Startup Stories: Amy Benson, Founder & CEO of Diolog

Joining us today for Startup Stories, we have Amy, the founder & CEO of Diolog, who discusses her journey, the challenges in tech and finance, and her aspirations for Diolog.

by hao-nguyen on October 20, 2023

In today’s Startup Stories feature, we’re highlighting Amy Benson, the brains behind Diolog. Merging her experience in private equities with the tech world, she identified a communication gap in investor relations. Amy’s story revolves around identifying problems and innovating solutions. With Diolog, she’s simplifying two-way communication between businesses and their investors. Join us as Amy discusses her journey, the challenges in tech and finance, and her aspirations for Diolog.

Hey Amy, thanks for joining us today. Let’s start from your diverse background. How did your experience in private equities and communications converge, leading you to identify and address the gap in investor relations?

Before I got into startups, I worked in a private equities firm as a Digital Strategy Director. We had clients spanning a wide range of industries and I got to wear a lot of hats. I helped create websites, manage social media, led investor communications, create pitch decks and marketing channel strategies – the list goes on.

However, there was one common thread running throughout these projects that caught my attention almost immediately, and that was that two-way communication is the key ingredient for success. In fact, it’s the building blocks for relationships, successful deals and everything in between.

I soon realised that  investor relations isn’t often a two-way discussion. Big, listed companies present large amounts of information in their annual reports and at AGMs, but often don’t have an easy way to get feedback or queries from all of their shareholders. I knew that empowering companies to scale two-way communication would benefit the ecosystem as a whole, and wanted to find a way to make this happen between investors and the companies they invest in.

You’ve noted that annual general meetings are becoming obsolete for effective investor communications. Can you dive a bit deeper into the core issues you saw there and what inspired the birth of Diolog?

The biggest issue is that it should be as easy to communicate with the companies you invest in as it is to buy shares in them – but it isn’t. A big reason for this is that the investor relations industry hasn’t changed for decades.

It’s slow moving and follows the one-way communication pattern of pushing out information through market releases, annual reports and AGMs, without investors having the accessibility to respond or seek clarification. It’s the way it’s worked at least since the ASX opened in the 1980s, but really, it’s remained pretty much the same for over a hundred years.

Almost every other industry has used technology to make it easier for people to communicate, but investor relations has been lagging behind. It’s not easy for everyone to attend an AGM, and we see a large information accessibility discrepancy between large institutional shareholders and retail shareholders.

But as a result, companies are also struggling from damaged investor relationships. Without two-way communication, they don’t get to access valuable satisfaction indications from their investors, and they also have to spend a lot of time responding to investors who do reach out, ensuring they avoid any mixed messaging.

With Diolog, investors can use a free mobile app to ask questions about the companies they invest in, and businesses can use this web-based platform to answer questions in a time-saving, streamlined way

With Diolog’s introduction as the world’s first two-way investor communication software, what tangible changes or shifts have you observed in the way public companies engage with their shareholders?

It’s early days, but we’re thrilled to be seeing an uptick in interest from companies who are prioritising consistent, transparent communication with investors  – especially in today’s economic climate. Communication allows investors to feel more confident in the investments they are making, and in return, companies get insight into what their shareholders want.

In a world where almost every other industry has harnessed technology to make things easier and more convenient for the end user, the archaic investor relations space has damaged investors relationships and is seriously eroding confidence by not keeping up.

The feedback from the businesses currently using Diolog has been unanimous in that they’ve seen an increase in investor engagement and positive sentiment across the board. We’re also hearing from company directors that they are getting much more valuable insights from their shareholders which is having a tangible impact on their decision making.

The statistic that 2 out of 3 Australian investors don’t trust the companies they invest in is staggering. How does Diolog aim to rebuild and foster that trust?

This lack of trust is a direct result of outdated investor relations processes that don’t allow two-way communication. How can you trust something you can’t access? Think of it this way, if you invested money in a small business but were not able to access any information on how it was performing, would you trust the people running it?

Public companies are obviously subject to stringent disclosure rules and have far more investors than a small business, but the same principles of trust and communication apply, and the challenges of scale and regulations can be solved with technology.

Our goal is to rebuild that trust by removing the barriers. From time to location to accessibility, these barriers are especially hard to navigate when you’re a new investor who isn’t completely confident in navigating the system. By allowing people to access the information they need through an app, we’re bridging what has become a pretty chasmic gap between everyday investors and public companies.

The added bonus of that is that a  confident investor is likely to hold on to their shares for longer, and they are also far more likely to invest further in that company. That eventually translates to an uptick in the company’s share price.

The tech and finance worlds, especially investor relations, have traditionally been male-dominated sectors. How have you navigated the challenges and stereotypes associated with being a female leader in this space?

It’s true that the finance and tech spaces have been male dominated for a long time – and still are today – but this is changing. Women now have a lot more role models in their networks to lean on to help them navigate these spaces. There’s still a long way to go, but I am confident things are headed in the right direction. Personally, I’ve definitely had to lean on some mentors and role models for advice, especially when it comes to leadership.

Everyone needs to create their own leadership style, and as a woman there’s always added pressure. What works for me is to stay away from strict hierarchy but to make sure there’s a very strong culture of giving and receiving constructive feedback. I also constantly look for ways to inspire myself and our team.

You can either work in the business or you can work on the business. I think one of the biggest goals of a startup founder is to be able to inspire your team and bring the mission to a forefront. You’re trying to inspire your team to achieve this vision that you have. That is one of my biggest goals.

For those budding entrepreneurs who might be listening, especially women looking to break into tech or finance, what nuggets of wisdom or pieces of advice can you share from your journey?

The best advice I can give is to concentrate on identifying the problem you’re trying to solve. You have to be able to articulate clearly because if you can make someone visualise a problem, they’ll understand that there is a gap in the market.

This is so essential when it comes to pitching. Dial this up when articulating your vision – if you demonstrate a clear understanding of the problem, other people – especially investors – will believe you can solve it.

The other advice I’d give is to keep that fire burning. Without your drive and determination to reach your end goal, you’re not going to make it – that’s the harsh reality. Setbacks are inevitable. Worries and nerves are inevitable.

But happiness and success will also be inevitable if you can maintain that motivation and passion. Rome wasn’t built in a day, but it was the bricks laid consistently every day that made it come to life.

How do you ensure you stay ahead of the curve in an industry that’s rapidly evolving? Are there any resources or practices you swear by?

Networking is a big one. No one can stay on top of every single development on their own – you need a solid network you can tap for advice. Your contacts can also act as a sounding board for new ideas and honest feedback is critical.

Finally, if you had to describe the legacy or impact you hope Diolog will have on the world of investor relations in a few words, what would they be?

I believe Diolog will create better market communication, and better relationships between investors and businesses. We’ll set a new bar by bridging the accessibility gap for retail investors who lack the ability to attend company meetings, navigate complicated investor portals and understand lengthy announcement lists on the ASX.

We’ll also provide companies with the tools they need to scale effective two-way communications by boosting engagement, increasing satisfaction and saving board members valuable time during earnings season and beyond.

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