Polly qualified in 2003 and since leaving KPMG has led finance teams across a broad range of sectors. She is currently Finance Director at Vita Mojo, a fast growing FoodTech startup that recently raised £10m in funding.
What first attracted you to pursuing a career within the tech industry?
Two years ago when I came to Vita Mojo, I was looking for a specialist role within finance. I was previously the COO in a technology company but I wanted a pure finance role. The opportunity at Vita Mojo came up and what it is doing within the food sector is really important work. I was personally attracted to it as Vita Mojo is working on the transparency of allergens and the products we eat quite mindlessly sometimes. About a year before I had to give up dairy because it was affecting my health and I soon realised that there is dairy in EVERYTHING! What Vita Mojo does is allow you click a little button and it shows you all the ingredients and allergens within your food. So it was the technology itself and the sector which really attracted me here. There is a huge growth market and the fact I’m personally invested in the concept really helps me encourage Vita Mojo to grow.
During your career, what changes have you seen within the industry?
I think there are two aspects of that, from a finance perspective and a tech perspective. I started out in finance in 2000 and we had seven-column paper and a modem that we would share between several people’s laptops! I was at another tech business before Vita Mojo called LooWatt in 2013. Even from then to now the importance of integration within finance is something which I have seen rapidly change. Now you can get to everything to sync together but when I start started, it was a struggle to get one area to join to another. The volume of data we have to handle is constantly increasing too. Here, we deal with tens of thousands of transactions every quarter which we cannot do without integrated technology. From 2013 to 2019 I have seen a lot of areas come together and work a lot better. Even now, the automation of a lot of the manual work is just making a huge difference. It allows you to reach a level of efficiency that would never have happened when I started my career in finance. Here we have a team of two – however without the technology, we would need a whole team in order to process all the transactions we receive. It really is amazing!
How well do you think the tech industry is doing in improving gender diversity?
They are trying to improve the balance between genders. I went to this event last year called “Women of Silicon Roundabout” which is a huge event in ExCel. I saw a number of stands there that were trying to attract women to their businesses and promoting the diversity within tech. The evidence is in the data. It says if you a have a more diverse business, as a whole, you are more successful and more profitable. As a data loving business, the tech industry needs to be really promoting that! That being said, it is still so far behind. The industry can only do so much when the lack of diversity also links to education and the recruitment processes, it really needs to go all the way back to education and influence girls to learn these amazing subjects. I saw this fantastic coding school where you don’t pay any fees until you get your first job, that is the sort of thing that can improve to balance.
The theme for this year’s IWD is “balanceforbetter” – if you were in charge for the day what would be the first thing you would do to improve balance?
I would have everyone swapped around the other way, so everyone would be their opposite and have the ability to see what it is like for the other parties. I think some people find it hard to see what it is like from the other person’s perspective. This could encourage people to have empathy and understanding of what is it like to often be the only female in the room within a male heavy industry.
During your career, what hurdles did you encounter and what did you learn from them?
The hurdles for me were the accountancy exams. When you are training to be an accountant, the exams are physically demanding, when you have to be doing an 80 hour week with 50 chargeable hours and doing exams too. Although it is so demanding and draining, it is SO valuable and I am actually encouraging my financial accountant to get through her exams. It is incredibly difficult but it will be the best thing you have ever done, it allows you job security and career progression that is paramount.
What is it you enjoy most about your role?
I love being a finance director! It is like being paid to solve a Suduko puzzle every day. As a restaurant business, we can have over 1,000 supplier invoices a month and we often have questions about how we reconcile that quickly, how do we make a system that is effective and be sure the software is working properly. I find it really fun to find out how to solve that puzzle! I never get bored of fixing problems. Here in a growing start up there is always something new for me to solve and fix.
Finally, what advice would you give to a woman who is looking to move into tech?
When you join a growing business, you will never be bored. If you really want to expand your career quickly too, join a growing business. You will be given opportunities that you would never have had at the start of your finance career within a larger company.
Really do not be put off by tech, it is not a “boys club”. Tech is one of the most welcoming industries to women, as they want the data metrics to level out so they are doing what they can to encourage women into tech roles. If you want to be a woman in tech and particularly a woman in finance and tech, I’d say jump right in!