Small businesses are essential to the UK’s economy. Last year, they made up 98% of the country’s private business sector. Plus, small businesses create jobs for thousands of people, and come up with new ideas and products that help improve our lives.
We very much believe in the power of small businesses at Octopus, as places for great ideas as well as job creators. That’s why we back hundreds of startups through our investments. But we want to encourage the people who work in our company to think like entrepreneurs and follow their own big ideas, too.
To encourage Octopus people to set up their own businesses, we started Springboard in 2018. The programme offers our people the chance to learn from established founders, develop their business ideas, and pitch for investment from Octopus. If successful, the pitchers can then choose to take the investment and leave Octopus to work on their business full-time.
Several people have pitched for investment since Springboard launched. In this piece Karen Taylor, the first Octopus employee to receive investment through Springboard, tells us about her journey from idea to investment and beyond.
Karen set up her business, Parent Cloud, in July 2019. Parent Cloud offers companies services that help them support any employees who are working parents. Employing 22 specialists, Karen’s company helps with everything from counselling to sleep therapy, nutrition and fertility treatment.
January 2019 – Where did the idea for Parent Cloud come from?
For a long time, I wanted to start my own company. I spent a lot of my maternity leave trying to come up with an idea. Then, I went back to work and realised how difficult it can be for working parents. I did some research and found there weren’t any businesses offering help for people like me.
I remember talking to the Octopus Springboard team about my idea for Parent Cloud and they said, “if you think about your idea the majority of your time, and you wake up thinking about this idea, then you have to go do it.” That’s what encouraged me to go for it. I decided to pitch to the Springboard team to try and win funding to help me get my business off the ground,
May 2019 – The pitch
It took four weeks to plan my pitch. Some parts were particularly tricky, especially for someone who isn’t used to writing financial models and pitches. But working for Octopus, there are some obvious places to reach out to for advice. I was able to get in touch with the right people to help me out, including Octopus Ventures. Then, I refined my plans and practised my pitch as much as I could before the big day.
When I walked into the room to do the pitch, there were six people from the Springboard there. I realised they were people who I’d bump into at work in the corridor, and they genuinely wanted me to do well. This took some of the pressure away, as they all wanted to be supportive.
I felt strangely calm while I was pitching. I knew my content well as I’d rehearsed it so much, so even though there were some tough questions, I answered them quite easily. And I kept focusing on the fact that Springboard was designed to support and prepare us for a journey of entrepreneurship, not to catch us out.
After the meeting was over, I didn’t have to wait long for a decision. The beauty of Springboard being entirely internal meant it only took a week to hear that Octopus wanted to invest in Parent Cloud. I was really excited. I knew I was about to take a step that was really going to change my life.
July 2019 – Leaving Octopus and launching the business
When the funding was agreed, it was an instant decision for me; nothing was going to stop me from launching my business. Six weeks after I secured the Octopus funding, I officially left the company to work on Parent Cloud. It was a huge step and a very steep learning curve. Suddenly, everything was down to me.
There was a lot to do. There was the technical side of things, building the website and the booking system, along with the physical process of finding and screening specialists to provide the services. Then, there was reaching out to businesses to find potential clients.
From really early on, Octopus came onboard as a client. It was fantastic to start with a customer as it meant I could show testimonials to other potential partners. It also helped build my confidence when I reached out to new clients. Having worked in HR. I knew the right sort of people to contact. With a strong testimonial behind me, Parent Cloud generated lots of interest.
There’s an open-door policy at Octopus which has been so helpful, as I can get in touch with anyone in the company with any issues. Simon Rogerson was on the committee I pitched to, and his advice has been invaluable in getting Parent Cloud off the ground. I email him each month to update him about what is going on and often, he will come back with lengthy thoughts and guidance. It’s amazing to have a CEO send you a personalised email, giving you genuine help.
July 2020 – Parent Cloud a year on
The pace hasn’t slowed down since I first launched Parent Cloud. In the first couple of months, I realised I was generating lots of interest from some big, recognisable businesses, like management consultancies, retail companies and banks. It felt great in terms of validation and I suddenly had a huge sense of relief. Pitching to those companies were big moments for me.
We’ve been approached by big names in the parenting space too, asking about ways they can get involved or invest. The press team at Octopus were really helpful here, offering lots of support to help me get the Parent Cloud name out there.
More recently, I’ve been talking to new investors about hopefully raising a second round of funding in the near future. The extra money will help me expand the business into new areas and will help improve the systems we already have. My is to add even more products to the Parent Cloud offering.
I’m so pleased with where Parent Cloud is and I’m excited for the future. Right now, I’m working on lots of new things, including “The Parent Hub.” This will be a new area in our existing platform that will allow businesses to provide working parents with ongoing support in groups, as well as one-to-one sessions. There’s so much room for growth in the parenting space and there’s so much demand, so it’s a really exciting time.
Late 2020 – Would you do it again?
Starting a business is hard work. Once you start working on your company, there will definitely be moments when you’ll feel out of your depth. It shouldn’t stop you from doing it, though. And what really helped me with this was the support from my colleagues at Octopus and from Springboard. It really allowed me to put my all into the business.
Even if you don’t have access to something like Springboard, don’t let it put you off. I started Parent Cloud because working and being a parent is hard. I’m still doing both and I still have those challenges, but it’s very much worth it. If you’re thinking about starting a business, I would say do it.