Former ‘The Apprentice’ star, Lauren Riley, tells us what she’s been up to since Series 10, her new business app, and gives her top tips on how to succeed in the entrepreneurial world.
Background: Lauren is a London-based entrepreneur and a qualified solicitor. Ever since she began studying law, Lauren has been keen to dispel the image of a stuffy solicitor. In fact, she remains determined to give the law a ‘facelift’ and is a firm believer that today’s leading businesswomen can be both professional and glamorous.
Flashback: Lauren was fired from ‘The Apprentice’ after week seven’s advertising task in New York. After losing out on the project manager role to Mark, she struggled to find her voice in the Big Apple. Back in the board room, Lord Sugar accused her of ‘standing back’ and he ultimately went with his gut feeling and fired her. A shocked Lauren cited Daniel and Mark’s tactical game playing as the cause of her exit from the process.
Hi Lauren! Tell us what you’ve been up to since we saw you on ‘The Apprentice’.
LR: It’s been a whirlwind but a very exciting time. I took the months between filming the show and it being shown on TV to build my business, so by the time I was ‘fired’ The Link App was a real product and as a result it was a great position to launch from. I am still a family lawyer, but on a consultant basis. This means I am fortunate enough to be able to spend most of my time in the business. I’m also a public speaker and a blogger. Personally I am indulging my passions for fitness and travel whenever possible but the focus has certainly been about the business.
So what exactly is ‘The Link App’?
LR: The Link App is the ultimate tool for busy law firms looking to thrive in an increasingly competitive market, improve customer service, save time and money, and increase productivity. This is done by utilising technology to keep clients ‘in the loop’ without the need for back and forth communication. This frees up valuable time for a solicitor.
The Link App not only offers potential savings to the law firms in real costs, but it is also very valuable from a marketing angle. We aim to replace traditional methods of communication (e.g. calls, letters, etc.) for the majority of interactions with clients.
How has your appearance on ‘The Apprentice’ helped you to push your business forward? Has it opened any doors?
LR: It’s been a good place to launch from, the consensus from viewers was that I came across as a credible candidate and that Lord Sugar really made a big deal about my profession. Being recognised as a lawyer is great, as I am proud of this and the industry recognition helps as my app is aimed at law firms. Also the majority of my public speaking is in this sector too. The startup journey is always tough though, I imagine that is the same for any business, Apprentice appearance or not.
Was there anything you learned from the show that has helped you on your journey?
LR: I learned that being confident in myself and my own beliefs was the right path – I was just myself throughout the process. If I was willing to compromise that belief then I may have gotten further in the show, but I don’t think that would translate to success outside of it. Business is largely about trust and the quality of relationships you build along the way. I am content with how things have worked out and I’m proud of the results I’ve achieved for The Link App to date.
You decided to use crowdfunding as a method to fund your business. Why did you choose to go down this route?
LR: Using the crowd is a modern way to raise funds for a modern company, and we’ve seen phenomenal interest in the app so far. Crowd2Fund offers a simple and quick platform for investors to gain insight into the business with much of the usual due diligence work done for them. My investors also become my clients, product testers and can invest in future rounds so crowdfunding was clearly the best way to raise funds for us. I think it poses a genuinely exciting opportunity for law firms and investors alike to get on board at an early stage.
What was the biggest challenge you faced in getting funding in this way?
LR: I think the answer is in the volume of interest this creates. Naturally, we want as many eyes on the campaign as possible, but I’m very hands-on in the business and want to be able to talk to and meet with any potential investors personally. Between these meeting and promoting the campaign it’s a full time job in itself.
What would be your advice for any entrepreneurs and SMEs looking to succeed with crowdfunding?
LR: There is a lot that goes on beneath the surface to these campaigns. I have been working solidly on The Link App for a year to get it to the point that it’s a truly attractive proposition to investors. It is amazing that the crowd is opening up avenues of funding to people and businesses that were perhaps previously unable to access these but it’s no quick fix. Take your time, get the necessary feedback directly from investors if possible and put the work in before the campaign to ensure your best chance of success.
The app looks as though it’s well on its way to success, but were there any hiccups along the way?
LR: If I did it all again I would have on-boarded tech talent from day one. I was almost too aware that we didn’t have a huge budget to start off with and presumed that if we couldn’t offer a huge salaried position then that was the end of the discussion.
Also, I think coming from a professional background and not a tech one meant I didn’t have the best contacts in the field initially. This meant a lot of personal sacrifice, but the contact list thankfully grows daily and I am much better supported than I was at the beginning.
How has your background as a lawyer helped you in business?
LR: It’s been absolutely vital for understanding the end user of my product. The technology was built by lawyers for lawyers. There are lots of day-to-day tasks that a legal background helps in too; pitching is very similar to advocacy for example. I was also fortunate enough to complete a business management scheme for a global firm and head a department in a law firm before starting The Link App so it gave me a great background to start with.
You’re obviously a very well educated woman, but do you sometimes find that the book gets judged by its cover?
LR: I’ve tried to utilise my media profile to send a positive message – I am female, mixed race, young, and a professional in law and tech, and these are both underrepresented sectors. I’ve enjoyed being able to be a public face to these professions and very much hope to encourage a public change in perception. I am taking part in The Guardian’s roundtable discussion on promoting diversity in the legal sector this month too.
There have been occasions where people’s first impressions were based on looks, particularly when I was more junior in my careers. However, it never takes very long to let your ability do the talking for you.
Are there enough avenues for female entrepreneurs to be successful or are there too many barriers for them to overcome?
LR: I think it’d be easier to answer this at the end of my journey, but so far I haven’t experienced any prejudice, as far as I am aware. There are certainly barriers, but unless these can be clearly defined and eliminated, I prefer to focus on the positives and successes of women in business to change perception. My experience has fortunately been a positive one, particularly because I have chosen male dominated areas. Perhaps people find engaging with me as a female entrepreneur in these sectors a different experience, but I’ve found a great deal of support in my journey so far.
The thing about prejudice is that it will not be visible. I hope to be very successful and to use my journey to encourage other entrepreneurs, particularly women. Right now I share my journey via social media and my blog. My ethos is best explained on my website www.laurenriley.co.uk where I explain my belief that women can have it all.
As a young, successful, female entrepreneur, do you see yourself as a role model to other young women?
LR: I think this is a great responsibility, so I would never use this term to describe myself. However, I have been labelled as such by a number of people and I will try to live up to that title. I have had hundreds of young women contact me through twitter or my website and it’s been great to hear how I have inspired them to look again at their career options or spur them on in their chosen path. I am also fortunate enough to be a public speaker and the feedback from these events is always very rewarding.
Finally, what has been your proudest moment in business?
LR: Last week I pitched The Link App to Dell UK. In the audience was the Vice President and the senior management team. We were selected by Dell as finalists in their ‘Start Up in Residence’ programme. It was incredible to get this recognition from such a global presence in the tech sector. This was a proud moment for me – it was the sort of thing I would have been able to do on the Apprentice, but this time I was there on my own merit and it was real life.
For more information about Lauren and ‘The Link App’, visit www.thelinkapp.co.uk