We’re very fortunate to have Sophie Adelman join us in London as an entrepreneur-in-residence. She is one of the UK's most driven and thoughtful founders, and she will be spending the next few months with us as she explores her next venture. Sophie is co-founder of WhiteHat, and champions discovering and nurturing leadership talent.
To introduce you to Sophie, we asked her a few questions.
What’s the most underrated and most overrated quality in a leader?
Overrated is being a risk taker. I think you need to be ambitious and take calculated risks but not be reckless. The most underrated one is compassion. If you lead with compassion - empathy, listening, understanding - then when you need to take tough decisions people will trust you.
What do you know now that you wish you knew in your 20s?
Life is a marathon not a sprint. I went so hard in my 20s and beat myself up for not finding my perfect career path immediately; I didn’t recognise at the time your career is long and your 20s are about learning and working with great people. Every experience I have had has helped me become the person I am today.
What has been the most fun you’ve had at work?
I really enjoyed the first couple of years at Hired building an incredible team and hustling to grow the business and brand really fast. I really embraced the pace of the startup life, going from meeting to meeting and doing emails in the backs of countless Ubers.
What’s the most important question when hiring?
‘When we call your manager, what will they say about you?’ It makes people give a much more honest answer than they would otherwise. Past behaviour is the best indicator of future behaviour, which is why I always look for examples of exceptionalism whether that’s caring for a sick grandparent, being a star football player or cycling the length of Africa.
What’s one good thing and one bad thing colleagues would say about you?
I’m good at connecting people and enjoy finding ways to spark connections that add value
But, less good, erm, I really don’t want to say this, but I suppose when I think I’m right about something, I think I’m right! [laughs] I’d like to say I have ‘strong opinions loosely held’ but actually when I have a strong point of view on something, it takes some convincing with data to change my mind.
What was your first ever job?
During my A-Levels, I worked at a nursing home in Lincoln, where I’m from, making teas for the residents at weekends - mostly corned beef sandwiches and strawberry jelly and lots of cups of tea!
Which living or dead person would you most like to meet or have met?
I’d love to meet Oprah. The way she connects with people and ignites opportunities is amazing and her personal story is inspirational. Her books are guides to living a purposeful, impactful life and aligning your life to your values.
Who is the most impressive entrepreneur you’ve met? What was so special about her/him?
Pieter van der Does from Adyen. I only met him for a few hours at a dinner but I’ve never met anyone who is so centred and confident in how they want to live their life and how they want to build a company. He was really impressive and his views are contrarian; he doesn’t seem to follow the status quo without first questioning it.
I’d really love to meet Katrina Lake of Stitchfix. Her team loves her, and she’s so inspiring as a leader, mother, entrepreneur. She had this ambition to build Stitchfix and kept believing it would work when so many people told her it wouldn’t. That single-mindedness and determination is really impressive.
What is the most exciting entrepreneurial opportunity today?
I’m very much interested in silvertech. Making the third stage of life better is a very exciting problem. The over-focus on the Gen-Z consumer means the over 55s are often overlooked.
What is the biggest barrier you’ve found in young people thriving in the world of modern work?
Schools and universities haven’t historically taught people the skills they need to be successful in their career - the entire focus is on academic learning.
Practical skills like negotiation, sales, writing concise emails as well as more technical skills are much more useful day to day at work.
What would you do if you were navigating university or entering the workplace in a post-pandemic world?
Given the cost and experience of university today, I’d be exploring apprenticeship opportunities at a tech company. Although I enjoyed my university experiences I would be nervous about spending 3-4 years and accumulating debt and not being able to find a job in the future.
What was the best thing in your lockdown?
Meditation. I took a Vedic meditation course (mantra based) and meditating consistently has been a gamechanger.
What was your childhood ambition?
I wanted to be an architect. I thought it was really cool to build beautiful buildings. And then I realised it’s seven years of study and you do it for the love not the money….so I changed my mind!.
Do you still hold some ambitions?
I’m not dead yet…. Lots!
Do you have any phobias?
I’m not particularly good with heights.
What have you been reading of late?
I’ve recently enjoyed Simple Abundance (Sarah Ban Breathnach), Play Bigger (Al Ramadan), Obsessed (Emily Heyward) and The Happiness Curve (Jonathan Rauch).
Who would you want to play you in a film?
Where are you at your happiest?
By a pool, with sunshine, reading a great book on my kindle. (And kids being occupied by someone else!)
What are your first impression of the VC world?
Understanding the decision matrix on deciding which companies to back has been fascinating, especially when VCs have to say no to some good companies.