Introducing the women of Forbes 30 under 30

We’ve always been champions of equality and diversity here at Starling because we know that it takes a mix of people from all walks of life and cultures to create a truly exceptional company. This week we’re excited to share that our Chief Platform Officer Megan Caywood made the Forbes 30 under 30 Europe list, and to celebrate we want to highlight her and a few of the other women leaders on the list who are serving as mentors and role models.

Upon perusing the Forbes 30 under 30 list, it’s clear that these young disruptors are examples of women who have mastered the art of persistence, and have a lot to show for it. We’ve asked each of these women to share what has been most critical to their success, and what advice they would give to young aspiring leaders, to help encourage and support young women looking to follow in their footsteps. Take a look…

Megan Caywood, Chief Platform Officer of Starling Bank, 29

Megan serves as Chief Platform Officer for Starling Bank, where she leads across API strategy, partnerships, and the Starling Marketplace. The Starling API launched in April 2017 with a hackathon at Campus London. Subsequently, Starling launched integrations with Moneybox, Tail, Yoyo Wallet, Flux, and Yolt. Last December, Starling was granted regulatory approval to launch the Starling Marketplace, an app-based suite of financial products, and will soon be launching the first cohort of these partners. Prior to Starling, Megan was working in technology in San Francisco, having previously led global product development teams at Xero and Intuit, two of the world’s largest financial technology companies. She holds five patents in financial technology as a result of this work, and now resides in the UK on a Tier 1 Exceptional Talent visa.

What advice would you give to young aspiring women?

Get clear on what you want, and go for it. Don’t be afraid to fail: it will happen in the process, but if you learn from it then it will enable growth and success. Be relentlessly proactive – identify problems and solve them without waiting for permission. When you know specifically what you want to achieve, things will start to click into place to help you achieve it: you’ll find new opportunities that will move you closer to your goal and you’ll connect with people who can assist you in achieving your goal. Don’t pressure yourself to have a specific 5 or 10 year plan though – it’s often too hard to predict that far out as there are too many variables that can change your path. Instead, simply be clear on what you need and want to achieve next, be willing to adapt to unforeseen circumstances, and seek support from friends and your network to achieve your goals. The most important element of success tends to be grit, and the willingness to react and adapt as you pursue your goals.

Victoria van Lennep, Cofounder of Lendable, 28

It was back in 2014 that Victoria had the idea that personal loans and fair rates shouldn’t be mutually exclusive, so decided to cofound Lendable to unite the two. Using machine-learning technology that enables automated credit decisions – and allows them to offer small loans at better rates than banks or credit cards – it’s so far secured more than £125 million in lending capital and £2.5 million in equity funding.

What has been most critical to your success? What advice would you give to young aspiring leaders?

In general, Fintech startups have little room for error. The industry is very competitive and you need to exhibit a high degree of professionalism, coupled with an ambitious mindset that injects durable innovative approaches to established business areas (like, in our case, consumer lending). The key to it all is recruitment: finding the right people to make the business work, which requires a broad mixture of employees: some with experience in the financial industry, some with advanced skills in coding and data science, others still with experience in the customer-facing side of the business. To make it all work you then need to foster a healthy, joyful and collaborative culture that brings out the best in everyone. I think what’s been a critical factor in driving our success is creating a diverse but cohesive team, so the advice I would give to aspiring leaders is to spend a lot of time thinking about how to become a great team player. This is as much about listening as it is about open and frank communication. If you want to be a credible leader you have to take responsibility and ownership of what goes on inside your company, including owning up to errors and failures and learning from them, and sharing successes with all the people that help bring them about!

Is there a diversity problem in finance? Why is diversity important?

There most certainly is a gender diversity issue in both finance and tech. At Lendable we pride ourselves in hiring at a 50-50 gender split for entry level roles as well as senior management. Our Operations, Customer Service and Investor teams are all run by women. We make sure that our employees can advance their skills using external and internal training resources. Our Head of Operations, for example, involved us with the Ambitious Ladies in Tech programme, which features regular mentorship meetings and meet-ups. It’s really important to try and tackle diversity challenges head-on, firstly by keeping gender balance in mind when hiring, and secondly by giving staff time and resources for their personal development. I’m really proud to spearhead Lendable’s drive to make our company a welcoming place for women – it makes us stronger as a company, it benefits our culture, and it makes it a nicer place to work for everyone!

Otegha Uwagba, Founder of Women Who, 27

Connecting and elevating working women in creative fields was Otegha Uwagba’s chief drive when building her dynamic online community, Women Who. By uniting various content streams like newsletters, a website, podcasts and live events – as well her Sunday Times Bestseller book, Little Black Book: A Toolkit for Working Women’ – she’s created a platform for women to support each other and create essential networks. Formerly in advertising, she’s worked at some of London’s top ad agencies as well as cult publishing brand Vice.

What has been most critical to your success?

Having a good support network around me. I’m lucky in that the work I do now – running Women Who – has allowed me to expand my network to a community in the thousands, but in the initial days of setting up Women Who (and even now!) having friends and peers who were incredibly supportive and generous with their time has carried me through a few tricky moments.

What advice would you give to young aspiring leaders?

Treat others the way you’d like to be treated, and be a consummate professional at all times. No matter what type of work you do, your career can often live or die on your reputation. Don’t get a bad one.

Emma Gannon, Founder of Ctrl Alt Delete, 28

Previously a journalist at Condé Nast, in 2013 Emma decided to take the plunge and build a brand of her own from the ground up. The result was Ctrl Alt Delete, a book and blog that’s proved a resounding publishing success with millennial women, and has since evolved into a podcast that bears the same name. Guests have included Lena Dunham and Gillian Anderson, and it’s been sponsored by brands as big as Natwest and HelloFresh with an audience of over 1.5 million unique listeners since its launch in 2016.

What one piece of advice would you give to young aspiring women?

My one piece of advice would be to keep on teaching yourself new skills regularly even if it’s something seemingly small (YouTube tutorials are great!). Many of my projects came to fruition through my own online detective work and free resources – we have more tools than we think to get started! Give yourself permission to dive in without needing someone else’s nod of approval.

What women leaders do you admire? Who has inspired you?

I admire any women who don’t pigeon-hole themselves in their career. Shonda Rhimes (Online magazine founder – TV show creator), Nora Ephron (Director – Columnist – Author), Oprah (TV host – actress). These women inspired my multi-faceted career and my new book on the topic that is coming out in May called The Multi-Hyphen Method.

Bianca Miller-Cole, Founder of Bianca Miller London, 29

Formerly a finalist on The Apprentice UK, Bianca recently launched a nude hosiery brand featuring eight shades that have been designed for a diverse range of skin tones. Her products are available online and currently carried by Topshop and QVC – plus she’s also launched a hosiery collection for curves and a vegan-friendly, cruelty-free nail varnish range.

How do you stay focussed on your goal?

I am a firm believer in writing my goals down and referring to them regularly, there are two reasons for that. 1) The act of writing the goal down activates the subconscious mind and helps to condition you to make the goal a reality as you commit it to paper. 2) Writing it down and creating an action plan around the goal, helps you to dissect what the goal really means and how you will go about making it happen.

What one piece of advice would you give to young aspiring women?

Find a problem that needs to be solved, but make sure that you are passionate about being the person that brings that solution to market. Business isn’t easy, there will be peaks and troughs and it is the passion for that business idea that often helps to keep you going through times of adversity.

Veronique Barbosa, Cofounder of Flux, 28

Flux is a retail app that connects itemised spending to people’s bank cards and launched on Starling’s Marketplace last October, and as its cofounder, Veronique is at the forefront of emerging Fintech technologies. The service automatically delivers receipts, loyalty points and rewards directly to a customer’s banking app so they don’t need to download any extra apps or services. Flux has gone from strength to strength since its launch in 2017, partnering with Barclays Bank, Monzo and EAT, alongside Starling – and they’ve just been authorised as the UK’s first Account Information Service Provider under Open Banking regulations.

What has been most critical to your success? What advice would you give to young aspiring leaders?

One of the most important questions I answered in my career so far has been who do you admire? I mean, truly admire. Who do you hear or read about and think wow, I want to be like that? My strong advice would be find that person, or group of people, and you’ll find your true calling. Personally I realised I would immediately think of people in this world that were working to change it for the better, whether that was through product or policy (two of the main ways I think we can make huge impact). That’s how I found my passion! Once you get there, understand that courage is the single most important ingredient to success. I sincerely believe courage will always outweigh any other factor. Courage to believe in something drives deep conviction and that is a flywheel for success in my view. Don’t worry about how polished or smart your thought process may or may not sound. So have conviction in your views and the courage to take risks if you believe in something!

Tobi Oredein, Cofounder of Black Ballad, 28

Black Ballad is the brainchild of Bola Awoniyi and Tobi Oredein, who had both grown frustrated with the lack of diversity within the 94%-white British media industry and so decided to create a platform that could unite the voices of black women in Britain. Black Ballad creates and nurtures conversations about mental health, politics, beauty, dating and education, and since its launch, has employed dozens of black female writers and partnered with 25 black-owned businesses.

What do you wish you knew when you were first founding your company?

I wish I had a better understanding of the business side of publishing. I started my business on the basis of I can write well, and I know what makes a good piece of journalism. That skill set is not enough if you want to have a publication or media brand that is financially viable.

What one piece of advice would you give to young aspiring leaders?

Understand that with the high points come low points. Running a business is a long game and you have to be prepared to be challenged and keep going when it is extremely tough. Also, understand that in the beginning, no job is too small. Be prepared to be the cleaner at your events, the admin jobs, running to the post office- these are essential jobs to make your business run smoothly, but great in shaping you to lead a team.