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Women in Startups

London Startups Talks #4 – Women in fintech startups: Benedetta and her journey to build Oval Money

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Women in fintech startups: let’s continue the journey to meet the most amazing women working in tech.

I started the Women in Startups series last year. I was working with a startup and was part of a team with a few amazing talented women. For once, I wasn’t the only one. So I realised it: “that’s why I didn’t feel very comfortable in the previous one”.
There’s something wrong in the tech industry and a lot of problems pushing women out of it.
It’s called unconscious bias and that’s why men are always saying that’s not true.
This series aims to help understanding there’s a bunch of great, skilled and passionate women working in tech and aiming to disrupt our current world. Even if they’re not on the press and they’re not as recognised as men.
So, after having talked about bots and blockchain, the time has arrived to talk about fintech.
Fintech is a very booming sector in London and I’m glad I’ve met with Benedetta Arese Lucini  to talk about Oval Money and her ideas about improving people’s life thanks to technology and the crowd.

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Oval Money and Benedetta’s background working in tech

Ciao Benedetta, tell us about you and why you’re passionate about startups
I started to be passionate about entrepreneurship before even knowing what startups were. When I was 12 years old, by dad took me to his office, he’s also an entrepreneur. And I saw his desktop computer and I thought that sitting on that rotating chair and typing on a computer was the job I wanted to do.
I had no ideas what it meant but that’s what I decided at 12 years old, I wanted to be an entrepreneur.
I started my career in investment banking, this was before the crisis, still a competitive environment but a great place to learn how to work. And there you work very hard. I loved number, that’s why I studied finance but I realised it wasn’t my call.
So I did an MBA in New York and San Francisco, and I understood that everything I wanted to do was working in startups. I got to know the valley and I realised that the fast-paced moving environment was what I was looking for.
In that time, 2010-11 there were a lot of cleantech startups, Facebook was going public, it was the beginning of this new mobile-driven era of technology. And there, I thought, “no more finance and banking, let’s get hired by a startup and get your hands dirty, Benedetta.”

benedetta arese lucini women in fintech startupsI met the founders of Zalando, Rocket Internet, they told me they were launching Zalando, called Zalora, in Asia and they said: “Do you want to go to Malaysia?” And I said “Ok”. I looked at a map to see where Malaysia was and I thought it was a great place to go.
Kuala Lumpur was a booming city and I moved here in 2012. The first job I had was to fix the warehouse. All the packages weren’t properly categorised, it was kind of handmade.
I got in love with the idea of setting up something from nothing, and working with people, even if you had to work until late. I also worked with a builder of startups with some people I met there.
Then Uber called me for an interview. I heard about Uber from San Francisco but I didn’t know they were moving so fast. And they asked me if I wanted to go working in Italy. I wasn’t sure, I spent 10 years away from Italy. But I got this role, which was City Manager for Milan and then the journey started as Uber was making us feeling entrepreneurs, rather than employees of a bigger company.
I had great 3 years in Uber, the company grew from 200 to over 6.000 people in the time I was working there, such a crazy growth. It’s been a steep learning curve, a great experience.

Uber has the mission to change the way people travel and move, a great mission but after Uber I thought it was the time to becoming an entrepreneur, to bring forward a vision that was mine and not somebody else’s. I met Claudio and Edoardo a few years before when they launched their first startups and we met at the Italian Parliament, during an event about the sharing economy.
We kept in touch and when I met Edoardo at another conference after I left Uber, he told me about their latest idea, in fintech.

There are no paths or ways to educate people about savings money and so we thought, why don’t we do an app which is helping people to do it thanks to technology, wisely and continuously, and not just one-off? For example, with crowdfunding people understood they can invest money wisely, but it’s just once and this is something it should be approached with the same financial consciousness of more traditional programs.
So, that’s how Oval Money was born. And even if at that time, I received different offers from other fintech companies, I really got hooked on this idea. And we started.
We met Simone, our CTO, one of the few experts about machine learning in Italy. He’s been working in machine learning before it was even a buzzword. We thought of combining data, my experience of community building and the fintech experience of Claudio and Edoardo to come up with a product users love.

oval money cofounder women in fintech startupsWhat are you looking to disrupt with Oval Money?
We want to become partners of the industry, both to the fintech and the traditional finance players.
The market is very crowded: there are 3.300 funds managers and 63 robots advisors only in Europe.
The choice is becoming something that users struggle to deal with because there’s so much selection.
Our idea is to get data to analyse and understand humans’ behaviour targeting users to help them finding the right products. Funds and robots advisors don’t event target those users. Using learnings and the community in a very sharing economy style we’ll help users to find the best products, which are always going to be the ones coming out, even if there’s not an expert telling you about them.
We’ll empower users choosing the best thing for them, working better with the banks to understand what they are looking for and helping to choose the best one for themselves based on their behaviour.

How to empower women in tech and to attract more entrepreneurs?

Why are women paid less in the 90% of sectors? Does it depend on the fewer leadership roles? Well, actually data said that also for the same role women are paid less because women don’t ask for a pay rise. We have a tendency to apologise instead of being aggressive towards what we want to achieve.
The big problem is that it’s not just a society problems, but a women-related one as well. I’ve worked with incredible women in Uber, Zalora and in investment banking at the top of their success.
The problem is that it’s never enough. If you don’t have a mentor or you don’t know where you can get to, you won’t do it. I was lucky that I was abroad and I find my role model to get inspired.
The percentage of women in some sectors is very low but you can still find women and your role models: in Italy, it’s harder.
The pay gap is also something which should be tackled from the bottom, women should ask, but also companies should encourage a more transparent salary section communication. Amazon has a very strict rule in terms of salary, but if you’re in a certain position you’ll get that salary level, it’s strict but it avoids leaving to hiring managers the choice of salaries.

I really do think that women should ask for more and they should feel they’re entitled to have it.

oval alessia camera benedetta lucini women working in techWhich are the difficulties you’ve faced during the years?
There are always great and hard times.
If people want to do startups, they always have to remember that it’s like a roller coaster: some days are bright and others where everything seems going wrong. I think the hardest part is always the ability to find the right people to work them and trust them.
I’ve been very lucky about it but I also made mistakes sometimes and this is the hardest part for me. Companies are made out of people: if you don’t have the right people, there’s not a company. And when you make mistakes, it’s hard cause you have to readjust the situations and you need to find the right talents who believe in the mission or the vision of the company you’re building.

So I think, be aware you can make mistakes, learn from your mistakes is key.
This for sure is true every time. When you work in finance, you’ve been told you can’t make mistakes. But in startups there’s a very good culture saying the failing is good. And you should actually try. One of the things I always tell my team is that I don’t care what you do as long as you’re doing something. And then if it fails we’ll analyse it, understanding why but I’ll always let people try.

Your 3 tips for women willing to start their entrepreneurial journey.
The first thing is that you need to start something you really believe in.
I don’t believe in projects where you’ just copying something already existing. You have to wake up every morning and think that it’s what you want to build it and this is what you want to do.

Secondly, choose the right team. Make sure it’s diverse. If you’re a woman, have men on the team and people with different backgrounds and culture. Build a diverse team, just remember to keep the balance or it’s going to be hard. It took a while but we’re getting more balance now.

And the third is get your hands dirty. I say I’m a doer: not spend too much thinking, spend more time doing it or your startup will never start.

Thanks, Benedetta and good luck with Oval Money!
If you want to give a try to the app OvalMoney, use my code ACGXYU to get £5 for free!

Startups Women in Startups

London Startup Talks #3: Women in the Blockchain

Hey! Here another chapter about women in startups and their thoughts about tech and women in tech. From the sharing economy startup Social Belly to BOTs, our journey is involving more tech: we’re talking about Women in Blockchain!

Why talking about Women in Blockchain?

The blockchain technology is evolving and becoming even more attractive and there are more and more startups trying to build a business in the field. Why shouldn’t women be involved? As one of the most important leaders in the sector said, women, step in!

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Stats by womenforblockchain.com

The interview with Quynh and Neha, Blockchain London

In this article, we’ll learn everything we can about the Women in Blockchain, including technology and opportunities from two young women working in the field: Quynh Tran-Thanh and Neha Murarka.
I met those amazing girls at one of Techbees’ meetup in London during an amazing night dedicated to Blockchain, of course.
Quynh is a Quant Developer at CryptoCompare, a data analytics firm for cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin. Neha is the co-founder of Smoogs.io a startup which aims to provide affordable content streaming solutions via Bitcoins.

1) When did you understand you wanted to be in tech?

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Quynh Tran-Thanh, Quant developer

Quynh: I realised I wanted to be in tech after my first hackathon experience around 2 years ago with a group of friends. Back then I was completely non-technical, I joined the hackathon as a project manager, but since we had to finish our prototype app in 48 hours, I ended up jumping in as a front end developer, doing basic HTML and CSS coding.

Neha: It was multiple things that finally led me to end up in tech. I first used a computer when I was 6 years old. My father had bought one from the US (I’m from India). I didn’t know what to expect when I first clicked on that button; would there be fireworks on the screen? Would an orchestra start the moment? But none of that happened of course. But what happened seemed so natural and ever since then using and being around a computer was the most natural thing to me.
I was always more inclined towards the sciences and maths through school. My school offered limited computer science courses but I found all of them way more interesting than my other classes. When I reached college I wasn’t sure what to pick. I landed up selecting a degree of Physics, Maths and Statistics; there was no Computer Science as an option at the time. But within a year, I was bored ad even though I liked the Maths field, I wanted to do something more interesting with it. I got an opportunity to go to the USA to study Computer Science and it just felt… natural… again 🙂

2) Did someone help to achieve it? If yes, how big was his/her contribution?

Quynh: There are a lot of people that helped me along the way. Especially my team at my previous job, they just threw a C++ for beginners book at me when I told them I wanted to learn to program and gave me an opportunity to work on software projects (I was working as a quant analyst in banking). After 1 year, I quit that job and joined CryptoCompare as a developer.

Neha: I guess my father buying the computer had a lot to do with it. Because of his interest in the field, I landed up spending more time than my peers on a computer. If he hadn’t bought one all those years ago… I’m not sure I would have been so comfortable with it.

3) Why do you think Blockchain is the next big thing in tech?

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Neha Murarka, co-Founder of Smoogs.io, who won two awards at Digital Catapult’s Blockchain Pitch Off

Quynh: Blockchain is very interesting, as it has the potential to fundamentally change status quo. The main idea is to decentralise organisations, industries and networks. Just think about Google, Facebook and all the services or products we are using on a daily basis: they are mostly owned and controlled by a single company or entity. Blockchain promises a democracy of organisations by creating trust in an untrusted environment. I think the idea itself is already revolutionary, I hope that the technology will gain momentum soon.

Neha: I think it really depends on the area you are looking at. Personally, I think it has given the ability to add transparency in a lot of processes thereby reducing the chances of corruption in the system. Something so simple implies so much – people can be more in control of their money in banks, identity theft is virtually impossible, government ids can be used globally, middlemen are not required.
And when looking at the most successful application of the blockchain -being used as a currency like bitcoin- there are enormous implications for how money is managed across borders, the effects on financial inclusion, being able to go down to smaller denominations, financial services for the unbanked (approx. 2 billion worldwide)… Basically making money into a digital asset can changes lives for a lot of people.

4)What are you looking to achieve at CryptoCompare, Quynh? And how did you come up with the idea for Smoogs, Neha?

Quynh: CryptoCompare is a data analytics firm for cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin. We provide insight and data on trading of cryptocurrencies. Through this company, I am looking to educate people about cryptocurrencies and blockchain technology. I know bitcoin can sound like a scam at first, but I would like people to understand the underlying technology, the many advantages of it (such as micropayments and financial inclusion in the third world countries). I believe that the more people work on this technology, the safer it becomes.

Neha: My co-founder Duncan had been involved with cryptocurrencies since the early ’90s. And believe it or not, he had actually written a research paper in ’94, that talked about micropayments and the consumption of digital media through that. Finally, when bitcoin came around, there was a cryptocurrency that could fulfil his ‘prophecy’, so to speak, with a practical and real possibility of creating real micropayments.

5) Who’s inspiring you?

Quynh: I don’t have a single role model, but I take the best part of everyone I admire: The loyalty and fairness of my boyfriend, the patience and love of my family.

Neha: this might be very cliche but inspiration is all around. I learn something new from my tech team every day! This is something very important to understand about tech: it’s constantly changing and it’s impossible for one person to be completely up to date with the technology out there today.
So firstly, never be discouraged that you don’t know something but take that as inspiration to learn out of it–make it an advantage–and from that comes being inspired by the tech and people around you.

6) Best advice to give to an 18-years old girl looking to find/build her future path? 

Quynh: Don’t be scared. Make mistakes. Whenever you feel stuck in life, just read, read and read!!
Try different things but only quit if you achieved something. (I give these pieces of advice to everyone regardless of gender or age).

Neha: Honestly, being a developer is just so much fun. You can do so many different things with it… create an algorithm for perfectly fitting jeans, recommendation algorithms for your fashion tastes, identify art pieces with a computer programme, create a nurse robot for a hospital, a video game that helps people recover from heart strokes, create apps for a device that talks to your house to adjust the lights, help farmers get a credit score based on the colour of their crops… make a piece of technology do what you want it. It’s just fun and it can be applied in any field that you enjoy, may it be fashion, art, medicine, governance, media, robotics or anything else!

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Techbees’ Meetup [yeah, I’m the last one on the left)

Thanks for sharing your amazing experience girls and good luck, I’m sure you’re doing great!

ps: if you want to learn more about Blockchain and Bitcoins you should follow Techbees, the community born to engage everyone around those fields. And much more!

Startups Women in Startups

London Startup Talks #2: How to become a Bot Builder

Hey everyone!

It’s been quite a long time since my first ever London Startup Talk with the founder of Social Belly, and that happened for a couple of reasons: I’ve been experimenting a lot with my blog and I’ve decided to reserve this space to introduce amazing women entrepreneurs in tech.
Women are less represented in tech and without striking amazing results, we just need to do more to het the same recognition as men. And that’s no fair, at all. So, after having won the hackathon organised by Makers Academy and having seen I’m not the only experiencing it, I’ve decided to support and spread the word about amazing women doing super tech projects.

Why the London Startup Talks Series?

During this year of blogging and consultancy for startups, I realised that, even if women are engaged in amazing projects, they’re less exposed than men and that’s not fair. We’re working twice as much, why can’t we have the same treatment? We’re always involved in diversity and equality topics or easily involved in the fashion industry or blogging contests, but why can’t we just talk about tech or engineering? Is it that strange asking a woman about her love for tech?
As I’m in love with tech, I’ve decided to interview the most amazing women I know and not only because we share the same love, but also to give them exposure and highlight what they do.
And of course to give you a bit of insight of what I feel about tech. 🙂

So, a few months ago I went to a Chatbot Meetup and together with the amazing organiser Kriti Sharma (recently featured on BBC for Ada Lovelace Day) I met with Anindita from Gupshup, a Bot Builder Platform, and Susana Duran, Director of Mobile Development at Sage.
I was curious to hear from them, learning about their experience, concerns and ideas about Bots and the next technologies, that’s why I decided to ask them a few questions.
And today I’m very happy to share this interview with all of you!

The interview with Anindita and Susana: become a BOT builder!

1) When did you understand you wanted to be in tech?

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Pic by Ian Schneider

Anindita: It was a natural progression. I always wanted to do something that would help people interact. Communicate better and faster. Technology is evolving so rapidly that every day is a new with a million promises.

Susana: My parents bought me my first computer when I was 10 years old and that was a long time ago. I liked it and I took some programming lessons by that time although it wasn’t very usual. Time went by and I started my Bachelor of Engineering in Computer Science and after that a master degree.

2) Did someone help you achieving it? If yes, how big was his/her contribution?

Anindita: My mentor, boss and guide, the CEO of Gupshup.io. Mr. Beerud Sheth. He changed my perspective. Sometimes it is important to be futuristic yet elegantly simple.

Susana: My parents. Although they would have preferred other traditional careers, they provided all the support I needed since I was very young.

3) Why do you think Bots are the next big thing in tech?

Anindita: It is a once in a decade paradigm shift. It is similar to the web or the app wave. It will change the way people use technology to communicate. It will be a bigger and more powerful medium than anything we have seen before.

Susana: Mobile is the future and immediate and quick actions are the key. Mobile apps are also trying to follow the trail of bots with solutions like Google with Android Instant Apps but now bots provide the best and most complete solution for any platform.

Bots represent a once-in-a-decade paradigm shift. It is similar to the web or the app wave. It will change the way people use technology to communicate. It will be a bigger and more powerful medium than anything we have seen before.

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Pic by Fabian Irsara

4) Do you think there are more or fewer obstacles being Women in Tech?

Anindita: Depends. I think technology is a great leveller. It does not look at gender. It looks at innovation, usability and reach. If you have the grit and willingness to change and adapt to new things and to serve people, there is no stopping you.

Susana: Although everybody says there is no difference, women need to demonstrate more than men and by default are considered less valid for tech issues.

5) How do you think we can improve a more gender equality in STEM?

Anindita: Ability, humility and hard work. The world is changing. Gender biases will have to go away if there is talent.

Susana: Family is still a matter that is considered a woman duty, as well as all tech stuff is a man thing. Equality will be achieved when both things can be imagined for anyone.

6) Who’s inspiring you?

Anindita: My mentor, boss and guide, the CEO of Gupshup.io. Mr. Beerud Sheth

Susana:  There are lots of entrepreneurs and people who deserve being our inspiration but my inspiration mainly comes from my own overcoming instinct and my willing of continuous evolution. My family give me their support and even when I am frustrated and I think that this is too much they are always there to hug me and make me smile again.

Family is still a matter that is considered a woman duty, as well as all tech stuff is a man thing. Equality will be achieved when both things can be imagined for anyone.

7) The best advice to give to an 18-years old girl looking to find/build her future path

Anindita
:  it is important to be focused, but it is equally important to have fun. Great ideas come from a free mind. Changing these ideas to reality come with a disciplined self. All the best!

Susana: Do what will make you happy as you will probably spend the most part of your time and life on it. It doesn’t matter if you think it’s not going to be easy just try it.

 

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Conclusion

..and now we need to follow their advice, girls: do what makes you happy and remember to step outside your comfort zone! And if you feeling stupid, just do it anyway, it won’t be that stupid if it’s really what you want to do!

How are you feeling, girls?
Say hello on Twitter!

How are you feeling boys?
Does it sound like a bunch of stupid words? Read why we need your help

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Startups Women in Startups

London Startup Talks #1: Social Belly

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London Startup Talks: Social Belly

Hello everyone, are you enjoying your Friday? I know Friday is not the most amazing day to read a blog post, but, no worries, it’s a simple, interesting and really nice one! 😉
This is the first of a new series of articles sharing the experience of early stage startups, especially when they’re run by women.
For this very first post, I’m glad to introduce you Dimple Lalwani, founder of Social Belly, a platform to let people host, take part and share amazing dinner parties.
If you have more questions for her, feel free to add them in your comments below! 😉

1) How did you come up with the idea of Social Belly?
I first came up with the idea of Social Belly towards the end of 2013. This was after I started hosting multiple dinner parties with friends of friends as a means to get to know new people. I was new to London and soon realised that my life was revolving around long hours at work and commuting from home to work. Most networking events I attended were a combination of drinks at pubs and/or work related events. But what I really wanted is to have a good meal with a few people I had common interests with. This is basically how it all started…social-belly-platform-screenshot

2) Being an expat, is it difficult to set up your own business in London?
Not at all. Actually, I felt it was easier to set up a company here than anywhere else. The procedures are really well explained plus there are lots of events for entrepreneurs to find out the first steps into starting a business. I definitely think that you need to be extremely passionate about what you’re doing. There’s a lot of research you should do and always try get the best deals out there. 

3) What are the main things you need to do at the start?
First, it’s important to validate your concept through an MVP. Make sure you don’t spend too much money on this, remember it’s a product with the highest return on investment versus risk. Second, really narrow down who exactly is your target market. It’s easy to say that everyone would use your product however it’s important to be very specific, it will be helpful when you start your marketing campaigns. Finally, listen to your users. Keep talking to them and ask them the key questions; why are they using your product?  Why did they sign up? Why would they visit your website again? 

social-belly-logo4) You’re based at Google Campus, which is the co-working space you’d suggest to people aiming to open a business in London?
Yes, and it’s probably one of the best decisions I’ve made so far. I’m based at TechHub and the networking and community here is excellent. I had no background in startups before and I feel I’ve learnt so much in the past six months due to the community here. If you’re working on an idea, I’d recommend you work in either a co-working space or coffee shops within the tech city. It’s amazing how many people you’ll meet and build relationships with. For me, that’s been one of the biggest advantages since I started Social Belly.

5) Who’s the first person you would hire (or you have hired) at Social Belly?
It really depends on the business you’re in. I remember that one of the first things I needed for Social Belly was a prototype, therefore, I hired a Graphic Designer. After this, we won a startup competition worth £50,000 from Simpleweb and from that we got some tech support as well. After that, we’ve hired a CTO and now on the lookout for a COO. 

6) Do you really think people will change their schedule to attend a dinner with strangers?
Absolutely. This trend has been going on for several years around the whole world. I think there is a definite market for people to meet like-minded people without the pressure of going on a date or a double date. When you’ve got a new job or when you’re new to a city, it becomes hard to meet new people outside of your circle and that’s where Social Belly comes in. We match Londoners based on common interests and let them bond over an authentic meal. 

7) Is friendship possible in the startup world?
In my opinion, your success as an entrepreneur will be strongly impacted by your ability to build new business relationships. It really depends on what you consider to be a friendship. For example, I’m based at TechHub in Google Campus and I feel that we’ve become more than friends. When you’re working long hours and continuously supporting each other through difficult times, you become more like a family. Trust and support is key when you’re running a business and that’s probably the best thing about having your own startup. 

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