Yorkshire folk often describe the county as ‘God’s country’ – and Georgina Fairhall may be inclined to agree.
Fairhall grew up in Sussex but has made Leeds the home of her startup WAC, which is gearing up to become a £13m revenue business within three years if things go according to plan.
However many people in the business community were quick to tell her to leave. “Countless investors, entrepreneurs and exited founders have suggested I move to London to have a better chance at raising investment as a non-revenue, B2C startup,” she tells TechBlast.
“As attractive as it might have been to move the business down South, I’m glad I stayed put in Leeds.
“The supportive close-knit tech community and mentors I’ve found here have been irreplaceable and an essential part of building my network to build a successful company.”
Fairhall launched WAC in 2020, one week before a national lockdown, after choosing to step away from a potential law career in order to champion low-paid workers.
“I’ve always been entrepreneurial: I was inspired by my dad and Grandad, who were both business-minded. Coming from a working-class background, we never had an abundance of money, which helped me to become a good problem-solver,” she recalls.
“I had a pretty tumultuous time at school and never thought higher education was possible for me as the teachers expected me to fail. Against all odds, I studied Law at Nottingham Trent University and worked part-time jobs to put myself through uni.
“I took jobs in McDonald’s, bar work, agency work at festivals… and even dressed up as a bottle of salad cream in Brighton City Centre!”
Fairhall encountered the same problem in every hospitality job – she wasn’t getting paid correctly. Hours would frequently be missed, breaks wouldn’t happen, and she was routinely expected to work beyond her finish time to support the team.
“My two biggest struggles were trying to keep track of irregular hours and pay so I knew what to expect on payday. There was always the uncertainty around whether or not I’d be paid correctly for the work I’d completed,” she explains.
“One of the last times I was grossly underpaid was during an agency shift in the freezer aisle of Asda giving out cider samples. The shift was absolutely freezing, and possibly one of the worst shifts ever which ended after two days – and I was never even paid.
“I was due £250 and spent weeks chasing the agency until I went to Citizens’ Advice, who said my only option was to seek expensive legal advice and possibly take them to court.
“As a student and the fact it was for a loss of £250, this wasn’t an option. It also affected my well-being and having the energy around work and knowing how to fight back was nearly impossible.”
She founded WAC to enable workers from all sectors to track their hours, add their rota and get live payslip estimates, including deductions such as tax. The app, available for free, is now set to launch premium tiers and set in motion several revenue streams.
“Prior to launch I spent two years developing a product and bootstrapping with a £5,000 wedding gift from my parents. I’m still unmarried so it was clearly the best use of the money!” she laughs. “The early months were informative and extremely rewarding, but at the same time very challenging.”
Fairhall, who topped TechRound’s 29Under29 list late last year, initially launched WAC with a subscription model as a test to prove that its target market, who tend to be on low to minimum wage, was prepared to pay for the solution.
“Although we were generating revenue and had a decent conversion rate, we didn’t have the funding to market and scale very quickly, so it was very difficult to gain traction as quickly as we needed to raise more funding,” she recalls.
She onboarded Tim Brooke Thom – a former chairman of Monzo – and decided to make the app completely free to focus on traction and gather as much user feedback as possible to increase stickiness and product scalability.
The move has seen WAC amass more than 300,000 app installs in 136 countries, with 25,000 active users.
The entrepreneur says it was a challenge to raise the £1m angel investment as a pre-revenue business and messaged 2,000 investors on LinkedIn during COVID, which secured £70k.
“As a non-technical, sole female founder of a pre-revenue B2C startup, I was one of the highest risk investments going,” she admits. “But with every investment, I hit the milestone and proved we had a strong product market fit and were solving a huge problem.
“So although we have achieved a lot, it was extremely difficult and hard to keep going at the times when the bank was nearly empty.
“However, because of the amazing feedback, app store ratings, reviews and sharing knowledge, we are changing workers’ lives. I’ve managed to keep my passion alive and become extremely resilient through it all. It’s made me the founder I am today.
“Over the last four years, I’ve learned more than I have in any other job, or throughout my education.”
Fairhall says WAC is now in active conversations with VCs and high net-worth individuals and confident of closing its funding round in the next few months. The startup now has a team of eight staff, with three in the UK and a full-time tech team of five in India.
Fairhall is aiming for almost 400,000 installs this year and £4.7m revenue, with targets of 826,000/£9.6m in year three and 1m/£13.2m in year four.
“The biggest piece of advice I can offer to fellow founders is to trust your gut. Listen to the advice of those around you, but don’t do anything that makes you feel uncomfortable. You know the problem you’ve set out to solve, so don’t allow stakeholders to distract you from your mission,” she says.
“For any founder, it’s important to keep your ambition at the forefront of your mind and not to take no for an answer.”
She concludes: “The North will always be a key component in my career moving forward.
“I aspire to be part of a successful cohort of exited founders who can support the next generation of entrepreneurs through investment and mentorship – and ensure the North continues to build an exciting tech landscape to rival London.”