Clear Returns Gives Retailers Insight On The Causes & Costs Of Returns: Trailblazing Women: Vicky Brock, Founder & CEO of Clear Returns

This interview is part of a series on Trailblazing Women role models (Entrepreneurs and Leaders) from around the world and first appeared on Global Invest Her. You have to see what you can be."Pick the problem you believe is commercially viable and important to solve. Then pick the people capable of solving it, point them at the right mountain and keep the energy going."Vicky Brock is CEO of a high-growth technology start-up, Clear Returns, which helps retailers boost profits by understanding and tackling their returns. Vicky recently won Innovator of the Year at the FDM everywoman in Technology Awards & led Clear Returns to be named top Tech Start Up in Europe, by the European Commission. She graduated from Kings College London, Birkbeck and MIT. She is a Director Emeritus of the Digital Analytics Association and previously worked with Google Analytics, HP and Tesco Clubcard. Building a career in data technology, she has gone on to be: 'Innovator of the Year', sponsored by Ocado, at the 2014 FDM everywoman in Technology awards. Named by & Bloomberg as one of the 9 top female tech CEOs to watch. Founder of Europe's top tech start-up, as named by European Commission Vice-President Neelie Kroes, following their European wide Tech All Stars competition She's privileged to speak at conferences worldwide and led Clear Returns to win IBM SmartCamp Dublin in 2012.Visit her website at and follow her on Twitter @brockvicky @clearreturnsWho is your role model as an entrepreneur?I love that characteristic you see in diverse individuals who exude humble confidence. Those who say "It hasn't been easy for me, I am not a natural at this, but I am doing it anyway, I am achieving a lot". Some of the most inspiring entrepreneurs are the more quiet entrepreneurs. One person who is a very good example of this is Gareth Williams, the CEO of Skyscanner. He has built a fantastic business and is on track to be Scotland's first billion $ company. He's a quiet, normal 'tecchie' kind of guy, who just got on with it, and who has made himself available to other people. He has been a great mentor to me, especially at the beginning of our company. He made his time and expertise available to me, with nothing to gain from it, and I really respect that.What is your greatest achievement to date?Getting past the idea and 'I want to...,' to actually building this company is what I am proud of. Clear Returns in a way was a 40th birthday present to myself. I'd had companies before, but they were small scale consultancy type companies."I went into this adventure knowing that I wanted to build a large, high growth software company. I want to build something, sell something. I didn't know how to do it, but I knew I wanted to do it. I think that sometimes people stop and go home then, because the next steps to actually doing it are really hard."I have 101 ideas per day, so finding the advice, support and team of people who are willing to follow me on the path is a huge achievement. Ideas are nothing. Innovation is about execution. I am proud with Clear Returns, that we were able to execute this idea through to a commercially successful company."Actually taking those first impossibly hard 25 steps, then every step after that is easier, because you get closer to the path people have treaded before. But you can't do it without the help and advice of others."On those very first steps, the person I owe the most to is Denis Mortensen, CEO of, a friend and serial entrepreneur. I was on a board of the Digital Analytics Association with him. I said, 'Denis I've got an idea I'm obsessed about and I know I can't build it organically. I can't go from 0-60 gently - but I don't know how or what to do first'. He thought very hard about it, came back with an intelligent answer and that was the most single useful advice to get me on the path. He gave me about 8 steps to do and I followed them religiously (except for one step that I only later understood & I'll come back to that!).Now, one of the most important people in my professional life is my chairman, Julie Ashworth. Though we have very complimentary skills, we look at the world differently. She's also a trained coach and helps me break things down into steps I can achieve. She helps me understand the nature of the problem we have now and the one we are going to have in the next 12 months, and how to balance the thought space between the two.What has been your biggest challenge as a woman entrepreneur? Confidence has been one. I was at a computer science fair recently and there were 2 women and about 40 men. So out-numbered, they weren't comfortable telling me how fantastic they were and blowing their own trumpet. I recognise that in myself."It took me being 40 to not give a damn and be this grown up confident version of myself! Honestly, if it all does go wrong, failing is not the worst thing that could happen to me. Dying without having created something or acted on my dreams is much worse."If I can help younger women short cut to this realisation by mentoring them and help them not beating themselves up, I'd be supremely happy.All the things you would think would get in the way of an entrepreneur: mortgage, family life, responsibility, increase as you get older. But I wasn't ready at 25. On paper, you've got the least to lose when you are an entrepreneur at 25 - you've got an entire career ahead of you, not got houses, parent's houses, spouses houses. But it took me knowing who I am and being comfortable with who I was. I owed it to myself to do what was going to make me happy, even if I didn't succeed.What in your opinion is the key to your company's success? Execution and communication. We are not perfect at either, but for a tech company, we are so much better at internal communication than we could be. Our culture is core and we have 3 values:1) We help our customers achieve their success while focusing our skills on real-world problems. Let's help them look amazing and solve real, commercial problems.2) We do distribute responsibility, accountability, praise and reward. You've got to distribute accountability and responsibility, not just rewards. The whole team does that with each other, without me needing to be involved. If it gets emotional, it's because they care - you can't train somebody to care, they have to make that step themselves.3) With that comes the third value - pride in competing, winning and discovery. The team will always achieve more when they push themselves.If you could do 1 thing differently, what would it be?"Start again from having previously exited and have more money on day one! Seriously, next time I intend that I'll be able to self-fund for longer."Also, as I mention earlier, there was one of Denis' rules I didn't follow, because I didn't understand its importance at the time. He said every potential co-founder should always put money on the table. I didn't appreciate why. I thought the fact people were prepared to give me their time was enough. But that original group of people quickly realised they weren't entrepreneurs and that a start-up wasn't for them. If I had asked them to put money on the table, they would have known that the first week. Fortunately it was all amicable and I had all the contracts in place to protect the company.But it made me realise it's all part of de-risking."If people can't cope with the risk of putting their money into the company, they are not right to be a co-founder. It's all about your attitude to risk."My chairman and my husband both made investments into the company and were the first investors after me on the share cap table. It is important that they both invested properly, because it was an important leap of faith on their parts when there was so little external evidence at the time and it is appropriate they should have shareholder rights and protection as a result. This is especially true when you are husband and wife. It's really important when you are working with your spouse that they are on the cap table in their own right, particularly for companies that later raise investment as VC's really scrutinize this point about spouses.What would you say to others to encourage them to become entrepreneurs?I will give my words of discouragement first. It's not for everybody and that's just fine! If you are not the idea person and are not obsessed about it day and night, that's ok."If you in your heart have a little bit of doubt that you are an entrepreneur, don't let that put you off founding a company. There are other key roles - and the other 3 people in the founding team need to be relatively sane, whereas the entrepreneur doesn't need to be."The person that is the owner of the quality control of product, or who is in charge of governance/ how you structure and future-proof it, they don't need to be the entrepreneur. The entrepreneur is the one who keeps running against the wall all the time and nevertheless still believes she/he can get through the wall. They are all quite different roles. You only need 1 entrepreneur in the business.I'm the entrepreneur in our business. I'm motivated by problem solving, obsession, a pat on the head and the glory. Maybe that's all part of the entrepreneur's psyche, but I do it because I have to do it and it's what I'm meant to do. In contrast, Stephen, my husband is my Product lead. This is not the only thing in his life and he brings critical balance and perspective. Whereas, I can't understand why you wouldn't want to talk about work at 3pm on Christmas day!How would you describe your leadership style? Pick the right mountain, pick the right people and then run up the mountain! You need to spend most of your time picking the right mountain, then spend the rest of the time convincing others to run up the mountain with you. I'm not great at putting up tents, preparing food etc., but I am supremely good at picking a good team, finding resources and recognising I need people around me to think about the other stuff. I sweat the problem very hard and get as much market, customer external data that I can to pick the right mountain. Pick the problem you believe is commercially viable and important to solve. Then pick the people capable of solving it, point them at the right mountain and keep the energy going.De-risk your thinking: I have a routine with the company of de-risking as much as possible. Being an entrepreneur is terrifying stuff. I thought it would magically get better as you start selling and it doesn't, it's just different. What helps me de-risk? There are periods of intense stress, when I can't sleep and function well. I listen to my 4 am fear and break down what those really things are about - the key risk point - and try to mitigate them or resolve any open decision making around them, to the point they are not there. I also think in terms of practice, not failure, and failing fabulously so that everyone, including myself, has the confidence to make a wrong decision, rather than be paralysed into inaction.Build on your strengths: We have a team meeting on 3.30pm on a Friday afternoon. We talk about the triumphs of the week and 1 blockage/failure of the week. I see it as an important part of the group de-risking. Nobody is in trouble here. It's ok internally to make mistakes. I encourage them to talk up. I don't want someone so afraid they will get in trouble that they hide things. The final thing is that I do everybody's strengths finder tests. I am not interested in developing the things you are not good at, you'll only get a bit less bad. Let's find out what you are brilliant at and let's make you even more brilliant. We have a Dropbox folder with each other's strengths finder in it, and that really helps us all understand how each of us ticks.What advice would you give to your younger self?"You'll probably never earn as much a month as this again in your entire life, so save as much as you can in your 20's?! If you do that, you will have the savings to make your cash flow better when you start up."If I could run my career differently, maybe I would have done 10 years in finance and made some serious money. On the other hand, if I had taken that approach, my not following the rules and problem-solving would not have come through to the extent it has. I probably would have had an expensive lifestyle that would have been too terrifying to turn my back on. So maybe as an entrepreneur, the pretty Spartan way I run my life is so much easier!What would you like to achieve in the next 5 years?On a professional level, I would have liked to grow this company to the best potential and valuation it can be. Then I would like to take my exit from it and do it all over again. Partly to invest in my own next company, and also to be in a position where I can invest in one or two other people's companies."I would love to build my own experience over this process of having been a CEO, raised money, taken it all the way through the cycle, run the cycle faster and help other people go through it faster. It's about having an amazing company that has commercial value, whether you are IPO'ing, selling, bringing in more investment. It's all about creating compelling value."Final words of advice:Define your success metrics at each stage of what you are doing.What does success look like and how do you measure it?You can't measure progress if you are not on top of your own metrics, especially if you are raising money, otherwise metrics will be imposed upon you. If you are obsessed with the metrics in your business, and they are the right metrics, you chose them and know how you are progressing against them, the investors will respect and work with your metrics. They are the most important means to know if you are running up the right mountain, so you really need to own them.Don't make it too difficult for yourself.Don't worry about cost per acquisition and month on month growth rate, when you are a year from having product and 18 months from having a paying customer. At the very beginning, your biggest challenges are about making demonstrable validation. Are we all kidding ourselves? Is there really a market? Is what we are building the right thing? Does anybody care? Have we defined the market size and is it big enough? Can we name the first 100 dream customers and why they should buy from us? If that's your only metric at one period, that's fine.Next it's about growing your team.Define the team gaps. 'Our goal is that in 6 months time, this will be an entire role in its own right. Or, our goal in 6 months will be it is not just Stephen developing the product, he will have 3 people developing the product and he will be shaping the product. I think those are all metrics, because you can define are they binary yes or no, and you can define how close we are we close to achieving them. Once you've got a payroll, it's all about how many more payrolls can I cover on existing cash? Where will the next cash come from? I've been obsessed about that from day 1."If you define what matters, then measure what matters, you are in control of your business. It is riding the rapids, but at least when you have some metrics, you can kid yourself that you are somewhat in control of the ride!"3 key words to describe yourself?hopelessly-optimisticresilientinexhaustibleFor other interviews with Trailblazing Women leaders on Huffington Post Read More HereFollow Anne Ravanona at @anneravanona, and check out other interviews in the Trailblazing women series on Global Invest Her blogLearn more about Global Invest Her This feed and its contents are the property of The Huffington Post, and use is subject to our terms. It may be used for personal consumption, but may not be distributed on a website.

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