Welcome to the first day of our #WonderWomen interview series, celebrating women in business and exploring their experiences.
Our first interviewee is Hayley Parsons, founder and former chief executive of GoCompare. In 2012, she was awarded an OBE in the New Year’s Honours list for ‘services to the economy’, and is now a member of the InspireWales investment consortium.
What was the motivation behind setting up GoCompare?
There were a number of factors which gave me the push to go it alone. After having worked in the insurance industry for over a decade and then a further five years in the comparison industry, I just felt that there was a need for a better service for consumers.
The two comparison sites who dominated the marketplace at the time only compared policies on price, and not cover. So we built a service that compared insurance policies on features, as well as price. This was a better way to sell insurance and the industry soon followed our model.
I also knew I wasn’t going any further in my current role and whilst I hadn’t necessarily always planned to go it alone, I knew I could do it. I managed to persuade two of my best friends and colleagues to come with me and we went for it. At the time, I had a three-year-old child, two business partners and little else but a belief that what we were doing was right, so we just kept going.
I had made up my mind this is what we were going to do, so even when we broke out into a cold sweat over some of the risks that we were taking, I knew it was better to have a go at something than look back and regret not having tried.
What was your biggest challenge as CEO and founder?
Some of the biggest moments for me included taking out the £30 million loan to build the business, then spending millions of pounds on a marketing campaign when we heard that Tesco was moving into the comparison market. This was a huge risk for us, but we knew that to get GoCompare off the ground we had to market aggressively: we had to build up the market share and go for it! We did, and thankfully it worked.
At moments like that, you have to stop analysing the outcomes and just make a call. Challenges are constant in business so you have to get on with them and accept that it won’t always be easy, but the rewards are worth it!
Can you tell us a bit more about your work with InspireWales and Paperclip, the app you invested in?
I am a member of Inspire Wales, an investment consortium made up of 20 successful Welsh business people. I work with the team there to find exciting businesses to invest in and mentor. I am absolutely passionate about helping young businesses – I couldn’t have done it myself without the support of friends, family and business mentors – so I know first-hand how helpful it is to have someone there pushing you on.
Paperclip is an online and app-based marketplace allowing users to buy, sell, swap and give away second-hand goods with nearby Paperclip users. When I met the team, I was impressed by their ambitions for the business and instantly knew I wanted to invest in them – they are a young team with a great product and I really like the way they do things.
What advice would you give to an aspiring founder?
The same advice as I would give to anybody in any industry, whether you’re a woman or not: if you want to be an entrepreneur or successful in your chosen field, you have to work hard and take risks.
I think it’s important for women to consider themselves as equal, and I think problems can creep in when women don’t think of themselves as such and don’t behave this way.
And finally, what does International Women’s Day mean to you?
Anything that shines a light on the awesome things that people – men or women – do is good with me.
I know that I’ve worked hard throughout my career, but I’ve also been very lucky to work with some amazing people and have the support of those people. Not everyone has that support, so we must do everything we can to showcase great achievements and International Women’s Day is one of those days.
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