Hi Maya! Tell us a bit about yourself, where are you from?
I’m an eclectic, French, Lebanese, Russian mix but I’ve lived in the UK for 20 years, the longest I’ve ever lived anywhere.
How did you get into technology?
I scored a seat on the Cisco graduate program after I graduated with a Masters degree in international business from the University of Leeds. That got me into the world of hardware for the internet and then I quite quickly moved into Google and the actual front end of the internet.
What was working at Google like? Was that where you met Nigel and Karima?
I worked with Nigel briefly, who was Google’s associate general counsel, and a bit longer with Karima. We were part of what felt like the very early stage of Google’s European business. At times, it was one of those places where there were more great ideas and opportunities to implement than resources. This was back in the early 2000s and it gave me a great opportunity to grow and learn so fast at a very early stage of my career. I truly loved my experience there and had massive opportunities to work on many different aspects of the business. It gave me the best foundations I could wish for in my career. Looking back now, I can see that there was very limited diversity, not so much in terms of gender and ethnicity, but definitely in terms of age and neurodiversity. Everyone went to the same version of good schools or were former consultants. Google has been proactive since, of course, about correcting this.
When did you decide it was time to move on?
I spent more than five years at Google doing some marketing work, some partnerships work, and international expansion within EMEA from a marketing perspective. And then I was headhunted by Not on the High Street. They needed to build up their digital marketing and product functions and start thinking about international expansion. It was a great one-year stint and we established the digital marketing function (previously it had been all PR and catalogues), launched their first app and gave them a framework for international expansion. Later, I became the Chief Marketing Officer at Pharmacy2U.
What is it that you do now?
I have a portfolio career where I work with startups and scale ups to define and implement their growth paths. It is anchored in customer insights, messaging, branding, acquisition, retention, all of that. In my geeky way, I often refer to myself as a full stack CMO [Chief Marketing Officer]. That’s 70-80% of my time. And then I am an angel investor and sit on a few advisory boards for the rest of the time.
Are you enjoying being involved as an investor?
It’s a steep learning curve but it’s wonderful exposure to the early-stage ecosystem. I usually invest in things I know something about or understand, maybe because I can empathise with the problem or the market. I’ve made close to 20 investments in the past two years, predominantly in under-represented, female founders and a lot of FemTech because of my health tech background. I firmly believe that angel investors need to focus on founders they believe in, in sectors where they have an unfair competitive advantage. Although I do take a couple of wild bets here and there in industries I’m not so familiar with, especially if the startup involves a proven founder who’s done it before.
How did you get involved with the Privacy Compliance Hub?
Karima and Nigel got in touch a couple of years ago to ask for my help. They’ve built a brilliant product and really know their stuff but they’re not great at bragging about how good they are. So we’ve done some work around brand, messaging, PR, SEO and content marketing. What I love about the two of them is they’re very happy to admit when they don’t know something, rather than just blagging it. And they don’t like endless debate and discussion without action. They’re happy to try something and learn from it, which is super effective and makes me really enjoy working with them.
What do you like to do outside of work?
If I could spend every free moment of my life travelling and exploring the world I would. I love night-time photography but my phone camera is my main camera these days. When I have a bit more time, I like flower arranging – I did the flowers for my brother’s wedding and will still occasionally create my own bouquet for the dining table. But day-to-day, most of my non-work activities revolve around my toddler Lia, who is three-and-a-half. We enjoy painting together. Although my abstract painting style is not to her liking.
What common mistakes do you see startups making?
Startups often disregard branding as something they’ll do later when they’re much bigger. They see it as expensive and untrackable. But actually focusing on brand is an enhancer to everything startups do, no matter how small they are. The other misstep is not finding the right market fit, which is responsible for 35% of startup failures according to CBI Insights. That means a lot of people are starting businesses but aren’t effective in figuring out how their product or service fits the desired outcome of an audience. My engagement with startups really begins with stepping into their potential customer’s shoes and saying: what are the desired outcomes, where are their anxieties, why are they not doing anything about it, etc. It’s scary how many founders overestimate their understanding of their audience.
How much does privacy play into your decision about whether or not to invest in a startup?
When startups are new and they’re excited because they’re finally getting customers, privacy is often not front of mind. They might be aware of some of their obligations under the GDPR but a lot of people are still confused about what they can and can’t do in everyday use cases. As a potential investor, I always dig into privacy, especially if the startup is working in a data sensitive area. Given the amount and the speed at which data is being shared around the world, ignoring privacy is not a risk entrepreneurs should take. Not all early stage businesses will have all of their policies sorted. But I want to see some awareness within the founding team, and a consideration about what needs to be in place.
Find out more about the Privacy Compliance Hub’s co-founders Nigel Jones and Karima Noren as they answer their own 10 questions, or take our free GDPR compliance health check to start building your culture of continuous privacy compliance.