Expert insights from female founders: how to scale

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At Newfound, we are privileged to be connected with a network of dynamic and successful female founders who have taken their businesses to new heights and are paving the way for future generations.

In this blog, we are excited to bring you insights from eight trailblazing entrepreneurs who share their scaling stories, the valuable lessons they've learned and advice for fellow women entrepreneurs who are eager to take their ventures to the next level.

To kick things off, we caught up with two UK-based entrepreneurs who participated in our Australian Fintech Market Mission programme in 2020; the founder and CEO of Skyjed, Leica Ison and the CEO of Oxford Algorithms, Shirin Dehghan.

When asked her top tip for female founders, Leica said:

Believe in yourself and your vision, even when others doubt. Surround yourself with a supportive network of mentors and allies who will champion your success. And don’t forget that your unique perspectives and experiences as a woman in business are your greatest assets to scale a global tech business.

Leica Ison

In her advice, Shirin reflects on some of the lessons she’s learned over the years and her own entrepreneurial journey to date.

I’ve been through several scale-ups, and the biggest lesson I’ve learnt is don’t scale up until you are confident you have: (1) product-market fit and (2) that you can deliver unit economics that are profitable...

"When I launched my first product I had (1) but I didn’t have (2). I struggled to scale the business and could only grow from 0 to 1.5m in 7 years, with EBITDA negative, always begging for more investment to keep going and giving too much away because of that.

"Eventually, I had to accept failure and come up with another product, which thankfully satisfied both (1) and (2). I managed to scale the business from 1.5m to 40m, in just four years, becoming profitable in year three of that scale-up. I am now on my fourth scale-up with Oxford Algorithms and we are transitioning from just me on the commercials to hiring the Head of Business Development. All because I have satisfied myself on (1) and (2) and that if I hire another “me” we can triple the business in terms of revenue."

- Shirin Dehghan

Clare Kinsey is the co-founder and co-CEO at Karta Gift Cards, here she discusses how she overcomes unconscious bias:

Scaling our business has brought many insights & lessons, professionally & personally. Most of the time, men outnumber the females in meetings, and so it’s been really interesting to see and process how you can be treated differently to your male co-founder. When unconscious bias occurs, I actively seek opportunities to highlight this, directly or indirectly, as it’s important to press for change, consistently...

"This quote by Maya Angelou is one I live by: ‘Each time a woman stands up for herself, without knowing it possibly, without claiming it, she stands up for all women.’”

- Clare Kinsey

Emma Kisby, EMEA CEO at Cogo, a New Zealand business we helped enter the UK marketplace, discusses why initiatives like International Women’s Day are so important for female founders.

International Women’s Day is a particularly reflective time, partly because I am hugely passionate about supporting women in the workplace, but on a more personal level, because it coincides with what will now be my three-year anniversary of working for the carbon footprint management fintech, Cogo. And what a three years it has been...

"Not only does the world look and feel like a very different place from 2020, but the world of Cogo is a very different place. In just three years the team has grown to over 100 employees; we have established banking partnerships with 14 banks globally; and gone from working in the UK and NZ to now operating in 12 markets around the world.

"This has been achieved through sheer passion, determination, innovation and a lot of hard work. Looking back, I have three key observations from this pivotal period of Cogo’s growth. 

"Firstly, work in the moment. Don’t post analyse everything that has happened or worry about the future. Focus on the here and now. Secondly, be bold. Don’t be afraid to speak up. Women typically hold back and won’t answer until they are 100% confident. No one knows all the answers, especially in a scale-up business, where there are rarely any right answers. Lastly, identify your personal purpose and ensure you stay true to those values.”

- Emma Kisby

Lisa Miles-Heal is a CEO, advisor, investor and mentor, who currently heads up Silverfin. Here, Lisa reflects on non-typical leadership and why representation is critical in the tech sector.

I never wanted to be a CEO. I think mainly it was because I never saw any tech CEOs like me. This is why I think it is important for all non-typical leaders to be visible, to help other talented women “see it, to be it” and to help them rise up..."

"So what’s atypical about me? Well, I had a resource-poor and life-experience-rich upbringing and was the first in my family to go to university. I am a specialist generalist, having run every function in a software business at some stage and I don’t have an MBA. I’m short and bossy, talkative and a storyteller, analytical and weirdly creative as well. I constantly feel unsophisticated, I don’t normally wear makeup and usually, I’m in sneakers at work.

"The journey to where I am now has been one in which I have few regrets and many experiences that shape me today. I’ve raised two great kids alongside my career, and for the first, I expressed breastmilk in a server room. I still go to events where I am the only woman in the room, but with the seniority I have now, I can ensure this doesn’t happen if I can help it.

"The point of sharing all this is to encourage all the ambitious and talented women out there who have sometimes felt like the square peg in the round hole, to celebrate your uniqueness and aim high if you want to. The biggest thing holding you back from being a founder (or CEO or both), might just be your belief that there aren’t others like you out there. I’m here and I’m sending the elevator back down for you!"

- Lisa Miles-Heal

Maria Sirotkina is a serial founder in Edtech and E-learning, she’s a TEDx speaker who has championed women’s entrepreneurship. Here, she gives practical advice on how she builds processes, to help ensure the best outcomes.

When preparing for international expansion, make sure your internal processes work like a clock locally. Otherwise, you might as well scale a broken toy which is going to be harder to fix. As Murphy’s law goes, anything that can break, will, especially when it’s not you implementing every step. The best error prevention is documentation...

"My 3-step process for every process:

  1. Create a step-by-step SOP of a process.
  2. Have your team review it locally, improving your document.
  3. Ask them to record a Loom video about the same process.

"Done - now you have a verified process recorded in text and video from two perspectives. It’s fast to produce and easy to digest."

- Maria Sirotkina

The CEO and co-founder of Castlepoint Systems, Rachael Greaves is a leader in Regtech, who’s been awarded many industry accolades including RegTech Female Entrepreneur of the Year. Here, Rachael shares her personal experiences of being a female founder and how these have inspired her to build an inclusive culture.

I started our consulting company with my cofounder in 2012, when I was in my late twenties. Over the next ten years, we developed a new kind of Artificial Intelligence, commercialised it in 2018, pivoted from consulting to SaaS in 2020, grew the company ten times in size, revenue, and market cap by 2021, and launched internationally last year...

"It’s been an intensive journey, and I have had some experiences that a man might not have had: like needing to pump breastmilk in a lobby when I was speaking at a conference and the hotel refused to give me a room to use; or being chided for needing to push a board meeting back 30 minutes because I had egg harvesting that morning (because I was going to need chemotherapy).

"I had two babies through the start-up phase, and while being a founder made this hard, it also made it possible. I was able to schedule my work in a way that allowed me to spend time with my kids, and I built this same flexibility into our culture for every man and woman who works here. We all deserve that flexibility, no matter what our role is, and I recommend every single company build it into their policies and practices."

- Rachael Greaves

To round things up, we spoke with the founder & managing director of Naturally Tribal Skincare, Shalom Lloyd. Shalom is an award-winning entrepreneur and mentor, who founded her own international skincare brand after being inspired by motherhood. Here, she discusses her thoughts on failure and mentoring:

The female entrepreneurial journey is a tough one! Regardless of industry or sector, there will always be obstacles and barriers as we go through our life journey. However, I do believe that ‘Failure’ is an option!

"Failure is the first step to success; multiple failures are multiple steps toward success. Name an idol, a mentor, or someone you admire who has not failed multiple times to get to where they are. We do what is necessary and then do what is possible; before we know it, we have conquered the impossible through tenacity, resilience, integrity, courage, and passion."

- Shalom Lloyd

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