Nadia Manzoor - Breaking Moulds!

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


Meet Nadia

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


The Journey

Have you always been interested in Finance?

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

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

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

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

So how did you get to Law initially?

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

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

How did you get from Law into Finance?

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

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

How did you get your Board role?

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


Women in Finance

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

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

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

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

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

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

What personal qualities to you attribute most to your success?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Final thought...

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

The ability to switch off is crucial

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


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! 

Follow Alicia!

Emily Forbes - Democratising Storytelling!

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


Meet Emily

Current Job CEO and Founder of Seenit

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

Education Chelsea Art College 

Go to meeting spot Bills in Soho 

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

Necessary extravagance Great food

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

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

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

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

The Journey

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

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

What is Seenit & what was the motivation behind it? 

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

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

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

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

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

Who do you surround yourself with for your support network? 

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


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

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

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

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

What technology trends excite you right now?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Women in Tech 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Follow Emily!

Kate Unsworth - Spearheading Smart Lifestyle Technology!

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


Meet Kate

Current Job Founder + CEO of VINAYA

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

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

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

Favourite book Eastern Body, Western Mind 

Necessary extravagance Dinner and nice wine with friends!

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

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

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

The Journey

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

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

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

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

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

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

Who do you surround yourself with for your support network? 

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

What has been the journey to date? 

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

What technology trends excite you right now?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Women in Tech

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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.

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Britt Schuurs - Ascending the Investment Spectrum

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


Meet Britt  

Current Job Associate at Summit Partners

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

Go to meeting spot Ace Hotel in Shoreditch

Favourite podcast The Economist 

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

Favourite place in London Marlyebone

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

Most interesting tech firm in London right now Deepmind & Blippar 


The Journey

How and why did you enter the investment paradigm?

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

What has been your biggest challenge? 

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

What are your future ambitions? 

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


Summit Partners

Tell us about Summit Partners

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

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

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

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

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

What technology trends excite you right now?

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


Women in Tech

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

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

What business support networks do you value

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

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

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. 

Follow Alice! 

Dr. Vivian Chan - Democratising Science!

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


Meet Vivian

Current Job  CEO and Co-Founder of  Sparrho  

First Job  Investment process manager at  Uniseed  in Australia  

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

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

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

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

Favourite productivity tool Slack 

Female inspiration  Ada Lovelace, Sheryl Sandberg, Sherry Coutu  

Top networking tip  Give everyone you talk to quality time  

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


The Journey

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tell us all about Entrepreneur First and your history with them

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



What is Sparrho and what problem is it solving?  

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Women in Tech

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Follow Vivian! 

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.

Follow Alessandra!

Tamara Lohan - Tech Meets Luxury!

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


Meet Tamara

Current Job CTO and Founder of Mr & Mrs Smith

Favourite podcast Invisibilia

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

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

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

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

Favourite productivity tool Wunderlist

Female inspiration in business I have three sources of inspiration: 

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

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

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

The Journey

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

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

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

Well, my Father-in-law always says that

If it was easy everybody would be doing it

What has been your biggest challenge? 

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

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

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


Mr & Mrs Smith

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

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

You are the CTO. What does that role entail?

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

Tell us more about Smith & Family

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Women in Tech

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

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

Who do you surround yourself with? 

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

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

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

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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, 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 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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Joyce Liu - Educating us on Venture Debt!

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


Meet Joyce

Current Job Senior Associate, Columbia Lake Partners 

First Job Summer Analyst, Statistics Canada

Go to meeting spot Taylor St Baristas - Bank

Necessary extravagance L'Occitane hand cream

Favourite productivity tool Yesware

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

Female inspiration in business Sheryl Sandberg

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

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


The Journey

Tell us about your banking beginnings

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

What came after banking? 

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

Tell us about your startup experience! 

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


Venture Debt

Venture debt for beginners ... 

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

Tell us more about Columbia Lake Partners

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

CLP's investment thesis in a nutshell? 

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

What does your role involve? 

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


Women in Tech 

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

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

What business support networks do you really value? 


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

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


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Rikke Rosenlund - Building a Pawfect Marketplace!

Rikke and I decided not to go anywhere for our interview but instead stay in her astroturfed dog friendly office with Lady (see below)! Rikke is the Founder and CEO of BorrowMyDoggy and is three years in to her entrepreneurial whirlwind journey. BorrowMyDoggy is a peer to peer marketplace for dog owners and 'borrowers' - hooking up the dog deprived with owners who need a break from the pawprints for walkies, playdays, sleepovers and happy holidays! A doggy lover who could never own one as a child because of her mother's allergy, Rikke came up with idea when she was looking after a friend's Labrador. In the interview we talk about the inspiration and evolution of the company to date, raising finance and the struggles building a marketplace. 


Meet Rikke

Current Job CEO and Founder of BorrowMyDoggy

Education Double bachelor in Business and Economics from The American University of Paris. MBA, INSEAD.

Go to meeting spot There’s a little Italian Cafe around the corner from here that I love, so I spent a lot of time having meetings there.

Favourite book/podcast There is a great Ted Talk by Simon Sinek about how great leaders inspire and it was the foundation for BorrowMyDoggy.

Necessary extravagance Chai lattes

Favourite productivity tool/app Evernote

How do you switch off Spending time with friends, family or going for a long walk. 

Female inspiration in business Reshma Sohoni

Hottest UK tech company (apart from BorrowMyDoggy!) Property Partner


The Journey

Tell us about BorrowMyDoggy - can you briefly explain the concept and the motivation behind founding it? 

BorrowMyDoggy is an online platform connecting dog owners to local dog lovers (borrowers) to help them take care of their pooch! It allows the borrowers to help take care of the dogs when the owners are busy, this can be for a walk, a weekend or a whole holiday. Our members are everyone from the retired, families with kids, students etc...we have all demographics in our database! 

Our mission is to leave ‘Pawprints of Happiness’ on the lives of dogs and humans 

I borrowed a very cute brown Labrador called Aston over three and a half years ago and I spent all day in the parks with her and I remember thinking why are people spending so much money on dog walkers or kennels or leaving their dogs alone when I would love to take care of the dog for free - everyone could benefit. This was the inspiration for BorrowMyDoggy - I shared the idea with my friend who said it was a good concept and that I should pitch it at the Lean Startup Machine. 

What is Lean Startup Machine and can you share your experience being part of it? 

Lean Startup Machine is an intensive three-day workshop which teaches entrepreneurs and innovators how to build disruptive products. The workshop kicks off with a series of product pitches that help attendees organise into teams. I pitched BorrowMyDoggy and it received the most votes from the 60 attendees! So I had a lot of people wanting to be on my team for the duration of the weekend. I ended up putting together a team bursting with different skills. Each team then develops its problem hypothesis, solution hypothesis and a series of assumptions which are core to the success of the business. We set about creating a minimum viable product with the goal of going to speak with real customers to obtain validation for the idea. The process promotes a problem-centric approach to business ideation. By continuously validating and invalidating assumptions, teams are forced to pivot their solution (and even problem) toward a true customer pain; rather than creating a solution and after-the-fact seeking customers with a problem.

We built a basic landing page and we also put up posters in various different places in London. Within three days 85 people had signed up! One of the questions we asked these potential customers was their reason for signing up and the responses were overwhelming - some people literally wrote paragraphs! There was an old man in Cornwall who had just had an operation and said how lovely it would be if he could make some new friends with people who could come take his dog for walks, there were families wanting to test a dog with their kids and even an Australian student who missed their dog from home. After hearing these we realised that there was a genuine demand here and not just from professionals in London - they gave me the impetus to continue with BorrowMyDoggy after Lean Startup Machine ended. 

What is the best piece of business advice you have been given? 

Create something that solves a problem, not just for you personally, go out and validate that a lot of other people face the same problem. 



What has been the evolution to date of BorrowMyDoggy and what is the most exciting thing you are currently working on? 

It all seems to have gone by extraordinarily fast! Right after we set up the landing page a friend tweeted about us and it led to a small article in Emerald Street...within 24 hours we had a 1000 sign ups and it kind of snowballed from there! We did our first round of funding which allowed us to build the initial automated matching system instead of me manually filtering through everyone trying to figure out who lived in what postcode - it took about 55 emails to get one match! We have also launched our mobile app and have been growing our community, working with partners and expanding the team. 

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

To begin with our biggest challenge was manual matching. We didn't have an automated system and relied on me going through and matching the owners and borrowers (not very scalable!). Other challenges have been raising capital partially because what we are doing is very different to the existing solutions. We also faced obstacles educating our two-sided marketplace about dog safety. Today, our biggest challenge is hiring quality tech talent to help us scale faster. 

What are the future ambitions for the Company? 

Do more of the same in more places. There are somewhere between 9-10 million dogs in the UK and Ireland so we are really just touching such a small % of that right now. We will also continue to evolve and improve our product - one of the exciting things we are currently working on is making our messaging platform a lot more seamless and better to use. 

What advice do you have for others building a two sided marketplace? 

I recently read a Forbes article talking about the difficulty of building two sided marketplaces and the chicken-and-egg problem of supply and demand. For example, it took Wattpad, a community for readers and writers, three years to get to 300,000 uploads; then it only took another three years to reach 10 million! 

It is about getting that local liquidity in the various different areas. I think it takes a lot of focus and perseverance because marketplaces do just take longer. My advice is to speak to other entrepreneurs steeped in marketplaces and solicit their input. 


Women in Tech

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

Find something that you are genuinely incredibly passionate about and know that there is a problem for you to solve. The reason this is so important is that when the going gets really tough it will keep you going! It will also help when you fundraise. I was on a panel recently and a women said that she had had 98 rejections so far from investors...Also make sure that you are really ready to speak with investors before going out and spending a lot of time fundraising.

What business support networks do you value? 

  1. ICE - I hugely respect and appreciate all of their advice and help along the way 
  2. Seedcamp family - they are amazing with regards to mentoring, opening up investor networks and just so many learnings! 

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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. 

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