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Female Founder Friday: Camille Rougie on becoming a CEO

By Florence Mayo
Posted:
18 December, 2020

On the 27th of November EF hosted a virtual event for women with entrepreneurial ambition in conversation with Camille Rougié, co-founder and CEO of Plural AI, for our second Female Founder Friday session.

Graduating from the EF programme in 2018, Camille co-founded Plural AI, a Fintech start-up which is building a data science ‘knowledge engine’ for the finance industry and aims to automate its old-school, manual frustrations.

Finding a “Problem Space”

From an early age Camille had entrepreneurial intention, her first venture involved creating a horse magazine and selling it to her friends and family as a child, and she became intrigued by the world of start-ups after spending 6-months in LA with a company which specialised in new media ventures. However, she explains that there is never a single, neat narrative to the founding of Plural AI.

“I started out with a problem space”

After leaving University, finance was the ‘thing to do’ and Camille spent several years working in investment banking and private equity. During this time, she became frustrated with the manual inputting processes and antiquated research methods. This was her catalyst to starting Plural AI, she had found her problem space.

After years of having people coming to her to pitch for investment Camille wanted to be on the other side of the table, she wanted to get her hands dirty. She had known she had wanted to start a company for a while and the finance industry acted as her way into that.

Being a founder

“A characteristic of founders is that we don’t always make the best employees.”

Camille prides herself on her healthy disregard for authority- she has always been determined, with a desire do things her own way. She explains that being a founder involves being able to not take “no” for an answer, being very assertive and in her own way aggressive when she needs to be. To become the founder of Plural AI, Camille had to go against the grain and go all in, and for that EF was the perfect setting.

“If you’re not comfortable with uncertainty you’re not going to be a good founder and you have to be very comfortable with open questions.”

Similarly to our first event with Anne Marie Droste, Camille discussed that founders need to be comfortable with discomfort.  Along with her headstrong attitude, building a company has given Camille a thick skin. She doesn’t let herself get hung up on rejection, and believes successful entrepreneurs find a way to make it work for them regardless of the setbacks.

Working with a Co-Founder

“Founding a company is a material pursuit in that, I want to be successful, but really it is an intellectual pursuit and a creative endeavour.”

Camille couldn’t stress enough how important it is to find the right co-founder. She had problems early on in her career, trying to start a company before EF, but realised quickly that her ideas weren’t aligned with the co-founder she had chosen. For her, a co-founding relationship is about balance between the level of ambition, delineation of tasks and intellectual alignment. When there is overlap in any of these, it is going to create friction as opposed to productivity or traction for teamwork.

“You’re basically married to your co-founder, you have to get on with them but you don’t have to be best friends”

Finding the right co-founder should be an organic and easy process, like finding the perfect spouse. As a result, when her EF co-founder stepped down earlier this year, it was like a divorce.

During the founding process Camille had to be open to having her theories tested and her mind changed by her co-founder. She started with a specific problem space in the finance industry, which gave a direction to explore, but she had to be happy about moving within that with someone to create a company together. Her mind was constantly blown and there were things she had not thought about or looked at until she worked with her co-founder

“Having a defined idea can be counter-productive because the whole point of EF is to meet people and to co-create something together.”

Women in Business

It’s going to be a lot harder but if you do achieve something then your outcome will be much greater”

EF’s audience was keen to hear about Camille’s experience being a woman in business. Working in such a male-dominated cross section of tech, finance and business, Camille has often experienced being the only woman in the room. She found that old-school stereotypes perceived women as overly bossy or rude when displaying traditional styles of leadership and management.

“You can create a different experience as a woman … it attracts different kinds of people in terms of employees and makes for a nicer culture.”

However, this is not without its benefits. Being a woman in this industry makes you all the more memorable to investors. Similarly, Camille has found that there is less of a pressurised expectation – it’s easy as a woman to be less professional in a business setting, to be more casual about certain things and, as a result, you create a fresh atmosphere.

When push comes to shove, gender doesn’t come into it. Every founder is going to make mistakes and run into problems and you certainly don’t need to act like a man to run a business. It’s ultimately about resilience, and women are good at taking the pain. You’ve just got to show it outwardly and be confident about it.

“It’s not about being manly, it’s about not giving a shit and not caring what people think of you”

The EF programme

“Through EF I could get paid to do something I probably would have tried to do anyway”

Camille is very grateful for her time at EF. She feels that it would have been a valuable experience regardless of whether she had come out of it with a co-founder and investors.

Camille is a fully-fledged contrarian. She has found that building a company with someone is about using your strengths and EF helped her develop them. 

“The biggest value of the EF programme is the people that you meet in the Cohort. The last time I had that sort of expansion of my network was when I started university”

Whilst accepting that founding a company can be a very solitary and lonely experience in many ways, Camille is thankful for going through EF and having a community and support network. She met lots of female founders through EF and doesn’t underestimate the benefit of sharing stories and trading advice. By working with people from various backgrounds and industries at EF, Camille is now connected to experts in almost any area.

“EF will encourage you to think big”

Could you see yourself becoming a founder like Camille?

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