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Top tips for entrepreneurs from Stepladder Co-Founder Lucy Mullins
Lucy Mullins is the Co-Founder of property fintech Stepladder, which is helping ordinary people save for their first property in a unique and exciting way. We sat down with Lucy to talk more about her journey and the advice she would give other entrepreneurs about using crowdfunding as a business expansion tool.
How did Stepladder come about?
About 15 years ago, Matthew (Stepladder’s other Co-Founder) studied Rotating Savings and Credit Associations (ROSCA) in Brazil. It’s something that has been used for hundreds of years in hundreds of different communities around the world.
He thought this was a brilliant way to help young people become more responsible with their savings and achieve their financial goals. In 2016, he applied to the Financial Conduct Authority sandbox to see how this product could be regulated in the UK. This was around the time I was introduced to him.
The initial go-to-market was focussed on helping people raise their property deposit because it is that one big thing that people need to save for. We wanted to help people work together towards a big financial goal, enhance their financial wellbeing, help them reach their goals faster and improve their credit rating along the way. This idea of a ROSCA, going by many different local names, has been used by millions of people around the world for hundreds of years!
I saw this year that Stepladder smashed its crowdfunding target on SEEDRs – what advice would you give to businesses looking to use crowdfunding as an investment strategy?
Plan enough time and resources (in terms of team time) to put into the campaign because it does take a long time, certainly the first time you do it. There's quite a lot of compliance that needs to be done before you can go live and then you have to put time into promoting the campaign and answering investor questions.
It’s well worth it. Don’t let it distract from your other business priorities, but it is fabulous to shout about the company, get people on board and feel like you've got a community of people backing you.
Our last one went so well we’re actually doing it again!
What advice would you give yourself as an entrepreneur just starting out?
Think like a scientist. I trained as a scientist originally and that's kind of how my brain works but I forgot that when I first became an entrepreneur!
What I would tell myself going back five years is nobody's got the right answer. Rather than just thinking “oh this is what the market wants”, just test absolutely everything. Then, when an experiment fails, look at why it failed and think about why it failed, like a scientist would.
You also co-founded #RideTheWave – what kind of skills are you really trying to bring out in participants of this?
I think it's bringing to the surface whatever that person needs, whether that’s a facet of emotional intelligence, interpersonal skills, decision-making skills, resilience etc. All of these are essential leadership and life skills.
Everybody needs something different. The beauty of coaching is that it’s not one-size-fits-all. Learning to coach and being coached allows you to discover what you need at that time.
Speaking of leadership skills – what does a good leader look like to you?
I think a good leader looks like the person they are meant to be without trying to act – they're very authentic. If you saw them in a pub with their friends, with their family, or at the office, you are basically getting the same person.
I think there are many ways to be a great leader – you need to make sure you are clear on your vision and consistent so your team and everyone around you know they are getting the same person.
What are your three tips to CEOs/business leaders looking to expand their business?
My first tip would be A/B test everything – don't assume you already know it!
My second tip would be ‘bullets before cannonballs’. Do something small before you go big. Always think about the smallest viable way of testing something, rather than ploughing a load of money into a brand new branding campaign because you think "oh we need a new logo". Do you really need it? How can you test that? Instead, do small rapid experiments so you learn quickly.
The third tip is to know what restores you. Is that exercise, diet, sleep, time with your family? Have a little restoration list and make sure you restore yourself or else you will never be able to grow you or your business!
We’re guessing you are constantly juggling plates – how do you stay organised?
Lots and lots of lists! I write everything down (maybe too much!), I have a colour-coded calendar so I know which plate I'm supposed to be spinning when and I get help for things that I'm not great at, or I outsource it.
I think the problem with admin stuff is that everybody thinks they can do it, but it's a very professional role and so hiring a part-time virtual assistant was the best thing I’ve done. I can’t believe it took me ten years. It’s taken a weight off of my mind and lets me focus on the stuff that I’m good at.
What's the biggest challenge you face as an entrepreneur?
It’s relentless! There are lots of little things which can be hard work if you are feeling a bit run down or a bit tired, and then there are bigger things like fundraising which need bursts of energy and focus. So I think it’s (to use my own metaphor) just riding the waves – constantly being ready for the next wave, whatever that might be.
What keeps you motivated?
In both businesses I run, I'm doing something that I love and something that I'm good at. Using your strengths energises you and keeps you going. Ultimately, I'm lucky in both businesses because we're helping people, whether that’s helping them find their first home or reach other financial goals at StepLadder, or helping people build their resilience, confidence and leadership toolkits at #RideTheWave.
So there's the internal motivation of doing something that I really love doing and then there's the external motivation of knowing you’ve made a difference to somebody’s day!
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