Exclusive Trusted Magazine Q&A with Jaanika Merilo
How could you describe your career path in a few words?
My career path has always been driven by a wish to at least a little bit change the world, but I think it's the driving dream of many IT professionals - to make a change for the better. I started as a programmer, shifted to management, then worked in the investment sector and moved to manage VC and private equity funds while preaching e-government and digital transformation. From 2015 I have had an amazing chance to be part of the digitalization of Ukraine in cities and in government level, while believing in the future of startups. And this is where my career path has taken me - I have a chance to be part of transforming Ukraine into one of the coolest e-countries being the Advisor to Minister of Digital transformation and in ELEKS, while daily working in a really amazing marketplace for investors and startups Funderbeam.
What was your most challenging experience, and has it changed your mindset?
I love challenges, and every workplace for me is a new challenge, going out of my comfort zone, knowing that I will make it and I will learn a lot down the road. Definitely, I never ever imagined myself working closely with the government as the government for me is about bureaucracy, not about making things happen. But turned out that I was totally wrong as all my experiences with two Ministers of Infrastructure, mayors of Dnipro and Lviv and Minister of Digital transformation of Ukraine have been unbelievable. It turns out that when there is a will, there is a way, and things happen as fast as you can make them happen, putting even more pressure on yourself. Imagine a city with zero e-services, registries, or digital solutions and your goal is to become the best in 2-3 years. When we were nominated as an example of the Digital Transformation of city in World Smart City Expo few years later, it was unbelievable.
Now the next challenging experience is definitely Fundream. I know that we have the best tech solution for investor syndication, fundraising, and secondaries as well as the strongest team. Now we just have to expand to new markets and fast so that any angel and early stage would know our brand.
But it has made me extremely self-critical, always wanting to be better and become better and show the best results.
What’s the key success factor for a female entrepreneur in a cross-cultural context based on your experience?
I was born to several cultures, with my mother being Estonian and my father Ukrainian, and we used to speak 3 languages daily. In my life, I have worked in Estonia, Finland, and Ukraine and less time in several other countries. Of course, there are cultural differences, but there are some simple qualities that matter in every culture, like being very hardworking, keeping your word, and being respectful to local culture and values. You have to understand that every culture is very different, and it is important to understand and respect cultural differences, not to “come to a foreign church with your testament” as Ukrainians say. You just have to be value-adding, consider the local context, and never take anything for granted. I think these qualities matter for men as well as female entrepreneurs.
Based on your experience, what’s the key success factor for a female leader/manager?
I'm afraid that female leaders, managers, and professionals have to be just so much better than men in the same roles. Meaning work even harder, prove even more, be even more professional and lead by example. And when you truly are the best, I don't think gender matters.
Bio of Jaanika
Jaanika Merilo has over 20 years of experience in IT and investment management. During these years she has worked in Estonian Development fund, investment funds MTVP and US Invest, and since 2015 has been one of the drivers of digital Ukraine. Among other nominations, Jaanika was included in 2015 by Google and Financial Times on to list of NE100 of “Innovators whose innovations change the world for better” and by USAID and UAFIC “TOP 50 Most Influential Woman in fintech” and since 2015 annually nominated in “TOP 50 Most Influential Woman in Ukraine”. Jaanika has masters from the University of Cumbria and Rome Business School.
From 2015-2021 Jaanika was the advisor to Ministers of Infrastructure of Ukraine, 2016-2020 active Deputy Mayor of Dnipro, and is since 2019 Advisor to the Vice Prime Minister - Minister of Digital Transformation of Ukraine, business angel, and Global Head of PR and Marketing in Funderbeam.