Who is Debbie Wosskow OBE?
An expert on the sharing economy and co-founder of "Airbnb for grown-ups", here's what you need to know about the recent OBE recipient...
Name: Debbie Wosskow OBE
Business: Co-founder and CEO of Love Home Swap, an online travel club where homeowners from around the world can exchange their homes.
Why we should know about her: Wosskow is a passionate advocate of the sharing economy and is founding chair of the goverment-backed sharing economy trade body SEUK which she penned a 60,000-word independent report in just 10 weeks for – Unlocking the Sharing Economy. She is also a trustee of Hampstead Theatre. Earlier this month, Wosskow was awarded an OBE for her services to business in the Queen’s Birthday Honours List 2016.
As one of the most prominent female entrepreneurs in the tech space and with rumours of becoming a Tory peer, we've brought together five key things you need to know about the sharing economy queen…
1. Entrepreneurship runs in her blood
Originally from Sheffield, Wosskow was born into an entrepreneurial and academic Jewish family where many of her family members ran businesses; her grandparents ran newsagents and off licences while her mother runs her own business. This early environment served as great inspiration and shaped her business future, with Wosskow admitting that she simply never entertained the idea of getting a normal job:
“I’m from a family of entrepreneurs – strong women who have run their own businesses and that’s a big part of the inspiration. I think it makes a big difference if you grow up around parents where they’re not going to do jobs and work for someone else. I think if you see them working for themselves it normalises the process of starting your own business and thinking how you’re going to earn your own money and build something, rather than being employed.”
Her family’s business acumen also extends to Wosskow's brother. When setting up Love Home Swap, she convinced her brother Ben to postpone taking an MBA to join her in making her start-up venture a reality – believing his “steady, calm and analytical” skills would compliment hers. She was right, and the pair still work together to this day!
2. She started her first business aged just 25
After graduating with a degree in philosophy and theology from the University of Oxford, Wosskow founded her first business, PR agency Mantra, way back in 1999 when she was just 25.
Specialising in online communications and marketing for the creative industries, Wosskow scaled the business – which had clients such as The Economist and Financial Times – before selling it to the Loewy group in 2007. Her success as a young entrepreneur also saw her gain recognition in Management Today's first ever 35 women under 35 feature back in 2000.
Although she remains tight-lipped on the Loewy Group acquisition amount (thought to be over £5m), Wosskow was able to use the money as seed capital when she when had the idea for her next business; which would later become Love Home Swap.
3. Travel and TV served as inspirations for her business idea
It's often wondered how founders get their ‘lighbulb moment' and for Wosskow, Love Home Swap was inspired by a chaotic holiday and popular rom-com movie…
After what she refers to a ‘nightmare’ family holiday to St. Lucia, described as “particularly bad and very expensive”, Wosskow found herself in a hotel room with her crying child watching the popular 2006 film The Holiday where Cameron Diaz and Kate Winslet swap their homes. This moment provided Wosskow with the realisation that there was a gap in the market for a service where users had the option to swap and rent properties and save thousands on hotel bills.
Since launching Love Home Swap in 2010 with her brother, Wosskow has seen the site accelerate from just 200 initial members, to feature over 100,000 homes in 160 countries.
(Learn how other business success stories were inspired by travel here).
4. Routine and resilience have been key to her success
Like all great entrepreneurs, Wosskow hasn’t achieved success by lying idle. The founder has revealed that she has an ultra-strict routine; waking up at 5:30am to check business emails, getting to the gym at 6:00am, before getting her children ready for school at 7:00am, and then heading to the office.
It’s this routine, coupled with constant hard work and determination, that Wosskow believes is at the heart of her business success. Rejected by many initial investors, Wosskow was met with some negative criticism at the beginning of her Love Home Swap journey but she says these setbacks spurred her on and in 2011 she secured funding from MMC Ventures.
She told The Guardian: “This stuff is hard; it requires grit to run a business. And staying power matters more than the initial enthusiasm that comes with the idea.
“If I could give out three pieces of advice, they would be: don’t listen to anyone who tells you your idea will never work; develop a thicker skin – things go wrong every single day, not everybody will like the business, get over it and move on; and be prepared to let your idea develop and change.”
5. She has made several investments in female-founded start-ups
Wosskow describes herself as somewhat of a “prolific angel investor” and says that she tries to back female start-ups (though not exclusively). Speaking to BA Business Life earlier this year, she explained that she made three investments in 2015, all in female-founded businesses, and believes she has a mission to implore more women to start and grow businesses:
“The only way I'm going to make a difference is by writing cheques for other women and to talk about how important it is. So much of it [business] is about what you know and what you see and what you read and I feel like we have a 100% responsibility to talk about it – and not just talk but put our money where our mouths are”.
This passion isn't just limited to women though. It also extends to helping more start-ups in the sharing economy; Wosskow sits on a number of advisory boards including the board for early-stage social delivery start-up Nimber.