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“Not everyone is going to like you – and that’s fine. In fact: “Embrace it!”

An alumni life: Maud Millar (Clare 2007) swaps opera for operating systems to launch a revision app for students.

- 4 minute read
Maud Millar

“It’s so important that students think about the impact they want to have – rather than what job they want,” says Maud Millar (Clare 2007), CEO of productivity tech company Adapt. “A generation ago, you’d leave university, join a graduate training scheme and that would be it. But this generation has moved between different careers, and there’s more freedom if you don’t get bogged down at the point you leave university.”

Millar certainly didn’t have a career in mind when she graduated. After leaving Cambridge, she became a professional opera singer. “I didn’t know what else I wanted to do,” she remembers. “To be honest, I think I did it because it was something I could do, and everyone told me I should do – even though it wasn’t my passion.” However, the uncertain, peripatetic life wasn’t for her, so she took what she loved about singing – communicating with people, inspiring them to love music – and applied for the Teach First programme.

Being thrown in at the deep end as an English teacher was, she says, “thrilling” for the first two years. But she wanted to widen her impact beyond the classroom. Working for a startup providing content to A Level and GCSE students, she quickly realised that what students needed wasn’t more content, but a way to organise that content. So Millar founded productivity app Adapt, which creates smart revision timetables for exam students. The app launched in January 2020 – and was downloaded 100,000 times before the pandemic hit and all exams were cancelled.

But Millar kept the business going. Now, Adapt is used by more than 60,000 students in 5,000 schools around the world – and numbers are growing all the time. For the past two years, she’s been using her expertise to help students at Fitzwilliam prepare for the Fitzelerate student entrepreneurship competition. “I work with them on how to get business-ready, how to raise money and how to start a business.”

Her advice for graduates? Not everyone is going to like you – and that’s fine. In fact: “Embrace it!” she says.

“Women can be very hung up on making everyone like them. As an entrepreneur – and as a teacher as well – if I’d spent too much time worrying about whether the students like me or whether the board likes me or whether the investors like me, I’d never get anything done.

“You can get fixated on being perceived in a certain way, and that just doesn’t matter. Find people that you like and have a small circle of trusted confidants – and screw the rest of the world!”

Everyone should consider doing Teach First, Millar says: it’s a way of giving back to an education system that you have benefited from as well as an incredible career developer. “When you leave university, education is one of the only things you know how to do. You’ve done it relatively recently. You understand young people. You can make a difference to them.

“I saw so many floppy-haired new grads, still in student mode and who were always late at the start of term, absolutely transformed in the few short weeks it took to get to Christmas – they were there bang on time with their suits and their marking data packs! If you’re struggling to know what to do, my advice would be to try teaching for a couple of years. You will gain a wealth of skills and do something genuinely transformative.”

A Cambridge degree, she points out, can give you the confidence to believe in yourself and your ideas. “There are not many female tech CEOs, but I don’t tend to think of myself as being particularly female or feminine. Cambridge empowers you to be an independent worker and an independent learner, and to believe that you have the capacity to do the things that you might not necessarily have been told throughout your childhood that you were able to do. It’s a very special thing.”

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