From barrister-at-law to working in finance and founding her own RegTech business Complyfirst, find out how switching career paths led to success for Fiona Jelly
After studying law at university, how did you find yourself working in the Fintech space?
I was studying banking Law at University College London and I wrote my dissertation on the 2008 financial crisis which got me really interested in finance and fintech. My first job after university was actually at Goldman Sachs. I had planned to go into financial services, gain some experience and then go back into practice as a barrister but this didn’t happen for a few reasons. I really enjoyed the working environment in banking as there was more of a team atmosphere and sense of camaraderie, rather than doing mini-pupillages alone reading papers all day which can get quite lonely.
What made you want to take the leap and start up your own tech company Complyfirst?
I moved from finance to founding my own tech company to scratch my own itch and address a challenge that I and many others had been facing, which was financial regulatory reporting. This was something that took up a big chunk of time in my previous compliance role. It was a very manual and admin-heavy task where I would have to work with different departments in the business to get it done.
Having done that for years, I conceived a more streamlined way of doing this where we could collect data from business software via API, pull that into a platform and code the regulatory logic and automate a lot of the rules and calculations. For example, one of the reports that would have taken up to 10 hours for my previous team to prepare can now be done in about 5 minutes. We’re very pleased with the outcome of this, however, we are constantly making incremental changes to improve the product.
As one of the six winners of the Techstart Ventures and Women in Business female founders grant, how important are these programmes for supporting women entrepreneurs?
It was April last year when I won the female founders grant which was £35k and that was enough for myself and my husband Dan to start up the business and leave our previous jobs. Fortunately, we had some savings to keep us going but what really helped was at the end of June when we closed our VC fundraising round with Techstart, they injected quite a bit of capital into the business and we were able to hire developers from there. We now have a small team of 4 developers and me and Dan can take a modest salary as well. This was amazing as it took the pressure off of us and I can’t thank TechStart or Women In Business enough for their support! I was also given Lorna McAdoo as a mentor who really helped me navigate starting a business in the tech industry.
I realise we were very fortunate in this scenario, but I know this isn’t the case for many other female founders. I think it was Forbes that recorded around 1% of female founders receive VC funding.Of course there are a lot of gender stereotypes and biases out there and I know that myself through working in finance – I was one of very few females on the trading floor in London and I think we need to address this problem.
RELATED TO: VANRATH Sponsors The Women In Tech Awards 2023
Fast forward to almost a year later, how are things going with Complyfirst today?
The first 9 months or so were just pure build and creating the product from scratch. Within the first 6 months we got out MVP into the hands of real customers to perform testing and to get feedback. Since then we’ve been making iterations and improvements to make the product better and more comprehensive.
What advice would you give to other women considering changing career paths and starting up their own business?
100% do it! I think listening to your gut is so important. If you come from a corporate background like I did, you can tend to over-rationalise and push your gut feeling down. You may find yourself saying - ‘well I’m in a good job, the benefits are great, I’ve got job security’ - but if you’ve got that niggling gut feeling, you owe it to yourself to try. You don’t want to be wondering what could have been in 20 or 30 years.
One piece of advice I would give is to start a business plan, even if it’s just a one-pager! Get clear on your idea, what resources you will need, and how you are going to take your product or service to market. This is a great starting point to building out a pitch deck for when you could go to investors. I would also recommend participating in some of the pitching competitions like the female founders grant with Techstart and Women In Business as those are really good to help get your business off the ground.
Overall, it’s a very daunting thing to do. It literally feels like jumping off a cliff without a parachute, and building one on the way down! It’s very challenging but also very rewarding. I’ve learnt a lot of new skills that I wouldn’t have been exposed to otherwise such as marketing, sales and product design and I understand every aspect of the business. Before now, I’ve usually been a small cog in very big organisations, so being able to now drive my own agenda and business is amazing. Every day is a learning day.
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