The future’s Allbright
Want to start your own business? Need funding to get to the next stage? Female entrepreneurs, breathe deep, smile wide and meet your new best friends.
What a time to be a woman. 100 years after the Suffragette movement won us the vote, there have been massive strides, some side steps and unfortunately also plenty of evidence lately that we’re sometimes still on the back foot (say no more, Harvey W.)
But change never gets handed to you on a plate and if you want something really badly I always think you’d better go and sort it yourself. So I’m full of admiration for Debbie Wosskow OBE (CEO and Founder of Love Home Swap) and Anna Jones (former CEO of Hearst UK), two high-flying friends with a mission to fund and support female entrepreneurs and make the UK the best place in the world to be a female founder.
They’ve been all over the broadsheets in the last few weeks, though I actually met them some months back at their co-working HQ in London, having heard what they were doing on the grapevine. As someone who started a business at my kitchen table with zero investment or strategic plan, lord knows I would have loved to discover these guys back then!
So what does AllBright actually do? In just 18 months, it has created an active investment arm (female investors for female-led businesses), set up an Academy offering mentoring and courses, and two weeks ago launched the AllBright Club, a private club, whose intention is to create a female-friendly space where women can work, socialise and network. Not bad going .
On International Women’s Day, when globally less than 10% of funding goes to women-led businesses (it was a paltry 2.17% of funding in the UK in 2016), let’s hear some AllBright inspo for the future…
Debbie: Not always! But the quote from Madeleine Allbright has always stuck with us – ‘there’s a special place in hell for women who don’t help each other’ – and that’s at the heart of what we’re trying to do at AllBright, create a solution and help each other. I think you have to lead by example.
Anna: The important thing is for women to have role models – if you don’t have that then what are you aspiring to? Debbie could have disappeared off to a beach after selling Love Home Swap [she sold it for £40m last year *thud*] and I could have continued to sit in my corner office as publisher of Hearst magazine because I loved my job. But we both wanted to do something was going to make a difference economically for ourselves, our investors and for the women we worked with, so here we are.
There’s a statistic you quote about female businesses offering 35% more return to their investors than men. Why is that?
I think women are very careful to sell numbers they know they can hit, we’re very honest like that! In truth women probably need to learn how to ‘sell the dream’ like men do, but a lot of that is about confidence. It’s a peculiar part of your career as a female entrepreneur that you’ll spend most of your time asking men for money. That’s what we want to change by making better connections between female business and the capital that allows them to flourish.
Tell us about the private club
It’s a five floor townhouse club, just opened in Bloomsbury. All the spaces are tailored towards women’s needs, celebrating female talent and putting great women together from different walks of life – from corporates, CEOs and creatives to consultants and founders. It’s about getting different points of view so that the women can spark off each other, build new networks and help accelerate their businesses. But you know, we’re a private club for women so there’s also an exercise studio, beauty bar and cocktails!
What do you say to the Muddy reader who has a great business idea but is scared to jump?
Confidence is a massive issue for women in business so one of the major offerings at AllBright are practical, flexible courses in small groups, where you can bounce ideas off those at the same stage as you are and instill resilience. The Academy is for all stages of business, from those just thinking about setting up a business to those who need next stage support. And then once you’ve grown or scaled up your business, there’s the investment stage – the figures invested tend to be the single digit millions so they are for businesses that have developed upwards from the kitchen table.
What’s it been like for you both with your own new start up?
Anna: There are pros and cons! The cons are things like the lack of resource – I had a large team at Hearst Publishing and of course at AllBright we’re much smaller. But the big pro is the pace – Debbie and I can decide what we’re going to do this morning and by the time we go to bed we’ve got a plan. That is an absolute joy. It’s so much fun, but really hard work. And I thought I worked hard before but this is really intense.
The potential for AllBright feels immense. Do you sense it?
Debbie: Oh yeah. It’s really fun to build something really big and make a difference. That’s the motivation for us. Go larger or go home, right?
Words: Hero Brown