Virtually Connected: With Loral Quinn

Co-Founder and CEO, Sustainably

Co-founder of tech for good company, Sustainably, Loral Quinn is an award-winning entrepreneur and influencer, global digital marketing strategist and passionate alumni supporter of our Saltire Leaders Programme.

Success for Loral, is to build a global tech company people love working for and to develop products that empower customers the world over to do good as part of their everyday life.

Founded in 2017 by Loral and her daughter Eishel, Sustainably, encourages customers to make a positive social impact by rounding up their cashless transactions and donating spare change, distributing micro-donations to their chosen good causes.

A rising star in the UK business start-up community Sustainably was named as Best of Show at Finovate 2017, Top 10 Virgin Start-Up and Richard Branson’s Start Up of Year 2019.

With their polished and inspiring investor pitch, the company has secured an impressive line-up of funding so far which includes, an ex-Warner Brothers executive, Gareth Williams co-Founder Skyscanner and global tech start-up accelerators, Founders Factory.

Aiming to have £1bn of impact flowing through the platform over the next five to seven years, we spoke to Loral about what it means being an entrepreneur today and what advice she’d like to share with anyone looking to start their own business in these challenging times.

We recently caught up with Loral to get her perspective on all things business and what working life has been like during lockdown for her and the team at Sustainably.

ES: What in your view and experience defines being an entrepreneur?

LQ: One of the defining qualities is around creating something new and thinking big. For me, it’s about challenging the status quo and wanting to break new ground by opening peoples’ minds to new ways of doing things.

ES: Do you believe there’s a winning formula for becoming a successful entrepreneur? What’s yours?

LQ: I believe there’s a certain mindset that predetermines being a successful entrepreneur. Being self-motivated and highly driven about getting things done and always looking at new ways to achieve your goals. In my mind, you’re either like that or you’re not. Pushing the boundaries as an individual and opening the minds of those around you to do things better.

I’ve always been a self-starter and thrived on working autonomously. When I was running a large team in the corporate world with Aberdeen Asset Management, I was always looking at new ways of doing things and how to leverage the opportunity created by such change. I’ve never been someone waiting for direction from others.

ES: As the founder of a tech for social good company, what would you say is your biggest motivation and why?

LQ: For me, the whole motivation behind Sustainably is about empowering people to do something good as part of their everyday life and giving them the choice around what charities and social enterprises they want to support and to what level. It’s about creating simple ways for people to make a difference and understanding what your impact is without feeling hassled and being pursued afterwards. It all stemmed from a Google Squared course I did a while back and about disruptive innovation and helping people do some good as they shop online.

"I find my light-bulb moments pop up at random times, like when I’m getting ready in the morning and I’m feeling rested and had a chance to digest and generate new ideas."

ES: How do you generate new ideas? What are your inspiration sources?

LQ: I subscribe and read lots on tech entrepreneurship and listen to podcasts ranging from Masters of Scale to Rich Roll. I also find it helpful listening to other entrepreneurs speak. Often there may be something which sparks an idea or puts a new slant on things I’ve been thinking about and exploring.

I find my lightbulb moments pop up at random times, like when I’m getting ready in the morning and I’m feeling rested and had a chance to digest and generate new ideas.

I’m a great believer in keeping an open mind for the creativity to flow. Not being stuck in my emails and to do lists but also making time to hear new ideas from my amazing team. They’re always coming up with new ways to simplify the user journey.

ES: On a personal level, what has been your biggest leadership challenge so far as a business owner?

LQ: For me it’s about making sure everybody’s on the same page, understanding where they’re going and the significance of their role. Making sure I bring everyone with me on the journey so they all feel fully aligned individually as a high performing collaborative team. It can be hard sometimes.

ES: What are your shortcuts to successfully handle any frustration and stress?

LQ: It actually gets easier with time as you begin to accept that failure is all part of the journey. I’ve come to realise that it’s a kind of continuum of ups and downs that gradually just becomes the norm.

"To be a successful entrepreneur and scale up your own business, you have to be a successful leader."

ES: Do you believe leadership is a natural ability or can it be learned?

LQ: Not every successful entrepreneur necessarily has strong leadership skills. I know lots of talented and entrepreneurial people who don’t necessarily want to be out front as leaders. Having said that, I believe that to be a successful entrepreneur and scale up your own business, you have to be a successful leader.

Most entrepreneurs won’t necessarily have the experience and knowledge around every aspect of running a business. You need to be able to translate the company vision across the business goals and objectives by leading from the front and allow your team to get behind this vision and help drive the business successfully forwards in a cohesive and inspired way.

I’m constantly learning and absorbing as much as I can from those around me and from as many entrepreneurial backgrounds as possible.

There’s obviously lots you can learn on the way from others, but ultimately, I think it still comes down to having a certain mindset, being resilient and willing to rise to each challenge; learning new and innovative routes to achieve your goals and measure your success on the way.

ES: What makes you feel out of your comfort zone? How do you handle this?

LQ: Nothing really stands out as such, but there are definitely uncomfortable aspects to being a business manager. I guess there was a time when I wasn’t so comfortable around the numbers side but that’s well behind me now. I do a lot of public speaking and presenting these days, so any fears around that are long gone. I knew it was something I had to just get on with as part of the journey. Once I’ve done something challenging for the first time, I tend not to hang onto any fears I may have had around it going forwards; you just have to get on with it.

ES: What are some of the mistakes you wished you could have avoided? And any missed opportunities that you wish you’d leveraged?

LQ: Not putting all your eggs in one basket is an important lesson. Make sure you have a few things running at the same time to hedge your bets around different outcomes.

"By talking to other entrepreneurs, I find it sheds light and gives me new perspective."

ES: Do you have a business mentor and how has this shaped you as a leader?

LQ: As a company we’re big on mentor support and tapping into our investors’ experience. We find this is also a massive source of inspiration as we come up with new channels for the business to explore. If I’m ever finding a situation challenging or need to talk stuff through, there’s always someone I can pick up the phone to and ask for help and advice. There’s a big community of people out there who can help. Even if they’re not directly from your industry, by talking to other entrepreneurs, I find it sheds light and gives me new perspective.

ES: Tell us what Scotland needs to do to become the most entrepreneurial society in the world?

LQ: Keep innovating and ensure support for learning the right skills is available at the earliest stages of education.

It’s also about moving the dial for those organisations that have real purpose in helping improve everyone’s lives. Rather than focusing so much on corporate profit making, it needs to be about supporting and creating a society where we can all be successful in life and in our work. Essentially a more holistic approach to business, from investment in start-ups to become strong forces for good in society as well as great companies to invest in.

"I find it really helpful to connect with likeminded people across the entrepreneurial community."

ES: As a member of the ES Community, what do you feel is the biggest benefit and value brought?

LQ: Undoubtedly being part of the Saltire Leaders Programme was a hugely beneficial experience and great to be taken out of my comfort zone and day job environment. To be fully immersed in that network of entrepreneurs, level of expertise and calibre of teaching was just so great.

It gave me a whole different, global perspective which I think is hugely important and made me appreciate just what a privilege it is to have access to these world-class programmes run from Scotland.

There’s a lot of responsibility that comes with being a co-founder so I find it really helpful to connect with likeminded people across the entrepreneurial community they’re constantly building. Nobody understands it better than they do.

ES: Who has been your greatest inspiration and why?

LQ: That’s a tricky one because there’s so many people that blow my mind with their fresh perspectives. Anyone who clearly inspires others, inspires me. Everyday it’s someone different!

In the early stages of setting up the business, I talked to Lesley Eccles, co-Founder of fantasy sports giant FanDuel. More recently, it’s been really great having input from the MD at Founders Factory, our latest investors to come on board.

We’re very fortunate to have attracted several big investors into our business, so it’s super helpful being able to tap into the minds of first-rate entrepreneurs including the likes of Gareth Williams, former CEO of Skyscanner.

There’s a real skill in identifying ideas inspired by other entrepreneurs and then knowing how to leverage them across your own business.

When I was first thinking about the type of business I wanted to create, it was start-ups like Toms Shoes, Acorns Investing, and Pokémon Go which inspired me the most.

I listened recently to Bloom and Wild’s CEO talking about the thoughtful marketing community they’re building and by using tech to give online business the human touch. It’s super inspiring to hear how these start-ups are approaching things differently by bringing a whole new customer experience and building a brand that people really love because of the thoughtfulness invested.

ES: What’s your favourite quote or metaphor for describing entrepreneurship and successful leadership? What’s your philosophy?

LQ: There’s a quote from Arianna Huffington which resonates:
“Fearlessness is like a muscle. I know from my own life that the more I exercise it the more natural it becomes to not let my fears run me.

For me being an entrepreneur and running your own business is like developing a new muscle, as you take on a lot of responsibility and try new things. I’ve gained a lot of past experience leading large teams and having to rise to the challenge and take on responsibility across the many different aspects of corporate business. I’m always still learning, but my past experience as a team leader has allowed me to ride the rough times with the smooth. You just can’t let things get to you.

ES: Top 3 mobile apps / essential business tools that make your work more effective?

LQ: I’m a big fan of any technology that increases efficiency and automation. We’re massive users of Slack, remote collaborative platform Miro and I like Calendly for easy diary management and meetings. Anything that helps with remote working and keeps people feeling connected.

ES: What are the 3 things you would bring if teleported to a desert island?

LQ: A companion, music and a sun lounger. I’d want to have company and love my music. Give me a sun lounger and I’ll be happy.

"Ask for help wherever you can and get really challenging people to ask lots of tough questions that will test the viability of your new business."

ES: What advice would you give to any aspiring entrepreneur? Will you share your thoughts on starting a new business and how to remain resilient?

LQ: Just get on and do it. If you’re passionate about your business idea, have a strong vision, have tested it expansively on your customers, are getting repeated external validation and are genuinely moving forward each day….then go for it. If you don’t go for it when the opportunity presents itself, then when are you going to do it?

You can always do it as a side-hustle alongside your main job which can still pay the bills in the early stages.

Ask for help wherever you can and get really challenging people to ask lots of tough questions that will test the viability of your new business.

Remember to celebrate each success you achieve and mark them meaningfully.

Something I’d strongly recommend doing is the ‘Mom Test’. This is a great way for start-ups to talk to their customers and learn if their business is a good idea before investing heavily. It’s just making sure that what you’re building is what people want rather than just being a good idea.

ES: How have you found working from home? What have been the advantages and disadvantages?

LQ: There are various challenges around working remotely from home, especially for people living alone. It can be tricky if you don’t have a dedicated work space, just as it can be difficult for someone living with a busy family around where they find it difficult to find quiet space. As a leader you have to be mindful and understanding of individual home situations.

The upside is all the collaborative tools now available for remote team project working. Even five years ago it would have been a totally different story and much harder. I like to also bring an element of fun in for the team wherever possible, for example, Halloween pumpkin carving over Zoom which was a first for us!

I think the whole home-working thing has been a real wake-up for lots of people with the realisation that you can actually work from anywhere and not be constantly travelling.

For me personally, I’m enjoying not having to commute to London on a weekly basis. Having said that, I do miss the human interaction side of the business.

Article by Sue Hean, contributing writer for Entrepreneurial Scotland.
Sue is a copywriter and marketing communications professional. Find out more
https://www.linkedin.com/in/suehean/ or email: sue@broadreachpr.co.uk