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From commercial Lawyer to Startup Entrepreneur - Startacus interviews Kate Jackson

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by Startacus Admin

Kate Jackson's Twitter bio starts “Ex lawyer now entrepreneur” and that’s enough to get you interested. After all you don’t imagine many commercial lawyers leaving the high paid world of Law to do something with that ‘great big startup idea’.

But that’s exactly what Kate did by quitting the City to begin a tech startup some 6 years ago. Six years on and Kate is now one of the Co-Founders of startup TableCrowd - a tech startup and ‘real life’ social network that has recently been building good traction and press. We took some time out to chat to Kate, get some inspiration and learn some valuable startup lessons.

kate jacksonKate, pardon the pun, but we are hungry to find out more about your current business TableCrowd. Explain all?

Well, TableCrowd is a real life social network where you can meet people over food. You can meet people that share your interests, whether that may be hobbies, business, lifestyle or relationships – we believe there is no better way to do that than over food.

We have over 100 ‘crowds’ on the site (e.g. New to town, Startups, Man v Food, Swedes in London) for people to join, which means that when the community meets over food they have a common interest.

Using our seamless booking technology, our members can easily arrange their own tables, allowing them to choose the date, theme and restaurant (we have over 3,000 listed). Or they can join someone else’s table if that takes their fancy.

There is now a dinner happening most nights in London with themes ranging from employment law to hypnosis and from copywriting to food challenges. We also have a Startup Engine dinner each week in Tech City restaurants, where some of London’s most exciting startups share experiences, ideas and contacts over food. I still attend these dinners religiously as I find I get tremendous value from them.

From a career in Law to a social network for meeting people over a meal - it's some transition. How did this career change come about?

I was a happy commercial lawyer, with a great boss and, in the main part, doing interesting work, but I didn’t look around my firm and aspire to be a partner. My view is that if you don’t want to be at the top of the food tree in the place you work, you are probably in the wrong place. Coupled with this, was the fact I had always wanted to run my own business. So at a time when things were changing at my company, I made the decision to make the move.

Interestingly, it seems that an increasing number of people are looking to escape the city. So much so, that we actually host regular TableCrowd dinners for them so they can meet others in the same boat.

How easy was it to make that leap from paid employment, to hoping to pay yourself a regular wage?

The only real pain I remember from moving from a comfortable lawyer’s salary to the hand-to-mouth of a founder was not being able to take taxis! Once you have less money, you have less money and that’s it, you just get on with it. But I won’t lie, I have walked around with holes in my shoes and punched the air in delight when the post arrives and it included the cash vouchers I had earned for spending on my Tesco card (sad but true).

I’m not particularly risk averse (probably not an ideal trait for a lawyer…), so my assessment was that I needed to have enough money in backup to pay the mortgage and bills for one month if it all went wrong. I figured that this would be enough time for me to find a way to plug the gap if I needed to.

In hindsight, what would you have loved to have known at the start of your entrepreneurial journey that you now know?  

I work with my brother and neither of us is technical. Ideally, I would have liked another sibling that was a Ruby developer… I have told my mum off about this but she just looked at me blankly. So with hindsight, having a technical co-founder would have been very helpful. Without a deep technical knowledge, you don’t know the questions to ask at the outset, e.g. what language are you coding in and is this right for us, are you putting the SEO basics in place when you build, are you fully commenting and documenting your code, will this work on mobile, which user behaviour stats will I have access to etc.

As well as these specific questions, it is the understanding that a website is never ‘finished’ and that it is important to build ongoing tech costs into your budget beyond the initial quote. You shouldn’t be aiming for a perfect product before launching, get it out there as soon as possible to get user feedback to guide future development. As they say, if you’re not embarrassed by the first version of your product, you’ve launched too late.

Do you have any regrets in becoming self employed?  TableCrowd

No, not really, although I do sometimes fantasise about working 9-5 in Shoreditch Grind. Firstly because I like coffee, but secondly because of the freedom of mind I think I have walking out of work each day. My mind never gets a rest and to have no stress or worries for a few weeks would be nice, although I know I’d miss the drama pretty sharpish!

What's next for the platform - any exciting plans that you can share with Startacus?

I can share a couple of exciting plans with you.

We have just partnered with our first supper club to arrange non-restaurant dinners for our members. Supper clubs are a mix of restaurant and dinner party where chefs open the doors to their houses or other interesting venues and cook a feast for diners. We’re pretty excited about this, although I can already feel the waistline expanding. We need to try them for ‘research purposes’, right?

We have also arranged the first dinner in a series of industry TableCrowd dinners. Food Startups “Meet & Eat” is happening at Google Campus on 30th May. It is an invite-only event organised by a food startup, for food startups, with food cooked by a food startup! Each startup is inviting a member of the food or tech press as their guest. I’m calling it collaborative PR - as well as being a great chance for everyone in our foodie startup world to network and help each other out.

If you like what you see here on Startacus, why not become a member of our growing community? It's free! And you'll get all this - exclusive access to our Business Toolkit, discounts and offers galore for your business via our member only business deals, the chance to network and connect with loads of fellow self-starters, and maybe even become our celebrated 'Self-Starter of the Week' and tell the world your startup tale! Join right here for free...

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Published on: 14th May 2013

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