Episode 11: WERKIN with Aneeqa Khan on bridging the confidence gap with mentorship

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Aneeqa Khan, CEO and founder of eporta, the online wholesale marketplace for buyers, interior designers and brands, describes her superpower as “solving problems.” In Hayley’s latest WERKIN with interview, Khan explains how she turned her own frustration with furnishing her first flat into one of the UK’s fastest growing e-commerce platforms. Having worked at Zoopla, the UK’s leading property site, Khan thought of applying a similar marketplace model to interior design, connecting manufacturers with buyers.

“I've always wanted to start my own business. The turning point in terms of ‘wow, this is something that I really want to spend a lot of time trying to fix,’ happened post-buying [my first] flat, but I'd always thought that I’d start something. Both my parents are entrepreneurs, they've got little businesses up in Manchester. I grew up in my dad's factory packing boxes for him, making sure that everything was ticking away.

It’s always been kind of part of my DNA to think, ‘wait a minute, why is this inefficient? There's an opportunity there why don’t we do something?’”

While setting up eporta, Khan drew on her “sink-or-swim” experiences starting out at Zoopla, where as a recent graduate, she had been thrown into the deep-end of managing the company’s IPO,

“People have taken chances on me. The founder of Zoopla took a huge chance with me never having run an IPO before and being twenty-five at the time and said ‘Yeah sure, why don't you run our IPO for us? Let's see how that goes.’ I managed to grow my network, succeed in different things.”

Khan sees an increased emphasis on mentorship for women as a key part of bridging what she calls a confidence gap,

“I mentor a few women in terms of helping them grow their careers in different ways and in particular around confidence because I think there's a confidence gap between the average man and the average woman when it comes to being in the workplace.”

So what’s it like at eporta’s workplace?

“We're fast. We do not mull around. We have fun in the office and there's constantly a cake being made, a giggle being had and all the rest of it. We do things super super quickly and that's definitely something that the team says they enjoy because it makes us feel like they're making an impact every day.”

At eporta, Khan has created a culture of diversity and quirkiness. “Everyone’s slightly odd but wonderful. Everyone has their quirks and we love everyone for their quirks and we don't shy away from that at all. The quirkier the better, be outrageous, be a total introvert, be whatever it is that you want to be, but just be yourself. It's important to just be you and being authentic will just make you happy.”

Having a diverse team matters for a global online marketplace because “if you’re trying to sell to the world, you need to understand those diversities. We’re selling to women and men around the globe who have lots of different cultures. We have a culturally diverse team.”

Cultivating a culturally diverse team also yields diverse skillsets. Khan describes why it can be beneficial to launch businesses with friends, as long as they bring a complimentary set of skills to the business, referring to her co-founder and friend from university, Simon Shillaker.

“People say don't do things with your friends. I actually disagree. I think don't do things with your friends in a situation where your friends are very similar to you. But in the situation where they're different and they bring a different skillset and you work in a very similar way, it's brilliance because you always trust the other person.”

Who knew growing a successful company can start with an unfurnished flat, friendship and a bit of quirk? For more from Hayley’s conversation with Aneeqa, listen to the full episode on SoundCloud or on iTunes.