This week we talk to one woman who knows a thing or two about city knowledge. Meet Anna Halsall, the CEO of London based startup Urbello, an online portal for bloggers to write, review and share content about their favourite cities Urbello is a platform for city content, where users read, post and share cool stories about their cities; from news to food reviews, art, politics and events.
Hey Anna how is it going, talk me through urbello.com and how you got started?
I’ve just found out I am going to be an aunty, so I’m very happy and shocked. It made me realise I am a proper adult now, I mean my younger brother is going to be a father!
Coming back to Urbello, my digital baby. Urbello is a platform for city story-sharing, where people can post and read articles about their cities. Anything from art events and farmers markets to politics and news. Users register with Urbello, follow their city and start posting and sharing awesome local reads. We started working on Urbello 2 and a half years ago, somewhere in a café in London. I was annoyed I couldn’t find lovely local blogs and posts easily. I decided to do something about it, so I mocked up Urbello.
How much did know there was a niche for this?
Cities are growing bigger, people travel and relocate a lot, yet there is no platform for city content; where people read, share and post local stories. I thought it would be great to create such platform.
Urbello comes from two words, ‘Urban’ and ‘Hello.’ We want to promote city content, a dialog between cities, writers and readers. Since every conversation starts with a “hello”, we thought that ‘Urbello’ would be a good name for such platform.
What was one of the major challenges you faced while building this start up?
Where do I start! First of all, I needed to find a CTO, a tech genius, who’d help me build it. I found Ivan Brewis, who is the most amazing person to work with.
We spent 6 months mocking up Urbello, prioritising features, creating a working prototype. Then another 6 months working on another. I was going through a lot in my personal life, and I think working on such a demanding project helped me cope with personal issues. It kept me busy, and gave me perspective. I think there are many issues Founder’s encounter; from an imposter syndrome to money and self-doubt. Also I would add loneliness. Working from cafes, or from home, can be very lonely.
You built this company 2 years ago, looking back now what advice would you have given yourself?
I wish I wasn’t so secretive about it. I wish I got rid of my so called imposter syndrome sooner and that I organised focus groups before we implemented the designs and some features.
What is the biggest learning curve for you?
I learned a lot about execution and testing.
Ivan, Urbello’s co-founder, taught me how important attention to detail is. He forced me to take thorough notes and write everything down. Thanks Ivan!
You recently attended the Codemotion Conference in Amsterdam. Even though you are leading the way, have you faced any barriers as a women in business?
Yes, the tech industry can be intimidating for women, it still is a sausage fest. Women very often earn 30% less than men doing the same work, and they are judged more harshly. We are constantly asked if we can have it all, i.e. children, career, a partner, whereas men are never asked that question. Childless women are selfish. However, childless men, well, they are just men!
At work, when a woman is driven and ambitious she’s probably a bitch. If she cries, she’s weak and definitely menstrual. When Obama cried during a speech, he was praised for being human. And then there’s an every-day language, “Being ballsy” is good, whereas “being a pussy” won’t make you a CEO.
There was a number of men who tried to “mansplain” things to me. I remember one meeting, where a guy we spoke to was only talking (and answering) to Ivan, my business partner, blanking me completely. Even Ivan felt uneasy about that.
I think we need to attend conferences, pitches and other events to stay visible. We need to be vocal. It amazes me that sexist behaviour can be explained as “funny, harmless jokes”, yet nobody would try to be racist for fun.
Do you feel enough is being down to empower and support women starting their own business’s?
Many people believe the gender equality has been achieved a long time ago, we can vote, work, etc. Women who fight for equal pay or who want to encourage other women should just shut up. The truth is, women continue to be paid less, and are treated more harshly
Being a woman and running a business in the Western world is different from being a woman in business elsewhere. We may have our liberties, however I don’t think enough is been done to encourage women to launch businesses.
First of all, we need to establish better maternity/paternity leaves. Parents should be able to share the leave, so nobody is forced to stay at home. We need cheap childcare, so ladies can go out to work without a problem. In other words we need to fix practicalities, empty slogans, as inspiring as they might be, are not very helpful.
We also need better leaders, to inspire others and show them they can do it too. Women need to be known for their views and achievements, not their fashion sense or bikini body, the only thing that is getting headlines these days
Given your success, what advice do you have to give to other tech entrepreneurs out there?
Team up, test up and launch. There is no other way around it. Learn from mistakes and move on. You only fail if you cry over the spilled milk and stop progressing. Wipe up and start again. Get rid of that imposter syndrome. Oh! And lawyer up before your first investment. Read up about “Bad Terms” and stay strong. Help others.
What is next on the Horizon for urbello.com?
Urbello is going through a UX/UI makeover, we are changing the way the articles are displayed. We are trying to get more North American’s to use our platform, so please keep your fingers crossed they’ll love us!
Urbello is also going looking for funding at the moment, so if everything goes well, we’ll be implementing even more lovely features. If not, we may have to rob a bank or two.