‘I knew if we didn’t do it then, we would always regret it’

BY LESLEY ECCLES

Lesley will be speaking at the Investing Women ‘Ambition & Growth’ Conference in Edinburgh tomorrow, 7 March.

A recent RBS study revealed that women are half as likely as men to start their own business. And the vast majority of female-led businesses in Scotland are micro-businesses, employing less than ten people financed through personal savings.

Our women are not shooting for the stars. Why is this a problem that we would want to tackle? Consider the recent loss of jobs from the Tata steelworks closures – 270 jobs gone. Meanwhile, the tech sector is booming with many times that number of skilled jobs created in Edinburgh in the last year alone. We cannot and should not rely on global companies locating warehouses or call centres here in order to shore up the Scottish economy – we need to be doing it for ourselves.

So what’s holding budding female entrepreneurs back, why this lack of ambition? Whilst there is no secret formula for building a business, there are a number of key qualities shared by successful entrepreneurs, male or female. First and foremost, willingness to take risks is critical and this is where women and men can differ. Women are more likely to take a more cautious approach, concerned about the prospect of failure. This isn’t always a bad thing in business, but can hinder the start-up phase.

When my fellow co-founders and I first identified an opportunity in the USA for daily fantasy sports, we knew that the only way to realise our vision was to take risks; we started the business in the UK – on the other side of the Atlantic from our target market, in an industry where we had no contacts and little knowledge, with no previous experience of running a business.

It was a challenging journey of ups and downs, but we persevered, made frankly pretty terrifying decisions and iterated our offering time and time again until we attained the right product market fit. From a personal point of view, there couldn’t have been a worse time to start a business – huge mortgage, newborn baby – but I knew if we didn’t do it then, we would always regret it; I chose to take the risk of a lifetime.

Risk-taking should not be viewed as a negative trait and parents and teachers should encourage girls to be more daring from a young age – to voice their opinions, take lead roles and to follow their own interests and ambitions rather than following the crowd. It all stems from self-belief; having the confidence to move into unknown territory, live outside your comfort zone and not give up when the going gets tough. Over-thinking, and the resulting procrastination, is another dangerous trait that we need to be aware of, mainly as a result of fear of failure.

I recently gave advice to a female friend who was considering starting her own consultancy – don’t spend weeks working on a business plan, just get out there and find your first client. A few months later we caught up, and it turns out the advice worked and the business is taking off. Society also has a part to play. There is still a perception that being a mother and a successful entrepreneur are mutually exclusive.

As a wife, mother of three children and cofounder of one of Scotland’s leading technology businesses, I don’t believe that having a family should curb a woman’s entrepreneurial aspirations – any more than it should for a man. Running your own business brings with it a level of flexibility that it is difficult to get in any corporate job. In fact, it was this flexibility that first prompted me to move from management consultancy into the start-up world.

Making this a success however, does require effective time management, a readiness to work long and unsociable hours, and, most importantly, the right life partner. While there are sacrifices to be made – you certainly won’t have much free time – a family life is achievable without compromising on success. This is the choice you make when you chose to build a start-up. And women need to hear this loud and clear.

So how do we encourage more female entrepreneurs to take the plunge or to push for growth? There are already some great organisations out there helping female entrepreneurs to flourish – such as Business Gateway and Women’s Enterprise Scotland – but support needs to start in schools, colleges and universities, where the skill set required for entrepreneurship can be developed from an early age.

More importantly, there needs to be more mentorship programmes established, giving budding entrepreneurs access to the advice and experience of those women who have already built businesses – their stories need to be heard. That’s not to say that female entrepreneurs should be encouraged solely by other women; male mentors are just as important and can offer a different perspective on growing a business.

When I first started out, I really benefited from listening to the experiences of our angel investors. Support and guidance can come from anyone with an entrepreneurial background – the important thing is that it is made available and accessible. Then we can all shoot for the stars, and at the very least land on the moon.


Lesley Eccles is co-founder and EVP of Marketing at FanDuel. Founded in Scotland in 2009, FanDuel is the leader in daily fantasy sports, with millions of users in North America , offices in Edinburgh, Glasgow, New York , LA and Orlando. This summer, FanDuel launches in the UK with a daily fantasy football product designed specifically for a UK audience. Lesley will be speaking at the Investing Women ‘Ambition & Growth’ Conference in Edinburgh on 7 March.