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.



Fabienne O’Neill on…

  • Launching two businesses in two years
  • Solving the motherhood gap with flexible co-working for parents
  • Going big or going home

Hello Fabienne! Firstly, tell us a bit about yourselves.

Charlie [Rosier] & I have been best friends for a long time. We met through work back in 2008, when I worked in publishing and events, and Charlie was a land buyer for a London developer. Charlie was Chairwoman of YEP (Young Entrepreneurs in Property) and I was acting as a media partner. We shared a couple of drinks and quickly became inseparable, which was just before Charlie was set to jet off to Hong Kong to pursue a career in property investment.

Over time I was running events in London, Paris and Sydney on the areas of property, architecture, hotel design and more recently in the field of the Future of Work. I had the great fortune of working with the likes of industry leaders, such as Nick Jones & Ian Schrager. Simultaneously, Charlie was establishing her first business Blackfish, a Property Investment Consultancy, based in HK. In 2016, Charlie had moved back to London and I was living in Sydney, we’d spent just three weeks together in Argentina when we’d decided to combine forces and launch our first business together, Cuckooz.

Tell us about Cuckooz and your more recent venture, Cuckooz Nest.

Our first company, Cuckooz, was founded in 2016. As frequent business travellers, we grew frustrated with the lack of continuity in accommodation solutions. Hotels are so often stuffy and soulless, whilst airBnb – as revolutionary as it is, is often inconsistent, and we wanted to create a design-led, human-centered solution in response to this.

We began by creating a list of all the common pain points of business travellers – loneliness, lack of space, disorientation, lack of affordable, stylish accommodation etc. and began to devise a kind of antidote. Whilst Cuckooz is largely recognised for our focus on design (we work with local, up-and-coming designers for each of our locations), community is undoubtedly at the heart of what we do. From creating local area guides of London’s most spirited spots away from the well-known tourist traps, to always greeting guests with a friendly face on arrival, weekly blogs which highlight the City’s best events and offering complimentary access to our co-working space, we like to plug our guests into their environment from the minute they arrive. Next, we will be launching our app to further immerse our guests in their local environment and ensure we’re offering the optimum customer service.

Cuckooz Nest was conceived after Charlie gave birth to her daughter. We had launched Cuckooz four months prior to Charlie becoming a mother and it became incredibly apparent how limited, inflexible and unaffordable childcare options were for working parents in cities. Cuckooz Nest was two years in the making, after a period of intensive planning, getting to grips with Ofsted and every other hurdle along the way, we launched our first space in April 2018; London’s first fully flexible co-working space with flexible nursery for children under two.

Initially we focussed on creating a space for small business owners and freelancers, but it became ever more apparent that the issue was felt by all of those trying to juggle parenthood and work and so we are now speaking to larger businesses, exploring how we can be part of the solution to better support their parent workforce and help retain female talent at this pivotal life-changing intersection.

The response we’ve had since opening has been unbelievable and it has been an absolute privilege to positively impact the lives of hundreds of working parents. We are now in the process of our first round of crowdfunding to open up our second, much larger space later this year.

What inspired you to start your business?

The main driving force behind the business was Charlie’s first-hand experience and the challenges she faced when she had Orla. When both needing and wanting to return to work after ten weeks, the only childcare option available to her was a nanny. For those parents who are freelance or have their own businesses, it can be even more challenging as you do not have the financial support of a maternity or paternity package. The barriers faced by parents (mothers in particular) when returning to work became so hugely apparent we just had to do something about it! With our existing expertise within the property sector, we were well equipped to take the idea forward.

Why is it important for working parents to have access to affordable child-care and workspace?

In 2019, striving towards gender equality continues to be an important mission; closing the gender pay gap is a crucial part of the conversation, as is addressing the motherhood penalty. Despite efforts, recent results found that the gender pay gap has widened in favour of men in the past year, with 78% of the biggest companies in Britain reporting a gap in favour of men.

The motherhood gap refers to the disadvantages that many women face in the workplace after having children.  For every year a mother is absent for the workplace her salary decreases 4%.

Since the UK is one of the most expensive countries in the world for childcare, many are being forced to make the decision to take a career-break or give up work entirely.

Cuckooz Nest is London’s first fully-flexible nursery with integrated workspace.  Created for the modern working parent, we support both individuals and bigger businesses to bridge the gap between work and life.

What is your vision for Cuckooz Nest?

We plan to help hundreds of families across the UK strike a better work/life balance. The issues and restrictions faced by working parents are not just restricted to London, but can be seen across all major cities in the UK. Parents working as freelancers, small business owners or for bigger businesses require better support with childcare to help ease the return to work – we hope to be a pivotal part of the solution.  

Tell us about your crowdfunding campaign and how can people get involved?

We’re crowdfunding to give our members and community the chance to invest in the future of Cuckooz Nest. Our second, much larger site, is due to open later this year near London’s Tech City (Old Street), where we will have capacity for 45 children up to the age of five years old.

Getting involved is simple, just sign-up to Seedrs and invest via our campaign page below:

How does it work if someone wants to become a member?

We’re almost at full capacity at our first spaces so definitely get in touch soon. To become a member, just get in touch with our lovely workspace team (Petra & Flossie), who will book you in for a tour, get you registered and schedule your settling in procedure.

You can contact the team here on 0203 950 2539 or freedom@cuckooznest.co.uk.

How has the experience of entrepreneurship been for you?

It’s been fantastic but evidently comes with highs and lows along the way. Having a co-founder is a godsend. It gives you the ability to have a sounding board for ideas, both good and bad, you can support each other through the thick and thin, and it makes it so much fun especially when they’re a good friend. I’ve definitely learnt that you should ‘go big or go home’. Believe in yourself and your product and others will join you on your journey.

Have you made any mistakes or faux pas? If so, can you share with us?

We’ve learnt a lot from our first space and are very fortunate that we can apply all of this into the creation of our second space. We definitely underestimated the challenges that come with the flexibility of our offering, but it’s just about refining what you started with!

What are your individual roles and how do you operate as co-founders?

Charlie’s experience and role is more on the legal and property aspects of the business, I focus more on the operational & marketing side. But the reality is we are a team, we come together and join forces on the big decisions but try to divide the day to day as much as possible. We also very fortunate to have built a fantastic team around us who all lead in their respective specialist areas, allowing us to grow the businesses.

Have you had an role models or mentors along the way?

I have a wonderful mentor, Claire Fargeot, who is a specialist in strategy, governance, sustainability and reporting. Claire works with listed, as well as private and charitable organisations, to enhance value. I am very fortunate that I have been able to lean on Claire at times of need or doubt.

What’s been your greatest lesson you’ve learnt since starting your own business?

Oh my god there have been so many… I would say a key one is learn from your mistakes, allow them to positively impact the future of your business. Also don’t be afraid to ask questions, to both your personal and professional network. None of us know it all!

What does success mean to you?

Success to me is creating a sustainable, profitable business that has a happy team & culture, whilst simultaneously achieving a good work/life balance.

Do you have any go-to books or podcasts you’d recommend?

I’m currently reading The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck… I highly recommend it. I often listen to Under The Skin with Russell Brand and also Bruce Daisley’s Eat Sleep Work Repeat. I recently saw him speak at an event, he’s an inspiring individual. Although I own it I am yet to read his book The Joy of Work.

What advice would you give anyone about to start a business?

Know your product and your competitors, trust your instinct, it’s a powerful tool and don’t be afraid to ask for a little help along the way!

And finally, how can we get in touch with you?

You can find out more about the services we provide at Cuckooz at www.cuckooz.co.uk, and Cuckooz Nest at www.cuckooznest.co.uk. Our social handles are @cuckoozldn and @cuckooznestldn respectively.

Thank you Fabienne! – Frankie & Lara


Image of Lara Sheldrake, author

About the Author

Lara Sheldrake is an entrepreneur and co-founder at Found & Flourish. Lara writes and speaks on the topics of entrepreneurship, motherhood and social media for business. She also hosts the Bossing It podcast, aimed at empowering the next generation of female founders in the UK. Send Lara an email.

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