Philippa Gee - The Roots of Brand Building

Philippa Gee is the Founder and CEO of Fatty’s Organic Spirits, and we met for coffee at Soho House to talk about how she got it off the ground! In the interview we discuss the shift in consumer demand towards more conscious consumption as well as touch on the realities of leaving the stability of your job into the unknown of your own venture and the elements required to build a modern brand. Grab a tea or a G&T and read on…

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Meet Philippa

Current Job Founder of Fatty’s Organic Spirits

First Job Glass collecting in my local pub (who now stock my gin)

Education First Class Sports Marketing Degree at University of Bath

Go to meeting spot Soho House

Necessary extravagance Travel

Favourite productivity tool A whiteboard!

Recent inspiration Stella McCartney’s desert island disc – I find what she is doing in fashion incredibly inspiring and has parallels to what I want to do for the gin industry in terms of being sustainable and environmentally friendly

What do you believe that most around you disbelieve That my nickname is Fatty!

What do you wish you could change in the world of business I wish I could come up with a thousand new gin flavours every month! Unfortunately, every single element takes such a long time to get right and to the launching stage, so I wish it didn’t take so long!

Favourite cocktail Right now it is a gin martini

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The Journey

Can you tell us more about your career before founding Fatty’s Organic Gin? What lessons have you learnt that you apply to your own business?

I’ve always been sports focused having studied it at University and subsequently spending 8 years at an international sports agency. Gin began as a passion and was a hobby of mine, it was something that allowed me to be in control and creative, however, since transitioning to full time I realise the numerous crossovers between launching a new product and my old job. It all comes down to brand building, the marketing, being public facing and crafting the messages that you want to get out there. That is what I was doing for athletes and although there is a difference between a person and a product, the process ends up being similar! So my background has actually helped a lot.

What was the best piece of advice you have been given?

Kick on

A saying from my mum. Life and business can sometimes be hard, but when it gets tough you’ve just got to get your head down and well, kick on.

How have you funded the business to date, and do you have any advice for those struggling to think about getting their venture off the ground?

The business has been bootstrapped to date since launching in November 2017. Before I left my old job, I hustled every weekend and every evening working on Fatty’s - that is when you realise there are 7 days not 5 days in a week, and there are 24 hours in a day. I can’t recommend enough the benefits of de-risking your idea and getting as far as you can before leaving the stability of your job. Of course, there comes a point where you need to spend a lot more time on the business and at that inflection point I went full time. I also advise putting a plan in place right at the beginning of your venture, but be aware it might not always go to plan! For Fatty’s I did a soft launch, where I spoke to all of my customers and made any changes I felt were right for the product. I think this step is really important before you announce yourself and your venture to the world and to investors. When you know your product inside and out and believe there is a market for it, you are in a much stronger place to grow into that market and go and get investment.

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Fatty’s Organic Gin

First off – the name! Can you explain how you came up it?

I am 5’1 and tiny. I’m the youngest of four siblings and they have called me Fatty my whole life. It is just my nickname, to the point where that’s even what I’m saved under in their phone contacts! For me it was the obvious name when I created my gin, a few doubted me, but I’m so pleased I’ve gone with it. It is also pretty different to all of the other gin names on the market and I have so many customers comment that they also have the same nickname!

Tell us about the journey that you have gone on since founding the company?

I’ve always loved and enjoyed drinking gin, it’s been my go to drink and the only thing I have ever really drunk. I was frustrated that I was aware of the quality of food I was eating and even the beauty products I was using, but with alcohol you just seemed to buy it without thinking about the ingredients. Everything in gin grows out of the soil, so if you don’t want to buy vegetables sprayed with chemicals why would you want that in your gin? Quality ingredients make a huge difference to the taste and smoothness of gin, so being organic really does make for a much better gin. Wine is leading the way in the organic alcohol industry, the same awareness in spirits isn’t there yet, but I am working on changing that!

My gin making began as a hobby and soon extended to friends and family enjoying it. I began to work with the Soil Association to access everything I needed in its certified organic form – it wasn’t easy but not impossible. Being certified 100% organic stands me apart. It is not just about organic ingredients however, Fatty’s is made in a copper pot still with no cross-contamination with anything that isn’t organic, and my packaging uses organic ink and is as sustainable and environmentally friendly as I can make it. People told me I was mad as a start-up as it certainly isn’t cheaper to go down this route, but it is the DNA of the company and so important to me.

More and more people are becoming aware of their alcohol consumption and are becoming aware of the difference drinking organic makes. Millennials are also drinking much less than any other generation and Fatty’s fits in with all these movements, our ethos is drink less, but drink better.

We have an exciting new product launching early 2019 that is going to appeal to a whole new audience of gin drinkers, which I am super excited about. More details to come soon!

Can you talk us through your thought process and what goes in to the final product and details of building a brand?

The physical product came naturally to me but the branding was much harder. I worked closely with my brother who is a graphic designer who helped me with colours and fonts. Be prepared to spend hours with pantone books! Instagram has been a fantastic tool to extend the brand beyond the bottle and the gin – I can put my message out there and educate consumers on why Fatty’s Organic Gin is different and unique.

What is your vision for the company?

I want to be known as the best organic spirits company. I am the cleanest and best you can drink!

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Women In Business

What advice would you share with women in the early stages or thinking about launching their own venture?

It is a tough personal journey; try and surround yourself with people who are actually in a position to help you. Ideally individuals who have been in your position and have time to have a conversation and help you navigate the integral issues you face. Equally, keep that group small as you don’t want to be over advised and lose your gut instincts about your business.

What personal qualities do you attribute most to your success?

Stubbornness - once I make a decision I know that’s what I am working towards and I won’t stop.

Emily Bendell - Self Expression & Indulgence!

Emily is the Founder of Bluebella, a lingerie, nightwear and swimwear brand. She founded the brand in 2005 believing that lingerie should be a fashion crossover style and personal self-indulgence. In this interview she talks about the journey to achieving that mission, the pivots she undertook and the highs and lows of being an entrepreneur. 

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Meet Emily

Current Job CEO, Bluebella

First Job I had lots of ‘businesses’ on the go from quite a young age but I was first formally employed as a Saturday girl in a clothing store aged 16

Education Graduate - PPE, Oxford

Go to meeting spot Charlotte Street Hotel’s lounge & library

Necessary extravagance Far too expensive skincare products

Favourite productivity tool  It might sound odd – but the snipping tool!  When I discovered it really made a different because I am constantly explaining by mail things about product or images etc and it allowed me a much faster way to show what I meant than sending full images.

Recent inspiration We have just finalised our SS19 collection which was inspired by the meeting of strength and soft. This idea emerged from female leaders that have inspired us and from some of my favourite designers such as McQueen who have executed this so perfectly. We have combined strong design details such as strapping with the most beautiful whimsical fabrics – the idea is that femininity and strength go beautifully together and neither need be compromised to achieve the other.

What do you believe that most around you disbelieve That there is always a way to make something happen, without sounding too cheesy ‘anything is possible!’

What do you wish you could change in the world of fashion and business The driving of price downwards by far too much discounting and the corresponding lack of appreciation of what goes into a beautiful product



The Journey

You began your career in law, so tell us what was the inspiration behind launching Bluebella? 

I have always loved lingerie but couldn’t find what myself and my friends wanted. I felt that lingerie had evolved beyond the traditional ‘sexy or functional’ categories and wanted something contemporary, fashion led and also affordable. So I decided to give it a go!

What is the best piece of advice that you have received and by whom? 

My father told me that the definition of an entrepreneur is someone that has the ability to constantly fall over and get up again. The advice is that it doesn’t matter if things go wrong, just get up and sort it and get on with it. This helped me understand that problems are not a problem but a lack of creativity in solving them is. 

For those that do not know, can you tell us in your own words, what Bluebella is and what is different about the company compared to other lingerie brands? 

Bluebella is a fashion lingerie brand with a very contemporary and independent design aesthetic and ethos. Our customer’s attitude to lingerie is very different to how the traditional brands understand the market – lingerie for the Bluebella girl is a self-expression, a self-purchase and a fashion crossover purchase.   


Bluebella is also very well known because of the collaboration you did with Fifty Shades of Grey - can you tell us the story of how that came about? 

We pitched our creative concepts to the author, Erica, who is a London lady and very supportive of women in business. We felt well placed to create product that reflected the story of a billionaire lifestyle with the affordability to suit the mass market appeal of the book. Happily she agreed!




Tell us about the journey that you have gone on since founding the company and the highs and lows and major milestones? 

The business has had a few iterations as the market developed – we started in direct home selling and worked in licensing before structuring the business in its current form with ecommerce and wholesale.  There have been many highs and lows as transitioning the business from the original sales channel was not easy. I had to evolve the team and also take our investors on the journey too.


Tell us about how you approached investment and what your thinking was when accepting capital from Lovehoney and Addidi? 

We were growing quickly and needed to invest in infrastructure and stock. I wanted supportive investors that understood what I was trying to do and add value beyond cash.

More and more brands begin online, however, Bluebella intentionally focused on offline direct selling for quite some time in the beginning. What did this teach you and what advice do you have for businesses thinking about this channel? 

Direct selling gave us invaluable direct contact with our sales agents and end customer and that direct feedback – both good and bad - really helped shape the brand and gave us a strong competitive edge. The direct selling channel now is more challenging than it was – direct selling used to be the way women shopped from the comfort of the home with a glass of wine in hand – but the rise of ecommerce means they can now do this any night of the week so direct selling as a channel has taken a hit.

Tell us about expanding into wholesale and what prompted that decision? 

In today’s retail environment I believe you need to make your product accessible to customers in a multitude of ways.  Some customers will come to us direct but some want to buy in a few clicks at their regular retailer where they already have an account. 

What is your vision for the company? 

I want Bluebella to be the go-to brand globally for modern, spirited, confident woman that love lingerie – and I want to bring everyone’s view of lingerie round to match ours – that lingerie is a personal self-indulgence that should reflect the wearer’s style and personality and is not something to be dressed up in for someone else.


Women in Business

In your opinion, and it is of course multivariate, but what do women need to do more of to push themselves forward in the workplace? 

The same as what men need to do – work hard, be smart, have a good attitude, always strive to progress, and take opportunities.

What advice would you share with women in the early stages or thinking about launching their own venture? 

If you can, test the concept as fully as you can before you give up too much. I researched the business whilst still in my previous job and then ‘road tested’ the idea before fully committing to it and this gave me the confidence to really throw myself in.


What advice would you give to those seeking investment? 

Taking investment is like a marriage – and you would not marry someone that didn’t share the same hopes and dreams as you, that understood you.  I would caution against taking on investment from anyone you had reservations about.  Do your homework and trust your instincts.  

What personal qualities to you attribute most to your success? 

Tenacity. I am probably a good overall general manager and enjoy both the creative and business side of my role -  but the main thing is that I have stuck with it!

Anabel Maldonado - Teaching us the Psychology of Fashion!

Anabel and I met for breakfast at Aster in Victoria, for some much needed caffeine to set up for the day ahead. Anabel has recently launched her own venture, The Psychology of Fashion, after an incredibly rich and diverse career traversing research, healthcare, fashion and journalism. After being uninspired by much of the fashion content being published, finding it either too derivative or without substance, or both, she decided to combine her two modus operandi, psychology and fashion, and create a basis for a fashion psychology framework to help people understand their “style sense of self” in order to make better choices and enjoy more authentic styling in line with who they are and how they want to feel. My impression of Anabel is that she is a founder with an incredible sense of self, off-the-charts authenticity and a huge amount of grit, elegance and intellect - a powerful combination if you ask me, so watch this space as she builds her brand and a new frontier in fashion. 


Meet Anabel

Current Job Founder, The Psychology of Fashion. Fashion Journalist. Luxury Brand Consultant.

First Job Research Assistant

Education BSc in Psychology from York University, Toronto.

Go-to meeting spot The lobby at the Bulgari Hotel, it smells amazing, they have plush couches, dark walls, and a nice fireplace.

Necessary extravagance Ubers and ginger shots.

Favourite productivity tool I tend to make my to-do list in an email draft addressed to myself. It works well as it’s hard to ignore.

Favourite book The Power of Now. If you want to read one life-changing book, make it that one.

Recent inspiration The book I’m reading now, The Subtle Art of Not Giving A F*ck. This is another game-changer. It’s been out for a while and I’m a bit late to the party reading it, but I am so grateful that I picked it up. It’s a very counterintuitive approach to life success, and it has profoundly changed my mindset.

What do you believe that most around you disbelieve I believe that you can actually have whatever you truly want. I am very led by the Henry Ford quote: “whether you think you can, or think you can’t, you’re right”. It illustrates that without a doubt, our thoughts clearly shape our lives, and I don’t think most people really do believe that. It’s always easier to blame something outside yourself - other people, the market, circumstance, politics, your family, or the past – rather than to take responsibility for doing what you need to do to stay resilient. But it’s up to you, and nothing is impossible.

What do you wish you could change in the world of fashion I wish the industry could operate like a real meritocracy. There’s still a lot of nepotism and status games. What often isn't talked about is that wealth is also a huge barrier to entering the fashion industry, which further prevents it from being a meritocracy. Many talented people can’t afford to take the endless unpaid internships required, and then survive on years of minimum wage. If you don’t have a safety net, it’s extremely difficult, and many talented people abandon it in the early stages for this reason. As a result, we end up with a handful of people who are only in their positions because they could afford to go through that process, but not because they’re particularly skilled.

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The Journey

You began your career in health and diagnostics in particular, after you had graduated with a degree in Psychology, and a focus on Neurobiology. Tell us why this was your entry point, what you learnt whilst at the NHS?

Motivated by generally wanting to help others fulfil their potential, I started out wanting to be an elementary schoolteacher and after an Intro to Psychology class we had to take as part of that programme, I fell in love with the science of behaviour. Understanding what drives the actions of others and how we can change our programmed behaviour is such a key part of learning how to motivate others. In London at the NHS, I ended up working in a team that carried out developmental assessment and treatment to children under five. There was a lot more paperwork than there was the clinical work I was seeking in that job, and I didn’t feel I was making a difference on a grand scale. I also couldn’t deny that I liked fashion a lot more than the average person and cared way more about apostrophes and synonyms than the average person, so I thought I’d stay in London a little while longer, and see what happens with fashion writing. The rest happened fairly organically.

When you left, did you ever think you would be returning to your roots of psychology? 

The funny thing is, there’s a quote by Oscar Wilde that says “It is what you read when you don't have to, that determines what you will be when you can't help it.” When I was at the NHS, I was always reading about fashion and trolling Tumblrs, and when I entered fashion, I was missing the world of research, academia and always kept up to date with the latest in neuroscience. I also felt there was not much intellectual fashion content out there, so I suppose it was fate that I return, or rather, fuse the two.

You then embarked on a long tenure within predominantly fashion journalism, spending time at the Mail on Sunday, Marie Claire, publishing, then as an editor within e-commerce at CoutureLab, before going freelance, working with brands and also becoming an Op-Ed writer. Can you share some details about that journey, perhaps demystifying some of the roles and outputs that you were responsible for, what skillsets a good editor needs and how you made the jump from health research to fashion journalism? 

I made the jump from health to fashion with classic North American tenacity, what some Brits may consider ‘pushy’. I say this, as because it’s crucial to know that if you want to make it in fashion, you can’t be a wallflower.

I had no connections whatsoever, but I made them. While I was still at the NHS, I was reading a Marie Claire magazine that announced they were running a mentorship programme, where the Editor-in-Chief, Trish Halpin, was offering herself to mentor anyone wanting to be an editor. I decided to enter and thought that if I were to win, then it would be a sign that fashion journalism was the right direction to go in. The application was a simple online form asking to outline your motivations in 100 words or under, but I really went to town on mine. I produced an actual magazine with laminated pages, and filled it with various content I had created, even my own style shots. I had it bound, packed it into nice stationery, I think I even had someone write the names in calligraphy on the envelope, and I hand-delivered it to Marie Claire. I thought if that didn’t stand out, I don’t know what will. And it worked, and it was my sign, and Trish was so wonderful and reassuring. I then got my Mail on Sunday internship by accosting an editor at Whole Foods.

A really good editor needs to be gifted in both the visual and verbal - which is rare. Creating sexy editorials and having slick art direction is great, but strong literacy and being in touch with the zeitgeist is equally important. When one area is lacking, it becomes evident in the content.

There are two ongoing myths about working in fashion editorial. That it’s always sexy and glamorous. And that it’s not really that sexy and glamorous. I’d say it slides between both extremes. There’s a lot of blood, sweat, tears, frustrations and doing lots of tasks the average person would never do, but then there are also extraordinary pay-offs.

Can you shed some light on what it is like to work freelance? What was the motivation behind that and what were some of the highlights and drawbacks? 

It happened naturally as I tend to work better alone and I like to use my time efficiently instead of sitting in those two-hour meetings that could have been emails. I also had a lot of requests from emerging luxury brands for consulting on everything from copy to product development, and they were based in different parts of the world so working for myself made sense. The highlight is being responsible for your own schedule, being able to work from anywhere, and working with a variety of different people. The drawback is definitely the daily isolation. You know when you’re ruminating on a negative thought because you’ve had too much time to think, but then you have a funny chat with people at the office and your mood lifts? Freelancers don’t have that. You're kind of stuck with yourself.

You have worked with Carmen Busquets for several years. How did you meet Carmen and what have you learnt from her these past few years? 

I met Carmen when I started my role as market editor at CoutureLab. I remember the first day that she came into the office - she was such a paradox – in this fierce all-black Alaia and McQueen outfit, but so warm and unfiltered, like a child. I’ve learned many things from her over the years, but I think the most important is the value of self-love, staying independent, and nurturing the relationship you have with yourself above all.

What does it mean to be a luxury brand today? 

To be luxury, you have to offer something that is scarce – not easily found. It means that you as a brand stand for something specific, that resonates deeply with people, and that speaks to the most elevated parts of themselves. It’s not about heritage or craftsmanship or design details alone. It’s about whether you have a real, rare and relevant identity that engages the emotions of your consumer group.



The Psychology of Fashion


Tell us what The Psychology of Fashion is and the inspiration behind founding the business? 

It’s a platform that looks at the fashion industry and the role of clothes in our lives through the lens of psychology. Our content examines why we wear what we wear, the relationships between personality, emotions and aesthetic, as well as industry dynamics. The motivation came from being uninspired by much of the current fashion content. It was missing a level of depth. I love fashion, but I’ve never cared to be dictated to about “the hot new colour for spring” or too much about basic recycled trends in general. I feel our aesthetic tastes are fairly steady. I was also frustrated by the common cultural narratives around fashion being frivolous, and always having to defend it. I want to demonstrate that we’re all sensitive to aesthetic in one way or another and that our choices can have a great effect on us. Even those who claim not to care about fashion make aesthetic decisions that say something about them. The aim is to help people understand their “style sense of self” in order to make better choices and enjoy more authentic styling in line with who they are and how they want to feel. Secondly, I want to help brands better understand their consumers’ profiles. Lastly, through better self-awareness and understanding of psychology, we can decrease the nepotism, abuse and mental health issues within the fashion industry so that it becomes a better place for those in it.

What is the best piece of advice that you have received and by whom? 

“Don’t sell yourself short”. The first person to tell me this was my first mentor, a psychiatrist and clinic director where I volunteered as a research assistant in Toronto. We had a conversation where he noted all the ways I was doing just that and thwarting my potential. I booked a flight to London a week later. I was meant to stay six months, but 10 years later, I’m still here and my life wouldn’t have unfolded this way if he hadn’t pushed me to think bigger. Before starting The Psychology of Fashion, I then had a similar talk with a designer friend, who made me realise I was ready to launch my own project. “Stop selling yourself short” seemed to be a recurring message. I think we all don’t really realise that we sell ourselves short far too often just to feel safe, and it really helps when someone points out where we’re playing small.

Tell us more about your inaugural study and what can we expect in the future? Is there a certain business model you are pursuing? 

It's the first of its kind to try to establish correlations between traditional personality traits studied in psychology, emotions, and aesthetic preference. The goal of this research is that it serves as a basis for a fashion psychology framework I want to create to better understand how we can use “clothes as therapy” to compensate for different inner needs. I am planning to commercialize that concept in a smart way that can benefit both brands and consumers.

What is your vision for the company? 

For consumers, I want it to be the place where they go to better understand themselves and their relationship to clothes, why they like what they like and how they can make better buying and styling decisions. For brands, I want it to be the place where they go to better understand fashion psychology, their consumer, their own point of differentiation, and discover how they can tap into the unique emotional value they are offering.

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Women in Business


In your opinion, and it is of course multivariate, but what do women need to do more of to push themselves forward in the workplace? 

I’ve noticed that a lot of my female friends who feel stuck in their careers don’t like to ask for what they want. They skirt around issues. Women need to be more confident and assertive. To just calmly say what they feel. No pretence. No apologies.

What advice would you share with women in the early stages or thinking about launching their own venture? 

Make sure it’s something you’re truly passionate about. Passion is the only thing that’s going to get you through all the hurdles of launching your own venture. And the fact that you care so much about this thing that you are creating, that’s what’s going to make people take notice and believe in you and what you’re doing. As I’m in the field, I’ve had many great ideas for brands that could have been successful if executed, but deep down, I knew my heart isn’t primarily in products. It’s in ideas. Lastly, ask yourself if and how what you’re creating is really going to add value to people’s lives in some way. Don’t do it just because you want to live an entrepreneur life or you like the sound of having a start-up. You get value by adding real value.

What advice would you give to those seeking investment, having worked closely with successful angel investor Carmen? 

First and foremost, write a short concise subject line and succinct email outlining your project or idea when pitching. Don’t write long emails, hyperbole or incessantly name-drop industry friends. Invest in good imagery. For any luxury investor, this helps get their attention and demonstrate that you “get” the industry. What I’ve learned from Carmen specifically is to make sure you “think big, but start small” and scale steadily. She really believes that a company can become profitable from a small seed investment, and that this is more beneficial in the long run, than lots of funding up front.  

What personal qualities to you attribute most to your success? 

Resilience, self-awareness and unwavering self-belief. Self-awareness is necessary so that you can look at what you’re doing critically and assess what’s working and what isn’t. With self-belief, it’s not to say that I feel confident all the time - I most certainly don’t. But even on the worst days, when consumed by fears and anxieties, there’s still that belief underneath it all. That quiet reassurance that I’m on the right path and that I’m exactly where I’m supposed to be.

Photo: Stefan Jakubowski

Photo: Stefan Jakubowski

Sian Westerman - Stairway to Success!

Sian and I met at Daylesford in Notting Hill to dive into her career over a cup of coffee and green tea. I first met Sian when I was working for BGF and she was advising Sophia Webster - who BGF subsequently invested in - and throughout many meetings I was always so impressed with her eloquence, knowledge and confidence. Not forgetting the odd Dior earrings that occasionally caught my eye! Sian began her career as a magic circle lawyer with Slaughter and May before swapping to banking and joining Rothschild. She ascended the ranks over 10 years becoming Managing Director in the Global Financial Advisory Division and specialising in retail and luxury. With her combination of blue chip foundations in legal, negotiation, finance and luxury, Sian went on become a non-executive director of Anya Hindmarch, Roksanda and Nicholas Kirkwood, an advisor to Charlotte Tilbury and Sophia Webster and President of Business and Investment Pillars of the British Fashion Council. She also manages to find the time to sit on the boards of the Royal Academy of Arts and English National Ballet! Read the interview to learn how she does it all one step at a time...


Meet Sian

Current Job I have a number of current roles. These include working as a senior advisor for Rothschild in retail and luxury, running the Investment and Business pillar for the British Fashion Council and working as strategic advisor to a number of other companies. I also serve as a non-executive director of a number of private companies.

First Job My first proper job was at Slaughter and May as a trainee solicitor. It developed a discipline and a way of thinking and the ability to read, dissect and interpret huge volumes of information. The down side however was that I felt quite far down the food chain and it seemed to me then that everything happens before the lawyers get pulled in. My actual first job was a Saturday job at Miss Selfridge. It was formative in terms of how you wanted to live your life and how ambitious you wanted to be, particularly knowing what it is like to be on a shop floor and how appalling people can be to you. 

Education Manchester High School for girls then Birmingham University where I studied English law with French- so effectively part of a French degree combined with French law. I went to Limoges for a year and did two years of a French law degree doing the finals in French. Looking back, I can’t quite believe I did it! 

Go to meeting spot I like Daylesford, but most of my best meetings are when people come to my home and we sit in the communal gardens. I prefer it when you can control the environment. 

Necessary extravagance My hairdresser 

Productivity tool Moleskin notebook and a 2b pencil 

Favourite book/blog/podcast All aspects of Radio 4 other than the drama. I love having it on in the background, listening to programmes that you will probably not be exposed to again and I always learn something. I love the ones on medical science and 'More or Less' which explains the economics and statistics used in everyday life. 

Recent inspiration I met the most wonderful woman, Sinéad Burke, at The Business of Fashion Conference -  Voices, who has dwarfism. She is a school teacher and someone who overcomes things and is getting out a positive message about the opportunities for disabled people.  She has this hilarious picture of herself standing in a shop with all of the clothes rails way above her. It could have impeded her but she considers herself lucky and I found her immensely inspiring.

What do you believe that most around you disbelieve or the other way around I have trouble believing in myself but everyone else seems to believe in me, both past and present. I worry about whether I can actually make things happen, but it spurs me on not wanting to let people down. 

What do you wish you could change in the world of business and investment? The spoofing aspect of the industry upsets me, where people feel that it is fair to essentially spout fake news about their business and expect you as the investor to be the greater fool. The industry is engineering this culture of over-exaggeration, but it would be far better for everyone to have straightforward, honest conversations, rather than over-promising. I also don’t know what one can do to change it. I find it interesting that one of the criticisms levelled at women seeking investment is that the do not portray an optimistic enough future, but maybe it is the investors that ought to change their expectations, or at least not expect everyone will exaggerate what is possible.


The Journey

Why did you enter the world of law, what did you learn and what was the motivation to leave and enter the world of banking? 

I was ambitious and I aspired to a certain lifestyle and therefore I wanted to make money. This was the 80s after all.  I had come from a family of academics in Manchester, but realised academia wasn’t going to be the solution. I didn’t feel particularly commercial so law seemed to tick both boxes. I always intended to be a family lawyer, but then I had never come across corporate or merchant law.  The city firms were paying three times as much as a provincial law firm so that’s why I applied to Slaughter and May. I loved it and I got thrown in at the deep end and within three days I was working for a young partner, William Underhill on the British Gas Privatisation. I was told that being a woman I would be noticed - if I did well or badly - which was good and interesting advice. I worked on both the British Gas and BA privatisations - it was early days of privatisation and a lucky time as there was little expertise, so even as a junior you could add value and have relatively deep knowledge. I compiled the first draft of the BP underwriting agreement which caused such a problem in 1987. I was planning to specialise in EC competition law but felt I wasn’t commercial enough. At the time, I was working with merchant bankers and my view of them was that they went home at 6 o clock, gave poor instructions and got paid twice as much as I did.  So, when Rothschild offered me a job, I thought I would give it a go for a couple of years and come back to Slaughter and May with more commercial experience. I went to Rothschild and found they didn’t go home at 6 and actually worked really hard! What was interesting was being a lawyer you present the options but don’t actually have to make any decisions, whereas as an investment banker you were expected to have a view and that was quite a difficult transition for me. There were no mentors - you were simply expected to figure it out. 

You then embarked on a long tenure with Rothschild where you became a Managing Director in the Global Financial Advisory division before becoming a Senior Advisor focused on retail and luxury. Can you share some details about that journey in banking, perhaps demystifying what a banker actually does, the highlights and drawbacks and some of the deals that you worked on? 

There are lots of different type of bankers - some who love the modelling, analysing the business plan and formulating valuations. Personally, I enjoyed the strategy around putting businesses together, and raising investment. I was quite unusual in having the ability to read legal documents in addition to understanding the technical (legal, regulatory, tax) aspects of the transaction. Much of what you do within public company banking is juggling regulations - takeover code, listing rules, tax rules and legal systems and you are trying to weave a path through all of them to ensure you tick every box, don’t fall down any hole and still achieve your goal. The transaction that was most exciting for me was Royal Dutch Shell who got into trouble with the SEC in terms of their reserve reporting, which prompted them to look at their whole corporate structure and culture. They moved from being a 60:40 JV UK Netherlands firm to being a UK incorporated Dutch tax resident company with two classes of shares and classes of ADRs, listed in the UK, the Netherlands and the USA. We had to make sure all institutions were satisfied and nobody lost the stock market indexation that they wanted. It was really interesting and took two years of my life. I was devising the structure and dealing with all of the political implications relating to either being UK or Dutch incorporated and we felt we achieved both. Latterly I got exposure to the fashion retail industry with the first Jimmy Choo sale from Phoenix to Lion capital when Tamara's business was valued at £100m. People were amazed that we could create a shoe business in the UK that had that high a valuation - it is a bit like the Charlotte Tilbury deal which I also had a role in - the market was surprised that a UK beauty business could attract Sequoia Capital and I think this deal changed people's mind-set. Of course, with the dynamos or Charlotte Tilbury herself, and her CEO Demetra Pinsent, I did not find it surprising at all!

During your time at Rothschild you also assumed NED positions, including most notably with Anya Hindmarch, and whilst as an advisor you have also become NED at Roksanda and Nicholas Kirkwood and an advisory board member at Meli Melo. How did these come about, did you get headhunted or was it more organic and how do you choose which boards you are interested in joining? 

I’ve had one public company NED role where I was put forward and I think this is the general approach. I learnt a big lesson however, to only sit on boards where I really like and understand the product and the people. I sat on the board of an oil and gas business and I kept asking questions about their tech and the view that came back was ‘you’re just here to do the M&A side so don't worry about the technology dear’. This made my skin crawl, so I resigned -  thinking lesson learnt. I was on the Anya Hindmarch board as I introduced her to her first investors and Nicholas Kirkwood as I advised on his investment and he subsequently asked me to join the board. Similarly, Roksanda because I did the investment. Generally, I like to be on the board where I invest or have a close personal interest in the outcome rather just handing over the money.   

What do you think are some of the key ingredients to make an effective board and what do you like to bring to the table as a member of a board? 

As a director, you are responsible so you have to be prepared to look across all aspects of the business and understand what is going on. I like to think I am empathetic to creators and have an ability to understand the financial side and the tightrope there. When I work in fashion, I bring a lot of experience of the market and an understanding of what peers and competitors are doing and therefore different ways to solve problems. It is good to have people who bring different areas of expertise. A board has to be willing to have a proper discussion, to meet and engage. The engagement is really critical. Boards which meet monthly, set KPIs and have a proper structure around the meeting and are systematic in their approach tend to do better than those who only meet four times a year and see board packs as a nuisance.  

As well as your commercial NED positions, you also are a member of the Board of Trustees for the English National Ballet and the Royal Academy of Arts and recently you became President of Business and Investment Pillars of the British Fashion Council. Can you tell us a little more about your involvement with each of these organisations and what they mean to you and why you make time to be involved?  

The BFC is promoting an industry where I can bring a different perspective being from a finance and banking background. I can explain to the managers of these businesses that they have to focus on being cash flow positive and not to assume that there is some magic money tree. They find that quite difficult. They assume that creating a label and designing beautiful clothes is enough to generate investment. I explain that they need to prove the business first and they find that a little shocking. Most of my time I’m explaining there is no money and they need to go away and rethink their plan. I do it because I love working with young people and being able to allocate money, grants and provide mentoring which is transformative for their business. The Royal Academy of Arts is a great board and a fantastic institution which gets no public or arts council funding whatsoever. Every penny comes either from ticket sales, sponsorship or donations - so to have an involvement with that beautiful building in Piccadilly where artists are involved is an incredible privilege. The ENB is a very creative organisation and I’m involved during a period where they are trying to modernise it. Tamara has produced some incredible new pieces, working with an increasing number of female choreographers and has simply elevated their approach. It has been a fun journey. 

You have been involved with the fundraising of some of the fastest growing consumer brands including Charlotte Tilbury and Sophia Webster. Beyond the creativity of companies that pitch to you, can you tell us what you are looking for in a business model, in a team, execution etc. that makes you confident in the success of an early stage company within luxury and retail? 

I look at the product first and foremost. Then it is the mind-set of the people involved. If it is just creative and they only think in that way that’s not going to work. They have to encapsulate both the creative and the commercial themselves or have a team of people who have those disciplines…and be willing to listen to and embrace the financial /commercial perspective. It is trying to work out whether the business brings something new and different to the market and ensure that the barriers to entry are high. 


Women in Business

In your opinion, and it is of course multivariate, but what do women need to do more of to push themselves forward in the workplace? 

I think there are two key points I would make here. Firstly, don’t be scared of speaking up, having a view and asking for roles, promotions, exposure. Stretch yourself to do things you don’t feel comfortable doing but which are key aspects of a senior role…I wish I had done more of that, such as public speaking…without notes! Secondly work with everyone in the work place – women and men and be conscious that men hate tears, confrontation, being made to feel threatened…so work around that!  And remember success takes patience and perseverance. Being a working mother sometimes, walking the tightrope of home and work is tough…but every day is different so don’t think every day will be like your worst!

What advice would you share with women in the early stages or thinking about launching their own venture? 

Ask for help – lots of it.  You will be amazed how many people with expertise are willing to share their thoughts and experience.

What advice would you give to those seeking investment? 

Really think through how you want to run your business.  Have you considered all the alternative sources of finance? Is it investible? Have you thought through all the angles? Can you justify your plan?

What personal qualities to you attribute most to your success? 

Persevering, being willing to compromise. ..A little…and my genius in finding a very supportive partner and having two children who together are my biggest cheerleaders. 

Yulia Rorstrom - Blow Dries and Boardrooms!

Yulia and I met at The Ivy Chelsea Gardens, where we shared breakfast and unpicked her jump from management consulting boardrooms to blow dries and building a terrifically exciting new brand. Taking inspiration from salons in the US and Japan and faith and foresight from her entrepreneurial parents, Yulia launched Duck & Dry - a chain of blow dry bars. We discuss the merits of bootstrapping organic growth and how Yulia has scaled the brand in just three short years to include 3 stores, a product line and a franchise operation. Oh and she had two children in that time too! Keep reading the interview to learn what is next for Yulia and her top tip on starting a company. 


Meet Yulia 

Current Job Founder and CEO of Duck & Dry 

First Job Management Consultant in Financial Services 

Education Management degree at the LSE 

Go to meeting spot Berners Tavern, still one of the most beautiful dining rooms in London!

Necessary extravagance Holidays! Travelling is one of my indulgences. I miss the sun living in London and I find that getting away helps me to get a sense of perspective away from the day to day grind. And I always come back with new and fresh ideas!

Favourite productivity tool Pen and paper. I am quite old school when it comes down to planning work load and am constantly doing 'to do' lists.

Favourite blog Sheerluxe Success Stories, I really enjoy learning about the journeys of other entrepreneurs

Recent inspiration Tamara Hill-Norton, Founder and Creative Director of Sweaty Betty. I was really inspired by her story, how she managed to grow to 60 stores and still maintain and a happy family and achieve the all important work/life balance.

What do you believe that most around you disbelieve To build a successful business it does not always require a completely unique idea. Even if there are other examples of a product/ service you can still succeed by just doing it better! 

What do you wish you could change in the world of startups and business One of the most challenging aspects for a new brand is to reach the consumers and build brand awareness so it would be fantastic if there was a platform for new businesses to reach their audiences faster in a cost effective way.



The Journey

Yulia, start us off by sharing a little bit about yourself and your background before founding Duck & Dry? 

I took a very classic route - after graduating from the London School of Economics I started working for a management consulting firm in financial services. I really enjoyed that experience and it was a great stepping stone but in the back of my mind I always wanted to start my own business. I come from a very entrepreneurial family so I've been around my parents and listened to those types of conversations since I was very young and so I knew that eventually I would want to build my own brand but it was about finding the right opportunity. At the time I was travelling a lot to the US where blow dry bars are huge and I loved the energy and the buzz that was lacking in the UK in many traditional salons. And although 3 years ago, it wasn't a completely new concept here I still felt that it was a space where you can grow and develop. My trips to Japan also inspired me to create a strong personality for the brand, they had such a strong identity across many service providers. And so I wanted to combine the experience and brand aspect to create Duck & Dry. 

What’s the single best piece of business advice that helped shape who you are as an entrepreneur today?

From very early on I was under no impression that it was going to be an easy road. In a way, I was very much prepared that it will be quite a tough ride. But I think going into business you have an immense pressure and it is high risk so I think one of the best pieces of advice that my parents gave me was not to invest more than what you can afford to lose. That really helped to keep things in perspective and think what is the worst that can happen!  At least in the early days I would advise to put in the money that wouldn't cause too much destruction to your life if you lost it. 

For those who don’t know, can you tell us what Duck & Dry is and what was the motivation behind launching the company? 

Duck & Dry is a beauty brand of blow dry bars known for their energy and buzz and an edited range of hair products for home use. It is an experience and brand led concept.  Our stores do not look like your typical salon. We create unique interiors that cater for a social and fun environment with many of the seats facing each other or group styling areas so you can come in with friends, there is a prosecco bar and curated music lists with DJ stations. And of course we deliver high quality blow dries with exceptionally experienced and trained stylists. While our product range is 'Hatched in London, Brewed in Somerset' using natural active ingredients, bespoke scent and products that really work and are derived from our in house expertise.

How does life as Founder and CEO compare to your previous lifestyle as a management consultant? 

You never switch off. Even if you are really involved in your job and in a high-pressured environment, you can ultimately still shut the laptop and have a day off. But when you run your own business it is almost impossible to do, it is all consuming. It really never stops and there is something on your mind all the time. Liz Earle spoke at a talk recently and she said the company is part of her DNA and it really resonated with me that you live and breathe the business and I think one of the biggest challenges is getting time and space away from the business. At the early stage you are wearing so many hats so the biggest challenge is separating the day to day grind from the bigger picture of what you are trying to build. 



Duck & Dry

What has been the evolution and milestones you are proudest of to date? 

Both of our flagship stores have opened whilst I was pregnant so that was an achievement in itself! Both children were born a couple of months after the opening so in the months leading up to the build I was heavily pregnant which was manic but at the same time kept me sane while putting things in perspective. The other important milestone was launching our own product line about a year ago. It was a labour of love and all of the products are bespoke formulas. My team of stylists helped to test them in house with real time feedback and even our regular clients were also involved in the process. It was an amazing project for all of us and Harvey Nichols was our first stockist. 2018 is also shaping up as a big year when we will be launching our first Duck & Dry franchise which is a very exciting new chapter for the brand.

Tell us about your fundraising history - what capital did you access to launch the business and have you taken any other investment

The business is entirely self-financed from savings and family. It has been incredible that we have been able to achieve this growth organically and I'm sure there will come a time when fundraising will make sense. I think investing your own funds is quite a big undertaking and you feel that pressure at all times but at the same time it spurs you on and ultimately if you believe in yourself - why not be the first one to put the money in if you can. 

Who have you bought into the business as advisors or mentors and how did those relationships come about? 

When I launched Duck & Dry I had a lot of conversations with financial advisors and consultants but I never actually sat down with a fellow salon owner or any services owner in the lead up to setting up Duck & Dry, which now looking back seems a bit crazy! I was so focused on my vision but I do think that it would have been extremely helpful to have had those conversations. So, in the last 3 years I have reached out to a lot of other beauty brands and entrepreneurs who I respect to expand my network in this industry in which I was a complete outsider.


What are some of the KPIs that you measure success by for both the business and your team?

For the salons we are reaching our 100,000 client mark! That is a fantastic milestone for us. Our clients range from those who get blow dries every day and those who come back for special events and every single one of them are special to us. And I still get very excited when we sign up a new retail partner for our product line and growing our client numbers in that space as well. . 

Tell us about your approach to building the brand and your successful use of social media, bloggers and influencers to drive growth? 

In addition to working with bloggers, celebrities and influencers we also love working and collaborating with other exciting businesses and brands. We do a lot of events both hosting other brands and also doing pop ups. We have held express blow dry pop ups with some great brands such as Adidas, Barbie, Nars, French Sole and many more. Events are great exposure to new clientele and for the brand overall. We also had a summer pop up at River Island over the Summer and recently we have opened a store within the Sweaty Betty flagship in Soho - this experience led retail phenomena is huge and we are capitalising on that. 

What is your long term vision for Duck & Dry? 

We would love for Duck & Dry to become a real beauty consumer brand that a wide audience of people know of and buy into. Right now, we are very London centric. I would love to raise the awareness of the brand for it to become a house hold name for quality blow dries and at home hair products.



Women in Business 

What advice would you share with women in the early stages or thinking about launching their own venture? 

I find that very often when people think of setting up their own business they think it has to be a completely brand new and unique idea. And if you do come up with something completely unique that is amazing but more often than not it doesn't have to be revolutionary, it can just be something that you execute better than others in the market. You see people telling you about their idea and trying to defend it by saying there is nothing else like it but sometimes it is good to enter the market where consumers are already aware of the concept. 

What is being CEO and a mother really like? Do you feel like you have to make any compromises? 

I think there are lots of compromises to be made, for example, I didn't really take any maternity leave either before or after my two children and I was very lucky to have two easy pregnancies. I am structured in my approach to work and I do have a nanny to allow me to be in the office Monday-Friday. I treasure those morning moments with the children, evening baths and weekends are sacred for the family. It is a very personal choice but for me I feel comfortable having both and separating my time. 

Do you consciously think about building a diverse team and how can we do better to attract and retain more women?

For us it is actually almost the opposite because hairdressing is so female orientated, especially blow dries because we don't have many male clients! We are always on the lookout for male stylists, front of house and marketing talent because I really like mixed teams and think it is important and healthy to have that dynamic. 

What personal qualities to you attribute most to your success? 

I honestly think that at least 50% of success is just keep on going. Pure determination is such a huge factor, especially in the beginning. You have to be able to motivate yourself and have inherent drive. You have to be passionate about the company you are building. Running your own company really isn't for everyone - I wouldn't advocate owning your own business unless you truly have it in you, in which case you are already 50% on the way to success! 


Holly Scarsella - Making Waves!

Holly and I met at The Ivy Chelsea Garden, a tranquil but energising place to begin the day. Holly is the incredibly talented Founder and CEO behind Pampelone Clothing, the irresistible brand for resort wear to evoke the French Riviera. With a background in PR and natural chutzpah when it comes to marketing, it is of no surprise that Pampelone has become a go-to for influencers and editors. As well as getting into some of the biggest wholesalers across the world, Pampelone has followed in the footsteps of Victoria Beckham and Candice Swanepoel and collaborated with charity mothers2mothers (m2m), launching a ‘mini-me’ capsule collection with 100% of the profits being donated to m2m, which is working to eliminate paediatric aids in sub-Saharan Africa. Recently included in ‘Forbes 30 under 30’, Holly’s tenacity, drive and creativity will continue to make waves for Pampelone as she navigates fast growth in 2018. 


Meet Holly 

Current Job Founder & MD Pampelone Clothing

First Job Fashion Publicist Executive

Education BA Hons English

Go to meeting spot Little House, Mayfair

Necessary extravagence Holidays and Mini Breaks. Good for the soul. 

Favourite productivity tool My Calendar. Not only for meetings etc. but I schedule my to-do list into this also which I know if quite unusual. It gives me focus for my day and helps me block out time dedicated to big tasks. 

Favourite book / blog / podcast CTL ALT DELETE by Emma Gannon

Recent inspiration Looking through archive family photos of life on the French Riviera

What do you believe that most around you disbelieve That marketing is sometimes bigger than the product...

What do you wish you could change in the world of startups The fear of judgement. Also the difficulty in securing funding. 


The Journey 

Holly, start us off by sharing a little bit about yourself and your background before founding Pampelone? 

Since leaving university I worked in Fashion & lifestyle PR for years which massively shaped my business strategy to date. I especially loved working for some incredible female founders including Bec Astley Clarke MBE and Sara Blakely st SPANX who inspired me to start something of my own. 

You worked in PR, tell us the highlights from these years and your biggest takeaways? 

I absolutely loved my job in PR working for some of the biggest brands in the world including UGG Australia, Tiffany & Co, Puma and SPANX, but also for smaller brands new to market. The thing I learnt from it all was that you don't have to have the biggest or best product in the world, you just need to know how to market it. And similarly there's no point having the best product in the world if no one knows about it. 

What’s the single best piece of business advice that helped shape who you are as an entrepreneur today? 

Just do it by Sophia Amoruso. Sometimes you need to stop planning, questioning, writing documents on documents etc. and just go out there and do it! You have to be determined and driven enough to make things happen for yourself in business. 

For those who don’t know, can you tell us what Pampelone is and what was the motivation behind launching the company? 

PAMPELONE is a well priced, great quality resortwear brand, ethically made using the highest quality of cottons. The idea for Pampelone came from the time I spent growing up in the South of France in the beautiful French Riviera. Our family had a holiday home where we spent 5 months of the year, and it was the style of the women there that was the source of inspiration for me. Dressed in simple market bought cotton and linens, St Tropezienne women have always looked effortless and I could never find any beachwear back in the UK that emulated the same feel.

Years later while I was planning my honeymoon wardrobe, I was desperately looking for resort wear pieces to take with me. I really did not want to wear high street pieces – you just know they will fall apart after a few washes and that you’ll be sure to find someone else wearing it, but the only alternative were dresses and kaftans costing £300-500 which isn’t viable for everyone. I did some research and was shocked that there was nothing really in between these price points, and that is when Pampelone really came into fruition!



What has been the evolution and milestones you are proudest of to date? 

I started the brand single handedly in June 2015 in my spare room, and by December 2015 I had secured orders from some of the biggest retailers in the world across 20 countries with zero wholesale experience. Nearly 3 years later, we're available in over 38 countries and we've just launched our 6th collection including a mini-me line and an exclusive pair of sunglasses. I was also recently named on the Forbes 30 under 30 list which was an extremely proud moment. 

What are some of the KPIs that you measure success by? 

Naturally in a retail business, sales are our biggest KPI, but from a brand-building perspective, we also look at press and social media interaction to see what impact we're making on the wider audience. 

You have had enormous success with influencers and bloggers. Can you share your approach and strategy with this type of marketing? 

I think the most important thing is to understand the value of this area of marketing and then in turn you will start to understand the importance of allocating the correct resources to support whether financial or operationally. With the rise of social media, influencers and bloggers are essentially your most successful source of marketing - word of mouth on a huge scale. The most important thing is to figure out who your audience is and ensure you're targeting the correct bloggers/ influencers that speak to them. And sometimes the largest ones aren't necessarily the best. 

What values do you hold and what kind of company do you want to build? 

Being able to manufacture ethically is hugely important to us. I spend a lot of time in India ensuring a transparent manufacturing channels. Another is producing long term fashion and not encouraging throw away fashion. I think we all need to take more responsibility for the grossly negative impact of mass manufacturing.  

What is your long term vision for Pampelone? 

Our long term plan is to be your go-to brand when going on holiday, providing not only your holiday wardrobe but also your accessories also! 


Women in Business 

What advice would you share with women in the early stages or thinking about launching their own venture? 

Be confident and be smart. if you've researched your product / service enough to believe it to have potential for success, then throw everything at it with the up most confidence. It's a stereotype but true in that women tend to be more apprehensive and less likely to think big before proven success, but there really should be nothing holding you back. 

What is life as a Founder CEO and mother like? 

On one hand it's the biggest privilege, being able to show my daughter an example of what a strong woman is able to achieve, but on the other it's a constant struggle trying to manage being a good mother whilst running a company with such great demands. 

What personal qualities to you attribute most to your success? 

Tenacity and self motivation. Success seldom falls into your lap; you’re very lucky if it does! You HAVE to chase it, and push through setbacks and difficulties. You have to believe enough in your product and brand enough to make it succeed, and be willing to put in the time and effort on top! Business acumen can be learnt but this drive to make it happen needs to come from within. 

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Whitney Hawkings - Flower Power!

Whitney Hawkings is the Founder and CEO of FLOWERBX and is the powerhouse behind all of those enviable and spectacular dinner table floral arrangements that have peppered everyone's Instagram feeds. We met for breakfast at Daylesford in Notting Hill and it was one of those meetings which fill you with energy and enthusiasm for the day ahead and contribute to the feminist zeitgeist of today. Before founding FLOWERBX, Whitney worked with Tom Ford for 19 years, during which time she gained first-hand experience of the genesis and growth of a global luxury brand. Becoming an international brand is what she aspires to create within the backward floral industry and it is a vision backed by fashion heavy hitters. Former chief executive of luxury etailer Net-A-Porter, Mark Sebba, is an investor and recently appointed Chairman of FLOWERBX, with Net-a-Porter’s Natalie Massenet and Carmen Busquets also early investors. Clients include Bottega Veneta, Christian Dior and of course Tom Ford. We talk about what she learnt from her previous tenure and boss, how different her lifestyle is now compared to the velvet sofas and head to toe Tom Ford and the achievements and milestones she is most proud of. 


Meet Whitney

Current Job CEO at FLOWERBX

Education BA French Language and Literature, Columbia University

Necessary Extravagance A blow-dry

Favourite productivity tool My phone

Favourite podcast or book? Feel The Fear And Do It Anyway by Susan Jeffers

Recent inspiration Ruth & Tom Chapman who have maintained an incredible family and marriage, while working together, and creating such a successful business. 

What do you believe that most around you disbelieve? The power of the flower.

What do you wish to change in the world of startups? I wish there was a manual – an easy dummy’s guide, covering everything from whom you go into business with, how you raise money etc!

Favourite flower I can’t say as it changes with the seasons! For example when peonies are in bloom they are amazing, but then dahlias come back into season and I can’t get enough of them until hydrangea reappear, and so on. 




The Journey

Tell us a little about yourself and your background before you started FLOWERBX

I started working for Tom Ford at Gucci in Paris as his PA and became indispensable. Eventually when he left to set up Tom Ford, I left with him and headed up communications. In the early days, we sat alone in an office together, so I watched him and helped him build  a brand from the ground up. There was literally nothing – no logo, no advertising, no label design. However, he had resources and so many people wanted to come to work for him. In the beginning of FLOWERBX, I didn’t have a name, I didn’t have resources, and it was difficult to convince people that we were more than just another florist.

What were the highlights from working with Tom and the company for 19 years?

I couldn’t have learnt from a bigger perfectionist. Someone who was so passionate and gave everything. His level of perfection was unparalleled. I had exposure to the most incredible people and incredible lifestyle - not just meeting them but working with them too. It was such a mad ride – as soon as the job got in any way mundane, then Tom changed it up by launching women’s wear or making a movie. And I was involved in every aspect – which involved a whole other learning curve and set of people. It was a whole career full of highlights!

Can you name your favourite aspect of your previous job?

Probably my first show at Gucci when I thought I was the luckiest girl ever to get to work for this incredible man. I really thought I should be paying him to come to work. The other aspect was leaving and opening the door to my own venture – which was and still is an incredible feeling.

What’s the best piece of business advice that has helped shaped you as an entrepreneur?

Being tenacious and passionate. I am pounding the pavements all day and every day. You can’t do that if you don’t believe in what you do.

Can you encapsulate what FLOWERBX does and your motivation for starting the company?

FLOWERBX is an online flower delivery service. We get flowers directly from Holland and cut out the middleman. They arrive in our warehouse at 4am and we send them out that day. This compares with traditional florists, where the flowers will be 5-7 days old by the time they reach the customer. You cannot have fresher flowers and having cut out middlemen who represent 2 price hikes we are offering a genuine value proposition.

The idea was conceived because as a working mum, I was buying everything online from groceries to clothing, yet flowers were the one thing that I couldn’t purchase in an acceptable way online. Also working for a brand, I realised that everything that we use has been branded apart from flowers. It is so old fashioned the way the whole flower industry works. Any florist online still follows the old traditional methodologies and approach. They have not changed the model – so you are still paying for the waste, the bricks and mortar etc. Somewhere like Interflora, which is not a brand as such, often has an unpleasant surprise element, as there is no control on the supplying florist. I am trying to remove that and guarantee consistency by creating the first international flower brand. It’s never been done. 




Do you think your time in fashion helped your market research having tried out many online sites and therefore accelerated your progress?

In the fashion world, people are constantly sending and receiving flowers – daily or weekly. They were always bouquets of a single type of flower. There was no other choice. Most people don’t want lots of filler in their flowers. So, what I learnt is that the flower industry hasn’t been modernized in any way. People are also often nervous about arranging flowers. We take that away – you just need to put ours in a vase.

How does life as a CEO & founder compare to your old lifestyle at a global company?

My old life used to be so glamorous!! I had velvet sofas, Diptique candles lit constantly, flowers on my desk and I ate at The Wolsey probably three times a week! Now I work in a building that is freezing and there are mice. I go down the road past a bunch of mechanics to go to the bathroom. It couldn’t be more different. Also getting dressed previously used to be like dressing for a first date or a cocktail party in head to toe Tom Ford. I was always fully manicured and fully coiffed.





What’s been the evolution and milestones for Flowerbx that you are most proud of?

Building the most incredible team. There are 14 of us. We now have the perfect foundation on which to build our business. Everyone is so excited and working so hard. Every day something wonderful happens – a real achievement. 

Tell us about the fundraising history for FLOWERBX

We launched with £100k that got us through the first year. We then did a friends and family round and I was very fortunate in having some amazing friends. For example, Natalie Massenet was one of our first investors. She brought on Carmen Busquets and Mark Sebba, who has now become our Chairman. Then a lot of big investors from the fashion world also invested, so fortunately it was relatively effortless and we raised £750k in that round. We then raised a further £1.5m in March this year and that was again from friends and family. We were clearly going in the right direction at that stage and we were oversubscribed for that round.

It’s a high bar for your next set of investors. What would you look for that you might be missing from your next round?

Right now we have the brand, we have the attention, the marketing. What will take us to the next level will be to become a logistics company, a little like Ocado. We are on our way to having a very sophisticated website and in the next month adding multiple deliveries and other options. So it is logistics expertise that we would look for from our next investment round. The flowers need to be cut and to your door in the minimal amount of time. The last mile is crucial. We hired a great logistics expert who is starting in February and I feel that will make a big difference.

What values do you hold and what type of company do you want to build?

I want people to be happy, valued, motivated and feel part of something new and big.  I want them to feel excited to feel in part responsible for the very tangible results we see every day. 

What do you look for when you hire people?

I look for people who are hardworking and who are over achievers.

What is the long-term vision?

I want to create the first international flower brand. I also want to combine that with a happy marriage and being a great mum.




Women in Business

What advice would you give early stage women founders or those thinking of launching a company?

Just do it. And be prepared to work in a way that you have not before. You need to have a great idea and be prepared to work really hard because its diehard. It’s a total rollercoaster every day.

Any advice for those seeking investment who perhaps didn’t have the contacts you had?

Find women! No one supports women like other women. Seek them out. There are lots of women investors nowadays.

Do you think about building a diverse team?

It is, of course, important for me to employ women. They work in great ways and also have an emotional connection in what they are doing.  Given we are running a flower business, there is an emotional component that is as important as the business component.  

What personal qualities would you attribute to your success?

Tenacity, hard work and going for it.


Maria Hatzistefanis - The Beauty Boss!

Cosmetics queen and beauty boss Maria Hatzistefanis is the Greek entrepreneur behind Rodial, the London-based brand that she started in 1999 with her own savings, a fact that is revealed in the early pages of her tongue-in-cheek titled new book: How To Be An Overnight Success. Maria started her career as a beauty writer before moving to New York where she received an MBA from Columbia Business School. She now runs Rodial and Nip+Fab, selling through 20,000 doors across 35 countries worldwide. Her cult products are known for their evocative names such as Snake Serum and Dragon’s Blood and are a favourite with high-profile models and media personalities including Poppy Delevingne, Ellie Goulding and Kylie Jenner.


Meet Maria

Current Job Founder & CEO of the Rodial Group

First Job Beauty writer for Seventeen Magazine

Education Columbia University

Go to meeting spot Little House in Mayfair

Necessary extravagance An at home massage

Favourite book / blog / podcast The How I Built This podcast

Recent inspiration Travelling to NY is always inspiring

What do you believe that most around you disbelieve Meditation

What do you wish you could change in the world of beauty I wouldn’t change anything

Favourite skincare and beauty product Rodial Rose Gold Moisturiser



The Journey

You started your career as a beauty writer prior to receiving an MBA and subsequently working in corporate finance. What lessons did you learn from these professions and did you always have an entrepreneurial itch? 

I never thought I would be an entrepreneur but working in different industries made me adaptable and able to cope with change.

For those who don’t know, can you tell us what Rodial is and what was the motivation behind launching the company? 

I saw a gap in the market for high-tech, fast acting skincare range which offered more than simple cleansing and moisturizing. Back then the skincare on the market was very simple and wasn’t driven by ingredients. I wanted to create a range which offered the consumer solutions to specific skin problems such as wrinkles and pigmentation. Rodial is an active, fast acting range of skincare and makeup which offers instant results.

What influenced your decision to launch a separate sister brand Nip + Fab

I have always been inspired by fashion, and I was seeing so many designer/high street collabs such as Stella McCartney for Gap, and Lanvin for H&M. I thought that this was such an aspirational concept and I wanted to re-create it in the beauty world, which was why I launched Nip+Fab. At the beginning Nip+Fab was a hybrid of Rodial at a lower price point, taking some of the most successful Rodial ingredient stories and bringing them to the mass market. As time moved on Nip+Fab actually became its own entity and became the go-to brand for millennials and beauty junkies globally which was really exciting to watch. For Nip+Fab we work with young, influential talent such as Kylie Jenner and most recently Sofia Richie, and the brand couldn’t be more different to Rodial today.


How has your role changed as CEO as you have scaled the company to over 150 people? 

In many ways it is exactly the same, I am in the office every day, all day, motivating my team and taking care of all of the business needs. I like to be in the action, I can’t work from afar, I need to be in the everyday detail of the business. If I had to pick out a way that my role has changed as my business has grown it will probably be dealing with issues more than anything else! As your team grows, so does your need to firefight all sorts of internal issues. I think that nowadays I have to always be looking at the bigger picture for the business and to guide my team in the right direction.

What work do you get involved with as patron of the British Fashion Council and are you involved with any other organisations outside of Rodial? 

I work on a mentoring program for up and coming fashion designers helping them establish their brand and grow their business.




What capital did you use to get the business started initially? Have you taken any investment since launching the business or has it all been organic growth and what influenced that decision? 

My business is 100% privately owned to this day. In the beginning my husband & I invested £20k to get the business started.

What has been the evolution and milestones you are proudest of to date and what are some of the KPIs that you measure success by for both the business and your team?

The launch of Snake Serum brought a lot of buzz to the brand. Launching our flagship Rodial counter in Harvey Nichols was a huge milestone taking the business to the next level.

You have scaled the company to 35 countries and added makeup to the line, how do you think about sustainable growth? 

Sometimes we grow too quickly, other times we had to slow down to build what we had, it’s always a balancing game.

Rodial was a pioneering brand in terms of using social media and communicating with consumers. You also decided to work with Kyle Jenner and Millie Mackintosh as brand ambassadors. How did these relationships come about and talk us through the strategy behind these marketing initiatives.  

Most of the time working with celebrities and influencers starts from a very organic place. With Kylie Jenner she was using our Nip+Fab products at a shoot and instagrammed them and her fans went crazy! The relationship grew from there and Kylie was the face of Nip+Fab for two years which was really amazing. Elle Goulding is a massive Rodial fan and often instragrams our Dragons Blood Eye Masks and talks to the press about how much she loves the brand, and not a penny has been exchanged for this. The organic and real relationships are always the strongest.


What is your long term vision for Rodial? 

I want to expand the Rodial makeup range and launch more counters internationally. I would like to see big counter space for Rodial in the USA and Asia.


Women in Business 

What advice would you share with women in the early stages or thinking about launching their own venture? 

Make sure that you 100% believe in your vision because there will be people along the way that will tell you that you can’t do it. You need to have a thick skin and be ready to be told no. Starting your own business is not an easy ride, you will be challenged every step of the way and if you listen to the negativity you won’t succeed.

Who has been your mentor in business and how did that relationship come about? Do you now mentor other entrepreneurs? 

I didn’t have a mentor and I do not think it is necessary. In this day and age there is a lot of available info out there on successful women that we can read and get inspiration from. I give a lot of talks and connect with young entrepreneurs when I am there.


Do you consciously think about building a diverse team and how can we do better to attract and retain more women? 

In our industry we are 95% women so we are doing well on that front!

What personal qualities to you attribute most to your success? 

I think that I am very motivated and passionate about what I do, I don’t take no for an answer. I give 100% at all times. I don’t go on holidays much but when I do I am always thinking about the next new product or campaign. I am prepared to sacrifice which I think is key to being successful, its hard at the time but you get the results you are looking for at the end.


Nicola McClafferty - The New Model of Venture Capital

I was delighted to interview Nicola, Investment Director at Draper Esprit, a leading venture capital firm involved in the creation, funding and development of high-growth digital technology businesses. Most recently Nicola was the Founder and CEO of a leading online retailer of pre-owned luxury fashion, offering women a hassle-free way of selling on the designer items from their wardrobe. She received investment from ASOS plc in 2012, who subsequently acquired the company in 2015. Read the interview to learn more about Nicola's investment experience, her success on the operating side of the table and more about Draper Esprit and how they have redefined the venture capital industry.  


Meet Nicola

Current Job Investment Director at Draper Esprit

First Job Investment banking analyst with tech M&A firm Broadview, which is now part of Jefferies 

Go to meeting spot In Dublin I head to Balfes, in London I generally go to timber yard in Covent Garden  

Favourite book To Kill a Mockingbird and I was also obsessed by the Roald Dahl books

Necessary extravagance A Henrick's gin and tonic on a Friday night! 

Favourite productivity tool I'm obsessed with lists so I use Trello a lot 

Recent inspiration The podcast How I Built This and whatever Lucy Kellaway writes

Most interesting tech firm right now Amazon, because I think it will transform more than one industry in the next five years 


The Journey

Can you share a brief history of your career before co-founding and what you learnt during that period?  

I went to University in Dublin where I studied International Business and French. I subsequently moved to London to work as an investment banking analyst at Broadview, a tech focused M&A firm. It was the early 2000s and we were doing a lot of advisory, working with VCs and PE firms on exiting businesses, although the valuations at that time were not in the billions! I learnt to read company financials and see value in businesses. I enjoyed working with management at exits but I was interested in getting involved at an earlier stage, so I joined Balderton Capital as an associate for the next two and a half years of my career. There was no better place to experience venture capital, I got to work with some of the best investors and entrepreneurs in Europe. At Balderton I learnt what makes a good investor. I then joined Ravensbeck, which was the team behind Disney, building up their practice in early stage investing. I spent another two and a half years at Ravensbeck doing early stage digital media investments through a network of angels and off balance sheet.

Although I had never thought of myself as an entrepreneur I had this idea of a start-up myself. I wanted to use it as a customer and I wanted to invest in it as an investor. Eventually the combination of seeing this gap and feeling this pain point, as well as being inspired by people who I knew had gone for it led me to launch

Tell us about, the motivation behind founding the company, the challenges you experienced and the path to exit?

Covetique was a marketplace for pre-owned luxury fashion and what we wanted to do was create a Net-A-Porter meets eBay experience. Around 2007 there was a confluence of things going on:

  1. It was early days of Airbnb and car sharing - collaborative consumption and the sharing economy were the up and coming vernacular. I saw a clear indication that consumers were thinking differently about assets that they owned and how to extract value from them. It felt like it was a real movement.
  2. The other models that were big and disruptive at the time were flash sales. These demonstrated an appetite for access and for making luxury and aspirational brands more accessible.
  3. The third thing that was emerging was the idea of secondary marketplaces. It was clear that the eBay experience wasn’t necessarily a positive experience for every vertical and fashion and luxury was one of them – for both buyers and sellers.

Covetique aimed to transform that experience and be a hassle-free way to sell on high value clothes. And for the buyer we wanted to remove barriers associated with buying pre-owned fashion as well as deliver luxury customer service and packaging.

I launched the business in early 2011 with a co-founder. We bootstrapped it for the first year and it was definitely unglamorous! We went to raise a seed round in 2012 and received a term-sheet from a VC only to get it pulled as they didn’t end up closing their fund – lesson learnt! We had capital commitments from angels and an EIS fund but we then spoke with Nick Robertson, the CEO and Founder of ASOS. The conversation was about him joining the round as an angel but he then gave us a strong offer from ASOS itself. We took funding from ASOS giving Covetique access to arguably the strongest e-commerce talent in the world. Over the next three years we grew the business and by 2015 we were doing just under $5m in sales and had 20 staff. 2014 was a challenging year for the business as a result of underinvestment in our infrastructure and we had a persistent problem with scaling our infrastructure in line with our growth and our ability to meet demand. This combined with the threat of well-funded US competitors led us to exit the business to ASOS, who we had built a strong brand with and proven co-marketing in transitioning their core customers to Covetique.

What did your time as a founder teach you that you now bring to investment?

There is no substitute for having been there and done that and having a real appreciation for everything that sits on the shoulders of a CEO and a founder. Having been in the trenches myself, grown a business, managed a board and shouldered that responsibility I would like to think I have far greater empathy when I speak to founders daily. It also reminds me how important it is for me to provide that guidance and strategic sounding board that I so valued from my investors.


Draper Esprit

Tell us about Draper Esprit and your investment philosophy

Our focus as a firm is backing Europe's most ambitious entrepreneurs. Money is a commodity and VC is becoming a commodity. How do you truly deliver value when in a way we all do the same thing? What is particularly unique in our firm is the way we are now set up. Under the patient capital model, we no longer invest under an artificial 10-year horizon. For me what is so exciting is this model uniquely aligns us with founders. It has removed all requirements to exit by a certain timeframe and it allows us to put more capital into businesses and recycle capital back into the winners. It also means that the partners aren’t disappearing to fundraise.

A big part of joining was that Draper Esprit are some of the longest standing and most impressive investors in European venture and to have innovated on the venture model is a brave and brilliant thing to do.

What drew you back to investing?

I did consider going into an early stage company again as you do get a buzz from that, but the opportunity came up to go back into investing and I knew the experience of having run a company would add to me as an investor. I was also excited by the diversity of people and the range of businesses I would interface with again as an investor. I always want to be playing a strong role in driving growth and I felt that the next stage where I could be most valuable was an investor.

What stands out to you when assessing early stage companies?

Similar to most VC firms, we look for a strong team, with relevant backgrounds and a smart approach to the market. I often look for a good balance between ambition and vision and their focus on the execution path in getting there.

What technology trends excite you right now?

Voice AI and how that will continue to improve a lot of end user behaviour which will be changed and controlled by voice.

Autonomous cars!

What makes an effective board?

I think boards are most effective when the interests around the table are aligned and there is a mix of views and perspectives. They are not mutually exclusive. Everyone should agree on what a successful outcome looks like. It is also very important for investors to have an empathy and a respect for each other and the management team.


Women in Business  

What advice would you share with female founders looking to raise finance?

I think there is a strong movement and openness to wanting to back more female-led businesses.

Women tend to be a little less vocal or strong about their ambition and they are maybe a bit more open about where they need help. My advice would therefore be to not undersell to investors who will discount everything you say anyway! If you truly believe that you can build a global business - make that clear

What support networks do you value?

An incredibly supportive husband, a fantastic childminder and amazing family support. I have two two-year-olds at home and I have an incredibly strong family network without which I couldn’t do what I do.

How can we do better to attract and retain more women in business and investment?

I think retention is the key point. I do see a lot of incredible women coming into the industry but we need to talk more about how senior women over time manage their careers and achieve that balance. We need more visible senior women discussing flexibility and companies being aware of how to make the balance work for both men and women. I would very much like to see more of this and be part of that conversation focusing on keeping more women in. As the saying goes you cannot be what you cannot see. 

Maria Wagner - Investing Enlightenment!

Maria and I met for breakfast at the gorgeous Covent Garden Hotel to discuss her career to date and her insights into the world of investment. She was barely able to eat her omelette as she gracefully answered the many questions I came out with on what she looks for in potential investments to what makes an effective board. Maria is an Investment Director at Beringea and previously was Managing Director of Birchbox UK, the fast-growing beauty e-commerce and subscription business that is expanding from the US. Read on to to discover Maria's story, what she learnt from being on the operations side of the table and her advice for female entrepreneurs! 


Meet Maria

Current Job Investment Director at Beringea

First Job Analyst at Goldman Sachs

Go to meeting spot Covent Garden Hotel as it’s next to my office

Favourite book The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt

Necessary extravagance At least one fun long-haul trip a year

Recent inspiration The SheWorx Summit last week – lots of inspiring women founders and women VC investors coming together to offer advice and help women-led businesses grow

Top networking tip Be interested in what the other person is saying and try and build a conversation from there

Most interesting tech firm in London right now Honeycomb which is launching programmatic TV advertising


The Journey

Can you share a brief history of your career before Birchbox and your lessons learnt?

I grew up in Cyprus and went to MIT to study Economics. I subsequently landed an internship at The World Bank before joining Goldman Sachs as an analyst in New York. I then went to Harvard to study for my MBA and afterwards I joined McKinsey New York in TMT. My main takeaway from those experiences was that I enjoyed the deal making aspect but I also enjoyed being more involved in businesses rather than just being on the finance side. I therefore felt that PE/VC would combine those two things, so I moved to London and joined GMT Partners focusing on TMT investments and then Virgin’s internal investment team. Having been on the investor side for a while, I was intrigued about what it would be like to be on the other side, and then the right opportunity came and I joined Birchbox as UK MD to help them launch into Europe.

Tell us about your time at Birchbox

It was a great experience and I think having that experience of what it’s like to run a start-up has made me a better investor. For me, the product appealed greatly as I don’t spend a lot of time looking for the best beauty products so I was attracted to the concept of curated beauty samples arriving at my door that fitted my needs and that I could try before buying the full-size version. It was also a fantastic set-up to join as there was proof-of-concept and funding from the US company but it was a start-up in the UK - the best of both!

My remit covered pretty much everything as each country was largely run independently. I oversaw sourcing of the brands, marketing and PR to attract new customers, editorial to build the local brand personality, operations and customer service, budget and growth strategy. Hiring also took a long time, particularly as I was getting up to speed myself and we had to hire 4 or 5 great people very quickly. It was a steep learning curve!

What did you learn from your operational experience?

I learnt a lot about how things get implemented in practice. You see business plans on paper but having done it I am a better assessor of what it takes. For example, how many people you would have to hire to achieve certain targets and whether that is an achievable hiring plan. And then countless of functional learnings from social media tactics to running payroll to customer service best practices.

What has been your motivation throughout your career?

To keep learning and have an interesting job that challenges me. I want to feel like I am having an impact in the world around me.



Tell us about Beringea and your investment philosophy

Beringea is a VC / Growth Capital Fund. The name comes from the landmass that connected Europe to the Americas in the Ice Ages. So the ethos of the fund is around helping European companies expand to the US or vice versa. It is also a differentiator for us as not many European funds have a US presence. The investment team is 9 in the UK and 5 in the US and we have about $675 assets under management between the two countries and across 65 portfolio companies. We invest in companies that have at least £1m in revenues and we invest £1-5m initially and can invest up to £12m in each company in total. We also co-invest with our US fund and have done 4 co-investments to date. We are sector agnostic although most of our recent investments have been in ecommerce, marketplaces, SaaS, digital media, ad tech and ed tech. Traditionally we mostly led investment rounds but we are increasingly doing more co-investments as well.

What do you look for in potential investments?

Overall, we are different from most funds in that we don’t necessarily go after high risk, high return companies (or “unicorns”) but rather look for companies that will give us solid returns and are less likely to fail.

Specifically, we look for strong teams that have ideally run a business before, or have sector expertise, and we want to see that they can inspire and hire great people. We also look for a big market with a gap in it that the product addresses. High revenue growth is equally important as is traction in KPIs if the company is launching a new product or a new country. In contrast with most VCs, we prefer companies that are capital efficient and want to be confident that they can get to profitability with our round or the next round. Finally, we look at the unit economics of the business if it is B2C business and the sales channel effectiveness if it is B2B.   

I do think we look at things with a different lens and hence I think we see most deals that we want to see. The UK/US approach is also a great differentiator for us.

What drew you back to investing?

Investing is where my heart lies. I enjoy being involved with multiple companies at different stages of development at the same time. It’s a great privilege to be at the forefront of technology and meet new brilliant entrepreneurs every day launching the latest products and services. It’s also very rewarding to be able to help entrepreneurs grow their companies and navigate the ups and downs of building a new business or disrupting a sector.

What technology trends excite you right now?

  • Education
  • VR/AR
  • Machine learning

We go to a lot of conferences to learn more about upcoming sectors and we do deep dives occasionally. We also use our network and get to know experts in different fields (we are helpfully invested in a business called Third Bridge – which can help you access experts in all types of fields).

How actively does Beringea work with its portfolio?

We always take a relatively active role and sit on the boards of most companies that we have invested in. In terms of time outside of board meetings it does depend on each company, for example, if they are exiting, fundraising or going through a tough time we tend to get more involved. An effective board needs a clear vision and a clear understanding of what’s working or not. Constructive challenge and conflict is also healthy at the board level and the only way to grow, but having an aligned vision and talking about it often makes everything a lot easier.

In general we are a patient and supportive investor. We do concentrate a lot on our portfolio because our fund model determines that we aim to make a good return from each company. We therefore do several follow-ons each year. In addition, because we are an evergreen fund it means we don’t have a deadline to exit companies. We take the lead from the team on timing of the exit but once they do decide we help connect them to interested parties and CF advisors. We try to keep an eye out and get to know potential exit routes and start conversations early.

Beringea has also started organising more events to connect our portfolio companies. We host a portfolio summit day once a year to bring all our CEOs together and we also host smaller sector-focused get-togethers amongst our portfolio companies. Finally, we host drinks for exciting entrepreneurs in different sectors that are probably too early for us to invest in but we want to keep in touch with them for the future and also help them get to know and support each other.


Women in Business

What advice would you give to female founders?

If you are trying to raise money from a VC, Go big and go fast.

The thing I have noticed about female founders is that they often wait until their pitch is perfect before they go out to speak with investors. My advice is to talk to investors earlier as their comments may help you refine your pitch and evolve your business model faster. The “go big” part is because some of the business models could be more ambitious. Have a big, compelling vision and design a business that could capture a large market share and hence return attractive returns for investors.

What do you discuss during an investment committee?

Founders might be surprised about how much we talk about them at investment committee. We also spend quite a bit of time on the ‘what if’, i.e. the downside case, and discuss what levers management can pull and whether they would be able to fundraise further. We of course spend time discussing the upside and the potential returns and all the KPIs that get you there.

How can we do better to attract and retain more women?

Schools need to play a bigger role in teaching entrepreneurial skills and business tools (such as accounting, coding) to girls (and boys!) at an earlier age. Also small projects of running a fictional business will give girls the practical experience and confidence that they could do it in real life one day. We also need to pay it forward and remove the smoke and mirrors as women don’t ask for help as often. Finally, I believe that investment is a great career for women as it actually offers a lot of flexibility. I don’t think this is well known and may encourage women from the industry at the beginning of their careers.

Nadia Manzoor - Breaking Moulds!

Nadia is a total force of nature, whilst remaining incredibly humble, and I loved hearing her story over breakfast at Dean Street Townhouse. Last June, at just 30 years old, Nadia was appointed to the board of JP Morgan American Investment Trust, making her the youngest woman in the world to sit on the board of a company listed on the main market of the London Stock Exchange. She is almost half the average age of non-execs currently sitting on UK boards! Nadia is also a Partner at S. W. Mitchell Capital - the hedge fund run by star-manager, Stuart Mitchell. She made Partner after just 18 months at the fund - whilst still in her twenties! Read on to discover her story, her advice for those seeking to break in to Finance and her thoughts on the diversity of the industry.


Meet Nadia

Current Job Partner at investment management boutique, S.W. Mitchell Capital. I head up the business development team and am General Counsel to the firm. I also sit on the board of J. P. Morgan American Investment Trust as a Non-Executive Director.

First Job When I was 14, would you believe, all I wanted was a long-sleeved Manchester United shirt with Giggs on the back! My mum didn’t think this was suitable attire for a young lady (although not sure that I’ve ever been a “young lady”!) and said that if I wanted one I would have to earn the money myself. So, I got a job picking strawberries on a farm near where I live in Yorkshire. I worked from sunrise to sunset picking - slash eating - strawberries for 2 long days. Just long enough to earn £65 to buy the shirt, which I still have to this day…but definitely never wear anymore! I used to wear it the whole time – with a matching cap…aaah! I couldn’t even tell you who their captain is now!

Education Law at Cambridge University. It was a real privilege to study there. 

Go to meeting spot I always ask the person I’m meeting where’s best for them. As a result, I seem to spend a lot of time in the various Le Pain Quotidien’s dotted around mid-town New York. If a client is visiting London and asks me to choose then I go for The Parlour at Fortnum & Mason. Partly because it’s right next door to our office but mainly because they serve their hot chocolate with marshmallows and cream!

Favourite book Too many! Things that jump to mind straight away: The Count of Monte CristoThe Great GatsbyTo Kill a MockingbirdAesop’s FablesThe Shadow of the Wind. All Roald Dahl and I adore reading Oscar Wilde’s plays as well. 

Necessary extravagance Uber everywhere. Whoever decided not to produce cumulative monthly statements was a very clever person. Somewhat ironically, walking everywhere is my other extravagance – it would be wonderful to walk everywhere, but I never seem to have enough time. 

Favourite productivity tool Yoga – or at least, trying to do yoga - I’m not very good! It’s amazing how slowing down can help you speed up. I’m addicted to sugary treats which give me productivity bursts too… but I’m (very) slowly trading this in for green juice! It’s so important to give your body the right kind of fuel.

Female inspiration in business My mum is the inspiration for everything in my life – she is a remarkable woman. I remember her being an early donner of trouser suits back in the 80s which used to terrify the Kindergarten dads (probably including my own)! I’ve been incredibly lucky to work with inspirational women too. When I started my career, I trained as a corporate lawyer under Nilufer von Bismarck at magic circle law firm, Slaughter and May. They don’t make lawyers better than Nilufer. I owe much of who I am today to her - she could certainly be tough on me! Sarah Bates, the super smart Chair of my board, is also a huge inspiration. I look up to these women very much – they are absolutely killing it in a man’s world.

Hottest tech startup in the UK right now Entrepreneur First. The work that EF are doing to support people - many of whom would otherwise not have had the opportunity to build and create companies of their own – companies that will mould our future - is tremendous. (Although perhaps I’m a little biased… I’m a lawyer so full disclaimer at all times: my best friend’s husband, Matt Clifford, is a Co-Founder).


The Journey

Have you always been interested in Finance?

Absolutely not! When I was a child, I used to fluctuate between wanting to become a doctor and an actress – but in theatre, not Hollywood.

I was a total science geek. I set up the junior science club at my school… I still go to science lectures now (always alone!). It sounds like such a cliché saying it out loud – but I wanted to do something that could make a difference to people who need it the most. I spent a summer in my teens volunteering in Malawi and came home convinced that Médecins Sans Frontières was my calling in life. Maybe it is. I’ve always had something in my DNA that wants to help people. Ultimately, I’d love to set up a charity.

As for acting - I’ve been interested in drama ever since my first casting as Joseph in the Kindergarten nativity play. I like to think that this was due to my talent rather than because I looked like a boy! Nobody is entirely sure which it was, but either way, I ended up going to Performing Arts school and am Grade 8 in Guildhall Speech & Drama. I also worked as an extra in various films and television programmes that were filmed in Yorkshire. My family home is right by the Emmerdale set so I spent time during school holidays there - waiting for hours for the 2 seconds I was needed to cross a road somewhere very very far in the background!

I never even considered Finance. But then I’m not sure any little girl says to her parents “when I grow up I’d like to work in a hedge fund…”.

So how did you get to Law initially?

I’m not good enough to be an actress - although it’s still a great hobby of mine. I did a course focussing on Stanislavki’s system at RADA recently and I’d love to put on an amateur production one of these days. As for medicine, those aspirations were cut short when I did work experience with a paediatrician and discovered that I’m just not emotionally tough enough to become the kind of doctor I’d envisaged. 

I was left stuck (or so I thought) because I was doing all sciences and Economics at A level. I ended up panicking and reading Law because I simply didn’t know what else to do. For some reason, I thought I needed to do something which carved out a path for my future – but do any of us ever really know what we want to be? Perhaps the best things happen when you don’t have a plan. With hindsight I should have just studied something I enjoyed. I absolutely love my job, but I sometimes wonder how different my life would be if I hadn’t made the decision to study Law.

How did you get from Law into Finance?

Luck. It can be very hard to make a complete career change without starting at the bottom. It’s useful to start with speaking to recruiters and possibly even looking into relevant courses… but for me it came down to speaking to as many different people already in the industry as I could. A friend (to whom I will be eternally grateful) who works at another fund very kindly made the introduction. At the time, I had no idea that it would eventually lead to a job. I was just incredibly lucky that my (now) boss was able to see the transferability of my skill-set and was willing to give me a chance to prove myself.  But getting the job is only the start. It’s an incredibly competitive industry, so keeping the job is the hard part. It was a real baptism of fire for me at the start.

Unfortunately, the fund management industry can be pretty opaque. People don’t tend to use recruiters, internships are scarce and it can be hard to even just to get a CV in front of the right person. In the absence of getting an internship, I would encourage anybody thinking about jobs in a fund to reach out to individuals already working in the industry to ask for advice - rather than just sending a CV. Websites often have email addresses (if not you can often work them out or failing that, LinkedIn is a great resource). If you can find somebody that you have a connection with, it’s a nice way to introduce yourself. Even if you just went to the same University or like the same sports team, it’s enough. People are usually always willing to go for a coffee, and you never know where it will lead. Being able to show who you are and what you have to offer is always much better than just being a name on a piece of paper. I'm happy for anyone reading this to get in touch with me if they’d like to talk about this more. I’m always so happy to help if I can.

How did you get your Board role?

I was headhunted. One of the difficulties is how to find good candidates from all backgrounds who are not already on boards. I’m not sure there is a good answer to that, but with an ever increasing focus on strong corporate governance and diversity, boards are (rather encouragingly) starting to look much more actively in wider pools. Board Apprentice is a superb not-for-profit organisation which aims to increase the number and diversity of board-ready individuals – well worth having a look at for anybody thinking about a board role.


Women in Finance

Why do you not think there are more women in Finance?

I think it stems from not enough women applying in the first place, rather than there being a “glass ceiling”.  A lot of analyst roles require a Maths degree, which typically tends to be a more male dominated subject. Plus the perception of the industry can be quite tough –women may be intimidated by stories of gruelling hours and difficult characters. We need to change both of those things. Maths is obviously very helpful, but it isn’t essential - some of the best analysts I know have arts backgrounds. From my own experience, the perception of the industry is unfair too.

My particular role involves a lot of travel - I’m in the US every few weeks and somewhere in Europe every couple of months too. Whilst I love travelling, being away so much for business can be exhausting and is pretty unconducive to having a young family. It’s inadvertently a way that women can get pushed out or (at the more cynical end of the spectrum) not selected for roles in the first place. At our firm we are hugely supportive of women and  flexible working but that doesn’t appear to be the norm. More firms need to evolve to create an environment to support their employees as they grow. In my view, creating more autonomous working environments isn’t just about supporting women, but also about increasing productivity across the board. I won’t go into it now, but if you haven’t seen the TED Talk – Dan Pink, The Puzzle of Motivation – you have to watch it! One of my absolute favourites.

The industry is aware there is a problem, which is the start of things getting better. The Diversity Project was launched last year, with the aim of accelerating progress towards a more inclusive culture in the investment profession. I very much hope that it will help to bring about the change needed – not just for women, but to ensure diversity in all of its different guises.

Do you find it hard to be a woman in such a male dominated industry?

I give the men a run for their money! But, yes it can be challenging at times. Often that’s my own mind playing tricks, rather than as a result of anything that other people do. I don’t like to stereotype, but there is all sorts of interesting research that shows that women are, typically, much less self-assured than men. I think I am confident… yet I would never have considered myself for my non-exec role if I hadn’t been headhunted. I see the same sort of mind-set in other women I know. We desperately need to change this.

What personal qualities to you attribute most to your success?

There is no magic ingredient. I just try my best and work hard... and I work hard because I want to be the best. Every accomplishment starts with a simple decision to try. Outside of that, I think it’s important to treat people well. In a world where we can choose to be anything, I wish more people would choose to be kind. Everything in life comes down to the relationships we have.

What would be your advice to women getting into Finance today?

You can never be overdressed or overeducated! It doesn’t matter who you are, where you’re from, or what stage you are in your life – education can be the key to a myriad of different doors. I hope I never stop learning. But as much as we like to think of education as meritocracy, I know it isn’t always easy – if you’re struggling then please get in touch with charities like Tomorrow’s People and The Prince's Trust. I volunteer for Tomorrow’s People and I’m blown away by the work they do to help people acquire skills and ultimately find employment.

The dressing remark is slightly tongue in cheek, but I think there is some truth behind it. My mum always says “dress for the job you want, not the job you have”. But most importantly, make sure your clothes are professional – including at evening functions.

I would also say, think about why you want go into Finance. It’s a great career – but I ended up here by default rather than design. There are so many different paths out there – explore them – do work experience and speak to as many different people as you can. For example, tech is a hugely exciting area… it’s the future.

Another important thing is (throwing our genetic pre-disposition aside) to believe in yourself. Everybody has talents – find yours. I love the Einstein quote

Everybody is a genius, but if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will spend its whole life thinking it’s stupid

Final thought...

Most importantly of all, remember balance in everything that you do.

The ability to switch off is crucial

Having a career as a woman can be hugely empowering, but it’s equally empowering to spend time with your family and to do the things that make you happy. Ultimately if you have your health and a couple of people you love, then you really do have everything.


Melissa Morris - Bettering our NHS!

Melissa and I met at Friends of Ours cafe for breakfast to discuss her move from big corporate career to founder of a health tech startup and her accumulated wisdom along the way. Network Locum is a marketplace that connects doctors and shift work and seeks to address efficiency and affordability within the NHS. Melissa talks about her critical path to actually launching her company, her fundraising advice and how she goes about recruiting and retaining women in her business. 


Meet Melissa

Current Job CEO of Network Locum 

First Job Working in a garden centre behind the tills on Saturday 

Education Business and Economics at Bath University which included two six month work placements which I did in M&A at Lehman Brothers and Citi 

Go to meeting spot Friends of Ours or wherever is close to my office 

Necessary extravagance Hair & nails!  

Favourite productivity tool Trello 

Recent inspiration A conversation I had with my boyfriend recently about how to create a grass roots movement. His advice jumpstarted my thoughts about how to scale our offering to doctors

Favourite tech startup in the UK right now Onfido 

The Journey

Can you tell us briefly about your background prior to founding Network Locum and your biggest learning from these experiences? 

After Citi Group I went to McKinsey and I worked on a lot of projects in healthcare. During my time at large corporates I knew I wanted to start my own company at some point, as my parents were both entrepreneurs, so I was always looking out for potential ideas. When I was working in healthcare I was shocked by the fact by the fact that most of the NHS's spend is on staff and that the NHS is the fifth largest employer in the world. That is nuts, it is just behind the Chinese army and Indian railway! So I decided my company would address NHS staffing. 

When I looked further at the processes for clinical staff I saw it was very manual and expensive because of the reliance on agencies. Locum staffing is when a qualified doctor goes to work on a temporary basis in a medical organisation in order to cover for another medical professional when they are off work, a bit like a supply teacher. Recruitment agencies tend to take up to 30% commission on each GP they place, which has a direct impact on the amount of money that is available to actually deliver primary care. I wanted to make this process more efficient and more affordable for the NHS. 

After working at McKinsey for two years and doing a lot of research and validating my idea with the partners I decided to leave and go work in the NHS to gain first-hand experience before setting up Network Locum. 

I went on a TV game show called The Angel - at the time I had nothing to lose! The prize for the show was £100k worth of investment from John Caudwell, founder of Phones4U. I actually won the show but ended up turning the investment down as it wasn't the right deal for us. So after embarrassing myself, I ended up raising money from angels and friends and family and then going full time. 

What is Network Locum & what was the motivation behind it? 

Network Locum is a marketplace that connects doctors and shift work. It is a workforce management software plus marketplace. So we are solving the problem of empty shifts in the NHS. 

The NHS is something I care about deeply after working in it for 8 years. I want to solve the cost and efficiency of staffing and I believe we are doing that. We have had huge successes in whole boroughs of London, Manchester and Birmingham and are essentially running the entire staff banks in those areas. 

What’s the single best piece of business advice that helped shape who you are as an entrepreneur today?

Do the work
Everyone has to do things they don't want to do

Network Locum

What has been the evolution and milestones to date of Network Locum? 

  • We closed our Series B funding round;
  • We got on to the preferred supplier list to supply to hospitals. It is the biggest red tape we could have concurred. It means we are approved for the next five years to supply doctors nurses and dentists; 
  • We evolved our product from just a marketplace into workforce management software plus marketplace which has changed the metrics of the business;
  • Hiring insanely smart people. We have now got really senior hires who are really passionate and committed and being able to attract that kind of talent is very surreal.

What are some of the KPIs that you measure success by for both the business and your team?

The KPI we focus on is local density and within that the number of transactions through the platform. We used to just look at overall transactions but the key metric really is about how much value you are providing in the area the doctor will travel. 

What values do you hold and what kind of company do you want to build? 

I am about positivity, bringing people together and having a good time solving hard problems. I want to build a self-sustaining and re-enforcing company where those we serve hold the same values as us. 

What do you think the future of healthcare looks like and in that context what is your long term vision for NL? 

It is so hard because it depends on what government we have. But as long as you are creating value, saving money and connecting people there will always be a place for you. We can save each GP practice £20k a year, and we save hospitals £200k a year per department but even more when you include the reduction in fines they face as they are not operating on a skeleton staff as much. 

Women in Tech

Can you share your fundraising history as well as your experience and advice for women looking to raise capital

I feel like every time we do it I could have done so many things better. My one piece of advice would be to keep control of the process. Try to run a parallel process, don't let investors drag you off and have more meetings. Also remember how many factors are outside of your control so just focus on the ones which you can influence. 

Do you consciously think about building a diverse team and how can we do better to attract and retain more women in those teams?

It is something that is always on my mind and a regular agenda item in senior team meetings. I am very pro hiring women and coaching them because I knew what it was like in an investment bank, being objectified, not having the same opportunities as men. It took having to go to another organisation which are pro-women for me to feel appreciated. We have done a good job in our sales, operations and senior team but it is harder in tech. We have quite a few female designers and product owners but just one female developer.

You have experienced both big corporates and startups - what advice would you give to new graduates? 

Everybody is really down on banking and it can be really miserable. But it is also really amazing training - they teach you for 12 weeks how to do financial modelling, how to produce great presentations and that is a toolkit you can take to other organisations or to your startup. They do invest a lot of energy and effort into their grads. If you are a grad do a couple of years somewhere that will give you that toolkit: how to talk to senior people, how to present, how to do financial modelling.  

What personal qualities to you attribute most to your success? 

I have a lot of energy and can get a lot done in a day!

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Rachel Carrell - Solving Childcare!

Rachel and I had breakfast at Berners Tavern - one of my favourite morning havens. Rachel was the former CEO of the world’s largest online doctor service, which grew to 1.3m paying users in the UK, Ireland and Australia under her leadership. But after having her daughter and hearing friends’ horror stories finding childcare, she was inspired to quit her job in 2016 and she founded Koru Kids, the UK’s first managed nanny share network. We discuss her recent seed funding round, how to be different types of CEO and the merits and drawbacks of corporates and startups. 


Meet Rachel

Current Job CEO of Koru Kids

First Job Babysitting…but my first proper job was working in an aluminium smelter when I was 18

Education Undergrad in Linguistics and Politics from Otago University, New Zealand; Masters and Doctorate in International Development from Oxford

Go to meeting spot I meet everyone in the Café Rouge in Euston station piazza. Not because it’s brilliant but because it’s easy for everyone to get to Euston and it’s 5 minutes from my co-working space

Favourite book Never Let Me Go, by Kazuo Ishiguro

Necessary extravagance HelloFresh, the meal ingredients delivery service. We were very early customers – we’ve been using them for 3 years now

Favourite productivity tool Front, which is our customer services software. It’s hard to make customer services software joyful but they managed it

Top networking tip Always get ‘warm intros’ from a mutual friend wherever you possibly can, rather than approaching people cold. Busy people use warm intros as a way to figure out who to meet (and if you’re a true entrepreneur you’ll figure out how to get one)

Hottest tech startup in the UK right now I’m so excited about Entrepreneur First and the high tech startups they continue to produce like clockwork. I’ve been involved with EF since their beginnings 5 years ago. Their demo days have always been good but lately they are off the charts. If you want to see the future of UK tech, get a seat at one somehow


The Journey

Tell us about your career prior to founding Koru Kids and your biggest take aways from those experiences?

I was at McKinsey for 6 years, working on all sorts of things. It taught me to run teams and projects, and to figure out company strategy. I then moved to the NHS for 15 months, where I ran the Strategy team for London. It taught me how to think about influencing within systems. Finally I was CEO of, the world’s largest online doctor service, for 3.5 years. This taught me how to recruit, lead, run operations, and a lot about digital. 

What is Koru Kids & what was the motivation behind it?

When I was at, I had my daughter. Purely by luck, we happened to find an absolutely amazing childminder who lived near us. She looks after a few kids together at the same time, and my daughter adores it. Growing up with other children has been amazing for her social development, and her language. So my daughter has always had phenomenal childcare. But I saw that my friends who also had kids the same age really struggled to get their childcare sorted out. It’s so expensive – a full time nanny costs £37K on average in London – and if you go the nursery route, it’s very hard to keep going with a big career as you have to be there every day at 6pm for pickup (very tough to achieve) and if they’re off sick, which kids are a lot, you have to stay home with them. There aren’t nearly enough great childminders like my one – in fact there are 10,000 fewer childminders in the UK than there were in 2011. I saw friends quitting jobs they loved just because they couldn’t sort out their childcare. So I decided to found a company to help more families access the kind of childcare I’d been lucky enough to find by chance.

What’s the single best piece of business advice that helped shape who you are as an entrepreneur today?

I love Steve Blank’s definition of a startup:

“an organisation built to search for a repeatable and scalable business model.”

Focus on this and your job becomes obvious: it’s all about learning. It’s okay that you don’t have a business model finalised yet. Of course you don’t! You’re a startup. But the faster you learn, the faster you find your business. So do anything that accelerates learning. That means creating a culture where people are honest about mistakes, not afraid of trying things, and disciplined about reviewing the results of experiments. If you focus on this, everything else follows. I repeat this like a mantra to my team.


Koru Kids

What has been the evolution and milestones to date of Koru Kids?

It took a while to figure out the specifics of our first service, which is helping parents share their nannies. We help parents who are employing a nanny already, find another family to share the nanny with. This is amazing for the kids, who get a friend who is a bit like a sibling. It also allows both families to save about 1/3rd on the cost of their nanny.

The first nanny share match we made was an amazing milestone. We introduced two people who lived about 5 minutes walk from each other, and they’re all so happy with their nanny share. The nanny loves the kids, and is earning far more money; the parents are saving a ton on their nanny and the kids are totally adorable together. It was the perfect first match for our business.

Finally we just closed our seed round, which feels like a great milestone! We raised £600,000 in seed funding from some of the UK’s top investors, including Michael Pennington, founder of Gumtree; the two founders of Europe’s top accelerator Entrepreneur First and Rocket Internet’s Venture Capital arm, Global Founders Capital (GFC).

Have you changed as a CEO from DrThom to Koru Kids? 

At DrThom I had a team of about 40 people, and I could think ‘big thoughts’ and then rely on the specialists to actually put it into practice. At Koru Kids we started with no specialists… so I had to do everything myself initially, and learn an awful lot of detail very quickly.

What metrics do you focus on? 

Our top priority is making really great nanny shares. So key metrics for us are: number of families in our network available for match; number of shares; and duration of shares. We don’t just take an introduction fee and then never see our customers again - we offer lots of support to families as their share proceeds. It’s hard to communicate this value ahead of time, but in practice there are always changes and questions that arise. We want to be there for the journey.

Biggest challenge so far? 

Being a non-technical founder and needing to hire tech talent. Luckily, I have some amazing technical advisors who have helped a lot. 

What is your long term vision for Koru Kids? 

We are building the world’s best childcare service, bar none. We’ll offer sick cover, holiday cover, and training for nannies. It’ll be affordable, reliable, and easy for parents to arrange.


Women in Tech

Tell us about your fundraising experiences and advice for others looking to raise capital. 

My track record at was very important in my ability to raise capital. At seed stage you’re really just investing in a founding team, not really the idea itself – you’re making a bet that the founders will be able to discover a business. Luckily I had a lot of great people who thought I could probably do this. That’s not to say it was all plain sailing - the legal processes were interminable! But I’ve ended up with a cadre of investors I’m incredibly excited about. Over half are former founders, over half are highly experienced VCs or angels, several are both of these things, and none is neither. 

Will you think about building a diverse team and what can we do better to attract and retain more women in those teams?

One of the things I really want to do with Koru Kids is figure out how to tap into the pool of women who are highly qualified and want a job that works within the school run. It’s criminal how much professional talent is wasted because there aren’t enough jobs like this. I know so many amazing, smart, highly-educated and experienced women who want to work 9-3pm but can’t because jobs don’t do that. I don’t see why not, and I really want to figure out how to provide these job opportunities within Koru Kids. The balance we need to find is that, especially in the early days of a business, it’s also really important to be all in the same room. But I think we’ll get there.

What personal qualities to you attribute most to your success?

A certain doggedness. My chief quality is persistence. If I don’t know it, I’ll learn it. If I can’t do it, I’ll try 100 different ways. I think the answer to most things is out there, you just have to read the right blog or book or ask the right question to the right person. Mostly what I do is just extract information and combine it in new ways, then just keep doing that again and again and again and again until something works.

You have experienced both big corporates and startups - what advice would you give to new graduates?

It’s very useful to experience both. Consulting is helpful as you learn so very quickly when you’re exposed to lots of different types of organisation within a short space of time. Big corporates teach you lots of things ‘not to do’ which you can then avoid building into your startup.

I’ve never planned my own career, it’s just happened. I would say to a new graduate, just take opportunities which look interesting and like you’ll probably learn a lot. If it doesn’t work out, no big deal.  Oh, and work really hard in your 20s – you’ll be glad you did when you have kids. 

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Neeta Patel - Helping Future Entrepreneurs!

Neeta and I met for breakfast at Finch's Pub for a very long overdue interview with Breakfast with Tiffany. Neeta is the founding CEO of New Entrepreneurs Foundation, where I was privileged to be part of the 2016 cohort. I will be forever grateful to her for allowing me to embark on a different career, as she was the one to extend an olive branch when I failed to get in with my original application and she gave me a second chance by inviting me to interview – the rest is history! We talk about her career as a corporate entrepreneur, an investor and a change agent; the origins of NEF and its successes to date, as well as her advice for founders of the future! 


Meet Neeta

Current Job Chief Executive of the New Entrepreneurs Foundation.

First Job Aged 12 doing the 4-7pm evening slot after school each day in my parent’s corner grocery shop in Crouch End, North London.

Education Masters degree in Chemistry from Oxford University; MBA in Marketing from Cass Business School; Sloan Fellowship in Strategy and Leadership from London Business School.

Go to meeting spot Finch’s pub

Favourite book Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie; The Undercover Economist by Tim Hartford; More Human by Steve Hilton. The latter really resonated with me as it reflected on how we are de-humanising our society in the name of technological progress: making homes, buildings and offices attractive to look at but unsuitable for living and working in; making customer support totally virtual, thereby alienating and marginalising those who cannot participate. Lots of really interesting questions about where our society is moving. 

Necessary extravagance I subscribe to about a dozen magazines – a lot of business magazines, The Spectator, Harvard Business Review, The Economist but also Vanity Fair, Private Eye and so on! 

Favourite productivity tool My watch. I only have 30 min meetings whenever I can due to my very short attention span!

Top networking tip You have to be there in order to meet people, so show up and be present.

The Journey

Can you tell us about some of your experiences prior to New Entrepreneurs Foundation? 

I was lucky enough to begin my career in tech at BT and technology has traversed my career ever since. In 1995 came my first career pivot - my first management job at Legal & General. I was fresh out of my MBA, the Internet was just taking off and I was excited by the prospect. I was head of brand advertising and communications, in charge of a £40m budget and 47 staff. I always used to be described as an agitator within companies later coined an innovator, and I thought we should give the Internet a go! I persuaded the CEO to give me the budget and 2 people to work on it with me. He asked me to step down from my current role, which was a huge corporate job for a FTSE 100 company, if I wanted to pursue this hunch. It was a big risk - I thought it over for about a minute and decided to jump in with both feet. We launched the first ever personal finance website in Europe at a time when there were only 300 URLs registered in the UK. That website won 9 awards and beat the likes of Nike and BA to become the e-commerce company of the year in 1997 – something I am still very proud of. 

That kicked off my interest in the power of the Internet and digital technology. I subsequently joined The Financial Times as part of their digital personal finance team and then ran That set my pathway of going into companies and turning around their digital presence. It also set my own understanding of my attitude to risk – I am a high risk taker – although the older I get, the more measured the risks become. The ability to embrace risk has allowed me to jump into my own ventures even though they failed and to always look out for the next opportunity.

What is New Entrepreneurs Foundation and its philosophy? 

We are a UK educational charity with the aim of developing the entrepreneurial leaders of the future. We are not an accelerator or an incubator – if anything I describe us an accelerator for the individual. Our belief is that if you select bright people who possess an entrepreneurial mindset, place them in an entrepreneurial environment where they can learn from people who have done it before, offer formal training in tools and techniques and, finally, give them coaching and mentoring from people who can help them, they are more likely to not only start their own ventures but are also likely to be more successful. This was the thesis on which NEF was launched. Five years on we have proven the thesis with some exciting results which are published in our annual report.

What’s the single best piece of business advice that helped shape who you are as an entrepreneurial leader today?

My line manager at Legal & General, who was one of the first female IT directors in a FTSE 100 company in the 70s, once told me she would give me just enough rope to hang myself with before she will come to my rescue. It wasn’t meant to be negative but rather advice to suggest  you should always try things but make sure you have a fall back. That has been my philosophy in life – give it a go. Nobody dies in the job we do as we are not in the medical profession. If you have an idea and you are passionate about it, do it! 

What would you like to be remembered for? 

Having had a positive impact on the companies I have worked in as well as on the individuals I have engaged with. I hope that the companies would say that Neeta came in and shook us up and made us think in a different way even if it was uncomfortable at the time. For individuals to say that she helped me think things through, moved my ideas forward, supported my ambitions and pushed me to think beyond my boundaries and comfort zones.

New Entrepreneurs Foundation 

What has been the evolution and milestones to date of NEF? 

It has been evolution not revolution. NEF was launched five years ago based on this hypothesis that Oliver Pawle, Founder and Chairman, had, and in an entrepreneurial fashion we just did it and tried it. Some of the new NEFers coming through don't realise how entrepreneurial and light footed we are. For the first cohort, workshops were being designed a week before they were delivered, we didn’t have venues or providers and there wasn’t a formal coaching or mentoring programme. What this ‘pioneering’ cohort got was very different to what the class of 2017 is going through. The programme has evolved over time in an iterative way, we do reviews at the end of each year and ask participants about what they think and then we change it for the following year.

What are some of the KPIs that you measure success by for NEF?