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 DrThom.com, 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 DrThom.com, 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 DrThom.com 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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Emily Forbes - Democratising Storytelling!

An exclusive film industry. The explosion of user generated content. Big enterprise losing relatability with their audience. A perfect storm of trends that inspired Emily to found Seenit! Seenit is on a mission to transform employees, consumers, audiences into mobile film crews - revolutionising the way corporates tell their story in a more interesting, engaging and authentic way. Emily and I had a meeting of minds on our motivations and purpose, and over coffee discussed crowdsourcing trends, inspiring teams and the many achievements of Seenit! You can't help but feel positive after reading her interview :) 


Meet Emily

Current Job CEO and Founder of Seenit

First Job Sales assistant selling fossils in a fossil shop (I still have a fossil collection yes)!! 

Education Chelsea Art College 

Go to meeting spot Bills in Soho 

Favourite blog Daily Pulse for video marketing stuff and I also watch an app called Hyper. It's 10 videos a day curated by film makers...definitely check it out! 

Necessary extravagance Great food

Favourite productivity tool Slack - I've been pretending to like it for months but now I am fully into the swing of it :) 

Recent inspiration My recent SV2UK trip with 12 other female founders! I was blown away by the people on the trip as well as those we met out there. I also recently met the Paralympic GB team to train them up on Seenit before they head out to Rio, it was such an inspiring experience, I left buzzing and with a completely re-energised outlook on life. Some Seenit <> Team GB videos here and here :)     

Top networking tip I think everybody can help with another introduction; if you are in a meeting or at an event ask if you can help them get to their dream contact or client

Hottest tech startup in the UK right now The Tab - I love how it is changing journalism and empowering students to become storytellers, I think Seenit share similar values! Also a platform which is so powerful is LiveBetterWith founded by Tamara Rajah who was actually on the SVC2UK trip with us. It is a platform recommending products to make living with cancer a little better.

The Journey

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

My first job our of university was at Working Title, after which I did some freelance work before I took a production job in Cape Town for a year. In that time I met some amazing people as well as some not so amazing people. It taught me the power of making your team feel empowered, motivated and inspired. I had superiors that did that and the impact on my life was game changing. So that was the biggest lesson I took into Seenit. 

What is Seenit & what was the motivation behind it? 

Seenit enables companies to create videos by engaging the most passionate and knowledgeable people about their subject or their brand - activating their own employees, fans, customer experts to shoot content on their phones. It's all about building mobile film crews! 

I think the motivation was having worked in feature and long form production and seeing the way that the demand and consumption of video was totally changing in the industry - and I thought there has to be a new production model. Everyone is a storyteller and deserves to have their voice heard and there was this new transition where everyone was filming on their phones. It was democratising storytelling. 

The vision is to build the worlds most trustworthy and powerful film crews 

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

Be positive and to grab the silver lining in every moment! 

Who do you surround yourself with for your support network? 

I surround myself with people in the industry who know the space really well and other founders going through similar pains or who have just experienced them. But recently I have begun to surround myself with people who are simply passionate about anything. The buzz that being with inspiring people gives you is incredible. It is refreshing from the occasional tech overload where people can freak you out if you are approaching something differently to them. 


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

  1. Founded in January 2014
  2. Raised initial funding through Collider
  3. Subsequently we have raised two angel rounds
  4. Grown the team to 18
  5. Brought in more revenue than we have raised
  6. Our content has been on broadcast TV
  7. When we hit over 100,000 videos received! 

How do you learn CEO skills as a young founder - any tips? 

Talking to other young CEOs and the more experienced ones to really understand what the role means. It is a massively evolving role from the beginning when you are only two people and you are the CEO doing everything, transitioning to an expanding team where the role splits out and you begin to sit more on top of the organisation. Tips - don't be afraid to say I don't know or speak up. Most of my team are doing our roles for the first time so we can all learn together. 

What technology trends excite you right now?

100% VR and 360 video - that complete immersive storytelling! It freaks me out how involved you can feel yet when you take things off how removed you can feel. 

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

A new one which I adopted after my trip to Silicon Valley is encouraging all of the team individually to go speak at events, write a blog and to find their own voice. I think it is really important to start putting yourself out there as an expert in your field. In terms of content, obviously there are the views, the clicks, the shares but what we are so excited about is the feedback that we get from those that star in the videos. That is what we gauge success on. If you can empower and change the way people think about storytelling - that's massive and we are starting to see that in the industry and with the clients that we are working with. 

What is the long term vision for the company as well as more imminent milestones? 

The big vision is to enable companies to build the most powerful and trustworthy film crews in the world. All the thinking into the product revolves around inspiring and empowering people to know they are a creator. Working with global enterprise clients is intrinsically global but we want to work with the biggest companies in the world and change how they tell stories at a global scale.  

Over the next 12 months we are working on automating the product further and putting an education factor into the product such as filming tips and how to videos. We are also developing search capability to allow you to search emotion in the content or what you can see in it. The third we are investing in is developing our self-serve functionality to enable previous clients to continue telling stories! 

Women in Tech 

What advice do you have for women looking to raise capital?

  1. Build relationships early when you don't need money.
  2. Research what options you have - there are so many ways to raise money, it doesn't have to be VC so find the right investor for you. 
  3. I don't know if I have been looked at differently because I am female. When I was in Silicon Valley speaking to female founders who have raised huge rounds and exited companies, they did say they got more grilled on the data and the numbers. So also get behind your numbers, learn them, know them so you can go into that room with real confidence. 

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

I definitely think about building diversity. I have made sure that when we are doing the interview process I am talking to a diverse enough group. We are now about 50:50 organically bringing in the right people every time. 

So many of the brightest graduates continue to go and work for a big bank or consultancy. What would you say to them to cut through that rhetoric and consider joining EF/a startup? 

If you have the passion, drive and determination for an idea just run with it. But I also couldn't recommend joining a startup more. In a startup you fail fast and the wealth of experience you get in a small amount of time is also 10x more than you would get in a larger organisation. 

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Dr. Vivian Chan - Democratising Science!

Vivian and I met for a cup of tea at Albion, close to her office in Shoreditch to do the interview. Her journey to entrepreneurship evidences why she is unbelievably credible to lead a company undertaking no mean feat - to democratise science. Vivian did a degree in drug design and development after which she spent a year as a VC on the life science side before returning to academia to do her PhD in biochemistry at Cambridge. Rounding this off she was also President of Cambridge University Technology & Enterprise Club and part of the inaugural class of Entrepreneur First, where she met her co-founder. With her intelligence, charm and passion it is not surprising the quality of investors that Sparrho has already attracted - she even hustled her way to chat to Bill Gates when she was a speaker at the Dutch Presidency this year! Sparrho helps anyone and everyone to stay on top of the latest research and Vivian's vision is to transform discoverability, accessibility and understandability of science! 


Meet Vivian

Current Job  CEO and Co-Founder of  Sparrho  

First Job  Investment process manager at  Uniseed  in Australia  

Education  BBiotech in Drug Design & Development, The University of Queensland; PhD Biochemistry, The University of Cambridge 

Go to meeting spot Department of Coffee and Social Affairs  on Bishopsgate 

Favourite book/podcast   The Hard thing About Hard Things  by Ben Horowitz. I also listen to a bunch of podcasts including  Player FM  and a whole range of  TEDx  stuff. I also love  StartUp  - it's from the same guys who do  Gimlet Media.  The first one was actually about the founders of Gimlet Media starting their company. 

Necessary extravagance   I don't know whether it’s extravagant but on Sundays I like to cook and to have the time to just stay in the kitchen for half a day or a few hours - its really relaxing for me. I guess because I was a scientist the kitchen is the next best substitute for a lab!!  

Favourite productivity tool Slack 

Female inspiration  Ada Lovelace, Sheryl Sandberg, Sherry Coutu  

Top networking tip  Give everyone you talk to quality time  

Hottest tech company at the moment (apart from Sparrho!)  Speakset  -  simple remote care service; EDITED - real time analytics for retailers 


The Journey

After graduating you joined Uniseed, a pre-seed/seed stage venture capital fund. Tell us briefly about your role there, best experience and biggest takeaway? 

I was the investment process manager on the Life Sciences side.  I  liaised with the research commercialisation arms of the top three universities, trying to identify which life science research was suitable to be spawned out into a company. We would discuss the IP, how they would monetise it and why it was different to the competitors. The management team and their ambition was also a critical factor, especially when it comes to science.  I would then pitch the ones that I liked back to my team. I was also in charge of the investment process, so I attended all the board meetings too. Life Science is tricky as it’s a much longer cycle (10-15 yrs).  

You relocated from Australia and embarked on your PhD at University of Cambridge. Can you give us a layman's overview of your dissertation and share how a PhD prepared you (or not) for start-up life?  

The objective was to build a three dimensional structure of what a certain protein looked like for the purpose of working with scientists to design drugs in order to inhibit them. The more that you can visualise how the protein interacts then you can think of ways to either block it or kill it. To understand the structure, you have to crystallise the protein and then go through a series of other complex procedures. My original starting point  was to look at a particular protein in TB, but that wasn't so straightforward. Proteins  all have individual personalities actually. I ended up doing my PhD in the same protein but in a different bacteria. 

Four years of problem solving trains you to be very persistent and analytical. I think it has prepared me to be a very, very good entrepreneur because there are a lot of highs and lows in science and you spend weeks on an experiment and the results are often inconclusive and its unclear what it means or what the next steps are. Also, being one of the top researchers in that particular field, means not a lot of people have the expertise to help.  So there is a lot of self-learning, problem solving and figuring things out for yourself. It’s very much like a start-up - very chaotic with an unclear future.  

Cambridge University Technology & Enterprise Club (CUTEC) elected you as President and subsequently Chairman. Tell us about the organisation, the highlights from being part of it and how it fits into your biochemist to entrepreneur journey! 

CUTEC tries to be the connecting point between students and those who are interested in entrepreneurship within the Cambridge community.  The eco-system is very vibrant, with loads of small to medium sized companies. Microsoft was already there and Astrazeneca are moving to Cambridge too, so all these big companies are moving in for talent, for knowledge and for the start-ups. There is also a group of  entrepreneurs, the Cambridge Angels, who are some of the most experienced Angel investors.  The role of President at CUTEC was one I just fell into. Through a friend I got involved with the organisation, ended up liking it and helped build this massive conference to facilitate connections. CUTEC is structured like a company –with a president, the high executive, and VP’s of five different teams: sponsorship,  content, marketing, external relations and ops. I was part of the content team first. I enjoyed it and was about to leave, when the president approached me and said: ‘do you want to be the next president?’ Then somehow I ended up being voted  President of this organisation, with thirty to fifty volunteers.  That role  taught me time management, prioritisation, skills to be CEO and especially people management.  

Tell us all about Entrepreneur First and your history with them

I was still president of CUTEC when Matt Clifford + Alice Bentick from  Entrepreneur  First approached me saying they were on the hunt to recruit 30 of the brightest graduates who wanted to be entrepreneurs.   I was part of their student advisory board which they also seeded the idea in my head that I qualified for EF as I was a fresh PhD graduate. I actually finally applied in a Starbucks in Hong Kong at the last minute!  



What is Sparrho and what problem is it solving?  

Sparrho is an artificial intelligence  engine that helps anyone and everyone to stay on top of the latest science. 

Inspiration or frustration - what were the origins of Sparrho and the evolution of the company to date?  

My biggest problem when I was doing my PhD was trying to stay on top of scientific research. In academia your only metrics of success is how many publications you can produce and in order to do this, you need to know what everyone else is doing.  And then in industry terms it's equally important from the perspective of things like patents and money raised for drugs etc. So staying on top of science is actually really important for many parties. Currently the search facilities available are poor. The digital offerings are simple linear keyword search engines or email alerts. They are not intelligent because if you don't know the right keywords to use you cannot find the correct information. When I was studying we had a great 'human' solution to this problem. I had a Postdoctoral researcher (Steve) who was a brilliant academic and he would spend maybe fifteen minutes every morning looking at a few journals that he knew were relevant for our group and send us relevant papers that linear keyword searches would never find. He would always be faster than any of the subscription services and provided us research that we would never have considered. These always provided us amazing step change innovations. Everyone relied on him.  

This is where the idea of Sparrho has come from, but instead of having one poor guy going through a few journals everyday, we use technology that can search millions of different articles and be able to learn what it is that’s interesting for the user and then recommend other things to read without the need to continually search.  We couldn't just draw up an MVP, so we partnered with the British Library and some of the scientific publishers and now we've got over 41 million pieces of scientific content and we'll be scaling very quickly this year.   Once  you've got the content this brings in the users. We also plan to supplement this by using science experts to summarise the rest of the cutting edge scientific research. We want to pay the PhDs - which is a very different model to anything else out there because PhD’s don't generally get paid very much - so for once they're being paid to summarise and put their perspective on a research article. They only have to answer three questions which are:  ‘why is this piece of research important to the general public?’; 'why is this research important for other researchers in biochemistry?’ and then ‘why is this piece of research important to other scientists not in biochemistry?’ So that’s the vision, and addresses the 3 different pillars that I’m trying to tackle - discoverability, accessibility and understandability. Once we get through those, then anyone and everyone will be able to stay up to date with whatever science is out there. That could include students, hedge fund managers, journalists, or concerned individuals  who want to find out what the actual latest cutting edge research is on their medication or illness.

It seems bizarre to me that we are still learning science from a science textbook. UK taxpayers are funding cutting edge research but no one knows how to access it. Sparrho changes that.  

Sparrho uses machine learning - can you elaborate on this element of the product?

We take concepts of your original search, even though want to move people towards thinking about it as a keyword filter.  Based on the keywords that you’re filling in, we’re able to formulate a concept of what you're interested in  - users can set up  multiple different channels, so it’s very similar to having multiple playlists on Spotify. For example, say you type in Jupiter, Mars, and Saturn, Sparrho understands that you're interested in planets in the solar system, so then it can also recommend other planets in the solar system, or other related things without you needing to tell us exactly which planets. So, that is the first step… formulate some sort of understanding of who you are, then the more you interact with it, the more we understand what you're wanting.  

What is the long term vision for the company as well as more imminent milestones?  

The big vision is to help everyone and anyone interested in science. We’ve got the content, we’ve got the experts and now we’re getting our expert community to "summarise" cutting-edge research for everyone else.  Imminent milestones right now are scaling. Team wise I am trying to hire a few more people. And then we’re going to be rolling out more revenue models and fundraising later on in the year.  

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

We've got a very clear roadmap and each department has got their own milestones which relate to how many sign ups, how many retained users,  and monthly actives.  I also try to promote personal development goals. As a start-up, things move so quickly, so I want to remain aware of what my team want to do and how they wish to develop personally.  I try and push my team to seek experienced mentors - its been really helpful when we are unsure about a decision to have people to consult. I think as a company,  if the team, individually works, then the company exponentially will work.  


Women in Tech

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

Alastair Mitchell, an angel investor  who is the co-founder and former CEO of Huddle was our first investor. I was on a Skype call with him in San Francisco and he says, “okay I’ve got it, I love it, I’ll put some money in,  now show me what you can do”. That was the pin drop moment when I realised this was no longer a project and was actually a start-up. Three months after that call, I closed my first round of investment with my own term sheet. All the subsequent funding has been on convertibles, so I was able to raise more capital on a flexible structure. I also now have a whole range of other  investors, such as David Cleevely, Chairman of Raspberry Pi and great support from an external network  - people like Jon Bradford and David Rowan. All of these amazing people have really added to the success of Sparrho. 

Advice for women would be not to be afraid to be bold.  For example, at a dinner in Amsterdam, Bill Gates was the keynote speaker. I was also speaking at the Dutch Presidency the next day. After the speeches, I approached his table and pitched Sparrho. He gave me 10 minutes and then asked about my investors and gave me his e-mail address. I have emailed him multiple times, haven't heard from him yet, but I haven't given up! I think he is a great believer and advocate for open science - because science, especially knowledge within science is going to solve some of todays key issues, such as poverty or  sustainability. 

You are consciously building a diverse team - how can we do better to attract and retain more women in tech?  

I think that diversity is very important; it’s the same as the interdisciplinary skills that I was talking about in science.  I have a 50/50 gender split in the team at the moment, coupled with the fact that I think each of my team are averaging about two passports, so multiple different nationalities. This really adds to the strength of the business because people from different backgrounds and cultures think differently and all of that mashed in together is tremendously powerful. However, one of our strengths is also one of our weaknesses in that the initial team is still a bunch of scientists and we are now starting to move towards hiring specialists that are not scientists.  However, we have been shocked as to how difficult it has been to recruit women. Last year we got less than 20% of female applications. We discovered that women are less likely to feel confident in applying for a role if they haven't checked at least 8 out of the 10 boxes as opposed to men, who have applied despite only qualifying for 2 out of 10! 

How do you learn CEO skills as a young founder - any tips?  

On the job is the most important aspect because no matter what you read, or what you listen to, there are those moments when you’re like ‘Oh that’s what they meant.’  I have also done some CEO shadowing, where I spent a day with a couple of CEOs.  I could ask them questions, check the key things that were on their minds etc. This has been really useful in helping me predict things and not get blind-sided.

Follow Vivian! 

Izzy Fox - Spearheading our Tech Future!

Izzy and I caught up over tea at The Lanesborough and I suggest you get a cup yourself as she has achieved so much in her career it was hard to squeeze it all in this blog! Izzy has lived in San Francisco, New York and London and has been in tech her whole career. She founded two tech PR firms, co-founded two software startups, was an active angel investor before traversing into institutional investing. Currently she is head of venture capital at White Cloud Capital investing in early stage tech companies in the education and health verticals. She is also a mentor for BBC Labs, Entrepreneur First and is on the London advisory board for Astia - a community of experts committed to accelerating the funding and growth of high potential, high-growth, women-led startups. She radiates poise, charm and aplomb and her curiosity and gusto is infectious - have a scroll! 



Meet Izzy

Current Job Head of Venture Capital at White Cloud Capital

First Job Graduate at Teather & Greenwood

Go to meeting spot The Wolseley or The Grazing Goat

Favourite book Jim Collins – Good to Great

Necessary extravagance Weekend breaks and lots of travel

Favourite place in London Old Spitalfields Market and Borough Market

Favourite animal on your farm Brown Ryeland Sheep

Female inspiration in business Angelina Jolie

Top networking tip Go out and meet as many people as possible and stay true to your values


The Journey

Serendipitous or fantastic foresight - you have been in tech all your career! Tell us a little bit about your beginnings in tech? 

Total luck! After initially starting my career in banking I moved into financial PR; it was 1999 and we were just doing loads of tech IPOs - so it all happened by chance. It was a really exciting time and I loved the buzz of financial transactions - we were involved with many of the great initial IPOs – before the market crashed in 2000. 

You founded two corporate/tech PR firms - what were some highlights and takeaways from these experiences? 

When I first started my PR agency tech was in its infancy in the UK. Although there were multiple agencies doing tech PR they were focused on tech trade press. My business partner and I identified a big opportunity to deliver strategic corporate PR for the tech world - bring in the team’s experience of banking, investor relations, M&A and financial PR knowledge to tech start-ups. Working with some of the most innovative companies and entrepreneurs in the world was energising and inspiring and living between NYC, London and San Francisco seeing all three markets develop was exhilarating. 

As Steve Jobs famously said you can only connect the dots looking backwards and it amazes me how much the tech scene and PR has changed over the past decade and particularly in the last five years. PR has totally changed. Agile digital marketing approaches and companies like Hubspot/Marketo have totally transformed marketing – it’s all about campaigns, content, growth hacking, lead generation, digital and nurture. The days of siloed PR have gone.

Does PR have any role to play in the marketing remit for your portfolio companies? 

Yes, of course but in a different way to in the past. It’s not my key focus for any portfolio company these days. I focus my portfolio companies on three key objectives:

  1. Build a billion dollar brand
  2. Build platforms for growth (e.g. your Salesforce/Marketo/Hubspot) to understand your data and metrics easily)
  3. Sales and marketing alignment. 

Digitalisation of marketing means companies can optimise their sales funnel using Hubspot and Marketo, qualify lead generation and measure ROI for every marketing channel. This is vastly more attractive to cash conscious startups. I still believe in PR but only as part of a whole marketing campaign mix to achieve that elusive elixir.

You were part of the founding team of two software startups - what was the catalyst to co-found each and what did you take with you into your subsequent investing career?

Both came out of seeing a gap in the marketplace - my co-founders were part of my network and we pulled together teams that could execute on an idea. One we developed very quickly and sold in 8 months with great inbound marketing. US competitors were receiving a lot more funding and the reality was that we were going to get left behind. Faced with a short runway we accepted a great offer to sell quickly and get out.

Both have been a fantastic learning ground and give me the invaluable experience of the ups and downs of building technology and being part of a startup. As an investor I am empathetic to the emotional journey that goes with being an entrepreneur, particularly from a female perspective as we take things very personally if things don't go right!

Why did you enter the investment paradigm? 

I’ve always angel invested and got lucky living in San Francisco with access to great companies. After that I was keen to move into institutional investing. After selling my second business I joined GGM, a venture fund based out of Luxembourg. GGM were early stage investors in European tech. After GGM I joined White Cloud Capital to head up their global venture team. They are a family of family offices in the growth stage and they are looking to do more on the early stage side in Europe and Asia. The opportunity to work across all our key regions – Australia, New Zealand, Hong Kong, Singapore, Korea and Europe - was of great appeal. I’ve never worked in Asia before so I welcomed the chance to learn and experience something new.


Angel Investing

Tell us about your angel investments

My first angel investment was Jumio, a leading identity management and credentials company backed by Andreessen Horowitz, Citi Ventures and Facebook Co-Founder, Eduardo Saverin. It was totally impulsive! When I was living in San Francisco I got very lucky and met a lot of the super angels (not that I knew who they were at the time) and through that circle I found the deal. I didn't see a demo or even meet the team - I just trusted my network that it was hot and put my money in - fortunately Andreessen came in not soon after! A lot of my investments in San Francisco came through trusting that group and their contact base. GetAround was very similar - a fantastic female entrepreneur Jessica Scorpio who is simply brilliant.

Once back in London, I started to invest here more. A lot of it is simply gut and backing great people who you trust to deliver like, Gareth Davies, CEO of Adbrain. Thankfully many of my portfolio are doing great but you have to detach yourself from the money as it’s still very risky. For example, we had one company IPO in the US two years ago, great first day of trading and then its share price nose dived and after being tied in for 6 months my shares are probably not even worth what I put in! That’s just the reality of investing.

What are your motivations as an angel investor? 

Backing fantastic people with super ideas that provide clear benefit. A lot of my motivation is going on the journey - meeting these entrepreneurs with so much passion - and experiencing the ride alongside them. There is also a huge desire to see great ideas materialise - it is a lovely position to be in.

What investment opportunity did you turn down that you regret? 

There have been plenty, especially some of the now very well known San Francisco unicorns where we could have invested in the very early stages! But you can never look back and regret decisions!

What has been your biggest challenge? 

There have been so many! A challenge pertinent across my portfolio companies is how to scale. It has been inspiring watching Airbnb and Uber demonstrate new ways of going global and dominating in no time at all. A persistent challenge but also opportunity for me is continuous learning. Luckily I am a voracious reader so am able to just about keep abreast of tech, investing trends and new marketing approaches but I can feel out of date within a day! Looking back it is evident that my whole understanding of marketing changed tremendously in the space of just 4 years - there has never been a point in my career where things are moving as quickly as they are right now.


VC Investing

What tech trends excite you right now? 

Education and health! There is a massive market opportunity for both to disrupt the status quo and change the world. Investing in edtech and digital health also has real meaning behind it which is incredibly exciting. As Mary Meeker alluded to in her KPCB Internet Trends 2015 report both sectors are very much next up in terms of being revolutionised, so I think it is the perfect time to be investing in the space and thankfully it is our heritage at White Cloud Capital where we have the experience, team and network. 

Digital health is also a personal passion of mine - I studied for a year in New York to become a wellness coach and I see a huge opportunity in measuring our health and having personalised insights, pre-warnings and interventions. So much of our health issues are self inflicted and the next generation is predicted to be the first in history that will not live as long as the one before. However, the biggest challenge I envisage is how to change behaviours - tech is only an enabler - there is much to be done on behavioural incentives.

Do you have an investment thesis? 

Less so on my personal investments but clear investment thesis on the institutional side. White Cloud Capital are early series A/institutional seed investors. We invest in companies that have tested market opportunity, product in the market, some revenues and looking to accelerate growth. We focus on the education and health verticals given our heritage, our existing portfolio companies and our network of advisors. We are agnostic on region.

Top deal flow sources? 

Friends and network. It is also always great to meet companies through the accelerators and various organisations supporting early stage tech often the companies are a little too early stage for us however, sometimes you meet someone outstanding and just want to get into a deal early!

What is your opinion on impact investing? 

As an investor I am always trying to consider social impact alongside a financial return. You want to be investing in companies that are providing a true benefit and a potential investment return - I think you can achieve both! It helps that the domains of education and health lend themselves to impact investing too.

What do you consider your greatest achievement?

I think my greatest achievement is still to come! I would love to back companies that go on to change the face of education and health, see them grow and observe the difference they make to people's lives.


Two Cliche Questions

Fancy weighing in on the bubble debate? 

Every market has a cycle so of course we will have a correction, however, trying to time markets exactly is difficult and being a permanently bullish active investor is dangerous. Fred Wilson's blog - Negative Gross Margins - summed up the problem perfectly and as echoed in The Age of the Cockroach - there are plenty of unicorns which have great stories but with little underlying business. 

You have experienced the SF, NY and London startup ecosystems - what do you think London's should look like in 2020?

London is doing great at building out its tech scene in its own style. This is the most exciting time in my career to be in Europe and investing in tech. It really is Europe’s time and the next 10 years will see us reach a truly new level of innovation and entrepreneurialism as we have more exits and seasoned entrepreneurs in the eco-system.


Women in Tech

What is your opinion on the women in technology debate? 

Women have so much opportunity in technology and many of the markets ripe for disruption will benefit from the female perspective. There’s never been a better time for women in tech and it's wonderful to see so many female entrepreneurs now in the scene. I also found it fascinating to learn recently about the growing number of women entrepreneurs in emerging markets, where over a quarter of founders will be women and that number is accelerating! I don't buy into the glass ceiling but I do think women need more confidence to push those doors open - Sharon Vosmek (CEO of Astia, a global community dedicated to the success of women-led, high growth ventures) does this so well and empowers so many women into tech. 

What advice do you have for women looking to start their own business or enter the investing landscape? 

There’s nothing to stop anyone looking to be an entrepreneur now. The ecosystem has so much support from accelerators to incubators to organisations supporting specific sectors. Go for it!

Sarah Turner - Changing the Face of Investment

Surrounded by the portraits of movie stars at BAFTA members club I was delighted to sit opposite Sarah Turner - poised to become a legacy herself. Her passion for rebalancing the investor eco-system and getting more women enjoying the benefits of angel investing is energising! Sarah has spent 20 years in digital technology. Three years ago she founded Angel Academe, a pro-women but not only women angel investment group who back outstanding women-led businesses. Have a read to see if you want to be her next angel! 


Meet Sarah

Current Job Founder and CEO of Angel Academe - an angel network primarily but not only for women.

Education A degree in History and Politics and a masters in Information Systems, where I learnt some now-ancient programming languages!  

Favourite blogs The Equity Kicker by Nic Brisbourne and One Size Fits One by Anjali Ramachandran

Favourite productivity tool Google calendar/Eventbrite /Dropbox and anything else that helps me share.

Go to meeting spot BAFTA 195 Piccadilly 

Necessary extravagance Really good coffee! 

Female inspiration in business Dame Stephanie 'Steve' Shirley (The challenges British women in tech face today are nothing compared to what she had to deal with)

New technology that most excites you Driverless cars - terrifying!


The Journey

Can you tell us a bit about your beginnings in tech and in digital media?

My career in digital media began during my masters. I was fascinated by the intersection of technology and media, which led to my first job at a multimedia company in Brighton. The dizzying progression in technology was my reality - I developed and sold interactive training to large corporates first on floppy disks and then CD rom and eventually moved to the early web. I subsequently joined Wired Sussex and, among other things, I begun to help companies raise investment, talking to angels and VCs. This early heritage in tech eventually led me to set up my own consulting business - Turner Hopkins. I have since worked with clients including BBC, Ofcom, Barbican, the UK Government and UKTI as part of their Global Entrepreneur Programme.

Tell us about Angel Academe and the motivation behind it? 

A large part of my job for 20 years was helping companies fundraise in one guise or another - yet I never entertained the notion that I could be an angel investor myself - I always thought you had to be very wealthy and have some special experience. But after a company I knew raised money from its customers, of which I was one, I realised that angel investing was more accessible than I thought, especially if you invest as part of a group where individual contributions can be relatively small. I begun to learn about what investors really look for, the various aspects of due diligence, the tax breaks to manage the downside and of course discovered that it was huge fun meeting passionate people, learning about their business and going on that journey with them. I began to set aside income to invest, joined various angel groups and attended their events. Yet I was always surprised by how few women there were, both investing and pitching. 

This led me to the decision to create a network that specifically appealed to women, both as investors and founders. This has never been about excluding men (we welcome men in our group), but encouraging more women to get involved. Angel Academe was born.

What is the most exciting thing you are working on right now? 

Angel Academe is at an inflection point - we have done some great deals, we have amazing investors in the group, good processes, a profile and we now have an opportunity to scale what we are doing. I feel we are clearly differentiated in the market with our emphasis on increasing the number of women angels and backing female founders. Scaling Angel Academe means capitalising on our position, encouraging more women to make more investments, helping more men to become champions for women and supporting more female entrepreneurs!


Angel Academe

I know you feel strongly about increasing female participation - why is this? 

Women control half the UK's net wealth, but we only make up 5% of angel investors. In addition, despite the huge surge in female entrepreneurs Startup DNA found that male entrepreneurs are 86% more likely to successfully raise VC funds and 59% more likely to secure angel investment than their female counterparts. The link between a lack of women on the investor-side and this comparative lack of success by women in raising funding seems obvious to me.

Why are we so dramatically under-represented in this exciting asset class and why does this matter?! 

To be honest, I don't know exactly why women are so under-represented. I think there's lower awareness of angel investing among women, we do tend to be more time-poor (and angel investing takes time and commitment) and all-men groups might not be that appealing. But I don't agree that we're more risk-averse. My experience with Angel Academe is that we're more thorough which is a strength when it comes to investing, not a weakness.

In terms of why it matters, diversity just makes good business sense! Diverse teams of founders and investors make better decisions, are more capital efficient and give a better return on investment - First Round Capital found companies with a female founder performed 63% better than its investments with all-male founding teams. 

It also matters because women are missing out on the benefits of angel investing. Obviously there's the potential for financial return, but the tax benefits are also very generous. The angels in my group are the most incredible network and becoming an angel investor has opened up huge opportunities for me.

What sort of companies are you looking to invest in at Angel Academe? 

We invest in UK based (SEIS and EIS eligible) tech businesses with at least one woman on the founding team. Some of the areas that excite us are big data, security, digital health and ageing population. We love to see women building game changing businesses, solving important problems and thinking big. We expect all the businesses we see to be generating some revenue and with a scalable business model to deliver a high return on investment. We see a lots of B2C businesses (especially in areas related to fashion, beauty and kids) and tend to set the bar a bit higher for them because the market is just so competitive. 

Tell us about Entrepreneur Academe - your mentorship program

We are now onto our second cohort. The first one ran for 9 months last year and we had 15 female led businesses participating. There are two main reasons behind the initiative. As an investor, it is very hard to get under the hood of a start-up. Entrepreneur Academe gives us a chance to get to know these businesses over a really decent period of time and to see how they deal with the inevitable stresses and strains. The second reason is the opportunity to engage prospective angels who may not be ready to invest yet, but who could contribute through mentorship.

We also know that the Academe offers a fantastic network and support system for the entrepreneurs we mentor. Our light touch program of monthly meetings creates a community of peers facing similar challenges and holding each other to account on reaching their milestones, as well as access to a large pool of mentors with a wide range of expertise.

How is access to finance from other sources such as crowdfunding changing the market? 

There have never been so many options for raising finance. Crowdfunding is a different asset class from angel capital, but a valuable part of the funding ecosystem and here to stay. It is a great place to start investing if you don't yet have the resources for angel investing and it also offers a great opportunity for consumer businesses to build their audience and profile while raising finance.  


Women In Tech

What advice can you offer women who are looking to start their own business? 

Understand the difference between a lifestyle business and a truly high-growth one. The former are crucial to our economy and not to be dismissed - 'entrepreneur' is not only reserved for the latter. If you do aim for the second you need to think big and be ambitious. You need to tackle a problem a large number of other businesses or consumers around the world will pay to have solved. You need to be able to fend off the competition and aim to have a large exit in order to return capital to your investors. You also need to be open to working with external advisors and be what investors call "coachable". If you intend to raise money from angel investors, learn about what they look for and understand their mindset. 

What are your future ambitions?

I want the UK to have the most diverse investor community and I want Angel Academe to play its role in increasing the proportion of women investors to at least 35% of the total - the magic diversity number. If we do that, we can make the UK the most attractive place to be an entrepreneur for all entrepreneurs. I would also like the Angel Academe portfolio to be doing well with some good exits under our belt. I would like us to be one of the largest angel groups, seeing the best opportunities and sought after for quality non-execs and advisors. 

7 snippets for prospective female investors

  1. Smart and experienced women make good angel investors
  2. You do need to have some capital, but don't have to be a millionaire (see http://www.legislation.gov.uk/uksi/2005/1529/schedule/5/made)
  3. Potential financial return! However, angel capital is patient capital 
  4. The network - an impressive group of investors and entrepreneurs
  5. Future proof yourself against a changing world - be exposed to the latest innovation
  6. Invest in the change you want to see 
  7. Amazing fun! 

Follow Sarah!