Gapsquare CEO Dr Zara Nanu – ‘Go big or go home’

Dr Zara Nanu, CEO of Gapsquare, talks about what drove her to set up a pay-gap analytics firm, the importance of having a board and selling her business to XpertHR in August last year

Dr Zara Nanu, CEO of pay analytics firm Gapsquare, enjoyed a fireside chat at the most recent Venturers Club event in London on 16 March, who talked to us about her experience of a successful exit.

XpertHR, a subsidiary of Relx, acquired Gapsquare in August last year.

Where did the idea for Gapsquare come from?

I set up the company in 2016, with a passion, a passion for women’s rights and wanting to create something which empowers women. The way to do that is by ensuring businesses pay women fairly.

The World Economic Forum was saying back then that we were 217 years away from closing the gender pay gap. They are also saying by 2030 most of us will be in self driving cars, but with all that high tech we would still be 200 years away from achieving pay parity between men and women at work. So, I thought surely there’s a way to use innovation, tech and data to accelerate progress in the workplace.

That’s how we started the company. We didn’t start it to exit, we started it to grow and scale, we wanted to get to a point where we could make it mainstream. We wanted businesses around the world to automate pay equality so that they can focus on more important things.

How did you fund Gapsquare initially?

We did a consultancy gig; we pitched the vision as a consultancy for three months and that gave us enough cash to keep us going while the tech team was building the product and the tech team really hated me for it… but it needed to be done.

Was there not a part of you that wanted to go a bit further before exiting?

We were early movers and shakers in this space, my main thing was I don’t want to be creating something and someone else comes in and gets all the funding and does it faster. The market was starting to catch on to this, we were starting to get more competition from other companies. Investors were looking at competitors as the market was quickly moving. This wasn’t our first approach or acquisition, we had turned down a lot of offers before. It just felt like the market was moving fast and we might be left behind. We also knew the company looking at us was looking at our competitors also.

Are you still involved in Gapsquare?

I’m still involved and very much learning about scaling a business. I find it interesting to learn a bit more about big businesses and how things work, seeing other things in the business, it’s a huge learning experience.

Culture is really important and making sure that continues through an exit and business growth. How have you handled that?

We were a team of 10 plus contractors. We were a close-knit company that talks a lot and takes a lot of decisions together. It felt awkward between balancing that and the openness that we are used to, which has been difficult. But culture is important. One of my first conversations with the CEO who was acquiring us was around the fact that I view a lot of my work as a David and Goliath type of situation.

One of the key things we did was set up a board. Because it can be hard, hard to get a lot of rejection from investors by yourself. You get a board, you get a lot of nice people on that board, and then it is easy to shift that weight off your shoulders, because your board can help guide you. So just having that really helped, having a community to advise and work with has really helped a lot, we have a network and support group. Being able to talk to other founders has been one of the main things that have helped as well as the board. Having the board was really one of the best things that I did.

What would you tell the 16-year-old you?

Go big or go home. People say build a prototype, go for the low hanging fruit, then go for the next thing and the next thing. I thought no, I need to go big… I need to go to the mayor’s office; I need to go to the big companies. I do a lot of talks in work with young women who want to do science technology and engineering and that’s my advice for them, go big or go home.

Dr Zara Nanu was talking to CFPro founder/director Barbara Spurrier

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