Paulina Sygulska Tenner is the Cofounder and director of GrantTree experts in R&D Tax Credits, TSB Smart Grants, SEIS and startup funding in the UK.
What inspired you to start a business?
Hundreds of meetups and networking events I used to go to. I watched geeks sipping pints and talking about changing the world (or at least disrupting industries in one way or other) and, slowly but surely, grew fond of this hands-on approach to shaping your reality.
What is the greatest challenge and the greatest reward in being your own boss?
Greatest challenge: being completely and utterly responsible for what you (and, ultimately, your team) do. Greatest reward: being able to consciously use the power of this responsibility to make great things happen.
What motivational tips can you give to our members about goal setting and managing both successes and failures.
Follow what excites you enough to be able to bear through tough times for it.
Focus on your strengths (or “take your edge to the edge” as some say).
Everything – yup, everything – is an opportunity for growth. It’s all down to your perspective.
What is the biggest challenge you have faced as a business owner?
Handling a major difference of values – I had a close friend start a competitive company while working for us full time. It was a big shock. Still, from the perspective of time, I wish I had more emotional maturity when it happened.
Smaller value clashes happen almost every month in the company and it’s super important to maintain a great communication on the team – particularly when it comes to delivering difficult feedback and resolving conflicts. This is what I would consider the biggest ongoing challenge for any scaling company.
How have you benefited from mentoring or coaching?
Substantially. We had a coach for about two years during the crucial stages of the development of the company who helped us avoid some killer mistakes. I also sought advice from all sorts of experienced and successful people in my network. Right now we use coaches that help us develop further within the open company framework. I do my best to, in spite of my crazy schedule, make sure I’m available to give advice to earlier stage business owners, and women in tech in particular.
What advice can you give about the benefits of networking?
Co-founder & DirectorDifferent people start businesses – or start working independently – for different reasons. I got into business because I got inspired by other entrepreneurs and that happened purely through networking. In other words, if I didn’t get out there at the beginning – and kept getting out to meet new people who influence my view of what’s possible – I wouldn’t be where I am now. I wouldn’t have met my cofounder (now also husband, hilariously we met at a party after a tech conference) or get in touch with the majority of clients and partners we have today. Networking to me also relates to mainlining a strong support network which is absolutely crucial for any successful business owner.
What are your tips for scaling a business and how do you plan for and manage growth?
A scale up environment is very different to a startup environment and, in quite a few ways, more demanding. As opposed to singular focus on making a product or a service work on the market, which is crucial to an early stage company’s survival, to run a scaling company well one must have a more divided attention overseeing the company’s profits in relation to growing costs, the movements of the market and the competition and, importantly, attracting, motivating and empowering the right talent to bring a big vision into the flesh. All the while, the bigger and the faster growing your company is, the more issues to do with with people, products/services, operations, financials, you name it, will keep appearing on the horizon. As some say, “if things seem under control, you aren’t going fast enough”. I think I saw it graffitied on the wall in the offices of one of our really successful clients. Made me smile.
What does the future hold for you?
Development of an entirely new alternative finance product, national and, potentially, international scale. In five years I see GrantTree as a group of companies involved in different activities in the startup and tech company space: funding provision, office space, open culture coaching. We will also be one of the global leaders when it comes to building and scaling an open company.
For me personally the future holds being involved in setting up and scaling several tech and non tech companies (directly or through investment, JVs, advisory boards etc), an international speaking career and a happy family.
Paulina is a cofounder of GrantTree which helped 500+ tech companies in the Tech City and beyond raise over £30m worth of equity free funding from the government through R&D tax credits and grants in the last five years.