody understood about your role?
There’s so much work behind everything in a tech startup. The little things and the big things. Just the tremendous work behind everything looks also a lot more glamorous than it seems, but because you love what you do it doesn’t, as you said before, really feel like work.
- What is one of the common myths about your professional field that you want to disprove that everybody has?
That tech transformation in fields like education is easy to use and can save a lot of time and can contribute to improved quality and more equality in assessment. Change is not always complicated and with Dugga we try to do that and we are on our way to proving it to the world.
- What do you love about working in the tech industry?
Combining modern technology with pedagogical expertise, you can do magic.
- What has by far been your biggest achievement in your career?
When it comes to Dugga, we won the Microsoft Global Partner of the year in education in 2020. That was really something amazing and we grew so fast from two to over 130 countries in the world within a year.
- What’s the biggest factor that has helped you be successful? Any success habits?
Every day is a day with new opportunities and it’s just for us to seize them.
- How do you measure your own performance at work?
We have clear KPIs and stand-ups, but also at the end of the day, it’s how you feel about your own input. I think I’m getting better at that. I think daily journaling it’s something that I enjoy, but I’m working on it. I highly recommend it but I have to remind myself that it is so important with daily journaling.
- What is your biggest failure in your career, and what did you learn from it?
I should have invested more in “me-time” and self-care. I’m getting better at it. As I said I am still learning and luckily I have close friends whom we are reminding each other about that. So self-care and “me-time” for balance in life.
- What is inspiring and motivating you the most in your role and career right now?
Going forward I think the younger generation in my team and their aspirational goals and criteria of organizations is something that I learn about. I’m always interested in the younger generation. In my opinion, they seem to be different from those in my generation and I’m learning every day from them.
***MENTORSHIP AND ROLE MODELS**
- Do you have a mentor today?
Unfortunately not. I would love to have one, but haven’t found one, or she hasn’t found me yet.
- Who is the female role model you look up to in your field?
Actually, I’m still looking for one to inspire me.
- How important do you think it is to have a role model and mentor during one’s career?
I wish I had one. I see so much value. You don’t need to specifically be in the same area or line of business or not even have the same role or come from the same culture, but the person that can share challenges around how this person has tackled things. I think that is great learning, like a mindset to inspire other leaders.
- What does leadership mean to you?
For me mostly a leader should inspire the team towards a common goal and learn together along the way.
- What do you consider a good versus a bad leader?
After experiencing working for organizations I think a good leader is empowering team members to grow and be happy. But they should also know about their team’s ambitions and dreams. Bad leaders are those who are in love with their titles and are misusing their position of power in the company, refusing to see inequality, and not embracing diversity or ensuring inclusion. Usually, in my opinion, bad leadership is when they usually stick to what has been done for decades and are afraid to change anything.
- Who would you say is your favorite female tech leader?
I would say, Lakecia Gunter. She’s vice president and general manager of IoT at Microsoft Corporation. I admire her for her competence to drive opportunities and accelerate revenue growth for IoT markets. I think she’s cool and amazing. What I do love about her as well or especially is that she’s also active and advocates for teen and young adult education through several non-profit organizations.
- How would you describe yourself as a leader?
I embrace an open mind. Being open-minded and offering open communication and transparency. Also, I want to learn. Remember my curiosity? I do want to learn every day from team members listening to needs and but also most important is to implement change. Listening is worth nothing when you don’t implement the change that is needed. I also would say that I’m not afraid to break norms or break settled habits in order to make the world better. Start with both small and big things in your own organization.
- What values are most important for you as a leader?
I would say inclusion, equality, and team play. Embracing different perspectives.
- What leadership lessons have you learned that have formed you into the leader you are today?
I’ve been working for several different organizations and what I’ve learned, starting with bad leadership, I would say that insecure leaders with an impersonal leadership style have a very negative effect on the well-being of team members. Leaders that always have to be right, right for the sake of being right that is actually not necessary. Good leadership should be more human in that sense. Bad leaders for example are not lifting or empowering team members. This is what creates unhealthy organizational cultures and once again not good for the well-being of people.
So good leadership is an important factor for learning. I would say dare to be more human to use your position, your important position in the company to listen more, to admit mistakes, and allow for clear communication. I’ve learned to use my analytical skills with the right balance of intuition. I always call it just human leadership.
What would you say are your three strengths and three weaknesses?
I tend to be a workaholic. I talk fast and I tend to be impatient. My strength, I would say I’m a problem solver, I’m innovative and I can quickly see the big picture. Once again the balance between analytical skills and intuition I think is crucial in startups because you really have to be flexible and not be afraid to pivot.
***DIVERSITY, EQUALITY, INCLUSION & BELONGING***
What do diversity, equality, and inclusion mean to you personally?
For me, it means that no one needs to put others down in order to make themselves shine. It simply means that each individual should have equal opportunities in this world. That’s why my co-founder and I built Dugga based on the belief that no one’s grade should be based on one’s gender, last name, skin color, or in-class behavior. Also that no one with a special need should have fewer opportunities to learn and grow and we make this possible with data from the assessment platform.
- What do you consider to be three to five signs of good company culture if you were to join a company?
Culture transparency, open-mindedness, and openness to learning. A company where there’s true team play, where team members dare to take initiative to speak their mind and are not afraid to make mistakes but learn only.
- As a woman, what has been the most significant barrier in your career, and how have you overcome these challenges?
The simple fact is that because I’m a colored woman, many tend to make initial judgments about me before I even open my mouth. Sad but true. I’ve learned to speak up and take more space. I have learned that if I don’t speak up that no one is going to do it for me. I’ve become a bit tougher not because I want to but because I need to.
- Why do you think it is important for more women to join the tech industry, especially as leaders?
Well in Edtech for example, investments are made nine out of 10 in companies with male founders while they are serving a market with the majority of end users being women. So if you think about it, it doesn’t really make sense right? So the fact is still unfortunate and looking at these specs and numbers that male founders are being judged still by their future potential and females by their past accomplishments or experiences is sad. I mean still in 2022 moreover, the ratio of men to women in tech is astonishing right only 21 are female leaders in tech as overall and only 14 are female leaders in software engineering. So we urgently need more females at the C-suite level in tech.
- Do you, and how do you speak with your female colleagues and male colleagues about diversity equality, and inclusion challenges, especially salary gaps?
I do. So for example, talking to fellow leaders in tech is really refreshing for me. We recognize similar challenges that we’re facing and being leaders of tech companies of course you want to make a difference in your companies. When it comes to diversity, equality, and inclusion I have to say I just recently joined a group and it is once again so refreshing you can learn so much from each other and you feel less alone.
- There are many public and internal discussions about the barriers women face from reaching higher positions in the tech industry. How do you feel it has affected and is affecting you, and what is your advice on how to best unlock these roadblocks?
Barriers that I have faced made me take steps back since they made me not believe in myself as much as I actually should have. So now I have learned to trust my talents and to believe more in myself, but it took some time and I think that it would have been nicer with a mentor sometimes. All you need is a reminder of a mentor who has your back.
- As the tech industry finds it hard to attract and retain women, what is your best advice on strategies for how companies can work to build a stronger corporate culture that engages gender diversity?
I would say, listen more to the talented women in your team, because you’ll be surprised about the brilliant ideas and talents that can contribute to your companies from different perspectives. I would say, let the women in your team take more leading roles. You’ll be surprised how much more energy, innovation, and team spirit this can spark in your entire team. Something that is actually unnecessary to say, but so important is equal pay. For the same rules salary level should not be based on who can negotiate better and leaders should take responsibility for equal pay.
- What would you say then are the few challenges and possibilities of implementing diversity, equality, and inclusion in a workplace?
I would say misinterpretations of the meaning of the concepts of diversity, equality, and inclusion. The lack of males who are fighting the challenges and possibilities of implementing these important concepts. There are too few leaders that are owning it and especially too few male leaders that are involved.
- Why, and how do you think companies would benefit from having workplace gender diversity, especially better gender representation at C-level?
I always believe in diversity of perspectives as a sound base for making decisions. So better gender representation at the top is to me nothing more than common sense, however, most people seem to be afraid to take a stance and are not keen on digging into this deeper.
- How much do you think the tech industry has changed regarding this subject since you joined?
Way too little and too slow.
- Looking back on your career, what one thing would you have changed in your working environment to break the bias?
To speak about these matters earlier in my life and career and not be afraid or feel intimidated.
- Looking forward, what will you do as a leader to improve the bias for the next generation of women in tech?
To always stand up when I see injustice or incorrect behavior that harms other individuals, whether it is in the boardroom or in my team, or outside of it.
**MENTAL HEALTH AND WORKPLACE BALANCE***
- I’m sure without a doubt you have a busy lifestyle, so how do you take care of yourself to maintain good mental health?
This is such a great topic. I have wonderful friends who keep me sane and sometimes force me to chill and relax. I love them. Good mental health is all about creating balance and as I said before, I’m getting better with self-care I have to say, but I still have a long way to go. Working with something you love and are passionate about is also giving a lot of energy to yourself and so work doesn’t always feel like work and before you know it then I’m working late hours again and again. I also like to play tennis and I dance salsa. I don’t say I’m good at it, but I love it.
- Have you ever experienced burnout?
- What motivates you every day to get out of bed?
The passion behind the game. We want to make a difference in education and we believe strongly in what we do. We want to have schools with the best possibilities for their students to learn to help teachers be the best they can be for any students. We love the journey and celebrate milestones big and small.
- What is your advice on how companies can create a more mentally healthy workplace in the new now?
I believe that a company’s values are very crucial, but what’s most important is to keep these values alive and to see to it that these values are also implemented in the day-to-day activities and decision-making of a company. Otherwise, these corporate values are worthless. Another thing is to listen to your team members, especially members belonging to different generations, cultures, and backgrounds. You will be amazed at how much we can learn from each other and enrich ourselves. Also for the company to not be afraid to take a stance on important matters such as equality, diversity, and inclusion, but also implement this both big and small things. I think once again here you’ll be amazed what wonders it could do to your team spirit inclusiveness is really important because we’re all equally important.
**WORDS OF WISDOM***
- What is the best piece of advice you’ve been given that has helped you during setbacks in your role and career?
I’m very fortunate to have people in my network who are appreciating my capability to pivot when necessary and be creative or innovative in terms of changing business models or changing the approach in business. By telling me or reminding me that they believe in my talent. I get reminded of this and so during setbacks or challenging times I am reminded that I have the capability to tackle even this one. So once again yes I’m thankful for the people in my network including investors who are believing in me, and what I’m capable of. Why wouldn’t they? I too believe in myself so that is usually what I’m trying to tell myself and I guess that’s the best piece of indirect advice there is.
- Is there something you wish you would have known or a skill you wish you had when starting out in the tech industry?
Some coding knowledge or skills to understand how long things take to develop. Such as new features for product development that would have been really cool.
- If you had the ability to go back in time when you were just at the beginning of your career, Don’t limit yourself. You are more competent than you think of yourself and mostly don’t allow others to make you feel less incompetent so believe more in yourself.
- What advice would you give to young girls and women, wanting and trying to break into STEM fields today?
Dare to dream big and make it happen. Don’t limit your dreams and reaching out is very important.
- What is next for you in your role and career in tech? What are your career aspirations?
Honestly, Jasmine, I’m so happy to be where I am today. My future is actually today and I’m so excited to be on this journey. Things are going so fast and I’m enjoying the ride I just can hardly wait where this is going. So let’s have this conversation not too long from now and I can tell you.