Ludmila Milla has founded three businesses, most recently UJJI, a gamified mobile platform which supports personal growth and self-acceleration. The platform, named after the Sanskrit for ‘winning’, aims at supporting its users in actively but securely working towards their goals. Milla took up the Master of Business Administration at Saïd Business School in 2019, and has been working on UJJI with the support of the Oxford University Innovation Incubator.
What is your background? What made you decide to become an entrepreneur?
I’m an architect by training, and founded two businesses in Brazil before I moved to the UK in 2018. I began in Brazil working in HR for a construction company – I realised then that I loved working with people and helping them become the best versions of themselves. After leaving that job, I took the plunge and began my first business venture, an engineering and construction tech company which was pioneering in Latin America in providing BIM services. It was really interesting to build that up, but I missed the experience of helping others – so I started another company with a different co-founder which mentored people through our own methodology. I coached dozens of people, some of whom still keep in touch and are my friends now. After that, I decided I wanted to see what else was out there in the world, so I sold everything I owned and set off travelling for 6 months with my husband and 1-year-old daughter. I always say that I jumped off a cliff for the second time! We decided to settle in the UK, and I worked in London for a while before taking up the MBA at Oxford. It was here that I jumped from the cliff all over again, and developed UJJI.
What is your definition of entrepreneurship?
Entrepreneurship is building something which is meaningful to you and others. It doesn’t matter what you do, whether it’s making a social enterprise or a unicorn – just build!
How and when did you know your idea was good enough to develop it?
I’ve had UJJI in mind since starting my first company 8 years ago. When I tell people my story of moving countries and building businesses, they think that I must have been super rich or confident, but I wasn’t, I just had some plans and methodology. I spoke to people and knew that there was something good to build – I learnt that it wasn’t just me who wanted what I was trying to develop, and that gave me confidence.
What would you say are the top 3 skills that needed to be a successful entrepreneur? Why?
You need to be resilient, but that’s obvious – you also need to know yourself and be able to build on your strengths. When I stopped looking at other people and comparing myself, I was much more successful. I always thought that I needed to go to events, network, and open doors like some other people, but actually I work better building those relationships in a one-to-one scenario where I can make them robust.
What is your favourite part of being an entrepreneur?
The best part is when you see something which is ready and completed, or get a contract, or finish a new design, or see a new pitch deck. There’s a sense of disbelief that you achieved it.
What individual, company or organization inspires you most? Why?
My first boss in the construction company in Brazil taught me something which will always stay with me; he told me that there is no right way to do the wrong thing. If it’s wrong, it’s wrong, and if it feels uncomfortable you should never do it. I really value that advice.
If you had 5 minutes with the above individual/ company/organization, what would you want to ask or discuss?
I would ask my old boss how he deals with the loneliness of being an entrepreneur. That’s the hard part – you always think you’re wrong, and everyone thinks you could do more, so it is quite isolating.
What would you say have been some of your mistakes, failures or lessons learned as an entrepreneur?
I learnt in one of my first businesses how tough it is to have a company in a crisis – Brazil, and the construction sector in particular, went through a recession in 2015/16, and I sold my shares back to my co-founder. The company survived, but so many people were counting on it for a salary and sometimes as a business owner you don’t have anyone to go to for help. I also learnt that it is important to really understand your product and your market before starting out; I had trouble with investing in a business model which hadn’t been thoroughly researched, and that compromised the future of the project slightly. You can’t just rely on a few people telling you that your model is great! The last thing I’ve learnt is that it is very important to listen and engage with people with an open mind. I wish I’d engaged with advisors and academia earlier because it’s so helpful.
How have you funded your ideas?
My first two businesses grew organically, but I knew that I needed different funding for UJJI. I joined the Oxford University Innovation Incubator and my cofounder, Rafael, and I have been bootstrapping UJJI so far. We’ll be starting to raise external investments in October 2020.
Are there any sector-specific awards/grants/competitions that have helped you?
The business is pretty new, but we’re planning on going for some grants as well as pitching to investors.
What is good about being an entrepreneur in Oxfordshire? Bad?
I feel at home in Oxford. The community here is very different to London, because there are a lot of good people want to help you and have conversations. If you are in Oxford, you have a window of opportunity and it’s amazing what you can do. The con is that it’s all a bit of a puzzle – there are a lot of complex networks, names, and initiatives which take time and effort to navigate.
If a new entrepreneur or startup came to you looking for entrepreneurship resources, where would you send them?
There was a map on the Enterprising Oxford site which had all the different entrepreneurial networks in bubbles – I send this to everyone since I found it so helpful. If people are using that, I’d just tell them to know exactly what they want and need from people before they get in contact.
Any last words of advice?
If it’s not working, it’s not finished. Everyone has their fears, and nobody is ever completely ready, but everything is possible. Understanding my limitations and triggers and knowing when to stop has really helped me. You need to have a threshold. I’d also say that it’s not true entrepreneurship if you only do it so you can travel and be glamorous, or because you don’t like your boss. Do it so that you can change people’s lives, because that is absolutely the most rewarding bit.