Shaper: Alex Depledge

Show aired on 22nd April 2017

Transcript

Elliot Moss
That was Dee Dee Bridgewater with Whoopin’ Blues I hope it got you off your chair. Hello, good morning this is me Elliot Moss here on Jazz FM and its Jazz Shapers and Jazz Shapers is where you can hear the very best of the people shaping the world of jazz, blues and soul and right alongside them in the hot seat we bring someone who is shaping the world of business. I am very pleased to say in my hot seat today is the Business Shaper they call Alexandra Depledge. It’s a French name originally but I have said it with an English accent. She’s going to be fabulous because she’s not only the co-founder of Hassle.com which sold for a very nice amount in 2015 she is also the co-founder and CEO of BuildPath and BuildPath is a business which is transforming the way that you and I will build and redevelop our homes. You’re going to be hearing lots from her very shortly. In addition to hearing from Alexandra we will be hearing from our programme partners at Mischon de Reya some words of advice I hope for your business and then we’ve got the music and it’s fantastic. One of my favourites Aretha Franklin’s in there, Oscar Peterson is too and new music from Daymé Arocena and this from the one and only Gregory Porter.

Gregory Porter with The “In” Crowd. Alexandra Depledge is my Business Shaper today here on Jazz Shapers and as I said earlier she is the co-founder and CEO of BuildPath. They help extract and unlock value through the clever use of space on your homes we are going to come to that in a moment. She was also, and you may have heard of this company because the other one is quite new, Hassle.com she was the CEO and co-founder of that very successful business and continues to be successful but she sold it back in 2015. Hello.

Alex Depledge
Hello.

Elliot Moss
Thank you for joining me.

Alex Depledge
No thank you for inviting me.

Elliot Moss
How did the young woman from Bradford which is where you are from. How did she end up doing a Masters in international relations at the University of Chicago? Tell me a little bit about the early days before we get into the work thing because I’m interested in there’s a Nottingham part, first Degree and then there’s this. What makes someone decide to go off and study more?

Alex Depledge
So like most things in my life it’s relatively unplanned and not really thought through. I went to visit a friend at Nottingham University and just fell in love with the campus area so I had my heart set on going to Nottingham for university. The only problem was that the history course required straight As and I wasn’t predicted to get straight As in my A levels although I did in the end which was kind of weird but if I did history in American studies you only needed two Bs and a C and I was like winner that’s what I’m going to do. So I applied for that, got in and you could go and do a gap year or like a research year in the US and so that’s how I ended up in Champaign, Illinois which is kind of like a bit sort of red neck deep sort of like it imitates the deep south so that was an experience in itself. But subsequently what happened then is I fell in love with a guy and he was still there and so obviously I wanted to go back and the easiest way to get into the US and still is is to go and be a student there. So I got a free ride to the University of Wisconsin to do political science; turns out I didn’t really enjoy that it was far too data driven and domestic focused so I actually ended up applying to the University of Chicago to do, at this point I thought I had better get on here I’ve been at university six years so I did an accelerated MA at the University of Chicago in international relations for nine months which was an amazing experience and finally graduated which my parents were really, really happy about because I was like a very long running student.

Elliot Moss
Now you then didn’t do your own thing straight away.

Alex Depledge
No.

Elliot Moss
And like many entrepreneurs or at least I think the ones who kind of give themselves a better chance of doing something you did something else. You worked for someone else you were a management consultant at Accenture for six years. At what point did you go do you know what this isn’t for me? At what point did you say I’m going to do my own thing and why?

Alex Depledge
So I think, again there was not a lot of thought in this in the sense that when I got back to the UK from the US I didn’t really know what I wanted to do and I thought consulting was a good kind of variety based role that paid pretty well and so I went into consulting and I had a blast for the first few years but I think as I got older and you know I was sort of like twenty eight, twenty nine and then I got married being away from home all the time and travelling around wasn’t conducive it just felt like that wasn’t the sort of thing I should be doing.

Elliot Moss
Was the guy, the same guy you fell in love with in America?

Alex Depledge
No, no. Different guy.

Elliot Moss
No, oh no, different guy, just checking.

Alex Depledge
Yeah.

Elliot Moss
Carry on.

Alex Depledge
You have to have a bit of variety don’t you. Yeah so anyway so I was thinking I guess more importantly the Accenture phase was that when I looked up at the “role models”; the female models in Accenture I saw two things. I either saw women having family seeing that family and their career stalling or having a family, never seeing them and their career advancing and neither of those options were okay for me like I wanted it all and at the same time I met Jules my co-founder when we were living together in our very first project back in 2009 in Warrington and it’s a bit like when you know you’ve got that guy and you sort of turn to each other and go if we’re not married by the time we’re thirty five shall we just you know we’ll just hitch our carts to each other. It was similar to Jules and that’s what we sort of said it’s like you know if we ever start a business let’s do it together and that was like eight years prior and then you fast forward she’s really frustrated, I’m kind of like looking up going I don’t want what’s ahead of me and that was really how we decided to become business owners. I’m going to call it business owners because when I was growing up you were a business owner not an entrepreneur and it’s kind of a bit of a fru fru fluffy term I guess and so you know we didn’t know we were going to be tech entrepreneurs that kind of came later when we realised our idea required technology.

Elliot Moss
Stay with me to find out about my business owner Alexandra Depledge and what she did next and how in fact she has now gone onto receive accolades and titles, I forgot to mention she’s an MBE and all sorts of other things, clever things and boards that she sits on. Anyway she will be embarrassed if I carry on so I’m going to introduce the next track and it is Aretha Franklin with Think.

Aretha Franklin with the iconic Think. Alexandra Depledge is here and she’s my Business Shaper today. CEO and Co-Founder of Hassle.com which they sold for a nice amount. General all round star in the tech world though as you were hearing earlier she kind of isn’t a tech person. She’s just a business owner who happened to find her way with her friend Jules and here they are and doing other things as well and now the co-founder of this business called BuildPath which I urge you to go and look at because it’s a very clever way of looking at the world of developing your own property and as someone who’s done that a little bit it was very hard when I did it and I wish I’d of had this thing in front of me and I’m not just saying that. Now Alexandra we are going to go back to that time so you talked to Jules eight years before. You then at some point must have gone I’ve got an idea. I know what we’re going to do or was it not like that? Because Hassle.com just give me the headline of what it is and then a little bit about how you came up with it.

Alex Depledge
So it’s Europe’s largest market place for finding and booking domestic cleaners. No that was like the third or fourth idea. There were all kind of iterations of each other. It originally started with Jules wanting to find a piano tutor so that became a school of music where we could find tutors and I was like that’s pants and then we kind of broadened it out to becoming like the Amazon of local services and that’s what we really started with and that was Teddle Limited so we went through a name change half way through and a big pivot so we ran Teddle for like a year doing twenty three different categories. So we did babysitting, in-home chefs, at home hairdressers, dog walkers you name it and cleaners. I’m not going to bore you with the story it’s already out there if anyone’s interested but a funny story about we realised we had no cleaners but everyone was looking for a cleaner and this is when we were like actually we need to focus down and so that’s how we ended up becoming a cleaning marketplace and then sort of shortly after six months after we sort of just with cleaning we realised that Teddle was a very bad name because we had to fill it with meaning so that’s when we went for a whole rebrand with an amazing guy called Darren Cook who is just phenomenal and he helped us come up with Hassle.com and really kind of helped us to understand what we wanted to be when we grew up and that’s sort of the journey quickly of Hassle.com.

Elliot Moss
The iterative nature of what you do and these people, people now give this big word called pivoting but basically it means that didn’t work we better do something else to me.

Alex Depledge
Yeah.

Elliot Moss
Is that in your nature are you naturally someone who quite likes the fluidity of life, are you quite happy just, I don’t mean bumbling along but being opportunistic and going you know what that looks better let’s go over there.

Alex Depledge
Yeah so I think that there’s two types of people in life. There’s the ones that need structure and process and they’re great in big businesses and then there are people like me and Jules that feel hemmed in and actually what we really like to do is solve problems and you need variety. I get incredibly bored very quickly and so actually start-up is perfect for me because it means I get to do lots of things like at the moment you know I’m doing the accounting, I’m doing all of our marketing and our hiring and our fundraising so it’s like that’s great because no day is ever the same and when my days become similar that’s when I have to do something else.

Elliot Moss
You mentioned as you looked up at Accenture there were two types of women. The woman who had to stop and deal with the family and be with the family and want to do that and therefore career suffered and the other type where they never saw their family.

Alex Depledge
Yeah.

Elliot Moss
Being a business owner and an entrepreneur or whatever you want to call it. It’s full on Alexandra I mean truthfully you talked about you wanted it all surely you get less of it because there’s just so much going on.

Alex Depledge
What you get when you’re a business owner or an entrepreneur is you get freedom to dictate how your time works and so what that’s good for for me is the fact that yes I might have quite a busy life but if I need to not go to work until 10.00am because I want to spend some time with my daughter or drop her at nursery then I get that choice and if you work for a big company that mandates you must be at your desk by 9.00 o’clock you don’t get that choice so look I don’t think there is a perfect solution here. Well I know what the solution is its equal maternity and paternity pay but that’s a separate story but for women who want to have something that really feeds the soul and is gratifying I think that running your own business can give you that and allow you, you know, the ability to have children and it is no surprise that the vast majority of women become entrepreneurs once they have had children not before.

Elliot Moss
Stay with me for more from my fantastic Business Shaper today that’s Alexandra Depledge. Latest travel first in a couple of minutes and before that some words of wisdom I hope from our programme partners at Mischon de Reya for your business.

You’re listening to Jazz Shapers. Every Saturday morning I get to meet someone who is shaping the world of business whether we call them business owners, entrepreneurs, founders they’re all the same they do fantastic things because they feel like they need to exercise their own freedom. Alex Depledge I’m now going to call you Alex. Because that’s what her friends…

Alex Depledge
Are we all familiar now?

Elliot Moss
We’re all friends over here. Alex Depledge is my Business Shaper, co-founder and CEO of Hassle.com. Ditto with her new business called BuildPath. Hassle.com I want to go back to that for a minute. You sold out I believe unless my numbers are wrong you can tell me if they are, twenty four million quid for the business is that…

Alex Depledge
I can neither confirm nor deny this.

Elliot Moss
I love this, aww the face, you should see the face it tells a million, million parts of this story. Whatever it was it sounds like a lot to me.

Alex Depledge
Yeah.

Elliot Moss
And probably everyone listening as well. When you have a bit of an event and I’ve no idea what percentage you had of the business and we’re not going to go there we don’t need to ask but obviously there was some money in your pocket – does that change the way you looked at the world at that moment?

Alex Depledge
I think it was really strange because it kind of came out of a left field for us. I’d never really thought about selling the business or what an exit might look like or where the end goal for Hassle.com was. What I really focused on was building the type of work environment that everyone claims that they have in their businesses but is BS really and that was the real motivator for me it was never about money. So when suddenly I get this sizeable windfall and I’d had my head buried in the business for four years I kind of popped out the other side and saw that the world had completely changed to sort of, I know that sounds a bit dramatic but I hadn’t been paying attention to what had been going on nationally or in other people’s lives and so I suddenly felt a great sort of sense of sadness about some of the stuff that I saw like I felt like the disparity between rich and poor was ever growing. That you know that homelessness was rising that things were, and I was just like how can this be right and I started to get a lot of guilt actually and I found it quite difficult to process being totally honest about it. I felt like I didn’t deserve this windfall and what had I actually done to kind of get to this level and it was a really humbling experience for me and I guess just out of left field because I hadn’t, I didn’t have time to process the sale was so quick and you’re so head down in the transaction that yeah coming up the other side was a real shock.

Elliot Moss
How have you processed it since because this was only a couple of years ago?

Alex Depledge
It was July 2015.

Elliot Moss
Yeah so almost two years ago but what you’ve described I imagine many people would relate to because if you’re not looking at it and you’re not driven by the money as such and then you get some but have you intentionally now gone and addressed that or have you just more come to terms with it I mean how have you managed it?

Alex Depledge
So I think a couple of things I think what you’re driving at is have I changed because of it and…

Elliot Moss
Well have you done things to change, I mean have you tried to attack homelessness or anything else like that.

Alex Depledge
What I did do I signed away 2% of my exit to charity so there’s an amazing organisation called Founders Pledge and what that basically does is you, and I’ve done it again so if I exit BuildPath 2% will go to charities and what I love about them is they really buy into altruistic giving and what that means is they measure the effectiveness of that giving so for every dollar you give to a charity what pops out the other side so I know that part of my money about £10,000 I gave to a charity that deals with women that are sexual slaves and I know that I’ve said thirteen women from sexual slavery and so it’s all really actually about instead of putting it because we’re really bad in this country, like the NSPCC or a charity like that going actually do you know what a pound gets and so that’s what these guys do and they really help you on that journey of discovering what matters to you and so I realised that mental health was really underfunded and women in sexual slavery or being trafficked was massively underfunded and so they helped me understand where best to put that money and so that’s what I did and I keep in touch with both those charities, give directly to one of them so there was that but then also I guess I got quite into local Government so I joined the London LEP or LEAP as we now call it which is all about really trying to take at the minute European money which is going to be interesting to see what happens there.

Elliot Moss
So this is the Local Enterprise Partnership that’s what they are.

Alex Depledge
Exactly and how do we get the economy humming in local areas and then I’ve done a couple of other non-exec stuff so I’m trying as well as starting another business and trying to do it all over again.

Elliot Moss
I think you’re doing quite a lot. That sounds like quite a lot to me Alex my new friend. Not at all.

Alex Depledge
Thank you.

Elliot Moss
Stay with me for more from Alexandra and Alex Depledge – that’s the same person – my Business Shapers today. Time for some more music right now this is Daymé Arocena with Mumbo Na Ma.

That was Daymé Arocena with Mumbo Na Ma. Alexandra and Alex Depledge, the same person, is talking to me today about the truth behind what happens when you get a bit of money after you’ve sold your first business. The other thing I mean you touched on some of the things that you’re doing Alex and I’ve got a note here so I don’t get this wrong. You are involved as a board member on the Sharing Economy I believe, Sharing Economy UK it’s called. You were an entrepreneur in residence in Index Ventures, you’ve been tapped up a number of times to be involved where people say hey that Alex she can help be on this board. Do you enjoy all that stuff or is it just a lot of hot air?

Alex Depledge
No I mean I only ever give my time to things that I think are worth giving my time to so the Sharing Economy UK which I was a founding board member of and I am no longer part of the membership because I sold Hassle I felt like that needed, there was a trend in our economy around gig work as like people like to call it and actually we needed to address some of the good stuff going on there and then some of the bad stuff going on there and I think you know I am also the chair of the Coalition for the Digital Economy which is the only independent policy group for entrepreneurs that help Government understand what start-ups and scale-ups and a scale-up is a company that grows you know more than 20% a year and we’ve got a lot of those if you think of the likes of delivery, transfer wise and so I really try to help the Government understand you know how do we keep that part of the economy humming. So we just released a report two weeks ago that dealt with the skills gap with immigration, with trade and investment just to really help put some meat on the bones because I think it’s really critical right now that you know we are leaving the EU whether you like it or not and actually the Government and the Civil Service need help in understanding what that needs to look like to make sure that it’s not a complete disaster because if you think about it you know the Civil Service cannot be an expert in every area and so we need to help them and so wrote this report and I think that was a very good use of my time.

Elliot Moss
Now time is precious for someone like you and you’ve got to focus it. Do you still focus enough on this next business? Have you made enough room?

Alex Depledge
Yes I have so, I mean I’m full-time on BuildPath with Jules and our architects Nick and Rich and yeah we’re motoring ahead. Nick, Rich, Jules they all understand that a CEO role is an outward facing role anyway so you know you deal with the investors and the stakeholders and you’re the face of the company and part of that face can spend its time contributing to making it a better place for companies like BuildPath to thrive in and that’s essentially what I’m doing. So I’ve definitely carved out enough time it doesn’t kind of get in the way and if it does then you know BuildPath’s my priority and we’ll address that when we get to it.

Elliot Moss
Final chat coming up with my guest today that is Alex Depledge plus we will be playing a track from keyboard great Oscar Peterson that’s after the latest traffic and travel here on Jazz FM.

That was Oscar Peterson with Ode to Billy Joe, always nice to hear a bit of Oscar Peterson here on Jazz Shapers. Just for a few more minutes my Business Shaper is Alex Depledge and she is the CEO, co-founder of Hassle.com you may have heard of them but she’s also importantly the CEO and co-founder of BuildPath and as I say go to the website; it’s very super clear if you’re thinking about doing something with your house and you’re not really sure where to start which is a pretty clever insight to me. So you’ve only gone and done it again I mean this is really what I find interesting about someone like you Alex. You did it once and people say oh she did it once and she’s pretty good that’s nice. You’ve done it again so it’s obviously not just because you fancied it there’s a bit more to it you obviously are built for this. When you were younger did you think I’m going to have the freedom or did you, I mean it sounds to me like you didn’t at any one time really plan anything and I quite like your honesty. You’re kind of you know you’re obviously highly intelligent, you’re driven but you seem to see things in front of you and know the path to take?

Alex Depledge
I think I would probably describe myself as a big thinker, strategic it’s quite funny because Jules gets frustrated with me because I’ve no…

Elliot Moss
Is she is the little thinker, is that what you say to her?

Alex Depledge
She’s the details person and she gets really frustrated with me, I don’t like details and so I think…

Elliot Moss
But do you really not like details or do you just know that the big idea for you is just going to take it somewhere else?

Alex Depledge
I get bizarrely hung up on certain things so like I actually could be a lawyer I am that in the detail when it comes to legal contracts which Jules finds fascinating because I am not really that bothered about spreadsheets.

Elliot Moss
So what is it about that kind of detail you like just to stay on that for a moment?

Alex Depledge
Do you know what I don’t, I think it’s because you have to work so hard to understand a lot of the legal terminology that it’s kind of rewarding when you do maybe and I more of a words person than a numbers person. But yeah I don’t plan things you’re right. I think one key major influence in my life was my parents because what I do remember is my dad worked for a long, long time for big companies and then he branched out on his own when I was probably about thirteen or fourteen and there was a noticeable difference in our family life and actually in our family wealth in the sense that we seemed to start going on more holidays, dad seemed more happy and I think subconsciously that always stayed with me and I kind of followed in his footsteps for that reason so yeah I think that has a lot to do with it.

Elliot Moss
Do you think I mean again you talked before the other business, Hassle business and you said I wasn’t really looking at the exit, I didn’t know when it was going to happen I’m assuming now with BuildPath you’re just on the journey, you’re seeing where it goes you don’t have an end in mind at this point.

Alex Depledge
No I mean I think we learnt a lot from Hassle.com and we learnt what to do again and what not to do again and we’re trying to put some of that what not to do again in practice and I think the thing stays the same like I’m not interested in an exit I mean I shouldn’t say that because every investor wants you to get an exit but actually I think you destroy value in companies when you’re focused on exit. In fact we need a bit more patient capital in this country, people that are happy to put their money somewhere for ten years rather than wanting a return in three to five years because actually things, good things they take time. They take time to build. You know even Facebook or Snapchat or any of those companies they’ve all been going over five years and they need investors to stay with them and so for me this is really about finishing what I started with Hassle, building the workplace of the future, the place that people want to come to work it don’t feel like work. We work so much I want to continue doing the innovative things that we did at Hassle like the paternity/maternity stuff like removing all identifying things off CVs that’s the stuff that really gets me out of bed in the morning because I can’t change the world. I probably can’t even change the UK but I can change the people who work for me and I managed to do that at Hassle with the seventy people we had across Europe and I don’t think BuildPath will require that many people because it’s a more sass product but for those twenty or thirty that it ends up being I just want to make them engaged and happy and fulfilled in their life because I think that’s my small contribution to society.

Elliot Moss
Well I’ll drink to that, it sounds very good to me. Listen thank you so much for spending some time with me today. I know you’re busy you’re going to go off and chair another committee and build the business even further. Just before I let you go and do that what’s your song choice and why have you chosen it?

Alex Depledge
So I’m sorry to be so cliché but the one I like to call him Davey B so Dave Brubeck’s Take Five would be my choice and I’m really hoping that some hip hop genius mixes this because that would make my life very happy.

Elliot Moss
Here it is just for you and let’s hope that hip hop genius is listening.

That was Dave Brubeck with Take Five the song choice of my Business Shaper today Alex Depledge. A business owner, someone who debunked this notion of an entrepreneur and what you call them because actually that’s what she felt she did. Someone who loved and went into it because of the freedom. Someone who became focused but admitted to me that she wasn’t really a planner but does that really matter and someone who believes in the long term taking a long view even though she managed to sell her first business very quickly but that idea of having a patient view of capital and someone finally who really is trying to reinvent the working experience and seeing it as an opportunity to make things fairer and to make things much more fun all brilliant stuff. Do join me again same time, same place next Saturday at 9.00am for another edition of Jazz Shapers. Meanwhile stay with us coming up next is Nigel Williams.

Alex Depledge

Alex Depledge founded, built and sold UK based domestic cleaning marketplace start-up, Hassle.com.

As CEO of Hassle.com, Alex took the firm to a Series A funding round of $6 million and 70 full time employees within 12 months of launch – using the investment to quickly take the startup into Ireland and Europe, and making it one of Tech City’s biggest successes.

Alex’s forthright views, industry experience and strategic leadership has led to her appointment as chair of the Coalition for a Digital Economy (Coadec) and founding board member of the government-backed Sharing Economy UK trade body SEUK. In 2016 Alex was awarded an MBE for services to the Sharing Economy.

Educated at the University of Nottingham and the University of Chicago, Alex started her career as a consultant for Accenture in the UK. She rose quickly through the ranks before her desire for a new challenge led her to taking the leap into the world of entrepreneurship.

Listen live at 9am Saturday.

Follow Alex on Tiwtter @adepledge.

“I either saw women having family, seeing that family, and their career stalling; or having a family, never seeing them, and their career advancing. Neither of those options were okay for me.”

“We didn’t know we were going to be tech entrepreneurs. That kind of came later when we realised our idea required technology.”

“It originally started with Jules wanting to find a piano tutor, so that became a school of music where we could find tutors and I was like that’s pants and then we kind of broadened it out to becoming like the Amazon of local services.”

“We realised we had no cleaners but everyone was looking for a cleaner and this is when we were like, actually we need to focus down and so that’s how we ended up becoming a cleaning marketplace.”

“I think that there are two types of people in life. There are the ones that need structure and process and they’re great in big businesses, and then there are people like me and Jules.”

“… no day is ever the same and when my days become similar that’s when I have to do something else.”

“For women who want to have something that really feeds the soul and is gratifying, I think that running your own business can give you that, and allow you the ability to have children. It is no surprise that the vast majority of women become entrepreneurs once they have had children not before.”

“I felt like I didn’t deserve this windfall, and what had I actually done to kind of get to this level? It was a really humbling experience for me.”