20 questions: Alicia Navarro - Skimlinks

The founder of affiliate marketing website Skimlinks changed the business overnight after two years of struggling - and she doesn't regret it.

by Elizabeth Anderson
Last Updated: 31 Mar 2014

1. If you had done something else what would it have been?

I almost became a journalist. I started studying it but dropped out of the course after six months. I don’t really know what type of journalist I’d be, but I was interested in print.

2. What else would you name your business?

I’m still asking myself that at the moment. Skimlinks was an accidental name that stuck. We’ve not really come up with anything else - otherwise we would probably change it.

3. If you could be based in another city where would it be?

If I could start again, we would have been based the US business in New York. We currently have an office of 10 in San Francisco, where a lot of consumer websites are based. But New York is a lot more business orientated and it’s the centre of both publishing and advertising. I’m delighted that our headquarters are in London though, because it has a mixture of both.

4. When you started, how did you raise money?

I initially used my savings, a bank loan and money borrowed from my boyfriend and friends. I got my seed round after a year of hunting around for investment. This was 2008, just as the recession hit. The financial crisis probably gave us lower valuations than if we’d started today. But I also think Skimlinks succeeded because we started during a tough time - companies who were seeing their revenues drop were being more experimental and willing to try a new player like us.

5. What has been your most important decision so far?

The day we completely changed the business. When I started, we were similar to Pinterest – I’d created a place where people could bookmark sites and share with friends. Then we developed it so other sites could license and feature it on their site. At the same time we came up with a way of making money from affiliate links and we realised that investors were more interested in the monetisation technology that we’d built. So that’s why we dropped the social aspect. We didn’t have any funding, and we were going to go out of business if we didn’t change. In retrospect I can’t believe I made such a big decision so quickly. But at the time it was survival.

6. What has been your biggest mistake?

Not raising enough money in the early stage of the business. We raised a smaller amount thinking we could do a lot with it. But however much money you think you need, you should quadruple it.

7. What idea do you wish you had come up with?

Pinterest. That’s what I started essentially. But Pinterest worked out that it wasn’t just about the functionality – it was how the site looked. I wish I’d come up with that presentation style, because it’s now a style being copied by everyone else.

8. How do you handle stress?

I’m happy to work late but I prefer not to bring work home. That makes home very separate from work and it means I can switch off.

9. What was your first job?

I worked in the menswear department in Kmart in Sydney, where I’m originally from. Most of my day was spent repacking men’s underwear, because people would always open the pack of seven to look inside, then leave the underwear lying around.

10. What was your worst job?

The same job. I was there for four years during high school. I got very good at rolling up men’s underwear.

11. What was your best job?

Definitely the job I have now. It’s the combination of everything I’ve learned throughout my career. I’m not artistic in the traditional sense - I can’t paint or draw but I still have the desire to create. I use technology as my artistic impression. That’s what I love about my job.

12. If you were on the Apprentice what would your team be named?

The Revelous – for people that love to have fun and revel.

13. What company would you invest in right now?

Calm.com – it’s actually a friend’s company, Alex Tew.  It’s basically mindfulness via your phone. The world is getting very scattered and stressed. It’s wonderful to see the emergence of start-ups trying to help people become more mindful.

14. Apart from property, what is the most expensive thing you’ve bought?

Art, I guess - I have couple of very special pieces. One’s by a Russian artist and the other’s Canadian. Each helps my mood. One makes me feel very calm and the other very inspired.

15. Suit or jeans?

Definitely jeans, with t-shirts and boots.

16. Flexible working or office hours?

Office hours. I like to come back to my home in Bloomsbury after a 12 hour day and not think about work for the rest of the evening.

17. What is your favourite thing about the office?

The amount of light. It’s full of colour and we’re in a big open space. We’re now on Bevenden Street, just off East Road in Shoreditch. We have more than 50 people working there.

18. What app can’t you live without?

TripIt, which aggregates all of your travel schedules. If you get any travel info you forward it to this email address and it automatically extracts the important bits of the email and puts it in a structured format. I travel every month usually, mostly to the US, so it’s incredibly useful.

19. Who is your business idol?

Sherry Coutu. She’s my mentor and a woman I incredibly admire. She started two companies which she took both public, one of them while pregnant. She’s on the board of the London Stock Exchange, Raspberry Pi and Cambridge University. She’s extraordinary.

20. If you were Prime Minister for the day, what would you change?

If money was no object, I’d make sure teachers and nurses were much better paid to attract great people to those jobs. And I’d encourage more people to do STEM subjects [science, technology, engineering and maths] at university.

-  Alicia Navarro won the entrepreneur category of the FDM everywoman in Technology Awards 2014.

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