Inspirational Woman: Tracey Blake | Founder & CEO, Student Nannies

Tracey Blake

Tracey did her BA hons in Multimedia Journalism at Bournemouth University and then started working in interiors magazines before moving into contract publishing for the likes of Tesco, and then newspapers.

When she had her daughter she was inspired to write a book with a speech therapist friend telling parents how they can boost speech and babies and toddlers, Small Talk was published in 2013. Her children also proved to be the inspiration for her startup – Student Nannies was born out of her struggle to find flexible childcare!

Tell us a bit about yourself, background and your current role

I’m the founder and CEO of Student Nannies – a platform connecting parents and local university students for flexible, inspiring after-school and school holiday childcare. We’ve got linguists, artists, actors, musicians, medics and even a rocket scientist signed up!

I’m partner to James, mum to two lovely children, Minnie (9) and Monty (7), and we live in Buckinghamshire. Before I dipped my toe into start-up world, I clocked up 15 years on the features desks of national newspapers – Metro, the Daily Mail, the Irish Daily Mail, The Mail On Sunday and Mail Plus, the digital edition.

I’m also a parenting author and have written a book called Small Talk (MacMillan) with a speech therapist friend which is all about how parents can boost speech and language development in babies and toddlers. We then went on to publish a pair of Small talk picture books Bedtime and At The Park (Campbell) in the UK, which have recently been published in Spain too.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

I planned the bit about being a journalist – I did a journalism degree at Bournemouth university and started off in magazines, in contract publishing, before breaking into newspapers.

I call myself an ‘accidental entrepreneur’ because it wasn’t as if I was wracking my brains for an idea and wanted to set up my own business. It came out of a need – as many good ideas do! I was working full-time and I was struggling to find any after-school childcare to suit my hours. I was so desperate that when I heard two students talking in my train station waiting room I asked them if they lived locally and if they might be up for some regular after-school babysitting. Louise, an art student was, and she was so brilliant – every week she did an art or craft project with the children which they loved. When she left I wanted to find another student as it was such a good fit but I couldn’t reach into that network. So Student Nannies was born!

For about 18 months it was a ‘side gig’ but then I finally took the leap to work on it full time in Autumn 2017.

Have you faced any challenges along the way?

The biggest one has been getting investment as a female founder. It’s tough out there and on occasion it feels like you are in a real-life episode of Dragon’ Den  – I recall once being told by the head of an angel network I was presenting to, ‘Never use the word “help” in a pitch again. Investors don’t want to know how you’re going to help your customers, they want to know how you are going to bleed your customers dry.’ Clearly not the investor for me!

What has been your biggest achievement to date?

I think when you run a startup the lows are lower and the highs are higher! Happily I have a few highs – hitting 7,000 members on the platform; getting a lovely testimonial makes my day (my favourite one recently was a Student Nanny saying, ‘Thank you! Looking after children brings out my fun, carefree side’; and of course, getting our first investment of £250k was very exciting.

What one thing do you believe has been a major factor in you achieving success?

Resilience, resourcefulness and persistence. Sorry – that’s three things! All traits that are ingrained in you as a journalist, so in hindsight that part of my career was great training for being an entrepreneur. When you are pitching and getting nos – which everyone does – and cash flow is looking tricky, you need to dig deep to keep the faith in your business and keep going. There are a handful of times when I could have given up, but I didn’t and you need that mental toughness.

How do you feel about mentoring? Have you mentored anyone or are you someone’s mentee?

I am a huge fan of mentoring. Just having a smart outsider look at your business with fresh eyes is so useful and often revelatory – they’re there to challenge you, support you and make great constructive suggestions. Plus you never know who they might introduce you to in their network.

I was lucky enough to win a competition with The Brand Me Collective to have a few sessions with Michelle Kennedy from Peanut and she was so insightful, she helped me hone my brand USP, made some key introductions for me and gave me a big dose of confidence. Thanks Michelle!

 I’ve always been happy to talk to others about my startup journey so far and hope I can keep doing this as Student Nannies grows. Particularly to encourage other women.

If you could change one thing to accelerate the pace of change for Gender Parity, what would it be?

That’s a big question! But I think I’d start by nurturing that pipeline of female talent – which I know is a key focus for you at We Are the City. We need more corporates to wake up to this amazing pool of talent and promote senior women at management and board level, on equal pay. It can’t be right that in this day and age among the world’s largest 500 companies, only 10.9 percent of senior executives are women  – and yet there’s substantial evidence that gender diversity at the management level enhances a company’s performance. And this army of high achieving women could then inspire a real movement – mentoring and hiring other women up the pipeline, investing in female led businesses companies (the male dominated VC world sees 89% of funds going to businesses founded by men) and continuing the circle of success. It’s all about women supporting women!

If you could give one piece of advice to your younger self what would it be?

Have more confidence in yourself and be aware of how little everyone else knows.

What is your next challenge and what are you hoping to achieve in the future?

We are currently raising another round of EIS investment to scale Student Nannies – if there are any We Are The City members who want to help solve the childcare crisis and support a female founder please do get in touch [email protected] or 07876 391914!

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