Susan Burton - Founder of Classlist


Susan recently relocated to Oxford after four years in India and set up, a vertical social network and platform for school parents aimed at making the job of parenting easier: classlists; liftshare; group and private messaging and event management.

Q: What is your background?  Why are you doing this?
A: I grew up in Australia and the US. After qualifying as a Chartered Accountant with Deloitte, I relocated to London working as a management consultant with PricewaterhouseCoopers on long-term assignments in Lebanon, Mexico, Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda and Ethiopia. UK clients included the BBC, Unilever, DfiD, international: World Wide fund for Nature (WWF), the World Bank and the IMF. I was CFO and Company Secretary for a pets e-commerce startup, Finance Director for an online investment bank start-up and Co-Founder of a website for international assignees.

I have three children and having moved around with them to different countries and different schools, I always found it difficult to connect with other parents for arranging playdates, asking for advice on local services and just making friends myself, as schools wouldn’t share parent details.

Q: What is your definition of entrepreneurship?
A: Identifying a problem that needs to be solved and using plenty of sweat and tears to solve the problem. Lots of people come up with great ideas, entrepreneurs make things happen.

Q: What made you decide to become an entrepreneur?
A:  I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity with PwC to undertake some career counselling as part of an executive development programme. The assessment indicated I had the aptitude to be an entrepreneur and PwC allowed me to take a secondment to work on a startup, I never looked back.

Q: So what would you say are the top skills that needed to be a successful entrepreneur? Why?
A: An ability to pick up concepts quickly and act upon them, to juggle multiple strands of tasks and to make decisions without over analysing. In the early days no task is below you. I have worked with lots of clever people who weren’t prepared to undertake the less intellectually inspiring tasks. They failed.

Q: What is your favourite part of being an entrepreneur?
A:  Continuously learning how to resolve new problems and take advantage of new opportunities.

Q: What individual, company or organization inspires you most? Why?
A: Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook. Her book Lean In is a must for any career woman.

Q: If you could have 5 minutes with the above indiv/company/org, what would you want to ask or discuss?
A: Leaving aside her recent tragedy, I would ask her for her secrets in how to recruit and manage a talented team.

Q: What has been your most satisfying or successful moment in business?
A: Positive feedback from our users.

Q: What would you say have been some of your mistakes as an entrepreneur?
A:  In the past, I have made the mistake of taking on too many market segments with a too feature rich product. You end up spreading yourself too thinly and missing the market. I still have to stop myself from adding more and more features to our platform.

Q: What is good about being an entrepreneur in Oxfordshire?  Bad?
A:  The main benefit is the work life balance. Oxford is nice place to live. On the con side we have found it difficult to find developers and have had to do the majority of the development work ourselves and to locate extra help from London, which is a shame. An incubator that can ultimately provide funding, that is open to those not studying at Oxford University would also make a difference.

Q: If a new entrepreneur or startup came to you looking for entrepreneurship information or resources in Oxfordshire, where would you send them?
A:  Oxford Launchpad at Said Business School.

Q: Any last words of advice?
A:  Strategy is about deciding what you are not going to do as much as what you are going to do and then getting on with it.