Irish co-founder of Hassle.com comes clean on making it in business

Being a woman should be no restriction, says entrepreneur Jules Coleman

Jules Coleman: since the sale of Hassle, Coleman has gone on to establish a second start-up called Resi (formerly BuildPath) with her business partner Alex DePledge. Photograph:  Conor Healy

Jules Coleman: since the sale of Hassle, Coleman has gone on to establish a second start-up called Resi (formerly BuildPath) with her business partner Alex DePledge. Photograph: Conor Healy

 

There are many reasons why start-ups fail, but being unable to secure funding because you have a female founder should not be among them, according to one of the State’s most successful entrepreneurs.

Jules Coleman, who co-founded Hassle. com">Hassle.com, a popular on-demand cleaning platform that was acquired by German rival Helping for €32 million in July 2015, was speaking ahead of her participation at an event in Dublin last week.

She was commenting on the fact that while more women are at the helm of successful businesses, most female-led start-ups struggle to obtain financing as they seek to scale their company.

“The amount of venture capital- backed companies with a female founder is minuscule and there is no good reason why this is,” Ms Coleman told The Irish Times.

The London-based businesswoman, who hails from Leixlip, Co Kildare, was in Dublin for a “Start-up to Scale-up” event.

Figures compiled by PitchBook show that, since the start of 2012, VC funding raised by female-founded European companies has more than tripled. However, the amount that female-led businesses receive as a proportion of all companies has actually decreased since 2016. It hit a six-year high of 14.1 per cent that year; last year that sank to 11.3 per cent. And, so far in 2018, Europe’s female founders have received just 9.1 per cent of venture funding invested in Europe.

‘Bloody-minded’

Earlier this year, TechIreland launched a campaign to promote female founders here from €79.4 million in 2017 to €100 million this year.

Data compiled by the organisation shows there are currently 309 Irish female-founded start-ups employing more than 3,500 people. Approximately 45 per cent have funding.

“There are countless reasons why start-ups don’t succeed but having a woman fronting the business really shouldn’t be one of the causes,” said Ms Coleman.

Since the sale of Hassle, Ms Coleman has gone on to establish a second start-up called Resi (formerly BuildPath) with her business partner Alex DePledge.

Because the two women are so “bloody-minded”, Ms Coleman concedes, they didn’t let a lack of access to funding stop them from building Hassle in its early days. Nor were they prepared to do anything but laugh at the greeting they received in some quarters.

Hassle.com founders Alex DePledge and Jules Coleman
Hassle.com founders Alex DePledge and Jules Coleman

“There were definitely some raised eyebrows early on when two people named Alex and Jules turned up for investor meetings and weren’t men. I think that, and the fact I’d taught myself to code from a book, maybe meant some individuals underestimated us,” said Ms Coleman.

“But once we started building a growing business that was bringing in revenues and creating jobs, people took us seriously,” she added.

But that didn’t mean the business partners escaped friction with funders when Ms DePledge announced she was pregnant with her first child shortly after Hassle had raised money from investors with a view to rolling the business out across Europe.

“Alex getting pregnant then wasn’t necessarily Plan A but one of the reasons we’d started Hassle was because we’d previously been in the corporate world and felt that it was’t conducive to doing things our own way,” said Ms Coleman.

“If you’re at the helm, you should get to set the pace and agenda yourself and that was something that was really important to us. When we set up our new business, we were very upfront with investors about having lives outside of work,” she added.

Initiatives

Ms Coleman welcomed the increase in initiatives aimed at encouraging more women to set up their own businesses, while lamenting the need for them. She also stressed that, while access to financing may be critical for many start-ups, VC funding isn’t the be-all and end-all.

“VC is just a form of financing that has become very sexy. But you wouldn’t celebrate getting a payday loan and, just as with them, there are similar terms attached to VC funding,” said Ms Coleman.

Resi, their new venture, helps homeowners weigh up possible renovations on the cheap, quickly, and without having to engage with builders. The service effectively replaces what an architect would do during the early stages of a potential project by preparing designs and providing reports relating to planning processes and overall costs.

The company, which took in about €1.3 million in angel investment last year, has grown faster than was envisaged with more than 500 projects completed to date. It currently employs 30 people and is branching out to Ireland, where it has already been involved in a number of projects.

When she first gave up her comfortable corporate job to go it alone, Ms Coleman half expected to end up back in the daytime job a short time later “with a renewed sense of gratitude for having a regular salary”.

Thankfully, things haven’t turned out that way. But, while she is keen to see other women setting up their own businesses, she highlights the need to derisk things as much as possible ahead of time.

“If starting a business is likely to jeopardise everything, you might want to think long and hard as to whether to do it or not. But if you can make things relatively safe and feel like you’ll always regret it if you don’t give it a try, then you really should go for it,” she said.