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Founder in 5: Juno CEO on keeping the faith when fundraising in a downturn

Juno founder in five

Ally Fekaiki is the founder and CEO of Juno, an employee benefits market.

Founded by Fekaiki in 2019, Juno’s marketplace lets employees choose what benefits they receive using credits issued by their workplace. Benefits range from mental health support, childcare, fitness and food delivery boxes.

It is used by companies including Bolt, Oyster, Born Social and Paddle. In April, the London-headquartered company raised $4m (£3.1m) in funding.

In this week’s Founder in Five Q&A, Fekaiki explains why fundraising founders shouldn’t “lose faith” in the current climate, why it’s not enough to “mean well” when promoting diversity,  and reveals why he relocated from London to Barcelona.

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

Ally Fekaiki: Fundraising is always hard and, thanks to the current economic climate, it’s now tougher than ever. We’ve just raised a $4m round, led by Hoxton Ventures, and my biggest piece of advice to founders fundraising currently is to not lose faith.

Getting knocked back is not necessarily a reflection on the value of your product or idea. A ‘no’ from a VC is driven by a whole combination of factors, many of which have nothing to do with you as a founder or your product as a concept, so take the rejections on the chin and accept it’s part and parcel of the process. When you do find investors that engage with your vision and want to back you, it’s the best feeling. So don’t lose heart. You will get there, even if it takes longer than you think.

2. How do you prevent burnout for yourself and your staff?

AF: Business owners have a huge professional and moral responsibility to look after our employees’ mental health alongside our own. The rise of remote work makes this all the more pressing – how do we ensure that team members are receiving the same kind of support, whether they’re in an office in London, or working from an Airbnb in Portugal?

Founders must speak to their team and shape strategies accordingly, not present it to them as a fait accompli. Wellbeing strategies must be bespoke and flexible, so each team member can take what they individually need from it. No one is immune to burnout. That’s why prioritising wellness is vital.

3. What’s the best way to promote diversity in the workplace?

AF: True diversity starts with the way you hire and tracks through to the culture you create and the work you do to empower and retain staff. There’s no silver bullet, so it must form part of conversations at all levels of the business.

It’s also not enough to mean well, you have to implement systems and processes that hold you to account and check biases when they creep in. We’re by no means perfect, but we’re working hard to champion diversity at every level at Juno as the business grows. There’s no excuse for ignoring it or delaying it; founders should hold themselves to a higher standard.

4. What are the best and worst parts of your job?

AF: It’s an entrepreneurial cliché, but I genuinely love how boundless the possibilities are when you’re running your own business. You can let your creativity run wild, experiment with your product, dream really big when it comes to vision. There aren’t people holding you back or telling you to stay in your lane. It’s incredibly freeing. That being said, it’s full-on and work does have to come first on many occasions.

You have to learn to set yourself boundaries. I recently relocated from London to Barcelona to unlock a calmer pace of life, and it’s worked wonders for my work-life balance and helping me to regain some of the perspective I lost in those super intense early days of launching Juno.

5. Which nascent technology holds the most promise, and which hyped-up technology do you think is doomed to fail?

AF: For me, blockchain holds the most promise. I’m not sure it’s right to call it nascent, but the opportunities for decentralisation, not only in currency but in the way we do business and interact, are abundant. I find Ethereum (a decentralised blockchain platform) and the potential of smart contracts particularly interesting.

Over-hyped-up technology, to me at least, is gene-editing technology like CRISPR. Despite being very exciting conceptually, we’ve seen it falter in practice. That’s not to mention the moral and ethical questions that will arise when this technology is widely available.

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