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Female Founders: Sedge Beswick On The Five Things You Need To Thrive and Succeed as a Woman Founder

An Interview With Candice Georgiadis

A founder is only ever as good as the team they have around them. A good founder will hire people that are better than they are. For example, I am a self-starter, I have a million ideas a minute but plenty of them need production and project management. I’ve hired detail-minded finishers to help me deliver to the level I’m imagining. We can’t be good at everything but knowing our own weaknesses can be a real strength.

As a part of our series about “Why We Need More Women Founders”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Sedge Beswick.

Sedge has grown the innovative influencer marketing agency SEEN Connects from the ground up, expanding it internationally and pushing the boundaries of her industry. Before setting up Connects and working with brands like Nike, eBay and Panasonic, Sedge shaped Red Bull and ASOS’ social and influencer strategies.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?

Setting up my own business was never part of my master plan. I fell into it but have never looked back. For 11 years, I worked for brands, running and building their social and influencer teams. After five years at ASOS, I was looking for a new challenge, and coincidentally a contact at Nike introduced me to SEEN Connects’ first investor. Before I knew it, Connects was founded, and I was signing Nike as our first client.

Connects has continued to grow because we have a powerful USP. We believe brands and their perfect influencers can be aligned to a shared archetype — a common set of needs, drives, and desires. We identify their shared archetype so we can create engaging, exciting, and authentic content that ultimately converts them. It’s this deep understanding of an audience that has helped us build loyal communities for our brands. Creating these synergies keeps me excited and passionate about my industry.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?

Let me tell you, there is never a dull day when you’re running your own business. The same can be said for my industry — the platforms are always evolving, as is the role of influencers in society to be fair.

One of the most interesting things that I’ve discovered since starting Connects is the power of my network. Working at brands like Red Bull and ASOS, I built relationships with a group of super-savvy people who I trust deeply.

When I first started the business, the thing that kept me up at night was thinking about scaling our client base and our subsequent sales funnel. As it turns out, this is the area that I find most rewarding because so many previous colleagues have come forward with briefs. It shows the power of building, maintaining and making time for your network. I say, help others when you can as you never know where people will end up.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

The funniest lesson I learnt was when I tried to save costs on a cleaner. We had just moved into a new office space and I decided to go into the cleaning cupboard and spend my weekend dusting the office. Skip forward to Monday morning when I found out I’d used the cloths and products that had previously been used to clean the toilets. I’d smeared toilet juices all over the office! I had to pay for an urgent deep clean of the whole place and learnt the hard way, you can’t do it all by yourself!

Though not funny in a laugh out loud way, when I look back, our early costing model was hilarious. We charged our second client $1K per month (today we’d charge $15K+). They signed a year’s contract upfront, which we honoured but when it came to an end, I explained our new costings. They laughed and said: ‘Why do you think we signed up so quickly?’ Coming from brand-side, it was a learning curve to get a handle on how to cost a project and bring in value for the business, whilst still being able to pay the team.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

I have a long list of people that I will forever be indebted to, who championed and mentored me and picked up the phone late at night. For Connects, my investor, Paul Seligman, stands out.

I’ll never forget that he listened when a 27-year-old who met him in Soho House for no more than 20 minutes, wearing Nikes and a Metallica tee, passionately told him how he *needed* an influencer agency. He didn’t ask many questions and trusted implicitly that with my passion and enthusiasm, it was worth a punt. Honestly, I am not sure I would have invested in myself. Without him, SEEN Connects would never have been born. He believed in me before there was a business, and for that, I will always be grateful.

Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the primary focus of our interview. According to this EY report, only about 20 percent of funded companies have women founders. This reflects great historical progress, but it also shows that more work still has to be done to empower women to create companies. In your opinion and experience what is currently holding back women from founding companies?

Across most industries, men still dominate the majority of leadership positions. As a woman working your way up the career ladder it becomes harder to visualize yourself occupying those roles, whether as a business leader or owner.

I believe, especially in my sector, that there has been a huge shift and women are slowly building the confidence to back themselves. However, I see more and more that’s it’s women supporting other women to get their businesses off the ground. We need men to not just make space, but support burgeoning female-led companies find their footing.

There was a study, released this January, that revealed in the Netherlands there are more CEOs called Peter than female CEOs. Facts like this need to be talked about more. We need to encourage businesses and industries to make room for more women to take their seats in the boardroom.

From my experience, women are more nervous about money and undervalue themselves and their businesses. This has a knock-on effect on the success and growth of their companies. We need to better empower our women from a young age to help resolve this.

Can you help articulate a few things that can be done as individuals, as a society, or by the government, to help overcome those obstacles?

I can’t count the obstacles that prevent women from taking leadership positions or starting their own businesses. Some problems are systemic, they filter from the classroom into offices and create barriers for knowledge, confidence and empowerment that have a direct effect on women. This is coupled with the stagnation of careers because of the glass cliff of maternity leave.

For most women, having a child means they take a step back at a critical stage in their careers (while men continue to learn and progress). It tends to happen at the worst possible time — once they’ve accrued experience, confidence and a network of contacts. This is only further burdened by the domino effect of thereafter needing to prioritise their personal life like never before.

When you count it up, the early installment of a lack of business confidence, the lack of role models within boardrooms and a lack of flexibility for mothers, the cards are stacked against us.

I’ve been very lucky to have fantastic mentors who have been there for me whenever I have a question. It’s why I’m so bloody passionate about guiding the next generation and making space on my team for people from all backgrounds and upbringings. At Connects we host an annual grad event where we offer mentorship sessions to the next-gen, we also have an in-house upskilling programme called Connected Thinking, and this year we introduced our first apprenticeship. In small and meaningful ways, Connects (and I) do what we can to push away the obstacles.

This might be intuitive to you as a woman founder but I think it will be helpful to spell this out. Can you share a few reasons why more women should become founders?

I’ve been very lucky to spend my career (so far) surrounded by more women in leadership positions than men. From my experience, they have always been determined, focused and incredibly organised. I don’t want to generalise but from where I stand, when a woman says they will do something, as impossible as it might sound in the moment, they will find a way to make it possible. Perhaps this is an inherent need to beat expectations and overcome the obstacles we previously discussed, but I see so much more fight in female bosses. We fight for our place in the boardroom and to prove our worth. There’s no cutting corners or taking the easy way out for us. It is straight-up blood, sweat and tears.

What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about being a founder? Can you explain what you mean?

That you’re the best. That you’re the most experienced person in the business. It’s absolute BS.

A founder is only ever as good as the team they have around them. A good founder will hire people that are better than they are. For example, I am a self-starter, I have a million ideas a minute but plenty of them need production and project management. I’ve hired detail-minded finishers to help me deliver to the level I’m imagining. We can’t be good at everything but knowing our own weaknesses can be a real strength.

Is everyone cut out to be a founder? In your opinion, which specific traits increase the likelihood that a person will be a successful founder and what type of person should perhaps seek a “regular job” as an employee? Can you explain what you mean?

I can’t tell you if you’re cut out to be a founder, only you can. OK, you can have a good idea and even some seed money, but it’s really based on the individual’s needs, commitments and what they want out of their work-life balance.

Naturally, I see lots of benefits in being your own boss, but it’s also incredibly isolating and that isn’t for everyone. While there are people in my team who are very ambitious, are constantly working their way up to the next promotion, I also have employees who are comfortable in the role they have. Some people look at me and wonder why I am happy to be out of the country for months at a time, miss seeing friends and stay up to 1 am tackling my inbox. Each person has different wants and desires from their career, and I believe that should be respected and valued.

Ok super. Here is the main question of our interview. What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)

  1. I should have paid more attention at school. I loved school…for socialising and for selling yoyos at breaktime. I didn’t pay much attention in class. I thought working hard was desperately uncool. Little did I know then that maths would be the coolest effing thing and something I needed every damn second of the day. I love the metrics side of running a business so if I could go back I would have paid a hell of a lot more attention than I did.
  2. Enjoy the downtime. Nearly six years in and I still panic if I have a quieter day or an hour spare. It is stupid, I know, but I struggle to shift this attitude. I have to remind myself to take that time for myself — get my nails done, see my osteopath or call a mate. When you run a business, there is always something to do, but making time for you drives more value than anything else to the business.
  3. Hire ahead. I know to the penny how much money Connects needs to bank in terms of gross profit per month and the right number of people in the office for the business to be profitable. Why? Because when we win a new piece of work and it’s not panic stations. I now hire ahead to make sure I can continue to grow the business without impacting workflows.
  4. I will need an Executive Assistant. Honestly, I was told this a 1M times before I hired Vanessa. For me, I thought an EA made me sound arrogant. I am organized and can manage my own diary. I am responsive and can manage my own inbox. In the end, I was basically told to get on and hire someone by my investor. They could see that I wasn’t always using my time well. I hired Vanessa nearly a year ago and have since realised how good… scrap that, exceptional an EA is. Honestly, it’s changed my life. I feel supported and I can focus on what I am good at.
  5. Future proof the business. Some days I am so in the thick of the business and getting through the day that I need to look up and make sure I know what is ahead. Not just for me, but for the team too — they need and deserve the same headspace. To grow the business, requirements change so we can never plan for best and worst case scenarios enough.

How have you used your success to make the world a better place?

What a question! Throughout my career people took the time to listen to my ideas and to mentor me along the way. Those individuals helped me when I didn’t know what I needed help with, they taught me things that make the business a success today. It’s because of them, I give my time to people from underprivileged backgrounds looking to kickstart a career or navigate a career rut. To date, I have placed around 50 people in roles and still answer their calls and WhatsApps to help and support wherever I can.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the greatest number of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.

I would rip up the recruitment rulebook and make careers and jobs accessible to all. It is about the people, not the grades. I didn’t pay attention in school but that hasn’t stopped me, so I think we should make space for more unorthodox ways into a job.

Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.

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