As a former contestant on BBC’s The Apprentice, Manchester-based solicitor turned technology startup founder Lauren Riley has become a familiar name and face within the city’s thriving digital and tech ecosystem.
Riley founded The Link App, which she describes as a “secure and feature-filled alternative to email”, in 2014 after becoming frustrated with outdated working practices like having to send sensitive and confidential documents by email and post.
The app was created to shake up the legal sector by providing law and professional services firms with a secure and paperless way to communicate with clients. Last year it was recognised by KPMG as one of Britain’s five best mobile startups.
“I’m really passionate about improving those relationships between professional services and legal firms and their clients,” says Riley. “There’s a huge addressable market in UK legal and we’ve only just begun on our journey there.
“We do get approaches from other professional services sectors from companies outside law about using our technology – and the platform is agnostic – but it’s just a case of how we allocate our time and resources as an early-stage business.”
Riley is confident that The Link App has the potential to completely “displace email” as far as communication between professional services firms and their clients are concerned.
“I’d like to see us a long way into that prior to exit,” she says. “The fact that email is dying doesn’t seem to be that controversial; it’s just about what would replace it and I don’t see why The Link App wouldn’t be that for the sectors that we’re targeting.”
In August 2018, The Link App secured a £344,000 investment in a round led by NPIF – Mercia Equity Finance, which is managed by Mercia Fund Managers and is part of the Northern Powerhouse Investment Fund.
The funding brought the total amount raised by the business to more than £500,000, and was used to expand the team and add new features to the platform, such as the ability to provide clients with milestones to monitor the progress of their case and upload documents, including their ID, directly from their mobile phone.
Riley says The Link App’s team is expected to grow to at least 14 employees over the next few months.
“It’s a gift and a challenge in terms of our resources but it’s something we’re very excited about,” she says. “A lot of those hires will be in customer success and sales to help us scale out what we’ve built and the very solid start that we’ve made.”
Raising is a full-time job
Riley reveals that The Link App will soon be embarking on a new funding round to raise fresh investment to support its ambitious growth plans – but stresses that finding the ‘right’ investors is crucial.
“My priority is making sure that we have the right sort of investors to support the business, and we will also be making additional appointments to the executive team,” she says. “The minimum raise that we’re doing is £500,000 and we’ve already got commitments in that from existing investors.”
Riley admits that fundraising is a major challenge because of how much attention and time it takes away from a company founder.
“When you’re raising funding that’s pretty much a full-time job, and when you’re a relatively small team and still focused on growing the business, that can be very hard,” she says.
“It’s challenging to accommodate all of the requests on your time no matter how hard you work, because there are only so many hours in the day and it’s a finite pot to draw from. But we are scaling up our team so that should take some of the pressure off me.”
Diversity in tech
Riley is a strong advocate for diversity in tech and is often asked to speak at events about what it’s like to be a female startup founder.
“I’m so passionate about diversity in business, in legal and especially in technology,” she says. “Should The Link App have a successful exit then I’d love to do more work around this and I wouldn’t be shy to stand up and talk about the successes that we achieved.
“I’m humble and I know I’m at the beginning of my journey but I will always do what I can to help women in tech.”
The entrepreneur admits that, in the early days, she saw her non-technical background as a flaw but now thinks of it as a great advantage.
“Our whole business is run from the perspective of the lawyer and the end user and what they would want and consume,” She says. “Fortunately we have some great technical talent that obviously counteracts my lack of technical knowledge. If you combine that with my passion for the user experience I think that’s actually a powerful combination.”
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