Cleo boss: Startups, stack your board with ex-founders

Barney Hussey-Yeo is the founder and CEO of Cleo.

Barney Hussey-Yeo is the founder and CEO of Cleo, a company that has created a digital assistant to provide personalised financial support for Generation Z.

Founded in 2016, Cleo’s budgeting chatbot has been used by millions of young people to manage their finances.

In July last year, the London-based fintech closed an $80m Series C round at a $500m valuation.

Cleo has been using that capital to fuel its expansion across the US, a market that has historically been challenging for UK players to gain traction.

In this week’s Founder in Five Q&A, Hussey-Yeo shares his most important early hire, explains why it’s important to have ex-founders on your board, and why natural language processing (NLP) will have a “macro-sized impact on every person”.

1. Which role was the most important early hire you made?

Barney Hussey-Yeo: A chief of staff is one of the first roles I’d recommend all founders hire. As part of the “CEO office,” an exceptional chief of staff can really become a force multiplier and help manage priorities across the businesses.

As we reached product market fit at Cleo, it was beneficial to have someone step into gaps when we began scaling so quickly and working with me to improve internal systems and processes.

2. What funding advice would you give to a first-time founder?

BHY: The best piece of advice I got when starting Cleo was to stack my cap table and board with ex-founders. The reason is very few people in the world understand what it’s like to go from a blank piece of paper to $100m+ ARR.

To learn from and get feedback and support from founders who have been in your shoes at one point is invaluable.

3. Who’s a leader you admire in your industry?

BHY: Matt Clifford and Ian Hogarth are two exceptional leaders who have stepped up to help the UK grapple with the incoming AI changes.

Ian has taken up the post as chair of the UK government’s AI Foundation Model Taskforce to lead the taskforce in cutting-edge safety research, while Matt has taken a sabbatical to be the prime minister’s representative for the upcoming AI Safety Summit.

4. How do you prevent burnout?

BHY: It’s very easy to become so immersed in your work that you don’t find time for your mental health and well-being. My daily routine is to start the day early with a couple hours of work with the European team.

Then just before lunch take a one or two-hour bike ride, every day, which allows me to get some exercise in and refocus. And then get back online and work later into the day to sync with our US team. Breaking up your day and including a health or mental health break is crucial.

5. Excluding your sector, which nascent technology holds the most promise?

BHY: The exponential progress that’s been made in NLP [natural language processing] and machine learning is going to have a macro-sized impact on every person – we are experiencing the biggest wave in computing technology on par with the Industrial Revolution.

For example, the proliferation of sensors to measure our health and wellness will fundamentally change how we live. Over the next decade, you’ll be able to track and interpret your behaviour and its effect on your body to an incredible degree. An AI assistant will guide you to reaching optimal levels of mental and physical health.

Founder in Five – a UKTN Q&A series with the entrepreneurs behind the UK’s innovative tech startups, scaleups and unicorns – is published every Friday.