Catherine Kennard: With Passion And Commitment, Anything Is Possible!

Catherine was recently nominated for Female Entrepreneur of the Year.

Catherine Kennard is the Managing Director and founder of Lovework, an entrepreneurial and ethical recruitment business with the sole aim of connecting exceptional people to exceptional jobs within high-growth start-ups. 

Catherine noticed that entrepreneurial businesses, more than any other, need the very best team of people to help their ventures become truly successful. At the same time, she realised that such businesses usually don’t have the recruitment function and budget that many bigger companies have at their disposal. Further, in this high-growth and early stage environment, Managers and Directors often lack sufficient time to dedicate to searching for new recruits, since all hands are needed on deck to push the business forward.

Catherine realised that, concurrently, for many high-flying individuals, who thrive under pressure and by challenging themselves day to day, the established blue-chip does not always offer sufficient stimulation and satisfaction. Such high-fliers might be desperate for the sort of responsibility and the kind of challenge that a start-up role offers, but may be unaware of how to go about finding such opportunities.

So, Catherine founded Lovework, an entrepreneurial and ethical recruitment business. As Managing Director of Lovework, Catherine draws on her experience of working in a start-up to ensure that the company proactively sources candidates with the skills and competencies that she has learned are essential to excel in this environment. Lovework helps exceptional candidates find stimulating and exciting, entrepreneurial careers and new ventures to source the very best team of people, to help them become tomorrow’s success story.

We spoke to Catherine about the inspiration behind Lovework, the challenges she has faced in her career, and her views on job satisfaction.

TNW: How did you come up with the idea for Lovework and then arrive at the decision to turn your idea into a reality?

CK: The idea for Lovework was born out of my own experiences as a job seeker, where I found myself overwhelmed with career opportunities in blue-chip businesses, due to their large marketing and recruitment budgets. Unfortunately, none of these opportunities particularly appealed to me, which was hugely deflating having worked so hard throughout my academic career for this defining moment of securing my “dream job”.  

After trying out a few different career paths during the early years of my career, none of them quite right, I ended up falling into a start-up business completely by chance. I quickly realised that this was the challenging opportunity I had been looking for. I felt motivated by my new found sense of responsibility and ownership, as well as by my ability to have a genuine and tangible impact on the business. I loved the pace and tempo of a growth-stage business, as well as the excitement and challenges that came with that. One has to absorb a lot of information in a very short space of time, learn on the job by making mistakes, and cope with continuously changing priorities. I found this both hugely stimulating and exciting. 

And so, using the recruitment experience I had built up in my career to date, I set up Lovework to put start-ups on the map.

I wanted to help other people who, like me, were feeling unfulfilled in their blue-chip careers, to find stimulating, challenging, rewarding and exciting entrepreneurial careers.

TNW: Would you say that your background of first-hand experience in start-ups, as well as Lovework’s own position as a start-up business, has assisted the company when working with other start-ups? If so, could you tell us a bit more about this?  

CK: Absolutely! Firstly, my own experience of working in a start-up has given me a crucial insight into the type of people who will really thrive in this environment. As a result, our searches and interviews are always targeted towards sourcing candidates with these traits and interests.

Otherwise, Lovework’s position as a start-up, working for other start-ups, has also been enormously helpful. Being a start-up ourselves gives us a unique appreciation of our clients’ needs, motivations and goals. Secondly, our clients can gain confidence that we are hugely passionate about start-up businesses: we must be … we are one! This understanding and this passion have been absolutely core to our success so far.

TNW: What has been your biggest challenge in your role as Managing Director throughout the history of your company, from planning to funding and execution, and how could others learn from it?

CK: Time management has been my biggest challenge. Sometimes, I’ll find myself trying to work on 20 roles, whilst doing my VAT return (a struggle for someone with as limited mathematical ability as me!), planning an event, tweeting, blogging, meeting with clients, pushing PR … it can be really tricky trying to strike the balance between raising brand awareness and maintaining a pipeline of business, whilst actually trying to service the roles you have on effectively, leaving your customers feeling happy and likely to return. I’m still learning how best to do this. So far, improving the efficiency of processes has been helpful, as has being honest and upfront with clients about my capacity to take on their work. In time, I hope to build a team around me to share the increasing work-load.

TNW: Lovework is an award-winning business, and was recently named as one of the Top 20 UK Startups 2013. What would you say has been your proudest moment in the history of your company so far?

CK: I’m delighted to have won so many awards within the first year of trading. Smarta 100 named us among the 100 most innovative, disruptive and resourceful small businesses in the UK, and they nominated me for We were voted as Home-based Business of the Year in the Simply Business Startups awards and we were named as one of the Top 20 UK Startups to be founded in 2013. All of these were enormously proud moments for me. However, my proudest moments are always those when I gain positive feedback and reinforcement from my clients and candidates.

At the end of the day, it is wonderful to have recognition through an award, but a positive response from your customers is what it is all about.

TNW: Lovework’s mission is to connect exceptional people to exciting roles in high-growth entrepreneurial businesses. What qualities and skills do you look for in candidates seeking to work in this environment?

CK: The start-up environment is certainly not for everyone. For example, not everyone works well driving their own work-flow, pushing themselves out of their comfort zone, learning from personal mistakes and dealing with change and uncertainty. Many people prefer environments with closer management and mentorship, clearer guidelines, with processes and structures in place that early-stage businesses often lack. 

In my experience, the start-up environment particularly suits those who are proactive and can drive their own work-flow independently and productively.

We also look for candidates who are: flexible and able to cope with changing priorities; highly commercially astute; self-confident and introspective; and those who have a genuine thirst for learning and who thrive under pressure and in a fast-paced environment. 

TNW: Could you tell us a bit more about how you came up with the name for Lovework? How important, would you say, is job satisfaction, and being passionate about your work?

CK: I would certainly not say that creativity is my forte, and so I was not particularly excited by the prospect of choosing an appropriate name for my company. All I knew was that I passionately did not want to pick a name which sounded too corporate or unapproachable or salesy, since this was not what I wanted my company to stand for. And then, one day, after rejecting many ridiculous suggestions (most of which were my own), I received a marketing flier through the letterbox, encouraging those who loved food to take this cookery course.  It was a sort of 'eureka' moment. And I just shouted: “I’ve got it! ‘Lovework!’” It felt like the perfect description for what I was hoping to achieve with the business.

Being passionate about your work and loving your work is, in my opinion, extremely important - as is believing in what you are doing and believing in the company’s mission. I’d so much rather leave the office at 10pm having been caught up in the excitement of what I was doing and lost track of time, than clock watch all day until 5.30pm. I am a firm believer that with passion comes energy, excitement and commitment, and that, ultimately, success will follow. Most importantly, if you love what you spend the majority of your time doing, you are opting to spend the majority of your time feeling happy, engaged, fulfilled and energised.

It can be extremely depressing and draining investing such a significant proportion of your time in a career which you dislike. It is my personal view that no amount of money could ever make this a worthwhile choice.

TNW: Who, or what, inspires you - do you have any role models or mentors? 

CK: I don’t have any specific mentors, but I am fortunate enough to be able to benefit from the advice and mentorship of my entrepreneurial clients.  There is incredible solidarity, support and community among the network of UK entrepreneurs. I never cease to be touched by the care, friendship and forthcoming advice I receive from my clients. There is simply an enormous willingness to share information and contacts and to help one another out where we can.

And it is them, my clients, who inspire me, along with seeing first-hand what they have achieved in such short periods of time. It just shows, with passion and commitment, anything is possible!

TNW: Is there anything that you would like to tell young female entrepreneurs who want to create their own start-ups?

CK: The same thing I would tell anyone wanting to create their own start-up: be willing to learn and humble enough to put yourself in positions to learn. I have never met such down-to-earth people as my entrepreneurial clients, and that is why they are so successful. Never be afraid to adopt an open mind, challenge your opinions and take advice. Clearly, it is also hugely important to be passionate, resilient, confident in your proposition, tenacious and utterly committed to your goals.

There will be lows - it is expected - and you will need conviction and self-belief to survive those, but you also need to know when to listen, respond and change tack if appropriate.

Commitment to one’s goals should never translate to a stubbornness to achieve them: be flexible and learn from your experiences.

TNW: What is next for Lovework?

CK: Lovework’s business is going extremely well and is at a really exciting stage. We have had such a great response from both our clients and candidates to our unique proposition, and the business is really gaining momentum as more and more people hear about us.

Right now, our focus is on continuing to raise awareness of Lovework amongst entrepreneurial clients and candidates alike, in order to continue growing in an organic and sustainable way. We very much want to consolidate our proposition before making any drastic changes.

I do hope, at some point, to bring a team on-board, but I also believe that it is important not to run before we can walk, and I want to make sure anything we do is carefully considered and weighed-up beforehand.

Considerations for me at the moment are, for example, how to grow without losing our personal and boutique approach, or how to motivate a team in a way that aligns their interests to those of our clients. 

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

CK: The question of why one would want to join a high-growth, entrepreneurial business as opposed to an established blue-chip … something I am enormously passionate about! I recently asked this question to a few candidates placed by Lovework into their entrepreneurial roles, and here are a selection of the responses I received:  “Influence, Involvement and Excitement”; “Impact, Accountability and Pace”; “Creativity, Pace, Variety”; “Opportunity, Pace of Change and Influence”; “Pushing yourself, Making a Difference, Taking Responsibility for your Work”; “Collaborative, Ever-changing, Exciting”; “Excitement of Creating Something New!”.

As Eric Schmidt said to Sheryl Sandberg: “If you are offered a seat on a rocket ship, you don’t ask what seat. You just get on.”

Gemma Gardner, the conductor of this interview with Catherine Kennard, has recently undertaken the role of Editorial Assistant for The NextWomen. She graduated from Aberystwyth University in 2013 with a First Class Honours degree in English Literature and Creative Writing, and is seeking to obtain a career within the book publishing industry. Gemma has a great enthusiasm for  language and literature, with a particular interest in women writers and in giving women a voice. She is passionate about her role at The NextWomen, which enables her to develop her editorial skills whilst actively supporting and promoting the achievements of professional women. 

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