Interview with Emma Wallington, founder of Snowball
Find out her painful experience in trying to help her dad pay money into an ISA for her daughters inspired Emma Wallington to launch Snowball, a savings platform dedicated towards children (and their parents) that makes investing clear and simple with the ability for parents, family and friends to easily contribute to their savings pots.
What’s your career background?
It may sound cliché but I have always wanted to be involved in business. To this day I still vividly remember seeing a tall blonde lady, power dressed in London, talking on her mobile phone and aspiring to be that person!
Hence I studied Business Management at King’s College London and in the summers worked on the IBM internship programme. It was these internships that really opened my eyes to the opportunity available in the world and the role technology can play in transforming companies.
My career background has three chapters: (1) Corporate; (2) Building Tech Start-Ups; (3) True Entrepreneurship.
After spending six (long!) years at a global management consultancy I took the opportunity to join a US tech start-up, to build their UK operation. The contrast between being a tiny part of an enormous consulting firm and an integral part of a start-up where my decisions made immediate impacts was liberating; I felt engaged and highly motivated. Over three years we built the UK business from scratch until the company was sold for $100m.
After this I joined a venture-backed Australian tech firm that leased cars to Uber drivers; again to build the UK operation from scratch. After two years we had gone from zero to having over 2,000 cars in the UK which was a proud milestone to have helped create.
Frustratingly COVID-19 came along and quite frankly, decimated the business. For a few months I was lounging on the Costa del Furlough before moving into The Valley of Redundancy in May.
My focus is now entirely on chapter three – True Entrepreneurship. I am building a company that makes it easy to save money for children.
How did your career change after having children?
After having Ella, my first daughter in 2016, I was determined to ‘have it all’ – the baby and the career. I was working for a US start up at the time, which meant that my maternity leave was only two months long!
Luckily I was able to work from home and I had a very supportive mother in law who helped look after my daughter – it was a big juggle and I don’t miss those days!
Eventually I changed to part time work, which gave me a better balance between work and home, however I still constantly battle to gain a balance between being a mum and achieving my own personal goals in business.
Where did the idea for Snowball come from?
The idea for Snowball hit me when my father offered to pay some money into our daughters’ ISAs instead of giving more toys at Christmas. I looked online for a way to allow him to send the money expecting the process to be as simple as Just Giving.
Oh how wrong I was! It was impossible! So hard in fact that he ended up writing me a cheque! This is 2020 I thought; the digital age and gifting money shouldn’t be this difficult.
As a parent I feel a strong responsibility to deliver my children at the gates of adulthood with the best chances in life. These are of course numerous – of course not just financial – but having a pot of money waiting for them at 18 years old to help them pay university fees, for a house deposit or even to start a business is something I am passionate about providing for my children and felt others might be too.
I’ve always been interested in finance but appreciate it can be quite daunting to invest money for parents who have no prior knowledge. Pulled together, I sensed the seedlings of an idea to create a savings platform dedicated towards children (and their parents) that makes investing clear and simple with the ability for parents, family and friends to easily contribute to their savings pots.
How did you move from idea to actual business?
I was fortunate to be accepted onto the Forward Partners Founders Programme, designed to help people validate their newly formed ideas and understand how to bring them to life. At the end of the programme, we have the opportunity to pitch for a pre-seed investment of £300k-£500k.
The one thing with any kind of finance related business is that from day one – it’s serious. We are dealing with people’s hard-earned money and hence I wanted to ensure that we are a highly trustworthy brand from the start and ensure that people’s money is protected.
With that in mind, I was also pleased to be accepted on the FCA’s Innovation Hub Programme which is effectively a fast-track route to helping Snowball become a fully regulated company. It was a nice further endorsement as they specifically look to support business that cater to under-served markets; in my case – parents and children.
I’ve launched the website to act as an anchor for discussions with investors and as a repository for investment related articles that I’m using to build a social media presence.
The next steps are finalising FCA permissions, raising capital to build the platform and hire a small team to enable this. So I’m very excited for 2021.
What’s your USP?
Giving children the best start in life through collaborative saving, stock market investing and financial education.
How do you spread the word about what you do?
I have set up an Instagram page (snowballgrow) with the purpose of providing useful and educational content on investing money for children’s futures. I also have a blog on the Snowball website (www.snowballinvest.co.uk) which I update frequently with more useful information.
What’s been your most successful marketing strategy?
Over Christmas I created a simple and fun ‘Coin Challenge’ – basically a board game that parents could print out and play with their children during a lockdown Christmas. Across all of the posts I’ve published, this drove more than 500% more signups via the website!
I’ve also learned that on social media, being visual and personalis everything. As geekishly interesting as I find the fact that inflation is rising at 1.2% this year (and isn’t this a disaster for your cash bank accounts people! Come on!), it doesn’t really drive much interaction!
The more personal I’ve made the posts – illustrating how Snowball is solving a problem that I have encountered – the better the user interaction has been.
What’s been the biggest obstacle you’ve had to overcome?
Self-doubt. I’ve had many restless hours debating if Snowball is ‘a painkiller or a vitamin’. In a recessionary market, you really want your business to be a painkiller – to absolutely be required, not just a ‘nice to have’ vitamin supplement.
This is my self-doubt talking and I’ve learnt that instead of worrying about if people really need this (which my research tells me they do) – just get on with it; I have a great idea, people I talk to all buy into it and I’ve had early endorsement from good investors and regulators. So I just need to push on!
And your proudest moment so far?
Being accepted onto the Founders Programme and into the FCA Innovation Hub. Both of these external validations were very strong confidence boosts in the early days.
Who inspires you?
My real world inspiration is the founder of StellaService, the company I helped build in the UK The company sold for $100m and to have seen the business grow from scratch to a multi-million dollar exit is truly inspiring.
I worked closely with the co-founder John who is one of the most humble people I know. He was also tenacious – he worked on StellaService for almost a decade through some real lows and I really admire his grit to just keep on taking the next step on the journey and performing a huge pivot that ultimately saved the company.
My other inspiration is Will.I.Am! As odd as this may sound, I love his creativity and the unique way his mind thinks. Creativity can solve any problem and I just find his approach to both business and music totally unique.
What are your three top pieces of advice for someone wanting to do something similar?
- Once you have decided upon your idea, bring it to life by talking to people about it and getting it out there! This verbal commitment to the idea helped me to continue on with the idea when I felt self doubt creeping in or life becoming too busy. I didn’t want to have to explain to other people that I’d given up!
- Complete customer research to understand the pain points that your potential customers are having to deal with currently, so you can build a solution that resolves this pain
- Not everyone will think your idea is a good one, but don’t let that faze you! If someone had told me about Tesla creating an electric car a few years ago, I might have thought that was a crazy idea – look at them now!
Find out more about Snowball.