This week’s Meet the Founder is Angela Bradbury, founder of Chime Advisors.
Can you tell us a bit about yourself, and why you chose to take the startup route?
I graduated from Cambridge in 2011 with a Natural Sciences degree, and took a graduate job in management consulting at McKinsey. It was a great place to start my career - I learnt a huge amount, I loved a lot of the work intellectually and my colleagues were fantastic to work with. But I was aware that I was a do-er by nature, rather than an adviser, and I wasn't scared of the buck stopping with me.
Joining a startup seemed like a good way to get a lot more responsibility fast, and indeed, as soon as I joined a startup, I had my own team and P&L to manage. I knew that I'd want to start my own company eventually, so that I could have even more freedom to determine my own professional utopia, so to speak.
I don't think being a CEO is the kind of role you can do well in if you're always tired.
What is Chime, and what differentiates it in the market?
Chime is an expert network; we connect businesses with experts via phone calls. Our clients tend to be management consulting firms and Big 4 accounting firms looking to research a niche topic. One of the most efficient ways for them to do this is to speak with an expert who can answer their questions and explain the complexities of operating in an industry or geography. We find experts on demand, to match their specific requirements.
Traditionally, expert networks have operated on an agency model - they rely mostly on an existing pool of experts who they try and match up to client requests. If no suitable experts are available, they'll try and source new experts from scratch for a particular client request. It's a manual process that is slow and unreliable. As Google has improved access to information and LinkedIn has improved access to people, client requests have become more niche and specific, so the value-add of this kind of crude expert network is vanishing.
We've found ways of automating the headhunting process to be able to reliably source available experts on demand, targeted to match a client request for experts with specific profile parameters, within hours. We do this through a sort of people search engine, combined with a smart CRM tool and a small number of experienced staff who do the final screening of candidate experts before putting them forward to our clients.
What do you recommend to anyone considering starting, or joining a startup?
It might be hard to believe, but getting started is the hardest bit. Before you're on that journey, it all seems really daunting, and it's hard to picture yourself actually being a Founder.
It's tempting to keep putting it off, to convince yourself that you need a better idea, or you need more skills, connections or savings before you can strike out. Those things are important, yes, and the more you have the easier your life will be, but you'll never have 'enough'. Like with any big undertaking, I find it helpful to break it down into steps: settling on a concept, handing in your notice, incorporating the company, etc.
Are there any key learnings you’d like to share as an experienced CEO?
I don't think being a CEO is the kind of role you can do well in if you're always tired. I know some Founders who seem to work round the clock, and I just can't imagine that being conducive to thinking strategically, taking the long view, and listening (really listening) to your team. If I need to (or choose to) work late, I let myself sleep in.
If I find my thoughts drifting to ideas for solutions to a problem for the business while I'm in the shower, I let myself stand there and go where my train of thought goes. If I'm finding it difficult to concentrate, I go for a run to clear my head.
It's tempting to take the attitude that having a lot of responsibility means you always have stuff to do, which might be true, but spending every waking hour on your ‘to do’ list doesn't mean you'll clear it - it just means you might not see the wood for the trees.
You’ve been experiencing a fantastic level of growth – can you share a bit about that process? How does it change the way you operate?
You have to plan ahead: make sure things are as flexible as possible, you have a bit of wiggle room to begin with and you're able to replace it with something else before too long.
Yes, it's been great to see how keen people are to give us a try, and then refer us to colleagues. Of course, up is the direction all companies want to see their revenue going, but it does come with its challenges. It's a bit like buying clothes for a young child - it's not a good idea to spend too much on something they'll just grow out of in a few months' time.
You have to plan ahead: make sure things are as flexible as possible, you have a bit of wiggle room to begin with and you're able to replace it with something else before too long. That applies to everything from technical tools to office space.
What inspired you to start Chime?
Having been on the client side myself, I understood the value in expert networks, but was often frustrated by the variable quality and turnaround time, and though it wasn't my money, thought it wasn't great value for money.
I was aware the providers we used operated pretty manually and I thought there must be a better way to do it through technology. Then, working at a tech startup with an on demand platform model, I started to think about the kind of tech that might work for expert networks.
What advice would you give to a startup approaching its first funding round?
Basically, there is no one right way to fund a business, and no one knows your business better than you do.
Ask other Founders about their experience and what they'd do in your situation - they will have valuable insights for you - but take it all with a pinch of salt. You'll hear people tell you definitively to give up a certain amount of equity, or raise a certain amount, or approach certain investors, or pitch at certain places only. Most of this advice will likely be contradictory. That's because funding a business is very personal, often emotional, and what makes sense will depend very much on the kind of business and the stage it's at. Basically, there is no one right way to fund a business, and no one knows your business better than you do.
How does running a startup differentiate from an established business in your experience?
In my experience, there are 4 main ways working in or founding a startup is different from working in a more established company:
- You personally can have a significant impact on the business - you are likely to have responsibility for revenue, or costs, or both, to the extent that how well you do your job could mean the difference between the business surviving or going under. You need to have a long-term mind-set to make sure you're making decisions, managing people and setting up processes in such a way that the business has the best chance of succeeding.
- You might have a well-defined job description and scope, but your role is likely to entail a lot more variety and can be unpredictable in terms of what you're doing one day to the next and who you need to interact with. You'll need to be comfortable with working things out as you go along to some extent, and dealing with unexpected issues that may arise, e.g. when there's a technical bug and we all need to find a workaround until it's fixed.
- People in startups tend to be a lot more emotionally invested in what they're doing, and at the same time, the business tends to be a lot more up-and-down. So mental robustness matters: you'll need to have an all-hands-on-deck attitude when everything seems to be on fire, and be able to motivate yourself to keep putting one foot in front of the other when things are looking shaky.
- Working relationships matter in start-ups, in ways they might not in larger organisations. By-and-large, established companies tend to have established hierarchies: you do what you're told by your superior, even if you don't like them. In startups, it's not uncommon for the company to be composed of 20-somethings who are there because they've eschewed hierarchy. So getting people on side can be important to make sure you're effective in your job.
As a female entrepreneur, what do you think about the ‘boys club’ culture of startups, and what do initiatives like ‘lean in’ mean to you?
When I first got into start-ups, I thought I observed a bit of a 'boys club' culture, but I didn't really talk to anyone else in start-ups about it. I was kind of relieved when gender equality initiatives started popping up as they validated that I was indeed experiencing bias, and others were too, often to a greater extent.
I think we all have a responsibility to challenge hiring managers who use "culture fit" to reject candidates who are mothers, tech teams who build products without considering that their consumers might be female, leaders who use "team bonding" to justify pressure to binge drink, and investors who make casual assumptions about the roles or competencies that founders have based on their gender.