Q&A with Fiona Jelly from Complyfirst

  • Q. The Women in Tech conference is designed to celebrate, inspire and support women who work in the tech sector. How important is it to be involved in these events?

    I think it's super important because less than 1% of female founders receive VC funding and it is often needed to pursue a tech business or a tech startup. So, promoting and championing women in that environment is really important. Getting investors and also funders like invest NI into these ecosystems is really important as well so that women can pursue businesses in tech, and get the funding and support they need to get those businesses off the ground.

    Q. Having studied law and qualified as a barrister how did you find yourself working in Fintech with some of the worlds largest global banking institutions?

    When I was doing my Masters in Law in London, I was studying banking Law and I did my dissertation on the 2008 financial crisis and it got me really interested in finance and fintech. As soon as I was out of university, my first job actually was at Goldman Sachs. I had planned to go into financial services, get a bit of experience and then go back into practice as a barrister but that never happened for a variety of reasons. I was really loving the environment in banking as I had so many friends and colleagues in a team atmosphere and a sense of camaraderie. This wasn’t like being in chambers doing mini-pupillages where I could be sat in a dark room alone reading papers all day, I might not see the QC from morning till evening and obviously that could be quite lonely.

    Q. Instead of settling and developing a steady career in corporate banking, what made you decide to take the risk and found your own start up?

    It was a tough one because I was actually really enjoying my jobs in finance, all of them for their own reasons but I suppose in some ways starting Complyfirst was because I wanted to scratch my own itch. Working as a compliance director I was regularly preparing regulatory reports to be submitted to the FCA and the Central Bank of Ireland and that was hugely painful.

    It was time-consuming with lots of money, time, effort, blood, sweat, and tears that went into reporting each month and I just knew it could be done better. I knew what data was held in the various systems; I knew the rules and I had a plan sketched out for how we could go about automating that process and to fix a big problem for compliance professionals.

    Q. As one of six winners of the Techstart female founders grant in 2022, how important are these programs in helping and supporting women to found their own businesses and could they go further?

    I believe last year was the first time they had put on that particular female founders grant and the £35k prize enabled us to kickstart our business. It allowed us to leave our jobs with no fear because we had that little bit of gas in the tank to keep us going. Hot on the heels of that we raised an equity investment with TechStart as well and that enabled us to build out our team.

    I can't thank TechStart and Women in Business enough for the female founders grant competition. It was an amazing experience and it literally kickstarted me on my journey and gave me the confidence to start a business. It also validated for me that it was a good idea that someone else believed in it as well. I think we can only do more for female founders to try and tackle some of that inequality because the figures in fundraising are just extremely poor.

    Women in Business also provided some mentoring and actually connected me with a lovely lady called Lorna McAdoo who is very senior in Version 1. I was able to pick up the phone to her and say "Lorna, Can you meet me, my brain is fried and I need to ask you some questions" and she met me with no problem and was amazingly helpful.

    Q. From your personal experiences, what advice would you give to other women considering starting their own businesses?

    You need a business plan! When I first had this big idea for Complyfirst in my head I had done some back-of-the-napkin stuff about how it would work. As part of the female founders application and the grant process I had to write out essentially a business plan and it was this that really helped me get clear about how we would go to market and commercialize it as well.

    So that process of writing out a business plan- definitely do it, it would be my top tip. There's something about getting things out of your head and down on paper that just clarifies everything.

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