Today, continuing with my NEF interview series, I speak to Kathryn McGeough as she talks me through her journey so far. Kathryn, a University of Warwick graduate talks about balancing working full-time and starting her own project. Balancing her priorities and making sacrifices both on a personal level and on a professional level.
She also talks about some of the value of being part of the NEF scheme.
This is the full interview below.
Hi Kathryn, Great to have you on YHP, How are you doing today?
Hi Joseph, I am great thanks. Enjoying the New Year and looking forward to the opportunities that it will provide.
Can you give us some brief background information about yourself before we dive into the interview proper?
Sure. I am 25 years old, originally from Devon but moved to London straight from university to work in the city.
Up until last Tuesday (when I resigned), I worked as a derivatives structurer within Lloyds Banking Group. Unfortunately, although I was offered a New Entrepreneurs Foundation placement, at the time I was not in a position to take it. I am one of the few self-funded entrepreneurs on the programme.
So Kathryn, tell me about yourself growing up? What was your ambition? Were you the entrepreneurial - making a quick buck type?
When I was younger I wasn’t entirely sure what I wanted to do. I was very privileged in that from a young age my parents never pushed but always supported the choices of both myself and my siblings and our interest in trying new things. That resulted in a situation where the average Saturday went along the lines of being taken from swimming lessons to gymnastics, then ballet and jazz then on to a swimming gala or martial arts event (thanks mum!). Because of this I was aware from a young age that there were many opportunities available in life and that I was unlikely to have one single career. (This was backed up by the fact that I have an incredibly short attention span).
Later on in life, during my university vacation periods, I worked as an auxiliary nurse and found that I really enjoyed working with people. More specifically, I enjoyed trying to make the patient’s day better and boosting their spirits. I think it was then that, one day, I wanted to run a business that did something to help the average person.
When did you get your first taste of entrepreneurship, what your first business project?
My first business project was actually a project I undertook as part of ‘Young Enterprise’ at school. I was managing director of a company with a group of friends. We decided that our project would be to make cook books for students. We came first in our local area in the competition but unfortunately didn’t make it past regionals.
I actually took one of the books to university with me. Pretty good recipes, if I do say so myself.
Tell me about your university experience? You graduated from the university of Warwick right?
Yes I did. I went to Warwick to study Industrial Economics.I had a great time, although I do feel that I worked a little too hard.I was involved in quite a few different societies whilst I was there, which allowed me to meet so many interesting people with different focuses and different goals. As an example, I was most involved in the Warwick Banking and Finance Society and in the Canoe Polo Society. Most of the Banking and Finance Society are currently employed as bankers or accountants. Most of the Canoe Polo Society are doing science or engineering PhDs. As you can imagine, hanging out with such an eclectic mix of people did not help me to narrow down my career ambitions. However, they are all amazing people and I hope that our friendships last the test of time.
What would you say was some of the biggest lessons you took away from your university experience?
Nothing is ever as bad as it seems. You know when you are taking your final exams or submitting your dissertation and it is the most important thing at that moment and if you fail it the world is over?.... It isn’t and things do always work out and getting stressed about it doesn’t help.
The belief that things will work out has encouraged me to take risks that I probably wouldn’t have considered before and not only that, but to enjoy them.
I know a lot of people who decided to go straight into work or starting their own business instead. What would you say to anyone contemplating between going to university and going straight into work?
I would say do what is right for you but don’t underestimate the value of a formal education. If you are going to university for the sake of it then don’t go, but if you are torn, going to university can be a really valuable exercise. Just pick something that you are interested in and you can’t go far wrong. In fact, even if you don’t want a job and want to start out on your own, whilst you are setting up a company you will probably need to temp or do other part-time work to make money. Having a degree will be beneficial in finding a part time job that pays good money. But, like I said, if you are going for the sake of it don’t bother, it is a lot of effort for not a lot of gain.
I personally see value in having a corporate job before starting your own business. It can teach you technical skills as well as how to shake hands, speak to other business people etc and these are invaluable when starting your own business. However, once again, it is not for everyone. I am not a typical corporate personality, I do not like the hierarchical structure of corporates or the politics involved BUT I appreciate the necessity of learning how to interact in that environment. However, if you don’t think you can hack it don’t do it.
You’re currently working at Lloyds Banking Group, how valuable have you found the experience so far?
Yes, I am still there for a few more weeks. I have really enjoyed my experience at Lloyds Banking Group. I was on a rotation scheme and managed to spend time working in a lot of different teams, such as structuring, inflation trading and corporate finance. This has given me a large breadth of skills and allowed me to work with some really cool people. I was also very privileged in that in some of my placements I was given a lot of responsibility early on and was entrusted to do things that others of my level were not. This really pushed me to learn a lot in a short space of time. I will really miss being a part of the team that I currently work in, they are great guys.
You also working on a project on the side, how tough has it been to keep focused on your job and still find time to develop your project?
It has been a little tough, yes. I think that is less to do with me being employed at the same time as trying to start my own project and more because of the hours I worked. I think that if I had a 9-5 job then I would have found it much easier, so I wouldn’t deter anyone from having a project on the side if that is their situation. As with everything, be aware of what you are letting yourself in for and constantly reevaluate your priorities and what you are able to do. Your priorities are going to change, and that is okay, just be sure of yourself and don’t let anyone pressure you or guilt you into thinking that what you are doing or what you are giving up (because you will have to give up a lot) is wrong. On the other hand, if you realise that you are messing up your priorities don’t be afraid to admit it or apologise to the ones you love. They will be more than happy to help you get your act together and put you back on the right track.
What challenge would you face you are facing setting this up?
Time and good quality resources – there is never enough of both.
So how did you get involve in NEF? How did you find out about it?
I found out about the NEF through an email from Freshmind’s recruitment agency. I thought that the programme was really well considered and structured. Their focus of training people through networking events and workshops really complimented placing people in a company. It also meant that the NEFers could learn skills that would be beneficial to the company as well as the candidate and this seemed like a very good selling point for both the candidates and the companies.
Although you’re not been placed in any company at the moment, what value would you say being part of the NEF programme gives you?
One of the amazing things that the NEF programme allows a young entrepreneur to do is to network with like-minded people at a similar stage in their business career. This interaction is very motivating and inspiring and definitely helps when you are having a down day and feel like your entrepreneurial exploits are not going well.
Additionally, the programme is structured in such a way that the workshops allow you to develop really useful skills and consider problems and strategies in ways that you may not have done before. Even if these learnings do not get used straight away, they are definitely something to take with you on your entrepreneurial journey.
What would you say has been some of the key things that you’ve learnt so far?
The bigger the risk the better the adrenaline rush.
Everyone has their own opinion of what you are doing, not all will be good. Pick and choose the opinions you listen to carefully.
What would you say has been the most challenging part of the whole process?
The most challenging part of the process has been to balance all of the events and workshops that I have been invited to attend, with working on my own project and also working full-time. The balancing of time has been very difficult to achieve and, on occasion, my personal life has suffered for it.
To anyone thinking of joining the programme, what value can they expect to get from it?
The NEF scheme is very much a scheme where you get out of it what you put into it. The NEF staff are great and really work hard to provide us with insightful workshops and events and try and ensure that the placement experience is as valuable as possible. However, they are there to provide a starting point, not to forge your career for you, that is up to you.
Tell us about a difficult time on your journey so far and how you’ve been able to overcome that?
Balancing my priorities and making sacrifices both on a personal level and on a professional level. I try to be honest and open and let people know where they stand. I make my decisions based on the information that I have at the time and for the right reasons at the time. But things change and sometimes you are not right. Learn from it and move on. Also, don’t be afraid to say you are sorry, but when you do say it, mean it.
What has been your most memorable moment up to date?
Attending the Fast Track 100 event at Richard Branson’s house. The Fast Track 100 are the 100 fastest growing companies in the UK. What I found truly inspiring was that all of the business founders and owners were very different. Some were older, some young, obviously a mix of males and females, but there was also an eclectic assortment of where in the UK they were from and the type of background that they had. Entrepreneurs really do come in different shapes and sizes but they all share a passion for their company and such a remarkable level of grit and determination. With enough blood, sweat and tears it can be done.
What can we be expecting from you in the future?
I am not sure exactly but I hope it is big and comes with fireworks!