(Women on Top in Tech is a series about Women Founders, CEOs, and Leaders in technology. It aims to amplify and bring to the fore diversity in leadership in technology.)
Here is my interview with Lisa Jacobs, Chief Strategy Officer at Funding Circle. Funding Circle is the world’s leading marketplace for business loans, where people and organizations can directly lend to small businesses.
What makes you do what you do?
Funding Circle is a platform that allows individuals and organizations to lend money directly to small businesses. Every day we help small business owners raise finance to grow their businesses and investors like you or I get a higher rate of return. Each one of these business owners is an entrepreneur and inspiration themselves and a Funding Circle loan helps them and their communities thrive – on average each business that takes a loan through Funding Circle supports the creation of three new jobs either directly or indirectly through supply chains. It’s pretty special to be able to come to work each day and know that what we’re doing has such a profound impact on people’s lives, employment and the economy.
I run the strategy and special projects team across Europe and the US which means I run our growth projects, incubate new business areas and design process improvements. It’s a broad remit which covers areas such as launching new borrower and investor products to enable us to support more businesses; raising equity capital for expansion; launching into new geographies and improving our operational flows. When I joined the team we were just 40 people in the UK having facilitated nearly $60m of loans to small businesses. We’re now over 600 people in the UK, US, Germany, the Netherlands and Spain and we have facilitated over $3B of loans to small businesses.
How did you rise in the industry you are in?
I have always been curious about anything and everything but was pretty clueless about what career path to take. At university, I studied a degree that kept my options open and whilst studying I dipped my toe into marketing and advertising. Following that, after I left university, I joined a strategy consulting firm which gave me the opportunity to keep the breadth of work – tackling some of the most interesting business challenges across several industries. More by chance than design, I gravitated towards financial services and solved problems for traditional financial services businesses grappling in a post-financial crisis world. Funding Circle was tackling one of the most troubling after effects of the crisis – a lack of finance for small businesses. The mission strongly resonated with me. My lack of a specialism was useful – it meant I was more than happy to throw myself at any challenge and figure out a way for us to solve it.
Why did you take on this role/start this startup especially since this is perhaps a stretch or challenge for you (or viewed as one since you are not the usual leadership demographics)?
Both the financial services and technology industries have been historically male dominated industries so fintech has a tough starting point for women leaders. A lot of women are deterred from the industry by outdated stereotypes, a lack of incumbent female leaders and low awareness of the variety and type of work. I did not initially actively choose to work in either finance or technology but keeping an open mind to all industries and seeking out new experiences enabled me to stumble upon the wonderful world of fintech.
Do you have a mentor that you look up to in your industries or did you look for one or how did that work?
Whilst I have not had any formal mentors, I am incredibly fortunate to have been around many amazing people – parents, siblings, friends and colleagues – who have acted as informal mentors and inspired me along the way. It’s hugely important to surround yourself with great people to show the art of the possible and to have people there to pick you up, dust you off and refuel you when you’ve been pushing so hard for a goal. For some people that’s a single mentor; for others, it can be a network of inspirational people.
Now as a leader how do you spot, develop, keep, grow and support your talent?
One of the reasons I love Funding Circle is the great team and culture that we’ve managed to build. We’ve done it by building a rigorous recruitment process, creating a culture which empowers people and ensuring when we make the wrong recruitment decision we act swiftly. As the business has scaled and evolved, our recruitment and learning and development have had to keep pace. Most recently, we’ve identified and invested in management training as many of our early hires have grown into managerial positions.
Do you consciously or unconsciously support diversity and why?
Consciously. Various studies suggest we’re nearly all guilty of unconscious bias at some level – whether that be background, gender, age, race, nationality or otherwise. When talent is scarce anyway, businesses have to consciously address diversity if they want to build the best teams.
What is your take on what it takes to be a great leader in your industry and as a general rule of thumb?
- Build the ‘A team’: know your strengths and be humble enough to acknowledge your weaknesses too and then hire the best team you can to complement you.
- Make decisions fast: Design a business that has a high velocity of decision making – make your decisions quickly but delegate so your team can too. At pace, you may not always make the right choice but a decision propels you forward whereas indecision leaves you treading water.
- Be authentic: Your team will respect you and be loyal and you’ll have more fun.
Advice for others?
My grandfather once said ‘reach for the moon, because if you miss you’ll still be among the stars’. It’s cheesy, but it’s a good way to remind you to aim high and don’t be scared of failing.
To learn more about Funding Circle, please see https://www.fundingcircle.com/uk/.
I am a huge fan and cheerleader of Women Leaders — If you know of an AMAZING Woman Founder, CEO, Leader in Tech or you are one yourself — Write me here.
AMPLIFY Conscious Business Leadership with me.