Alice Bentinck is the Co-Founder of Entrepreneur First (EF) and Code First: Girls. Entrepreneur First supports Europe’s best technical talent to build their own high-growth tech startups. The accelerator mainly takes talented individuals before they have a team or an idea, and spend six months with them to get them to the point where they can take on serious seed funding. CodeFirst: Girls is a UK not-for-profit which was born when the founders of Entrepreneur First notice a lack of girls applying for the accelerator. Alice is shortlisted for the Veuve Clicquot New Generation Award
Did you ever sit down and plan your career?
No, I never planned my career, but I always like to have something to aim for. When I was younger I would write down ideas of what I wanted to do as a career, but as I was brought up in a very rural area the ideas are somewhat different to what I do now! Having nine goats growing up meant they were more focused around being a vet than a venture capitalist (VC).
Have you faced any challenges along the way and if so, how did you deal with them?
I think anyone founding a company will face challenges. Bringing something new into the world is never easy. The biggest challenge for us when we started out was that our model was very much against the status quo. We wanted to build companies from scratch, working with individuals before they had a company. The status quo was that you only worked with teams who had set ideas. We had a lot of push back on this at the beginning from the eco system, but we found that our customers (the potential founders) were actively seeking ways to build their cofounding team and to evaluate ideas, but there were no easy ways for them to do this.
What advice would you give someone who wishes to move in to a leadership position for the first time?
One of the things I have learnt is that leadership is a skill and as such, it is something that can be learnt and improved on over time. It’s important that you develop your own authentic leadership style that works for you. Often this is an amalgamation of lots of different people’s leadership styles. Before and when you move into a leadership position read as much as possible about leadership (especially autobiographies) and watch the leaders around you and learn from what they do. I really like The Power of Many by Meg Whitman and Suffragette by Emmeline Pankhurst. The latter isn’t a business book, but can teach you a lot about leadership.
When faced with two equally-qualified candidates, how would you decide who should have the role?
I’ve never had this problem! It’s important with any candidate that you understand why they want to do the role, what they are expecting from it and how it fits into their wider career goals.
On a typical workday, how do you start your day and how does it end?
The day starts with a quick check of my emails and slack (our internal messaging system). I then do a quick workout at home and then cycle to work. I used to try and cram in breakfast meetings at the beginning of the day, but this is usually when the day is quietest and I am at my most focused, so I’m trying to do more desk work at these times. There is no normal end of the day. I’m often at events, or we run a lot of events in our office too. I am a big fan of sleep though and try to make sure I get to bed at a good time.
What advice can you give to our members about raising their profiles within their own organisations
Don’t be afraid to talk about the work you have done and to be proud of it. Speak up and share your opinion.
How have you benefited from coaching or mentoring?
Yes very much so. Both informally and formally. I recently got a professional coach and it has been transformative. Taking time to think about and invest in your personal development is important and having a professional coach gives this a rhythm.
Do you think networking is important and if so, what 3 tips would you give to a newbee networker
Your network is how you get stuff done and how you learn about new opportunities, so you need to invest in it. Think carefully about how you build your network, you need breadth as well as depth. So yes, a networking event might be useful, but only if you follow up with the people you meet afterwards and create a relationship with them. Networking sounds unpleasant and businessey – it’s really just about getting to know people and keeping in touch.
What does the future hold for you?
I can’t imagine doing anything other than running EF, so I’m in it for the long haul!