Women in Startups

London Startups Talks #4 – Women in fintech startups: Benedetta and her journey to build Oval Money

Women in fintech startups: let’s continue the journey to meet the most amazing women working in tech.

I started the Women in Startups series last year. I was working with a startup and was part of a team with a few amazing talented women. For once, I wasn’t the only one. So I realised it: “that’s why I didn’t feel very comfortable in the previous one”.
There’s something wrong in the tech industry and a lot of problems pushing women out of it.
It’s called unconscious bias and that’s why men are always saying that’s not true.
This series aims to help understanding there’s a bunch of great, skilled and passionate women working in tech and aiming to disrupt our current world. Even if they’re not on the press and they’re not as recognised as men.
So, after having talked about bots and blockchain, the time has arrived to talk about fintech.
Fintech is a very booming sector in London and I’m glad I’ve met with Benedetta Arese Lucini  to talk about Oval Money and her ideas about improving people’s life thanks to technology and the crowd.

logo-oval-money women in fintech startups

Oval Money and Benedetta’s background working in tech

Ciao Benedetta, tell us about you and why you’re passionate about startups
I started to be passionate about entrepreneurship before even knowing what startups were. When I was 12 years old, by dad took me to his office, he’s also an entrepreneur. And I saw his desktop computer and I thought that sitting on that rotating chair and typing on a computer was the job I wanted to do.
I had no ideas what it meant but that’s what I decided at 12 years old, I wanted to be an entrepreneur.
I started my career in investment banking, this was before the crisis, still a competitive environment but a great place to learn how to work. And there you work very hard. I loved number, that’s why I studied finance but I realised it wasn’t my call.
So I did an MBA in New York and San Francisco, and I understood that everything I wanted to do was working in startups. I got to know the valley and I realised that the fast-paced moving environment was what I was looking for.
In that time, 2010-11 there were a lot of cleantech startups, Facebook was going public, it was the beginning of this new mobile-driven era of technology. And there, I thought, “no more finance and banking, let’s get hired by a startup and get your hands dirty, Benedetta.”

benedetta arese lucini women in fintech startupsI met the founders of Zalando, Rocket Internet, they told me they were launching Zalando, called Zalora, in Asia and they said: “Do you want to go to Malaysia?” And I said “Ok”. I looked at a map to see where Malaysia was and I thought it was a great place to go.
Kuala Lumpur was a booming city and I moved here in 2012. The first job I had was to fix the warehouse. All the packages weren’t properly categorised, it was kind of handmade.
I got in love with the idea of setting up something from nothing, and working with people, even if you had to work until late. I also worked with a builder of startups with some people I met there.
Then Uber called me for an interview. I heard about Uber from San Francisco but I didn’t know they were moving so fast. And they asked me if I wanted to go working in Italy. I wasn’t sure, I spent 10 years away from Italy. But I got this role, which was City Manager for Milan and then the journey started as Uber was making us feeling entrepreneurs, rather than employees of a bigger company.
I had great 3 years in Uber, the company grew from 200 to over 6.000 people in the time I was working there, such a crazy growth. It’s been a steep learning curve, a great experience.

Uber has the mission to change the way people travel and move, a great mission but after Uber I thought it was the time to becoming an entrepreneur, to bring forward a vision that was mine and not somebody else’s. I met Claudio and Edoardo a few years before when they launched their first startups and we met at the Italian Parliament, during an event about the sharing economy.
We kept in touch and when I met Edoardo at another conference after I left Uber, he told me about their latest idea, in fintech.

There are no paths or ways to educate people about savings money and so we thought, why don’t we do an app which is helping people to do it thanks to technology, wisely and continuously, and not just one-off? For example, with crowdfunding people understood they can invest money wisely, but it’s just once and this is something it should be approached with the same financial consciousness of more traditional programs.
So, that’s how Oval Money was born. And even if at that time, I received different offers from other fintech companies, I really got hooked on this idea. And we started.
We met Simone, our CTO, one of the few experts about machine learning in Italy. He’s been working in machine learning before it was even a buzzword. We thought of combining data, my experience of community building and the fintech experience of Claudio and Edoardo to come up with a product users love.

oval money cofounder women in fintech startupsWhat are you looking to disrupt with Oval Money?
We want to become partners of the industry, both to the fintech and the traditional finance players.
The market is very crowded: there are 3.300 funds managers and 63 robots advisors only in Europe.
The choice is becoming something that users struggle to deal with because there’s so much selection.
Our idea is to get data to analyse and understand humans’ behaviour targeting users to help them finding the right products. Funds and robots advisors don’t event target those users. Using learnings and the community in a very sharing economy style we’ll help users to find the best products, which are always going to be the ones coming out, even if there’s not an expert telling you about them.
We’ll empower users choosing the best thing for them, working better with the banks to understand what they are looking for and helping to choose the best one for themselves based on their behaviour.

How to empower women in tech and to attract more entrepreneurs?

Why are women paid less in the 90% of sectors? Does it depend on the fewer leadership roles? Well, actually data said that also for the same role women are paid less because women don’t ask for a pay rise. We have a tendency to apologise instead of being aggressive towards what we want to achieve.
The big problem is that it’s not just a society problems, but a women-related one as well. I’ve worked with incredible women in Uber, Zalora and in investment banking at the top of their success.
The problem is that it’s never enough. If you don’t have a mentor or you don’t know where you can get to, you won’t do it. I was lucky that I was abroad and I find my role model to get inspired.
The percentage of women in some sectors is very low but you can still find women and your role models: in Italy, it’s harder.
The pay gap is also something which should be tackled from the bottom, women should ask, but also companies should encourage a more transparent salary section communication. Amazon has a very strict rule in terms of salary, but if you’re in a certain position you’ll get that salary level, it’s strict but it avoids leaving to hiring managers the choice of salaries.

I really do think that women should ask for more and they should feel they’re entitled to have it.

oval alessia camera benedetta lucini women working in techWhich are the difficulties you’ve faced during the years?
There are always great and hard times.
If people want to do startups, they always have to remember that it’s like a roller coaster: some days are bright and others where everything seems going wrong. I think the hardest part is always the ability to find the right people to work them and trust them.
I’ve been very lucky about it but I also made mistakes sometimes and this is the hardest part for me. Companies are made out of people: if you don’t have the right people, there’s not a company. And when you make mistakes, it’s hard cause you have to readjust the situations and you need to find the right talents who believe in the mission or the vision of the company you’re building.

So I think, be aware you can make mistakes, learn from your mistakes is key.
This for sure is true every time. When you work in finance, you’ve been told you can’t make mistakes. But in startups there’s a very good culture saying the failing is good. And you should actually try. One of the things I always tell my team is that I don’t care what you do as long as you’re doing something. And then if it fails we’ll analyse it, understanding why but I’ll always let people try.

Your 3 tips for women willing to start their entrepreneurial journey.
The first thing is that you need to start something you really believe in.
I don’t believe in projects where you’ just copying something already existing. You have to wake up every morning and think that it’s what you want to build it and this is what you want to do.

Secondly, choose the right team. Make sure it’s diverse. If you’re a woman, have men on the team and people with different backgrounds and culture. Build a diverse team, just remember to keep the balance or it’s going to be hard. It took a while but we’re getting more balance now.

And the third is get your hands dirty. I say I’m a doer: not spend too much thinking, spend more time doing it or your startup will never start.

Thanks, Benedetta and good luck with Oval Money!
If you want to give a try to the app OvalMoney, use my code ACGXYU to get £5 for free!

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