Elizabeth Hodgson: UK does not have Startup Mentality

Interview with Elizabeth Hodgson, CEO & Founder Civicboom UK which is a crowdsourcing information platform: Prototype live – full version (with API) released early 2011. Built from standing start, Civicboom is an innovative platform that enables organisations to crowdsource news and insight via their own communities through open or invite-only targeted online environments. Previously, she had over 14 years media and communications experience ranging from award-winning online travel journalist and editor to speech writer and communications consultant. You can find CivicBoom on Twitter @civicboom

Transcript follows & video below

Could you tell me briefly about your past history in raising angel investment?

We started the usual way, the hard way. We came up with an idea & we had the friends, family & fools involved. We did it really from the ground up. We were quite fortunate, in so much as where we are here in the UK, we’re based in a city called Canterbury which is in the South East County of Kent. Kent University has an enterprise hub that gives facilities to potentially high growth companies/startups very,very cheap office space. The environment that they can actually be on campus. On campus we’re able to hire developers straight from graduation. It was quite a neat little space to come to. I only found out about it accidentally. I think this is something that I want to touch upon later about how we don’t know what’s going on. We fitted the criteria & as a result other institutions that are suited to our needs came to know about us. We were then approached by an organization called Innovation & Growth . It’s part of a government backed initiative that helps potentially high growth startups to reach the right angel investors initially. We went on the radar of these guys back in September/October & then we got angel investment earlier this year, round 1 really. So we’re now gearing up for round 2 because part of the process is we push forward. We’ve got our pilots going, our systems are being tested & we’re now going out into market which now makes us right for round 2. Eventually we are going to vc. But if I hadn’t found this particular little hub & been approached, I think that we would have been dead in the water by now, really.

Elizabeth Hodgson

You would have slipped through the cracks, isn’t that interesting?

Yes it doesn’t matter how great your idea is, this is something I feel quite passionately about here in the UK, we do not have the infrastructure. We don’t have the startup mentality. I’m going to say something quite sacrilegious, as much as we think we do we are set up for this. Even down to the investors that you’re meeting with, they don’t understand the startup environment really.

Elizabeth Hodgson

I agree because I was doing all of that years ago in London. Totally agree & particularly the ‘woman’ piece in those days was definitely a detriment to me.

Well interesting, because even now there are a couple of other startups that are associated with the hub down here that are driven by women. I look around, in the nicest possible way & all my developers are guys, all my customers are guys. People I’m meeting are guys & I’m just thinking I want to be a successful person in what I’m doing. But I do wonder where are the other women?

Elizabeth Hodgson

It’s a good question. We are combing the undergrowth now & trying to get them to all come out & show their faces.

It would be good. It would be good. I do think that there are different pressures on women in business. I’m not trying to sound like a victim, because I don’t believe in that victim mentality but I do think we have to prove ourselves that little bit more.

Elizabeth Hodgson

Yes I agree & many people say the same thing. What attitudes towards you being female have you noted from angel investors when you have been raising capital?

I think I’m very much I’m an unknown, as it were, because I don’t think the people who invest in companies in this area, it’s usually a male run company. I genuinely think that I’m a rare creature, a CEO of a technology company that’s got angel investment in the UK. I think that the percentage of companies that actually reach the stage that we’re at, & if you strip away the fact that it’s run by a woman, I think that I’m quite unusual. I’m very lucky in the fact that my investors don’t see it any differently. But I think that I am unusual in this environment. I certainly feel it when I’m looking at other companies. You do background checks on other companies that are coming up & you just see that it’s men, men, men, men.

Elizabeth Hodgson

What qualities do you think women entrepreneurs need specifically for sourcing angel investment then after your hard won experience?

I would like to say the same as a male. I would like to say they have the passion, the drive, the commitment, the idea, the tenacity. I do think that there’s a difference in, without trying to get too much Men are from Mars & Women are from Venus all of that, but I do think that women do have a particularly different approach to business. I don’t want to play by the men’s rules because it doesn’t suit me to play by the men’s rules. I want to play by my rules. But I think that women unfortunately are still judged by the mere fact that they’re a woman. I think you’ve got to not play that card. I think actually you’ve got to be even more professional. So I would say be absolutely focused on what you’re doing. Also it’s something, I forget where I read it, (actually I think it was something you wrote) women tend not to focus so much on the hard sale. We’ll try & make something as perfect as possible. This is what I’m finding with my peers as well, the small number of peers that I have. Whereas I’m trying really hard to get my head around the fact that you just get it out there, speed, speed, speed. Get it out there & worry about whether it’s got the shiny corners later. Just get something out there & do it & lead & don’t be afraid. But I think that there are constraints on women, in particular women who actually find that they’re in a position to actually start something of their own. Usually it’s later on in their life. It’s not the twenty somethings! I came to this later on, after many years experience of working in the field. I thought this is what I want to do. So I think that there are constraints & conditions put on women that will stop them from doing this anyway. They might have families. They might not be in the financial position because financially you’ve got to be able to do this.

Elizabeth Hodgson

You’ve got to be able to run lean a lot of the time, haven’t you?

Be prepared to lose everything.

Elizabeth Hodgson

What I’m hearing is that it’s really important to focus on the business per se, rather than the fact that you’re a woman & any of those considerations. And also to be a little bit more bold!

Yeah I do think that. Again I don’t want to say that women are victims. However I think that there are perceptions about women in business. I would like to challenge those perceptions. I think that women do need to collaborate & work together in proving that there is a different way to work than just I think that we all perceive are the only rules.

Elizabeth Hodgson

And the great thing about women if we’re going to generalize is that usually we’re good at collaborating & supporting each other. So that will certainly stand us in good stead! In your opinion what percentage of women would qualify then as regards having these qualities? Could they be developed? If so what are your ideas about how this could happen?

Looking at my peer group & my friends as well, I am a firm believer (like everyone’s got a book inside them) everyone’s got the ability to do something. I’m the kind of person that if you’re going to do something do it big! There’s no in between. But then I’ve got other peers, one of my friends has set up a bookkeeping company. That’s very small, but she’s done that off her own bat. She’s trained herself, she’s doing it! I think that the startup mentality doesn’t have to be massive. It’s just I’m going to do something & I’m going to do something for myself. I’m going to create something from scratch. We started literally from an A4 piece of paper, an idea on a bit of paper. It’s having that confidence to say yeah I’m going to give this a go, I’m going to push this forward. So I think that most women have got it in them.I think it goes in our favor, that you go through your 20s you are establishing who you are, you’re working out what your talents are. You’re getting some experience under your belt. I think that the age at which women finaally realize that they can do something, is actually a really good age because they’ve got that confidence & they’ve got the connections. I would encourage any woman really, not necessarily take the risks that I’ve been prepared to take (& to get to this point it’s been a very, very hairy journey but we’re here). I would like to have had a little bit more support, not around hand holding but just this is where you can go with this, this is what you can do. The legal aspects, how to set up a company. Here in the UK the same rules apply to us as they do to Google & it’s ridiculous. Personally we don’t get the breaks. We don’t get any kinds of breaks at all. We have the same tax rules,the same everything, the structure of the companies. But I would like to impart this information. I would like to be able to turn around & say to somebody this is what you need to do. These are the support mechanisms that are in place for you already. Genuinely I think anyone could do this. But I just think it’s having the tenacity & the commitment & a little bit of a door opening for you. Because we’ve got to pull each other through.

Elizabeth Hodgson

So what I’m hearing is that the mentoring & sharing with your colleagues, all of that’s really helpful to encourage & to build that confidence in women to give it a shot!

To interject, I think also that women work in a different way to men. I don’t think it’s a bad way. As I’m looking across my not vast office, the 3 developers here are 3 guys. I think I’m fortunate in that we’re all in this together. I think that there could be some issues around some men don’t like taking leadership from women. I’ve had that said to me & to still hear that kind of stuff is really quite negative.

Elizabeth Hodgson

Disappointing, disappointing, yes. Obviously in the UK & Ireland where I was based before London that definitely still seems to be much more prevalent. It’s a slower move to the current trend where we’re actually all equal.

I think we will get there but there’s still a lot of work. Education, education, it starts from being a 5 year old in school, that’s where it starts.

Elizabeth Hodgson

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