I never intended to run a consultancy. I worked as a PR consultant in the early stages of my career, before moving in-house with stints at the helm of global financial institutions. As a client, I had become quietly and increasingly disillusioned with the idea of ‘consultants’. The pitches, the distance from the real meat of a business, the slightly broad brush approach and the obsession with P&L, seemed to come before really understanding the client’s needs.
Yet here we are. In 2007, trying my hand as a stand-up comedian (a story for another blog…), I had been approached with offers of freelance projects from fintech startup firms and innovation divisions of established businesses. It was by old fashioned word-of-mouth that the list of these projects grew and grew; and as the phone continued to ring, you’d have to be a fool not to listen to the signals. There was a demand that quickly exceeded the capabilities of a sole trader and Streets Consulting was born.
I’m reflecting now, on International Women’s Day, partly because as a female fintech entrepreneur there may be lessons of interest, and partly because our support for diversity has been at the very heart of our evolution as a business. It has shaped my growth as a business leader.
What I knew
Combining insights with experience is key. From my own experience on the client side, I knew that our clients really wanted to work with partners who are out and about in the industry, who have their ear to the ground and who are feeding back learnings and insights. So if Streets Consulting was to be a success, we would need to read the runes of the market and deliver what our clients needed, even before they knew they did.
Leaning into change is the only way to grow. Our industry, like all others, is constantly changing and shifting. Clients mature, their needs change over time, as do the myriad of ways in which their messages can reach the intended target audience. That is why we constantly invest and reimagine what we do, expanding from media relations into design, social media and digital marketing campaigns, delivering webinars and virtual events, producing podcasts and now content in and about the metaverse. We are constantly and intentionally curious about industry developments. We started out in capital markets and have expanded to regtech, payments, data, AI and crypto / digital assets. In turn, we are called upon to provide insight to shape the debate and of course to look ahead.
People do business with people they like and trust. As obvious it sounds. Clients ultimately want to work with talented, engaging, diverse and curious people they get along with and who deliver genuine insight. And those are the people I wanted in my team. I knew I wanted to work with people who would challenge me; that’s the power of diversity. I wanted people from many different walks of life and experiences, to offer fresh ideas, not just people whose lives are shaped and confined by the Square Mile.
What I have learnt
Listening and responding drives business success. I started the company in the early throes of the global financial crisis and navigated Brexit, COVID and now an inflationary crisis, and we have continued to grow. Central to that is to really listen to our clients, think about what they need, sense what is coming down the track and react to it before it happens. Not everyone may agree with those senses. When I started Streets Consulting, I had my fair share of criticism for an apparently short-sighted and unsustainable approach to the office – something called ‘remote working’. I was told in no uncertain terms, on more than one occasion: it’ll never work.
Talent stretches well beyond the capital. A key facet of our success has been creating a working environment for a range of different voices, for people who are geographically spread, who may not have the capacity to fit busy lives as mothers, fathers, partners and social beings around a daily commute into London.
A culture that works for your team will motivate and make them happy. A framework that allows them to focus their time and energy on looking after clients, growing and learning, rather than travelling and enduring the frustrations of constraining work environments is crucial. Models that support and respect the need for early and late working really help, especially when serving a global client base. It fills me with great joy that the approach we took to working 15 years ago has enabled our team members to raise and support their families while playing an important part in a thriving agency. (Frighteningly, some of the children have grown up with Streets Consulting and are now graduating and setting forth as independent adults!).
Crucially, I have also learnt to plan for sustainable growth. Having grown the business by 30% in lockdown, it was soon clear that – in a post-lockdown world, when international travel picks up again, I needed a business structure that is sustainable in the long term. I am delighted that Clare Black, our fantastic managing director, has now taken over the operational reins, working alongside our director, Sybille Mueller and practice leads, Sarah Durrani and Holly Finn, in steering the business ever forwards.
What I know now
There’s never been a dull day. What has surprised me is just how much fun running a business can be. Fintech is a vibrant, proud, creative and exciting industry, and curiosity and a sense of fun will always have a place.
But I also know that there are still fundamental issues that need to be addressed. Diversity has been central to our business but fintech is not yet an industry that reflects the breadth and array of talent in the country.
Just 27% of all deals in the UK involved high-growth businesses that had been founded or co-founded by women, according to recent data from Beauhurst. A survey from Proud Ventures meanwhile found that 75% of LGBTQ+ startup founders and 79% of investors conceal their sexual orientation or gender identity and, as a relatively recently openly gay woman, I know what that has felt like and how exhausting it is to hide your true self.
These issues must be improved, and at Streets, we are committed to helping drive that cultural change in the years ahead. DiverCity Podcast, now in its 15th series, has been rated one of the top DE&I podcasts in the world for the fourth year running and we are proud to welcome listeners from more than 50 countries.
What I hope
I hope that we, as an industry, don’t lose sight of the work that still has to be done. International Women’s Day can be a useful time to reflect on the change that needs to come. But it must not stop there.
As a business and an industry, we have grown so much in the past 15 years, and it is essential that the conversation does not lose momentum.
As this pathway continues, we are excited to be working with others around the industry to help anticipate, drive and meet these changes head on. Our clients are becoming ever more diverse – and if they’re not, they’re certainly thinking about ways to do so.
I stand proudly alongside and call out those female leaders and male allies who support them and the investors who fund them – you are the true enlightened leaders of our age.