Over the past year, Lloyds Banking Group and FemTech Leaders co-hosted a series of inspirational events bringing together start-up CEOs, senior executives and thought leaders in FinTech. The FemTech Leaders network aims to advance opportunities for women in FinTech around the globe and in the UK.
Our first event of 2017, hosted by Ghela Boskovich, Director of the FemTech Leaders Global network featured founders of the future Gemma Young, CEO of Settled – a service simplifying the home buying and selling process and Phoebe Hugh, CEO of HeyBrolly. We caught up with Gemma and Phoebe to explore how they boldly took steps to disrupt the mortgages and insurance sectors.
How did you come across the initial idea and opportunity for the business? What prompted you to take the risk and found Settled & HeyBrolly?
“I had first hand experience of what the property industry is really like, from my experience as an estate agent. I saw so much pain on both sides, for both buyers and sellers, as well as how much the industry was siloed. I also witnessed friends and family’s experiences of property purchases falling through, high fees paid out to estate agents and inefficiencies dealing with the endless paperwork and delays experienced in the legal process.
My family had always been quite entrepreneurial and this meant I’d felt that taking this path myself was an option. Then, spending many years working at Google and seeing it grow from a few thousands into a huge company, gave me awareness of how much industries can be changed by technology. The idea for Settled combined my background in property and technology and also, my brother (who’s my co-founder) had a very similar journey. He too had worked in the property sector and then had worked in advertising and a marketing startup. We decided to take the leap to start Settled with this mission to make everything better.”
“I worked in the insurance industry, where I became somewhat disillusioned with how little focus was given to making it easier for customers. Then I met Alice Bentinck (co-founder of Entrepreneur First and of CodeFirst: Girls) at an event, and she convinced me to quit my job and apply to the Entrepreneur First (EF) programme. I didn’t see this as a big risk though, because I could see there was an obvious gap in the market for an intelligent approach to insurance. Perhaps this is just my personality, I’ve always been willing to take risks and back myself to have higher odds of success than the competition, as I know I’ll work harder and faster than others to solve the problem and achieve the goal. Or perhaps it was my experience in insurance, which gave me a calculated attitude towards risk perception!
My only hesitation was lacking expertise on the tech side at the beginning. But then I learnt to code and also learnt not to be scared off by lack of knowledge: if you don’t know it, you can learn it! This is also why I joined EF, because I needed a technical co-founder to compliment my skillset. ”
What were the key blockers & challenges you faced along the way?
“I had no clue when I started how the investment industry worked and it took some time to figure out where we could raise investment. That was a learning curve! Understanding not just who would give money but finding out which investors were the right ones for Settled.”
“Funding was an exciting challenge. We practiced our pitches on investors that we were less interested in gaining funding from first, which gave us more experience with the types of questions asked and helped us improve for the investors we really wanted to raise from. We weren’t just looking for money, we were looking for investors who could give us valuable strategic support. Being part of an accelerator programme was incredible for steering through the majority of early challenges though and gaining our first round of funding- I’d recommend that for aspiring entrepreneurs.”
How have you gone about building your team, and what role does diversity play?
“Building a team for me is also about building trust, and sharing the right culture along the way. At Settled, we have a unique culture. It feels a bit like a family – probably because it was set up by my brother and I! Hiring isn’t just about finding the right skillset and experience, it’s about finding people who connect with our ‘why’. The ‘why’ is about wanting to help people buy and sell their houses easily, and this ‘why’ is right at the root of our culture. Connection with our ethos is much more important than just looking at a CV. Hiring the right people has probably been our biggest challenge to scaling the business. We’re lucky in that we receive a good range of qualified yet diverse applicants for our vacancies and we’ve built an amazing team.”
“The question of how to build a great team and culture is what keeps me up at night! We’ve always taken the approach of finding people who’ll fit in with the culture as a top priority, rather than just looking at experience.
I was lucky to meet my co-founder on the Entrepreneur First programme, because we have extremely complementary backgrounds but very different personalities – he’s quieter and reflective, whereas I’m more outgoing and quick to make decisions. So we’re also looking for a balance of personalities in the team. Part of achieving this balance is also about ensuring we have a mix of diverse backgrounds within the team, because different perspectives bring a lot of positive benefits for us. We currently have a 50:50 gender balance. We’d always rather have a candidate with interesting life experiences join over someone with the best academic record and same skillset.”
Finally, you have both already been bold and made a change to your industries by starting Settled and HeyBrolly, do you have a goal for 2017?
“My goal for 2017 is my own ‘life design’; focusing on how my business goals connect into my life goals and blending these things rather than focusing on just one side.”
“My goals for 2017 are to build Brolly into a product that our customers love and release it publicly on the app store. And how we achieve this is by growing a world-class high-performing team who absolutely love Brolly’s mission to change the future of insurance.
To keep up to date, follow @FemTechGlobal, #FemTech or @LBGDigi on Twitter to hear about upcoming events.