She is the new Queen of ‘Shebah’- Australia’s alternative to Uber and it’s exclusively for women and children. Georgina McEncroe has officially been in business just two months but already almost a thousand women are downloading the app each day.
A single mum with four kids ‘George’ is a teacher, cum comedian and broadcaster. She is excited (if not a little bemused) by her new title of CEO because behind this great idea was something far greater: her survival.
Shebah is a great idea but it’s hardly a natural progression from a career in teaching and comedy. What was your light bulb moment?
I already had five other jobs on the go and I needed to get a loan from the bank. Four kids, no home, no marriage, no steady income. I was driving home from my divorce lawyer and thought ‘I don’t want to drive for Uber I’m too scared! I think I’m going to have build the company I would like to drive for’.
What experience did you have in running a business?
None. This time two years ago I couldn’t even send an email with an attachment. I’m just grateful to be learning new things all the time, honestly the world of technology is amazing. Teaching and stand up comedy aren’t so different from running a business. Comedians are essentially leading the room, setting the tone, taking charge. It’s the same leadership qualities. When I get heart palpitations about what I have taken on, when I get overwhelmed, I think to myself :’ You’re just trying to put a girl in a person’s car’.
Have you faced any negative forces?
Some have said ‘That makes all men look like rapists. You’re trying to segregate the whole world.’ You have to remind people that our ride sharing is not compulsory, it’s a choice. The serious side to this is that rape and sexual assault really happens. Women are over the moon about the safer alternative Shebah offers in transport.
Which women have left an indelible mark on you ?
My best friend, Helen Durham (Director of Law at International Red Cross). She and I worked together to establish rape as a war crime. We started the Australian Committee of Investigation into War Crimes and along with five other women provided evidence and a rape screening kit that’s being used now in the Rwanda Trials. I kept Helen laughing and she turned my rage and sadness into something useful. It made me realise that you can just decide to do things. That you can, as a citizen of the world who is literate, and that’s a huge thing, read and understand how to get involved. We didn’t need to be lawyers or have an official role. That was incredibly empowering and moving. Sydney Peace Prize recipient Arundathi Roi who said to me that ‘If hardwork and ingenuity was what made millionaires, every woman in a refugee camp would be sitting in an apartment opposite Central Park’. She really got me thinking about how women are cut off from wealth and assets at an institutional level. The old Greek lady who ran the milk bar at the end of my street said to me once when one of my kids, who was four at the time was having a tantrum. ‘What you don’t like in the four year old you want in the four year old. He knows his own mind, that’s good. When your children are thirty you only want three things for them: One lover, three friends and a job they don’t hate. That is success and then you are done. I’ve never forgotten that. I had amazing English teachers and a crazy old nun at school who gave me a love of reading and literature. Female writers such as Jane Austen, Sheryl Sandberg and Caitlin Moran have had a huge influence on me.
When has life given you lemons?
The divorce. My sister dying was the hardest thing. When the shittiest things have happened it’s hard to think anything that bad can touch you again. You have to pick up the pieces and get on with it. It makes you brave.
How important are women in your life?
Women are hugely important in my life all the time. I had a beautiful grandmother. My girl tribe is there for everything. But anyone who asks me -‘Why haven’t you called?’ they have to go. I have no time for that. I lost quite a few girlfriends after the divorce, that was hard. Suddenly you’re in this weird space and you don’t get invited to places because you’re not a couple. Women need to be prepared for low maintenance- high support friendships.
What do you rely on your sisterhood for?
Their integrity, humour, intelligence and unflinching honesty.
What about their support in the creation and evolution of Shebah? I don’t think I could have done it without those friends and without a whole bunch of new women who have landed at the right time with ideas. It’s quite freaky. I’ve also reconnected with people through this business. It’s really rather lovely.
Is this the life you had imagined for yourself?
F**k no. I thought I was going to be a nun. I never thought I would find myself doing this but I’m not ungrateful for it.
With a thousand a people a day downloading the app and interest from countries such as Mexico and South Africa it appears like you have hit pay dirt.
(Laughs) I work 120 hours a week just to keep my head above water. I still teach, I still do stand up and I’m driving for Shebah every week.
What mark would you like to leave?
It’s one thing to start a business to turn one dollar into two and there is nothing wrong with that. But to really throw your heart into something where women can support each other at every age and stage. If I can set that wheel in motion and have it turn around I don’t care how fast it spins, I just want it spinning.
For more information about Shebah: www.shebah.com.au