La Fosse is proud to sponsor the third series of the hugely successful Secret Leaders podcast, which features interviews with key figures from the UK’s tech and creative industries.
This season, the Secret Leaders team organised a series of live events, each bringing together brilliant guests to discuss the ups and downs along the way to building their companies, and how they are trying to change the world for the better.
In the second of these, held on the night before International Women’s Day, host Dan met some of the most respected leaders in the UK to discuss all things leadership, equality, and entrepreneurship from a variety of perspectives. See below for insights from: Renée Elliot – Founder of Planet Organic, Alexandra Depledge – Co-Founder of Hassle & Resi, Reshma Sohoni – Co-Founder of Europe’s biggest seed investment fund, Seedcamp and Alicia Navarro, founder of Skimlinks.
Role models are timeless
The lexicographical implications of “female founder” can be unhelpful. All of the entrepreneurs on the Secret Leaders panel have achieved phenomenal things in business – and don’t count being women as restrictive. ‘I have succeeded because I’m a woman, not in spite of that.’ Pointed out Reshma. Alicia concurred. ‘If being a woman has been the hardest thing you’ve had to deal with on your journey in business, you’ve been lucky.’
Female role models are still important though, hence the old adage: “You cannot be what you cannot see.” This is why Renée’s role models aren’t just those who are older than her. ‘I am inspired by any woman, whatever age, who is following a business that they believe in, that makes a difference, that they have a huge passion for and that they just can’t go through life without doing. I look up to those women – no matter what their age.’
Investment X Factor
For many founders, VC Seed investment is the first trigger towards dreams becoming reality. Winning funding from this community is notoriously difficult for women – for every £1 invested by VC in the UK, less than 1 penny goes to start-ups run by women. As entrepreneurs, some of whom won first round of funding over a decade ago, what’s their perspective on the current landscape?
‘It’s getting easier, but you still have to be incredibly tenacious and determined.’ Observes Renée. But Alicia also pointed out that investors aren’t just looking for passionate entrepreneurs – VC investment necessitates a very specific business model.
‘People have a misconception that raising money is like X Factor. But if you’re seeking VC investment, you’re essentially committing to raising a massive caffeine injection of funds every two years. It’s crucial to understand that dynamic when you’re pitching.’
Do your homework – and don’t be afraid of your ambition
With 1 in 5 UK businesses run by a woman, perhaps the rollercoaster of VC is simply not the route that the grand majority are choosing to go for. ‘The stats don’t lie – there aren’t enough women getting funding.’ Observed Alex. ‘But part of this might be because women might want to do it slightly differently – they want to build a business, their way and in their own time, and don’t want to get on that treadmill where you have no life.’
Reshma, founder of one of Europe’s first early-stage VC funds, Seedcamp, didn’t deny the pressures associated with her industry.’ Not every business should take VC, so definitely do your homework. But, if you like the sound of it, don’t be afraid of your own ambition. For me, I’m in this because I love the pressure.’
With 2019’s theme for International Women’s Day as #balanceforbetter, one of the most difficult balancing acts for many entrepreneurs and parent is the tightrope between work and family. Though women’s role as the primary care-giver is increasingly being challenged, subjects like childcare and paternity and maternity leave remain thorny issues.
‘When I meet mothers aged 30-45 who have battled through their careers, it’s very rare that their husband hasn’t taken a step back in their career which has allowed them to do that.’ Said Reshma.
Alex is unsatisfied with the way mothers are treated in business. ‘When I got pregnant with my first child, my investors were furious. But with my second, I committed to taking 8 months off. During that time, my business partner took the company from £70,000 revenue to £150,000. So I defy anyone to tell you that a CEO can’t have a child whilst advancing a massive high-growth company.’
As an employer, Alex ensures that her business grants equal maternity and paternity rights to reflect these values. ‘Men need to be taking equal care of children if we are going to get further.’
What works for networking works for dating
So what should up and coming female entrepreneurs bear in mind on their journey? Alex believes it’s a good time to be a woman. “A lot of people are looking to tick a box, so take advantage of it.”
Alicia and Reshma reflected on their time at breakfasts at Piccadilly Waterstones, and the value of networking – as you never know which meetup will change your life. ‘What works for networking works for dating.’ Said Alicia. ‘Most people are just happy when someone is easy to chat to and takes the initiative to talk to them.’
To conclude, all the guests were asked by an audience member what their superpowers were:
Renée: ‘I have a clear vision, bags of integrity and an open heart.’
Alicia: ‘Empathy – truly understanding how people feel about a challenge let you build a great product around it. Resilience – aka the ability to laugh off everything that happens to you and make a great story out of it.’
Reshma: ‘Optimism. I’m smart. And humour – I don’t take myself or anyone seriously, so I don’t get bothered by what anyone says.’
Alex: ‘I’m humble. I’m quite authentic. And I have an incredible sense of what’s fair – I don’t build companies to make money, but because I want to make a difference to my staff.’