Jessica Butcher is the co-founder of Blippar and the keynote speaker at this year’s BWS/WES Awards. With an array of awards already to her name and playing a key role in a rapidly growing technology business, Jessica carries the mantle of successful female entrepreneur comfortably as she talks about the importance of networks, flexibility, accessibility and ‘the ladder.’
It’s hard to believe that the co-founder of a company using such highly advanced technology as Blippar would be a self-confessed “non-techy person.” However, this very lack of a technical background was critical to the business in the early days, as Butcher describes “taking nerdy tech and de-teching it. Everything is marketing and I came into the business to make the technology accessible, to craft the images which bring it to life and show what it means and what it can do. How it gets done is for the techy people to focus on. I believe that technology is more accessible when there’s more women in it.”
She actually studied Ancient History at Oxford and what followed throughout twenties and early thirties was a succession of jobs, mainly in sales, marketing or business development. “My CV could best be described as ‘scrappy.’ We’re encouraged from an early age to identify our dream career for life, as if you’ll start on a road and stick with it until you retire. Today’s jobs market simply doesn’t work that way. I used to regard my CV as a bit of an issue, it screamed “get bored easily” as I moved every two or three years to a new role, usually in start-ups or disruptive technologies. In hindsight, this paid dividends as I developed an enormous network of contacts and a ‘scattergun knowledge’ about a lot of industries.”
Butcher’s journey took a new path in her early thirties, when she met her future husband Graham and decided to leave a job she didn’t enjoy to go to Africa for a year. “We started up a business whilst we were there, a social enterprise tour company. The idea was to build a business model that would provide access to a part of Western Africa whilst also being sustainable. Integritour has proved to be an ‘MBA in kind’, an enormously useful and rewarding learning curve and a business which provides brings much needed revenue and sustainable tourism to an incredibly poor area of the continent.”
On her return, fortune collided with opportunity when she met the three technical and creative people who were looking for a commercial marketing and branding expert to take their visual discovery app, using augmented reality, to market. And so Blippar was born. Jessica describes the five-year journey as “incredible”, with the business undergoing robust growth into a network of international offices, hundreds of staff and clients such as PepsiCo, Heinz, Coca Cola, Nestle, L’Oreal and Conde Nast. Blippar has recently been ranked in the top 10 on CNBC’s Top Disruptor List and was also named on Bloomberg’s list of top UK Business Innovators.
In hindsight, Butcher realises just how important networks have been in her role in the business. “Never underestimate the importance of your network, it’s your bank of future opportunities and will bear fruit if you nurture it. Not every meeting has to have tangible output. It’s critically important to build relationships above and below you on ‘the ladder’, we’re all on a rung somewhere. The people above you can help to nurture you up the way, the ones below you are the people you need to invest in to help them move up. Its fundamental to your own personal development as well as being the right thing to do, to give back. The ones who come up behind you will push you up a level and stop you getting stuck on a rung.”
Jessica acknowledges that balancing work and family life is a constant challenge. She’s taken the longest of her three maternity leaves with her youngest son Joe, who is now eight months old. With her first two children, she went back to work much sooner, “The business was my baby and for each of my children, I’ve appreciated the flexibility the personal choice I’ve had to manage my leave as it felt right for me and for us as a family. We are still at least a generation away though from really progressive maternity policies in the UK.”
She is looking forward to coming up to Scotland for the first collaborative BWS/WES Awards and knows women in business take an enormous amount of support from each other. “Women value hearing other women’s journey’s, knowing we aren’t alone in the trials and tribulations we go through. As women, we need to be better as pushing ourselves forward.”
Whilst she’s up in Glasgow, Jessica will also be spending time at the On the Corner community project in Barras. The project was a lifeline to Jessica’s sister in law Sarah, who passed away suddenly last year, and it is important to the family that they support the place which meant so much to the talented artist during some of her darkest times. “Sarah’s life changed dramatically during the last two years of her life. She had struggled through some very bleak periods but On the Corner was a real haven for her. It’s an incredible place, supporting the socially excluded, drug addicts, people with mental health problems, the marginalised on the very edge of society. We set up a foundation in Sarah’s memory and we will be holding an event whilst we are in Scotland, an evening of remembrance and celebration.”
There’s no doubt at all that Jessica Butcher will continue to inspire and empower women entrepreneurs across all sectors, but especially those in STEM, who have a vocal and fearless champion in their corner. As one of the few female co-founders of a unicorn tech company, she is a much-needed role model and proof that there’s no limit to what non-techy women with a ‘scrappy CV’ and a tendency to get bored easily can achieve.