Founder talk: Anna Bance

Anna Bance Girls Meet Dress

Every month, we catch up with one of London’s brilliant startup founders. This week we chatted with Anna Bance, the co-founder of Girl Meets Dress, an e-commerce website where you can rent dresses and other designer wear.

Q: How did you come up with your business idea?

The Girl Meets Dress story began in 2009 when I was working as UK PR Manager for French luxury brand Hermes – and like my previous roles in the fashion industry, it involved lending the collection of dresses and accessories out on a daily basis to fashion magazines, shoots, celebrities and journalists… I thought to myself “Wouldn’t it be amazing if we could all borrow dresses for just one event, and wear a different designer for every event in our calendar?”. When my co-founder and I looked into the market we saw that no one was doing it. We were the first company to rent luxury fashion online and it is wonderful that Girl Meets Dress is now pioneering the way for rental as a new and exciting e-commerce category of its own. I am really happy with the fact that we’ve created a fantastic product for all women to have their Cinderella moment. We all need to feel amazing for life’s special moments and Girl Meets Dress democratizes fashion, enabling millions of women to afford luxury every day.

Q: What have been your biggest challenges so far as an entrepreneur?

Self funding the business: When we started, ensuring we have a full team in place while bootstrapping was no easy feat. We were lucky to find so many hard working and ambitious staff to stick with us and the vision. Becoming knowledgeable in so many different areas is challenging but it definitely helps to have 2 co-founders with complimentary and different skill sets. When launching we found that many women wanted to try on dresses before their big night out which lead us to create the extremely popular service called the “Advance Try On”. If a customer’s event is over 1 month away they can receive and try on the dresses ahead of time to choose their favourite. That dress is then re-delivered for the event date free of charge. For Girl Meets Dress to work we also needed to get PR through the door: When launching a new company, one of the most important and impactful skills to have is the ability to promote and market the product and brand to get that all important traffic through the doors. PR for us was a huge element in growing the awareness of Girl Meets Dress so I couldn’t have wished for a more suitable previous career (as UK PR Manager for Hermes).

Q: On the other hand, what have been your biggest accomplishments?

Becoming the first company in the UK to rent luxury fashion: When we looked into the market, we saw that no one was doing it. We wanted to create a concept that enabled us to provide a timely and innovative fashion solution during the recession which is why we turned to rental. We think it created a new way for women to shop: Girl Meets Dress is a fun concept and hopefully I have answered women’s prayers by giving them a new way to shop – a fun and affordable way to wear the best dresses in the world. Rental is a way for consumers to extract all the value without none of the headaches; women can now easily wear more relevant, trend led, time-sensitive fashions, while continuing to invest and buy only in those classic pieces which will stand the test of time.

Furthermore, having the largest selection of dresses and accessories from 200 designers from over 50 countries: Girl Meets Dress is very attractive to designers because many women will typically only have tried a few high end designer brands in their lifetime, if any. With rental, designer labels get to be introduced to potential customers on a regular basis. 98% of our customers try a new brand they have never worn previously in their life. That is a huge marketing opportunity for designers trying to reach new customers + the next generation on a mass scale.

Q: What are your thoughts on the future of women in technology?

The beauty of business is that any woman with a passion for making things happen can be an entrepreneur. There are no rules and launching online means you can test the concept while keeping costs very low, and stay in your current job if you need to until you are ready to commit fully. Women should just go for it. Don’t over think it. There will never be a perfect time to leave your secure job, risk your salary decrease, take a chance on an idea which might not work – but what’s the worst that can happen? You’ll go back to your previous role until you come up with the next idea!

Founder talk: Aurore Hochard

Aurore Hochard Taskhub

Every month, we catch up with one of London’s brilliant startup founders.

We caught up with Aurore Hochard this week to find out more about her entrepreneurial journey and her startup Taskhub,  the online marketplace for local services. We admire that she worked as a teacher in the US and the UK before deciding to change her career, even though she had no tech background!

Q: How did you come up with your idea?

A: I had the idea for Taskhub whilst studying Law at City University in 2011: a friend became a mum and wanted to spend more time with her baby by finding locals through a friendly and trustworthy online platform to take care of the small day to day tasks. I initially only wanted to help her find websites to outsource locally her chores and errands but could not find any so I decided to build such a website.

Taskhub is an online marketplace, connecting those in need of help to those who want to earn extra money and meet new people. Imagine a digital community notice board. With Taskhub my vision is to connect people locally through paid tasks and volunteer opportunities.

After being incubated at Wayra UK– an incubator – for 9 months, Taskhub was launched in March 2013. We received further investment from Telefonica and signed a partnership deal with O2.

Q: What have been your biggest challenges so far as an entrepreneur?

A: I had no tech background. When I came up with the idea of Taskhub, I could envision how this platform would/should look like but without any tech background, I did not have any idea of how much work and time it would take to build it up. I’ve built the right team of technologists who take care of the tech side of things extremely well. I have made some efforts to learn and understand how our system works but mostly I let the development team handle that whilst I use the skills I have to establish connections, partnerships and ensure adequate funding.

Although I came up with the idea of Taskhub, my partner Rahul Ahuja is the one who transformed my idea into a business idea. It’s not always easy to work with each other as we tend to think and talk about our business a lot. However, we have managed to create moments when we keep away from any business discussions and our iPhones (sometimes we still fail at this …)

According to the book Yes man (By Danny Wallace), saying Yes more can make life more interesting. When I was a teacher, it only seems normal to help students become better learners and say Yes to them. In the business world, I’ve learnt that people can sometimes ask for favours a lot, and forget to share back. So I’ve had to learn to say No more often.

Q: On the other hand, what have been your biggest accomplishments?

A: I have become very comfortable and good at networking. I was not born with the networking gene. Back in Law School, I applied at law firms and only started receiving work placements offers after I had connected with people in the legal industry at networking events. It was a bit scary to approach lawyers at first and then I started to enjoy it. This is when I realized the power of connections. This is a skill I’ve learnt at Law School, which has been extremely useful since working at Taskhub.

One of the goals I have with Taskhub is to help charities find volunteers locally (for free) through our website. I met actor Stephen Fry at a few occasions to discuss a few ideas and get his advice. He was very nice and even tweeted about Taskhub, which was an exciting moment for us. My tip to meet and connect with people, who are hard to reach is to offer them something before asking them anything.  It works!

A couple questions I sometimes get asked: How did Taskhub get selected for acceleration by the tech incubator Wayra? How did we get investment from Telefonica? When Rahul and I went pitching at Wayra Week, we had never delivered a pitch before. A few people shared their tips on how to pitch, what to say and what not to say. We worked very hard but I think beyond having a good business idea, Rahul and I have always tried to be ourselves and not take ourselves too seriously. The learning curve is steep and we’re not shy of admitting that there’s still a lot for us to learn but we’ re also learning to celebrate successes.

Q: What are your thoughts on the future of women in technology? 

A: Being a woman can sometimes present challenges in the tech industry, which is usually dominated by men. I tend to read about and meet a lot of powerful female tech entrepreneurs on a regular basis so I’m optimistic about the future. I believe men and women tend to have different approaches to the same business issues but that both approaches tend to work well in the right context.

Founder talk: Michelle Songy

Michelle Songy - Spleat

Every month, we catch up with one of London’s brilliant startup founders. Today we talked to Michelle Songy.

She is the COO of Spleat, a mobile payment app that allows restaurants a unique way to pay and split their bill via their phones.




Q: How did you come up with your business idea?

Almost approaching my 5 year anniversary working in finance at a large beverage company, I was constantly trying to find myself and my niche. I knew I needed to do something more creative and always had a longing interest in new digital media.

In 2012 I went to a restaurant with my now business partner, Charlotte, who was in a similar situation with her banking career- we both expressed the same interest in wanting to start our own company. While tossing around ideas, we noticed the issue of how much of a nuisance paying a dinner bill could be, especially for large groups. How nice would it be if the whole reservation to payment could be connected and store your credit cards so you could leave once you’re ready? We both knew mobile payments were the future forward, but as of that moment hadn’t seen much widespread use.

Since there were already TopTable and Book-a-Table dominating the reservation market, we decided to stick to solving the age-old problem of paying a bill, in a simple and secure process all via your mobile phone.

Q: What have been your biggest challenges so far as an entrepreneur?

There have been many! I left my job probably earlier than I should have. It’s hard to know when exactly is best though, but I was so anxious that  I woke up one day and say, “Ok it’s time!” You think it’s all about to start, but there are more delays than you ever would have imagined (especially if this is your first start up)! However the pause in career enabled me to work at 2 other start-ups in the meantime, where I learned so much more about starting up a tech business and was able to build valuable relationships in the hospitality industry.

Starting a new business can feel like a vicious cycle. You need a business bank account set up but can’t accept payments because you have no credit. You need to pay for a developer but investors want to see a finished product. You need to show customer traction before you can get key APIs for your technology to work – but you can’t get customers to use a 1/2 functioning app! It seems like you are running back and forth, not sure how to get the chicken or the egg first, or find something else in the food chain.

The other biggest day-to-day challenge is self-motivation. In order to start your own business you have work extra hard to stay motivated for yourself and others in the business. It’s an uphill/ downhill constant battle. One day you think you’re on top of the world, the next day you read an article and think it’s all over. So it really helps to have positive reinforcers around you, like Charlotte my co-founder, who never lets a “no” let her down and always finds a window out when a door closes.

Q: On the other hand, what have been your biggest accomplishments?

We are still very new so I think our biggest achievements are yet to come. But everything really that has gotten us to this point to launch and go-live this month all add up! Getting the business set up, to raising capital, to hiring wonderful staff, to having our first venues sign up, to getting approved to accept payments, and even obtaining work visas have all been hurdles we have had to jump over to get to this point.

Q: What are your thoughts on the future of women in technology?

Women are the future of technology. Even now we make up 64 percent of Facebook users, 58 percent of Twitter users and a whopping 82 percent of Pinterest users. We are far more active than our male counterparts on social networking sites. It’s a massive space and we are seeing more and more high profiled women taking CTO roles in Fortune 500 companies. Although we are still a minority in the tech industry, it means there is still a lot that can be changed and better enabled from a more diverse workforce, just as we have seen in benefit other industries (Mad Men comes to mind!).