Debbie Wosskow - Our Sharing Economy Queen!

I was introduced to Debbie by Izzy Fox and we met over breakfast at Little House in Mayfair. I am simply in awe of her: she is the founder and CEO of Love Home Swap, author of the independent report for the UK government on the Sharing Economy, founding Chair of Sharing Economy UK, one of the Evening Standard's 1000 most influential people of 2015, an angel investor with a passion to invest in and help women, trustee and chair of Hampstead Theatre AND she also managed to go to the gym before our breakfast! Settle in as we talk through her journey, her ambitions and what the future of the sharing economy might look like for the UK.

The sharing economy involves using internet technologies to connect distributed groups of people and organisations to make better use of goods, skills, services, capital and spaces, sharing access and so reducing the need for ownership.

Meet Debbie

Current Job CEO of Love Home Swap; Chair of Sharing Economy UK (the newly formed trade association for sharing economy businesses); angel investor and I also sit on Sajid Javid's productivity task force.  

Education Philosophy and Theology at New College, Oxford University.

Go to meeting spot Little House Mayfair. I pretty much split my time between Soho House establishments and Firmdale Hotels.

Favourite book/blog/podcast I walk quite a lot so I listen to a lot of TED. As an arts graduate I am a big literature fan and I try to work my way through the Booker list each year. 

Necessary extravagance Expensive gym kit and shoes. 

Favourite productivity tool/app myfitnesspal 

How do you switch off Reading and theatre (I try to go to the latter once a week - going to see Rabbit Hole tonight). I also like to sweat every day; I enjoy a class or a trainer so I have one hour of my day where someone else tells me what to do!

Female inspiration in business I am from a very entrepreneurial family where none of us have a 'normal job', everyone runs a business, so the notion of going into an office was implausible. Seeing my mum and grandma do this and be mothers meant I never had a sense of women not being able to do things. Aside from family, Anita Roddick and Debbie Moore. 

Top networking tip Turn up. Be confident. Smile. 

80% of success is showing up - Woody Allen 

Hottest UK tech company (apart from Love Home Swap!) VINAYA

The Journey

Tell us about Love Home Swap, its evolution to date and the most exciting thing you are currently working on! 

The idea is 5 years old and has quite a personal origin. I was travelling back from a terrible holiday with my two small children (where we stayed in a cramped hotel room) and I watched The Holiday (inspiration can come in many forms)! I wondered does this even exist and if it does that is exactly what I wish I'd had. I don't let things drop so the idea was born and I founded Love Home Swap. I dissuaded my brother from doing an MBA and he joined me at the beginning of the journey.

We raised our first round from MMC Ventures in 2011. Now we have raised capital in the UK and US and taken strategic investment a year ago from Wyndham Worldwide. When I was raising 5 years ago the sharing economy notion was in its infancy and I got told repeatedly that no one will stay in someone else's home! Fast forward to the present and my mum stayed in an Airbnb last summer and Beyonce posts an Instagram of the one she stayed for the Super Bowl! We are benefiting from that after glow effect. 

For us what is super interesting is that we are a totally different audience - older, families etc. and the crux is about the swap. Airbnb is about the yield whereas Love Home Swap is an emotional decision. You put yourself in someone else's skin and them in yours. 

How does the business model differ to Airbnb? 

The average homeswapper is 14 years older than those using Airbnb. It is about the families, empty nesters and second home owners. For example, I am doing a homeswap this weekend to the Cotswolds - they have two kids, we have two kids. With Love Home Swap you are a member of the club and using points means you don't have to pay - you are still renting an Airbnb at the end of the day. 

What are your future ambitions? 

When we first launched we had 250 we have over 150,000! People swap for two reasons: flirting with where to go or, they need to go Sienna for a wedding. We need to be able to service both types of demand meaning bigger is better! We have ambitious plans to scale up the business and seed more homes in places around the world where people want to go. 

Can you share some of your other ventures to date, and the skills from those tenures you appreciate most since founding and scaling Love Home Swap? 

I have worked for myself since I was 25 and you learn so much about running a business from just running one (which dovetails into a bigger point around how we educate entrepreneurs and people in general); I didn't know how to read a P&L, but I learnt quickly! I have come to learn enormous amounts about people too. If you're the boss when you are very young you have to work out how to motivate, incentivise and manage individuals a lot older than you. But if I am good at anything it is really knowing what needs to get done that will drive value, and focusing and executing on that. 

What makes successful co-founding teams? 

Pick someone different to you with complementary skills. It is also more binding than a marriage - talking from a perspective of someone with both business partners and ex husbands. Companies are not quick, Mantra, my first business, took 8 years from start to exit and Love Home Swap is in year 5. These are huge commitments and I am skeptical when I meet teams that say they met at a networking event two months ago. Anyone can be good together in the good stuff, it is the endurance and grit together in the bad times that is important. 

The Sharing Economy & Investment

You authored the independent report for the UK government on the Sharing Economy in 2014 (Unlocking the sharing economy) - can you share some of the key highlights? 

It is about making the UK the home of the sharing economy. We have the opportunity to be really good - we have a benign regulatory environment and a government that wants to keep it that way. The report was about seising this moment and making the UK even better and truly startup friendly to sharing economy businesses. I have two main focuses afterwards: 

  1. Productivity - In a global league table the UK lags significantly. This is one of Sajid Javid's key focus - solving the productivity problem. My argument is that the current measure, GDP, does not capture sharing economy activity. 
  2. Status of workers on platforms - We have an opportunity to do things differently here. We are not the US where there is no welfare state and it is the role of the employer to provide those benefits; nor are we France where the employees rule. We need to get clear on this and carve out a different role for platforms. 

We have now formed the trade association and have catapulted from 19 to 50 members! 

You are the founding Chair of Sharing Economy UK (SEUK) - what are the goals of this relatively nascent trade body? 

Sharing Economy UK champions the UK’s sharing economy industry. We are a nationwide trade body representing the country’s most influential sharing economy businesses, along with game-changing start-ups, across a spectrum of sectors. We represent their interests, raise the profile of the sharing economy in the press and we are a resource for our members. If you are a small sharing economy startup and you are part of the same organisation as Airbnb, TaskRabbit and BlaBlaCar you benefit from those connections. We host events and provide mentoring and I just returned from a trip with 16 entrepreneurs to Silicon Valley visiting Uber, Instacart etc! Finally we are better together for conversations such as insurance policies and have better group buying power. 

Have you made any personal investments? What are you excited by as an angel investor? 

It is always about people and I try to back women (not exclusively) however, the last three investments I made were. It is something that I believe in - paying it forward - and given capital begets more capital and the statistics for women raising finance is still so terrible, if you have the means and expertise to help you should send the elevator back down, we have a responsibility! So I assess the people, I ask can I help with the idea technically, can I unlock my network in a way that would make a huge difference or is it just something that blows me away.

Women in Tech

What advice do you have for women looking to start their own business? 

  1. Get up early 
  2. Sweat every day 
  3. Have grit 
  4. Develop a thicker skin 

What business support networks do you value? 

I have an incredible network of strong female founders who are my friends: Sarah Wood, Alex Depledge, Tamara Lohan, Emma Sinclair and Nancy Cruickshank! Most of us have children and I have regular sessions with them as they provide me with invaluable support. 

What is your opinion on the women in tech conversation? How can we do better to attract and retain more women? 

  1. There are some structural solves on this one: you are most likely to start a business in your 30s and you are most likely to have kids in your 30s. You will pay to go to work as the cost of childcare will almost certainly outweigh your earnings as an entrepreneur. It therefore takes a certain situation for that to even be tenable. We need better childcare facilities in Tech City! 
  2. I would also like to see a crowdfunding site by women for women to further propagate the pay it forward culture. 
  3.  Finally it starts early...I don't want to STEM the death out of people but you have to be able to talk to girls about business. When I look at my own children they are different simply because of being exposed to mummy's website - we need to question how we educate young people.

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