What makes a barrister, with a comfortable salary and a promising career, leave her job and risk everything by starting her own company? It’s a question – or a version of it – that many in the City with an entrepreneurial spirit will have asked themselves. I won’t pretend that it wasn’t a big decision but, for me, it came down to two things. First, while I loved my career, I saw my life unfolding before my eyes and realised I never wanted to be someone who said at retirement “if only I’d done that”. Second, I’m a problem-solver and I saw a problem I was itching to solve.
I founded Intern Avenue in late 2010. It’s an award-winning platform that, powered by sophisticated technology, matches leading companies with highly skilled young people seeking paid internships and graduate roles. I came up with the idea while working at my law firm. I was knee-deep in CVs from applicants vying for a graduate position when I realised what a colossal waste of time it all was. We had over 2,000 applicants for a couple of positions: not only had all the unsuccessful candidates put effort into a process that didn’t land them a job, but as hirers we had to wade through the CVs of hundreds of promising graduates who weren’t quite right for us.
It was infuriating, so I started talking to my peers working elsewhere in business and discovered that it was exactly the same with them. My sister had also just graduated from UCL and it was almost a full-time job finding the right places to apply to. There was an information problem, and the situation was made all the worse because it enabled well-connected people to find entry-level jobs or internships, while others were left on the shelf. I wanted to give young people more opportunities to understand what might be a good fit for them and to empower employers not to be a slave to the system. So Intern Avenue was born.
I won’t pretend the journey since has been easy, but fortunately for me the decision to leave my job and start my own company has proven to be worthwhile. That’s why I’m really happy to be part of Investec Private Banking’s Success Stories series, which tells the stories of entrepreneurs and the challenges they face setting up their business ventures. If you risk nothing, you get nothing new. In starting a firm, I’ve had the opportunity to build a whole new skillset – from managing people, learning about algorithms and how to code, to dealing with all the commercial problems that business entails. Even if I had failed, it would still have been possible to apply those new skills to a different challenge.
And people from a City background have an advantage. First, there’s the networks. I’ve been blown away by the support I’ve had from both other entrepreneurs and contacts. Many people in professional jobs will have networks they can draw on. I was also able to start my company with savings I had accumulated while at work (along with some help from my brother). Finally, if you’re already in a professional job, you’ll understand intuitively the language of business.
Entrepreneurship is the most difficult thing you can do, and I think many founders under-estimate just how much can go wrong. Things take longer than you anticipated, there’s the challenge of convincing other talented people to take a punt on you and work in your company, and in the early days the financial burdens can be considerable (even in London financing can be hard to come by). You also have to be comfortable with the fact that you could fail.
But it really is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. By becoming an entrepreneur, you’re joining a fraternity of some of the most brave, passionate, determined people in the world.