“There are some stellar examples of women-led businesses creating extraordinary customer experiences and attracting investment”

As if our eye-opening interviews with incredible ladies of Home Grown last week wasn’t enough (you can find them here!), this week we sit down with yet another female embodiment of perseverance and grit breaking barriers in the business world. She is Brand & Growth Strategist, Board Advisor, Venture Partner & Angel Investor (and, hear hear, former ballerina) Deborah Saunders. Let’s delve in.

We ask her what inspired her to pursue a career in management consulting.

‘My first career was in ballet, which offered me the opportunity to adapt to different roles and performing environments. It also gave me some early insight into the power of connecting with your audience to deliver a remarkable experience. I love observing people, and understanding what drives their purchase behaviour and brand affinity. It seemed natural that after working in brand management for Procter & Gamble, I move into a strategy consulting,’ says Deborah. ‘As a brand & growth strategist, I’m often engaged to find new ways to breathe life into organisations and brands that have lost touch with their customers. My role is to bring clarity around how to drive stronger connectivity between brands and customers – which is essential to growth’.

Deborah believes brands today must do more to earn the loyalty of their customers, a theme which is central to the book she is writing on brand experience management.

We asked her to give us a preview of some of the key concepts and ideas that she will be exploring in the book.

‘My forthcoming book is about building remarkable brands through extraordinary customer experiences’ says Deborah. ‘I believe we as consumers deserve better than what we’re getting today. So many brands are failing to deliver an experience worthy of the price we’re paying. I want to shine a light on why it’s so important to bring the brand to life across the customer experience, and how organisations can mobilise to make small changes that deliver outsized impact for the customer (and therefore the business)’.

Deborah’s entrepreneurial spirit goes far beyond the call of duty.

‘This year, I am also the regional lead for Procter & Gamble Alumni Association’s Catapult initiative, which aims to connect P&G alumni entrepreneurs to investors and advisors from within the global P&G alumni network. As part of the initiative, we will be selecting a Star Entrepreneur award winner from a pool of global P&G alumni entrepreneurs taking part. It’s rewarding to see how many alumni have made the brave move from corporate to start-up, and how P&G is supporting entrepreneurship through P&G Ventures and Catapult. But we still need to see more female entrepreneurs putting themselves forward,’ Deborah says.

On top of working as a management consultant, Deborah is part of Alma Angels, a network of investors and advisors committed to fuelling the growth of successful women-led ventures.

We are curious as to what motivated her to become an investor and what some of the most rewarding moments of your journey have been so far.

‘I believe female founders need more support when it comes to raising capital and building their brands, and I’m keen to help support these ambitious founders where I can – through my guidance as an Advisory Board member, and in some cases as an angel investor. If I can use my network & experience to help these promising businesses get off the ground, I will. Several years ago, I helped a private equity backed business re-think its brand strategy & architecture, culminating in the business effectively being relaunched behind the new brand positioning and identity. They achieved a phenomenal IPO as a result, and in hindsight, I should have had an equity stake in that successful outcome. That experience was the trigger for me to pivot towards angel investing.’

We’re not shy about picking Deborah’s brain, and we ask her how she approaches investment decisions and what criteria she uses to evaluate potential investments.

‘I’m personally focused on ventures that help us live happier, healthier, and more fulfilling lives. I back brands where I see the potential for “remarkability”; in other words, with my investment & strategic guidance, I can help them create remarkable brand experiences that have a positive impact on people, planet, and profits. So, in many ways, my investment thesis is linked to my philosophy on brand-building as a pathway to growth. From a sector standpoint, I focus on health & wellness, sustainability, and fashion tech. These are the most important things I look for when investing:

1) Honest, driven, tenacious capable founders & top team

2) The potential for building a truly extraordinary brand that has a transformative impact on our day to day lives

3) Alignment with my values, such as personal responsibility for one’s own health and well-being.

4) An appetite for action. I love bootstrapped businesses that spend more of their time getting out there and selling than polishing their pitch decks, especially in the early stages of growth.

5) Visionary yet grounded businesses. It sounds contradictory but I like businesses that paint a compelling vision but have also done their homework, and have fairly assessed the SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities & threats). I look for ventures that are laser focused on who their customer is, and how they’re going to deliver something extraordinary to that customer.

Deborah is the epitome of a successful businesswoman. So how does she think some of the key challenges still facing women in the workplace may be overcome?

‘There are some stellar examples of women leading high-growth businesses and attracting investment. My personal view is that a lot of deals and career moves happen through the network. Men have traditionally been a bit better at building professional networks, and this helps them get in the door to speak with investors. Women are starting to pick up speed here, thanks in part to more networks and VC’s backing female founders (such as Alma Angels, Halogen Ventures, Pact VC, Female Founders Collective, to name a few). A lot of deal flow comes through networking, so it’s important that entrepreneurs have a strategy for this. If I look at some of the amazing women I know who have rapidly accelerated to the C-suite, or who have successfully raised funding for their ventures, I think there are a few learnings:

1) Keep your eyes and ears open: being in the right place at the right time is important, but you’ve got to have your radar up and be prepared to take some initiative to put yourself out there.

2) Have a support system, people around you who mentor you, respect you and have your back.

3) Allow your personality to shine in your work. Ultimately, it’s how you as an individual “show up” and deliver.

4) When in doubt, bring the customer “into the room”.  I think as technology continues to reshape the way we live our lives, empathy and human connection will become more important. Find every opportunity to learn about and connect with your customers.’

We hope Deborah will forgive our cheekiness as we ask her if, as a ballet dancer, she has found any similarities between her approach to dance and her approach to management consulting.

‘There are many similarities between my approach to dance and management consulting. To perform in ballet, you need strength, precision and artistry. To perform in consulting, you need the same. I would also add that both dance and consulting have an element of audience engagement. To perform is to engage your audience in a story, hopefully one that will leave a positive impact and lasting memory.’

Finally, we hope she has enjoyed her experience at Home Grown so far?

‘It’s a bit early to say, as I only just joined in January! But so far, I think it’s great and I’m looking forward to meeting other members and attending what looks like an interesting line-up of events.’ Ditto!

Clearly, success knows no (gender) bounds. As we bring this interview to a close, we hope you feel inspired, empowered, and hungry for even more pearls of wisdom by some of our talented female members… for more is coming!

If you’re interested in enriching your entrepreneurial experience and finding a strong community of entrepreneurs, investors and business leaders then contact our membership team at Home Grown.