Entrepreneur and angel investor Sarah Ronald shares business insights in the new episode of Pioneering People - and her belief that investment is the new philanthropy.
From an early age, Sarah had an interest in psychology: “I believe we are born with the most amazing computer which is the mind but we have no manual as to how to get the most out of that."
After graduating in psychology from the University of Aberdeen in 2000, Sarah began working in clinical psychology, before deciding to work in organisational change and the design of workplace systems, which she refers to as “psychology within a different context”.
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In 2003, Sarah graduated with an MSC in Human Computer Interaction and following this passion, in 2006, along with three others, she founded Bunnyfoot Scotland, a user experience company specialising in technology such as i-tracking.
The business was set up when the web was becoming increasingly popular, and e-commerce businesses and companies were looking to put products online. “Our job in Bunnyfoot was to help them make sure new websites they were building and the new digital experiences they were creating worked for people.”
However, different business goals among the founders resulted in Sarah undertaking management buyout. “If you are in business with people, it's like a marriage. You have to have the same goal, the same desires for where you want to get to,” she adds.
As part of the management buyout, Sarah re-branded under the name of ‘Nile’ to focus on service design, which involves imagining products and services whilst figuring out what technology and human resources are necessary in delivering them.
“If you break apart our world, we are all living with these systems: governmental systems, travel systems. We have to design those things in order to function on a daily basis. We are part of designing the new world that we live in, that we work in and that we play in.”
Nile’s clients include RBS, with work including designing the Scottish bank note. Sarah has also been active in championing service design including being the co-chair and founding member of the Service Design Network UK.
Another key part of Sarah’s interest lies in investment. Not only does Nile have a venture arm that invests in local entrepreneurs, but Sarah is also a syndicate investor for Par Equity. “I believe that investment is just the new philanthropy in the world," she says. "I think that if you want to see some change happen you have to find a way of activating that change."
When asked about the secret to success, Sarah says: “Every day there is a new challenge. It entirely depends on your perspective whether that's a big thing or a little thing. Anyone running a business needs to set a positive mental attitude every day so that those little things that happen don't turn into overwhelming, negative, draining experiences.”
On a more practical level, in the podcast Sarah shares her tips from putting structures and processes in place before scaling up, to avoiding upheaval in internal governance and allowing staff to have the opportunity to have networks outside of their industry.
Finally, Sarah reflects on her biggest business takeaway: “I think the thing that I have found most beneficial throughout running a business is getting really clear on my purpose and then aligning my purpose to the company. I believe part of my purpose is to help activate and support and start to see the change you want to see in the world."
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