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Dale Murray is one of the UK’s very few women angel investors and, interestingly, she turned to investing as a way of balancing her work and family life better.
Named British Angel Investor of the Year for 2011, she has a wealth of experience in running her own business.
She started her working life at Price Waterhouse in her native New Zealand and was headhunted to join a start-up launching the Vodafone mobile network across the country. She then relocated to the UK and joined Pearson, did an MBA and started her own company, Omega Logic, which provides the technology to allow people to top up their phones anywhere on the high street.
She invested all her money and got loans initially before going to business angels. She doubled the angel investors’ money after just 18 months and grew revenues to £19m. Then she got pregnant and had three children in rapid succession. Becoming a business angel seemed a good option compared to the long hours involved in running a business.
“Angel investing is not like being a managing director of CEO of a company,” she says. “You may have a seat on the board, but you are not involved in the day to day running of the company. It lends itself very nicely to anyone not willing or able to run a company full time. Board meetings can be scheduled for morning or early afternoons and you can do as little or as much as you like.”
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In the last eight years, Murray, who also sits on the board of several companies, has made 28 investments. When her children were very small she made two or three investments a year which she says was “quite manageable”. Her children were born 18 months apart and so life was very busy. Plus she has no family nearby to help out.
She says part of the reason she has been able to combine high level work and a family is because of the support of her husband who will look after the children, for instance, if she has a board meeting.
“The first important choice you make as a working mum is your choice of partner,” she says. “Most women who have reached a high level of success in their chosen field either don’t have children or have a lot of support around them, including very supportive husbands who really get their career aspirations.”
When her children were very young Dale had an au pair. She has also used part-time nannies.
“One of my friends who is a successful entrepreneur has had the same nanny for 18 years, but I chose a different route,” she says. “I didn’t want to have someone in my zone all the time and I had just exited my company so could afford to spend time with the children. I could balance looking after them and bringing in different care as and when needed. There’s no simple solution and things change as your children grow.”
Women in business
Dale speaks passionately about the “wonderful wealth women can bring” to business and how it is being lost because of lack of support over childcare. However, she says entrepreneurship offers women “unique opportunities” and technological advances make it much easier and cheaper to set up a website and start a business. “It’s a great time to start up a company,” she says, “and the UK is very good at start-ups. What it is not so good at is help with scaling those companies up.”
Dale would like to see more coaches and mentors available to support businesses that want to grow and get to the next level. “Recent government research shows those entrepreneurs who get advice are significantly more likely to grow quickly and that women-led businesses are the least likely to ask for help,” she says, adding that entrepreneurs need to target mentors who are the best fit with their business and to challenge themselves by seeking mentors outside their normal circle of support.
She also advises entrepreneurs to seek out the advice and information that is available online, for instance, on how to pitch to a business angel or how to export, and to have enough confidence in themselves and their business idea to overcome the inevitable obstacles that will come their way.
Stamina is a key issue for working mums, she agrees. “There’s that moment when you just get home and the children want all of you. I might have been in a series of stressful meetings discussing multimillion pound deals and I have to pause, put down my iphone and become mum. You need to have strong reserves of energy and you need to give yourself time to recharge,” she says.
Being a business angel
Her advice to any women who might be thinking of becoming business angels is to try and resist the urge to become too involved in the companies you invest in. She got heavily involved in supporting one particular company until she realised it was encroaching on her evenings and weekends and had to step back.
She also advises creating a network of entrepreneurs and “going where entrepreneurs go”. She says that, as a business angel, she is looking for a charismatic people person with a good exit strategy to invest in. “There needs to be a connection. I need to feel they are highly ambitious, motivated, determined and bloody minded,” she says. “They need to be charismatic so they can bring others with them and have strong leadership and personal skills and a real belief in their business and their skills.”