Helene Panzarino

Fintech Relationship Professional, Investment Readiness Consultant – ‎Karma Kreations Ltd

London, United Kingdom

@HPanzarino  | LinkedIn Profile

You’re often described as a serial entrepreneur. When did you first realize you had a knack for building businesses?Copy of Copy of InterviewNotes (3)

It was while I was building someone else’s business! Through a series of coincidences, I found myself tasked with building the overseas sourcing arm of a US software house that really wasn’t getting any traction, as well as having to find a few local contracts to generate revenue and keep people occupied before going on site.

It was a business I knew nothing about, but very quickly I moved into a very senior position and the business took on a global scope, fanning out from supplying the East Coast to the whole of the US.

Did I make mistakes and sharpen my skills on someone else’s dime? You bet I did, but it wouldn’t have been possible to grow the business if I hadn’t had the skills, attitude and ethic.

I saw this again in one of my own businesses, a language school, which I sold three years after launch.

As a serial entrepreneur, what are some of the key consistent lessons you apply each time you build a business? Is there something unique to the way women approach building a business that works particularly well?

I always start with the end game. If I know where I want the business to go – more or less – it makes it much easier to chart the journey, to say ‘no’ to things that don’t fit the journey, and to be able to tell the story to people I need to get on board or get backing from. I dislike a lack of clear direction – it wastes time and energy and makes it harder for you to sell your wares.

I think woman see a business through a more holistic lens. Men tend to work more in compartments, which you sometimes see when it’s a tech business that plays catch up to round out with marketing or finance, for example.

You published your first book last year on Business Funding. What prompted you to write it?

I’d been thinking about writing a book for about 18 months before I actually started, and was going to take some time to land on a precise topic – still in funding – when a supplier recommended me to Wiley and contact was made. They asked me if I was interested in writing Business Funding for Dummies (which, I couldn’t believe hadn’t been written already…) and the rest, as they say, is history.

I am planning to start a new book in 2017, again on funding, but probably half the size and very specific to one group of entrepreneurs.

Women traditionally ask for, and receive, less funding than men. What’s the one thing you’d stress women should do when pursuing funding that would increase their chances of getting proper (more) funding?

It seems to me from working with woman over the past 20 years, that they can sometimes obsess about not losing money or making a hash of a business much more than men do, and as a result they don’t raise enough or ask for enough in the first place, which will increase your chances of failure. Men seem much more comfortable using other people’s money, and also more at ease with failure. I don’t think it’s so much risk, as people claim, but more being okay with things going wrong if it happens.

The other thing that always strikes me, and especially as someone who only discovered figures during my twenties, is that women often don’t understand the vocabulary or the terminology of the fundraising process. The cite a lack of confidence, a built in gender bias, and so on, and these definitely do exist, but the saying ‘knowledge is power’ rings true. If you understand the process and the basic terms, you are much more likely to be confident and to ask for what you want.

Of course, seek advice from professionals, and particularly from people who’ve actually been through the process in some way and not just read about it on the internet, as you would do with any important decisions in your life.

You talk a lot about asking for help, and the need to ask for help. But you say there’s a ‘best’ way to go about it. What is that?

Women who are strong or women who don’t want to risk showing any sign of weakness for fear of repercussions, often are unable to use the one four-letter word that is okay at work…help! No one knows everything and no one can do everything alone, so an intelligent response is to acknowledge this and ask for help.   Most people want to help, so if you ask in a way that makes the other person feel they are genuinely helping you, you’ll probably get a good result.

You’ve done some angel investing yourself. How do you choose what – or who – to invest in?

I think you need to understand what you’re investing in, and in my case there were two of us the first time, so there were different skill sets, which made it less frightening. Because for most people the first time is exciting but also a bit scary.

I don’t think you need to have done that business – although that helps to make it much easier to assess the risks and see the opportunities – but you do need to do your research, feel comfortable with the team, and have your own set of professionals on hand to assist you or utilise the resources of a fund or a network.

You also need to be able to lose the money. Nothing is 100% guaranteed, and if you don’t have the stomach for loss or the bank balance to allow for it, you should not invest.

You’ve been involved in some big Fintech organizations in the UK – from being a founding member of Innovate Finance, to being involved with Tech London Advocates, to being COO of FINTECH Circle. Where did your passion for Fintech come from?

I always joke about Fintech starting for me in 1982 when I was working in commercial banking and asked to work on this big hole in the wall – the ATM – where finance and technology collided.

As I said before, I was not naturally inclined to finance, but found that I have an almost inexplicable ability – friends call me Rainwoman – to look at a set of figures and see the story, along with the ability to put them in a logical and compelling case.

People who know me well also find it mildly amusing that I love working with tech businesses on their investment readiness because I go kicking and screaming to use technology myself (I will say that having worked closely with a UX and UI team this past year on another business, I am much more at home with using tech than I’ve ever been) but I love the logic, can understand what I need to know on functionality, compliance and so on, and I can see the business case, model and if they’ve got a good team very clearly, so it makes it a pleasure.

My network, knowledge and experience gained over three decades gives me the full package – past from a mega financial institution through to start up and mid-sized professional services… versus coming from a marketing, other service or other finance background, where they have to ‘learn as you go’ on the internet and then make relationships that they can’t fully understand or develop.

Fintech as we know it came about in London just at the right time for my unique background and experience and I knew I was in my element.

There’s another side to you that’s full on creative – from acting to body transformation to writing. Even one of your latest business ventures is in beauty products. How do these right-brained outlets enhance your left-brained financier work?

I love and appreciate these creative businesses, and because I have no creative skills in the traditional sense – I can’t make the things – more often than not I get involved when they are looking to fundraise, and then I become part of the family.

Most of the creatives I get involved with utilise technology, including fintech tools and services, and some of my fintech clients end up as suppliers to my creative clients – forex, e-commerce and payment solutions, integrated transaction, customer and inventory management software etc, are all being used by my creative clients.

It’s also nice to sometimes just step back and appreciate beautiful things that have been created by incredibly talented people.

We’ve talked extensively about mentorship and sponsorship, and our conversations have usually focused on how to practice both effectively. But that begs the question, who has had the biggest influence on your career?

Oddly it was someone who I came to ultimately lose respect for, but that was one of the reasons that he had such a strong influence by providing a real life example of pride before the fall!

Initially he was the person who showed me the value in having both a mentor and a sponsor, the real power of actively networking, and the good that can be done if you thoughtfully and fairly help others succeed whilst furthering your own career and objectives.

Who do you consider to be strong women leaders in the Fintech space?

Duena Blomstrom

Eileen Burbidge

Claire Calmejane

Marta Krupinska

Natasha Kyprianides

What do you see as the 3 leading future trends for Fintech?

Social impact

Blend of Robo and Real life

Collaboration vs disruption in FS

Blockchain spreading its wings

I can’t narrow it down to just three!