20 QUESTIONS: Sarah Wood, Unruly

Sarah Wood, co-founder of viral video firm Unruly Media, on why she had to crack eggs to crack the States.

by Kate Bassett
Last Updated: 10 May 2016

1. IF YOU HAD DONE SOMETHING ELSE, WHAT WOULD IT HAVE BEEN?

I’ve always enjoyed trying different jobs: egg packer; dog walker; pancake maker; maths and physics tutor. I still enjoy being a part-time academic, teaching a Masters course in online video culture at Cambridge.

2. WHAT ELSE WOULD YOU NAME YOUR BUSINESS?

We seriously considered Hot Dog and Epic but went for Unruly because that summed up the social media landscape that was emerging when we founded the company.

3. IF YOU COULD BE BASED IN ANOTHER CITY, WHERE WOULD IT BE?

London will always be home but I spend lots of time at the Unruly offices in New York and San Francisco, which both have awesome energy. I could happily live in either city!

4. WHEN YOU STARTED, HOW DID YOU RAISE MONEY?

Personal savings and the proceeds from an earlier business sale. We bootstrapped the business through to 2012, which was tough at times but gave us discipline, resourcefulness, and taught us you can make a big impact with a small budget and a lot of imagination.

5. WHAT HAS BEEN YOUR MOST IMPORTANT DECISION SO FAR?

Entering the US in 2011. We’d been selling US campaigns to US brands and agencies right from the start but setting up a physical office was a big step and a massive opportunity for business growth.

6. WHAT HAS BEEN YOUR BIGGEST MISTAKE?

There’s no stand-out moment but I have various personality defects that I grapple with constantly! Being too self critical. Being a perfectionist. Scowling at people, which is always a big mistake.

7. WHAT IDEA DO YOU WISH YOU HAD COME UP WITH?

The internet. It must be so cool to be Tim Berners-Lee at dinner parties.

8. HOW DO YOU HANDLE STRESS?

Whenever I’m about to enter into a stressful situation, I stop for a second and imagine the best outcome. This really works for me. I also smile at myself in the mirror a lot. And cuddle my kids: they are totally awesome stress busters!

9. WHAT WAS YOUR FIRST JOB?

I was an egg-packer in a battery hen farm, age 12.

10. WHAT WAS YOUR WORST JOB?

Being an egg-packer! I kept breaking the eggs. I worked as a station assistant for London Underground for a short while and found that much more stressful than any other job I’ve ever done. When you run your own business you’re in charge of your own destiny, you can hire people you want to work with and create a company culture that you want to be part of. That’s priceless.

11.WHAT WAS YOUR BEST JOB?

Without a doubt, making pancakes on Brighton pier. Best holiday job evuh.

12.  IF YOU WERE ON THE APPRENTICE, WHAT WOULD YOUR TEAM NAME BE?

We’d have to be Unruly!

13.  WHICH COMPANY WOULD YOU INVEST IN RIGHT NOW?

I really like Upworthy. They’re a social video site for things that matter, focussed on getting exposure for good causes.

14. APART FROM PROPERTY, WHAT IS THE MOST EXPENSIVE THING YOU’VE BOUGHT?

Ack, I’m struggling here. I tend not to buy expensive things because I invariably stain them, break them or lose them. I once drove an S-Class Mercedes for a weekend and pranged it on the garage door. I knew there and then that I shouldn’t be allowed anywhere near expensive things!

15.  SUITS OR JEANS?

Skinny jeans every time.

16.  FLEXIBLE WORKING OR OFFICE HOURS?

A combination of the two wherever possible. At Unruly, we make sure that there’s flexibility for parents and carers who need to be back to pick up their kids, administer meds to their parents etc. At the same time, we’re running an agile, innovative business; when we’re all in the office together it’s faster, simpler and more effective to brainstorm ideas, develop product ideas and make stuff happen.

17. WHAT IS YOUR FAVOURITE THING ABOUT YOUR OFFICE?

The kitchen tables, especially at lunchtime, when they’re packed with Unrulies swapping ideas and building friendships. Then the coffee machine. After that, it would be the view of the city from the roof terrace.

18. WHAT APP CAN’T YOU LIVE WITHOUT?

It’s my trusty map and a recommendation engine called Yelp! whenever I’m somewhere new. When I needed my shoes re-heeling in a hurry in NYC the other week, it was Yelp! that saved the day.

19. WHO IS YOUR BUSINESS IDOL?

My two co-founders, Matt Cooke and Scott Button. I’m incredibly lucky to be on their team and I learn from them every day. Tenacity, ingenuity and kindness are the qualities I most admire in them.

20. IF YOU WERE PRIME MINISTER FOR THE DAY, WHAT WOULD YOU CHANGE?

I’d extend the government’s current child care proposals by introducing a childcare allowance of £5,000 per child to help more women progress their careers. I’d consider introducing six months of mandatory community service so that everyone gets a chance to put something back into the community at some point in their lives.

Sarah Wood will be part of the "How to be a female leader" panel at this year's Inspiring Women conference on 27th November 2013. Check out the full programme and book tickets here.

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