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Entrepreneurship

Women on Top in Tech – Lisa Jacobs, Chief Strategy Officer of Funding Circle

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(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 CircleFunding Circle is the world’s leading marketplace for business loans, where people and organizations can directly lend to small businesses.

funding-circle_logo


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?

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.

Entrepreneurship

Can the Japanese foster Innovation?

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Loftwork Inc., FabCafe, MTRL have created a support program and open community, COURIER, which assists innovators that target the global market. A meetup and presentation based on the topic, “Which city has the most global business opportunities?” was held on recently. At the event, nine business leaders knowledgable of the various regions in Japan shared their expertise and challenges.

Thinking of new businesses, putting them into practice, and sharing those ideas—that is “COURIER”

On this day, together with FabCafe, which have opened 10 offices throughout the world, Loftwork Inc. announced the opening of its new hub for global business in Hong Kong. Furthermore, along with the opening of MTRL Hong Kong, Loftwork Inc. also announced the launch of an online platform, “Material Service (MTRL.com),” which connects material manufacturers with creators.

The launch of COURIER is closely linked to this type of activity. In the opening speech, Mitsuhiro Suwa of Loftwork, Inc. reflected on the history of Loftwork, Inc.—”We have supported the new businesses and innovation of companies, but as a matter of fact, we have not had many connections with startups,” explanining that “whether it be an entrepreneur or an intrapreneur, the situation of capital and human resources is the same even though the crowd to appeal to may differ. If both sides share their information and network and complement one another, there is an opportunity to create a synergy effect.”

If we can utilize FabCafe as a platform for startups which aim to expand in the global market, we can persuade executives and investors to expand their businesses and thus create more possibilities. Suwa explained how from this idea, COURIER, a community of businesses was born—a community that thinks of new ideas, puts them into practice and shares them.

Startups without a sense of purpose and preparation will only become lost

The holy ground of startups—Silicon Valley. CEO of consulting firm Pacific Sky Partners Zak Murase, while describing how “unfortunately, the Japanese do not have a presence in Silicon Valley,” provided the following analysis of why Silicon Valley is known as the holy ground of startups.

<The Reasons Why Silicon Valley is the Holy Ground of Startups>

1) Great Weather
The good weather creates a welcoming atmosphere to share new ideas and start new businesses.

2) World’s Top Ecosystem
There has been a continuous cycle of achievers of success breeding new achievers since the 1960’s.

Meanwhile, the prices in general are 2.5 times those of Tokyo. This is characteristic of Silicon Valley—labor costs and cost of living are high, which can make placing a development team in Silicon Valley unrealistic. Given this situation, do startups have a chance in Silicon Valley? Murase shared the following recent topics.

– Total capital invested is generally increasing
投資件数は減少傾向だが、投資総額は増加傾向にあり、スタートアップ1件あたりの投資金額が増えている。
– General decrease in investments into seed stage startups
Investors have been actively investing in seed stage startups which are performing well, showing how they are carefully selecting where they are investing.
– The influence of the “Big 5” is overwhelming
Even if startups are able to innovate, they are either acquired by the “Big 5,” Facebook, Amazon, Microsoft, Google and Apple, or are completely crushed.

With that said, what do the Japanese need in order to perform well in Silicon Valley? Murase finishes by highlighting the 3 points below.

<Preparing to Enter Silicon Valley>
1. Hold a clear sense of purpose
2. Prepare to settle down in Silicon Valley
3. Slowly create a reputation and build trust

The key to promotion is to connect with local media and local people

Next, CEO of Network Communications Corp., Naoko Okada explained the business situation in Washington D.C., where her business holds an office. She emphasized how the city provides a suitable environment for startups—there are many security startups, rate of growth of entrepreneurs is number one in the U.S., the restaurant industry is booming, the city is undertaking a project to become a smart city (Smarter DC Project), the local embassy and chambers of commerce give strong support.

As for her specialty in global P.R., she explains, “Business and P.R. are closely linked. Creating something that fits with the local market and conducting promotion and P.R. activities go hand-in-hand.” She continued, discussing how local media is the key to “bringing the desired information to those who want it,” especially in the context of local promotion of products and services. She claims, “It is important to connect with locals, members of the community, people of the embassy, people in media and local executives. In order to do this, startups must disclose themselves and send out information.”

Case study: What is the methodology behind bringing Japanese goods and services overseas?

Tomohiko Nihonyanagi of Loftwork, Inc. raised the example of the “MORE THAN PROJECT,” a project which has supported the overseas expansion into 21 countries for the production of the “JAPAN brand.” He emphasized, “Bringing products and services overseas means bringing products and services to local markets. If a business does not understand this, they cannot sell. It is important to understand which regions and markets to target, understand their lifestyles and the market trends.” He shared some specific ways to approach this issue.

<Approaches to overseas expansion>
1) Adequate understanding of the company’s products and services
2) Selecting a business partner
3) Researching local markets
4) Localization
5) Promotion within local markets

Likewise, Takuya Hotta, CEO of Culture Generation Japan Co., Ltd., described the case of how Tokyo Some-Komon was successfully arranged into a Muslim dress as a way of promoting traditional Japanese dyeing methods overseas. He provided an analysis of the keys to success.

<Reasons for Success in Local Distribution>
– Selecting a business partner
The most important thing is to match with a business partner who shares the same sense of direction and passion. Partnering with designers and distributors with existing markets can make success more likely.
– Understanding which parts to keep and which parts to change
Clearly understand constraints, costs and strengths of the company’s product.
– Conveying a philosophy
Always use the underlying passion as a base to make decisions. Do not lose your sense of purpose.

Go global with understanding of local markets and making the most of the expertise in your best team

The second section kicked off with a session by Masaru Ikeda, co-founder of THE BRIDGE and blogger. Ikeda manages a news media site for startups and knowledgable in the business situations of various countries. He points out, “Japanese startups tend to look to Asia first to expand their business, but given the level of maturity in society and infrastructure, as well as the economic conditions in these countries, many of them do not succeed.”

With this point in mind, Ikeda introduced some startup hubs (cities) that have attracted attention.

– Paris
After renovation of a railway depot, Paris became home of the world’s largest startup campus, “STARTION F.” The French president, a former investment banker, has shown his active support for startups. Paris is also well known for its richness in talent in the field of A.I..

– Tallinn
Methods of raising funds is becoming diverse. “Funderbeam,” or the use of blockchain-based technology to bring together investors and companies is extremely interesting.

– Helsinki
Birthplace of Nokia. Many hubs for research and development with major startup activity. Oulu is famous for its event where startups pitch in the frozen water of the Baltic Sea.

– Tel Aviv
Israel’s largest festival for startups, DLD Tel Aviv, is held every September. Tel Aviv has become one of the prominent startup hubs of the world.

It’s not about the “city,” but the “people” who are there

Next, Kelsey Stuart, in charge of international communication of FabCafe at Loftwork, Inc., describes how FabCafe has built a global network. She explains, “When we open a new FabCafe overseas, we don’t evaluate the ‘city,’ but we evaluate the ‘people’ who are there,” and raised the following points.

<Criteria for opening a new FabCafe overseas>
– Is there a vision for FabCafe?
– Is there past experience in digital fabrication cafes?
– Is there connection to the local creator community?
– Would FabCafe function as a creative platform?

Stuart adds, “FabCafe is not a franchise. In each country, the promoters within each region gather their resources, capital and community and manage the cafe.” She explained how FabCafe has expanded globally by gathering people who sympathize with their philosophy and share their values, ideas, brand, graphics and websites.

Short presentations by two globally expanding startups

Next, two startups that have gathered attention made presentations. With his vision of “Product for Peace,” CEO Radcliffe Takashi Onishi of the Babels inc. introduced his Q&O (Question and Opinion) service, “historie,” which provides various interpretations of society’s controversial topics. He explains, “From problems of history and international conflicts, the information out there only provides one side of the story. For this reason, society is full of people who only see things from one perspective, which can lead to conflict. As a solution, society needs a product that can line up different opinions from multiple perspectives.” Instead of a Q&A service that provides one best answer, the service collects opinions that cannot be found through a search engine or SNS and information that are not found on Wikipedia or textbooks. By making various opinions easily visible, the service aims to promote the evolution of the imagination that mankind seems to be losing.

On the other side, , CEO of DiGINEL Inc./DiGITAL ARTISAN Inc., represented a startup which offers technology services related to digital tools. As one of the new services they are preparing to launch, he introduced “OpenNail,” a nail chip service which fits each individual’s nail shape. The company created a process utilizing a 3D printer to allow creators and designers to participate in the nail design process. In the future, easily ordering a nailchip of choice on the Internet and smartphones will become a reality.

Global business leaders provide hints for startups that succeed

– Presence of the Japanese

Murase: The Japanese are well-known for their disappointing levels of English. Whereas in the U.S., people are taught to express their opinions from childhood, the Japanese believe in conformity and have a hard time being heard because they do not express themselves. In Silicon Valley, this is becoming an obstacle.

Ikeda: The Japanese try to appeal to the fact that their startup is “Japanese.” But what’s most important is what is left once that national identity is taken away.

Okada: Are the entrepreneurs being trained to properly promote themselves?

Murase: If you decide to go to Silicon Valley, you should thoroughly practice your elevator pitch. Of course, there are people who are not proficient in English but do well in Silicon Valley. Those are the people who have passion or have something unique and are able to speak with confidence. Even if their English is not perfect, their aura is what leads them to success. This is a skill, too.

– Setting up an office

Okada: Apart from problems regarding communication, it might not matter where you put an office.

Ikeda: Since SaaS and the Internet is so commonplace nowadays, it might not matter. In fact, there are many cases where a business is organized around people who are scattered throughout different locations. Expanding business by selecting cities based on their features and gathering expertise in various locations could even be a way to make better startups.

Murase: It’s not rare for startups to scatter their teams in Silicon Valley. Startups will be strong if they can create a “best team” while taking advantage of each region’s features.

– The most important thing in global expansion is “English and mindset”

Murase: English. It’s the most important thing.

Ikeda: English of course, and also a mindset. If you have lived in Japan for a few decades, what you see becomes the world to you. We can expand our possibilities just by conducting business with the awareness that there are many races and cultures in the world.

There are obstacles for the Japanese to lead the world in innovation. However, now that there are platforms out there to bring innovation to the world, the path in front of us is opening. Okada sent a powerful cheer to all of the startups that are looking to expand globally: “Japanese people, let’s get more active globally!”

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About the Author

This article was produced by Lotfwork. Through planning, production, and communication, Loftwork is a creative partner that will make business innovation a reality.see more.

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Callum Connects

Brad Adams, Managing Director of Ocean Grown Abalone

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Ocean Grown Abalone’s, Brad Adams is revolutionising abalone production in a clean, green and sustainable way off the south west coast of Australia.

What’s your story?
I grew up in the remote town of Augusta in the very south west of Western Australia where the Southern Ocean meets the Indian Ocean.

My family have a long association with aquaculture and the fishing industry. I’m a 3rd generation fisherman and my father founded the commercial wild abalone diving industry in Flinders Bay in the 1960s.

I followed an aquaculture route, and after I completed my studies in Tasmania, I returned home to start the development of a new technique of growing abalone.

After close to 20 years researching, developing and inventing a new technology, OGA’s sea ranching technique was born and the ‘abitat’ was developed.

Sea ranching is an aquaculture technique where hatchery bred juvenile abalone are placed on OGA designed artificial reefs, ‘abitats’, which are placed in the ocean and left to nature to grow for 2-3 years until they reach a marketable size. They feed and survive in the wild.

The abalone produced from the sea ranch is identical to the highly sought after wild catch product, but has the competitive advantages that only aquaculture can provide. OGA can supply year round to meet market demands to whatever size or product specification the market requires.

Importantly, the sustainability of the abalone using the sea ranching technique is proven and monitored on an ongoing basis. Monitoring the ‘abitats’ and the sea ranching technology is paramount to OGA.

What excites you most about your industry?
That we can grow a premium seafood product which is highly revered in Asia, in a sustainable and environmentally friendly way. The sea life we are seeing in Flinders Bay now that the reefs are down is incredible. We are seeing many different types of fish which were no longer in the bay as well as plenty of sea grass creating an underwater sustainable ecosystem.

What’s your connection to Asia?
I am born and bred in Augusta in WA. OGA exports premium greenlip abalone to Asian markets including Singapore, Hong Kong and China.

Favourite city in Asia for business and why?
Hong Kong. It has a strong seafood (especially abalone) culture developed with Australian exporters over many years. Also the buyers are great; relaxed people who enjoy having a good time showing you their amazing city.

What’s the best piece of advice you ever received?
You only live once, so always follow your passions.

Who inspires you?
Andrew Forrest – his single minded purpose and determination, and how he uses his wealth to improve the lives of others.

What have you just learnt recently that blew you away?
Banging your head against a wall burns 150 calories per hour.

If you had your time again, what would you do differently?
There are many things I would do differently if I had today’s hindsight as foresight, however all my mistakes, successes and decisions have made me the person I am today. I am comfortable with that.

How do you unwind?
I am a keen surfer. Being at one with the ocean is important to me.

Favourite Asian destination for relaxation? Why?
Lembongan, Indonesia. Great waves, great food, great people

Everyone in business should read this book:
Grit – Angela Duckworth
“Success is the result of passion and persistence, not talent and luck.”

Shameless plug for your business:
OGA have developed the world’s first commercial greenlip abalone sea ranching facility. We build our own artificial abalone reefs (called abitats) on our leases in the pristine waters of Flinders Bay. We place hatchery reared juvenile abalone on them – then let nature (with a little help from our divers) do the rest to produce this marine delicacy. A totally natural, ‘wild-harvest’ product. Because we have some control of the process we can harvest to market demand to whatever size the market requires. We call this aquaculture technique sea ranching.

This video explains the business in 7 minutes: https://vimeo.com/225797022

How can people connect with you?
Email: [email protected] or
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/oceangrownabalone/

This interview is part of the ‘Callum Connect’ series of more than 500 interviews

Callum Laing is an entrepreneur and investor based in Singapore. He has previously started, built and sold half a dozen businesses and is now a Partner at Unity-Group Private Equity and Co-Founder of The Marketing Group PLC. He is the author two best selling books ‘Progressive Partnerships’ and ‘Agglomerate’.

Connect with Callum here:
twitter.com/laingcallum
linkedin.com/in/callumlaing
Download free copies of his books here: www.callumlaing.com

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