For the second instalment we caught up with Emily Davies. Emily is People Operations Manager at Zego, where she's spent the last four years transforming a small committed team of 12 to a well-oiled machine of 300 employees. Zego is a wildly successful startup, and after receiving series C funding of $150 million, has secured its status as the UK’s first insurtech unicorn.
Still fresh from the news, Emily sat down with Capdesk to discuss the highlights from her career so far. Here’s what we found out.
After graduating Emily worked in various startups and experienced a variety of roles. “I had jobs in customer service, account management, operations and project management. When I joined Zego my job title was officially Project Manager, but really the company just needed someone to get stuff done.”
A committed generalist, Emily lived the life of many early-stage startup employees. “I looked after a range of things, from compliance and office management to finance and HR. But, as a company grows, it gets to the point where you’re answering questions about very specific issues and you need experts to take it to the next level.”
She sat down with her bosses to discuss the need to bring specialist help into the business. They agreed on the value dedicated resources would bring to Zego and put a plan into action which allowed Emily to continue with the work she enjoyed and shape her own career path.
“What really piqued my interest was the people side of things. I loved working with the company on questions concerning the workplace. How do we make this a great place to work? How do we keep people engaged? How do we ensure Zego has a reputation for excellent professional development?”
Emily Davies, People Ops Manager, Zego
Dwelling on the effects of the pandemic, Emily observed that “it’s been a really strange year. Back in March 2020, when coronavirus first hit, it felt like it snuck up on everyone. Like all businesses, we had to adjust quickly.”
In some ways, the crisis accelerated changes to Zego’s office policies that were already in motion. However, coronavirus made the transition to remote working much more rapid.
“There were questions over whether we’d be able to create the culture that we wanted with everyone working from home. When we first went into lockdown, there was a lot of time on Zoom and now we have to find different ways of keeping people engaged, while also letting them have that focused work time.”
Emily Davies, People Ops Manager, Zego
Despite the challenges, Emily feels as though the pandemic brought out the best in the Zego team. Emily celebrated Zego's nature as a cross-functional business where everyone can get stuck in together, a capability that led the team to bounce back quickly during lockdown. Indeed, in just nine days, Zego updated its product to support drivers who needed to downgrade their insurance cover as the pandemic affected their jobs.
Emily admitted to knowing nothing about equity before Zego but was moved by the founders’ desire for every employee to have a share in the business.
The company’s cap table was originally managed on spreadsheets, but with important details committed to her memory, Emily quickly became a bottleneck. Once other departments were requesting frequent access to information on the cap table, Zego sought out a solution. Of the first cap table tool they used, Emily said:
“It was a massive learning curve. You think you know what you need but when it comes to managing an options scheme, the reality can be quite different.”
Emily recognised that as Zego changed, so did its needs, and with much excitement she migrated the cap table onto Capdesk. “One of the main things I want to do with Capdesk is to make sure there’s a lot more information for employees around equity value and vesting schedules.”
Emily’s challenge for the remainder of the year is to continue Zego’s rapid expansion and add a further 300 employees to its headcount. When tackling daunting tasks like this, Emily reflects on the challenges she’s overcome at Zego, reminding herself that “it’s ok to try and then fail – as long as you’re learning from it. Learning on the job can be scary, but very rewarding.”
“If things don’t go to plan, you need to own it. But you also need to say ‘this is what went wrong and this is how we’re going to fix it.’ People are very receptive to that and they will appreciate your honesty.”
Emily rounded out the conversation with a piece of advice perfectly suited to her younger self. “For a while, I had ‘don’t let perfect be the enemy of good’ on a sticky note by my computer. That would definitely be my advice to others.”