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? 

One of the difficulties we have is measuring impact on a programme that is about developing skills. NEF is about changing attitude and confidence - how do you measure that? We are not an accelerator so we can’t just measure startup KPIs. It is one metric but not the only one we care about. We borrowed some of the impact metrics from the Goldman Sachs 10,000 small business programme because part of their criteria is how the founders felt their skills had developed and we added our own criteria.

We now have two sets of KPIs, one is the hard data – how many startups, how many are still live, how much money have they raised, how many jobs have they created. We have to report that and we measure it rigorously every year. The second element is a study about how the participants on the programme have developed in terms of their own confidence and skills. There is a structured quantitative and qualitative methodology designed by UCL and we have just completed the second phase of that. We are trying to ascertain if the programme helps NEFers to develop skills that will help them with their entrepreneurial career, build networks and lastly the confidence to feel they can do it.

I am pleased to say the answer is yes to all of the above – the results are really encouraging. On the hard data - there have been 5 cohorts, 155 candidates have launched over 100 businesses of which 63 are live, and they have raised nearly £11 million in early stage seed funding and created over 650 jobs – that is quite amazing. What is incredible is almost 40% of the cohorts have launched a business considering we take people in with just ambition. We have nothing to benchmark against. There isn't an analog organisation but the perception data is also looking good.

What are some of the future ambitions of NEF? 

We have proven the hypothesis and now we want to see if it is possible to scale without losing the quality and personal nature of it. We are now at 43 people in the 2017 cohort. We could never scale to 100 in a single cohort as I feel we would lose the hands-on nature of the programme. With our Trustees, we are looking at various options by which we could scale the programme and reach a wider audience. These discussions are really at a very early stage so watch this space!

Women in Tech

What would your advice be to graduates? 

It has to be follow your passion. If going into banking is what you personally feel you want to do - you should do it, there will always be jobs in banking, consulting, industry and other sectors. It is about self- awareness. What makes you happy and what environment do you want to work in? Think carefully about that. Follow your passion and make sure it has a purpose. 

What tips would you share with female founders looking to start their own business and subsequently raise finance?

Do it. There is a lot of support out there. There are some amazing women coming up in the entrepreneurship space. Be as confident as is needed. Mirror investors. If you have a detailed, cerebral, quiet investor respond that way. If you have someone that feeds off energy give them that energy. I've seen men do it all the time in meetings and interviews and women don't do that because they feel it would be rude.

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

More role models are needed and media do have a role to play to showcase them but it is deeper than that. Structural change is required. It starts in the home and then in schools. Teachers should encourage STEM subjects; we need to create a narrative that says if you get a degree in physics it doesn't mean you have to go and teach physics. We have to show girls the different paths their careers can take.

Follow Neeta! 


Alicia Navarro - From Seed to Scale!

Measuring success is possibly rather elusive, but Alicia is hitting it out of the park on most definitions. 8 years into her journey as the CEO and Co-Founder of Skimlinks is her first achievement not matched by many. Scaling the business through multiple rounds of funding totalling $25m, adding new revenue streams, instilling an amazing culture and retaining excellent people results in a pretty awesome story to tell and advice to share. Alicia and I managed to cover a lot over omelettes and bagels...getting into the business model and success factors of Skimlinks, candid fundraising advice and what industry she would be getting involved with if she was a free agent! She is an inspiring role model on how to do it all, the antithesis of hubris; enjoy her refreshingly relatable and positive account!  


Meet Alicia

Current Job CEO and Co-Founder of Skimlinks 

Go to meeting spot Urbanest Hoxton Cafe  

Favourite book The Hard Thing About Hard Things and How to Win Friends and Influence People 

Necessary extravagance A massage at home every month with Urban Massage

Favourite productivity tool/app SaneBox - email filtering! 

Female inspiration in business Sherry Coutu - a great friend and mentor over the years - I think what she has achieved is extraordinary 

Top fundraising tip Realise that fundraising is not an episode of The X-Factor where you are hoping someone will give you a chance. You have to prove that you are an investable asset and pitch yourself as a believable growth CEO. Coming up with the idea and raising funding is actually the easy part; having the tenacity and the strength to lead a company for many many years through the ups and downs is the tough part! 

Hottest UK tech company (apart from Skimlinks!) I am impressed by what Deliveroo has achieved in such a short amount of time


The Journey

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

Skimlinks helps websites make money from the products that they write about by automating the affiliate marketing process on behalf of publishers. We aggregate all affiliate programmes and make it really simple for publishers to get paid a commission when something they write about results in someone buying something. We have built a really big platform around this for the last 8 years with all the tools and insights.

Most recently though we have realised that relying on just affiliate as the way to reward publishers for the role that they have played in creating that intent isn't sufficient and in fact we have a much larger asset that we have amassed: the data around shopping behaviours of users across our publisher network. So what we have done over the last year is build predictive models around these behaviours which allow us to digest all the data points (we see over 1.4 billion people a month!) that we then make available to advertisers who want to target their product to certain consumers. 

We now have a virtuous cycle of a programmatic audience data business that sit on top of our affiliate business. Each benefit the publishers who get paid from both, and who are more likely to choose us because of this unique access to our audience data. It has been an exciting transition from a single product company to a much richer monetisation and data company. It makes us more appealing and defensible!  

What skills from your previous corporate tenures have you appreciated since founding and scaling Skimlinks? 

I used to work for large companies before Skimlinks and I predominately took away things that I don't like about big companies and I worked very consciously to build a culture that is the opposite of my previous tenures. That was probably the most useful thing! Our culture is very caring and human. We also prefer to try things rather than spending months working out if we should do something, it means we fail sometimes but we are continuously innovating. Our culture also changes the way we hire, where it is not about the right CV it is about making sure they are going to add to the energy. 

What were the largest obstacles you faced when launching Skimlinks and what is the biggest challenge today? 

The biggest obstacle when we first started was we didn't have a lot of resources; we didn't raise huge chunks of cash in our early days so we were always resource constrained. Ironically this was also a blessing forcing us to become innovative. One of the worst things a startup can do is raise too much money and lose that frugality. 

Now we have two big challenges: how to continue to scale the culture that we built as the company gets bigger and as people move on and new people join; and how do you truly retain and grow excellent people and keep everyone working well together. 

Can you share more on how you built and grew Skimlinks?  

Our business relies on publishers: content networks like Hearst and Haymarket, newspapers like Daily Mail and digital natives including Buzzfeed and Refinery29 as well as a long tail of blogs and forums. We make a % of a % of a %, meaning our business model is predicated entirely on scale. Especially in the early days when barriers to entry were pretty small we had to build a business that could achieve scale with no resources and almost no defensible asset. Being based in London was a blessing because we could win early customers by spending a weekly tube pass and going to all of then and physically using my passion and certainty that I was not going to let them down to convince publishers to give me a chance. Once we won UK based customers we leveraged them to get their UK and US parent company to use us. That is how we grew. I am really excited about the space we are in - we have been saying for years that publishers should embrace commerce in their content - we like to call it comtent - and now more and more publishers are appreciating the role of comtent in their overall strategy. 

What is your motivation? 

To tell a good story

I am personally motivated by being able to take this company through its entire lifecycle; I started it, I've grown the company alongside my incredible team and it would be wonderful if - when the time is right one day - I could then see it through to its next happy home where my team and customers are taken care of. I want Skimlinks to be seen as a good success story, one of the ones that goes all the way! 


Technology & Investment

Can you share your fundraising history and advice? 

Raising money is always a B****

I have done 5 priced rounds, 2 convertible notes and several rounds of debt financing - totalling about $25m. It never gets easy - you think it will but it doesn't. If anything in the early days it is actually easier - there is less complications with the cap table as an incoming investor can own more of the company. Raising at the later stages you have to prove that you will be an outlier and sell for more than most companies have ever sold for in the UK. 

My tips are always the same -

Can you prove you are an investable asset: by you I mean both the company, your team and yourself

What I have learnt over the years is who you get into bed with - metaphorically speaking - is crucially important - especially in those early years - you have to like them and trust them. Our early angels have been invested almost 8 years - longer than many marriages! You want someone that will stand by you during the hard stuff. The worst thing you can do is take easy money that appears to offer a great valuation but whom don't understand what it actually requires to fund a business over a lifetime. Too many times I have seen companies follow that path, ending up with an investor who is unable to follow through in further rounds or consumes a lot of your time micro managing your finances or making it difficult for incoming investors by wanting to retain their board seat. I think it is wiser to take money from experienced institutional investors that knows how to do it. Finally concentrate on control as opposed to valuation.

It matters that you are here tomorrow not what you are valued at today

Have you made any personal investments? 

I have made a handful of very small investments. I don't think I am cut out for it because I make emotional rather than fact-based decisions as to who to invest in! To be a really good investor you need to have the time or follow on from someone that does. Most of my investments have been following on from a friend who is a successful angel. 

What tech trends excite you right now? 

Definitely virtual reality. If I was a free agent I would be doing something in that space. I think it will change the world in a lot of ways. 


Women in Tech

What impact has mentoring had on your career? 

I have two different types of mentors. One type is a circle of friends that I have cultivated that excite or inspire me. I have developed the kind of friendships that I can talk through what I am going through and they give me advice and vice versa, I have this with Sherry and my other CEO friends, a support network of individuals going through or slightly ahead of what you are going through - it is crucial. 

I also have a paid coach who has been working with us for 7 years and she is great. She has been a successful business leader herself but now runs a training company and she does mentoring for me and my co-founder as well as regular workshops with my executive team to help them communicate better together. It is definitely worthwhile. 

You have previously commented that you like to give back to the tech community - how do you like to do that? 

It is a fine balance at the moment, I would love to do more but there are only so many hours in day! So I try to do things that have maximum scaling effect. What I love doing the most at the moment is Founders4Schools because I really believe it makes a difference - inspiring kids and teenagers to get into technology and become business leaders is where I feel I can have the biggest impact. 

What advice would you give to young graduates? 

I think there is an enormous difference between the life you lead when you do a job that just pays you well compared to a job where you really enjoy going to work and the people that you work with. I've done both and I have never been more miserable than when I made a lot of money! Money is important but there are ways to get there and love what you do and startups are the best way to do that.

Do something that matters with people that you love - it is a good life! 

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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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Kate Unsworth - Spearheading Smart Lifestyle Technology!

Kate was introduced to me by Debbie Wosskow - one of Kate's angel investors, and we met to do the interview at the insanely cool VINAYA offices in Shoreditch (DJ decks and all)! She is able to move seamlessly between a CEO leader, challenging the role that technology plays in our lives, and an operator, able to dive into the design, funding minutiae and everyday emails.  If you have ever felt like you're in need of a digital detox, let me introduce VINAYA properly: VINAYA creates designer wearable technology to improve digital balance and mental wellness, allowing your tech to help you become more human, not less. 


Meet Kate

Current Job Founder + CEO of VINAYA

First Job My first job was an Account Executive at BJL. It was hard work but it prepared me for so many hardships that come along with running your own company.

Education I first got my BSc in Mathematics and Statistics at the University of Edinburgh. I continued my education there for my MsC in Economics.

Go to meeting spot It would have to be Allpress Espresso on Redchurch Street. They make the best coffee and the overall feel of the place is just so warm and welcoming.

Favourite book Eastern Body, Western Mind 

Necessary extravagance Dinner and nice wine with friends!

Favourite productivity tool The ALTRUIS is my current favourite. It’s done wonders for my life in terms of filtering through unnecessary notifications and helping me be my most productive self.

Recent inspiration Definitely the quote, “People won’t remember what you said, but they will remember how you made them feel.”

Top networking tip I feel like as long as you’re just a genuine person and actually care about the ideas and interests of others, important relationships will progress organically. No tip can help you if you’re only interested in relationships benefitting your own goals.

The Journey

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

Before VINAYA I was a technology consultant. I was working around the clock since my clients were from all different time zones. I was checking my phone from the moment I got up to the moment I went to sleep - It didn’t matter if I was at a family dinner or out to a movie with friends. The biggest thing I learned from all of this was how damaging it is to be constantly ‘dialed-in’. I now run a business and with the help of ALTRUIS, I work less hours than I did when I was working for someone else.

What is VINAYA and its philosophy & what was the motivation behind it?

VINAYA is a research lab and design studio located in Shoreditch, London where we design next-level smart jewellery. Our philosophy is to create fashionable pieces that allow people to become more centered in their everyday lives. The motivation came from my own life at a time when I desperately needed to free myself from technology.

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

“Don’t be afraid to tread in unchartered waters”. When ALTRUIS was nothing more than an idea, this little piece of advice kept my spirits up and my fears at bay. It’s also been helping me a lot recently since our new product, ZENTA is a piece that hasn’t really been done before either.

Who do you surround yourself with for your support network? 

I surround myself with a tribe of really great friends, team members, and family. I’m where I am today because these people not only believed in me, but supported me before anything started taking off.

What has been the journey to date? 

I’ve been really lucky to have found two co-founders that made this journey really smooth-going. We’ve done so much with the short time that VINAYA has been around and our entire team is so incredibly gifted and driven towards making our company the best it can possibly be. We started with the ALTRUIS and now have a brand new product, ZENTA, coming out soon. 


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

We started in 2013 and hustled for the first 18 months. Our whole mentality was getting the product to market before raising capital because we knew as a hardware startup, that burns a lot of cash, we would need to raise a large amount, diluting us too much without a commensurate valuation. We convinced suppliers to work with us on 90 day terms, hacked together a website and announced our launch on conference stages in London and NY. We sold 200 units, paid our suppliers and only then did we consider investment. For that first phase it really was duct taped together. So post funding it took us another year to iterate the hardware, software and scale up the team to arrive at a premium product.

We then made a conscious decision to rebrand after accidentally building our brand too well before we knew what the company was. Without much consideration we had landed on Kovert Designs - seemingly encapsulating what we were doing, but when we did the look and feel it was very luxury fashion. It took off because we were the first in that luxury fashion tech wearable space. But we didn't want to be luxury, we strive to be an accessible premium product and the fashion component of our brand was diluting the credibility of us as a design and innovation company. So on November 1st after a whole rebranding exercise we became VINAYA...and it really feels like us! 

This next year will be launch after launch and scaling up the front line go to market team! 

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

I think all CEOs share that vision and drive so it is often the boring things that you need to get on top of. Fortunately for me training as a management consultant in my previous life gave me a lot of that toolkit, including making me a spreadsheet nerd! Whereas in other areas such as staying organised and time management I am still improving. I think it is about recognising your own flaws and hiring people that complement you. My other tip would be always second guess yourself; it is really easy to have that passion and trust your gut but you'll be surprised how much time you can waste going down the wrong track, allow your assumptions to be tested. 

What technology trends excite you right now?

I am passionate about technology that genuinely improves peoples lives. I hate innovation for innovation sake. Whilst quite often technologies can be tweaked and evolved and needs to begin somewhere, I like innovation with purpose and positive impact on humanity. In general I hate the idea that some of the brightest minds of our generation are building the latest app. 

I am excited about technology in the mental health space particularly. It is something we talk a lot about at VINAYA. Technology has really revolutionised physical wellbeing but there has been little innovation in mental wellbeing. The technology we are developing has the potential to really make an impact using pattern recognition to spot behavioural changes in your life that might be off centre, which could help identify early signs of depression or eating disorders for example. We like deploying tech in a preventative fashion - that is a much easier solution! 

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

For the team we set what we call OKRs (Objectives and Key Results) - an approach used by Google and Facebook. I set company objectives, present them to the team at the beginning of our two day quarterly workshops, everyone then sets their personal objectives that applies to those as well as three key measurable results attached to each. We then track on a monthly basis to see how we are doing. 

In terms of the business there are the obvious revenue targets but we care more about engaged users and user satisfaction. We use net promoter score (NPS - standard across industry) as well as RFV, which stands for recency, frequency, volume. This gives us an idea of true engagement. True measures of success include how much time are we saving people, how much are we improving peoples lives and is this product actually helping people. 

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

Longer term we are building not just products but a full platform. And as we grow that is really where we are directing our attention as it becomes our USP. Long term vision is the platform is used across different products and acts as a centralised hub of your information where the products act as a data feed. 

ZENTA is VINAYA's next product - the world's first biometric-sensing wearable for both body and mind. Our journey is far from over as we intend to be the world’s go-to lifestyle technology brand.

Women in Tech

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

It is the same advice that I give to male founders but with one caveat. Keep your wits about you. Don't take drink meetings and be hyper aware of how people interact with you. Even when I was at my sharpest I still made mistakes, realising 10 minutes into a meeting that the person had no intention of investing in me. Be very polite but very clear as your time is so precious. 

I tended to take a phone call first which is 20 minutes instead of an hour and a half coffee. Be smart about who you target, know what you are asking for, what your valuation is and most crucially set a deadline. 

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

Yes and no. Our team is super diverse but kind of done accidentally. We represent over 20 countries, speak 30+ languages are are almost 50:50 male:female. Saying that we do struggle to hire female engineers to the specification that we need. It is not that women are not skilled enough but very few women study those subjects. And the few that do the majority do not go on to pursue engineering careers, which is a shame. We need to tell them at 11 that this is a really cool career and they can kick ass at it! 

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/starting a startup? 

The only reason banking and consulting jobs were so popular was because they paid big salaries. But they are yesterday's industries and the shift is naturally happening. Today it is so easy to set up a business. My advice would be don't be scared of that risk; if you try and set up a business and it collapses four months later, you will have learnt far more than you would have as a consultant for a year.

I think our generation has realised that money isn't everything. Instead it is about experience and lifestyle! 

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Britt Schuurs - Ascending the Investment Spectrum

Britt and I met for breakfast at The Berkeley (highly recommend for a fancy quiet breakfast!) to talk about how she ended up in finance, her move from banking to growth investing and what makes an exceptional entrepreneur. She is an associate at Summit Partners, a leading growth equity firm who has backed the likes of Darktrace, vente-privee and UBER. 


Meet Britt  

Current Job Associate at Summit Partners

First Job Investment Banking at Goldman Sachs focusing on European software and internet companies

Go to meeting spot Ace Hotel in Shoreditch

Favourite podcast The Economist 

Necessary extravagance I have an extremely short commute to work - a 20 minute walk and I grab a coffee on my way. No tube for me! 

Favourite place in London Marlyebone

Top networking tip Be comfortable, confident and open about meeting new people 

Most interesting tech firm in London right now Deepmind & Blippar 


The Journey

How and why did you enter the investment paradigm?

I studied in Amsterdam and there it's natural for people to start their own businesses. I started my own consulting company at the age of 21, whilst I was still studying. But it was when I joined Goldman Sachs and started working with a lot of investors and tech firms that I really got interested and decided I wanted to work on the investment side with companies who offer disruptive technology. 

What has been your biggest challenge? 

I think the biggest challenge in this industry is to be patient. VC or private equity is a long term career. You learn a lot in your first years but after that it takes a lot of time and experience to develop the skills to identify good companies and become an all-round investor. It's important to see companies through the entire investment cycle, including an exit, which in some cases can take up to 10+ years. Also in terms of communication with the entrepreneur - one becomes more considered with time.

What are your future ambitions? 

I have found an industry that I really like and in which I plan to stay. I like the financial side and love working with entrepreneurs. So probably staying in growth/venture investing, or perhaps starting my own business one day.


Summit Partners

Tell us about Summit Partners

Summit was founded in the 80s which makes us one of the longest established growth capital investors. We are currently investing more than $7.2 billion in capital, invested in over 430 companies, and have offices in Boston, London and Menlo Park.  Our focus is to partner with visionary entrepreneurs to help them accelerate their growth, either as a minority or majority shareholder. We offer a bunch of on-demand value-add services including recruitment and operations teams to help entrepreneurs effectively scale their business. We tend to invest at a later stage compared to VCs - our target investment range is $10 million to $500 million.

Could you elaborate on your investment thesis and what stands out to you when assessing early stage companies? 

We are focused on backing exceptional entrepreneurs building exciting companies. We are interested in a growth industry with a sizeable market opportunity, and best-in-class unit economics. We are often minority investors, so whether we feel comfortable backing the team is very important to us. We also need to have great conviction about the technology and its ability to disrupt an industry.

What techniques, mindsets or skills do entrepreneurs have that result in a large part of their success?  

The best entrepreneurs are adaptive and always willing to change. They respond to situations quickly and are happy to let go of an idea if necessary. 

What technology trends excite you right now?

Artificial intelligence and the Internet of Things are going to disrupt the world (and are already doing so!). For example, in the field of cyber security, one of our UK-based portfolio companies called Darktrace uses artificial intelligence to analyse network activity and detect abnormal threat behaviours inside enterprise networks. When we initially invested in July 2015, the company had around 80 employees. We have supported them in scaling up to over 270 globally since then to meet the huge demand for their technology.


Women in Tech

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

It's really sad, but I rarely speak with female founders! When I do I find women usually very honest and considerate - it's a great quality. If women are raising funding, they tend to be much more precise than men and consider in more detail what is required. They shoot from the hip less!! My advice to female founders raising financing would be "believe in yourself and your business, and go for it!".  And be critical when choosing an investor.

What business support networks do you value

I go to a lot of network events - I particularly like Level 20. It's a group of 12 women who work in VC and private equity. Their goal is to increase the number of women in senior positions to 20% by 2020. The investment community is still very male dominated and that needs to change. Investing is a great industry for women and we need more women in more senior positions to act as role models. I'm convinced better diversity will ultimately lead to better investment performance!

The views expressed herein are those of Britt Schuurs and do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of Summit Partners, L.P. or its affiliates.

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.

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Tamara Lohan - Tech Meets Luxury!

Tamara is the Founder and CTO of Mr & Mrs Smith! Yes - the luxury travel agent that you have spent hours trawling through daydreaming...procrastinating...imagining yourself on that beach! She founded the business 13 years ago with her then boyfriend James (now Husband)! It has evolved from a physical travel guidebook into a global online travel agent and Tamara is half of the team that manages its five offices and 120 people. Read on to discover her journey, her advice for female entrepreneurs and of course her top hotel picks! 


Meet Tamara

Current Job CTO and Founder of Mr & Mrs Smith

Favourite podcast Invisibilia

Favourite hotel It's like choosing a favourite child! My favourite hotel I went to last year was UXUA Casa in Brazil. The owner is the ex-creative director of Diesel and every single piece of furniture, light fitting etc. has been designed and crafted by him. You can just tell it is a passion project that is very special. 

Dream place to visit So many on my list - Tokyo, the Himalayas, Nicaragua 

Go to meeting spot I will meet anywhere where there is decent coffee!  

Necessary Extravagance Hey Jo Leggings - never have I owned leggings so good (no baggy knees after flights) 

Favourite productivity tool Wunderlist

Female inspiration in business I have three sources of inspiration: 

  1. My contemporaries - I have been fortunate enough to meet a small group of amazing women who all run their own businesses. We all support each other and they give me a huge sense of solidarity
  2. My two really good girlfriends with whom I can just be myself 
  3. Strong women designers who I just admire infinitely because I cannot do what they do! Particularly Kit Kemp who designs the Firmdale Hotels and Judy Hutson who designs The Pig Hotels

Top networking tip Don't try to put on a persona. Try and listen to the people who you are talking to. 

There is a huge difference between listening whilst thinking about how you are going to reply and really listening to what someone is trying to tell you.

The Journey

Can you tell us briefly about your background prior to founding Mr & Mrs Smith and what you gleaned from those experiences? 

Straight out of university I was given a dream job to go to Brazil and launch an energy drink (largely because I spoke some Portuguese, was willing and probably quite cheap labour)! It was a watershed year; I learnt a bit about everything: how to create a business, how to initiate marketing, how to get a physical product from one country to another, production, distribution etc. At the end of the year the company ran out of cash so we had to come home but the whole experience not only taught me about business and getting stuck in, it also taught me that things are not forever. I came back to the UK and decided to work for some larger organisations to institutionalise my education a little. I also worked with my mother a little who has always been very entrepreneurial and runs an agency called The County Register. 

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

Well, my Father-in-law always says that

If it was easy everybody would be doing it

What has been your biggest challenge? 

When we first launched with our travel guide book our biggest challenge was actually getting to know our end customers as our clients were the bookshops. We even put a little card in the book to solicit information and build a database! Of course the guide books was a dying industry and the internet was taking off so we pivoted from a book publisher to an online travel agent. Taking the leap to actually change the business was a huge challenge! Our challenges now are quite different...keeping the brand fresh, attracting a younger audience whilst still pleasing our core database who might have had families, managing global offices and motivating our team and keeping everyone pulling in the same direction. 

What do you consider your greatest achievement, and what personal qualities do you attribute most to your success?

My greatest achievement is building my team - when you are in business it is all about the people who you work with and I love my team so much! I especially enjoy seeing the younger developers rise up through the ranks and become senior developers and witness them produce something they are proud of. I am delighted that we consistently push boundaries, stay innovative whilst retaining a no blame culture - just a great team environment! 


Mr & Mrs Smith

Tell us about the inspiration, origins and evolution of Mr & Mrs Smith

Mr & Mrs Smith was born from frustration. When James (my husband/co-founder) and I were dating he would try to take me away for country weekends but we would end up bitterly disappointed again and again. But the inspiration has always also come from the hotels. There are these incredible places out there - Alila Villas Uluwatu in Bali where the architecture is jaw dropping is just one example! I love seeing hoteliers push the boundaries, create an environment where the small touches live long in your memory and who continue to inspire me. I never get bored of seeing new and innovative way of doing things. 

You are the CTO. What does that role entail?

I run the team who make, create, fix and maintain the bookable websites... the blogs, the backend systems, the content management system, the rates and availability system plus all the integrations that we have with hotel central reservation systems and channel management tools. 

Tell us more about Smith & Family

Smith & Family was born as my husband James and I went on to have children. We realised that we were not prepared to drop our standards in terms of the hotels we wanted to go to. Just because you become a parent does not mean that for your evening meal you want to sit at a sticky table with squashed fish fingers under foot! There is a real market out there for families who want to stay in incredible places with their children. 

Smith & Family is built on three pillars - it has to be great for kids, great for the adults and finally great for the family as a unit, because I find that as a working mum when I go on holiday with my children I actually want to spend time with them not dump them up in a kids club for the week! There are very few properties that tick all three of those boxes! So our biggest challenge with this brand extension is a supply constraint...they are out there but they are hard to find. 

Sourcing your hotels sounds like a tough job! What does it take to be a Mr & Mrs Smith hotel? 

SO many things - the way we curate is our gold dust! 

It is all about the experience, so if you walk into a hotel and you feel like you are being treated like a number or just made to feel uncomfortable or that you should feel privileged to be in this environment - those feelings would discount that property for us. There are so many elements and touch points within a hotel that can affect that feeling as you walk in, down to the music levels, what type of music, the way the staff are dressed, the way they greet you, the way communal spaces are broken up etc. I always feel that a Mr & Mrs Smith hotel bedroom should make you feel excited as you walk through the door, and that you should feel an overwhelming urge to jump on the bed! But again - is the lighting really difficult to work out and overly technical, are the sheets a bit scratchy or Egyption cotton, is the bed big enough, can you fit two in a bath...

It is the sum of all of these things that make up the experience and make you feel special, whether you are travelling as a couple or as a family, that determines if it is a Mr & Mrs Smith hotel. 

What is the vision for Mr & Mrs Smith and any other future ambitions? 

Mr & Mrs Smith aims to be the absolute best guide to the best boutique hotels in the world. 

In addition, last year we bought a small villa company so in 2016 we want to really get under the skin of that. We want to launch villas properly with a view of expanding the locations, going into cottages and perhaps developing our ski offering! 


Women in Tech

How do you handle being a working mum - any advice for others? 

My tip is not to be scared by people who look like they are managing everything and doing it brilliantly because I think that underneath it all we are all trying to do the best we can. I never feel like I do anything to 100% of my ability. When I am at work I miss my children, when I am with my children I think I should be doing some work - there is never a perfect balance. My advice would be don't beat yourself up about it, just keep chipping away at it. 

Who do you surround yourself with? 

Positive people. I would advise you to remove those negative influences close to you as they are very very draining - often one does not realise what they are putting up with especially if they tend to see the best in people. 

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

I think women can sometimes get paralysed by the grandiose scale of what they want to embark on. I recommend thinking about it in smaller terms - just get to the first step, then overcome the next hurdle and continue to face each problem as it comes. If you had told me I was going to run a global, five office, 120 people business in the travel industry thirteen years ago I would have gone "What?!" But each step and success brings you more confidence.  

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Joyce Liu - Educating us on Venture Debt!

Joyce and I met at the lovely Taylor St Baristas (her go-to meeting spot) to talk about all things venture debt! We met at Dawn Capital's Young VC Christmas drinks and I was incredibly excited to interview her and learn more about this relatively opaque asset class. Joyce was born in China, studied in the UK (Manchester) and Canada (Ottawa), has worked in the US (New York, Los Angeles), and is now based in London as part of the founding team for Columbia Lake Partners, a pan-European venture debt fund established in late 2014. She started her career in investment banking and worked on the buyside financing buyouts of mature companies before she jumped into the world of startups. As an entrepreneur-investor, Joyce is incredibly passionate about working closely with visionary founders and technology investors. Enjoy reading about her exciting journey to date! 


Meet Joyce

Current Job Senior Associate, Columbia Lake Partners 

First Job Summer Analyst, Statistics Canada

Go to meeting spot Taylor St Baristas - Bank

Necessary extravagance L'Occitane hand cream

Favourite productivity tool Yesware

Favourite place in London One of the many parks in London on a given weekend

Female inspiration in business Sheryl Sandberg

Top networking tip Figure out what motivates someone the first time you meet and then build a relationship by discussing what they are passionate about. Spend most of the conversation asking questions, listening and absorbing. 

Most interesting tech firm in London right now Sparrho (female founder!) 


The Journey

Tell us about your banking beginnings

I was born in China, moved to Manchester England when I was 5, to Ottawa Canada when I was 9 and upon graduation from university (Richard Ivey School of Business, Western University) I moved to New York, joining JP Morgan in 2009. I spent three years there and the best way to describe my experience was a "love-hate relationship"! I worked in sales and trading for a year before that group became divested and sold to an insurance company, Pacific Life, after which I joined the leveraged finance group where I worked for 2 years. The love was the privileged position of working with industry titans (I met Mike Milken the "Godfather of junk bonds" and advised Steve Hazy who pioneered the airplane leasing model) and worked alongside incredibly smart, driven colleagues, learning about the inner workings of financial markets. Downside was I basically lived in the office working 90+ hour weeks - there were nights where I would go home at 3.30am, shower, nap for an hour next to my Blackberry before getting back to the office. I am grateful for the experience, but couldn't see myself living the life of the Managing Directors I worked with - it was terrible work-life balance!

What came after banking? 

I wanted to get much more into the "nitty gritty" of a business and I ended up joining Ares, a global alternative investment manager with ~$92BN in AUM, in LA financing buyouts of private equity and growth stage companies. Ares bought a venture debt provider (BlueCrest Capital) which shared an investment committee with my group, and also had a sidecar vehicle that did co-investments in B2C growth stage companies in partnership with a fund in the Valley, and I found these businesses so much more interesting. Rather than focusing on operational synergies and "financial engineering" the balance sheet, I much preferred the excitement of working with young teams and understanding their growth potential. So I started looking at venture and was advised to go & work in a startup first to really understand the mindset of entrepreneurs before transitioning to VC. 

Tell us about your startup experience! 

Through a friend of a friend I was introduced to the founder of TRULY Experiences. Jack had bootstrapped the business initially and when he raised seed capital from EC1 Capital and others, he asked if I'd be interested in working as a Data Scientist. So I moved to London to be an entrepreneur and took a 90% pay cut in the process! I focused on customer discovery, SEO, and also did some corporate sales. We had customer data in Google Analytics, Zendesk, MailChimp, and Excel spreadsheets and I was responsible for generating a holistic picture of our customer base. We migrated it all to RJ Metrics in order to easily derive insights and start testing hypotheses on customer profiles I created. We decided to recreate our Google and Bing Ads when we moved domain names. My training on SEO was a 500-page Advanced Google Adwords book. I knew nothing in the beginning, so it really was an invaluable learning experience. About 4 months in, I met Craig at a C100UK Thanksgiving dinner I organised just as he was setting up Columbia Lake Partners. I was really impressed by his vision for the fund and decided to join shortly after.


Venture Debt

Venture debt for beginners ... 

If you think about a company based on its maturity cycle - early stage companies carry so much uncertainty they only have access to the highest form of capital in terms of cost which is equity - the rationale being that people are willing to hopefully generate higher returns for that commensurate risk. However, there is a time point when there is a certainty around breakeven point and companies begin to be able to access bank financing. But with a startup, traditional banks do not know how to finance them (i.e. asset-light, negative equity) and also young businesses in the short-medium term typically do not generate the revenue targets bank desire (no M&A fees, hedging, etc.), that is where venture debt comes in to play. Equity funds typically ask for ~15-30% of your company in exchange for 12-18 months of capital runway and all the other network/operational support. For entrepreneurs looking to accelerate growth plans and desire more capital cheaper in between financing rounds, venture debt can be a very attractive complement to equity. In addition to monthly payments to pay back the loan, most venture debt funds will take warrants, an option to purchase equity typically exercised during an exit event, which usually ends up amounting to 1-2% equity on a fully diluted basis. Venture debt helps companies get to that next valuation milestone at low dilution. It's all about optimizing cost of capital for high growth, scaling businesses.  

Tell us more about Columbia Lake Partners

Columbia Lake Partners ("CLP") is an experienced team of investors providing growth loans to European technology companies. Our transactions range €1 to €5 million and we partner with Silicon Valley Bank to write larger cheques. Venture debt only really started in the late 90s in Europe with Kreos Capital being the incumbent player. Other recent entrants in our space include Harbert and Boost, along with Silicon Valley Bank who have been very active in the US for many years. Despite this, only ~10-15% of all VC-backed companies in Europe receive debt financing, which is a marked contrast to the US where there are at least 10-15 funds and banks options for founders. It's no surprise that over 60% of Bessemer's portfolio companies have received debt financing. That is why CLP got started - with the belief that venture debt is underutilised and underserved in Europe.

CLP's investment thesis in a nutshell? 

The business should have a predictable nature such that it can service interest and principal payments, and its intrinsic value should be worth at least the value of the loan. A venture debt candidate is typically at the scaling stage - they understand who their customer is, have built a great product and team around it, successfully executed go-to market strategy in a given geography and vertical and therefore know their cost of customer acquisition, and just need more money to grow - they are in the 'add water' phase. Columbia Lake Partners is trying to educate the market - both entrepreneurs and VCs - in venture debt and make it as transparent and efficient as possible. Our term sheet is online along with regular blog posts about venture lending.  

What does your role involve? 

I'm involved in all aspects of the fund: from origination and building relationships with VC funds and founders to the diligence of potential investments to portfolio management and fundraising. 


Women in Tech 

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

  1. Be transparent
  2. Be honest
  3. Work hard
  4. Get to really know the people that matter

What business support networks do you really value? 


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

  1. Do your homework.  VCs are all very different and even the partners within each fund have niches, so build your strategy with that in mind. 
  2. People want to work with passionate visionaries. They typically generate great investment returns due to a "grittiness" and ability to figure it out when times are tough. So love what you are doing, be passionate about your product and customers, and hopefully you have personally experienced the problem that you are trying to solve. 


Follow Joyce! 

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.

Follow Debbie! 

Sarah Wood - The Adtech Sensation!

Sarah Wood is something of a legend in the female/tech/founder venn diagram! Her name is espoused constantly and she is consistently nominated as an inspiration - so that is why I didn't mind in the slightest getting rescheduled a handful or so times to get 30 minutes with her! Sarah is one of three co-founders and current co-CEO of Unruly - the video ad tech company that was acquired by News Corp in September 2015. At the helm she ensures that her team delivers the most awesome social video campaigns on the planet, getting those videos watched, tracked and shared across the web! Read on to learn how to make your content go viral, what Sarah thinks about the future of advertising and her advice for those coming up behind her...


Meet Sarah

Current Job Co-Founder and Co-CEO Unruly

First Job Egg packer - aged 12

Education University of Cambridge for my BA and Masters; UCL for my PHD and I now teach the course "Creation, Consumption, Revolution: Online Video Culture" at Cambridge. The learning never stops! 

Topics covered include theories of remediation, meme culture, transmedia storytelling, participatory culture, online identity politics, Internet celebrity, authorship and ownership. And cats. How could I forget the cats.

Favourite book As a teenager - The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists; at Uni -  Bleak House; currently - Harvard Business Review and Your First 100 Days 

Favourite productivity tool Uber for life and Trello for work 

Favourite video

Go to meeting spot Unruly kitchen or Second Home 

Female inspiration in business

  1. Divinia Knowles - COO at Pact Coffee and past CFO/President of Mind Candy. A long term peer who I have learnt so much from. She is so calm, thoughtful and considerate and her leadership style is impressive.
  2. Joanna Shields - She has remained true to herself and has been so helpful to Unruly over the years. She is also constantly thinking about the next generation of startups. 

Hottest tech startup in London right now (aside from Unruly!) For me the hottest startups are in the video space, where there is so much exciting innovation occurring! These include:

  1. Seenit
  2. Reframed
  3. The Smalls 
  4. Vidsy 


The Journey

Unruly does not get involved with the creative process of making videos - can you elaborate on Unruly's proposition to help spread videos across social media? 

We don't create the videos, we make the videos famous!

Unruly is a technology company, and using our unique data set, which we have built up over the last decade, we can tell brands in advance how shareable their video content is going to be, and more importantly why people are sharing it. We have found that 'intensity of emotional response' is the biggest indicator of success. This led us to build our own emotional targeting capabilities, allowing us to help brands distribute content across paid media. We use non-interruptive, non-invasive, user empowered formats; when brands create great content and use our units across paid media, we ensure their videos are getting seen by the audience that is most likely to enjoy that content and share it with their friends. 

You have mentioned that you took investment in order to scale quicker. What were some of the challenges you faced whilst achieving that ambition? 

The first challenge with fundraising is knowing when to fundraise. We had looked at raising a series A in 2009/2010, but it wasn't the right moment for us; we were still articulating the proposition. By 2011 we had a really clear vision and clients were vocally asking us to be in more markets, but we didn't have the capital resources to be able to do that. So in 2012 we raised a $25m series A to enable us to do two things:

  1. Increase our geographical footprint at speed (extend into America/Germany/Asia Pacific)

  2. Build out our development team to be devoted to analytics and mining this unique data set which we hadn't been able to 'productise' yet. This data became ShareRank 

The second challenge is knowing who to take investment from. We were looking for chemistry. It is unrealistic to expect investors to add lots of value around product and commercial direction because they are generalists by their very nature and will never have the same depth of knowledge that you do. So we wanted chemistry, shared goals and a long term partners who were excited to see us scale internationally. We got really lucky with our investors: AmadeusBGFEndiet, all of which were well-respected, highly collaborative investors, and we enjoyed working with them right up until the very end. 

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

Following our acquisition by News Corp, it has given us unique access to global media. The big focus right now is having our placements integrated into these high quality/highly trusted media sites, enabling us to extend our premium reach globally.



What will it be like going from being an independent startup to working with News Corp - the titan of the media industry? 

Same Unruly - bigger opportunity! 

We are independent from NewsCorp and we continue to run autonomously with our own P&L, so the Unruly culture remains in tact. The mission to transform video digital advertising for the better remains in tact, but we are better able to execute on that vision with speed and scale like never before. We have access to premium media titles and more capital resources, and have never been better positioned to make Unruly a $bn business with the weight of News behind us. 

Checklist for elusive virality? 

Unruly's share algorithm has over 100 variables...but if I was to boil it down to two factors:

  1. Intensity of emotional response - Make the viewer feel something very strongly, whether it's laughing out loud, hair standing on the back of your neck - that is the level of response required to drive advocacy of sharing;

  2. Diversity of social motivations - Once you have made someone have that emotional connection you need to give them a reason to share it. Some of the reasons that people go on to share content include: wanting to look good, help people, be useful to people, wanting to feel part of a specific tribe!

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

Deliver wow

Our mission is to deliver the most awesome social video campaigns on the planet. That is what brings us in every morning and when we do that we are so delighted. We hold ourselves to high standards and have an incredibly passionate team who care very deeply about our clients. 

Share the love

Sharing the love is integral to who we are. We share recognition - credit is given very generously and we share knowledge - there is never any knowledge hoarding. 

Inspire change

Inspire change is a recent evolution, up until a few months ago it was to embrace change. We felt that not only do we embrace change by being agile and looking ahead, but we can inspire change in others.

It is healthy to be in a culture where values evolve organically, and as you scale and increase your impact you want to be more ambitious with your values! Scaling culture is one of the hardest challenges. We have scaled into 15 offices and different markets - it was something we thought about very early on! 

What do you think the future of advertising looks like and how does online social video marketing feature?  

There is a seismic shift in the ad economy right now. More and more users are installing ad blockers, publishers are seeking alternative revenue models and brands are caring more deeply about the quality of their advertising and the ad units that deliver that content. I see a very bright future for social not anti-social video advertising. We have long worked with brands that make sure they are delivering content that people actually want to watch and share in a way that engages, not enrages viewers. This is more important than ever before. The other development is the continuing shift to mobile. I expect to see more vertical video as a result of the mobile revolution as it is how consumers make/watch video and we will begin to see brands adopt that consumer behaviour when creating and distributing their own content. 


Women in Tech

Which personal qualities to you attribute most to your success? 

My drive and energy.

What key tips do you have for how women can manage their work-life integration successfully? 

The UK is a great place to be a female tech entrepreneur! There is a really supportive ecosystem and many female tech entrepreneurs who are fantastic role models. 

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

I would say make sure that you love what you do because you will need to make difficult choices and sacrifices that may weigh heavier on your mind than they do on your partner’s! Aim high, for sure, but always appreciate what you have right now and do the job that you’re in with grace and passion. Stay positive and bring that positivity to your whole team - every individual can have a massive impact on a company culture.

Follow Sarah! 

Charlotte Pearce - Bringing the Human Touch to Tech!

I was fortunate enough to steal an hour or two of Charlotte's time over breakfast at The Hospital Club. Given I am in contention with a plethora of other journalists, mentees, entrepreneurs and even Buckingham Palace, I am overjoyed to have had the opportunity to learn more about her inspirational journey to date. Charlotte is the founder and CEO of Inkpact which aims to bring handwriting back into today's digital world by helping businesses communicate with their clients in a meaningful way through personalised handwritten letters and notecards. Technology makes it all too easy to be lazy - Inkpact hopes to make it easier to get noticed again and reinvigorate our communication mediums. I hope to have captured her mesmeric qualities in the interview below - but I have never met someone so ambitious, kind and amazingly charismatic in equal measure. 



Meet Charlotte

Current Job CEO and founder of Inkpact


Education Management with Entrepreneurship at University of Southampton. I can't say it helped like it sounds like it would. Significantly more influential was running an organisation called Enactus whilst I was supposed to be doing my degree.  

Favourite productivity tool Old fashioned pen and paper to do lists every morning and evening. 

Favourite book A great book I read recently was The Happiness Advantage by Shawn Achor. It's about how typically we put happiness after success and why we should reverse that formula. 

Go to meeting spot The Hospital Club 

How do you switch off Mindfulness colouring books! 

Guilty pleasure Grey's Anatomy & designer bargain hunting

Female inspiration in business

  1. Tamara Lohan - Cofounder of Mr and Mrs Smith and also one of Inkpact's investors! I hugely respect the way she has built her business, her family life and how she is successful but also still so down to earth, kind and will go above and beyond to help. 
  2. Sophia Amoruso - I really resonate with her as someone that is a bit of a rebel. Loved her book too!
  3. Emma Sinclair - The women has so much such drive and ambition and simply gets Sh*t done, I have learnt so much from her and still so much to learn! 

Top networking tip Be interested and interesting. So often networking can feel clinical and formulaic, simply treat people like people!


Tell us more about Inkpact - where did the idea come from and your successes to date? 

The beginnings of Inkpact were serendipitous and initially unplanned! At a personal development conference, I met a business coach who shared that he found handwritten letters an excellent communication tool to market to existing and prospective clients. Given this was not where his expertise resided I offered to write the correspondence on his behalf for payment. Shortly after he told me that these letters were receiving 100% read rates – an incredible conversion compared to his conventional 15% email open rate. He began to spread the word within his network and I rapidly acquired 5 clients and took on 5 letter writers. We wrote on white A4 paper and used blue envelopes to make it different! This was Inkpact 1.0!

Upon graduation I married my Company with my other passion – Enactus a social enterprise society– and realised that I could extend employment to a group of individuals who could not necessarily land a typical 9-5 job. I raised a little bit of funding and branded the Company Inkpact – making an impact to our clients and to people’s lives. I was able to prove the operating model from inception - customers wanted handwritten marketing communication and we were profitable from the first client. Around 7 months ago we looked to technology to help us scale. We built an online platform that enabled us to integrate with CRM systems and this contributed to our growth to 100 writers and 6 people in HQ. The core of Inkpact remains the people but it is very exciting that we can leverage technology to scale the social impact and stickiness for clients. 

You have been part of New Entrepreneurs Foundation 2015 cohort and now Wayra - how important have these been in helping you establish and grow Inkpact

I didn't appreciate how mentally difficult starting a business was. I was making money but it was still just me and my laptop before NEF. Being on the program gave me the impetus to build a team of amazing people, raise investment and be more ambitious. The most motivating factor about NEF is the support network of individuals who are going through what you are going through, and can ride the highest highs and lowest lows alongside. After NEF we spoke to pretty much every accelerator, as well as debating the merits of being on one, but we decided that Wayra could really advance Inkpact. Wayra understood B2B, SaaS, as well as the pain points of big corporates which could tangibly help us on our journey. Wayra is also 12 months facilitating longer B2B client relationships. 

NEF provided me with the mental stimulus to go bigger and Wayra has enabled the scaling/growth and execution! 

How did you raise finance and navigate the investment paradigm? 

When I first started Inkpact if you had asked me if I was going to raise capital I would have said absolutely not, and propounded organic growth. Having that 'client pays for your next client' mentality was great and was pivotal in us learning from customers, however, I quickly realised that if I wanted to scale the Company I needed to raise investment. I thought too small initially. I was going to raise a small round with a few investors, but they ended up helping me think bigger and facilitating a much larger raise to fund ambitions to scale across the UK and Europe. 

My advice: 

  1. Surround yourself with good people to give you great advice - I had never raised before so I had no idea how much to raise at what valuation! Talking to people who has been through it for a sounding board is crucial. 
  2. Raise more money than you need - Just because of the sheer time and effort involved - give yourself more headroom. 
  3. Smart money - Take the time out of your Company to invest in the fundraise to ensure you identify value add investors. 


The Journey

What are some of your other ventures that you are involved with alongside running Inkpact? 

When I first started the business I was making money but I wanted to earn additional income from something which would challenge me and also benefit Inkpact. I started doing consultancy work for big corporates and realised I had stumbled upon an insatiable demand from them wanting to know how entrepreneurs think and how to be innovative! However, consultancy is not scalable, and with the take-off of Inkpact I decided to marry my network of young entrepreneurs with my corporate clients and take a small cut - this company is called OR. Now I just joined the dots! 

What is your motivation?

I have a personal goal to be financially free by the age of 28. It is a big passion of mine to help young people become more financially literate; my aim is to be able to fund this social ambition whilst proving that age is not a limit to success. I aspire to be the Young relatable role model I never had when I was also young- all I saw at the age of 16 were 50 year old men running companies - it is hardly relatable. I also consistently endorse making money whilst helping people. Everything I am building shows that you can do both and this is something that drives me every day. 

What has been your biggest challenge? 

My biggest challenge at the beginning was not thinking big enough - I was my own limitation despite being quite a positive person! I thought starting a business was ambitious let alone building a team, going global and selling it for millions. Now the biggest challenge is to scale properly rather than just scale. I want to ensure I don't pursue growth and compromise quality; I want to keep the integrity of people at our core. 

What are your future ambitions?

We want Inkpact to be the go to destination that enables companies to go above and beyond for their customers. In the age of digital, switching costs for consumers have never been lower, therefore customer engagement is key! We envisage Inkpact right along the client life-cycle, be it lead generation, engagement with VIPs or churn minimisation. From a social perspective we will also continue to provide employment for people across geographies and backgrounds who couldn't otherwise obtain typical jobs. 

Are we doing enough in the UK to encourage start-ups, particularly with young people? 

Not everyone should and can start a business, but I think more people should be aware that it as a fantastic option! We need to teach innovative thinking, problem solving and financial literacy at a young age, we need to break the misconception that to start a business you need to have a revolutionary idea, I didn't invent handwriting or entrepreneurs, yet I have started Companies from both by joining the dots and executing something better or in a different way from our competitors. Teaching that type of thinking is key - how do you make something commercially viable, how can you solve that problem and generate finance whilst doing it - it is a different mind-set to box ticking like we are taught as school. 


Women in Technology

What is your opinion on the focus of the women in technology debate? 

There are lots of amazing women in technology and in business but it is still not enough! However, rather than focusing on the negative narrative and statistics, I believe we need to see a shift to knowledge sharing, showcasing and celebrating these female role models. Getting more women to invest in women, be it financially or otherwise. Inkpact currently has four female investors which is great!

What business support networks do you value and how did you curate them?

When I first moved to London I said yes to everything without knowing the outcome. I didn't understand the eco-system so this was the most effective way of navigating and eventually curating my network. Appreciating that you are the average of the 5 people you spend most time with, I was determined to surround myself with inspirational kick ass people. 

I also very quickly realised the benefits of coaching. So much so that I decided to get myself a coach in every aspect of my life. I have a coach for nutrition, fitness, life, public speaking and mental/wellbeing! If you look at the best in class athletes and the most successful people in business they all have the best coaches. Once I got over the erroneous stereotype that you only require a coach if you are doing badly, I reaped the benefits of immersing myself with experts in their field. I would encourage anyone to figure out what they want to improve on and then seek out help. 

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

  1. Win win goals - I advocate that businesses can do a lot of good as well as make money. I would encourage everyone to remain cognisant of this from the embryonic stages of their venture. 
  2. Be a hustler - People don't ask enough. Individuals tell me how lucky I am that I met this person or got something for free but it's just as simple as offering a win win solution and asking. 
  3. Being likeable - I think that being likeable is massively undervalued. Being interested in others, being a nice person, doing the right thing and treating people well is critically important. People do business with people they like and trust and that is too often forgotten. If you want to persuade individuals to give you their time and invest in you, them liking and trusting you is half the battle. 

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Louise Deason - Demystifying Coding!

I am so delighted I got to sit down with Louise. She was introduced to me by Christian Hernandez (co-founder of White Star Capital, ex-Facebook) on Twitter because of her very interesting and unusual story - and it is every bit as inspirational too! Louise has worked for some of the biggest most disruptive names in tech - Facebook, Digital Shadows and DueDil, and has gone from PA to infrastructure engineer. She manages to balance a full time degree and a full time job and dispels all the myths propagated about coding! Learn about her journey and ambitions, hackathon tips and how to get started in tech!     



Meet Louise

Current job Infrastructure engineer at DueDil (doing cool stuff with companies house data) 

First Job Extra on Harry Potter 1-3

Favourite book/blog Lucas by Kevin Brooks

Favourite productivity tool Sunrise Calendar

Favourite place in London Lantana Cafe, Fitzrovia

Necessary extravagance Cashmere jumpers

Female inspiration in business Eileen Burbidge

Favourite coding language Python

Hottest tech start-up in London right now (apart from DueDil!) Tough one! Automata


The Journey

Your CV is peppered with some of the most exciting tech companies! Facebook, Digital Shadows and DueDil.  Tell us about your diverse experiences

Facebook came out of the blue! I had left my old job as a PA which resulted in me procrastinating on Facebook as you do! I ended up on their careers page and discovered they were looking for a PA for two directors in the London office. After 6 hours of interviews they introduced me to the MD of EMEA and head of the office! A week later they offered me an executive assistant position to Joanna (Shields). I worked at Facebook for 8 months and towards the end I begun a part time Computer Science course in the evening, which converted to full time in 2013. I was involved in company-wide hackathons and was very fortunate to have the amazing engineers at Facebook to inspire my journey.

After Facebook I joined DueDil for the first time. It was small and scrappy (only 17 people) and I loved that! I did everything: office manager/HR/PA. I was there for 9 months before starting my degree full time. Prior to returning to DueDil I worked at Digital Shadows bridging the engineers and analysts. But I continued to bug my friend Aaron at DueDil, asking whether there was an engineering job for me yet! He went out of his way to pitch for me internally and I officially started about a month ago as an infrastructure engineer! 

What have you learnt so far in your career? 

Culture is so important! It makes or breaks a company. The culture at Facebook was fantastic and the engineers were so welcoming. But as Facebook grew it was hard to hold on to it. 

You are now an infrastructure engineer at DueDil! What does that entail? 

At the moment I am just figuring out the tech stack! I also have individual projects which are internal that will help our team work quicker. It is a very iterative process and there is no right or wrong way of solving problems. For example, I have functioning code but now it is about going through a review process, optimising it, making sure the code is logical. 

At DueDil a lot of our tech is containerised using Docker, which means that every part of the site is essentially in a bucket. Tech wise we try to deploy code as quickly as possible; we are very agile, we want to be able to write code and get it live in response to customer demands. In time I will provision servers and if I see problems I can solve I will have the freedom to go in and do it. 

What has been your biggest challenge? 

Juggling full time uni and full time work, whilst still finding the time to have fun. It's not easy and there were times when I almost quit. I am now in the final year of my degree though, so I can see the light at the end of the tunnel! 

What are your future ambitions? 

I love space, so maybe a masters in space engineering. I'd be an astronaut if they'd let me, although i'm not sure i'd make it off the vomit comet in one piece!

What is your definition of success? 

I think if you can wake up in the morning and love going to work, that's a pretty good indicator of success to me. It's never been about the money. Find something that will make you happy.


Demystifying Coding

What are three myths about coding that you would like to dispel?

  1.  Everywhere is sexist and full of bros - 110% not true. Women might not be a majority, but they are respected and welcomed in all the companies I've worked at.
  2. Coding is really hard and only super smart people can do it - I scraped GCSEs and did acting at college. If you want to do it, you can make it happen.
  3. Coding is for geeks - coding is for EVERYONE, and it's COOL.

What choices did you consider when researching Computer Science? What are the different merits of coding courses v degree?  

A lot of the engineers at DueDil are hackers and have just been coding since their early teens! But I decided to do a degree to have that foundation as I needed more of a kickstarter. There are so many free resources online, I would recommend having a go with some of these courses first and check it's what you want to do before paying up - you have to love it and be committed otherwise you won't have fun! 

In terms of what kind of route to take I suggest thinking about your end destination. The likes of Google, Facebook and Tesla are really focused on education and care about the algorithms and big O notation which necessitates a degree. Whereas startups care more about experience - they want you to be able to come in and smash a coding test. Coding courses like Makers Academy get you up and running in as little as 10 weeks and set you up well for the latter. 

What are some of trends happening in coding right now? 

Everything is about the cloud and big data! Docker and Mesos are also becoming very popular! We are also moving away from old school programming languages to more natural languages like python and Google's language Go

You have an impressive hackathon CV! Share your highlights and any tips...

The first hackathon I did was with DueDil and I had no coding knowledge. It was a whole weekend - two days with no sleep! We got through about 30 cans of red bull between a team of 6. We built an app called Seekr - a map based event discovery app, using server side clustering and matching to detect and classify events based on a realtime feed of social media from various sources. The map was populated from data gathered from Twitter, Instagram and Flickr, as well as a photo capture interface in the app. It was such an energising environment to be in! We came second and someone even offered us £10k to take it further. 

My second one was with #floodhack at Google Campus, which was arranged to help victims of the severe flooding in the UK last year. My team made fludBUD, which connected flood victims to people that could help. We came third. Most recently I took part in an all female hackathon at Facebook. The key is to go for it and be scrappy! 


Girls in Tech

You are part of the Girls in Tech UK team! Talk us through your motivations behind being involved and some of the initiatives that you run.

I started at Girls in Tech when I begun at DueDil - they had tweeted saying they needed people to help with the London chapter, that was three years ago and now I sit on the board! It was about finding a group of like minded women who I could chat to and share advice with given I was the only girl in my team at the time. 

Girls in Tech run fantastic events each month and welcome both girls and guys! We even hosted one at Downing Street! We are also just nearing the end of our pilot mentoring program. The program is a 6-month exclusive scheme for women working in tech and digital roles in London. It consists of 6 evening speed-mentoring sessions with high profile mentors! We will probably run another next Spring - so watch this space! 

Any advice for young girls who may be considering a career in technology but don’t know where to start?

Send me a tweet, I'd love to follow your progress/help out! Find a local coding club (there are quite a few out there), have a look at programming with scratch, move up to codecademy, come to a girls in tech event! You can also find programming jobs on Unicorn HuntWork in Startups and Stack Overflow.

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Pip Jamieson - Championing Creativity!

Get ready for watershed moments after reading about the inspirational Pip Jamieson - founder of The Dots. Fortuitously you can hop over to the site if you want to discover a more creative and fulfilling career! The Dots is a career network for creative talent. Her background first as an Economist in the Civil Service then working for The Brits and MTV prefaced her entrepreneurial leap! With the proliferation of technology traversing every industry, Pip advocates the importance of creativity and puts it at the heart of commerce. Learn about her motivation, raising finance, her journey so far and her brilliantly stark realisation at the end! 


Meet Pip

Current Job Founder & CEO of The Dots.

Education 1st Class Masters in Economics, Edinburgh University.

First Job Fast Stream Economist, Government Economic Service.

Favourite book/blog/podcast Offscreen MagazineEntrepreneurial Thought LeadersMonocle 24: The EntrepreneursDesert Island DiscsLean inZero to OneDelivering HappinessLovemarks 

Go to meeting spot Shoreditch House.

Favourite place in London Horace our Houseboat 

Necessary Extravagance We recently bought a Thames Skiff (a rowing skiff) called 'Little Horace'. Starting and running a business can be very hard, so whenever it all gets too much, I simply jump in 'Little Horace' and go for a row… and all too soon that big issue suddenly doesn’t seem so insurmountable!

Favourite productivity tool Xero. It makes accounting fun! 

Female inspiration in business I think it would have to be Emma Watson for putting ‘He for She’ at the forefront of the addressing the gender imbalances. 

Top networking tip Wear a smile. 


The Journey

Tell us about The Dots and the motivation behind it? 

We started the platform because while I was Head of Marketing at MTV, I was finding it really hard to connect with amazing creative talent. At the same time my then colleague Matt Fayle, who was Digital Director for Viacom, was constantly being asked by creatives for advice on getting up and running online. What we realised was that all these people and companies wanted their online presence to lead to something. If you were an individual, you’d be trying to build your personal brand, find collaborators, find a client or a job. If you were a business, you’d be trying to build your brand, promote your projects, connect with clients or hire talent. So our vision was not only to create a platform that was easy for everyone involved in the creative process to promote their portfolio of work online – but most importantly to connect that work to some form of commercial outcome – a client, collaborator or job…essentially helping fuel commercial outcomes for the industry as whole. 

Selection of Companies on The Dots

Selection of Companies on The Dots

You can only connect 'the dots' looking backwards...can you tell us more about your background prior to founding The Dots and what you have learnt from your journey so far? 

It was my role at MTV that first inspired The Dots, but on reflection, my whole life seems to have led me to this point. I was blessed to have an incredible father who was a leading figure in the music industry. My earliest memories were hanging out in his office, making coffee and chatting to his team. It ignited in me a love of business and the creative industries. While my father always wanted me to go into the creative industries, my (slightly odd) rebellious nature led me to do an Economics degree at Edinburgh University and much to the surprise of my parents I walked out with a First and joined the fast stream civil service as an Economist. My creative calling came on a dawning realisation that being a civil servant wasn’t really my thing, so I jumped ship and started working on the Brit Awards, then in various roles for MTV around the world. For years at MTV I regretted my Economics degree (as it had absolutely no relevance to what I did then day to day) but now that I run a technology business I’m so grateful that I have a social science background.  In 2009, I co-founded Australian networking platform The Loop, which we developed and grew into the leading professional networking site for creatives in the region, with over 67% of Australian creative professionals registered on the site, of which 71% returned each day. I love this industry and I’ve always had global aspirations for the platform – so in 2014 I decided to exit the business I started in Australia, to acquire the international rights to the technology – and The Dots was born.

What hypotheses about the creative industry and business model did you prove with The Loop that you subsequently built upon with The Dots? 

LinkedIn has nailed corporate networking but it has some real shortcomings for people that work in the creative industries. On a basic level LinkedIn is built around an individual’s resume, but a creative’s calling card is their portfolio of creative projects they work on – which is what The Dots puts to the forefront. On a more fundamental level, creatives have different networking preferences to corporates. LinkedIn has been designed so you tend to meet people in the real world first and then manage those relationships online i.e. it’s built around first and second degree connections. What this means is that LinkedIn is a closed network where you can only view people’s profiles if they’ve either accepted your request to connect, or you pay LinkedIn. Conversely, our amazing community is more discovery led – they want to find amazing people to connect with, irrespective of any prior connection. It doesn’t matter if that person is in Berlin, Birmingham or Brooklyn. Once they’ve met on The Dots, they can then make creative magic offline. As such, unlike LinkedIn, The Dots is an open network where our community can view other people’s work without having to be connected first. The advantage of this is that users can search and browse creative projects, which isn’t possible on LinkedIn.  We proved this hypothesis in Australia (& now in the UK) by helping creatives to connect and commercialise in a credible way that makes sense to them. 

Selection of Profiles on The Dots

Selection of Profiles on The Dots

What has been your biggest challenge? 

Exiting my first venture The Loop was one of the toughest decisions and hardest negotiations of my life. I can’t begin to tell you how difficult it is to leave a successful business that you put your heart, body and soul into, but it was the best decision I’ve ever made.

What do you consider your greatest achievement? And what personal qualities do you attribute most to your success? 

I remember the first time that someone landed a job on the platform - it was the most amazing feeling that not only was it up and running, but it was working.  In Australia we connected our community to 190,000 + commercial opportunities, so the scaling prospects for the platform (and the positive impact we can have on the creative process) is really exciting. In terms of my personal attributes that have lead to this success, I guess it's a genuine desire to champion and support creativity. 

The Dots

What was your approach to raising investment and what would you do differently if you raise again? 

We recently raised £1.5 million supported by advertising legend Sir John Hegarty, and funded by a powerful consortium of angel investors from Hambro Perks, Angel Academe and Coral Reef.

Pip Jamieson and Sir John Hegarty

Pip Jamieson and Sir John Hegarty

Our approach was pretty traditional - we created an investor deck and I pitched this to a number High Net Worth investors and investment syndicates. We had a lot of interest early on, but my biggest challenge was that until we had our lead investor, Hambro Perks, negotiating terms with multiple investors was a bit like herding cats. I can't stress the importance and value of having a lead investor enough.  I'm very happy with what we raised and the investors we raised from - so if I had my time again I'm not sure that I'd do that much differently, other than possibly having a wingman/woman for pitches. At times it was pretty gruelling doing the pitches solo.... but hey what doesn't kill you makes you stronger :-) 

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

A happy team is a productive team

What are your future ambitions/what would you like to be remembered for? 

I would like to be remembered as someone who put creativity at the heart of commerce. Looking to the future with the rising march of automation, creativity is our secret weapon. Soon machines will drive, serve customers, code, clean, manufacture, do our accounts and legals, what are humans still good for? Creativity! So if we want our children and grandchildren to have jobs, we need to stop thinking of creativity as fluffy. As Ken Robinson said 'Creativity is as important as literacy' – I couldn’t agree more!

Find Inspiration on The Dots

Find Inspiration on The Dots

Women in Tech

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

There is no point in sugarcoating it -  raising investment is tough - very tough.  I tend to agree with Martha Lane Fox’s comment that there is an ‘unconscious bias’ against women in the technology sector. Recent research at 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. If I have one tip for female founders it would be to make sure that you put Angel Academe on your hit list – a female-led syndicate that invest in start-ups with at least one female founder. We were lucky enough to raise part of our investment through Angel Academe and they’re an amazing bunch of women. 

Who do you surround yourself with? 

Starting a business has been the most insane roller coaster ride of highs and lows. I found that the trick to weathering the hard times has been to surround myself with happy positive people that naturally focus on solutions not problems.  It’s an inherent characteristic that I don’t think you can teach and leads to very productive working environment. 

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

I’ve seen so many businesses fail over the years not because they didn’t have a great idea, an amazing team or the funding but because they didn’t have the right support at home. I’m blessed to have the most incredible husband. He genuinely loves what I do and enjoys nothing more than chatting about my day and helping me talk through problems. He’s my emotional rock, through thick and thin. If you're in a relationship, then getting your partner fully behind your vision is as important as getting your team behind the vision. This goes both ways, for female founders, as much as male.

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Poppy Tucker - Bringing Visions to Life!

Meet Poppy Tucker - an incredible fire ball of energy, ambition, intelligence and laughter! We first met at Pinksheet (more on that later on) but for the interview resided in the secret garden at South Place Hotel with a glass of wine (not quite breakfast!). Poppy is the Chief Instigator at CRUXY & CO, a very different consultancy. They help restless business people deliver growth that they didn't imagine possible. It is their energy, momentum and charm that differentiates them. You can find Poppy at all the tech events, watching pitches and continually challenging how things are being done. Take notes! 


Meet Poppy

Current Job Chief Instigator, CRUXY & CO!

Education Economics & Politics, University of Exeter.

Hometown It will always be my parent’s farm in Hertfordshire, but I am torn between there & Bondi, Sydney where I lived for 3 years.

Favourite productivity tool When done right there is nothing better than a properly organised list - if you know something will not get done that day, move it to your full week’s list. Make sure everything in your day list gets done – or else! 

Favourite book Start with WHY, Simon Sinek. I also love The Chimp Paradox. Mindset is everything.

Go to meeting spot South Place Hotel – they have a secret garden on the first floor. Even in winter when it is covered, it can be a quiet sanctuary.

How do you switch off I am lucky enough that I still have horses at my parent’s farm. I try to get out there most weekends. I take my horse out into the woods – there is no phone signal and it is uncomfortable to be truly out of contact, but a necessity for switching off.

Guilty pleasure I very rarely watch TV, but I cannot get enough of suits. Jessica Pearson – what a boss! Her attitude, her intelligence, her wardrobe. I am in awe!

Top networking tip

  1. Go it alone – If you want to network, don’t go in a group. You stay in a group.
  2. Be everywhere – There is no excuse for not networking in tech in London. If you want to you can be at 10 events a week.
  3. Overcome the fear of approaching people - Some people don’t find this difficult but I did, now I love it. I have met the most inspiring people through making sure I found a way to talk to them at an event.


The Journey

How did you get to where you are today? 

I had been living in Australia for three years when I decided I was ready to come back home and serendipitously join CRUXY at the beginning of its journey - a provocative consultancy which sharpens brands and repositions businesses. CRUXY feels that the way most people perceive marketing is flawed. It is easy to think that by raising awareness you are moving forward, but CRUXY questions: Who needs to care and what do you really want to be known for to this audience? What does raising the bar look like? Don’t do what you have always done or copy what everyone else is doing. In order to really make a mark you need to do things differently.

What has been your biggest challenge?

Deciding that we knew there was an opportunity for us to make a difference in technology. Tech companies and particularly those founded by technologists are obsessed with the ‘what’. The product they have built is their baby – they want to tell you each and every detail of how it works. But what really matters is their vision. We identified this opportunity to help founders articulate their ‘Why’ and paint the picture of their vision, which is so pertinent for both their customers and potential investors. We help people tell their story in a way that inspires.

What is the key factor in your success to date? 

I have had the support of a number of amazing mentors throughout my career, all of whom have been women. Each time they have inspired me to see a different way of doing things. The most inspiring people I have met have been really clear on their vision. Having that clarity and executing against it is in itself success to me. Factors can come into play that mean you have to take a different route, but ‘successful’ people I know are ones that see this, adapt and still stay true to their vision.

What would you like to be remembered for?

 Bringing to life the vision of the most pioneering tech entrepreneurs in the world.



What is Cruxy and Co’s vision and differentiator? 

CRUXY was started to inspire people to focus on what matters.  It is very easy to view marketing as a budget line, as the ‘stuff’– the PR, the website, the logo. Too often it is an afterthought, companies erroneously think SEO or PR will solve it and too many people think awareness is a deliverable. We don’t believe any of that matters until you have answered the big questions: why do you exist; who are you for; why should anyone care? True strategic marketing should service the business plan and it is about making choices. Why do a white paper if you haven’t yet worked out if your audience reads them? We find a lot of businesses ‘spin’ into action without thinking about these key questions. We work by challenging the company and digging to answer the difficult questions, injecting momentum to deliver what needs to happen to meet the big objectives seamlessly. 

Why did you decide to work with tech start-ups? 

It is old news that tech is driving every business - why would we not want to be part of that journey! The pace of change has shifted, even in the last 3-6 months. The attitude to blockchain for example – being something that provided the infrastructure for bitcoin to run on and there has been a lingering question over it’s credibility. In a short space of time it has begun to be viewed as something which WILL (there now being no question about it) transform the way the finance industry operates globally. Being able to work with those who are making this happen is something which I feel very lucky to be a part of.  

You talk about ethos led business in your narrative - where do you think your clients and potential clients fall down most? 

Many of our clients are owner founded and run businesses. They have created something incredible; they have seen an opportunity to transform and have acted. But in the process of creating, they focus so much on WHAT their product does. The functionality – how fast, how much, time to integrate, price… the details. They have had to obsess over the details, but in doing so think these are what make a difference. In every case, these businesses were started with an amazing vision.

At CRUXY we love Simon Sinek’s 'Start with Why'. We show our clients this video & instantly you see something change. They say – that is what I started out to achieve. I have a WHY! I just don’t know how to say it!

We just help people articulate what that is and then help them translate what that means for the way they behave. It should be like a stick of rock – wherever you cut it, the business should look the same. Everything you do should come from your WHY.


Women in Tech

Why do you think there is such a gender imbalance within technology specifically?

This is a really interesting topic and I personally, from speaking to the women I know in tech, think there is a disparity between perception and reality. I think there are amazing people making a difference – Jennifer Arcuri, Russ Shaw, the guys at FIN4FEM. But it crops up on generalist agendas as a vanity exercise. We will see real change take place when there is a genuine call to action coming out of each meet up. It is simply not enough to talk it anymore. I see Jennifer doing this really well.  She is so relentless & passionate, I don’t think she even sees any barriers. She works in a way that transcends them. 

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

  1. Know that you won’t always get it right. As women we can be so hard on ourselves, but this can be what drives us. Balancing that relentless quality with an understanding that failure is not always bad, I think is a huge quality that the most successful women I know uphold.
  2. Get stuck in. Don't hold back and don't approach any situation as an outsider. Be brave. 
  3. Be the master of your own destiny. Entrepreneurs don't question they just do - so more of the same! 

    What business support networks do you value?

    Without a doubt, Pink Sheet Database is the best for women in tech. Completely unpretentious, open and inspirational. Anyone who wants to make a dent in tech should be there. I also make a point of getting to every New Finance event, less for support but more that I see the most interesting fintech companies coming through there at sometime or another. Eddie George does a great job of finding the ‘ones to watch’ and he is always on the front foot. Finally I think everyone running their own business should have a coach. I work one on an ongoing basis. I have found that having a completely fresh perspective has added colour to the big decisions I have had to make.

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