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.

Hello! I’m Molly and I’m one of the co-founders of Flexa – we are a job platform that only features truly flexible jobs from verified employers. We help people to find work that works for them, and companies to find the best possible talent through offering flexibility in their workplace. 

I contract part-time as a UX Researcher / Content Writer, and prior to all of this I’ve worked in investment banking and various fields of research. I live in East London with my dog and my partner (the other co-founder of Flexa) and we spend most of our time eating (I am a trained chef and love food), drinking, and walking around London!

 

Tell us about your business, how did you come up with the idea?

We came up with the idea of Flexa when we were looking for new jobs – both of us had worked from home regularly in our previous roles and realised it was absolutely impossible to understand which companies would offer the same level of flexibility (or dog friendliness!) as where we’d worked before. I have an auto-immune disease so working flexibly is key to me being able to have a normal career (I wrote more about it here), without it I wouldn’t be able to hold down a regular job, which is pretty scary!

We both thought that it was ridiculous that a) you can’t easily find jobs that let you work from home regularly or work flexible hours even though they exist and b) more companies weren’t using it as a way to get good candidates… So the idea for Flexa was born! We only work with companies that genuinely offer flexibility, and we ask them to clarify what that means on their job descriptions that they post with us. We have filters around working from home frequency, whether there’s flexibility on work hours, and we have a “dog friendly office” filter too!

Flexible working has historically been for working mothers, but we think that flexible working is for everyone! It helps us to manage our lives as well as our work, improves our happiness, productivity, and mental health and companies get happy employees that are more productive and engaged with their job. What’s not to like?

 

 

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.

There was no one moment where we decided to give it a go, really. I wish I could say that there was… I think we realised that the idea had legs after we’d bought a white board and scribbled our ideas on it, and then went to the pub to discuss what a business plan looked like. All good decisions are made over a cider! We mooted the idea with a few people, feedback was great, so we decided to incorporate Flexa Ltd… It’s all come from there. 

 

 

What were the initial challenges you came up against and how did you overcome them?

Well the number one challenge was that neither of us could build a website! We needed someone to be able to build a job platform from scratch, and so we posted on AngelList to find a CTO. Miraculously we found our brilliant CTO, Tim and he has built the product for us in exchange for equity in the company.

The second really notable challenge was getting our first employers signed up. In order to launch we had to have some jobs up, but selling something that doesn’t exist yet is very difficult, even if we aren’t charging for it while we are in Beta. We spent hours emailing hundreds of people, and eventually found a few companies with progressive and flexible working environments that wanted to give us a go. Being ignored multiple times is really demoralising, but luckily there were two of us doing the selling so we were able to complain about it together!

 

What was the first win that made you feel you were onto something? 

Launching and acquiring over 300 candidates and 3 companies a week, without investing very much in paid marketing. That was a huge validation moment for us – the market needs what we have built. We’re now over 10x that size, so it’s good to know that the demand is still really strong. 

 

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?

Currently, we are self-funded. We wanted to get the business to Beta without asking for external funding, as we knew that we’d be able to prove that Flexa had much more value once we had traction. Now, we are 80% through our seed funding round, which has been really tough given the current circumstances, but we’re getting there and will hopefully be closing the round soon once we find a few more people that are interested in investing! 

My advice would be to bootstrap the business for as long as you can, whether that’s with early-stage revenue, or your own time and as little money as you can give. It’s more rewarding, it makes you think more about your decisions (many of which you rush into if you have free capital!) and I think that waiting has meant we made it a success early on. Of course, some businesses are more capital intensive than others, but if you can wait, I’d say do. 

 

What has been your best investment?

Our CTO – he has made Flexa a reality. Would have been literally impossible without him!

 

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

Expecting everyone to understand the value of flexible working (a scary number of people still think that working from home, or working flexible hours, means that you do less work). Thinking that employers would read LinkedIn messages properly. Believing that just because you have faith in your business idea that it will be easy not to doubt yourself. Thinking that working with your partner would be difficult (we got worried at first and over-analysed things, but as long as we communicate consistently, we work really well together). Putting Flexa above the gym, sleep, walking the dog was also definitely a mistake – working well doesn’t mean working constantly and we quickly learned that! There are so many assumptions that we made that just weren’t the case, and I think that the key takeaway from that is to keep an open mind and test things to see if that you assume is the case. 

 

What’s your experience of being a woman in the start-up ecosystem and what in your mind needs to change?

Christ, a lot needs to change. I particularly hate it when people talk to Maurice (my partner) rather than me when I am explaining the concept to an investor or a senior stakeholder in a company! Getting a start-up off the ground is hard, and if anyone is managing to do that (male or female) then they deserve respect and not to be spoken down to as if they’re trying to create an unrealistic dream. As flexible working is more commonly associated with women, it’s definitely been harder for me to add credibility to the concept, people tend to take Maurice more seriously about it. One sad thing I have noticed is, still, how few women actually do help each other. Having said that, a few people have been so helpful and wonderful to talk to… I just hope that grows. We should be out to help each other, overcome gender inequality, and show the world that women can do just as much as men… But I think that a few women still have an agenda to get themselves recognised as extraordinary and think that helping other women means they won’t achieve that. 

 

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

Trust your instincts. If you believe in your idea, you probably know best. I’m not saying ignore advice (we have had so much useful advice that has changed that way that we’ve done things) but if you receive advice that just doesn’t feel right, don’t just assume that they know best because they have more experience. We made that mistake a few times and it set us back. 

 

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

Definitely. I honestly couldn’t have done this alone – being a co-founder with my partner has meant that Flexa is a reality. I think that, in a way, we are both each-others mentors. We have very different skill-sets and get stressed or worried in different circumstances. We celebrate each other’s victories and generally keep each other going (that sounds a bit soppy but it’s true).

We’re also lucky enough to have a couple of people that we’ve met along the way who have started businesses reasonably recently and so understand the challenges we have. They’ve really helped us to overcome hurdles and continue to progress the business. 

 

With the future in mind, where would you like to be/where do you see yourself in the next five years?

I would love for us to get to the point where people immediately associate us with flexible working and for us to have helped thousands of people to find work that works for them. 

 

Can you tell us one of your goals for 2020?

Reach 30,000 candidates! 

 

What can our readers do to support your business?

Sign up to Flexa if you’re looking for a job, or if you’re a company with flexibility! We also rely so heavily on word of mouth at the moment, so please do mention us, follow us on LinkedIn/Twitter/Facebook, like and share our posts, and check us out here.

We really do want to change the way that we work for the better, and help everyone to achieve true work-life-balance!

Also, anyone who would like to invest, or knows anyone who might be interested… Drop me an email on molly@flexa.careers 🙂

 

What books, podcasts or resources would you recommend? (Please include hyperlinks)

I have to admit that my reading has really suffered as a result of having a job and starting a company! Two books that have really helped us with the business have been:

Lean Startup (a start-up staple) – Eric Ries 

The Mom Test – Rob Fitzpatrick

Personally, I loved Jia Tolento’s Trick Mirror

 

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

Don’t listen to the start-up stories saying “we raise £20m within two years of launching” or “we have 20k users without spending a penny on marketing”. It’s unrealistic and demoralising as it feels like everyone else is succeeding and you’re grinding away. When you dig into these “success stories” you see that they’re embellishing the truth. Companies that “raise £20m within two years of launching” have actually raised £20m after six years and three pivots… Which is still such an achievement and they should be so proud, but the presence of toxic positivity means that good isn’t good enough, it has to be extraordinary. We’ve all seen the “Get up at 5am” LinkedIn posts, and in the start-up world these notions of success are everywhere. Ignore them – you do you!

 

Find Molly at:

Flexa | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram

 

 

Leah williams

Leah williams

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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