Victoria is the Co-founder of Oxford Code Lab which she set-up with her husband. Their vision is to develop a product for charities to help manage their work more efficiently. Organisations like the Oxford Hub for example have a lot of admin, what Oxford Code Lab do is build really good software to manage their programmes more efficiently.
What is your background? What made you decide to get involved in supporting entrepreneurs?
We moved to San Francisco after my PhD and began working in Silicon Valley. The start-up I joined focused on consumer spending data, i.e. looking at how many coffees Starbucks and Prêt are selling to determine who has market share. I was there for four years and when I joined there were less than 10 of us. In that space of the time the company grew to having over 70 employees, all talented and motivated working towards the same goal. I think it was in San Francisco where I caught the entrepreneur bug. We moved back then the pandemic happened and so we were looking for ways in which we could help. There was a collaboration between Oxford City Council and the Oxford Hub called Oxford Together which was aimed at supporting those stuck at home due to shielding or having to isolate. The collaboration involved neighbours helping neighbours through delivering prescriptions and helping out at food banks. Oxford Together was receiving hundreds of requests via google spreadsheet and thus had lots of admin to do but the software they were using wasn’t up to scratch. We understood that many charities have these same issues and so we create bespoke platforms at a price affordable to charities.
What is your definition of entrepreneurship?
Someone who does things differently.
How and when did you know your idea was good enough to develop it?
We talked to a lot of people early on in the charity sector and local government and we found that the existing tech systems had the same issues and same frustrations. They seemed to manage about 90% but then the other 10%would make it hard to extract analytic data. What’s more is that charities would refer someone into another programme, they’d fill out a referral form but then wouldn’t hear anything back. When you’re hearing repeated problems that’s a good indication that there is a product to be made. At the minute we earn revenue from consulting but our long-term goal is to build a product that fits the gap.
What would you say are the top 3 skills that are needed to be a successful entrepreneur? Why?
Being able to sell an idea and yourself. You have to really believe in yourself to do that. The second would be creativity– seeing a problem from a different angle, and recognising that problems are opportunities. The third would be diligence. It takes a lot of hardwork, a lot of it is fun but there are more boring aspects. You have to trudge through them and keep going.
What is your favourite part of being an entrepreneur?
Flexibility and being my own boss. I can make the decisions about the directions we take and not feel guilty. It’s also really exciting and fun when you have the potential to change the world. The best way I can describe those moments is like when you were young on Christmas morning or the morning you go on holiday. It’s risky of course, I quit my job to work on this full time, but the consulting side of the company brings in revenue and allows me to finalise the product as I talk to more people and learn about their specific problems.
What individual, company or organization inspires you most? Why?
A company called Lanyrd which was launched in 2010 and quickly acquired by Eventbrite. It’s not so much the site itself but the founders’ story and how they got started. They are also a married couple and they came up with the idea whilst on their honeymoon and managed to launch their company in just two weeks. The fact that they launched in such a short space of time with the motivation to do whilst on honeymoon is incredible.
If you had 5 minutes with the above individual/ company/organization, what would you want to ask or discuss?
What made them sit down on their honeymoon and work on this idea? I’ve had plenty of side projects in the past that I’ve lost motivation for, how did they remain driven? I’d also ask them how they launched so quickly. Being able to move fast and get something done as quickly as possible is a real skill. At Oxford Code Lab we have been working with charities from the beginning talking to our clients and listening to their needs.
What has been your most satisfying or successful moment in business?
Those butterfly effect moments; when you mention something in passing to a friend and that turns to coffee. Over a year ago Oxford Together were running some interviews which we took part in, we talked about the tech platform and then got our first client out of that.
What would you say have been some of your mistakes, failures or lessons learned as an entrepreneur?
Ah, I’ve made lots of mistakes: not prepping enough for meetings, forgetting or underselling work, not accepting help when it’s been offered. The biggest is being a perfectionist, you can’t get everything perfect 100% of the time. When the to–do list is getting longer and longer just try and do the best you can. When you’re starting out and everything is super exciting it can be hard to say no but you have to be focused and remember your vision.
How have you funded your ideas?
We won a grant through the social enterprise awards and currently we’re funded though the consulting side of the business. Our preferred approach is to continue without VC funding, we’ve worked with companies that have used it before and know that there is a pressure to grow that we aren’t quite ready for yet.
Are there any sector-specific awards/grants/competitions that have helped you?
The social enterprise awards and we applied to a covid-specific one with the Foundry but didn’t win that time.
What is good about being an entrepreneur in Oxfordshire? Bad?
I know that there is a really good ecosystem, it isn’t something I’m particularly involved in but I know many others in business who are. The university is also fantastic. There are so many spin out companies and smart people, there’s also the Foundry and it helps being really close to London.
If a new entrepreneur or startup came to you looking for entrepreneurship resources, where would you send them
There used to be Oxford Geek Night. It was always a fun evening where speakers would talk about interesting projects. Even if you had only an idea and thus couldn’t do a full 20–minute presentation there were these 5–minute lightening talks. It was a great way to meet people and they offered £500 or maybe £1000. The Foundry also runs coding courses- we ran one there in Hilary- and there are a couple of other places that offer free coding like Code First Girls and Code Bar for minority groups.
Have you faced any challenges as a woman entrepreneur?
Well my current challenge is striking the balance between work and life. My daughter is 8 weeks old so I haven’t been able to do much work which isn’t something I appreciated before now. It does offer me a lot of thinking time though.
What resources would you recommend for other women?
Code First Girls and Code Bar both have really good communities. I would say try a course and build a network of people doing the same thing and who are equally motivated.
How do you think institutions such as the University of Oxford could better support women entrepreneurs?
I’m not sure but I did a couple of coding courses where there were about 60 people and I was one of two women. I think encouraging women by providing more courses specifically for minority groups would be a good idea.
Do you have any advice for other women who want to be entrepreneurs?
Believe that you can do it. It sounds very cliché but it is important and goes back to being able to sellyourself. You have to believe in you and not become demoralised.
Any last words of advice?
Talk to as many people as possible about your idea.