Key Women in Business are the only online magazine providing insightful and aspirational business content for entrepreneurial and business orientated women living or working in the UK, looking to develop their business, career or help others to do so.
We met with Ayra Taware, Founder and CEO of FutureBricks to discuss her entrepreneurial journey and find out how she got started, she replied: “Entrepreneurialism is not something that can be taught, you have to dive in and have a go”. If that is true then Taware has certainly jumped into the deep end – a female immigrant from India looking to build a peer-to-peer lending business in the construction sector.
The finance and
construction industries have for many years been inherently biased against
women. Big building developments often look for big returns and therefore tend
to use tried and tested construction methods. There are not many investors
willing to take the risk on new construction technologies. However, with a
rapidly warming planet there is a real need for sustainable and affordable
housing and while smaller building and construction companies are capable of
providing these, getting them financed is often a challenge.
Taware’s interest in property and entrepreneurship was kindled through her father as she grew up in India and this led her to study at University College London (UCL). Whilst on work experience during her studies at UCL she saw this first hand working at Solid Space. Her role was to assess sites for property development but regularly saw that they did not progress due to a lack of finance.
from a family that has always been involved in property, my dad is a first
generation entrepreneur; he came from a very small village in India and moved
to Pune which is a city of 8 million people and is where I grew up. I used to
listen to stories of how he started the business; how he came from nothing and
built his business from scratch.
I studied Urban Planning at UCL and learnt a lot of things I was not exposed to growing up in India such as how you get people to move around a city and to think about the break-out spaces. There was also the exposure to the real estate industry through the academy group.”
appears to have been the perfect place for Taware to study and develop, meeting
like-minded class-mates in an environment that encourages entrepreneurship.
While at UCL Taware’s first business collaboration was with fellow
international student Robin Karlsen.
first year you will usually be given university accommodation but you don’t if
you want to rent a private apartment or bedroom. It is very difficult for
international students and we felt that problem as we went through the process.
You would need a guarantor and we thought, ‘ok, let’s try and solve the
problem’. So we went and talked to landlords and said that we’d take the properties
and rent them to students. It was where the entrepreneurial journey began.”
appetite whetted, Taware and Karlsen went on to start a new venture, Real Funds
when Taware, whilst on work experience at Solid Space, spotted a need in the
construction sector for alternative finance for the smaller house builders – a
group that has had limited access to finance since the 2008 banking crisis.
crowdfunding platform won UCL Bright Ideas Award 2014. These Awards aim to help
new companies by providing them with funding and training. Winning this was
some achievement as they were in competition with 36 other companies for the
award and had to present a full business plan to a panel of six judges,
including specific ideas of how the Bright Ideas funds would be used to
effectively finance the development of the business.
“My job at
Solid Space was to look for sites for development, check there was planning
permission and that the numbers stacked up. The problem was that they could not
get financing. When I dug deeper into the issue, I realised it was a big
problem in the UK as the government has set a target to build 400,000 new homes
every year but only 115,000 were built in the last four years combined. The
main reason for this housing crisis is the lack of access to finance to SME
house builders. These are the ones who build the right type of housing supply –
the 5 semi-detached houses or converting offices to residential. I saw a gap in
the market. It’s something that we need – the country is suffering and has been
for the last three decades. Prices are going up and up: the average deposit and
rent in London is £80,000.
At UCL they
had their own competitions where you pitched to win – we actually did win back
in 2014 for our crowdfunding platform business. It was a very encouraging
grounding. There were always workshops providing information about where to
start, lectures, seminars and interesting business case studies etc. I hope
that many other universities in the UK have such facilities because the fact
that you get recognised for your efforts is very encouraging. It pushes you
forward in every way – that’s what
entering and winning to competition did for us.
I believe entrepreneurship can’t be taught, you can only go out there and do it. The sooner you do it, the better you get at it. It’s as simple as that.”
Taware describes First Stay as an ‘entrepreneurial adventure’, it was one that
she intended to take further. Following graduation in 2015 she started FutureBricks
an evolution of the idea of the crowdfunding for real estate from Real Funds.
As an entrepreneur, having an idea is one thing, but getting it funded and
making it reality takes real belief in it and often bags of resilience. For
Taware this would prove to be the case, not least because she was entering the
investment and construction sectors, traditionally white male dominated
it wasn’t easy at all. You get a lot of sceptics, especially as you are young
and yes, female. Mostly it was because we were so young but I think you just
have to prove yourself even if it is little by little. You always have an easy
option: you can go back in the employment pool – it’s easier to give up when it
is so hard. It really tests your resilience – is this really what you want to
do? Do you really believe in your idea? If yes, how much do you believe it and
to what extent can you go for it? To get funding I would pitch to 50-100
investors and 60% would reject the idea. At the same time as pitching you have
to survive – how do you pay for yourself? I’ve gone through those struggles.
I’ve rented my room on Air BnB and slept on the sofa! I’ve gone through it all
and it really does test your resilience. It’s good in a way as it makes you
think that ‘yes – this is it; I have to execute my vision!’. I think that’s
what kept me going.
What was challenging was that our vision was so big so we had to break it down so I could get there one step at a time. We’re now in a position where we can fund SME housing projects which is great. Our vision is to fund as many small and medium-sized house building entrepreneurs as we can and indirectly help solve our housing crisis. On the other side of the market, we want to make investing in property as accessible to everyone as possible. Our platform minimum amount is £500 and we try to democratise this process of investing in property which is seen as so inaccessible or exclusive as you need a lot of capital to begin with. All of those barriers are broken through this and we hope to keep doing it. Those really are our two missions.”
two missions aside Taware has grander ambitions for FutureBricks: to help
address the challenging environmental issues the planet is facing and to effect
more social issues that a sector which is the second largest employer in the UK
forward, because we are the financiers and have some control, we want to impose
terms around our investment that say it has to be more environmentally friendly
whether that’s using timber or something that’s sustainable. We’re also
collecting data about how much material they are wasting and how much they are
recycling, how many trees are cut down and how many are replanted. So we’re
trying to impose the rules to make the housing as sustainable and
environmentally friendly as we can – not just the end house but also the whole
construction process – from the usage of material, to wastage and how much can
be recycled as well.
From the lenders’ side what we’re trying to do (apart from making money as an investor on our platform) is to be able to see the social impact of your investment. The construction industry has a lot of economic ripple effect on footprints so you can see how many jobs your investment created. The construction industry is the 2nd biggest employer in the country. As an investor on the platform – yes you are making money, but your investment has such a good impact, from employment and then money that has to be given back to the local authority for the development and you can see and track all of that. So we want to be both sustainable and ethical as a company.”
efforts have not gone unnoticed being identified as a rising business star and
role model. Listed in the top 21 female founders in the Fintech industry by
Innovative Finance, in the top 40 coolest people in Fintech by Business
Insider. More recently FutureBricks was shortlisted in the London Business
Awards and Taware was selected to go on a trade mission to New York one of one
14 UK Female Founders exploring international expansion and break down barriers
in accessing capital for female entrepreneurs.
she welcomes the attention in order to help profile her business, it does not
impact her business decisions as she has both feet firmly planted on the
“I think the
good attention you get when your work is recognised is very encouraging but it
doesn’t directly impact the business because I think as an entrepreneur, you
really know what is the bottleneck and what is the bottom line. I think that keeps
you grounded in reality. You are always thinking about ‘what next?’ or ‘what
now?’ ‘We’ve got the platform but how can we be better?’ It’s always about the
drive to improve and be better, introduce more product. It’s that hunger in our
belly as a company as well. So it doesn’t affect me in that sense but it’s
about keeping your feet on the floor.”
story illustrates, if one was needed that we live in a global world, one in
which our children will need to compete for employment and collaborate to solve
the challenges that lie ahead, be these gender and racial inequality,
environmental challenges and social issues. She has this advice for our younger
readers but there are nuggets for all budding entrepreneurs.
“I think that if you’ve found the gap in the market and if you think that you can really solve that problem better, or solve it in the first place, then go for it. I know it can be daunting and you might have a lot of doubts but I feel that especially if you are young like myself, then go for it; you have nothing to lose because later on in life you might have a family and a mortgage. This is the time to experiment and the time to be brave. The third piece of advice would be to be very determined; there will be a lot of challenges and things won’t go to plan; they never go according to plan so you have to be open minded and go through it – be resilient, keep at it and never give up.”
Paul Bailes Editor-in-Chief Key Women in Business Magazine
Le Cordon Bleu London announces the launch of their highly anticipated annual, Julia Child Scholarship which this year aims to provide aspiring food entrepreneurs with the first steps to business success.
The prize, worth over £40,000 includes a place on Le Cordon Bleu’s Diplôme de Pâtisserie, recognised globally as one of the most respected culinary qualifications in pastry and baking; a three month Le Cordon Bleu Diploma in Culinary Management; an internship at the iconic Savoy Hotel; and 12 months luxury accommodation provided by Londonist. The prize will be presented to the winner by esteemed Le Cordon Bleu Alumna, Mary Berry.
With the UK food and drink sector boasting a turnover of around £25 billion, it remains a buoyant industry and one which continues to attract budding entrepreneurs. In fact, the Food Sector has increased by 89% between 2000 and 2017, compared to the whole economy which increased by 86%.
Culinary Arts Director at Le Cordon Bleu Chef Emil Minev said: “As an institute with a rich heritage spanning over 120 years, Le Cordon Bleu has a long-standing reputation of training the finest chefs and most innovative Food Entrepreneurs in the world. This year’s Scholarship will showcase this and offers a unique platform for those with exciting food business ideas.”
Mary Berry Le Cordon Bleu Alumna
Le Cordon Bleu Alumna, Mary Berry added: “Le Cordon Bleu has always held a dear place in my heart, as the starting point of my career in food. From first-hand experience I know what a joy it is to be part of the LCB family, so I am especially thrilled to be presenting the Award to the winner of this year’s Julia Child Scholarship. I know whoever the winner is, will be embarking on a life changing journey!”
“Only Inanimate objects do not suffer from stress” A quote from my doctor when I went many years ago to discuss knee pain. It struck me as a rather odd thing to say but as we approach the middle of May 2019 and reflect back on April, which was Stress Awareness Month, what is it about life today that has almost 600,000 workers in 2017/18 reporting that they were suffering from work related stress, depression or anxiety?
The figures from the HSE’s report “Work related stress depression or anxiety statistics in Great Britain, 2018” make for interesting reading. The figures collected from the Labour Force Survey which make up the report show that a staggering 15.4 million working days were lost due to work-related stress, depression or anxiety (SDA) and it seem that 44% of these were attributed to workloads. It was also accountable for 57% of all absences based on ill health. The figures don’t appear to have shown any significant change year on year over a three year period but are nonetheless on the increase.
Unsurprisingly incidences of SDA are more prevalent in the public service sector – health and social care, education, public administration and defence. Over the three year period of 2015/16–2017/18, the reported cases of SDA across all industries was 1,320 per 100,000 workers, yet in health and social care it was 2,080 while education workers reported 2,100 instances per 100,000 workers.
It would seem that it is not easy dealing with the general public and the figures support the narrative often seen in news reports of staff feeling undervalued, overworked and ill-supported. The ever-changing reporting and measurement requirements that successive governments also introduce will do little to help the sense of job satisfaction in the public sector. If you are constantly hearing that your sector is failing to meet targets and objectives, the cumulative negative effect is understandably likely to manifest itself in staff feeling stressed, anxious or depressed.
Interestingly, the HSE report further analyses the data by gender and age. Again the data supports the broad stereotypical generalisation that women are born worriers: statistics for females aged between 25-34 show reported cases of SDA at 2,080 per 100,000 workers, rising to 2,490 for those between aged 35-44. For men the figures are 1,300 and 1,650 respectively. Is it that women are worrying more about work, raising a family and finances than their male counterparts or is it that they are simply more open and honest in recording their feelings?
For both males and females, those within the 16-24 age bracket report had statistically lower instances of SDA of 760 and 1,250 per 100,000 workers respectively.
Small sized workplaces (less than 50 employees) would appear to be happier places to work when compared to larger workplaces (250+ employees) with a difference of 910 fewer cases of workplace SDA.
Whilst it is clear that people are reporting instances of SDA and the most frequent cause identified as managing workloads, particularly in relation to tight deadlines, the report recognises that stress is difficult to measure. It is very much a personal and subjective matter, as is an individual’s pain threshold for example. I often wonder how those working in the emergency services are able to cope on a daily basis dealing with being called out to harrowing scenes, not knowing what they will face until they get there. The responsibility and stress levels associated with their work in my opinion are incredibly high. How can you compare and contrast that with the stresses faced by small business owners such as managing finances, finding new business to keep their employees in a job – as stressful perhaps but in a different way?
Business owner-managed businesses can find their positions lonely and isolating which can itself cause stress for them. Whilst the reason for setting up in business itself would undoubtedly include that they are good, or more likely expert, in their chosen field, it comes with other expectations: staff automatically expect the boss to know exactly what to do in all cases. Decision making is more stressful if there is no-one to share the responsibility with. It is often for these reasons that business owners advocate finding a mentor to offer help, guidance and often to be a sounding board.
There are many reasons why people choose to go it alone – for some it is for the ability to be able to choose working hours to fit around their family. For others it may have come about due to redundancy from a previous position. It doesn’t matter what prompted the decision, everyone will admit to feelings of stress, depression or anxiety at some point when it comes to reflecting on the decision – if they don’t, they would be lying!
As well as the importance of finding a suitable mentor to help reduce the sense of isolation, small business owners – and also particularly the self-employed – can reduce stress by recognising that is not a sign of weakness or failure to call upon the services of an expert where they would otherwise be struggling. Dealing with accounts, wages HMRC regulations etc are often outsourced without a second thought. It is logical to take the same approach in other areas where those with better or more experience might be able to help you thereby allowing you to concentrate on what you are good at. Provided the maths make sense, the question is why would you struggle?
Owner-manager of Banks’ Business Solutions, Sarah’s journey will be familiar to many female start-ups:
“One of the reasons I started my business was due to the stress of trying to juggle work and home life. Being self employed has alleviated a lot of that stress as it has enabled me to work flexibly around my family and has even given me the freedom to travel – last year, I was lucky enough to be able to go overseas with my family for three months.”
Whilst not all self-employed or small business owners may be quite as fortunate to be able to manage a three month break, Sarah acknowledges that work related stress can be debilitating:
“Work related stress is very real and can be debilitating but when people think about it, they usually think of people who work in offices and not the self-employed, who are the people I predominantly work with.
Self-employment does eliminate some stresses but it can bring with it other worries, as everything rests on one person’s shoulders. Lots of people can feel that they need to be experts in everything, something that they may not have experienced in larger organisations where they will have somebody looking after marketing and another person managing IT and finance.”
“Part of my role as a virtual assistant is to take away some of that stress. I feel that mental health is an important topic and I hope that the downloads I have created to celebrate the 5 year anniversary of my decision to go it alone, will help people with their workloads. The resources cover the five things that people normally come to me for help with including email organisation, Mailchimp, GDPR, websites and social media image sizing.”
It is often the ‘back office’ elements of running a business that small business owners and the self-employed often struggle with. The non-glamourous yet necessary tasks that are needed to keep the wheels oiled and the business ticking over can end up causing stress. Recognising that it might be better to outsource can help restore balance and allow small business owners and the self-employed to do more of the things that they love, the things which prompted their decision to set up in business.
Kent’s first networking group specially for Kent’s PR and Marketing professionals has launched – headed up by two of the county’s industry women.
Right: Jodi Eeles of Floresco Communications Left: Sarah Hawes of Izzy PR
The PR Crowd was set up to serve PR professionals working across the county.
The brainchild of independent PR practitioners Sarah Hawes of Izzy PR and Jodi Eeles of Floresco Communications, the group aims to plug a gap in the industry, bringing together collaboration opportunities between freelancers, in-house professionals, PR and marketing agencies, who can swap skills and knowledge.
The launch, held in conjunction with Racing Events at Brands Hatch and Mivvy Creative on May 1st, attracted independent PR consultants, boutique agencies and some of Kent’s larger business PR and communication managers.
Sarah Hawes, founder Izzy PR said, “The PR Crowd was born after seeing an opportunity to collaborate with other independent PR and marketing professionals to deliver the best results to clients. There are a lot of skilled people in the county working silo with a variety of experience and specialisms, but there wasn’t one place where they could swap and share their ideas or needs together.”
“The PR Crowd is not about competition, but collaboration. As solo consultants, you may have that client that’s just too big and can refer it to an agency colleague. Likewise, an agency may need a temporary extra pair of hands on a project or require specialist PR to take on a new client but not want to recruit a post.”
“The PR Crowd will provide a pool of talent that’s open to working together to provide clients with the best PR skills in Kent.”
“It could be described as a ‘virtual team’ of skilled professionals who have the opportunity to swap skills, support and knowledge.”
The launch event included a great motivational talk from business coach Bella O’Hara which covered some mindset switches to aid productivity and focus.
Sarah added: “There was a great energy at the launch and we are hoping that this will grow and attract more like-minded professionals for our future events.”
Jodi Eeles of Floresco Communications came on-board after Sarah shared the PR Crowd concept, she said: “As soon as I heard about the idea, I was excited. I’m a member of other PR bodies but they are London-based and there is nothing servicing Kent. I could see straight away that there was an opportunity within our industry.”
“Coming from an agency background to becoming independent comes with challenges. There isn’t a team to brainstorm with and by our nature, PRs are communicators, so losing that chance to bounce off others in your field can be limiting. The PR Crowd is a great option for independents to go to.”
“When Sarah approached me with the idea, I was at a stage where I needed to speak to another PR professional who understood the industry challenges and needs, so the timing was perfect.”
“I’ve also seen the pressures of agencies and in-house departments when a new client or project over-stretches an already hard-working team. They need experienced hands on deck and fast. By joining the PR Crowd Facebook group, our members can reach out when they need some specialist skills to boost their teams.”
The PR Crowd plans to hold a networking event twice a year, with the Facebook group providing the core channel of communications.
Our next event will be on Monday 16th September from 6pm – 9pm at The Plough, Langley. We’ll be inviting Kent’s PRs and editors too.
Find the group on Facebook: search for ‘The PR Crowd’. You can also email Sarah for more information or to join the mailing list: email@example.com
Ahead of National Numeracy Day on 15th May, Key Women in Business has worked with National Numeracy to develop information and tips for our readers.
The campaign aims to help thousands of people improve their
numeracy skills and ensure that workforces have the necessary number skills to
thrive in an increasingly challenging economic climate.
Every business runs on numbers, and the potential benefits of
improved numeracy levels are huge. Not only have one in four UK employers
acknowledged that the standards of numeracy amongst young work applicants is
not satisfactory, but a recent report highlighted that only 26% of
undergraduates have the numeracy levels identified as necessary for daily life
Public attitudes towards maths and
numbers are overwhelmingly negative with too many people accepting their
current abilities, not realising that they can improve. Interestingly, low
confidence with maths and numeracy tends to affect women more often than men.
can ensure everyone has the skills to use numbers well, increasing confidence
in women, communities, female-led businesses and consequently the UK economy as
Poor numeracy skills cost the UK economy £20.2 billion every year
and can negatively impact people’s professional and personal opportunities.
Those with poor numeracy skills are more than twice as likely to be unemployed
and the average cost to individuals with poor numeracy is £460 a year.
How do women feel about numbers?
National Numeracy data shows that even through men and women
are equal when it comes to ability, there is a confidence gap between men and
women when it comes to numbers.
Women are less confident than men when it comes to numbers. This is true across all ages.
30% of women agree with the statement that “when I think about maths I begin to feel uneasy” compared to only 14% of men.
Confidence with numbers divides males and females more than any other psychological factor National Numeracy measured.
In spite of the confidence gap, men and women were in agreement about effort, and equally likely to agree with statements such as “I don’t give up even when things get tough”.
Rachel Riley – Photographer Alan Strutt
Rachel Riley’s tips for Key Women in Business
The following tips have been endorsed by mathematician and
presenter Rachel Riley, who is an ambassador for National Numeracy Day.
Numeracy is a feminist issue
For hundreds of years we’ve been told that ‘women don’t do maths’
– and that needs to change. Girls match boys in mathematics at GCSE level – but
far fewer go on to study maths at A-Level, or progress to careers that use
mathematics, science and technology. It’s time to reclaim the numbers.
We all need numeracy
Whether you are shopping, managing your money or running a
business, you need to handle numbers and basic maths. Taking control of the
numbers is a great boost to self-confidence, and numeracy should be part of
every woman’s toolkit. We need this.
We all have a maths brain
We all have the mental machinery needed to succeed with numbers.
Research shows that your brain grows new connections as you learn – so even if
you had poor experiences of maths at school, you can move forward with numeracy
now. We can do this.
Take your time, and do it your way
A lot of people are put off maths by methods that seem arbitrary –
‘just divide this by that’, or ‘put the numbers into this formula’. All of us
(including professional mathematicians!) learn and remember best when
approaches make sense – so take the time to talk about maths, and figure out
why things work. Make sense of the numbers.
Take control of your numeracy
Like anything else, strengthening your numeracy is going to take a little time and effort. Take your first step by checking out your real-life numeracy skills for free, using National Numeracy’s website. The site is easy to use, and will tell you how your numeracy is now and which areas you need to work on. There are also plenty of links to free learning resources. Let’s get started.
Take the National Numeracy Challenge.
Decisions in life are so often based on numerical information; to make the best choices, we need to be confident with numbers. This is why National Numeracy Day, taking place on the 15th May, is encouraging everyone to brush up on their numeracy skills and boost their confidence tackling numbers by taking the free online National Numeracy Challenge. It’s all about the maths you need in daily life and at work to thrive – not algebra or trigonometry!
Thérèse Plummer discusses how her life was changed by doing voiceover acting, how the stories impact herself and so many others.
Industry-wide, the ‘American Association of Publishers’ found digital audiobook revenue rose 32.1% in the first quarter of 2018. It’s the continuation of a well-documented trend. Audiobook sales grew around 20% year on year across the first eight months of 2017, according to this AAP data. Audiobooks now earn publishers more than mass-market paperbacks.
In such an expanding media landscape, very little is often known about the actors who bring these audiobooks to life. On this rare occasion we were given the opportunity to interview the talented actress and award-winning voiceover artist, Thérèse Plummer, who shared her experience and told us how her job as a storyteller not only transformed her life but also the lives of so many other people.
How does acting out these books change the
lives of the actors and the fans who listen to them?
a character to life, simply by listening, is such a different experience than
using your whole body; being both a physical and spoken actor. Very few people understand
how much acting out a book can change you and impact your personal life. When
you leave the booth you take the characters home with you; for better or for
The magical elements in “The Snow Child” by Eowyn Ivey reinforced my faith in humanity. I was looking at everyone on the train as little kids in grown up bodies. Telling that story allowed my inner child to wake up and play.
I recorded a paranormal romance series with vampires, werewolves, gargoyles, vamplycans, vampgargoyles and LycanGorgoyles and afterwards I was not looking at humanity the same. I will be caught laughing out loud from memories of scenes I recorded and sometimes get very strange looks on the train.
How has a book changed or
saved your life?
Recording Robyn Carr’s stories has changed my perspective of the female protagonist in a romance book from being a ‘damsel in distress’ needing to be saved, to a feisty, empowered and kick-ass female who may or may not find romance but ends up finding and loving herself.
Have you heard from a fan and
how the book affected their life?
After an event with Charlaine Harris (Aurora Teagarden Series) a gentleman came up to me afterwards and told me, “I am in my truck eleven hours a day and am alone. Finding Audiobooks has changed my life and listening to you telling me stories has made me feel less alone on the road.” I gave him a big hug. That was one of my best nights.
I am so grateful to be able to do what I do for a living. I get to walk into that booth and help transport others to worlds yet unknown. To bring characters to life and become more alive myself. Every day is an adventure and a story waiting to be told.
Lynn Hart talks to entrepreneur Kat Kuczynska and how she came to start InvestedMe and dealing with the life challenges.
Lynn: Hello and welcome to the Female Entrepreneurs’ Show. My name is Lynne Hart on KWIB radio. Today we’re joined by Kat Kuczynska – Founder and owner of InvestedMe. Hello Kat!
Lynn: It’s great to meet you and thanks for joining us. Can I start by asking a bit about your early life? I understand you studied mathematics and computer science?
Kat: Yes. That was the choice I had to make in Grammar School where we started specialising within our school environment. I was always a little bit of a geek and a tomboy so I guess actually joining a class where we had some guys that were looking at studying towards engineering degrees and all that, so naturally, I joined that class. There was quite a lot of emphasis on the science, mathematics, IT and computing, physics etc so it was always something that came quite naturally to me.
Lynn: What is quite unusual for girls to be studying (or liking) mathematics?
Kat: Not so much unusual but there were definitely more boys picking up these types of subjects. I guess for us it was actually good because there were less of us and we always had colleagues in our class who would look after us.
Lynn: Where did you go to school?
Kat: In Poland. I come from a small town very, very close to the Eastern border of Poland. A very woody, countryside set up.
Lynn: It sounds amazing. Was it a happy childhood growing up.
Kat: It definitely wasn’t perfect… I come from a broken family; my parents got divorced very early to the point that I can’t actually remember too much of it. I was seven when they started to separate. At the same time, I can’t really say that I had an unhappy childhood. We used to do all the things that maybe kids these days don’t – climbing trees, running in the woods, getting hands, knees and feet dirty and coming back in the evening. The town where I lived was very safe so everyone knew everyone so there was no problem with the kids being out all day and coming back at 9 or 10 at night.
Lynn: So what was it that brought you to the UK?
Kat: I came to the UK following my ex-boyfriend. His family were relocating back to Glasgow and I guess I just followed him. It was supposed to be temporary. I essentially took a year out of Uni before I even started. I was hoping to polish up my English and then go back to Poland and study in English in Poland. That was the plan. Then me and my ex-boyfriend went down separate paths and I moved, started a new job and met loads of friends; I had the time of my life and there was no way I could go back. Then I met someone else and the rest is history! 13 years later and I’m still here!
Lynn: My goodness! What sort of jobs were you doing?
Kat: When I first came over, I was a waitress and studying English essentially. Very quickly I got a job as Cabin Crew – I can’t say I was dreaming of getting a job as Cabin Crew member but it was just something that I came across. Then I moved to Aberdeen to start flying.
Lynn: Was it with Virgin?
Kat: No, it was actually for Eastern Airways so that was my first airline job. I had the time of my life. Eastern Airways is a small business type airline but there wasn’t many of us there. As crew and pilots, I moved into a big house where I didn’t know anyone when I moved to Aberdeen. I moved in with four pilots and they are virtually still my family even now. We were all quite young and stuck in Aberdeen where none of us really wanted to be but we made the most of it. I didn’t really want to leave from that point as we had so much fun! They’re still my really good friends today.
Lynn: It sounds amazing! So where did you go from there? What was your next job?
Kat: For my next job, I moved to Manchester and flew with Monarch. Then I was about to go for an interview with Virgin Atlantic but that was 2008, just as the recession was kicking in. Two days before my interview, Virgin cancelled the recruitment process so I just found a temporary job. I hadn’t planned to go into logistics and transport but just found this temporary job to tide me over, not for a minute realising it would define the next seven or eight years of my career.
Lynn: What was the job that you really enjoyed at that stage?
Kat: I started working for Roadways Container Logistics – this was container haulage and I really started from nothing. I was an admin clerk almost but I got pretty good at planning and organising the transport – I guess with my slightly obsessive mind! This type of job with the detail, planning and organising of things came very naturally to me and I started progressing very quickly in Roadways. I stayed there for a year and a half and was promoted and life was good, although it was very busy.
when Virgin Atlantic contacted me twenty months later, inviting me for an
interview, I thought “there’s no way I’m going to get the job – I’ve forgotten
how to be nice to people!” I just thought that I might as well go for the
interview as they probably won’t take me on anyway. Then, I got the job and I
had a difficult decision to make: I had a job that I really liked and then I
had a choice to stay in the current job and keep getting promoted and go to
these amazing places on my holiday or, taking time out from my career move to
go and work for Virgin and be paid for travelling the world.
decided to go and travel the world and get paid for it. So Virgin was tricky
for me in that very quickly I didn’t really enjoy the job. I don’t enjoy jobs
where I don’t challenge myself and I was struggling in that environment. I was
struggling with doing all these amazing things when I was abroad but coming
back and just telling my family and friends about it. It almost felt like I had
this amazing life but nobody to share it with. It was a tricky love/hate
relationship with my career because I loved being abroad and I loved travelling
but at the same time, I didn’t have time for horse riding, I couldn’t have a
dog with that set up because I was constantly travelling but I can’t regret
this time in my life. I met some wonderful people and I have done things I
never thought I’d do. We had absolutely crazy times when we were abroad…
getting lost in Tokyo… and others… it was a bonkers time and a real
rollercoaster of emotions.
Lynn: So how long did you remain flying with Virgin?
Kat: About a year and a half. Then I went back into more of a career environment. I was really missing being challenged mentally. For me, Virgin wasn’t delivering that even though the lifestyle was fantastic. Out of all the airlines back then, and certainly when I was with Virgin, they were probably the best airline to work for; they really, really did look after us. I was stepping away from a lot of perks!
Lynn: That is quite hard but obviously the decision was that you wanted to be challenged mentally more than anything else.
Kat: Yes – it really was a career that I could stay in long-term that I wanted. I guess I knew that – it was a very conscious choice that I made but I’m still very grateful for the time and the adventures and travels that I had.
Lynn: Of course; you’ve got to travel and have to do these things while you’re young! From there you went to work for…
Kat: ACN. ACN is one of the biggest exporters in the UK, recycling paper. We used to supply our own mills in China. Nine Dragons was essentially one of the biggest manufacturers of paper and recyclables in the world. It was a massive operation and I was there as a logistics co-ordinator. I was playing to my strengths, back organising and obsessing over details and controlling various factors that tend to go wrong. With my natural strength, I always enjoyed that type of work and controlling things – almost a bit of OCD really. It was a career that I found very easy even though the dark side of it was perhaps forgetting about my own wellbeing, working myself into the ground doing 14 hour days for long periods of time. Obviously in the corporate setting, your boss isn’t going to complain if you are doing 12-14 hour days. That continued for a couple of years.
Lynn: Gosh, that sounds like hard work but you obviously enjoyed it too.
Kat: Yes, at the time, I was still chasing this thing that I couldn’t quite put my finger on and I had a certain reputation I had to live up to in the industry. I was very much in the typical rat race that you can imagine, constantly chasing one thing after another, nothing was ever good enough for me. I always had to be promoted and I was always driven by my own ambition. This continued for a good couple of years. It certainly served my career well.
Lynn: Yes, and good experience of course. Then you went to work for Innovate FM?
Kat: Yes. This was already when I was starting to look at changing my careers. So, I got a job much closer to home, hoping to start taking time. I guess I wanted this last change thinking I could stay in the corporate industry for a little longer before quitting and starting something on my own. But I very much decided very quickly that being employed was getting more and more and difficult for me as I always had my own ideas of what I wanted to do. I wasn’t necessarily the easiest person for my boss to manage when I had different ideas about what I wanted to be pursuing. I think it just came to a point when I thought I’m just not doing this anymore; it’s time to leave and do my own thing.
Lynn: So what happened next?
Kat: So next… at that point, I was already re-qualifying. It was already a couple of years after my crisis and I just quit and started on my own.
Lynn: Can you tell us about your crisis?
Kat: Okay…. So, halfway through my chasing the ‘next thing’, and around the time of the pinnacle of my perceived success in the corporate world, I was diagnosed with very late stage cancer four days after my 26th birthday. It was certainly not something that I was expecting. The next couple of weeks were a rollercoaster of emotions. My parents flew over to be with me and they were divorced so we had a few dramas as well as my illness to deal with! They were just really upset and it was difficult as we had so many people in the house. We didn’t know if was cancer – there was point where the doctors couldn’t figure out what it was and were considering doing surgery just to open me up and look at the mass that they couldn’t quite identify. Then, within 3 weeks it became clear what the diagnosis was so I was diagnosed with late stage 3B Hodgkin lymphoma.
I think the most difficult thing for me back then wasn’t actually the diagnosis. I remember I was sat in the doctor’s room and my mum was there with me. She doesn’t speak English very well but she certainly understood ‘cancer’. It was watching her face when we were getting the diagnosis that was the hardest thing. Until today, that’s probably been the toughest period in my life – watching my mum getting the news that her baby is very, very ill. She’s a nurse as well in the medical field so she knew what it meant. It wasn’t just dealing with me, it was watching my whole family fall apart.
Lynn: They say that it is often not you but watching everyone else and having to watch everyone else’s feeling and emotions as you must have a sense of responsibility in a way because you are causing it. But what can you do about it… absolutely nothing!
Kat: It was absolutely unreal. There were times when I knew they wanted to be there for me but it would almost be easier for them not to be there simply because I had this thing where I could deal with it myself but dealing with watching my parents’ heartbreak was too much. Certainly, when you are being diagnosed it absolutely not just you; it’s watching your whole family fall apart and get really worried. Obviously throughout the treatment, you have got setbacks pretty much all the time, infections etc so the whole idea of death suddenly has to be discussed with your parents and they don’t want to talk about it.
was just really bizarre and a very surreal time.
Lynn: Especially looking back on it now, it must be have felt that you were living in a totally different place – almost in a bubble.
Kat: Exactly, I love the word you’ve used – bubble. I wasn’t very conscious about my life when I was in my corporate career. Now looking back, I realise that I was chasing quite shallow things in life. It was very much about status and proving myself to some arbitrary figures in my imagination as to what I should be like. It’s really the whole cancer drama that has made me look differently at life. Certainly with family and all that, it helped but I very much started questioning everything in my life. I started realising that the things I was chasing very, very passionately before were things weren’t actually the things I cared about. Life was too short to be doing these things. I really started looking at ways of designing the life I wanted to live rather than the life I thought my parents would be proud of.
Lynn: So it really forced you to take charge of your own life and to make decisions for yourself?
Kat: Absolutely! I know that if someone is going through cancer or has been touched by cancer and lost someone to it, I appreciate it might not be a nice thing to hear but for me it was the best thing that could have happened. I’m pretty sure that if it didn’t happen, I would still be in the rat race. For me, I needed something big to make me rethink my life and cancer was certainly that for me.
Lynn: Wow – that’s incredible. What a story to tell! So once you’ve thankfully come through the treatment and cancer, what was your next step? What did you decide to do?
Kat: The very first thing I did when I was still ill was that I started investing in property. I’d already had some money in mutual funds. I was already playing a little in the stock markets and I always enjoyed the financial type of things. I’ve got spreadsheets for pretty much every aspect of my life so that shouldn’t be surprising. It wasn’t really that serious and at that point, I started investing in property, still very much expecting that I’d be investing for my family to have something when I would no longer be there. A couple of months into the treatment when I thought it started looking like I might actually survive this, I thought ‘well, what do I actually want out of life?’ It certainly wasn’t a 9-5 job. At that point I’d already started studying and re-qualifying and looking very heavily into self-development and securing the financial future – the financial security and freedom that I guess I felt I didn’t have during my cancer. For me, I guess that crisis wasn’t just a life crisis; I also had some worries about finances as I couldn’t work for a good couple of months. Chemo drains you, especially with some aggressive types of cancer that I had. I had very aggressive chemo so was very, very ill all the time. For me. I suddenly had to consider what is going to happen with my mortgages and loans if I can’t work.
obviously had this realisation very, very early in my life when I was 26. When
I realised that I needed to be in this wheel to make money to live, I started
looking at what would need to happen for me to set up my life so I don’t need
to work for another single day in my life. Entrepreneurship and running my own
business was the only way forward really. This was the only thing I could see
as the only way to do it. This was the way I could be my own boss rather than
annoying my current bosses with my own idea of what should be happening in
Lynn: How did you feel when you resigned and walked away from that last corporate job then?
Kat: It was exciting, absolutely scary. Bearing in mind that all my parents wanted me to do was to stay in the job, get married and have kids and a secure job. They all thought that I was bonkers. For me, it was all about opportunity and I had some very, very tough times in the first few years of my business. Certainly for me, it was about excitement and opportunity and I knew it wasn’t going to be smooth sailing – and it wasn’t!
I quit in the very first year of my business, I also lost a dog that was the
only thing I was getting up for when I had cancer. Four days before I started
chemo, I got a puppy. He was the best therapist I could hope for. He was
virtually the only thing I would get out of bed for in the morning when I was
the first year of business, I lost him but I also spent £2,500 trying to save
his life. Then two months later, my property was left damaged by the tenants
who left owing rent arrears. It was a big drama. Then just before Christmas, my
house was broken into and a lot of cash that I’d earnt that day was stolen so I
had a difficult first year.
Lynn: But did that make you more determined?
Kat: It did! It did at the time but it wasn’t the end of the trouble. We went into the start of the second year of the business about that time and I’d already had 4 properties – my residential home and three buy-to-lets. All of that was managed by another company and they didn’t do a very good job – they didn’t take deposits from the tenants, they didn’t vet them properly – so from the beginning I had all three properties that were basically all damaged and all the tenants left with rent arrears. I very quickly started clocking 5 digit debts.
Lynn: Someone else could have given up at that stage – why didn’t you?
Kat: There was no way I was going back to a soul destroying 9-5 job. For me, it wasn’t an option and for me, after cancer, that was probably the lowest point of my life. I was carrying five jobs to make ends meet because my business was simply not making enough money to cope with the onslaught of bills that were coming up. It was me and my boyfriend who were renovating the houses and at that point, I didn’t have the money to sue the company that left me in that mess. They walked away the moment the problems started. I didn’t have the money to pay to renovate the properties either so me and my partner stepped up and actually done the work ourselves. At some point I had two houses that were empty and it was very, very difficult. I think that, at that point, 95% of my family and friends were absolutely adamant that I was a loser and I should have gone back to work. Although on the outside I didn’t have stuff put together, it was awful and my closest family just wanted me to go back to a full time job. There was, however, just something in me and I wouldn’t give up – I guess I’m pretty stubborn that way. Almost the fact that some people didn’t believe in me gave me that determination. There was no way that I was going to give them the satisfaction and I was going to prove them wrong.
Lynn: In a way, that made you find an inner strength to keep you going.
Kat: Yes, that really started to make me look at everything about money. You would think that with all the issues I had with money that I would suddenly stop emotional spending but that didn’t really stop. The more difficult my life got, the more tempted I was to spend to make myself feel a little better. It was at that point that I really started looking at everything about money; how I manage it how I spent it, how I saved it and how I invested. Even though I was investing already, I re-looked at everything around my properties because at the end of the day, I was only one signature away from bankruptcy. It got so bad that I actually printed the form that you need to declare bankruptcy. I filled it all in and, yes, I remember being sat at my desk in floods of tears thinking “I can’t do this anymore!”.
It got so bad that I was just ready to let the banks take the property away as I couldn’t handle any more. I guess when I started realising what the repercussion of this decision would be that I decided to give it one more go, one more shot and to look at everything properly; to dig really deep into where are my money beliefs coming from and where does my emotional spending come from, how we make and save money… everything. I didn’t leave a stone unturned and it turned out to be the best thing I could have done. There were a lot of things that I had to fix in my finances and the way I was spending.
Lynn: And this is how you came to form your company InvestedMe?
Kat: Yes. InvestedMe was really born out of my whole struggles and money isn’t just about what it can buy us. We’ve got a relationship with money that we don’t like talking about sometimes but, at the end of the day, in the modern world, we all need it to give us life we actually want. Certain things, certainly creating time to spend on your hobbies and families need money to allow you to create that time. I became really fascinated with the whole subject of how money actually works in the current world.
Our irrational decisions when we spend – and there are a lot of them. We are not rational creatures when it comes to money. Looking into investing and how it works, I became fascinated with the idea of financial freedom. I know how much anxiety that you can get when you don’t have your finances sorted and how that affects your self-esteem even. I was really, really deeply unhappy when I was skint. I felt a lot of shame about it because I felt I shouldn’t be in that situation – I should have had my life sorted and way more together. I think that there are a lot of us out there – and I know from speaking to my clients – who, from the outside world look like they are a success but underneath it, they have these feelings and are perhaps hiding their finances because it’s not something we are taught about and not something we talk openly about. It really is a taboo subject and it definitely shouldn’t be.
Lynn: So how do you help people today? What services do you offer?
Kat: So right now I work with people in three ways. I essentially created a course called “Smart Money Lab” that puts together all the knowledge and wisdom that I’ve learned from reading well over thirty books on personal finance and investing. It almost takes..
There are 4.8 million family-owned businesses in the UK alone, employing 12.2 million people, and they can be found in all cultures and sectors of business, so not to be ignored. It is often their entrepreneurial spirit that sets them apart and encourages others to work for and with them, but every family business comes with their own set of unique advantages and challenges.
Their advantages are attractive yet can vary greatly. Family businesses are often seen as being very stable and reliable organisations. Their shared values filter from their own family ethos into a business way of working and they tend to have a much more dedicated approach to business; it is personal.
But like most things in life there is always the other side of the coin and indeed family-owned businesses also have their very own unique set of challenges. What keeps them awake at night, more so than a non-family business, are those concerns of succession, legacy, family relationships and transition.
Family-owned businesses can be seen to be too inward facing and at times resistant to change. Change can be hard at the best of times but within a family business change is seismic when addressing succession or transition and if not done carefully can destroy a business, overnight.
Passing the business on to the next generation is the biggest challenge in any family-owned business. The rift between family working in a business and those outside of it can widen and potentially damage the business.
It’s all about perspective and there are many different options for ownership and control for family businesses to consider. It’s very rare that people can speak their minds in an honest and frank way without worrying about the repercussions. Even the closest of families can struggle to communicate when there’s a difference of opinion about the family business.
Fundamental to the success of a family business is how it is professionalised and governed. There is a need for families to be able to discuss difficult topics. It is proven that having a family blueprint, constitution or charter can enable a family to be more forward looking and plan for the future. It is a way to ensure that difficult situations or issues are addressed, agreed and written down in a living document as a point of reference. It is a way to protect both the business, all their employees and the family.
It is important for family businesses to ensure that they are putting the right strategies in place to continue to grow the business with the right people in the right positions. When coming across these difficult challenges most family businesses will seek specific expertise.
There are four core disciplines related to working with family-owned businesses – finance, legal, management and behavioural. Whilst also running a family business of my own, I have trained as a specialist family business adviser, focusing on the behavioural issues facing a lot of family businesses.
From my experience, within a family business, there are many things said that mean something completely different. For example: “I plan to retire on my 70th birthday” really means “I’ll be coming in a bit later each day but I still want to know everything that is going on….just in case”. I take the approach of listening, to every family member, confidentially. By facilitating sensitive conversations and revealing the conflict I can seek to bring resolution and harmony.
It is healthy for family members to re-group, re-evaluate, and build a new vision that is underpinned by their original family values.
Tiny flags and fresh strawberries at the ready – Dreamland is hosting its first ever proms in the park this June.
In a first for the vintage amusement park, Dreamland will present its very own Proms starring The BBC Big Band and Claire Martin OBE on Saturday 15th June.
Guests of all ages can enjoy the very best big band, jazz and swing music on the Scenic Stage – and enjoy Dreamland’s thrill rides – and chill with their own picnic from just £15 a ticket or opt for Golden Circle seated tickets or VIP packages.
The internationally renowned BBC Big Band will be led by conductor Barry Forgie and will be joined by featured vocalist Claire Martin OBE. The show offers a great family night out, mixing the nostalgia of the jazz age and big band era with modern classics and pop culture.
BBC Big Band
Widely regarded as the world’s leading and most versatile orchestra, The BBC Big Band consistently delights audiences old and new through their radio broadcasts and live performances. Stalwarts of the Royal Albert Hall, the Proms In The Park at Hyde Park and numerous festivals, the BBC Big Band is probably best known for its show Big Band Special on BBC Radio 2, as well its appearances on BBC Radio 3’s Jazz Line Up.
This June, they will be joined by BBC Radio 3 presenter and award-winning jazz singer Claire Martin OBE, often cited as ‘one of the finest jazz singers in the world today’.
With multiple food and drink options available on the park, guests will be able to nibble, sip and sway to the tantalizing tunes all evening.
Claire Martin OBE
Tickets to Dreamland Proms are just £15 plus booking fee and include access to the event and Dreamland’s rides, and guests can bring in their own picnics. There are also Golden Circle tickets with deck chair seating and a private bar, as well as VIP packages with a Champagne supper and private viewing platform.
Laze on the grass and let the sounds of the beloved BBC Big Band wash over you this summer.
The BBC Big Band will appear at Dreamland Margate on Saturday 15th June at 6pm. Tickets are £15 plus booking fee and are on sale now. Limited Dreamland Members, Golden Circle and VIP Tickets are also available.
Dreamland Margate is the UK’s most picture-perfect amusement park and a world-class visitor attraction offering all the fun of a festival for the whole family. Opposite the golden sands of Margate (Kent), Dreamland gives visitors all ages the chance to experience stunning vintage rides, pop-up entertainment, art installations and eclectic street food, and boasts a year-round programme of live music and events.
Since re-opening in 2017 after additional investment, Dreamland has been delivering exciting experiences for international visitors across its estate. In addition to the vintage amusement park, there is also a roller room and diner, 1,000 capacity music venue (Hall By The Sea), children’s soft play centre (Octopus’s Garden), seafront pub (Cinque Ports), and amusement arcade. Dreamland celebrates its 100th birthday in 2020.
With excellent road and rail links, Dreamland Margate in less than 90 minutes from central London and is a major part of the on-going transformation of Margate into one of the UK’s trendiest seaside towns. For more information, visit dreamland.co.uk
Dreamland opens for the season on 6th April 2019 and is currently free to enter. Guests wishing to ride can either pay per ride or purchase wristbands (from £12) in advance online. Annual Dreamland Membership starts from £50 and includes unlimited rides and use of the Roller Room, exclusive food and drink discounts and special offers on ticketed events.
GTS Solutions CIC, one of Scotland’s most successful social enterprises, has appointed Tracey Smith as its first operations director.
Tracey Smith, Operations Director, GTS Solutions CIC
Tracey, 47, joins the Edinburgh company from London-based
health and social care provider Lifeways where she was regional training
manager for Scotland for the past two years.
She joins fellow-directors Alistair Allan, Chris Thewlis and
Lindsay Hamilton on the board of Britain’s only gold standard social enterprise
operating in private security.
2018 saw GTS Solutions announce it had doubled its turnover
to £1 million and last month it was named in the top 50 of the UK’s social
enterprises at the Social Business Awards in London.
Tracey is now looking forward to helping take the company to
the next stage of its expansion.
“In recent years GTS has been something of a flagship for social enterprise in Scotland and it is a privilege to be its first operations director,” she said. “The company has exciting plans going forward and that was one of the main reasons why I agreed to take on this role.”
“I will work tirelessly to provide as much guidance and support as possible to our staff, helping give them the right structure in their lives. I am a firm believer in job progression and nothing would give me more pleasure than to one day see someone develop and come through the company to fill my shoes.”
“I enjoy personal challenges and am really looking forward to helping take GTS to the next level.”
Prior to her role with Lifeways, Tracey spent five years as recruitment and training manager with SCRT, the Edinburgh-based company providing home care support to people living throughout Scotland.
Welcoming Tracey’s arrival, chief executive Chris Thewlis said: “With our expansion plans, we recognised the need for an operations director and Tracey fitted the role perfectly. She brings a wealth of experience to the job and will be a huge asset to the company.”