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DIGIT Q&A: Lesley Eccles, Co-founder of FanDuel

Staff Writer

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Lesley Eccles

DIGIT caught up with Lesley Eccles, Founder & CEO of Relish and co-founder of FanDuel, to discuss her route to a career in tech. 

 

When you were growing up, what did you think you would be?

When I was really young, for some weird reason I wanted to be a butcher! Now I look back and shudder, but then I was fascinated with meat – my mom used to buy extra ground beef just for me to play with. Yes, Like I said, totally weird.

Then as I grew up, I wanted to do something in the theatre. I was way too sensible to think that trying to break into acting was a smart move, so I thought perhaps some kind of producer or director. Then, as college was approaching, I considered joining the army (mainly because my dad – a true Scot – thought they might pay for me to go through college).

In my 20s, working in marketing for a software consultancy, I had a quarter-life crisis where I wanted to be “a something” – like a policeman, a doctor, just a something. I was never really content. Finally, I found startup life and realised that this was where I belonged.

Did you ever see yourself working in the tech industry, and if not why not?

My very first job out of college was for a tech startup in Scotland and from then on I always worked in the tech sector, so I’ve never really known anything different. But I originally just landed in it serendipitously. I flirted with going into the retail sector, and then really wanted to join the charity sector. In short, I really didn’t know what I wanted to do, but the best job offer I got was at a pre-internet software startup, so I took it!

What did you train for at higher education?

I studied modern languages at the University of St. Andrews simply because I enjoyed it and I was relatively good at it. I think it’s important to study something that you love, not just something that you think will get you a good job.

Can you tell me a bit about your career path?

My first job out of college was for a fintech startup (before that was a thing). I was there for two years and learnt a ton. I then decided to move to London and find a job when I got there. I had decided that the only job that interested me was as a management consultant. I know that sounds truly bizarre but at college, the only jobs that interested me were ones where you needed science or math degrees.

As a modern languages graduate, I really struggled. I landed a temporary admin position in a global management consultancy and through sheer hustle, convinced them to let me join their graduate program. I worked in change management and systems implementation in sales and marketing (back in the days when Siebel was the big thing).

I stayed there for several years, working on a variety of projects including large public sector organisations and food manufacturing.

What prompted you to move into tech?

As a child, I was really into computers. I was about 11 years old and my parents bought me my first computer – a ZX Spectrum. I was determined that I would learn to code. I think I liked to defy stereotypes as much as anything. This was the 80s so it wasn’t the norm for girls to code! I subscribed to a monthly coding for beginners magazine and tried to teach myself.

It was all going swimmingly until the magazine arrived which was all about machine code. That stopped me in my tracks and I hate to say it but I realized I was never going to be a coder. But the idea of working in technology was still appealing to me – I just didn’t have any role models or anything I could point to and say “I want to be like them”.

Did you have any misconceptions about what working in the tech industry would be like?

I think the way it’s portrayed in the media is one of two things. It’s either grungy white males in hoodies or it’s seen as some kind of super exciting, sexy thing to do. The truth is that it’s neither of those things.

How were they dispelled?

When we started the company that would become FanDuel, my husband, Nigel and I, both had corporate jobs beforehand, and we were able to decide and agree with our co-founders what the culture of our company would be like.

Is it ever too late to switch careers?

I think technology is so omnipresent that more and more jobs are becoming “tech”.

And even in the tech sector, there are plenty of jobs that are not technical (marketing, sales, creative, finance). So if the sector is appealing to you, it’s never too late to switch sectors. If you get a taste for one of the more technical roles, then you can use it as a jumping-off point to retrain if that’s what you want to do.

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What advice would you offer to someone thinking about moving into the tech sector?

Make sure you’re doing it for the right reasons. It’s not sexy, it’s incredibly hard work. But, at least in the startup world, it can be deeply rewarding to create something entirely new from the ground up. That kind of experience isn’t really available in many other sectors.

What advantages does working in tech afford you? (skills opportunities, better career choices, networking, interesting stuff, flexibility working).

I think the biggest advantage is the pace of work. Particularly in startups, you have to move quickly (there’s always the danger of someone trying to copy you). Compared to many other sectors, the excitement and adrenaline rush of living outside your comfort zone is simply there every single day. It’s not for everyone, and it’s not for the fainthearted, but you know that it is a guaranteed way to continue to grow.

DIGIT Staff Writer Robot

Staff Writer

Staff Writer - DIGIT

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