An Interview with Justine Angelli, CEO and founder of Shareagift
This interview is part of a series on Trailblazing Women role models from around the world.
Justine Angelli is the CEO and founder of Shareagift, set to become the eBay of gifting occasions. Shareagift essentially provides crowdfunding technology for gifts. Friends chip in money together online to group-buy gifts for any occasion. The company provides the technology to online retailers and direct to consumer via their website, Shareagift.com. Originally with a background in IT, Justine also founded the private aviation and luxury transport company, Avolus, in 2005. Under her direction Avolus went on to form the Avolus Group -- an aviation group valued at £18m. In 2010 Justine successfully exited herself and investors from the Group to set up Shareagift. Shareagift has been featured in Wired, The Huffington Post, the Financial Times, People magazine and Computer Weekly to name but a few.
If you keep saying that entrepreneurship is not for you, I want you to simply ask yourself the question 'why?' and question the answers you come back with. Because I'm no different to you, and if I can do it, so can you!
Who is your role model as an entrepreneur?
My mother. She was very unconventional for her time and didn't know anything about business or go through the usual institutional channels before becoming an entrepreneur. Instinct made my mother an entrepreneur and she ended up working in property with my father. I remember I used to go into her bedroom and find paperwork all over the floor -- that was her filing system. I've built a jet business with an office, staff and employees and now I realize my mother had it completely right -- she was a real genius by keeping it simple! I think she was very ahead of her time. She came up with schemes and financial ideas that to this day I think to myself, "God, that's clever!" My mum is my hero.
What is your greatest achievement to date?
Building an office and team that I look forward to seeing every morning: That, I think, is my greatest achievement. I have built businesses and turned them into an aviation group with different divisions, aircraft etc. Yet somehow, it doesn't seem to equate to the same level of satisfaction as building a team that will go the extra mile for you, simply because they believe 1) in you and 2) in the business. I love coming into my team and hearing them laughing -- I love having a happy team.
What has been your biggest challenge as a woman entrepreneur?
1. Recruitment. You can build a really great happy team and get one bad egg. If you get one bad egg that can really spoil the whole team and all your hard work will have been for nothing. While I was building the aviation business, I met some exceptional business people, and I would ask them for their five tips. One of them said to me, 'Justine, if you think you are going to fire them, go ahead and fire them, because you are going to fire them sooner or later, so it had better be sooner rather than later.'
2. Femininity as an advantage: I find it beneficial to be a woman and can get invited to some events because I am a woman. As a woman, people sometimes don't see you coming. You can play your femininity either as an advantage or a disadvantage.
If it's an advantage, you can use your femininity to get attention and then when you start to talk and speak business, it surprises people and sometimes, people will open up to you in a different way and share different types of information with you because they are more relaxed with you. This can be very powerful.
What in your opinion, is the key to your company's success?
Moving fast enough. I'm in the internet business, and if you don't develop your product fast enough so that people like it fast enough, it's over. You have to go really fast for this. The internet world has developed faster than almost any other industry ever. Take data for example - 2.5 quintillion bytes of data are produced every day, 90 percent of all the world's data was produced in the last two years alone. So when I say this business is going fast, it's going faster than anything known to man.
We live in a 3.5 second culture -- you have to grab somebody's attention in those 3.5 seconds, and then you have to grab it again to bring them back to your site.
The challenges of an internet business are probably some of the most complex I've ever seen. There are so many ways to bring a customer in, to analyze the data on why they are not returning etc. Then you need to take that knowledge and base your decisions on it and implement several strategies based on it. It's extraordinarily complex, so when I meet somebody who tells me they have an internet idea, I tell them 'great, once you've done it, then come back to me.'
If you could do one thing differently, what would it be?
Simply, find more time; prioritize my time better. I give a lot of my time to my team, listening to them and talking things through. I'd like to find more time for my other strategic priorities too.
What would you say to encourage others to become entrepreneurs?
Do it ! You are never going to know the answers before you start it anyway. They say there are three things that it's never the right time to do 1) get married 2) have a child 3) start a business! Just do it. There is a chance it may go wrong, and hey, if you are going to go for it, try not to put all your eggs in one basket. Most entrepreneurs when they go for it, put absolutely everything into their business because, that's usually what it requires. Then you are going to fight tooth and nail for it to survive because you have put everything into it. Maybe it is that element, ironically enough, that does make some companies finally take off, because they have put absolutely everything into it and they can't afford to lose it.
Don't spend all your time and lots of money doing lots of market research, business plans before you try something. Just test the water, even if it's part time -- just get on with it !
There are five really important things in entrepreneurship :
- Recruitment -- absolutely key
- Don't panic, keep thinking about it all the time and suddenly, something will come to you to help you get to the solution, to get your company through -- keep checking the angles -- there is always one other weird angle you haven't thought of that probably will work !
- It's really hard work, there is no mystery to it -- you really do have to put your back into it
- Be flexible in your mind as to what your company is and what it can be -- you may think you are doing one thing today and you will soon find out that the market and customers dictate otherwise and being flexible is absolutely vital to survival. Your company will be something different in the mature stage to what you thought it was going to be when you started it.
That's probably one of the better questions I have been asked. I would describe myself as tough but fair.
I think my management style is very unique in as far as I don't try to tell people who are in my team what their jobs are. I'm employing them so they can tell me. I have a very friendly management style, which wasn't always the case. When I built the aviation business I had quite a hands-length style with my team and when I built this business, I changed and realized that you don't need to be authoritarian to be respected. You need to know your stuff, be a good listener and never raise your voice to your staff, to be respected.
If there is a problem with someone on the staff, I listen to them, and ask them is everything ok with them. I don't like to let things develop, I prefer to deal with things immediately, and I find that in 90 percent of cases, they just want to vent, and that is part of your job as a manager. Let your staff vent their concerns with you, and as you talk about it , half the problem goes away. Let them tell you what the solution is and suggest that we put the idea to another couple of people on the team and add their feedback.
One of my greatest moments of learning on this entrepreneur journey has been, you need to treat every member of your team differently, because they are different people with different motivations. Some of your team members will not want to go on to be at the top management, because they may want to remain creative. In that case, it's my job to create the right environment for my team members to flourish, send them to the right conferences to learn...
What advice would you give to your younger self?
It's a little coy and predictable -- I would say 'believe in yourself', believe you can do it. It's the difference between night and day, believing in yourself.'
When I set up my business, it was probably the least safe option I could have gone for and nobody was behind it or believed in it. Once you do well and especially when you exit, everybody is happy and they forget that they weren't behind you before. So I would say, believe in yourself, even when people don't believe in you. You had to believe in yourself to get through that hard part.
There are things I believe and live by because I have learned them, not because I was told them.
1) The first is never look down. Don't turn around to yourself and think 'Gosh what's going to happen if I don't make it' -- don't even think it ! Don't look down, keep looking up, because if you do look down and there are 70 feet below you could say, 'I'm not doing this'.
2) Never regret making an effort, no matter how small it is. There will be times when you are exhausted and you find that last molecule of energy in your body and you push yourself to do it, and you know what ? That's the one thing that makes your career for the rest of your life, because you go to an event and you happen to meet the one person that you end up partnering, and end up building Apple or Microsoft ! My experience is that you never regret making an effort.
What would you like to achieve in the next 5 years?
I want Shareagift to be the eBay for gifting occasions. I want Shareagift to be a household name. I don't mind whether or not I sell it. I would like to be talking to someone in a cocktail and have them say 'why don't you use Shareagift' when they don't even know I own it ! That's what I'd like.
- 3 key words to describe yourself?
- Tenacious ( and all the good and bad that comes with that !)
This article first appeared in the Women Inspiring Women series on the Global Invest Her blog -- to read more click here
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