Crushing On… Our Co-founders

An interview with Nina Khoury and Adriana Stefanatos

Picture this: you’re a Year 12 student sitting on the muted grey couch in your career advisor’s office. Amidst exams and submission deadlines there’s increasing pressure to make a decision about your future. The only problem is, you’re from Tasmania — an idyllic yet regional bubble where information about potential career pathways tends to fail to cross the Bass Strait.  

I have to caveat this by saying that I am the beneficiary of significant educational privilege. Having access to guidance counsellors, a private school education and completing the International Baccalaureate are all indicative of the extent of my privilege. But all regional cities undeniably are affected by a very insular education system, where the benefits only extend to a certain few (typically those inner-city based). 

Students in inner-city schools are more conscious of available pathways than low-SES ones in Hobart. If reward on investment was the decision rule, why are there not more companies trying to bridge the information gap between students in regional and low SES areas?

In case you haven’t realised, it was I sitting in my Pathway Advisor’s office in 2016. The opportunities communicated made it seem that my only options were either law or medicine at The University of Tasmania. I relayed my frustration to the advisor, and she sent me to where you’re reading this: The ENID Network — the brainchild of Nina Khoury and Adriana Stefanatos. 

Day in the Life and Gal Crush segments, information on career pathways and study hacks, The ENID Network was everything that allowed 17-year-old me to take that leap, submit my UAC application and move to Sydney to study eight months later. 

Four years later, I am now editing for The ENID Network and last week, I had the absolute pleasure to sit down (virtually) with the now California-based Nina and New York-based Adri to discuss all things ENID, getting sh*t done, InsideSherpa and how to land that coveted role in a consulting firm.  

Introducing, our absolutely kick-ass co-founders.

What are your elevator pitches?

N: I’m a lover of the outdoors, whether it’s surfing, running or skiing. I also get a lot of energy from talking, working with others and getting stuff done. So, I’d say I’m a lover of being energised by those around me. 

A: I’m just going to read my Instagram bio and this is tongue in cheek, but I’m trying to make fun of myself: aspiring celebrity, Real Housewives fan, occasional hypochondriac, Virgo. And then we can add doer to that list as well. 

N: Adriana is great at getting sh*t done. Whether it’s rebuilding a website or figuring out tax.

What are you reading, watching and listening to on any given Thursday night?

A: Real Housewives but I also have work calls on a Thursday night. I work in a distributed remote team, so we have work calls most nights. If I don’t have anything on, I’ll go for a long sunset walk, an hour and a half around the West Side Highway near the river. 

N: So I am at Bain consulting firm and we have something called “Get A Life”, which is protected time. So, while you can take nights off when there is no work to do, your GAL is a protected night when no one can contact you. That’s my Thursday. You’ll either find me playing tennis or at a golf range. 

How did you both meet and what inspired you to start ENID? 

A: We met at this society at Sydney Uni called the Network of Women, and we were on the founding committee. So we met at the first meeting of that. We both had mutual connections who said you should join because you are interested in women, business etc… And we both went along. That’s how things started, at the end of 2014. From then on, we became friends.  

N: We really enjoyed working together in the sense that we got stuff done. There was something nice about growing our friendship through a working relationship because you don’t expect to make a friend. It was a pleasant surprise. 

We thought that the Network of Women could be bigger and could do a lot more. Could we build the Network of Women into being more of just a platform to reach more people, more women, more young girls? A platform to give them ideas about what they want to be when they grow up, to help them get there, to show them, mentors and relatable people? So it became: “what would we have loved as we were going through school?” We wanted to create something as if we’re being the target audience and through that, naturally, that was how ENID was born.

ENID is named after Dame Enid Muriel Lyons. What’s the story behind the name?

N: We brainstormed a lot of different ideas. Enid [Lyons] came up and we thought ‘that’s an old fashioned name’ but we kept using it. Then we started to think about what we wanted ENID to be. It was essentially what she’d done, standing up for what she believed in and becoming the first female elected to parliament. That’s the pathway Enid chose, went hard at and achieved a lovely legacy. 

A: Enid Lyons is also Nina’s great aunt.

What does the ‘Network’ part refer to? 

N: Community. We all know that a lot of inequality is driven by networks and we know that women, at times, don’t succeed because of a lack of a network. For us, ‘network’ was more to capture the sense of community across different ages, different spheres and different goals. 

A: And that was something we’re very passionate about. And I still am. Nina and I haven’t cracked the bullet of how to solve this: how do we kind of bring that connection between girls in high school and like girls in their early 20s? That’s why the network part is really important as it’s an aspirational goal.

N: One thing we did was talks in schools. We spoke to about 1500-2000 girls in regional Australia, intending to facilitate tangible networks between girls at university and girls at school. To showcase what role models look like and not just at university, at colleges, TAFES and other working people and to foster the connection between those age groups.

How is ENID different from other available platforms?

N: What was already in the market was established business networks for people already in careers. There were a few aspirational platforms for those in university, but it was very much targeting a certain field and demographic. We felt there was a gap in the market to show a different array of girls what pathways were out there. At the same time to do that in a really fun, accessible and cool fashion.

A: Our purpose was to change the perception of role models and what that meant, particularly for girls in high school. In the Australian media landscape, we saw more influencers becoming role models. We wanted to flip that perception and use people who lived similar and different experiences to us and have them as the role models on the platform as the means of driving equality of opportunity ahead for young women. 

What were your biggest pinch-me moments during your time at ENID?

A: When we went on the radio with Ric Goddard. Also, all the school visits. We have so many selfies [with students], so that was exciting!

N: We gave out feedback sheets at the end of every presentation and we got amazing feedback. There was one girl that had written, “Thank you so much for coming. You’ve given me some hope.” 

We went to a lot of regional schools in NSW and a lot of these girls hadn’t been to Sydney. It was a huge realisation that there is so much inequality just under our noses, even in Australia. This girl likely didn’t know the pathways that were accessible to her, that she could attain. So that was a proud moment, in that we could showcase role models that she could relate to. 

A: The majority of the schools we went to were regional and low SES. When I was back in Australia, I was at a cafe and this girl said, “Oh my god, you did ENID”. She remembered the presentation we did at her school. It was then that I realised if I’ve positively impacted one person, then my work in life is done.

What did you learn over time within ENID?

A: You need a business model AND a way to make money. Nina and I are very privileged in so many ways, but we realised two things. First, the extent of inequality that exists underneath our noses. It’s not just about corporate or industry. It’s actually about what’s going on in high schools, how young women are approaching their futures and how that differs based on what high school they’re attending. 

The second thing I learned is that at the end of the day if you want something, you can make it happen. You have to push things hard, but it is out there for the taking. We pushed hard and we hustled. 

N: We were trying to achieve something great and the way we were trying to do it was really powerful. But when you are devoting that much time to a social venture and you’re looking for a path to profit, you need to have that path to x million dollars or the path to a viable bottom line. 

Now the question on everyone’s minds: why did you leave?

N: It was just that we couldn’t pay ourselves. 

A: That was it. We both recognised we’re very privileged and we have the support from family but that’s not to the extent that they’re going to pay us a salary for the next five years until we make this into something that works. 

N: We worked full-time jobs and did ENID on the side, but it’s hard to do both. 

A: We were burnt out as well. Unfortunately, when you’ve worked on something for two and a half years and there’s no clear path for that [monetisation] to be there, it makes it challenging for you to want to stick with it. 

We felt very frustrated because we were coming into blockers that if we were older and had more money, networks and resources, this wouldn’t be a blocker for us. 

N: If you think about good entrepreneurs, they do a bunch of things. It’s what you learn, where you fail and we didn’t fail because what we did was fantastic. However, if you do want to create a sustainable business model, people fail and they start again. 

We realised it shouldn’t be for profit. We cared so much about it that we wanted to make ENID our full-time job but we got to a point where we couldn’t sustain ourselves in a full-time model. 

What are you currently doing with your lives?

N: I’m a management consultant at Bain & Company, a global firm. My role is to work with big companies and to help them improve their revenue structure, cost structure and refine their growth trajectory.

Bain was the first corporate firm that sold it to me. They came to university and had passion, authenticity and soul. So, I ran hard to try and get a spot at Bain. One of the company’s core principles is culture. It’s making sure that it is a really enjoyable work environment where you love the people you work with, the conversations and the big events. 

A: I work as an account executive for a company called InsideSherpa. Essentially, we run deals and my whole goal is to sell the software.

Anyone who works in sales will tell you that they didn’t choose to work in sales and they just landed there and this is what happened to me. Nina and I were doing sales as part of what we were doing at ENID, selling to corporates and selling schools as well. I was familiar with it and I think I’ve realised that I’m naturally a salesperson. You’re, kind of born with it or you’re not.

Everything is sales. It’s not talked about in uni because it seems kind of “icky”. When I moved to the US just over two years ago, I was working in retail for a bit and then I landed a sales job at another company that was not the right thing for me. 

When we were starting ENID was when Tom and Pasha were starting Inside Sherpa and from the early days. Then it was in April last year that I quit my job and called Tom a week asking about a job in the New York office. I had two weeks left on my visa, I wanted to stay in New York and I said I know sales and the company. I interviewed and soon after, I became employee number five. 

InsideSherpa runs online short training courses for students. They partner with different companies to run these online courses so students can get an idea of what different career pathways and opportunities are available. The whole idea is to empower students with education and transferable skills, which is aligned with what we were doing with ENID. But, they figured out the business model side of things and existed more in the education space, whereas ENID was more content and role model focused. 

What advice would you give to someone looking to get into your respective fields?

A: I don’t think anyone says “I want to get into sales”. However, if you want to push yourself to develop grit, resilience, creativity and hustle there is no other career pathway that will teach you those skills to the extent that sales will. Sales can also reward you in that way because you can make a lot of money.

N: For consulting, the first thing I’d say is be a bit more realistic. You have to be thoughtful about how you spend your time during your university years regarding extra-curriculars.

Number two would be to do an internship. 

Thirdly, if you like working with people, solving problems and changing what you’re doing all the time then consider consulting. It gives you a lot of exposure to a lot of markets, industries and firms that you will not have heard of.

A: Nina and I have very huge hopes for what we can achieve in the world and are very mission-driven. But at the end of the day you need a job that’s going to pay you money and every job that you have, unless you’re working directly in the not for profit sector, is about making money or helping a company make money in some way. The sad reality is that you have to figure out how that’s going to best align with what your strengths are and what you enjoy on an everyday basis. That’s why company culture matters.

N: Don’t just apply because you think you should. As you’re coming out of university, jot down the things that you love doing and what you’re strong at. When you’re meeting people in different industries and environments, ask them to describe their day. There’s a lot of value in understanding someone’s day-to-day and thinking about whether those components give you energy. You’ve got to decide within your heart what that balance needs to be, whether it be 50:50 or 90:10 of absolute joy. 

What was the transition like for you, from university graduate to working?

A: We both had unusual experiences in that we didn’t move into our jobs straight after uni. We did ENID for a while which was a full-time job, but you’re answering to yourself, not to a boss. 

The hardest part about the transition was the realisation that you have to have a job that is going to pay you money and you can live with where this money comes from. I’m really lucky now that I’m at a point where I know I am helping InsideSherpa make money but the end goal is to positively affect young students’ lives to help them make more informed choices and gain skills. That was the hardest transition: you can’t just go from living in this almost ideal world of university to realise that it’s not all about you and your hopes and dreams.

N: I got lucky in that Bain does a really good job of transitioning people to the working world. You come in at associate or analyst level and you are treated well and are guided through the learning process. However, you lose an element of control when you start working in a bigger company. You have to be in certain places at certain times and you have to be accessible. The feeling of control is something I’m working to get back because it’s really important to me. 

What was something you didn’t anticipate when you entered the workforce? 

A:  I’m uncomfortable with authority and “answering to the man”. I didn’t anticipate how much that would affect my day-to-day, but you have to be self-aware of where your sticking points are for you as a person and you have to manage that. 

Whether that be toning it down and even just considering how that’s going to impact other people, how you’re perceived in a company or in an industry. When you’re in university, you can kind of do whatever you want. No one’s going to get upset at you if you take the lead or say your piece. I think just that that element of self-awareness and constantly managing this on a day-to-day basis is something that I didn’t anticipate. 

N: Similar to Adriana in the sense that I say what I think. I’ve gotten the comment before that my energy can be a bit of a double-edged sword because I can bring a whole team up, but if someone knows I’m if I’m not happy, the team knows about it because I stay quiet, don’t respond or engage. To the self-awareness point, I used to think that I could do anything, that I was invincible and then you get into the working world and realise that people are pretty impressive. 

What are you looking forward to in the next twelve months? 

N: At the moment, I’m enjoying my job, where I’m living and just the headspace I’m in. 

A: Just survive the day-to-day, we’re in a pandemic, it’s f*cked. But, I’d like to achieve some things personally. I want to do well at my job, I want to write a book. I’ve been saying I won’t do this for years. That’s something I want to do so let’s see if I can make that happen! 

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