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Eight Questions for the 'Final 8' - Rosemary Francis

Wed, 02 November 2011

In the run up to the 2011 Shell LiveWIRE Young Entrepreneur of the Year Award, we will be profiling each of the finalists to give you some background on their entrepreneurial journey so far. Meet Rosemary Francis of Ellexus.
Can you give us some background on how your business got started?
My experience in the chip design industry gave me my idea for a tool that would help to manage problems in large software products. A colleague of mine had a poster that said 'don't fight the tools, the tools will always win', meaning don't try to solve a problem - just find a way around it. I decided that there should be a better way than that.
 
I started my business in February 2010 after speaking to a lot of my friends, colleagues and other engineers about the idea and how to take it further. I knew roughly what I wanted, but I didn't know how so I had to go through a number of different options and designs before we found something feasible.
 
What has been the biggest barrier you have overcome to get this far?
There have been so many barriers and I am really grateful to my team and my friends for helping me through them. We have managed to get a long way on a very small budget which, at times, has been painful, but I am glad I haven't had to give up too much equity to get going.
 
A more subtle barrier I cope with daily is being taken seriously as a young woman in an industry entirely run by older men. Being different can work in my favour, but I have to decide whether a new contact will be impressed or put off because I'm in charge.
 
How has Shell LiveWIRE helped you on your journey?
Winning a Shell LiveWIRE Grand Ideas Award gave us the money to go to some of the largest industry conferences in the industry where we have picked up most of our business. Without the money for that trip we wouldn't have got so far so quickly.
 
What has been the best bit of advice you’ve received on your entrepreneurial journey?
The best piece of advice was about a friend's company. After retiring from running his company he went back to improve his underlying technology only to find a flaw in his calculations from 20 years earlier.
 
This wasn't a lesson in producing buggy products, but it showed me how important it is to be customer focused, not technology focused. A lot of technology companies get caught up in the details and fail to listen to what their customers want. On the other side of that, I have to manage customer expectations and not promise things we can't deliver. It is a very fine line to walk and only time will tell which bits I have got right and which bits I got wrong.
 
The other piece of advice which I think should be said to everyone starting a business is what a friend said to me before I started:
“You are going to be very successful and make more money than any of us, but you are also going to want to give up many times along the way. When you feel like that just give us a call and we'll come over and give you a hand.”
 
Which entrepreneurs do you look to for inspiration?
I look to my family and friends, many of whom run their own businesses or invest in others. They are critical to my progress because they are not afraid to tell me that I am wrong. There are many entrepreneurs in the media who provide points of reference, but Cambridge is also full of people who have set up and run successful technology companies so I don't have to look very far to find inspiring people.
 
What are you most looking forward to at Shell LiveWIRE LIVE! 2011?
I am really looking forward to meeting the other contestants and I am also looking forward to the judging process. I am interested to know what they will want to know about me and my business. I hope the PR surrounding the event will help us to improve our message, which until now has been quite technology focused.
 
What will it mean to you and the business if you win?
Winning this competition would be amazing because it would give me the chance to prove that women can lead in the technology industry and it doesn't have to be boring. I don't have very many female role models, but I think it is something that is very important to have. One day I hope to encourage others to run their own businesses.
 
What do you think can be done to help entrepreneurs in the future?
Business has to start in schools. There are a few basic principles in business that most people don't understand that could be worked into the curriculum. For example, many of my friends don't understand that an employee's salary is a small part of the cost of employing them or that the cost of selling and distributing a product can be more than the cost to make it. Business is often only taught as a university subject, but many people start successful businesses without having a degree. Shows like the Dragons' Den are great for showing that anyone can do it, but the format is so edited that it can sometimes be hard to follow why one company is worth investment and another isn't.

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