Rachel Carrell - Solving Childcare!

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


Meet Rachel

Current Job CEO of Koru Kids

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

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

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

Favourite book Never Let Me Go, by Kazuo Ishiguro

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

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

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

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


The Journey

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

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

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

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

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

I love Steve Blank’s definition of a startup:

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

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


Koru Kids

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

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

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

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

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

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

What metrics do you focus on? 

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

Biggest challenge so far? 

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

What is your long term vision for Koru Kids? 

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


Women in Tech

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

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

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

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

What personal qualities to you attribute most to your success?

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

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

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

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

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Tracy Doree - Pioneering Equitable Venture!

Tracy and I met for breakfast at Granger & Co. She began her career at Rothschild before moving to MMC to invest in high growth, early stage companies and to be closer to the founders. After four years she took the entrepreneurial leap herself and founded LLUSTRE - a content driven e-commerce company addressing the home design market. 10 weeks post the transactional launch of LLUSTRE, Tracy sold the company to Fab.com, the then fastest growing e-commerce business globally and market leader in design. Following her transition from MD at Fab.com Tracy became one of the four founding partners of Kindred - a new early stage venture capital fund based in London that practices equitable venture. In the interview Tracy shares her many lessons learnt, including her recruitment and retentions tips, fundraising advice and shows you how to be ambitious with a huge amount of passion and most importantly, integrity. 


Meet Tracy

Current Job Partner at Kindred

First Job Unofficially - hairdresser in Essex; officially - tech analyst at Accenture 

Go to meeting spot Granger & Co.Good & Proper TeaShoreditch House 

Favourite book Give and Take by Adam Grant

Necessary extravagance Fortnightly manicure

Favourite productivity tool Pen (Caran d'Ache) and paper 

Recent inspiration I recently took a two week holiday for the first time in five years. And it reminded me the importance of having space to think more creatively.  

Top networking tip Business and life is about people. Spend more time with people that give you energy!  

The Journey

How and why did you enter the investment paradigm the first time round at MMC? 

My Uncle had a business when I was at school and he told me that it was the worst and most difficult moment when he was selling it. Whilst building the business, he had been used to being the leader and the expert, and then at the moment when value was going to be realised, he was leading an unfamiliar negotiation where he felt like an amateur. That's kind of nuts! Thinking about it now as an entrepreneur, you get to f*** up every day, but that's ok because you get to try again tomorrow. But when it comes to raising funds you probably only have a couple of shots at raising money and exiting your business. 

So my Uncle said to me if you are ever going to build a business you better learn how to sell one first. 

So I went to Rothschild. I then decided that I wanted to be closer to the people that were building and running the companies. I had an offer to go and work for a big private equity firm, but after spending a couple of days there I determined it wasn't for me. One guy had five cans of coke during an hours meeting with me! It was a very different environment to how I wanted to spend my days. 

A lot of people choose the next bit of their career in the abstract, what they would be proud to say, or what might lead them to what they think success looks like, and then forget that on a random Tuesday you have to get up and spend your day doing that, so you better love it. I began to speak to mid cap private equity firms which is more about people and through that I met a firm called MMC. They were five people in a house in Kensington and they were growing really quickly. I joined the team in 2008 and spent four years there. I had no idea if I would go back to venture as when I left I was totally single-minded about the concept of LLUSTRE, but I really loved my time there. 

Can you share with us the whirlwind that was LLUSTRE and subsequently lessons learnt from your time spent at FAB.com? 

I learnt everything; it was like 10 years compressed into two. We started working on the concept in June 2011, we sold to FAB in June 2012 and I had left FAB 18 months later. 

  1. I learnt that you can get a lot done in a day. You can wake up with a mammoth number of tasks that can seem like an impossibility but even with a small number of people you can close the day completely differently from how you began it.
  2. I learnt that when choosing your investors, if you choose the right ones they effectively become part of your team and they truly help you when you need to make both small and big strategic decisions.
  3. I learnt to hire for passion and raw talent rather than experience.
  4. I learnt how to hire. I had only ever led the recruitment process for a couple of people previously and for incredibly defined roles but at LLUSTRE I learnt how to build out an entire organisational structure in a fast growing, constantly changing organisation. We hired 60 people in 6 weeks! We had to become really smart at it really quickly.
  5. I learnt first hand the importance of diverse groups when you are trying to do something difficult. In our team of 50 in London as LLUSTRE we had 12 different nationalities and by the time we were 200 people in Berlin as FAB we had 22 different nationalities.
  6. I learnt that meritocracy can exist which is something I had always hoped to be true. That in a fast growing team you can always give people new opportunities and the most satisfying thing is when a junior member of the organisation is the obvious leader for a significant piece of the business.
  7. I learnt that's what I love doing - finding inspiring people and then helping them.
  8. Finally I learnt the importance of having clarity of vision and of transparency, not for its own sake, but to empower people within the organisation and the challenges that come when you don't hold true to that. 

How did you inspire people to join you during your recruitment process?  

As a founder you are always selling, to your investors, suppliers, customers and to team members. The best talent is always in high demand, so your recruitment is always a selling pitch to them. You must always be structured and disciplined so that even when you are at scale you are still giving enough thought to those individuals considering your organisation. They could be customers or suppliers and it is a long game - you have no idea how that person might come back into your organisation, so treat them respectfully.

What has been your motivation throughout your career? 

My overriding goal has been meritocracy. I cannot imagine another industry that I could work in that is better than technology, and within that venture capital, where you really can create something from nothing in a short space of time and you can earn the right to opportunities that you couldn't imagine in other industries. 

What would you like to be remembered for? 

I would love to be remembered for Kindred and I would love for that to be known for being the first place people go to when they are building their business. 


Tell us about Kindred, your differentiated investment philosophy and founding team

We are an early stage technology investor. We invest in 10-12 companies a year, between £200k-£1m and we have a separate fund that is for follow on funding to the portfolio businesses. We are focused on the UK but that is not to say that we wouldn't back companies in other geographies. 

We back exceptional people early and then help to build an army around them so they can build globally significant businesses. That army consists of the of the four founders of Kindred; we are all founders and operators ourselves and we hope that experience is directly useful or at least we can empathise with the crazy that is building something. We have collectively made 100 investments prior to Kindred and through that developed a fantastic network and best practices that we can share with the entrepreneurs that we back. We have a Head of Community whose job it is to facilitate the sharing of the tools and a Head of Talent to help our companies become magnets for great talent. We also have three advisors, which may grow to five or six this year, who are the operators of today. We believe in the importance of currency of knowledge. As soon as you step outside of building a business, the ways you approached things can become redundant quite quickly, so these operators who spend a day a month with portfolio companies is really game changing. 

Then the most important thing that we do is share the profits of our fund back with the founders that we back - we call it equitable venture. Those founders naturally share so much information with their peer group, it is incredibly important to us to give back to those individuals. 

What was the catalyst to set up the fund and what drew you back to investing? 

I met Leila at MMC in 2010 when she spent a summer there during her MBA at Harvard. She then left and moved to San Francisco to become GM of a Kleiner and General Catalyst backed consumer internet company and then co-founded a business in the health tech space. We stayed friends over that time and I really used her counsel during my period of growing my business and vice versa. We found ourselves back in the UK at a similar time and we started spending time with entrepreneurs that we thought were doing really cool stuff and advising them or investing in them, often both, and we increasingly were doing that with two other individuals - Russell Buckley and Mark Evans. We discovered that the four of us were attracted to the same type of entrepreneur but went through an investment decision in a really different way. Having a diverse group of people enables us to make better quality decisions.

We all wanted to build something that was bigger than us as individuals. Having been founders and having spent time variously raising capital we wanted to build something that we would have wanted when we were going through it. 

What stands out to you when assessing early stage companies? 

It is always about the team. At the stage at which we invest there are some things which are certain; the market is going to change, the product is likely to change or evolve significantly, the route to market will change, but hopefully the constant is the founding team. So spending a lot of time with them and developing a relationship is so important to determine if we enjoy getting in a room together and solving problems before we enter into a 10 year relationship.

I look at whether they have done exceptional things before, not taken the obvious path, if they have shown grit, determination, hustle, integrity and openness and whether we believe they will employ this combination of factors when building their business. We find people who have an obsession with the problem they are solving and we make it our job to help them build a business around that. 

What are 3 things that have most surprised you about great founders who build great companies?

  1. Their energy levels and their ability to sustain that over such an extended period of time
  2. The application of their energy to thinking big and having frameworks, which could include spending time with certain individuals, to force themselves to step back 
  3. They remove the bullshit as quickly as possible and create process around it to allow them to spend as little time as possible on it


Women in Tech

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

One bit of advice I would give to everyone is start with your own network. Some bits of research have shown that men are better at using their network than women are, I don't know if that is true but be mindful of it and practice. Watch your best friends face when you tell them your story and notice the parts which resonate and continue to iterate around that. 

Specifically for female founders recognise the fact that cognitive bias does exist, that if you go to a venture fund and there is a female investing partner they are 3x more likely to back you. If you are in a room full of guys, especially if your product is designed for women, use data and remove the emotion from the conversation so you can take someone logically through the opportunity you are pursuing.

Finally,  momentum is incredibly important - leverage your network and get early commitments from those who empathise with the problem you are solving and are keen to back you. 

What support networks do you value? 

The real and rather soppy answer is my husband who is my biggest cheerleader and my biggest critic. Around him and around us there are a dozen or so other individuals who I would call our extended family, who bring independent advice, support and encouragement and really honest feedback and I love that and I ask for it. 

I make time every year for some personal introspection to re-assess things on a regular basis. Thinking that it will happen by accident means it never does - you have to give dedicated time to it like anything else. Every Christmas I ask myself what do I want to be when I grow up and I try to remove myself from my normal life situation. If the answer is to do what I am doing I ask how do I want to do it; I think about what I have done previously that is positive or negative against that particular defined goal and work hard on it. 

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

Building a game changing business requires all types of smart

It is on us to demystify technology as an industry - it is not just about being an engineer. There are lots of different roles required in order to build these companies. In order to do that it is largely about role models. For anyone that has a team encourage those at different levels and in different departments to be exposed to inspiring people and take time to make those connections. 

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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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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! 

Follow Kate!

Lucy Stonehill - Re-imagining the Education Workflow!

Lucy Stonehill in the co-founder and CEO of BridgeU, an incredibly exciting edtech startup using predictive analytics and smart technology to make higher education and early career decision-making, intelligent. For anyone that has been through the extremely laborious and stressful process of applying to university and the subsequent career choices that follow you will wish you had been introduced to BridgeU...and for anyone for whom that scenario is pending - listen up! We talk about the power of bringing machine learning to the traditional and stale education industry, how she approached fundraising and the power of mission-led startups! 



Meet Lucy

Current Job Co-Founder and CEO of BridgeU  

First Job Paralegal for a large Manhattan law firm working for the chair of litigation – thought I wanted to go into law!! 

Education Dartmouth College. I studied English Literature and Psychology 

Go to meeting spot Ozone Coffee in Shoreditch

Favourite book/blog/podcast Blogs would include: First Round, a16z and Tomsaz Tunguz. Books include: Crossing the Chasm and 4-Hour Work Week – this got me into the whole start up world.  

Necessary extravagance Reformer Pilates. I am not that extravagant though!  

Favourite productivity tool/app Todoist 

Female inspiration Virginia Woolf, Gertrude Stein and Gloria Steinem

Top networking tip Be ruthless about your time - maximum of 3 mins with someone – get a business card and follow up. 

Hottest tech company at the moment (apart from BridgeU!) Property Partner and what3words. I also like Farmdrop...I find increasingly that I am drawn to mission-led startups. 


The Journey

What was the inspiration (or frustration) behind founding BridgeU? 

A typical story of not having enough clarity when going through the university admissions and decision-making process myself. There is an information problem - it is difficult to predict forward as information on future pathways (education and career paths) is just not available. Up until now, information has tended to be fragmented, limited and inaccurate. There is a workflow problem, also, insofar as the process of actually applying is also a laborious experience. It's particularly bad if you are applying to universities in multiple countries, which I was. I started to help friends in similar situations, before founding a business specialising in admissions consultancy, and realised quite quickly that this was a universal and painful problem. I realised that there is no predictive analytics around the experience either, and I felt that there should be better ways to inform and enhance decisions that, for better or worse, are so crucial to future outcomes. 

How has your previous employment experience aided you at BridgeU?

It didn’t really! I was only working in a traditional sense for 18 months so was quite young when i founded my first business - Stonehill Educational Consultants - which served as the inspiration behind founding BridgeU. I suppose working in a law firm after university taught me how to create order out of chaos – which has come in handy running a startup, when you are constantly trying to bring structure to what appears to be chaos, or at least something that feels amorphic for a very long time. Being able to communicate well with different people and across teams is also something I had to do a lot at the law firm and those skills have become central to my role now. 

Why did you decide to join Seedcamp and what were the highlights? 

I had been living in the U.S. through university and early employment and when starting BridgeU, I decided to come back to the UK and London as i knew the international school sector would be central to my go-to-market strategy. I wanted to be involved with a powerful startup ecosystem and Seedcamp seemed to be the pre-eminent programme on offer for technology companies at the time. I’d started to attend industry events and realised there was a hub in East London, centred around Google Campus, and I wanted a way to involve myself with the energy that seemed to be quite unique to that space. One of the most under rated things is how powerful the network of Seedcamp founders is – i've found that if approached in the right way, Seedcamp founders will always make time for you. It’s a very close network. 



What is BridgeU and what problem is it solving? 

It’s an education technology business using predictive analytics and smart technology to make higher education and early career decision-making intelligent. There are 2 core problems it is solving: it is firstly focussed on the work flow problem and offers careers guidance (as a service) trying to create a one stop shop for 14-18 year olds planning their futures. It facilitates the building of your skills profile and your own personal brand and relates these to various professional and educational opportunities as you are progressing along that spectrum. The other problem we're solving is really a data issue - which is how you connect the inputs of who you are today with the outputs of who you may be tomorrow, if there is no tool or infrastructure guiding in a predictive manner. Also how you relate yourself (today) to opportunities that may exist - tomorrow. 

Tell us about the successes of the company to date!

The first big win was Seedcamp in March 2014. First school we won in January of 2015. We then raised $2.5m in seed capital last summer – led by Octopus with Seedcamp and a few other funds participating. This validated the early traction that we had been working towards as a small, scrappy, hungry team. Getting our first 100 schools was also a big milestone. And we've also been lucky enough to win a range of awards, the most significant being named, last year, as one of the top 20 Edtech Companies in Europe. We are now in secondary schools from over 30 countries, and opening an office in Hong Kong - both of which we celebrate, as being global in our mindset and in our product is something that's very core to our identity. It has definitely been an exciting and fast-paced 18 months in particular, and i look forward to the company's continued achievements. Although once in a while, I have to pinch myself, as I still remember so vividly those days back in early 2013, when i sat sketching out on a notepad the initial version of what would become BridgeU, in my mum's kitchen!

Your product uses machine learning - keen to understand more...

Admissions is similar to a lot of key moments of our lives, where we make decisions today that might impact our futures tomorrow, and don't really understand, or at least struggle to have any control over the outcomes. One of the benefits of machine learning is that it enables us to close the feedback loop behind those inputs and potential outputs in order to create something that is predictive, based on an ever growing volume of data. This then gives you a more accurate or realistic sense of what for example (in the case of admissions) might be your chance of acceptance onto a particular programme...

There are 40,000 courses in the UK alone and that data (along with new available course information, and employment stats from said courses) is constantly changing, and so its very hard for students and secondary schools to manage that volume of data in an effective way, based on a diverse set of criteria. The machine learning we perform is helpful because it takes real admissions data and closes that feedback loop to expose results that over time, constantly become smarter. BridgeU is really trying to make a notoriously opaque process more transparent, and in so doing we are able to equip schools and students with the tools to make smarter decisions. 

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

We have a global customer base and will be opening a HK office in the Autumn. We will also launch Singapore and Australia as destinations this year. It's an important part of our growth plan that we are seen as a one destination space where students can compare and contrast courses globally. At some point we also plan to raise another round of funding to fuel growth. However, this year is about taking the early traction we have built in certain segments and solidifying this to become the market leader across those segments. 

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

For a SaaS business, we have traditional KPIs like MoM growth, churn, ARR. However, engagement is an area we are increasingly concentrating on as a way of constantly improving the product, and ensuring high retention. This is with all our user groups - students, parents and schools. Key revenue millstones are also pretty big, particularly year on year, in order to re-establish ourselves as one of the faster growing Edtech businesses. 


Women in Tech

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

On the one hand fund raising is scientific and on the other it’s a complete art. In my experience, institutional fund raising from VCs and funds is very heavy on the relationship side so you need a rock star in your team who has high levels of emotional intelligence and is good at building relationships with lots of people, in a short period of time. Early relationships that I made from Seedcamp became very useful 6-9 months down the line, when I was raising a significant amount. Founders sometimes forget how long they really should be building the relationship with the fund before investment – the average is apparently 6 months. This is something that people need to remember - it’s a slow burn process. So quitting your job and expecting to raise funding very quickly is not realistic. 

Parts of the ecosystem, however, are supporting this process in a powerful way, in my view. For example, the accelerator programmes in London and in other tech-hubs around the world can be really valuable. And there is an emerging segment of angels, who are part of the community, and highly incentivised through government schemes like EIS/SEIS. How you tap into these independently wealthy people is not obvious though, and an area that I believe warrants improvement. 

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

My team is diverse in certain ways, but still quite male --- something my co-founder, Hywel Carver, and i often think about ways to change. We are racially diverse, though, which is unusual for a tech company and something we're proud of, and over half our team hold non-UK passports. We also attract male candidates (largely from traditional engineering backgrounds) who are big fans of diversity, and are particularly attracted by the opportunity to be part of a tech team that actively solicits and celebrates people from different demographic and cultural backgrounds.

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

I learn through seeing and experiencing, as well as building relationships with others; I have been quite active in reaching out to older founders through my Seedcamp and Octopus networks. Seasoned founders in those communities have embraced me and they have been really generous with their time and energy, which has aided my professional development tremendously. This has been the best way for me to learn and I can’t recommend this tactic enough.

Follow Lucy!

Alice Bentinck - Changing the Status Quo!

I am so thrilled to introduce and interview Alice - the co-founder of Entrepreneur First and Code First: Girls! We met over breakfast at Hej near the EF office in Bermondsey to talk about her philosophy in life, challenging the status quo, being a young CEO and artificial intelligence to name but a few. Alice is half the team that has built one of Europe's most successful accelerators in under five years - the current portfolio of 75 companies is valued at a staggering $350m. She is empowering, forward-thinking, passionate and truly inspirational - her musings are a must read :)  



Meet Alice

Current Job Co-Founder at Entrepreneur First 

First Job I was a cleaner for holiday homes, worked in a bar and at stables.

Education I studied Business at Nottingham University 

Go to meeting spot I work in Bermondsey so its often places on Bermondsey Street: Tanner & Co or The Garrison. They are usually quiet; you can get a good coffee. 

Favourite book The book that I’m obsessed with at the moment is ‘Mindset’ by Carol Dweck, which is an old concept about having a ‘growth mindset’, and how it applies to being a founder. The broad idea is that you can learn anything, its just about whether you have a ‘growth mindset' or a ‘fixed mindset’. You can be both in different parts of your life. You can have parts of your life where you think ‘I’m terrible at Maths, I’ll never be able to code’ and that’s a fixed mindset. Then in another area you’ll be, ‘of course I can run faster’. And that’s the growth mindset. I think as a founder you have to learn so much all the time, and often stuff that you don’t want to learn or are not interested in… like accounting. I think the best founders we invest in have the strongest growth mindsets. 

Necessary extravagance Uber

Favourite productivity tool Slack but its on the borderline of being an un-productivity tool. We have something ridiculous like 200 channels for a team of 20. I think you need some Slack rules and some Slack discipline. It is useful, as we’ve stopped emailing completely.  

Recent inspiration I recently read ‘Suffragette’ by Emmeline Pankhurst after watching the film. Her autobiography is incredible. An amazing woman who was brought up in a time when nothing much was expected of women. She was beaten up, assaulted, but really believed in what she was going after, and even though it was very radical, and she took radical means, she just went after it. I think her ability to develop followership and develop a tribe of women trying to make the same change happen is hugely inspirational.

Hottest tech startup in the UK right now (apart from EF companies!) Jukedeck


The Journey

Can you tell us briefly about your background prior to co-founding Entrepreneur First and your biggest learning from these experiences? 

Before EF I was at McKinsey as a business analyst and I spent two years there. It was an interesting, prestigious graduate job, but it didn’t necessarily align with what I wanted from my career. I think that’s a common theme or common learning for lots of graduates when they are starting out – they do what is expected of them and not necessarily what they want to do. I think there is a general lack of understanding of what careers are out there. It's only when you start working that you realise that you could be a Food Photographer or a Digital Marketing Strategist and all these things that you never learn about at university. So, I really enjoyed my time at McKinsey and learnt a huge amount but I knew I wanted to start my own thing. I suppose EF was trying to find or create alternative ways for people to do their own thing and build their startups without having to go through a more traditional career path. 

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

Entrepreneurs First is an early stage investor in technical individuals and we spend a year helping those individuals build their companies from scratch. We help them find their co-founders, develop their ideas; help them find their first customers and we invest and then help them raise their seed rounds. So, we are like a talent organisation – a large part of what we do is finding the very best technical talent. We are an investor, like a VC, because we put money into every company that comes through, but we’re very much company builders, as we provide very close support the whole time that the company is with us, which I think is quite unlike any other investors out there. I suppose our ethos is that the most exciting type of startups are the technical problem solvers or the people that are working on deep tech problems. They are building defensible technology – technology that could be patented -  and using it to solve the world’s biggest and hardest problems.

The original motivation was about helping the world’s most talented people and finding them alternative careers, realising their ambitions in alternative ways. I think if you are talented, and super technical, the way you can have the biggest impact is by building a startup. The reach that you can get and the impact you can have as one or two people is unparalleled in terms of career choice. 

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

We have a mantra at EF, which is:

Strong beliefs, weakly held

The idea is that as a founder there are only opinions and very little data at the beginning so it’s hard to know what direction you should go in or what you should do. We find the best way to move forward is to have a very strong belief and be willing to test it. And if it’s the wrong belief, be willing to change and update it. 

Who do you surround yourself with for your support network? 

I have a very close group of girlfriends from school and university who aren’t connected to entrepreneurship in any way, or tech.  They are a useful grounding to remind me that the world doesn’t revolve around tech! Also they’re just great fun. 

What would you like to be remembered for?

For changing the way the most ambitious people see their career paths and for changing the status quo of how companies are built and invested in. 

Entrepreneur First

What has been the evolution and milestones to date of Entrepreneur First? 

We are coming up to our 5th birthday in August, which feels like a massive milestone. When we first started we set out as a not-for-profit community interest company. Nobody believed in us. Everyone said it was a nice thing to do but we couldn’t expect to build any companies from it. What kept us going was that every time we visited universities, students and graduates were saying ‘I really want to work in a startup but I’m not sure if my idea is any good and I don’t know where to find a co-founder’. It wasn’t until 18 months after we started that we had our first demo day and realised this could genuinely be a new way to build an effective company. I think it was the first time that the ecosystem realised it was as well. A big milestone was turning into a VC. A year ago we raised an £8m fund that will allow us to invest in 200 companies over the next 3 years. That was a big moment because all the money is from private individuals. It was an endorsement in a new way to create a company and a new way for talent to enter the ecosystem. It was also a big moment to say actually this does work and it can work as an investment company. There are 75 companies in the portfolio and 36 with us currently - we are scaling up very quickly; the numbers are going to snowball. The total valuation of the portfolio is $350m and they’ve raised $80m of capital. 

What are 3 things that have most surprised you about great founders who build great companies?

  1. The first thing comes back to the growth mindset. The very best founders just learn rapaciously and have the ability to learn huge amounts very, very quickly.  The same is true of our technical founders – they are deeply technical and not interested in sales but realise that if they want their company to succeed, they are going to have to learn about customer development. It’s that attitude ‘I will do whatever it takes for this startup to succeed and I will learn whatever needs to be learnt’. 
  2. The second attribute is about naivety. We take anyone of any age and we find that often some of the strongest pairings are a slightly younger founder with a slightly older founder, where the naivety and just pure optimism of the younger founder is really, really important. As you get older, and even as you get to 30, your risk appetite changes and what you have learnt through your career changes your perspective. We often get asked whether we are still going to take grads as they don’t have as much as experience as others. But their pure naivety, optimism and energy make them brilliant founders. 
  3. The third aspect is a concept around ‘edge’ - what is your competitive advantage compared to other founders? What are the skills and knowledge that you have an edge in? The best founders have a really strong edge, either a technical one, a problem edge, or domain edge.  So edge is the assets that you have that you can capitalise for your start up, that will lead to a competitive advantage. 

However, I think it just comes down to a growth mindset. Will they learn or won’t they learn? That’s the biggest difference. It doesn’t matter how smart you are. You can take two intellectually similar people but the one that will win is the one that is open to learning new things. 

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

My co-founder Matt and I got a coach about a year and half ago now and it’s completely transformed us. It’s amazing to have someone there that is dedicated to helping you become a better leader. You can see the step-change and the team sees the improvement as well. The other thing is to read, just read about any kind of leader, read people’s biographies, autobiographies…and they don’t necessarily have to be about startups or tech. It could be about suffragettes or another one I read recently called ‘Extreme Ownership’ was about Navy SEALs and how they worked in Iraq. So read, read, read and learn and borrow from that. The final aspect is working out who you can learn from, what leadership role models you can borrow aspects of. You don’t want to copy one person, just assess what leaders do and see which pieces you appreciate and which ones you want to adopt. 

What technology trends excite you right now? 

AI both excites and terrifies me. We see so many startups that are using different approaches to AI and its become a bit buzz-wordy. I think startups that not only use the latest techniques within artificial intelligence, but who are determined and aggressive enough to find proprietary data sets and come up with a good business model will be the ones that are most successful. It's not enough to just have the technology as AI in many ways is becoming commoditised. If you look at Google, they are open sourcing a lot of great stuff, so the technology is becoming the enabler and you need the other pieces around data, and particularly how to access data that will feed what you are creating.

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

It’s different for different parts of the business. On programme, its how many companies get created and how many companies get funding when they leave the programme. We also have a metric on how many companies has a founder where one of them is using their edge, so every company has to have a founder that is using their skill set or asset. On talent, we have KPIs around how many people are contacted, how many people are sourced, how many people we convert and how many accept their offers. On fundraising, its just about how much money is coming in. 

We also do pretty in-depth reviews every 6 months, which we use not only to develop individuals but also to develop the team as a whole. From the reviews we’ll do various training sessions on any of the themes that are coming out around what the team as a whole is lacking. So it could be around comms, or management, or any number of different things. But it’s a good catalyst because it means that every 6 months we go through a kind of group learning period.  

Can you share some of the future ambitions of EF? 

We’re raising a next stage fund at the moment and we’ve just opened our first international business in Singapore. The long-term ambition is that we become the best place in the world for technical companies to start their business and a large part of that is going to be making sure that we can access the best talent in the world, regardless of where they are. So, that’s the plan for the next couple of years! 


Women in Tech

Tell us all about Code First: Girls - the inspiration, achievements to date and longer term vision

Code First: Girls is a not-for-profit and the idea behind it is to help young women access careers in tech through up-skilling them.  We deliver free coding courses at universities – 27 universities in the UK at the moment. The idea is that young women can change their career paths by learning these skills and then also by being given lots of exposure to different careers in tech and in startups.  

It comes back to what we were talking about – that at University you don’t get told what a Product Manager does or what an Engineer does for example. So part of it is de-mystifying career choices. We have had 3000 young women go through our courses and we are seeing a really strong conversion from going on the course and joining and working in a tech startup. More excitingly, becoming a developer full time – so taking on further education and upskilling themselves technically. The reason that I started it was because we’ve always struggled to get women on EF and only 16% of Computer Science graduates are female. There is just this endemic problem and although there are lots of good things happening at primary and secondary school it’s going to take 10 years at least for any of those to trickle through. If we want to have role models in leadership positions by the time that influx happens, we need to convert people who are in their early 20s now, to work in tech and to see tech as the most exciting place they can work.

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? 

I would ask ‘what are you looking for from your career? And what are you looking for from your life?’ And I think a lot of the traditional rhetoric around having to go to one of the big companies to get the brand, the network, training and experience is as true in startups, if not more true. I also think that the responsibility and level of ownership as an employee or founder that you get in a startup is significantly greater than in a big company. So I think startups in many ways can be a career accelerant in the way that going into banking, or whatever used to be seen. If I look at my team, which is young, lots of them are in their early 20s and they have way more responsibility and ownership than I ever would have had at their age. Which is really cool because they are very able and very capable and they would have just been under utilised anywhere else.

You have written quite extensively on the complex issue of women in tech. In your opinion how can we do better to attract and retain more women in technology? 

I wish I had the magic bullet. I think the more that I know about it, the less sure I am about how to fix it. We thought that Code First: Girls would be a way to create female founders, and it is, but only a very small percentage. Everything has been done to some extent. I think role modelling is important but we need more role models. We need to see more women lead the big tech companies to provide inspiration for others. Also get women into fast growth companies and help them understand what’s possible and use that as a way of inspiring their founder instincts. I think it’s a really, really hard problem to solve. 

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

Think big and be bold in your assertions. A lot of the female founders that we work with are less likely to sell as hard and sell as big as their male counterparts. I suppose they are less likely to bullshit! You need to have that element of storytelling to be able to take people on the journey with you. So I think the main thing is ‘do it’. Not enough women do it. Basically take the landslide, take the plunge, and see how it goes. Get the right support network around you and then think big. Think about your idea 10 times bigger. 

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Dr. Vivian Chan - Democratising Science!

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


Meet Vivian

Current Job  CEO and Co-Founder of  Sparrho  

First Job  Investment process manager at  Uniseed  in Australia  

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

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

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

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

Favourite productivity tool Slack 

Female inspiration  Ada Lovelace, Sheryl Sandberg, Sherry Coutu  

Top networking tip  Give everyone you talk to quality time  

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


The Journey

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tell us all about Entrepreneur First and your history with them

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



What is Sparrho and what problem is it solving?  

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Women in Tech

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Alessandra Sollberger - Transforming our Nutrition!

Alessandra and I met at 10 Downing St at the inaugural Founders of the Future event and she is one of the first members of the network whom I have had the pleasure of interviewing. We subsequently downgraded from Downing St to The Wolseley for breakfast for the interview (and forgot to take the selfie)! Alessandra has traversed the investment spectrum gaining experience in M&A, private equity and venture capital before founding her company Evermore - the new standard in bespoke nutrition. Fortuitously her two passions of health and science are some of the hottest tech trends and she is building a consumer brand in the intersection!


Meet Alessandra

Current Job CEO and Co-founder of Evermore

Education I graduated in 2012 with a masters from Oxford, which included finance, business, law and economics

Go to meeting spot  Fernandez & Wells during the day, Chiltern Firehouse in the evening

Favourite book I read all the time, so it’s difficult to choose! Last weekend I read Finite & Infinite Games by James Carse. It's a philosophy text looking at our actions and seeing them as either finite, with a definite beginning and ending, or infinite. The theory behind finite and infinite games offers an interesting framework to think of a company's long-term vision vs its short-term tactics and medium-term strategies. It applies to our own lives as well...

Necessary extravagance I love going to the sauna after a gym session! 

Female inspiration in business Coco Chanel came from nowhere and never apologised for her ambitions. The society she lived in was very different from our own - yet, she built one of the most iconic brands out there. Chanel outlives her.

Top networking tip  Be yourself and take time for meaningful interactions with people

Favourite tech company at the moment Slack - aside from using it with my team and finding it a good tool, I also think it is a company passionate about delighting users and with its own personality


The Journey

You have experienced all levels of the investment paradigm - beginning at Goldman in TMT M&A, then at Blackstone in private equity rounding off with venture capital at Mosaic Ventures. What was your biggest learning from each tenure? 

At Blackstone I learnt a lot of hard skills like data analysis, building financial models as well as requiring the discipline to be organised, structured and the power of just sheer hard work! I already started working as a kid, from setting up my resale business to teaching windsurf in summer. That's always been a key part of my identity, so I got involved in start ups during my studies and even during my time in private equity. It taught me so much along the way - about myself and about the kind of company I want to build. Coping with chaos, learning all sorts of random skills every day, reading about everything and learning from other people... If you realise that world is for you, there's no coming back! Coupling that with the training I had in M&A, private equity and venture capital gave me a good idea of the sectors I'm passionate about and how a company concretely looks like from setup to IPO stage. 

What stood out to you when assessing early stage companies? 

It comes down to the team, the market, the business model and the trends that are taking place over the short-, medium- and long-term. Companies might start tackling something very specific and then expand into a broader sector. You look for a specific go-to-market focus and an ambitious long-term vision at the same time, but the two also need to co-exist in a thoughtful, logical way. I personally believe that focus is key when launching any new product or service. In parallel, I think about the trends driving the sector in one, two, five, ten years. Hell, I love sci-fi and imagine it in 100 years from now too! There's also an objective assessment of the company itself, its employees, its culture, the way they're approaching the opportunity at hand and how they're developing the strengths of their own business model.

Tell us all about Bright Mentors!

It's a tech non-profit that I set up on the side while I was at Blackstone. I did it because I think we all have a responsibility to help inspire the next generation of STEM professionals. By bringing together technical talent and kids in secondary schools, I’ve also seen our mentors being enriched by teaching skills, talking about what they love about their jobs and observing their own impact. Since I had to teach myself most of what I know in CS and biotech, I firmly believe in practice before theory!



What is Evermore? 

At Evermore, we're building the brand for bespoke nutrition. We're starting with the breakfast market, delivering personalised smoothies on a weekly subscription basis. Our customisation takes into account your current preferences, but also what you should actually be eating. That's based on demographics, lifestyle and habits. Our products are meant to get "smarter" about your needs over each delivery. Eventually, we create a nutritional fingerprint that you can apply across our whole ecosystem.

Where did the inspiration come from and what is the evolution to date of the company? 

We're a mix between a lifestyle brand and a science company. These two areas, often unrelated, have always been my passion and are closely interrelated when building an end to end, vertically-integrated company. There’s so much that will change in the nutrition space. The consumer trends in the health and wellbeing market are really strong and in terms of science, I've witnessed what's happening in biotech by being an angel investor in the space over several years. I think that the current developments in synthetic biology and cloud biology, along with the increase in accessibility and drop in cost for DNA / blood / microbiome testing, will result in a real revolution in life sciences over the next decades. It will bring a level of efficiency and accessibility which is comparable to what happened in computer science and the internet over the last decades. Currently, there's a lack of reproducibility in biological experiments as well as a lack of protocols to work in a scalable way with biological complexity. This is starting to change. We're bespoke and that's part of our own brand identity & tone of voice, but it's also something that will become increasingly relevant through scalable R&D and data analysis within precision nutrition.

What might surprise us about the health and wellbeing market? 

The growth in health awareness touches every consumer vertical, from food & beverage to clothing & apparel. Beyond this, there's also a shift in the type of consumer spend. Millennials like myself are much more focused on experiences, so what's better than a cool and exclusive spinning class that gets you out of your comfort zone while also keeping you in shape? On the other side of the coin though, you have something much more profound going on. 72% of millennials feel like the public health system will fail them and are therefore particularly motivated to take care of themselves. This is mainly impacting immediate spending habits, which are actions perceived as more measurable than those taken over the medium- to long-term. The overall trends within healthy foods, fitness experiences, athletic clothing and quantified health are definitely here to stay. 

What are the future ambitions? 

Becoming the global brand that is synonymous with bespoke nutrition, both physically and digitally, and creating a company that sets standards by innovating all along the way. We're starting with a clear focus - that goes for geography, product, distribution channels and digital presence. It's important to be able to measure your activities and target your efforts to nail the initial business model, then expand from there. We want to have a blueprint and a strong understanding of our customers before starting to develop our long-term ecosystem, which is what's the real game changer.


Women in Tech

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

I think it’s really important to spend time understanding what you're passionate about and what drives you. By going through that process over time, you will understand whether you're ready to commit for the long term. You should also build a genuine network around yourself. That goes for raising capital, but also for hiring and for advice on the many new things you'll come across! Otherwise, there's also lots of admin you'll have to deal with. No rocket science, you just have to get on with it. Summing it up - know yourself, know your market and know people ready to help you get started. Bonus points for mixing a positive, can-do attitude with a thick skin and a clear mind.

What business support networks do you value? 

I’m part of several networks for entrepreneurship here in the UK, in the US and globally. In the end though, it really comes down to genuine connections and building strong, long-lasting relationships. 

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

The topic is often controversial and it shouldn't be leveraged just for the sake of headlines. We can all do something about it, but most importantly it'd be best to remove much of the fuss around it. Be spontaneous and take your chances! Charting unexplored territory is an adventure we can all be part of.

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Francesca Warner - Advertising Corporate to Tech Venture Capitalist!

I feel very fortunate to have met Francesca and now to be sharing her accumulated wisdom on Breakfast with Tiffany! Francesca currently works as an associate at Downing Ventures, moving into tech VC after starting out in a large advertising corporate, and is also incredibly passionate about increasing the diversity within VC. Have a scroll to read her thoughtful and perceptive account on transitioning into venture, her personal investment thesis and tips for female founders looking to raise finance! 


Meet Francesca

Current Job Associate at Downing Ventures, a seed to series A VC fund, part of Downing LLP. Like most associates I focus on deal sourcing, portfolio support and reporting. We are an investment team of two in the Ventures team so there is always a huge amount to do, but I absolutely love it. 

Go to meeting spot  I haven't found the perfect one yet. I've recently had a few 'outdoor' meetings where I have walked down to the river (two minutes from our office in Westminster), which has been a good way of getting to know someone in a slightly different way than sitting across from them in an office, staring at a pitch deck. 

Favourite book/blog Tough question. Business book - Selling with a Noble Purpose - Lisa Earle McCleod. A great exploration of the importance of a company purpose, something I've a great believer in. Non-business book - The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera or Catch 22 by Joseph Heller. Blog - I enjoy Azeem Azhar's - The Exponential View for AI/ ML and climate change articles. It comes on a Sunday morning which is a good time to read long, thought provoking pieces. The Mobile Fix from Simon Andrews is a useful summary of mobile news and trends and Fred Wilson's blog, AVC, is consistently brilliant. Finally, I'm a fan of The Twenty Minute VC from Harry Stebbings. He has conversations with some of the best VCs and founders in the US and Europe which are not only fascinating but a useful learning manual for an associate like me. 

Necessary extravagance Plane and train tickets. I love seeing new places. 

Favourite productivity tool Evernote. Or coffee. 

Favourite place in London Primrose Hill on a clear day or anywhere on the banks of the Thames. 

Female inspiration in business So many. I've been lucky enough to have had several fantastic female bosses already so far and I look forward to being inspired by more. I think women who've broken down barriers in the tech/ venture world are particularly inspiring so people like Martha Lane Fox (now board member at Twitter amongst many other things), Brittany Gorevic (formerly of USV and now starting her own fund) and Ada Lovelace, one of the first computer programmers. Also my own mother who was the main breadwinner in our house. 

Most interesting tech firm in London right now There are so many people doing interesting things but at seed stage a company that I'm a huge fan of at the moment is Craft.co, who are building 'the source of truth on companies'. Check them out.  


The Journey 

Can you share a little about your time at AMV BBDO - what were you involved with and what did you learn that you have transitioned to tech investing? 

I worked in the account management team, which taught me how to juggle many projects at the same time and work with a huge variety of people. More fundamentally though, I learned the principles of sales and marketing, which has been very valuable and transferable to tech investing. Understanding how to segment your audience, how to target your messaging, what media channels to use, how to map customer journeys, conduct user research, track and measure response and evaluate success, all of these things are relevant to many of the startups I now meet and work with. Secondly, advertising is all about business strategy and being able to judge how 'big ideas' will be received. In a way, this is similar to what we do as investors. Whenever investors meet a company they ask themselves whether the 'big idea' behind the company is valuable and whether their product will be loved by customers, which are very similar to the questions that advertising and marketing executives ask themselves. 

How and why did you enter the investment paradigm?

I got really lucky. I knocked on some doors in an exploratory way initially without seriously considering making a career move and the timing was right with Downing Ventures. They were looking for someone who could bring a different perspective to the team and could help on the sales and marketing side with the portfolio companies. I thought it would be a fascinating way to apply what I had learned in advertising to the world of tech, but also a huge learning curve and I was excited about the chance to meet phenomenal entrepreneurs.

What is your motivation? 

To be a good person and to be someone who adds to things rather than detracts from them. 

What are your future ambitions? 

To be respected by my peers and to lead a company one day. 


Downing Ventures

Tell us about Downing Ventures and your role there

I am an associate so I focus on three main things:

  1. Deal sourcing and transacting
  2. Hands on portfolio help (something we are very passionate about at Downing Ventures)
  3. A bucket which I call 'everything else' which could include company reporting to our investors, it could be doing research, due diligence, meeting other investors or fundraising. 

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

My personal investment thesis - I like purpose driven companies that have a very clear vision for how they fit into the world and why they exist. I always look for a sense of purpose when assessing companies and founders. More specifically, I like companies that do something infrastructural. So companies that form the building blocks of a certain industry or way of doing things that others use to build on top of. 

What technology trends excite you right now?

The emergence of alternative finance into the mainstream - peer to peer lending, crowdfunding, remittance, challenger banks and the changes happening in newer areas like mortgages. The application of tech to consumer health is fascinating, especially the idea that our health data can work for us, for example when machine learning is applied to enormous data sets to start to predict future outcomes rather than treat present day disease. More generally the proliferation of new business models, as articulated in this article by John Hegal. 

What are 3 things that have most surprised you about great founders who build great companies?

  1. Some of the best founders have a-typical paths to becoming entrepreneurs. Founders come in all shapes, sizes and guises and there is no 'cookie cutter' template
  2. The best founders don't know all the answers, but more importantly are honest about what they don't know
  3. All founders are extremely brave but great founders particularly so as they constantly have to take to continually innovate and build great companies. 

Women in Tech

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

  1. It is often difficult to know just how many organisations exist that can help and support you, whether you are raising money or just trying to meet other women in tech, for example: Girls Who Code, Code First Girls, NCWIT in the US, Astia, Angel AcademeAddidi Business Angels
  2. Ask people for help and introductions. The advice that you get from individuals that have been there and done it before is invaluable.  
  3. Be assertive and confident even if you don't feel it. 
  4. Always have an ask at the end of every pitch or chat. Even if it isn't money, chances are the person you are talking to can help you with something. 

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 a startup or VC? 

I definitely look back at my time and wonder whether I should have been more confident in taking a bigger risk when I graduated. Especially when I had the opportunity to apply to the first round of Entrepreneur First. I went for the safer route and it might have been a missed opportunity. It does surprise me that startups/VC/tech generally has not percolated students more from what I have experienced at careers fairs. It is still a misconception that you have to know five coding languages to work in tech, when in fact there are so many roles in technology companies which are non-technical. I also think it would help for parents to encourage their children to take more risk with their careers (within reason of course)! 

What support networks do you value? 

Aside from my close family and friends I do have a lot of friends in the startup world who are really good at giving advice. The VC network are also very open and collaborative - much more so than I have found in other industries. Last but not least, myself and two others have just launched Diversity.vc which is building up that network for people with a slightly unusual profile, so I hope that will become increasingly beneficial for others too. 

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

  1. Support networks - we need to get more of these set up and functioning. I hope that Diversity.VC will become one of these for the VC community. 
  2. Transparency - currently there is not a huge amount of sharing as to what type of jobs there are available, how others perceive you when recruiting and what is the route upwards to enable people to visualise the next step. I believe if we talk more we will all help each other progress. 
  3. Tackling unconscious biases - be aware of the gender pay gap in tech and the gender gap in tech and take a test to evaluate whether you or your hiring managers are unconsciously biased against female applicators. You can take a simple test here. You might be surprised by the results. 

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Vanessa Gstettenbauer - Investing in our Future Founders!

Over an early breakfast at The Wolseley I was dazzled by the energy, passion and vision of Vanessa! We met at an investor networking drinks where we were able to discuss a little about women in VC and the future of investment but I was excited to hear her full account! Vanessa is a senior investment manager at Founders Factory (more on that later) and has been trailblazing the investment eco-system ever since leaving her graduate investment banking job. She is passionate about education and health and the opportunity for technology to have an impact in these arenas. Enjoy her honest and fascinating reflections! 


Meet Vanessa

Current Job Senior Investment Manager at Founders Factory 

First Job Research analyst at Simon-Kucher & Partners (strategy consulting) throughout my three years at University. I worked with them c10-15 hours/week doing everything from excel jobs to pricing models. 

Go to meeting spot It was Campus London but now my office is West so I have been frequenting the Blanche Eatery

Favourite book Hooked by Nir Eyal 

Necessary extravagance Barrecore classes! 

Favourite productivity tool WorkFlowy 

Favourite place in London Archer Street - I grew up doing lots of Musical Theatre, especially at University, and absolutely love the atmosphere in there. Best place to have a few drinks and get into a great mood!

Female inspiration in business Martha Lane Fox 

Top networking tip It's not about 'working the room' and artificially instigating as many conversations as possible. It is to start conversations until you find someone you genuinely click with and actually enjoy talking to. That will form a much deeper bond and the chance of you staying in touch is infinitely higher.

Most interesting tech startup in London right now The Skills Academy 


The Journey

How and why did you enter the investment paradigm? 

I studied chemistry and grew up in DaimlerChrysler city in Germany so I imagined going into business meets tech/engineering. But upon moving to the UK I was hit hard by the bank propaganda, and was led to believe that I would learn the most starting my career in banking. After only 6 months I realised I was unstimulated and bored.

I wasn't targeting to get into VC but I happened to come across a job spec and everything it said I wanted to do! There were so many synergies between my passions/background and Holtzbrinck Digital as they focus on edtech and science software, I think this is ultimately why I got the job over the third year analysts they were initially seeking. They were very patient and so I finished a year at Bank of America Merrill Lynch and I joined them in summer 2014. I was an analyst for 6 months before being promoted to investment manager of the education fund - an incredible baptism of fire. I then made the leap to Founders Factory upon the deal between Holtzbrinck and FF.  

What is your motivation? 

My ethos is that tech can do so much good for the world, I feel we have only begun to scratch the surface of tech's potential to revolutionise. Currently there is still a bit of a money race chasing after valuations and not enough money and focus is being directed at the big problems facing society (Magic Leap is valued at $4.5bn with no product! If there is this much attention and investment into a VR game imagine the advances we could make if more was aimed at addressing health/refugees/education). I love the Founders Pledge for this reason - it allows entrepreneurs to make a difference and commit to donate 2% of their personal proceeds to a social cause of their choice following an exit. 

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

At Founders Factory we also build our own startups in the incubation side of the business. The concept is to launch a new company every 6 months in each of the identified sectors. There will be 6 sectors and we will work alongside a relevant corporate for each to help us figure out the trends and pain points. FF have partnered with Holtzbrinck for education and The Guardian for media and we will announce the partners for fintech/beauty/telecoms and retail imminently! 

So it was very exciting for me to chair the latest edtech ideation workshop with Holtzbrinck! We had 5 of the most knowledgeable edtech sector experts in the room resulting in a huge outpouring of ideas. We prioritised and begun doing more research into market sizes and where we might have the best advantage in the Factory to build upon. 

What has been your biggest challenge? 

Being a woman you are naturally quite emotional and I do find it hard to work with people who are seemingly incredibly confident all the time. I am a very secure person too but also prone to doubt and question if I have done the right thing. This is particularly challenging in VC where no one is checking your work. However, after a year and a half I have more perspective and I am more forgiving on myself if I do make mistakes - we are just human after all! 

What are your future ambitions? 

I want to start my own company eventually, likely in edtech or healthtech! I have numerous unfinished ideas: reskilling individuals whose jobs won't exist in the future or addressing fair salaries for women. In the long term however, I am passionate about being a smart money investor as I love the variety it offers. 


Founders Factory

Tell us about Founders Factory and your role there

We're a new model in business creation with extraordinary ambition and breadth. Together with our blue chip corporate partners, we build and scale early stage technology companies across multiple sectors.  We invest capital and resources in building the next generation of breakout technology businesses at an unprecedented scale. We will build and scale 200 early stage technology companies across multiple sectors in the next five years. We are born out of the Founders Forum; the top network of entrepreneurs and business leaders, giving us unparalleled access to corporate partners, audiences, and access to capital. 

I reside in the corporate development team as well as doing business development - so I am involved in both the acceleration and incubation parts of Founders Factory - it is a wonderfully varied role! I am heavily engaged operationally with our companies - I help them set goals, track performance, help with their pitches, business plans and partnerships right through to the fundraising. I also develop close relationships with the VC eco-system to ascertain the best mutual fit for our startups. We try to be very bespoke in this regard and perfect the matching of startups and VCs always aiming for more intimate connections rather than large-scale reach outs. 

Do you have an investment thesis? 

Because of our world class team of experienced operators and global network, we have the ability to attract the best ideas and talent. It’s more of a mutual attraction. We’re looking for ideas that will change industries using technology and entrepreneurs behind those ideas that are attracted to our unique proposition. We are getting involved with very early stage companies, hence there aren't always huge number sets to base decisions on - that actually makes it more interesting I believe. It's about the team, their ambition and in the end the trust you have in them delivering on their promises.

What technology trends excite you right now?

Definitely virtual reality! For example, Viorama a Berlin based VR startup recently launched Splash - A VR video sharing platform that aims to make capturing and publishing 360 videos easy - all from your smartphone without any VR hardware. Such innovation taking place! 


Women in Tech

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

If you have an idea there are some incredible incubators and accelerators to help you get it off the ground. Founders Factory are also in the process of launching a different kind of program called Founders of the Future. Selected members of the Founders of the Future community will enjoy quarterly events, access to a group of exceptional peers and Founders Forum members, funding and career advice, and key guidance towards the challenge to work on making a positive impact on the world. Lastly there is a great emphasis on women in tech so leverage that. Go to lots of meetings and convince as many people as possible of your vision - you never know what could come out of it. 

We are increasingly moving to a new working order yet 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 a startup? 

You almost get manipulated into thinking that banking and consultancy are the only routes to learning a skill set - but it is a complete farce! I have learnt infinitely more after a year in VC and 6 months in the Factory with more responsibility than my equivalents in the banks. In banking you are close to your associate who is close to their VP etc etc - everybody checks your work so you have no accountability. Counter to this, when you are creating what is going to drive the deal that will make you learn anything. Furthermore, the sleep deprivation makes you more dumbed down - I was slower and not excited about anything. Yes startups fail and yes the banks and consultancies pay more initially, but the difference in earning potential 10 years later is huge and it is a lot more enjoyable to be intellectually stimulated on a daily basis, working with future technologies and incredibly passionate entrepreneurs. 

What business support networks do you value?

I like to be friends with my team and get to know them beyond colleagues - it makes me want to do my job every day! I have also kept a lot of my previous bosses as mentors. I also co-founded the London VC Circle which organises networking events based primarily around activities. We have done a polo and a golf day and have an upcoming clay pigeon shooting event. These kind of events really facilitate a bond and help you build a network in the industry - you need that emotional connection. 

Follow Vanessa! 

Itxaso del Palacio - Investor and Health Guru!

I met Itxaso after she delivered a fantastic workshop for The New Entrepreneurs Foundation on entrepreneurial finance and raising investment. As a fellow breakfast enthusiast we met again for the interview at Granger & Co (amazing!). Itxaso must have the most envy inducing network after her PHD in Entrepreneurship and Venture Capital transported her to the start-up hubs across Europe and America. She founded her own startup Founders Fit and subsequently traversed into venture capital whilst keeping her foot in academia as a teaching fellow at UCL. She is currently investing in high growth media and consumer companies at Lepe Partners. Read on to find out how to literally do it all! 


Meet Itxaso

Current Job Investment Director at Lepe Partners

Education Chemical Engineer and PhD in Entrepreneurship.

First Job I worked at DaimlerChrysler in Berlin as an engineer just after uni. It was boring!

Go to meeting spot Breakfast is always best! Lantana for an informal meeting and The Wolseley for a more formal breakfast.

Favourite podcast/blog A16Z podcasts and CB Insights.

Necessary extravagance Comfortable heels! Cole Haan are great.

How do you switch off Working out. Anything from running, spinning, yoga.

Favourite place in London Barry’s Bootcamp at 6am! 

Female inspiration in business Ana Patricia Botin, Executive Chairman of Santander.

Top networking tip Following up with people and mention something that they might be interested in.

Academic Journey

After a brief stint at Chrysler you returned to academia, embarking on a PHD in entrepreneurship and venture capital, involving research stints at Berkeley, ESADE and Harvard. What was the premise of your PHD and what were some high level take-aways? 

I studied entrepreneurial ecosystems and how the stakeholders within those ecosystem interact with each other and the elasticity of networks traversing from local to global.  Specifically I analysed how the VC industry affects and determines how this ecosystem works and how government interaction affects the different cycles of technology. 

At a high level non-entrepreneurial ecosystems have higher government involvement than in the more entrepreneurial ones and government actions have a much higher impact when they reduce barriers and create incentives instead of taking the place of private entities by investing directly. 

Following your PHD you became a visiting scholar at Berkeley - researching global networks of clusters of innovation. Can you elaborate on the significance of these innovation patterns and what more could the UK do to accelerate innovation? 

The UK has done really well in supporting innovation and accelerating and helping start-ups. They have not taken direct action but facilitated it. For example, SEIS has done a phenomenal job of increasing the quantum invested in early stage startups. Furthermore the UK made a significant effort in marketing across Europe generating hype and awareness, particularly for London, as a destination for startups and technology. This subsequently has attracted fantastic talent here. Innovation could further be accelerated by continuing to address talent and welcoming individuals from across the globe with well thought out visas. I also think there is an investment gap post seed/series A - and if the government could undertake action to facilitate investment at this round that would be great. 

Despite traversing into venture capital you still have a foot in academia - as a teaching fellow in entrepreneurship finance at UCL. What is your top financial tip for current and aspiring entrepreneurs? 

My tip for entrepreneurs is to seek investment from the right investors. There is a lot of money out there but very few right investors for each business. Entrepreneurs, particularly first time & early stage, require a lot of support and will benefit immensely from investors with the right mindset, connections and industry knowledge. I encourage my students to have the confidence to reject money if the offer doesn't substantiate the aforementioned. 

Startups and Venture Capital

You launched your own startup, Founders Fit, after curating what must be one of the most envy inducing global networks during your time at university entrepreneurship hubs. What was the premise behind it and the biggest challenge you faced?

When I was working at Imperial College they mixed students from the Royal College of Arts, the research labs and business departments to work on new start-ups together. These predetermined teams never worked and the individuals had very different mindsets. I learnt the importance of alignment of goals and strategy in a team in order to build something meaningful. 

I quit Imperial after two years and subsequently founded Founders Fit. Founders Fit aimed to help entrepreneurs find co-founders. Entrepreneurs would be matched online based on their skills and personality, and potential co-founders would get to know each other in the off-line Founders Meetups and Founders Workit. There was voracious demand however, I found it hard to monetise! 

In 2013 you were selected to join the elite, highly sought  Kauffman Fellowship. Tell us more about the program and what you gained from it? 

The Kauffman Fellowship is a highly sought-after two-year program dedicated exclusively to the world of innovation investing. The program connects you with the best investors in Silicon Valley and around the world, with the aim of building the next generation of investors and giving them the tools both in content and network. The Fellowship selects around 30 individuals and over the two years the Fellows receive professional training in Palo Alto, including talks from the likes of Greylock/Benchmark, whilst working full time in an investment organisation. The Program was amazing and it gave me a different attitude in the VC space. Since graduating I have co-invested with Fellows in San Francisco, connect my portfolio companies to investors in China and Singapore and regularly meet up with Fellows as they pass through London! 

You are now at Lepe Partners. Can you tell us more about Lepe and your investment thesis? 

Lepe Capital is an only ever co-investment fund focused on the media, internet and consumer sectors. We invest in growth stage businesses and are looking to back founders with companies in industries that we can add value through our network. This year (2015) we invested in CreativeLive (an online education platform for creative skills), Paddle8 (online auction house) and Masabi (mobile ticketing for transport). We have co-invested with fantastic partners including MMC, Greylock, Google Ventures, Atomico and Mastercard. 

What tech trends excite you right now? 

  1. Health - There is a lot happening in health right now with particular momentum in consumer health and awareness. This has resulted in a lot of companies that are tracking data and using it to prevent deceases and in general to help people manage their health.
  2. Fintech - Blockchain is attracting a lot of attention, on a broad sense as a way to optimise transactions. Banks are also getting active as investors as they recognise the need to innovate and provide better services to consumers. 
  3. Media - There is a lot happening on video, content marketing, messaging, and online solutions targeting millennials. Big players in media and publishing houses are actively engaging with innovation. The google fund focused on media is a good example of that. 

What investment opportunity did you turn down that you regret? 

I don’t have the feeling of having missed an opportunity… I am confident about the companies that I turned down. I did not have the chance to see some good investment opportunities, but this is probably not the same as turning down a good deal. Now at Lepe I am about to invest in a Series B of a company that I passed on the Series A (while I was at EC1 Capital), which I am very excited about. 

What are your future ambitions?

At Lepe I would like to raise a bigger fund as we have great deal flow so I would like to be able to monetise these opportunities. Personally, I am passionate about health and I would like to get involved in more health-tech companies that will help people to be healthier and happier. 

      Women in Tech

      What is your opinion on impact investing? Would more female investors result in more of it? 

        I am a great believer that technology and information can change the world and improve the lives of many people. There are ways to do that by creating attractive, financially sustainable business models. I think impact investing attracts both male and female investors who are equally seeking impact and financial return. I think impact investing will attract more money if entrepreneurs are able to design suitable business models. 

        What is your opinion on the women in technology debate? 

        I am very positive about it! The number of women in tech is growing all the time. I think technology is one of the spheres where men welcome women in management roles. Women are the decision makers at home when it comes to kids and grandparents health, shopping, activities...who better to design and manage consumer tech companies than women, given we know our target market! 

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

        I will probably say the same to a man who wants to start a company...

        1. Start a company in an industry you know well 
        2. Be focused
        3. Hire the best talent 
        4. Get the best investors on board 
        5. And just make it happen

        Follow Itxaso!

        Izzy Fox - Spearheading our Tech Future!

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



        Meet Izzy

        Current Job Head of Venture Capital at White Cloud Capital

        First Job Graduate at Teather & Greenwood

        Go to meeting spot The Wolseley or The Grazing Goat

        Favourite book Jim Collins – Good to Great

        Necessary extravagance Weekend breaks and lots of travel

        Favourite place in London Old Spitalfields Market and Borough Market

        Favourite animal on your farm Brown Ryeland Sheep

        Female inspiration in business Angelina Jolie

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


        The Journey

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

        Why did you enter the investment paradigm? 

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


        Angel Investing

        Tell us about your angel investments

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

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

        What are your motivations as an angel investor? 

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

        What investment opportunity did you turn down that you regret? 

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

        What has been your biggest challenge? 

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


        VC Investing

        What tech trends excite you right now? 

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

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

        Do you have an investment thesis? 

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

        Top deal flow sources? 

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

        What is your opinion on impact investing? 

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

        What do you consider your greatest achievement?

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


        Two Cliche Questions

        Fancy weighing in on the bubble debate? 

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

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

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


        Women in Tech

        What is your opinion on the women in technology debate? 

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

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

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