We often hear about the entrepreneur and their entrepreneurial spirit that takes direct responsibility for turning an idea into a profitable finished product through assertive risk-taking and innovation. Is this the same for the employed go-getters that grace the halls of organisations large and small? They are often referred to as ‘intrepreneurs’ defined as ‘a person within an organisation who takes direct responsibility for turning an idea into a profitable finished product through assertive risk-taking and innovation’.
On paper the definition between the two is virtually the same but is the reality the same? We caught up with Stephanie Meyer-Scott, Head of Product Marketing and Comms at WeSwap.
WeSwap stemmed from an idea founder Jared Jesner had through his experiences as a city trader at JP Morgan. He went on to work for Shell, where he was introduced to corporate finance adviser Simon Sacerdoti, whose experience enabled them to start commercialising the idea and together they co-founded the service in 2013. Stephanie joined WeSwap as an Executive Assistant the same year not long after finishing university.
Paul: Tell me about your background and how you ended up in your role as your study does not that suggests you would have moved into a marketing role. How did that come about and what were your thoughts on your choices?
Stephanie: Sure.. well, like so many people when they finish their A levels, I didn’t really know what I wanted to do further down the line. I kind of had half in mind a law career but didn’t fancy 3 years of legal study. I thought, right, let’s do something I really enjoyed at Uni and then I’d do a conversion at the end. A few people I knew were studying philosophy which was one of the things I did at A level. It was a subject I really enjoyed the intellectual rigour of, but also, the challenge of asking myself the big questions. I was particularly interested in things like “jurisprudence” and more ethical, moral side of things, which was more interesting. I thought it would give me a good grounding if I did go into something like law and also the political side of philosophy.
As I got into the course I really enjoyed it and, for a while, I thought I was going to go on and become an academic, do a PhD, the whole shebang. Then I got to about the 2nd year and essentially completely ran out of money (she laughs) and so I started up a couple of businesses – out of necessity really. I started up an ebay business selling housewares that I bought from a wholesale forum. I also started academic proof reading on the side for non-UK students. Both of those experiences basically made me realise that I really got a kick out of the hands-on element of growing a business. Even though the scale of what I was doing was miniscule, I really enjoyed the challenge of learning how to do the HTML code for a website, and to go on forums to learn how to sell my lamps on ebay. It was that experience that made me realise that I wasn’t really cut out for an academic lifestyle as I thought. I was only having those thoughts around 2nd year at Uni and by that point, my flat was completely filled with stock from warehouses. Gal Boy was my nickname from my flatmates! Anyway, I finished Uni, really enjoyed the course, did well but realised at that point that actually I didn’t particularly want to be an academic.
I was still undecided about doing a legal conversion course but wanted to find out more about it. I got a few end of Uni jobs – I managed a bookshop for a while and I was also working for Zurich Insurance in their Customer Care Total Loss Department. I went to a recruiter and said “not sure what I want to do” and told them about what I did while at Uni – which was basically that I tried a whole bunch of stuff to essentially make some money. I asked if they knew anyone who would be interested in someone who was keen to get stuck into whatever.
I was introduced to WeSwap. At the time, they were looking for an Executive Assistant for the founders, Jared and Simon. They hired me but really didn’t need an Executive Assistant. It was before we’d got any sort of product off the ground and we were still talking to legal and operational partners about how do we launch the whole payments-based business, so it really was very early days. There were about six or seven of us in the office and most of them were technical and operations employees. So what I ended up doing was basically getting involved in almost everything over the course of that first year, building up the operational side of things with our Operations Manager and also laying the foundations for our customer support system and answering questions like “how are we going to scale up a customer support team in ten different countries when there are only six of us here?” that kind of stuff. We also starting to think about how we were going to communicate the product, so I had a hand in developing the first website.
Essentially after that first year of doing a whole bunch of stuff, I basically found ‘my home’, as it were, in the marketing side of things. That’s where I’ve been since in various forms. I was the Communication Manager initially, building up a base of beta users before we went out to full market. Then UK Marketing Manager, increasing or customer base from around 2,000 to 120,000 or so.
During that process, I got really interested in the power of brand and storytelling for a growing business, seeing first-hand what a powerful tool it can be in a company’s arsenal, especially when so many other things are uncertain, like product development. If you can tell a really, really great story, then it can do wonders for a growing brand.
Paul: In the early days when you were at Uni, you had your entrepreneurial appetite whetted a little. I’m guessing this helped opened your eyes to the opportunity when you first joined WeSwap?
Stephanie: Yes – absolutely. I mean I had no idea if WeSwap was going to be successful or not when I joined. I thought it was a great idea. I really, really liked the founders as they seemed really smart people with great backgrounds. Somewhat selfishly, the thing I was most excited about when I joined WeSwap was the opportunity to see a business develop from the ground up and what’s really involved in that. I had no real commercial background; I didn’t do a business degree and I hadn’t had too many commercial jobs previously beyond bits and pieces I’d done myself at Uni – it was a real eye opener for me. The kind of opportunity to be on the ground on day one was truly exciting at the time.
Paul: The founders must have seen something in you and your ability as you have gone on and they’ve trusted you to do things?
Stephanie: Gosh.. I guess so… I think what I’ve always done quite well is to own the job at hand and got on with it and pushed it forward. I’ve always been quite good at seeing a problem and really doing everything I can to try to fix it. I guess I’ve always been a bit of ‘a doer’ in that respect.
Paul: When you started in those early days, and I know you’ve been through a rebrand, were there any principles that the founders held dear that supported you in achieving what you have?
Stephanie: Something that’s been really important to WeSwap from Day One is transparency and fairness for the consumer. A lot of what we were rallying against in the early days, and still do to an extent now, is about how much people lose through bad exchange rates and how little awareness people have around it and how this practice still goes on. People still don’t know that they are being charged in the exchange rate and are still getting ripped off at the airport. It was all about really trying to strip away all those layers of middlemen. So that transparency and fairness towards our users is really important and something we still focus on today.
Paul: Just for our readers who might not know, in a nutshell, can you tell us what WeSwap is?
Stephanie: Of course. WeSwap is a peer-to-peer travel money service. Essentially you sign up through our app or website. We send you a card which is a pre-paid Mastercard, and essentially you use that card to manage your holiday money. You would load it up with Pounds and exchange it for a currency you need. Alternatively, you can load up the Pounds and just spend them on your holiday. The thing that really makes it different is that behind the scenes is our peer-to-peer chat form. Essentially rather than sourcing a currency from a bank or broker, we will be swapping your money with individuals travelling in the opposite direction.
So if you’ve got Pounds and need Euros, we’re finding people with Euros who need Pounds and swapping your currency with them. What that means is that you get a much better deal on your travel money and have more to spend on holiday.
Paul: So that’s quite a specialism. Back in 2012 when you started, it was quite a mindblowing concept?
Stephanie: Yes, it was but at the same time, it’s one of those ideas that when you tell people about it, it seems obvious and makes perfect of sense! I guess people had been doing it for years informally. If you’d got left over Euros at home, you might sell them to your mates for a rate that you’d agree on so I think the germs of the idea were there. As soon as we told people that we were making it a reality digitally, then people were ‘of course that will work’. The struggle at the beginning was making people understand that you didn’t have to meet up in person to exchange cash as it was all done online.
At the time pre-paid cards and the like weren’t as commonplace as they are today so that was also a bit of a struggle. Thankfully the Fintech environment has moved on so much that alternative ways of paying are now pretty much second nature to most of us. Whether it’s a pre-paid card or a new debit card or whatever. People are so used to having a card in their pocket for holiday that it’s less of a barrier than it might have been.
Paul: The gamechanger was obviously technology and also social networks would have been starting to spring up in 2012 and security around them has helped?
Stephanie: Yes – it’s really crazy to think how Twitter was a new, fun thing at the time that people were doing when I first joined and Instagram wasn’t even a thing… I feel really old! It did come at the same time that social networks were massive and businesses everywhere were saying they were going to be the next Facebook or the next Myspace. We came up at that same time as well as being a financial service based on social principles and it resonated at the time and I think it still does.
Paul: That takes us to your rebranding. You’d decided that brand was an important thing if you are going to have an affinity on a social level – people need to believe in it?
Stephanie:: Definitely – and also there are a few reasons why branding is important: although what we are doing is brand new (or was brand new), it’s a very old and trusted environment with lots of big names like the Post Office, Sainsbury, Tesco, Travelex and Marks & Spencer. These are big, established names that we were going up against in the industry. At the same time, it was also money – one of the areas which is very sticky – by that I mean it takes a lot of convincing for people to switch. I think it became very obvious that unless we had something bigger, bolder and more emotive to say, then we were going to get lost in the crowd.
Thankfully we had a good foundation with the swapping piece and the peer-to-peer element and the fact that the whole platform is founded on real people and making sure they get a better deal. So, we already had something good to start with which was great, so it was important we really stuck to our guns, making sure we shouted about what was unique and special about us and kept on saying it.
In the early days when you are launching a business it is very, very tempting to look at your competitors and assume that they are doing it better. You are always looking at your competitors and saying “Oh, they’re doing that… why aren’t we doing that?” It was a mistake we made early on as well, before twigging the power of walking your own path. What that means is that if you don’t, you end up being just like them and not your own thing. What we realised is that we really did have a great idea and emotive principles to support us. We really starting flourishing when we realised that we had to stick to our guns and forge our own path with our branding and messaging. That was a real learning curve. I think when it comes to competitors, learn from them but don’t be afraid of them.
Paul: What did you learn from first developing the brand to where you are today?
Stephanie: I think there were a few things actually. Through the process, we talked a lot to our customers and asked them what they care about when it comes to travel money; what their experiences have been like with other people; what they liked about WeSwap. What we realised was that the idea of swapping with other people carried a lot of weight, it means that people feel like it is more transparent, fairer and more on their side. This was a real validation of what we suspected and hoped but didn’t know for sure. The fact that it was already coming across in our branding before we had ever really thought about brand in a big way was really interesting. We knew that it was something we needed to build on.
We also learned a lot more about the types of holidays our users were going on and who our customers were. We weren’t entirely sure initially how many business travellers we had amongst our initial customer base or how many people were using the card to visit family and friends – ex-pats essentially. When we started talking to our customers more, we realised the vast majority of our customers at the time were just holiday travellers like you and me. That kind of insight into our customers gave us a lot of ways to better talk to them.
We also knew that they weren’t of a particular age which is both a blessing and a curse. If you imagine a pie chart of our users, they are pretty evenly split up to about 60 years old. One of the ideas we wanted to build on was that we are making travel money fairer and more accessible for everyone. Our community really is so varied and not just for the early adopters or those people with their finger on the Fintech pulse – it really is for everyone. You can recommend your granny as well as your 18-year old cousin and we found that in our user base as well.
Paul: Do you think that has concentrated your brand in your mind as a travel brand more than a finance product?
Stephanie: Yes, exactly that. I think one of the things that no-one else was, or is, doing, in our space anyway, is really talking or leveraging the reason people are using us in the first place which is going on holiday. That’s the only reason people care about getting a good rate on travel money – so that they can have a better time on holiday. We really focused on that and definitely see ourselves as a ‘travel companion tool’. That also helps us to plan our roadmap whereas others in our space are focusing much more on digital banking or being a new bank. We decided relatively early on that that wasn’t what we are about; we’re about making holidays better in whatever way we can. That means our product roadmap for this year includes things like helping you save up for your holiday – giving the best rate over time so that you never lose out on the rate as we will help you save up whenever the rate is good for instance. Or rich data about what is around you when you’re on holiday – where is the nearest free ATM, so we really see ourselves as your travelling financial companion and not necessarily trying to be your bank.
Paul: What type of marketing campaigns do you do – it is all social or do you do other kinds of campaigns?
Stephanie: Over the years we’ve done the full marketing suite. When I was Marketing Manager we did a lot of the paid acquisition campaigns such as ppc (pay per click) and affiliates digital marketing. Now my focus is more on social content, organic growth and some brand awareness activity. We wouldn’t have been able to afford it initially as it is very expensive. We do now cover the full marketing suite.
We did als have a couple of tube campaigns which was really interesting. It was a very risky move for us as a start-up because it is a lot of outlay to begin with and you never really know exactly what the return is going to be with something like that as unlike digital you can’t track everything. It was a bit of a gamble but it did wonders for us in the early days; it catapulted us from unknown to something that people had at least heard about. Thinking back, it was a really important piece of work for us.
Paul: There can be gambles like that. Similar to airports where there are premium spots but you have to make sure they work.
Stephanie: Exactly… And the only way to do that is to talk to as many other companies as you can. I think that is really important when you are building up a business in the early days that you need to accept what you don’t know and don’t pretend that you do know it. If you don’t know it, then talk to people who do know – it’s something we learned early on and which is really important.
Paul: Would you consider yourself an intrepreneur?
Stephanie: Umm.. yes, I think so. Looking at the definition here – ”A person within a large corporation who takes direct responsibility for turning an idea into a profitable finished product through assertive risk-taking and innovation”.
Paul: Yes, in your new role, I would imagine you’re having to take this product to new places. Does that scare or excite you?
Stephanie: Both!! But all the best things do. I think it excites me because it scares me if that makes sense… I definitely think I’m an intrepreneur and at the same time, I don’t think I could have done this job a few years ago. Not just through skills but more through development as a person, confidence and all that sort of stuff.
Paul: A lot of people we interview have mentors, do you have either an informal or formal mentor to help shape your development?
Stephanie: I’ve never had a formal mentor but there are a few key people who I have been in touch with over the years who have been mentors of sorts. Obviously, there’s Jared, the CEO. Working so closely with him has meant that I’ve learnt a huge amount from him. There’s also a lady who came in and helped us with the brand refresh. She’s been a real godsend in many ways just having a bit of a sense check when you’ve got no-one else to ask within the business. If you are the only person who has got an eye on a certain area, then just having someone else you know who’s in the industry, and who can go ‘yes, this is good idea or no, this is a bad idea’ it’s really great.
I think that rather than a specific mentor, I’ve tried to learn as much as I possibly can from everyone who crosses my path. There are a few people that I’ve stayed in touch with who I meet up with now and again to pick their brains. I like to take in as much as I can from lots of smart people – well, smarter than me!
Paul: Everyone learns from everyone else I believe… In addition to that, is there anything else that you do to develop yourself as a business leader?
Stephanie: One of the things I’m very conscious of is that I’ve been with WeSwap for some time and I’m very conscious of not letting my thoughts get stale. I’m very wary of preconceptions – once you’ve been in the business for a certain number of years, you do start to automatically think things without realising you’re thinking them! I do talk to a lot of other businesses and a lot of other start-ups.
I also ran WeSwap’s crowd funding start up campaign over the last couple of years. Since then I’ve started to be a mentor/consultant for other start-ups who are considering crowd funding. It’s been really great. I’ve been meeting a lot of other early stage businesses who are thinking of crowd funding and then we start talking about marketing and the like. I see that as a potential avenue in my future – helping start-ups get off the ground with their marketing efforts. The reason I mention it is because talking to other business, either more or less experienced than you is one of the best ways to learn. I also binge on YouTube videos! It’s so good when you’ve never done something before to get a sense of how something works – it’s brilliant!
I’ve done some formal training courses as well which are great. I think the key thing is just to recognise you’ve always got loads to learn even if you’ve been in the business for five or six years.
Paul: Do WeSwap encourage you to have outside involvement such as the mentoring of the crowd funding start-ups? Is it in the culture of WeSwap to get people to engage as there is a benefit to them?
Stephanie: Definitely. Our founder, Jared, does a lot of youth business mentoring schemes. And in the early days of WeSwap, we wouldn’t have got where we were if we hadn’t got that advice from other businesses. It is very much a ‘pay it forward’ attitude. Over the years, the more I’ve given out in terms of advice, I definitely get it back ten times over in one way or another. So, yes, it is very much in the culture of WeSwap and in the history of WeSwap actually learning from others in the business and giving advice in return.
Paul: Other than the WeSwap app for your phone, what’s your most favourite smart phone app?
Stephanie: This is a really difficult one… I’m a pretty disloyal app user generally. I go through phases where I use one loads and not so much another. I use Feedly a lot – Feedly is a content aggregator. I’m actually a bit of a comic geek… I read a lot of web comics and also bloggers – particularly interiors. So, web comics and interior design blogs. It’s very strange but I absorb those and Feedly pulls them in from the various sources and I get a daily digest. I’m also always on YouTube watching interiors and people who make cakes – I really, really like cake tutorials!
Paul: Does that help you relax?
Stephanie: Yes – it does… baking and watching people bake weirdly does help me relax!
Paul: So will we have to keep an eye out for you on Great British Bake Off?
Stephanie: Wow, no, I wouldn’t! Maybe I’ll start up my own YouTube cookery channel – or probably not! I’ve got a lot of friends who are doing great things in the food industry so I get a lot of inspiration from what they’re doing. One is a food stylist and recipe writer… I do a lot of foodie stuff to relax.
Paul: Final questions for you… What’s next for WeSwap and what’s next for Stephanie?
Stephanie: So, WeSwap-wise, expansion is a big thing. We really want to tap into a non-European market over the next year or so. We’ve got our eye on Asia – India in particular – which is really exciting. We’ve got ideas coming out of our ears for features we want to start building and the ways we want to start expanding the product. I talked earlier a little bit about how we see ourselves as very much a travel companion and so far, we’ve concentrated on the travel money/currency, but I think there is a lot we can do help users at every part of their spending journey for their holiday, so broadening our portfolio a little bit so that we are a more rounded tool when you go on holiday.
For me – I’m just about to buy a house which is exciting. We’ve been saving up for about two years. We’re finally at the cusp of buying if we can find a house! I’ve also got a couple of business ideas bubbling away-ish that I might start exploring over the next couple of years…
Paul: Are we going to see Stephanie the serial entrepreneur?
Stephanie: That would be fun! In the meantime I’m still having loads of fun at WeSwap and I’ve got a house to buy so that’s the immediate future for me.