An Interview with Girl Shaped Flames Founder: Tanya Meessmann

GUEST POST: by Holly Smith

It’s very nice to meet you all. My name’s Holly and I am a year 11 (going into year 12) high school student and long-time Girl Shaped Flame. I first went to a Girl Shaped Flames event in the 2017-18 Christmas Holidays and learnt more about the world of Women in Tech than I could have ever imagined. Since that day, I have been to networking, Sports and the CEO series events where I have had the most fun and connected with some awesome and inspiring women.

Each of these events had so much information and I learnt so many new skills but the one thing I never truly got to hear the whole story of was the journey of Girl Shaped Flames as a business. I was curious about the journey that Girl Shaped flames has been on so I sat down with the Founder, Tanya Meessmann, to ask her a few questions and this is what she had to say.

Can you tell us a bit about your background?

I grew up in Yeppoon, a small coastal town in Queensland, where I lived until university. I got a scholarship to Bond University where I started an IT degree but quickly transferred to a Bachelor of Business Communications, Majoring in Marketing and Advertising. As soon as I took Film Making 101 as one of my electives, I knew that it was what I was going to do for the rest of my life. I stuck with advertising though, and was selected as 1 of 10 people across Australia and New Zealand to participate in the DDB graduate program and was later hired onto one of their biggest accounts.

After three years of working in advertising, I got fed up with 16-hour days as a 22-year-old, and so, one lunch time as I was walking through Kings Cross, I walked into Flight Centre and booked a one-way ticket to London. There I was, headed to the UK where I would eventually spend 7 years of my life. It was after a couple years in London that I finally met a film producer who encouraged me to move into film production. I thought, ‘Why not?’ and flew to Belfast, not knowing anyone, and 6-weeks later I was hired as a Production Manager on a feature film with virtually no film experience, save for my own short film, and a passion for film-making.

It was very much a ‘learn as you go,’ position and that’s exactly what I did. I eventually moved back to Sydney with my now Husband, finished working in film and then to Queensland to start my family.

Have you always been interested and dedicated to empowering and inspiring young women to fuel, or ignite, the flame within themselves?

You could say that I have been, I just wasn’t always aware of it. I never realised it, but I guess that looking back now, I have just always been a champion for people, women in particular. I would always find myself being the one saying “Of course you will!” when anyone around me, especially my friends, would be doubting themselves or saying that they couldn’t do something. I have found that I very much believe in everyone’s innate capability and that 99% of all people, particularly girls and women, don’t truly understand what they’re actually capable of. Basically, the short answer is yes. Yes, empowering people, especially women, has always been part of who I am.

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Was there an exact moment where you came up with the idea of Girl Shaped Flames??

Yes. There was. It’s like one of those scenes in the movies where everything kind of just hits you.  I was in a dog park, in the afternoon, with the sun setting in amongst the gum trees and it was peaceful. I was thinking about my executive assistant from the production company I had been at, and also my new assistant at the company I was working at now, and how I had been mentoring and guiding them. I had a sudden thought and it was that: I wished I could take these girls away from their lives for 4 days, to take the time to look inside themselves to find what it is that makes them who they are. The things we like, the things we don’t, what we’re good at, the things we aren’t and what we want. The idea was that I would take these girls and help them to figure out what they wanted from their life and start building their confidence to reach their goals.

It was at this moment, sitting on a park bench, where I knew that I was going to help girls to get more prepared to take on the world and become the most awesome, powerful version of themselves they can be.

Why did you start Girl Shapes Flames?

I did it because I believe in the innate ability of girls and women and I believe that in order to equip any girl to be able to reach her full potential we have to start as early as we can. I wanted to give girls in their teenage years, as they are forming their understanding of self, as many opportunities to develop this sense of self so that they can have a really clear understanding of their own capabilities. I also did it to challenge and push girls to get outside their comfort zone and allow them to discover what they’re actually made of.

How did the logo of Girl Shaped Flames come about? What does this symbol mean to you?

The moment that the idea for what would become Girl Shaped Flames, the name FUEL also hit me and I knew that it could not be called anything else. When I went to register it as FUEL, I couldn’t (due to various boring reasons!) and so I was left needing to find a name that conveyed the power and strength that I was looking for. I started playing with words and ultimately came up with Girl Shaped Flames.

I then briefed a logo designer with the name FUEL and I said that I wanted a flame integrated into the design. It had to be feminine and have a flame involved, and after going back and forth, a guy (ironically) came up with using the ‘U’ in ‘FUEL’ as a flame. From there, we worked on the face inside and making it feminine and also ensuring that the flame was sharp, bold and powerful and truly represented the strength of the flame we were talking about.

It represents the fire that is inside everyone, whether it be a tiny flame or a raging inferno, and how this fire, when fuelled, can empower and give the courage and determination to follow your dreams.

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Over the last 18 months, what have been some of the biggest milestones for you and GSF?

My gosh, it feels like such a long journey. I would have to say that I am really proud of everything that we executed at the Brisbane Powerhouse. I am very hard on myself when it comes to expectations and I had set an incredibly impossible target. I had given birth to my second son the week that we launched the website and then three weeks later, we opened bookings to the 12 x Powerhouse events. It was like everything was happening at once and being able to be on stage with Stephanie Rice with a ten-week-old baby is something that I am extremely proud of.

One of the biggest milestone’s asides from the suite of events we held at the Brisbane Powerhouse would have to be when CQUniversity came onboard as one of the first ever sponsors. They sponsored the three Feed the Beast talks at the Powerhouse but since then have stayed on board and done so much more for me over the last twelve months. I’m very proud to have their faith in me and the purpose of Girl Shaped Flames.

There’s lots of little moments that I am super proud and thankful for everything that Girl Shaped Flames has become but in the end, it boils down to why I’m doing this and the effect that it has one people’s lives. At the end of each event, I ask for feedback and reading what the girls have to say and how much the event has impacted on them, it really makes what I’m doing worthwhile and to know that these days are life-changing for some people, I couldn’t be happier about everything we’ve done.

What are some of the struggles that you have faced in creating GSF? Have there been any boundaries that you have had to overcome?

This might sound a little boring but honestly, it has been money and resources. The emotional layering and impact that these things have had is more than anyone could have predicted.

As much experience as I have in regards to my career, I don’t have typical business experience, so when I started this, I didn’t know how it worked to run a business. As a result, I didn’t go about things in a way that was going to make sure I was able to secure financial stability for myself and my family. At the time, I was ok with it because it was for a great cause, but the naivety that came with this mindset had great personal and financial costs.

From the resources point of view, it sucks to be working 100-hour weeks, even if you love what you do. I don’t mind working 100-hour weeks as I am a complete workaholic, but I have a family and, it’s hard to understand when you don’t have kids, but working these hours, I certainly felt that it was compromising my time and my relationships within my family.

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Why do you feel the events that you host where extraordinary women connect with amazing teens are so successful? What is it that you hope those attending get out of it?

I really, truly believe that the reason that each of the events are successful is because I approach them with two pillars in mind. Those pillars are that I have to make it experiential, so you have to physically be there, and that it has to be intimate, and by this, I mean that the events are capped at 60 girls to ensure that those who attend don’t just feel like one in a million. As well as this, I try to make sure that they are as interactive as possible, like when we have the Q&A’s, it’s not me asking the questions, it’s the girls in the audience. At the end of the day, I want to connect teenage girls with amazing women and give them the opportunity to ask whatever questions that they wouldn’t normally be able to ask.

How is it that you meet all the amazing women that you are able to connect teenage girls with?

My life motto is ‘If you don’t ask, the answer is no,’ and I stand by this motto in that I literally call them to ask if they want to be involved. I either ask girls who they want to come to the events or I do some research myself and I just call them, email them or I get someone who knows them to introduce me. To date, we have had 56 women involved so far but I have approached many more than that to find out their availability and I have only ever had one woman say no. Every woman that I have spoken to has said an unequivocal and immediate ‘yes.’ These women, who do remarkable things and want to help teenage girls are out there, but I want to be the one who helps facilitate the conversations between them and the girls.

Who do you have working behind the scenes for you?

Early on it was just myself and a marketing assistant Ellie, who played such an enormous role in creating the visual side of the brand. But from January this year she was poached into a great role at UQ Sport (grrr!) so I ran things on my own for most of this year. But 2019 is shaping up to be massive so I’ve expanded the team in the past couple of months which now consists of: Hayley, our events coordinator, Ashley, our social media copywriter, Holly (you!), another social media contributor, Kelly, my old executive assistant who helps out at Events, Samia, a marketing consultant and Digital8, the awesome website company that helped redesign our GSF.Connect video portal.

At every event, I also have a variety of volunteers who are occasionally friends of mine, mums of Girl Shaped Flames or Girl Shaped Flames themselves. I am so thankful for the team of people that I have working with me!!

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Where do you see Girl Shaped Flames going in the future?

My vision is to eventually have a national organisation of Girl Shaped Flames. Going into 2019 and changing the structure of things has created for a more formalised experience where girls register to become a Girl Shaped Flame and in becoming one they get access to a whole suite of resources, are invited to company excursions and can meet other like-minded girls and Extraordinary Women who work in their desired industry. We’re piloting this in Brisbane in 2019 but I hope to roll it out across regional Queensland and eventually in Sydney, Melbourne and Perth. Ideally, in 5 years’ time, I would like to have a national presence where we have Girl Shaped Flames everywhere!

I’m also very excited about the prospect of an alumni network. This would be made up of girls who have been Girl Shaped Flames who have graduated and gone on to live their lives but have still stayed in touch so that they one day can come back and work with the younger girls.

What is your ultimate dream for the impact that the events will have on girls?

I want the experience of being a Girl Shaped Flame to be something that helps each girl develop a better, more confident understanding of herself and also to find the courage and determination to pursue whatever it is that she wants for herself and the future. By building my own confidence and self-understanding from a young age, I’ve had the opportunity to live an awesome, adventurous, courageous life to date, and I my dream is to empower all girls to be able to life their awesome lives.

So, there you have it! An insight into what you know as Girl Shaped Flames and its journey as a business.

Holly.

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