This interview series features inspiring female entrepreneurs who have launched and run successful businesses. Through our peers’ experiences, we can learn practical lessons and insights to empower us on our entrepreneurial paths. Crucially, storytelling de-risks entrepreneurship so we believe it is an essential pillar in closing the opportunity gap for female founders.
Firstly, tell us a bit about you?
I’m Jade, mum to one little girl age 2 and founder of Untappd. Before starting the business, I worked in finance for 10 years running a Women’s Private Office, a division focused on delivering investment solutions to women. My clients were entrepreneurs, professionals and high net worth women who had been through something life changing like a divorce. Our aim was to make finance and investments accessible, cutting out the jargon and empowering women to be smarter with their money and meet other likeminded women.
Tell us about your business, how did you come up with the idea?
Untappd is a marketplace that connects start-ups with knowledge, guidance and mentorship from the highest calibre of untapped experts, for example those who are on parental leave. We do this by facilitating a series of interactions where businesses can tap into experts to discuss themes they’re struggling with and areas where they have a knowledge gap. The guidance they receive from our experts helps them to make smarter, more informed decisions, whilst engaging untapped brilliant minds.
Businesses have lots of challenges and our mentors help them to navigate through these. Over time businesses can create a virtual advisory board of mentors, that change with the business as it grows. The idea came to me when I went on maternity leave. I loved spending time with my daughter, but after a few months I craved connection to the professional identity id worked so hard to develop. I wanted to continue to add value to people in a practical way with a small baby.
I was spending time going to baby groups and sensory classes, but I couldn’t find anything for parents to stay engaged, up skilled and relevant during their time away from work. I started talking to others and they all felt the same, wanting to stay connected but with no way of practically doing so. That was the moment I thought there’s a massive opportunity, so I made it my mission to find a way to inspire and engage all untapped minds.
What was the moment that everything changed for you? Describe that moment when you decided to fully commit to your idea and the first few steps you took to make it possible.
I started testing the idea, matching businesses who had a knowledge gap with experts who were leaders in that area. The feedback was clear, there was so much value for both sides that I knew this could work. We did our first official pilot and, I haven’t looked back since.
Untappd was born from my own frustrations so I knew there was a huge opportunity in solving this problem. For untapped experts, they can share their existing experience and knowledge, build confidence and supplement their income. For businesses, they can instantly and affordably tap into the highest calibre of guidance and mentorship, without the burden of contracts and payroll.
What were the initial challenges you came up against and how did you overcome them?
A personal challenge was around structuring my day properly. When you’re building something from an idea, there’s no playbook on what to do and how to do it. It can be hard to know if you’re using your time as effectively as possible. It makes a huge difference to map out my day to the hour and set targets to make sure I complete exactly what I want and most importantly get that sense of achievement and progress at the end of the week.
Untappd is a marketplace and so it’s crucial for both sides to build at a similar rate. This is a constant challenge but should get easier as we start to scale the business and invest in technology to support it.
What was the first win that made you feel you were onto something?
I definitely felt that I was on to something after doing my own market research, speaking with anyone and everyone about it, collecting feedback and seeing people’s enthusiasm felt great. But for me, the first real win was the first time someone signed up on the site completely organically. Someone who didn’t know me or anything about the business had heard about Untappd, seen that it could help them, and signed up. That notification felt great and gave me confidence this was something people wanted.
Did you take the investment route for your business or are you self-funded? Can you share some insights on your decision and the process?
We are currently self-funded. My husband works in private equity and so having his knowledge and expertise to hand is invaluable. We have low overheads so we’re able to generate sales without the need for investment right now. We’re very much in the bootstrap phase and focused on building the brand. When the time comes though, I have lots of brilliant fundraising experts and mentors on the Untappd network that I’ll be tapping into.
What has been your best investment?
In myself! As a mum I have found that balance is key. Investing in myself is the only way I can make sure that I can sustain growing a new business and be the mum and wife I want to be. Taking time out to exercise every day, to do the things that are truly important to me means I can enjoy this process too.
Have you made any mistakes or faux pas? If so, can you share with us?
Waiting too long to get Untappd out there. Sometimes it’s better just start speaking to your customers and get feedback, rather than spending ages trying to perfect something that is ultimately going to change anyway. It is cliché but so true, mistakes are inevitable but with every mistake comes a learning and that’s invaluable.
What’s your experience of being a woman in the start-up ecosystem and what in your mind needs to change?
My experience of the startup ecosystem so far has been brilliant. As a woman I’ve found there’s a huge amount of opportunity and support out there, you just have to ask for it and find the right places for you. There is clearly more to be done on funding. The stats for successful female funded businesses are well documented. A lot of this comes from male investors not relating to female entrepreneurs and their products or services as they aren’t the target market. When there is greater diversity at the investors table, it will translate to greater funding too. There’s a lot of work being done around this and some investors have a sole focus on helping female led businesses, so I’m hopeful for the future.
What’s been the greatest lesson you’ve learnt since starting your own business?
Talking to as many people as early as possible. Get feedback constantly and listen. It’s nice to have positive feedback but the negative ones will help you to grow and shape the business, so don’t fear it, encourage it.
Have you had any role models or mentors along the way?
I worked in a fast-paced corporate environment for a long time. The founder of that business left a big impact on me, he set a great example of how to work hard and help young people develop, lessons that have influenced how I now want to run my own business.
I massively respect female founders who have built exceptional businesses, Martha Lane Fox, Holly Tucker, Sara Blakely, Whitney Wolfe, Chrissie Rucker to name a few. They are all role models and there are so many more I take inspiration from. My friends who have built their own businesses all inspire me daily, some of them without even realising it. I have met some incredible people in my career to date who I would consider to be mentors too.
With the future in mind, where would you like to be/where do you see yourself in the next five years?
My vision is to build Untappd into a tech platform where businesses are automatically matched to the best untapped mentors and experts. I’d love to expand the network as quickly as possible to include other pools of untapped talent too. We included furloughed experts over the pandemic and there are so many other groups of people this could benefit so I’m excited about the opportunity ahead. My mission is to democratize access to expert knowledge and transform the future of work and experience of parental leave.
What’s your biggest learning from 2020?
Anything can happen, and nothing stays the same. Don’t hold back, you only get one life so make it count and remember to enjoy the journey.
What can our community do to support your business?
I know how much I would have valued being part of something like this when I was on maternity leave, so if anyone has expertise or experience that they would like to share through our network, I’d love to hear from you.
Seeing the quality of our mentors on the network, I know that it is transformational for businesses. So, if you have a knowledge gap or are looking for guidance in a particular, please get in touch with us too. You can sign up via the website or contact me directly. I’d welcome any feedback and comments and if you like the idea, please share it.
What books, podcasts or resources would you recommend?
- “The Lean Startup” by Eric Ries
- “Shoe Dog” by Phil Knight
- “The Subtle Art of Not Giving a ..” by Mark Manson
What advice would you give anyone about to start a business?
Go for it! Be focused and disciplined with your time, trust your instincts and surround yourself with the right people that can support and encourage you to keep going.
Where can we find you?
About your author
Leah Williams is the Blog Editor for Found & Flourish, working with Founder Lara Sheldrake to ensure every piece of published content is empowering, inspiring and well presented, just like the women we work with.
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