This week we introduce Alex Depledge. She won Tech City’s Entrepreneur of the Year 2014 having launched Hassle.com, an online marketplace for local cleaners back in 2013.
As CEO and Co-Founder, Alex helped raise a $6m investment funding from Accel Partners before it was bought by Berlin-based rival Helping in a cash and shares deal which valued her business at a reported €32 million. We caught up with Alex since she sold the company in July last year and left in the following December. Alex has continued at Codec as the Chair helping to provide an independent policy voice for UK startups and having very recently joined Index Ventures as an EIR. If you don’t know, Index Ventures is a European and San Francisco based global venture capital firm, focused on making investments in information technology companies. Here Alex shares some knowledge of what it takes to be a modern-day entrepreneur and what it takes to be a great leader.
Congratulations on being ‘Entrepreneur of the Year’, by TechCity, that must feel amazing! But what is your personal achievement to date?
Can I be cliché? Having my daughter and managing to get through and achieve a 4.0 in Advanced Statistics in my Ph.D. at the University of Wisconsin! I had to run multivariate linear regressions by hand and I am possibly the worst person at maths ever!
What advice can you give to other startups looking for investment capital?
I would suggest you check you actually need it. Money comes with strings like having to answer to someone. I see many businesses that could be bootstrapped or backed by angels – they raise venture money and it can be too early for them or worse it can damage their whole business as they set off in the single pursuit of growth.
What inspires you daily and do you have a role model?
I don’t have anyone role model, I tend to admire qualities in an array of people and that inspires me. After all, no one is perfect.
What do you think makes a great leader?
You have to be fearless. If a decision feels easy then it is probably the wrong one. You must also be decisive even when faced with incomplete information (which is always) as being slow to act kills businesses more often than making the wrong choice.
Even though you are leading the way, have you faced any barriers as a woman in business?
The numbers do not lie – there are not enough women starting businesses, receiving funding or sitting in the upper echelons of management. That said I feel fortunate that I have rarely faced obstacles because I am a woman. In fact, I think I managed to use it as an advantage as I often stood out.
The only disappointment I think I really took to heart was when I was pregnant. I felt I had to hide it because I was the CEO of Hassle.com and people kept asking me ‘so when will you replace yourself?’ I had no intention of doing so but it did rattle my confidence.
Do you feel enough is being down to empower and support women starting their own businesses?
Yes, I do. I think we have made great strides in the last 5 years and I see so many more women-led businesses now than I did when I started out in 2012. Starting a business is hard and not everyone thrives in that type of environment – men and women. Also, the societal pull is still that women are the primary caregiver and men stay at work. I mean how many restaurants and cafés have you been into where the changing table is in the women’s toilet? It drives my husband potty!
What would you like to be done to help more women in Tech?
Afraid I have to be a bit broader than that! For tech, I would like to see real investment in teaching digital skills in skills and I don’t just mean coding. We have a huge skills crisis in the UK where we are not equipping young people for the world of today and tomorrow’s work. Coding is a great start but more coders do not equal big successful digital businesses. Young people need to understand what big data can bring, or what a product manager does.
For women, I would like to see equal paternity and maternity leave. Until we allow men to share equally in childcare then women will never break through the glass ceiling. We offered 2-month paternity leave at Hassle.com and it had zero effect on the business.
What do you look for in new upcoming entrepreneurs of today?
Hunger, passion, a mission, and adversity in their background. Even if I don’t like an idea I can be persuaded if I think the entrepreneur will move heaven and earth to figure it out.
What is next on the Horizon since having left Hassle in December? Are you planning on starting a new venture?
I have continued my work at Coadec (Coalition for the Digital Economy) as the Chair helping to provide an independent policy voice for UK startups. Very recently I joined Index Ventures as an EIR (Entrepreneur in Residence) as Jules and I are very keen to understand venture capital from the other side of the table) We also know that we want to start another company together and so the EIR role will give us the space and time to really work on our ideas. And finally I just joined the board of a big data startup – its so new I cant say who yet!
Given your success, what advice do you have to give to other entrepreneurs out there?
Stop talking and start doing – whether it’s getting started in the first place, or in a company already up and running. We spend far too much time in open-plan offices waffling to each other or on Slack. I think collaboration should die as the latest trend, its gone into overkill and smothered productivity and output.