Now at the forefront of Melbourne’s innovation and Esports scenes, Michelle Mannering has charted her own course, turning her passions in tech, gaming, and communications into a dream career.
Throughout our lives, we are constantly told to ‘follow our passion’ – but what if we’re passionate about too many things? This was something Michelle Mannering grappled with growing up in the small rural town of Albury, New South Wales, where she thrived on having a diversity of interests, from sports to cooking to video games. After graduating with a Bachelor’s in Chemistry at the University of Melbourne, Mish traded science for arts and did a Masters’ in Global Media Communications. She was shortly headhunted to work at one of Australia’s leading innovation precincts, Carlton Connect (now Melbourne Connect), and it was there that she earned herself the affectionate title of ‘Hackathon Queen’, which she holds to this day.
Today, Mish works full-time as a Development Community Manager for GitHub, and is an award-winning entrepreneur. Her latest venture, Raine Scooters, became the fastest funded electric vehicle in history after smashing its crowdfunding target of AUD 73,000 in just 43 minutes. And if that wasn’t enough, she is also a pro-gamer, esports MC, Twitch streamer, public speaker, and journalist. We caught up with Mish to talk about balancing multiple passions, creating your own opportunities, and insider tips for navigating the startup scene in Melbourne.
Was there a conscious effort to turn your passions into a career, or was this something that formed naturally?
5 years ago, I could have never imagined myself in this position. I remember asking my parents when I was younger, and even after finishing university, “Mum and Dad, how am I ever going to find a job that suits me?” As a kid, I liked so many different things on opposite sides of the spectrum. I liked science and art, I liked playing sports and video games, I liked cars and cooking, I liked hiking outdoors and being indoors diving into technology. At the end of the day, I made my own role – one that allowed me to do all these things without having to choose one. But at the same time, I didn’t plan the opportunities that came my way. I didn’t go, ‘I want to be an Esports MC and host this event.’ I put myself in situations where things would happen to me, and worked really hard to build the right skills, portfolio, and connections so that I’d be ready if those opportunities ever came up.
Believe it or not, I didn’t start video gaming until university and when I did, it was like this whole world opened up overnight. I got involved in a gaming club, volunteered at big gaming events like PAX, and became an ambassador for Zen Esports Network. As an events coordinator, I didn’t just organise people’s events for them and leave. I sat in on their TEDx talks and master classes, and got to learn all about the startup ecosystem, essentially for free. In that sense, my career is a product of all the cool things I’ve been exposed to, the people I’ve networked with, hard work, and being good at what I do.
How did you come to be called the ‘Hackathon Queen’?
This was back when I worked at Carlton Connect. I’d started there in February and someone walked in one day saying they wanted to run a hackathon event in April. No one there had even heard of a hackathon, so I was like, “I know what it is, I can do it!” At the time, I think I’d helped out at 1 hackathon at university, but I managed to turn around an entire hackathon for this person in a month and it was fairly successful from their point of view. The next day, I got a call from IBM asking me to run a hackathon for them and more opportunities kept rolling in. By the end of the year, I’d organised, mentored and judged at almost 20 hackathons – and I’ve done over 80 now for various industries. Someone in the community started introducing me onstage as the ‘Hackathon Goddess’, but that evolved into ‘Hackathon Queen’ and I’ve kind of rolled with it ever since!
You’ve talked about having a ‘keen interest in driving entrepreneurial culture’. Besides hackathons, how are you doing this?
People always ask me, especially when they first move to Melbourne, “Mish, how do I get involved in the community?” And so my thing is helping them navigate that space by showing them all the exciting things that are happening here. For aspiring entrepreneurs, for instance, I recommend joining the Startup Melbourne Facebook page and Startup Victoria Slack channel for lots of great information. The Melbourne Accelerator Programme also has tonnes of open events, and Launch Vic is amazing for seeing what resources are available for local and state startups (check out my blog for more!). I just love networking people and getting involved in that way. Melbourne’s probably one of the best places in the world for startups because of the helping culture we have here. Everyone is very willing to help out and there’s no shortage of government support, both locally and federally.
You’re also known as the ‘Esports Queen’. How would you explain Esports to someone who’s never heard of it before?
A lot of people have this misconception that esports is video gaming and video gaming is esports, which is 100% not the case. Esports refers to a competitive form of video gaming, typically on a professional level. It’s based on video gaming, but not all video games are esports in much the same way that going to the gym or kicking a ball around with my mates isn’t ‘sports’ – it’s an exercise that’s based on a sport.
The esports industry has really taken Australia, and the world, by storm lately. To give you a better idea, the biggest esports tournament in the world, ‘The International’, has a prize pool of over USD 34 million, and draws more viewers than the Superbowl. More non-endemic brands like Nike, McDonalds and KFC are also jumping on the bandwagon. COVID-19 has made it an especially exciting space to be in because no physical world sport can be played right now. No World Cup, no motorsports, no Formula One – there’s nothing else for people to watch anymore. So it’s interesting to see how the tides have changed. Whereas gaming in 2018 was you being an irresponsible kid, gaming in 2020 is you being a responsible adult because you’re staying at home and interacting with people from afar.
What is Twitch streaming, and how are you using this platform exactly?
Twitch is a platform where content creators can interact live with an audience on any topic they’re interested in. Many Twitch streamers, including myself, play video games where people can sit back and watch them play, or chat directly to the gamer. I also run live coding sessions where I write code or solve challenges; and host ‘Ask Mish Anything’ (AMA) sessions every Wednesday night at 7pm AEST. People come onto the channel and ask questions around working from home, how to get into Twitch streaming, games to play right now, how to start a business, how to find co-founders, what is a hackathon, how the Australian tax system works, and tonnes more topics. So definitely drop by and say “hi”, ask a question, or just listen in on other people’s questions and learn from the answers!
Discover Twitch co-founder Kevin Lin’s take on the future of streaming and online engagement here.
Tell us more about your latest venture, Raine Scooters.
Raine Scooters is a high powered, safe ,and really stylish looking electric scooter which is available to preorder right now. We’re also running an online competition until 30 June 2020 where we’re giving away 2 e-scooters to literally anyone in the world aged 18 years or over.
When my co-founders and I first started, we looked at the market to see what was missing, and took a human-centred design approach to find out what people didn’t like about commuting to work. Our scooter is very much built around convenience, so we made it lightweight and foldable so that you can take in on a tram with you or store it under your desk at work. The scooter also has a built-in locking function, cool lights, and a superior suspension system that makes for a smoother ride in cities like Melbourne where there are tram tracks and cobblestones everywhere.
I think it’s safe to say you have a finger in every pie. How do you stay on top of everything?
Really good time management. If you look at my Outlook calendars, everything is colour-coded and in order. You need to put everything in your calendar – even your downtime. If you want to catch up with friends or watch a movie or do some cleaning, put that in the calendar because if it’s in there, you’ll do it.
Another one is having lots of self-motivation, which isn’t something you can teach. Different things motivate different people, so you have to figure that out for yourself: what do you want to achieve? What are you passionate about? What gets you out of bed every morning? You need a reason for doing things, and it’s got to be better than ‘I want to be rich and famous like Mark Zuckerberg,’ because that won’t get you through the tough times or the long nights.
Once you’ve nailed down what drives you, you need to find a way of reaching and maintaining that peak level of motivation. I do this by setting goals in every – and I mean every – aspect of my life: my career, my physical and mental health, my emotional state, my finances, what I want to learn and acquire in terms of knowledge, etc. I then prioritise them and go from there. Even though I didn’t always know what outcome I wanted growing up, I knew what I wanted to achieve in the process.
Do you ever feel overwhelmed? How do you deal with that?
Yeah, there are definitely days when I’m just thinking about getting to the end of the week. I’m not superwoman, although I used to feel like I was. Trying to be invincible and working until all hours of the night is very glorified in startup land. It’s like, “Oh you got 6 hours of sleep? I only got 4 hours therefore I’m doing more than you and I’m awesome.” But the reality is that it’s not awesome, and you’ll crash and burn if you think that way. If you’re a small business owner, especially, you risk pulling everyone down with you too. So whenever I get overwhelmed, I just take a deep breath, take a step back, and prioritise. I’m also learning to delegate and say “no”, which is probably my biggest takeaway from all this, but also one of the hardest things in the world when you’re someone who likes to keep everyone happy.
Do you have any advice for the next generation of women in tech?
As a country girl, I never really experienced discrimination until I hit the startup community. Business, tech, video gaming, esports, electric vehicles – they’re all super male-dominated spaces. There’s a lot of trash talk involved in online gaming, especially, and you often get harassed if you’re a girl. I’ve been stalked on my social media and people still say inappropriate comments on my Twitch streaming. I’m not afraid to speak up, but depending on what circle I’m in, my voice won’t always be heard, so it’s good to have male colleagues around who will support you.