Alex Butler, Founder KindredHQ: From Disrupting Companies to Starting Her Own

After six years working in government, Alex Butler is this month launching KindredHQ, a new service for freethinkers and doers inspired by her fascination with the evolution of the collaborative working economy,

Alex has over 20 years of experience in creative businesses – small start-ups to large multinationals – advertising, branding and in technology companies.

Constantly stimulated by the ideas she hears, Alex is at her best when she’s helping some of those ideas become reality, by linking people up, inspiring them to continue, and by using her knowledge of how to get things done in complex organizations. Part of this is advising companies and individuals how to make the right connections and get onto the same wavelength. Alex is a passionate campaigner for simplicity wherever she sees unnecessary complexity.

We spoke to Alex about her three golden rules of brand development; what she most enjoys about running her own company; and why she wants to reclaim the phrase ‘make a living’. 

TNW: What was the inspired moment that led you to leave your post in government and launch KindredHQ?  Was it difficult to summon the courage to strike out on your own?

AB: To be honest, I’d been toying with the idea of working for myself and exploring my inner entrepreneur for some time.  My role in the UK government involved lots of contact with the UK digital technology and social entrepreneurs, and I’d been involved in innovation within the delivery of public services, so it was hard not to see the opportunities. 

In fact, it’s true to say that I have a love/hate relationship with large, complex organisations. I have sometimes been taken into these jobs specifically to disrupt and bring about change. 

I enjoyed doing this in government, but after 5 years, I took advantage of a large-scale reduction in the UK public sector to leave, move on to new things and take that great experience with me.

TNW: KindredHQ launches in January. How are your launch plans coming along?

AB: Generally in the right direction! I’ve been overwhelmed by support and help from friends, colleagues and Twitter and I’m concentrating on delivering great content for the launch including some very interesting video interviews with some unlikely stars. I’m learning so much about my market by doing this myself. The extraordinary generosity of others, the importance of authenticity and also how important it is to have other people around you.

TNW: After working in the Public Sector for six years, what are you most enjoying about running your own business so far?

Without a doubt the best thing about running my own business is being able to deliver things the way you want to, without having to compromise to mediocrity. 

And because you do it all yourself, you learn new things all the time.  And you can get things done quickly!

TNW: What has been your biggest challenge in these early days of your company, from planning to funding and execution, and how could others learn from it?

AB: Getting from great content and nurturing a solid online community is relatively easy.  What’s been hard is working out how to bring in revenue fast enough to make sure that the business remains viable.  I’m self funding this right now, and that’s a finite resource. I soon learnt that this isn’t a linear process and I’ve got to do everything all at the same time.  If I were starting this process again, I’d have been tougher with myself on my time management in the early days.

I’ve also learnt that it’s important to just get started with something. It’s easy to go around in a big circle as you get overwhelmed.  I’ll be launching with a simple blog. Easy (and cheap!).

TNW: How important is technology to the success of your company? How do you see technology as a key growth driver?

AB: Technology is hugely important to the business, although it isn’t a technology business if that makes sense. It is a critical enabler of the connections and the infrastructure that will make the business fly.  It is certainly a driver of growth, whether that’s the ability to be able to develop tools and services cost effectively or a way of growing our community.

TNW: How has Dell or the Dell Women’s Entrepreneur Network enabled you to launch your business? What do you see as the benefits of all-women networks such as DWEN?

AB: Where do I start?  I was introduced to DWEN by Judith Clegg of the Glasshouse Network in London and I joined the 2011 DWEN conference in Rio., meeting amazing women from across the globe.  That really made me re-evaluate the direction that I was taking.  The case studies, and the women I met really did restore my own confidence in my idea. 

Generally speaking, whilst I know many fabulous women, I’m not concerned with all women networks, but this one works really well. 

Dell is absolutely the right partner for a group of women entrepreneurs too, and I was impressed that they are genuinely interested in helping open doors and help you make the right contacts.  And no hard sell.

TNW: You’ve been quoted as saying “I’m constantly stimulated by the ideas I hear. I think I’m at my best when I’m helping some of those ideas become reality”. What has been the most exciting idea that you have helped to realise in your career?

AB: There are so many, but perhaps one of the most recent was something I developed whilst in the UK government.  It struck me that the entrepreneurs that I’d met had a very different take on life to those who choose a career in public service, and yet they all want to change the world in their own way.  So, I delivered a 6-week programme of digital innovation with groups of civil servants, in effect asking them to take a digital idea to market in that time, with business plans, funding etc.  The results were extraordinary and some of those ideas are infinitely bankable, not to mention the life long experience of having been involved for those individuals. 

TNW: Which three golden rules of brand development would you advise entrepreneurs to follow?

AB: Wow.  I’m supposed to be an expert in brand development, but my answers have changed now that the boot is on the other foot.  Firstly, grab the very best domain name that you can, and pay for it if necessary. Secondly, embrace your audience in developing your brand and being part of it and the values that it represents, after all they are your customers.

Lastly, you are the brand, so remember that everything you contribute on the web is brand development. That can be both a positive and a negative.

TNW: What form does your campaign for simplicity take?

AB: Reclaiming the phrase ‘make a living’.  I genuinely think that people who work at doing the things they enjoy will contribute more to society and value other people who do the same.   

TNW: Do you have a motto which sums up your approach to business, and to life?

Maya Angelou famously said ‘I’ve learnt that making a living is not the same thing as making a life’.  I can’t sum it up better than that.

TNW: Is there anything we haven’t asked you, but you’d like to share with our community?

AB: Well, the most obvious thing to share is the website address, which is kindredhq.com.  It would be great to see you there.

The Dell Women's Entrepreneur Network (DWEN) celebrates the wonderful accomplishments of women in business, whilst looking forward at how we can progress and learn from each other. Natural networkers and relationship builders, women have innate flair for entrepreneurship. With DWEN, Dell is helping women in business to expand their networks while offering technology capabilities designed to help them innovate and grow their businesses.

The NextWomen is in partnership with DWEN to bring you a series of 40 interviews with the world's most influential female founders, investors and decision makers: The NextWomen DWEN Interview Series.

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